Eleanor Roosevelt Salutes Helen Keller

It is 1955, and though she is seventy-four years old, Helen Keller, celebrity, author, and activist for the disabled, is about to embark on another journey, this one a staggering 40,000-mile tour of India, Pakistan, Burma, the Philippines and Japan. A banquet is held in her honor at which telegrams from President Eisenhower and other notables are read, speeches by the ambassadors to the countries she intends to visit are heard, and, finally, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addresses the world’s most famous advocate for the disabled.  Yet, Mrs. Roosevelt argues, we are the ones not in full possession of our senses. “Most of us go through life just a little blind and a little deaf, not…being fully able to hear and understand those with whom we live.” Helen Keller, however, “…somehow understands the needs of the people.” She speaks about touring a hospital built in Finland during World War II conceived of and largely built by “cripples” (the word not having yet taken on its pejorative connotations) and thinking of Keller’s similar determination to succeed despite all odds. There is perhaps an awkward moment, to contemporary listener, when Mrs. Roosevelt advises Keller, should she tire, to take a day off and go sightseeing. She particularly urges her to visit the Taj Mahal. In her concluding remarks, she assures Keller that on this much-publicized trip to Asia, “You love people and in return, they will love you.”

Keller then responds. Much of the value of this recording lies in hearing how she actually sounded. In crooning, barely decipherable phrases, translated by her aide Polly Thomson, she thanks the previous speakers and shares her dream of “helping to eliminate blindness and deafness from the earth. My heart will sing with joy. That is Heaven itself.” It is inexpressibly moving to hear how difficult it was for this woman, who addressed multitudes and was known by millions, to form even the simplest sentence. One begins to understand on an almost visceral level what obstacles she had to overcome. One is also lost in admiration at what she was able to achieve.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) lost the ability to see and hear at nineteen months. Her initial descent into becoming an isolated, uncontrollable “wild child” and subsequent rescue by her first teacher, Annie Sullivan, is known to many through William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker.” But the truth, as Keller related it “The Story of My Life” (quoted here in her New York Times obituary) is every bit as thrilling as the dramatized version:

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free. There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that in time could be swept away.

Keller proved to be an exceptional student, attending Radcliffe College and becoming the first blind, deaf person to be awarded a BA degree. By then, her accomplishments had turned her into a well-known figure. She lectured and wrote and crusaded on behalf of the disabled, as well as for many other causes. One interesting aspect of her early public life was a strident embrace of socialism. As the International Socialist Review notes:

The roughly twenty-year period spanning the 1910s and 1920s indisputably represents Keller at her most prolific and radical. Taken as a whole, her various writings and speeches during this time also range over a tremendously large area of subject matter: Capitalism and class struggle, exploitation and revolution, war and imperialism, women’s oppression, racism, and of course, disability. Increasingly, these various issues became integrated into a single condemnation of the established social order. As the socialist and labor movements swelled and advanced during the 1910s, and especially as the cataclysmic nature of capitalism was laid bare with the advent of World War I, Keller—like millions of others across the United States and the world—rapidly and successively abandoned one set of seemingly outworn ideas after another.

“What are you committed to,” an interviewer asked her in 1916, “education or revolution?”

“Revolution,” Keller replied.

In later life, Keller became more closely associated with the generalized, muted, Swedenborgian Christianity we hear her espousing at this banquet. The almost saintly status she attained perhaps obscured more fascinating elements of her rise from near total sensory deprivation to the extraordinarily articulate “vision” of her autobiographical writings. Roger Shattuck, writing in the Harvard Magazine, points out that:

…literary critics such as Van Wyck Brooks, Walter Percy, and Cynthia Ozick, and cognitive scientists such as William James, Oliver Sacks, and Gerald Edelman have found in The Story of My Life and The World I Live In two of the most revealing inside narratives of the formation of what we call human consciousness. The books also offer an exciting case history of an unprecedented feat of individual education against crippling odds and make clear why Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain, and Andrew Carnegie regarded Keller and Sullivan as two of the most remarkable women of their time.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150716Municipal archives id: LT6897

Confetti Distribution Devices

Instead of featuring a dashing magician, this week we’re featuring a delightful celebratory page from a catalog of magic supplies.


The 1898 Martinka & Co. catalog from which this page is taken is part of our John H. Percival Magic Collection. (The “German” mentioned in the descriptive text references an 18th or 19th century social dance accompanied by plays and games.)

