In 1997, the College of William & Mary purchased property on Ironbound Road from a prominent African American couple, Charles E. (d. 2001) and Zelda DeBerry Gary (d. 2010). He, the owner of the West End Valet Shop and a notary public, and she, a nurse who once worked for the James City County school system, were long-time residents of Williamsburg. Both tremendously enriched the community through years of civic involvement in a number of local organizations.
After a full academic year working at the Special Collections Research Center, I came to reflect on why my experience as an Archives and Manuscript Collections apprentice has meant so much to me. It may sound trite but this assistantship has not only stimulated my professional interest in archives management, it also gave me the opportunity to learn so much about a variety of peoples and topics through the collections I processed. Indeed, the diversity of projects and materials is among my favorite aspects of the job. For instance, after organizing the papers of individuals ranging from a Virginia anti-suffragette to a 20th century potter, I was assigned a singular task: describing the fascinating and quite surprising travel diary of a fourteen year-old American girl who visited fascist Italy in 1935.
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.
“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.