“Quite an Experience”: The Papers of WWII Nurse Mary Frances Switzer

Mary posing in front of an army tent (Mss. Acc. 2006.65, Series 3, Box 2, Folder 23)Like few other historical events, the Second World War exerts a deep fascination in our collective memory, as shown by the extent to which WW II stories abound in popular culture. Now fully processed, the papers of war nurse Mary Frances Switzer at the Special Collections Research Center offer an absorbing – though less commonly heard – point of view of war experiences on the ground. Last March, the National Women’s History Project selected “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives” as its theme to enhance the integration of “women’s stories – individually and collectively – into the essential fabric of our nation’s history.” Archives play a key role in ensuring the preservation of women’s voices and the recognition of their role in shaping our past.

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Special Collections and the Lemon Project Welcome Descendants of Solomon Northup

First Edition of Northup's Twelve Years A Slave, 1853In the summer of 2014, several descendants of Solomon Northup, whose story in slavery was depicted in the recent Oscar-winning movie, 12 Years A Slave, visited Swem Library to see the diary kept by Florence A. Barber, the daughter of Philip and Margaret Anne Stanton and granddaughter of Solomon Northup. At the end of the movie, it was Florence’s mother, Margaret Anne, who presents her first born, Solomon Northup Stanton, to her father.

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“Ever of thee, I’m fondly dreaming”

"Ever of thee, I'm fondly dreaming" cutout valentine, circa 1870s Scherenschnitte, meaning “scissor cuts” in German, is the art of paper cutting. The designs are frequently symmetrical, and are often used to create silhouettes and valentines. This European tradition was developed in sixteenth century Switzerland and Germany, and immigrants brought the designs to Colonial America in the eighteenth century. Paper cutting traditions also exist in many other cultures. For example, China’s paper cutting techniques, perhaps the world’s oldest, date from the sixth century.

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Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa Hall, 1926The first Phi Beta Kappa Hall was erected in 1926 to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity, the first Greek letter fraternity, and to honor the 50 founders.  All but one were Virginians and with one exception were students the College.  Elisha Parmele of Connecticut was conducting a school in Virginia after his graduation from Harvard in 1778.  When he returned to the north in 1780 he took two charters, one for the Alpha of Massachusetts at Harvard and the other for an Alpha of Connecticut at Yale. These 2 branches were organized within 18 months and saved the fraternity from extinction.  The Alpha at William and Mary was forced to disband on January 6, 1781, when a British force began devastating the peninsula during the American Revolution.

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From Collection to Exhibit

Title Poster for Re-Mixing the Old DominionFor the past few months, we have been working to translate the W&M Hip Hop Collection into an exhibit titled Re-Mixing the Old Dominion: 35 Years of Virginia Hip Hop History and Culture. In addition to selecting the “stuff” to showcase the collection and the history of Virginia hip-hop, a completely different set of skills are also needed to create a successful exhibit. The process of creating an exhibit entails a level of organization, public writing, and display techniques that are different from curating and archiving a collection.

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Surprises on Every Page

Photo of Lane Carlson, circa 1948. Lane Carlson Papers, Mss. Acc. 2014.026.The Lane Carlson Papers came to Swem Special Collections in 2012 in several large boxes, filled with what at first glance appeared to be just stacks and stacks of mundane letters from a small-town girl to her parents. This could not be further from the truth. Bonnie Elaine “Lane” Carlson, a native of Scotts Bluff Nebraska, was actually a writer, radio performer, globe-trotting professional woman, veteran of the World War II Women’s Army Corps, and one of the first five female colonels in the US Army. Her letters are full of entertaining banter, reflections on historical events happening around her, and insights into the culture and attitudes of mainstream America at the time. But there is a great deal more to this collection than just her letters.

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From Slavery to Freedom via Entrepreneurship

Portrait of Keckley from her book, Behind the ScenesOn October 19, 2014 at Dinwiddie Court House, a Virginia historical marker was dedicated to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (also spelled Keckly). Elizabeth, or ‘Lizzy’ Keckley was born near Petersburg and was a slave on the Burwell Plantation. Her father was Armistead Burwell, the master of the plantation and her mother was a slave woman. She took the name of her slave father George Hobbs. Elizabeth Keckley had a son, George Keckley, who was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, during the first year of the Civil War. As the offspring of a white father, Alexander Kirkland, who had raped his mother, George Keckley passed as white and was thus able to enlist in the Union army at a time of the war when blacks were prohibited from doing so.

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A World Both Foreign and Familiar

December 10, 1907 entry, Diary #6, 1905-1909, Box 1 Folder 6, The Munger Family Diaries, 1882-1945. Mss. Acc. 2014.018.“Like Dorry, I have decided to keep a journal. It seems to me a very pleasant thing to write down the occurrences of one’s life so that one can read them later.” So writes twenty-year-old Rosanna May Munger in 1886 (January 1 1886, Diary #1). Rose, as she preferred to be called, would go on recording the rhythms of her daily routine until 1945, providing the modern reader with a unique window into the religious, social, and cultural life of an unmarried woman over several decades.

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