Also, I’m pretty sure a confetti flute is just any flute stuffed full of confetti. Readers are encouraged to try stuffing fancy-looking flutes with confetti and report back with their results.

Call for Proposals: 2018 Creative Fellowship

It’s that time of year again: PPL is accepting proposals for our 2018 Creative Fellowship.

This year, we’re looking for an artist working in the field of performance (theater, dance, performance art, puppetry, acrobatics, etc) to make new, research-based work related to the theme of our 2018 exhibition: hair!

Details on the Creative Fellowship, requirements, and application guidelines can be found here.


FSU facts at your fingertips

Have you ever wondered what the average salary of an FSU professor was in 1961? ($8,940). Have you ever been curious to know how many full-time students were enrolled in 1995? (23,950).fsu-factbook.png

This information and much more is available in the FSU Fact Books now available on DigiNole. There’s a wealth of data in these documents from budgetary breakdowns and property valuations to organizational charts and enrollment statistics.

There’s something for everyone in these documents. History buffs can track the administration and governance of the university. Data enthusiasts have huge sets of information they can use track educational and budgetary trends. Many issues also demonstrate the important role alumni play in the success of the university.

All fact books from 1960 to the present are available to explore.

Bad luck for bees, and other stories.

A selection of hand-colored children’s books from the nineteenth century are available for viewing on DigiNole as part of the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection. This project began as a partnership between the Rare Books Librarian and the Digital Archivist as a way to share some of the collection’s unique pieces. Because the illustrations are hand colored using watercolors, no two editions of a book will be exactly alike.

Two versions of the bird orchestra from The Peacock “at Home.” Left image from PR4613.D37P4 1841; right image from PR4613.D37P4 1834.

Some of the newly digitized books include:

The Wonderful History of the Busy Bees  (QL565.2.W87 1833)

Describing the life of a beehive, this 1833 chapbook is a mixture of science lesson, allegory, and children’s story. The industrious bees serving their queen must defend the colony against the vicious wasp attacks — but there’s a surprise twist at the end.

A Was an Archer Who Shot at a Frog  (GR486.A24 1860 *)

This primer, like many others in this project, would have been used to introduce children to the alphabet using common words and pictures. Unlike our modern examples — A is for apple, B is for bear, and Z is for zebra — A Was an Archer uses such gems as, “K was a king, and governed a mouse,” and “V was a vintner, a very great sot.” A particularly interesting feature of the book is its interactivity; a moveable piece accompanies each illustration, connected to a paper tab on the back of the page. Readers could manipulate the pictures with these tabs to make a character wave or doff his hat. Sadly, most of the moveable pieces have been glued down by a previous owner.

Cinderella, of the little glass slipper  (PN3437.C56 1800z)

A classic fairy tale about the benefits of a virtuous life, this book avoids the grisly endings faced by other heroes (like Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, the Children in the Wood, or — spoiler alert — the bees from the top of this list). Though the coloring is simple, the poetic rhyme and magical elements would have encouraged children to act with kindness, obedience, and modesty. This chapbook is one of eight hand colored Albany edition stories in the Shaw Collection.

The Smiling Book  (PL864.H42S6 1950)

This book was published in 1950 but made its way into this digitization project due to its exquisitely detailed hand coloring. The Smiling Book is printed on crepe paper, giving it a unique texture and flexibility not seen in many other books. While the book does not follow a particular narrative storyline, the illustrations explore nature, weather, and humanity.


A total of 68 books have been added to the digital collection.

Margaret Mead Addresses the Nation’s Heroin Epidemic

Although she has only studied “cultures addicted to betel nut,” America’s most famous anthropologist shows no hesitation in voicing her opinions at this 1970 symposium on the Social Implication of Drug Abuse. She first describes a country in disarray. Crime is on the rise. Taxi drivers are being “slaughtered.” Respectable people go shoplifting for sport. The entire community is becoming corrupt much as it did during Prohibition. The reason? Drugs, which are seen as “wicked,” and drug users, who are regarded as “sinners.” She calls for addicts not to be stigmatized but seen as “casualties of a badly organized society” and for treatment programs run by young ex-addicts as the Generation Gap has yawned so wide that counseling by elders is useless. Interestingly, she also calls for better pay for the police and complains that they are treated with “contempt.” Her speech seems less a political plea than a prophet’s dire warning as she paints a picture of a morally corrupt culture in which “people are being lied to.”

