Jessica is the Senior Accessioning Archivist at the Library of Virginia. She holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Many of the staff and researchers at the Library of Virginia remember our colleague and friend Robert Young Clay for his vast knowledge of the records in our collections. Bob, who died last year, left his papers to the Library, and I recently completed processing them. I knew Bob for about eight years before his retirement in 2001. I recall how he assisted me with answers to some of my most puzzling questions, and seeing him helping patrons with their genealogical research.
I also remember his biting humor, lack of patience at times, the slamming of the phone receiver, and banging of a book against the reference desk.
But for those who never saw it, there was another side to Bob, and that comes across in some of the items contained in his papers. While much of the collection is made up of his research on the Clay family and its allied lines, there are also materials which demonstrate the personal side of Bob, a “kinder and gentler” side that not all staff or patrons may have seen.
Back in 1984, a certain reference archivist did not endear himself to officials in Fairfax County. Business owners in Mercer County, West Virginia, were growing increasingly frustrated with state officials in Charleston. There was even talk of the county rejoining the Commonwealth of Virginia. “The way I … read more »
The Library of Virginia recently acquired business records of Ephraim Baker (1836-1919) of Mount Olive, Virginia (Accession 51052). Baker, born on 13 December 1836 in Topnot, Shenandoah County, Virginia, was the son of Lewis Baker (1808-1889) and Anna Dellinger (1811-1879). He operated a general store in Mount Olive for most of his life. The store was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Ephraim Baker was married twice, and died on 19 June 1919. He is buried in St. Stephen’s Cemetery in Strasburg.
The majority of the collection consists of correspondence, accounts, and accounts of sales to Baker from commission merchants in Alexandria and Baltimore. The correspondence includes information on market conditions and current prices of goods being sold. There are also circulars, advertisements, and price lists from various merchants. Baker was an agent for the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Watertown, New York, and the collection contains correspondence and invoices from the company’s headquarters. Also included are customer orders from local residents requesting goods from Baker’s store.
Among the records is an 1871 Green & Brother catalog with annotated prices. Nineteenth century furniture catalogs or price lists are fairly unusual to find, and this one has particular importance for the furniture making business in Virginia. As early as 1820, English born cabinetmaker William Green was advertising his furniture in the Alexandria … read more »
In late 1943, Leona Robbins was 12 years old and living in Norfolk, Virginia. Her neighbor and close family friend, Army Lieutenant Charles Field, was headed overseas, where he would be stationed in Norfolk, England. Field suggested that Leona and her friends pull together some toys to distribute to the children there. England had been at war for over four years at that point, and the deprivation and danger faced by its citizens was considerable. Leona responded sympathetically, gathering some dolls and toy cars for the children.
Lt. Field delivered the package to the junior school in the village of Carbrooke, Thetford, Norfolk, in March 1944. Headmistress Mary Norton and each of the children in her class wrote Leona letters of thanks and introduction. Miss Norton spoke highly of the American soldiers, who had thrown two separate Christmas parties for the children the previous December: “They spoilt our children, and consequently are very popular! I honestly think this last was the best Christmas our children have had since 1939.” The students also drew pictures, including some of a christening ceremony they had for the dolls (naming one of them Leona Mary).
The correspondence continued for a little over a year, with each side sending letters and small gifts. The letters show typically curious children, wanting to compare ages, schools, recreational activities, and vacation schedules with … read more »
Archivists and others in history-related careers aren’t always known for being overly interested in embracing emerging technologies. A good many of us regard social media only as a fun diversion in our personal lives, with no obvious application to our professional goals. With that narrow mindset, we might as well cede the point to the chorus of naysayers proclaiming that the internet will eventually make libraries and archives irrelevant.
