About: Jessica

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.

Author Archives Jessica

A much-deserved “thanks,” and a reluctant “farewell”

If only the Young Ladies of the Wesleyan Female Institute were here to sing their "Parting Song" for Dale. But alas, all we can offer is a blog post. Image from the cover of sheet music in the collection of the Library of Virginia, call number M1621 .H42 1868.

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 »

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150 years later, nearly 400 letters reveal one couple’s Civil War story

Some of the nearly 400 letters written between Cecil A. Burleigh of the 20th Connecticut Infantry, and his wife, Caroline, during the Civil War.

The CW 150 Legacy Project was recently in Fairfax for a scanning event at the City of Fairfax Regional Library. The event was a great success with a number of diaries, letters, and photographs scanned. We also had one of our biggest ‘wow’ moments when a donor brought in a box of almost 400 letters from her ancestor for scanning. Most of the letters, written between Cecil A. Burleigh of the 20th Connecticut Infantry and his wife, Caroline, were still in their envelopes. It is exciting and rare to see a collection that is not only large but also comprehensive, with letters written from husband and wife. These materials give both sides of the story of a couple separated by war, as Cecil wrote from localities such as Stafford Court House and Alexandria, Virginia, and after participation in the Battle of Chancellorsville, while Caroline gave updates on life in Connecticut.

Due to the size of the collection it will take us a while to scan and post everything, but to have such a great resource from one family is just amazing!

-Renee Savits, CW 150 Legacy Project — Eastern Region… read more »

Mapping segregation in Virginia’s early public schools

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 »

History in Motion

Former Virginia Governors William Tuck and Colgate Darden during the filming of Living History Makers, 1976

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 »

Virginia Signs Off

Strong's dime caricatures presents a Northern point of view about secession in 1861. See the link in the comments section to decode the abundant imagery in this political cartoon. Image Courtesy Library of Congress.

(Note: Guest contributor Mari Julienne joins us this week with some timely background information on a pivotal document in the state’s history.  Virginia’s signed Ordinance of Secession will be on display at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 16 April 2011. See our schedule for other events related to the Library’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide.)

17 April 1861. While meeting in secret session, the Virginia Convention took a vote on whether to secede from the United States. Two weeks earlier, on 4 April, the convention delegates rejected a resolution to secede by a vote of 90 to 45. The convention, which was called to consider Virginia’s response to the secession crisis, had been meeting in Richmond since 13 February. The delegates had spent many weeks debating whether secession was legal, wise, or in the state’s best interest. Following the surrender of Fort Sumter on 13 April and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops on 15 April, the question facing the delegates became which side to take: to fight with or against the new Confederate States of America. Late in the afternoon on 17 April, the convention chose the Confederacy and voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters in a referendum. On 23 May, Virginia voters approved the Ordinance of Secession, which repealed Virginia’s 1788 ratification of the … read more »

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Dear Governor

Note: This stack of envelopes from the Gravely Family Papers (Acc. 34126) is used as an illustration for this post. Actual letters from Governor Letcher's papers are scanned below.

Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Brent Tarter offers the following post, pointing out some interesting finds made by the creators of the Library of Virginia’s Union or Secession exhibition.

During Virginia’s secession crisis in the winter and spring of 1860-1861, men and women across the state wrote to Governor John Letcher to comment on public affairs. They wrote to tell the governor what to do, to ask for help, to offer advice and assistance, or to get something off their chests. While researching in preparation for the Library of Virginia’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide , we spent time looking through the letters received by Governor Letcher. Like the records of every Virginia governor since 1776, the letters are preserved in Record Group 3 of the state’s archives in the Library of Virginia. The Governor’s Office records are an extremely rich source for the beliefs and words of ordinary Virginians.

During 1860 and 1861 the governor received letters from men and women in every part of the state who expressed every possible opinion and political allegiance. “I would like to Know from you what is to prevent me from Voting for Lincoln,” Giles County resident John M. Smith asked Governor Letcher in September 1860. “As he is the man I prefer. the reason of this letter is that there is a great deal of threatning … read more »

Introducing… the Organization Records Guide

Detail shot of the July 1843 issue of "Dies Testus Tempara" (part of LVA Accession 23479).

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 »

Ensuring quality education for all

New Kent Training School teachers, 1944-1945

Editors Note:  This post is a modified version of an article that originally appeared in the former “Virginiana” section of Virginia Memory.

The Watkins Family Papers (Accession 42063) include certificates, newspaper clippings, photographs, postcards, programs, and yearbooks documenting a prominent African American family in New Kent County, Virginia. While much of the collection consists of Jones and Watkins family photographs from Richmond and New Kent County, the collection is also significant for its connection to the struggle for school desegregation in Virginia.

Dr. George Washington Watkins (1898-1972) was born in Pickens County, South Carolina, the son of James and Lattie Watkins. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree (and later an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity) from Virginia Union University, and a Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute.  

Watkins is perhaps best known for his work in education, chiefly as principal of the New Kent Training School (renamed the George W. Watkins School in 1950).  This school played an important role in the education of African Americans in the area and was at the center of one of the most significant school integration rulings to follow Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  He was also a pastor, heading congregations at Second Liberty Baptist Church of Quinton, and Elam Baptist Church of Ruthville.

In 1930, there were 15 elementary schools in New Kent County, … read more »

The secession crisis: A Frenchman’s view of the “whirlwind”

Report, 8 December 1860, of consul Alfred Paul in Richmond to the French government, discussing growing tensions and the threat of civil war in the United States. Page 1. (Alfred Paul Reports, Accession 22992).

“The indecision and the absence of energy in the convention of Virginia which does not dare proclaim itself either for or against secession have ended by making the situation intolerable for everyone,” wrote Alfred Paul, the French consul in Richmond, in March 1861.  “This lack of spontaneity after the inauguration of the new administration destroys the sympathies of the two sections, North and South, toward Virginia.”  Paul closed his report of 9 March thusly:  “all that the convention has done up to the present can be summed up in three words or in a single word: nothing, nothing, nothing.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the secession crisis and the commencement of the Civil War.  Among The Library of Virginia’s many collections concerning secession and the war is the Alfred Paul Reports, 8 December 1860-9 March 1861 (Accession 22992).  Paul proved to be a keen observer of events in Virginia during the Winter of 1860-1861, providing the French government with valuable analysis of the state’s actions during the secession crisis.  [Note: The original reports are written in French; English translations are provided by the Library.]

Southerners, Paul stated, “want secession.”  South Carolina seized on the election of Abraham Lincoln to leave the Union, even though Lincoln had been “called to the presidency of the United States…in a general election, regular, legal, constitutional, in … read more »

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Have scanner, will travel

As you may have heard from this blog and other sources, the CW 150 Legacy Project: Document Digitization and Access  is an effort to locate Civil War-era materials held by private citizens, digitize them, and place them online.  It is a joint project between the Library of Virginia (LVA) and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

Now that the project is underway, the motto “Have Scanner, Will Travel” aptly applies to my colleague Renee Savits and me. We are the CW 150 Legacy Project archivists, often seen in the LVA building rolling large plastic travel boxes containing our scanners, loading up our vehicle for the latest event. Renee is responsible for the project’s Eastern Region, and I am responsible for the Western Region.

In September, Renee and I hit the road, beginning what will be nearly two years of traveling across the commonwealth in search of these materials. We knew people would be interested in the project, but the level of interest we are encountering is beyond our expectations. At most of our events, all appointment slots are filled. We meet wonderful people who are excited to have the opportunity to share their items with us.  A story about the project in the Washington Post in November generated even more interest.

A typical scanning event is scheduled through a given locality’s Civil … read more »