Mead’s talk is followed by a more nuts-and-bolts presentation by Alfred Crisci, from the New York State Attorney General’s office. Crisci takes issue with much of Mead’s position, claiming that the state does, in fact, treat addiction as a disease. He details the legal process for attempting to detoxify and rehabilitate heroin addicts, pointedly adding that “society is not sleeping.” During a contentious question and answer session, the two sides seem to be speaking at cross-purposes, each not hearing the other. Crisci refuses to discuss the criminal aspect of the war on drugs, stating somewhat disingenuously that “it is not a crime in this state to be an addict,” only to be caught possessing drugs. Mead and other audience members attempt to place the problem in a larger context.

These talks provide an excellent snapshot of the cultural divide in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The two sides seem to speak completely different languages. Both are well-intentioned, yet neither can find common ground with the other. The problem they describe is real…and extends even to the dueling approaches used in addressing it. Indeed the ostensible subject of this symposium, “drug abuse” seems only the tip of the iceberg.

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) put cultural anthropology on the map. Her groundbreaking study Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) described young Samoan girls’ passage from adolescence to adulthood as being far less stressful and damaging than in our supposedly more advanced culture. Her implicit endorsement of non-monogamous sexual relations and her focus on women as being the source of true power within the culture resonated with early movements for women’s rights in this country. Mead was not a cloistered academic but a tireless field researcher, popularizer, and (some critics complained) self-promoter. The New York Times in its obituary noted:

The American Museum of Natural History, with which she was associated for most of her professional life, once drew up a list of subjects in which she was “a specialist.” The list read: “Education and culture; relationship between character structure and social forms; personality and culture; cultural aspects of problems of nutrition; mental health; family life; ecology; ekistics; transnational relations; national character; cultural change, and cultural building.” The museum might well have added “et cetera,” for Dr. Mead was not only an anthropologist and ethnologist of the first rank but also something of a national oracle on other subjects ranging from atomic politics to feminism. She took on (and dismissed with disdain) Dr. Edward Teller, the hydrogen bomb advocate, and she was once described as “a general among the foot soldiers of modern feminism.” Insofar as anyone can be a polymath, Dr. Mead was widely regarded as one.

As can be heard in this talk, Mead became as famous a social critic as she was an anthropologist, bringing that discipline’s methods of analysis to bear on contemporary Western problems. This idea, that so-called “primitive cultures” have something to teach us, was controversial. The website of the Institute for Intercultural Studies recalls: 

She affirmed the possibility of learning from other groups, above all by applying the knowledge she brought back from the field to issues of modern life. Thus, she insisted that human diversity is a resource, not a handicap, that all human beings have the capacity to learn from and teach each other.

After her death, much of Mead’s work with the Samoans was challenged. It was claimed her research was faulty and her conclusions invalid. This led to a sharp decline in her posthumous reputation. However, recently this charge has since been refuted. Alice Dreger, writing in The Atlantic, reports:

Paul Shankman, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, has for several years been doggedly investigating the smearing of Margaret Mead by the anthropologist Derek Freeman. As Shankman writes in his latest piece, “Freeman’s flawed caricature of Mead and her Samoan fieldwork has become conventional wisdom in many circles and, as a result, her reputation has been deeply if not irreparably damaged.”… But Shankman’s new analysis — following his excellent 2009 book, The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy — shows that Freeman manipulated “data” in ways so egregious that it might be time for Freeman’s publishers to issue formal retractions.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 151029Municipal archives id: T7623 – T7627, T7630

Illuminations: Highlights from Special Collections & Archives


While this blog serves as a running feature of highlights from Special Collections & Archives, our newest exhibit makes the materials we talk about online available for the public to see in person. Illuminations the exhibit features items from our manuscript and rare books collections, Heritage & University Archives, and the Claude Pepper Library. Come and see new acquisitions like the Joseph Tobias PapersPride Student Union Records, Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection, and more.

Illuminations: Highlights from Special Collections & Archives will be on display through the fall semester in Strozier Library’s first floor exhibit space Monday-Friday 10am to 6pm.