And yet somehow, Dale Dulaney, one of those “I refuse to ever join Facebook” guys, knew that social media could be the perfect tool to ignite an interest in and respect for archives and the work of archivists. He knew that the Library of Virginia (like so many other cultural institutions) had to make its relevance obvious in a time when crippling funding cuts are always a possibility. He knew that archives are often misunderstood or completely overlooked by the public at large. He also knew that the LVA’s archives housed all kinds of unique research treasures, records ranging from poignant to hilarious, to just plain useful. And he knew that we had at our fingertips a fast and low-cost way to show an often oblivious world that archives and archivists – what we have and what we do – matter.
I’ll spare you the details of the exhaustive work Dale invested to get this blog … read more »
Before the Civil War, Virginia did not have a comprehensive public school system. Lawmakers passed various measures to fund public schools, but these measures were directed primarily toward schools for a small segment of the population, the children of indigent white families. These schools were known as “free schools” or “charity schools,” and only the very poor attended. African Americans, free and enslaved, were excluded from these schools because it was illegal to teach them. With the end of the Civil War and ratification of a new state constitution in 1870, lawmakers established Virginia’s first public school system for all children, in order to “prevent children growing up in ignorance, or becoming vagrants.”
As local officials complied with the new state law, they set about drawing school districts segregated by race. This could be a challenge, however. While cataloging Alexandria/Arlington County school records recently, I came upon this hand-drawn map of Jefferson Township (in what was then Alexandria County, part of present-day urban Arlington), which shows white and African American families living closely together. To create two districts segregated by race, the map-maker drew what looks like a badly gerrymandered voting district. The map was attached to an 1870 census of school-aged children in Jefferson Township. Each dwelling is designated W (“white”) or C (“colored”).
Jefferson Township was located near what is now Crystal City … read more »
One of the benefits of studying more recent history is the opportunity to see and hear historical figures on film, providing information about speech, mannerisms, and personality that can be difficult to capture in words. For students of 20th-century Virginia history, a series of public television programs taped in the mid-1970s to late 1980s gives just this sort of glimpse at key state leaders.
Hosted by Richmond Times-Dispatch (RT-D) political reporter James Latimer (1913–2000), and jointly produced by Central Virginia Educational Television and the RT-D, the Living History Makers series featured lengthy interviews of influential Virginia politicians. While the details of each man’s career have been hashed out in print many times, these extensive on-camera interviews breathe life into the story of Virginia’s leadership during times of exceptional stress, including World War II and the battle over school desegregation.
In 1975, Colgate W. Darden (1897–1981, governor 1942–1946) and William M. Tuck (1896–1983, governor 1946–1950) sat down with Latimer for the first Living History Makers program. As public personas, the two men were strikingly different. While the dignified Darden was once hailed by a political opponent as “the noblest Roman of them all,” Tuck was a brash good-timer described by the Richmond News Leader as having “the comfortable appearance of a man who has just dined on a dozen pork chops.” Yet the two … read more »
Fraternal orders. Military regiments. Agricultural societies. Women’s organizations. Religious associations. Political parties. Schools. The Library of Virginia houses more than 650 collections of organization records from a variety of groups. Ranging in size from one leaf of paper to over 70 cubic feet of material, these collections contain accounts, agendas, architectural drawings, correspondence, financial records, minutes, photographs, programs, reports, schedules, and other papers that detail the goals and histories of these groups. Organization records include other types of media, including audio recordings in reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs; video recordings in cassettes and DVDs; and even archived websites. Now, information about all of these collections is gathered in the Organization Records Guide, an on-line resource located on the Library of Virginia’s website.
The guide is organized alphabetically by organization name and includes a letter index at its top to facilitate searching. Each entry contains the name of the organization, the title of the collection (whether records, account book, etc.), date range and size, accession number, a description of the material, and whether the materials are originals or copies. Entries link to catalog records and, where applicable, to on-line finding aids and databases created for the collections, or to archived websites. The Organization Records Guide will be updated on a regular basis as new collections are added to the Library and catalogued. Jason Roma … read more »