Student Societies of Amherst Academy & Their Questions

This week’s blog post comes from our Bicentennial Metadata Librarian, Amanda Pizzollo:

As avid readers of this blog will know, Amherst College was conceived out of the previously existing Amherst Academy. As Frederick Tuckerman points out in his book on the academy, the founders of Amherst Academy are also the founders of Amherst College. Yet the school’s connection to the foundation of Amherst College is not the only reason that Amherst Academy is worthy of attention. Nor are the school’s connections to Emily Dickinson and Mary Lyon the only highlights of its existence. Though I’m as big a fan as any of Amherst College, Emily Dickinson, and Mary Lyon, I have also thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Amherst Academy for entirely unrelated reasons.

I work at Amherst College as a metadata creator. You know all that information like title, dates, a brief description, and subjects that you see when you look at a digital item in ACDC? That’s supplied by folks like me who get to look at these things and describe them in hopes that it helps you find them. Right now, I’m working on metadata for the Amherst College Early History Collection that we mentioned previously on the blog. It includes items about the history of Amherst Academy as well, and last week I stumbled upon two particular treasures: notebooks of minutes from the Franklin and Platonic Societies of Amherst Academy.

Platonic Cover

The cover of the Platonic Society administrative notebook looks rather unassuming doesn’t it? Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Both the Franklin Society and the Platonic Society were student literary societies, and they both may have been secret societies (though that’s not entirely clear). In March of 1836 these two societies would merge into one and be renamed as the Washington Society. The notebooks I’m describing include minutes, names of members, and other administrative records from 1833-1835 (in the case of the Franklin Society) and from 1834-1836 (in the case of the Platonic Society). Taking a look at the minutes, I’ve gotten a feel for what their weekly meetings were like. Of course there were variations, but mostly it went like this:

  • Review what happened at the last meeting
  • Vote on officers (if it was time for that)
  • Debate on the question posed at the last meeting
  • Decide on the consensus for the question debated (or have the Society President decide)
  • Pose a question for the next meeting’s debate and assign members to lead the debate
  • Address other society business like proposing new members

There have been lots of interesting things about looking through these notebooks, for instance the first entry in the Platonic Society’s notebook reads:

“And it came to pass in the fourth year of the rain of Alva, A whose sirname is Hurd, the rules of the notoriously courageous family of Plato, that the discrete and scientific disciples of Uncle Plato collected themselves together in the usual place at the sounding of the academical invariable and thunder resounding alarm….”

It goes on to describe the start of the meeting: “soon all arose, and instantly Each by the stealth and fierceness of a Lion, took and guarded the posts of their duty well.”

Later in the same entry, it discusses the meeting’s debate and the leaders of it, society members Stone and Thayer: “..eminently courageous children of the Brother Plato and both remarkably well skilled in fight—These fought well for a season till at length by the stealth and cunningness of a fox, the venerable Sapis which is Stone surrounded Thayer and by the force of Situation and art pulled down by his house and sitt fire to and burned up his riches.”

Alva A. Hurd, mentioned in the first line, was an Amherst Academy student and society member. Sapis, noted later, signs this entry E.J. Sapis as he was acting as secretary and scribe for this meeting.  It seems likely that Sapis and Stone (Elijah J. Stone) are the same person since he states “Sapis which is Stone” and since both are E.J. Why he used Sapis in his signature is unclear. Thayer was likely James S. Thayer based on the Amherst Academy catalogs, and of course he and Stone were the society members debating in this meeting. Now, the handwriting can be a bit tough to decipher at times, so I’m not sure of that last word in the “sitt fire to and burned up his riches” sentence. It could be riches, or it could be ricks perhaps, or something else entirely. Most meeting minutes don’t read like this, and it seems likely that Sapis/Stone was exercising his writing muscles and ability for tongue-in-cheek prose with this first notebook entry. It was certainly an enjoyable read for me.

I also enjoyed looking at the officer positions in these societies. There’s the standard President, Vice President, and Secretary roles, and there were also Critics, a Librarian, Prudential Committee members, and Questioning Committee members at many meetings. My favorite position title, though? Definitely the Bell Ringer.

Franklin 1

The officer names and positions chosen at the October 15, 1835 Franklin Society meeting

What I’ve found most interesting with these notebooks, however, are the weekly questions debated. Many are a glimpse at history, and some are still debated today. Below is a sampling of questions debated in one or both of the societies. I’ve kept spelling, capitalization, and most punctuation (or lack thereof) the same, but I have added some question marks since these were often omitted in the notebooks. There’s plenty more questions than these in the notebooks, too.

“Ought the man who kills another in a duel to be subject to our criminal laws?”

“Is memory more dependent upon nature than upon habit and Education?”

“Ought ladies and gentlemen to obtain their education in separate academies and seminaries?”

“Which is the more powerful, Education or wealth?”

“Ought Emigration to be encouraged?”

“Ought Foreign Emegration to be encouraged prohibited?”

“Which is the greater Evil, Intemperance or Slavery?”

“Is the manufacturing interest of our Country more important than agriculture?”

“Was De Witt Clinton possessed of greater talents than Alexander Hamilton?”

“Was the revolution of 1830 in France a benefit to that nation?”

“Ought any government to interfere in any religion?”

“Which has the greatest influence in this our country, fashion or Education?”

“Which has the most influence on society, wealth or talent?”

“Which has caused the greater loss of lives war or intemperance?”

“Is celibacy a violation of moral duty?”

“Which enjoys most happiness him who is called a poor man or him who is called rich?”

“Had the conduct of General Andrew Jackson during his administration been commendable?”

“Ought the liberty of the press to be restricted?”

“Which has the greatest claim to our benevolence the Indian or the Slave?”

“Ought capital punishment to be inflicted on convicts?”

“Is phrenology on the whole beneficial to science?”

“Ought the Colonization Society to be supported in preference to the Anti Slavery Society?”

“Should appointments be given in Colleges as rewards of Scholarship?”

“Ought Menageries to receive publick patronage?”

“Ought any person after arriving at the age of discretion to be prohibited from attending any religious meeting they choose?”

“Is deception justifiable in any case?”

“Which ought most to be encouraged, Commerce or Manufacture?”

“Have military heroes been beneficial to the world?”

“Were our forefathers justifiable in their treatment to the Indians?”

“Who was worthy of the more Honor, Columbus or Washington?”

“Which is the most beneficial to community Man or Woman?”

“Ought imprisonment for debt to be abolished from the United States?”

“Which is the most unhappy the Slave or the Drunkard?”

“Which has been the cause of the most Good the Magnet Needle or the Printing Press?”

“Is the influence of females in the affairs of the world greater than that of males?”

“From present appearances is it probable the Roman Catholics will gain the ascendency in this country?”

“Is married life more conducive to happiness than single life?”

“Are rail-roads beneficial to the country?”

“Which is more injurious to the public novel reading or gambling?”

“Ought the poor to be supported by tax on the community?”

“Ought Quakers to be compelled to do military duty?”

“Does fashion exert a greater influence in society than education?”

“Which is the most beneficial to the country Academies or common Schools?”

If you want to read more questions, see how members voted on them, delve more deeply into the life of the Amherst Academy student society Bell Ringer, or hear more of the thrilling prose of secretaries like Sapis/Stone, then never-fear, friends. You can see these notebooks now in Archives & Special Collections as part of the Early College History Collection, and not too long from now you’ll also be able to browse these pages on ACDC.

Click to view slideshow.

WQXR Co-Founder and Radio Pioneer John Vincent Lawless Hogan

Listening to WQXR co-founder John V. L. Hogan (1890-1960) in the above radio address, made only a few months after W2XR became WQXR,* one is struck by just how important feedback (pun intended) was to him. Radio was still an evolving media and the listener’s point of view was critical to its forward movement. In the address, Hogan emphasizes that WQXR was different and not content or “self-satisfied” with status-quo –either technically or programmatically. He urges listeners to write in about a variety of issues: the station’s placement of “more restful” classical music over jazz at the bedtime hour; when and how they should announce or not announce the title and author of works; whether their efforts at developing advertising that’s “a service and not a nuisance” are succeeding; and the running of a series of audio level and mixing tests over the air.

Historically, the somewhat understated Hogan tends to be overshadowed by his more outspoken business partner Elliott Sanger. Together in 1936 they created the Interstate Broadcasting Company, the parent of WQXR, radio’s first commercial classical music station. Sanger, a former advertising executive, wrote the well-publicized 1971 history of the station, Rebel in Radio: The Story of WQXR, and was usually the spokesperson for the station. Hogan was the author of a 1923 electronics classic, The Outline of Radio, and the technical genius behind radio’s leading “high-fidelity” broadcaster.  

Nevertheless, even when WQXR was still in its infancy, Hogan had been long recognized in the trades as an innovator and pioneer in broadcasting. Radio Daily published the following profile and tribute to him on June 6, 1937.

Radio Daily, June 6, 1937
(Courtesy of MediaHistoryproject.org)

In 1956, the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) awarded its Medal of Honor to John V. L. Hogan. He was cited “for his contributions to the electronics field as a founder and builder of the organization.” The citation also noted his inventions and “continued activity in the development of devices and systems useful in the communications art.” Hogan was the father of single dial radio tuning and made other significant contributions to the field through WQXR. He also pioneered facsimile transmission via radio, and advanced developments in television, radar, and military communication systems. He died in Forest Hills, Queens on December 29, 1960.


*Note: Hogan made the above broadcast over WQXR on March 1, 1937. W2XR became WQXR on December 3, 1936.

Paul Robeson Jr. Talks About His Father

In January 1971, radio reporter Eleanor Fischer interviewed Paul Robeson Jr. for a radio documentary she was producing about his father, Paul Robeson. The CBC documentary covered Robeson’s life extensively and included interviews with friends and colleagues that knew Robeson best, along with his only son. The interviews presented here are Fischer’s raw, unedited sessions.

Paul Robeson Jr. and his father in 1963.

The first segment above is Paul Robeson Jr. speaking about his father’s statement at the Paris Peace Conference in 1949 which was as follows:

“It is unthinkable that American Negroes could go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed them for generations against the Soviet Union, who in one generation, has raised our people to full human dignity.”

It was this statement that eventually led to Robeson’s complete blacklisting and lockout by the American establishment. Paul Jr. also talks about how the white press handled coverage of the Paris conference compared to the black press.

In the next audio segment, Paul Robeson Jr. comments on the Peekskill Riot that happened in New York during a concert in which Paul Robeson Sr. was scheduled to perform. The concert was an annual event held to raise money for a southern educational group and sponsored by the Civil Rights Congress. Robeson had played the concert the previous four years. His son discusses the riots, and how his father’s life was in danger along with those attending the concert. He says it was a surprise that nothing happened to his father.

Police help a concert goer to his feet at the Peekskill Riot in 1949.

Paul Jr. emphasizes it is important to note that the riot was highly political, and, in fact, a police riot. There were 2,000 policemen ordered to attend the concert to keep order. The sheriff’s deputies lined up and beat the concert goers as they were getting off the buses and heading to the concert. Paul Jr. says the police not only did not protect the concert goers, but they explicitly beat the patrons also. He argues current references to the riot do not refer to its nature; as anti-communist, anti-black, anti-Jewish, tied to his father’s statement at the Paris Peace Conference.

In the final audio portion, Paul Jr. discusses his father’s singing and performances. He talks specifically about Robeson’s most famous song, Old Man River, and how Robeson eventually changed the lyrics to the song to make it an anthem of resistance and defiance. Paul Jr. also discusses his father’s controversial use of a microphone in venues like Carnegie Hall, and how this was perceived by critics and fans. He says the reason Robeson Sr. used a microphone was that his voice was not like that of an opera singer’s, but similar to a popular or folk singer.

Special thanks to Elizabeth Starkey.

WNYC Archives id: 61658, 61461

The Freedom Summer: Mississippi in 1964

The summer of 1964 marked a critical moment in the American civil rights movement. Eleanor Fischer traveled to the southern state of Mississippi to produce a documentary on the Freedom Summer. She had the opportunity to interview the civil rights workers from Northern cities such as Chicago and New York and the black civil rights and voting activist leaders from Mississippi, while also speaking with white, local political leaders and segregationists. Fischer sets the scene at the beginning of the program:

“I first visited Mississippi in February, 1964. I had come down as a lawyer to give legal advice to and defend a group of white ministers engaged in voter registration work among Negroes in the city of Hattiesburg.  I remember being introduced to the county prosecutor and the cold hard stare with which I was greeted. And I also remember the first words spoken to me by this white citizen of Mississippi. ‘Miss Fischer, this is war.’ War had indeed come to Mississippi but its full impact was not felt until several months later when the Mississippi Summer project got under way. Sponsored by the Conference of Federated Organizations, 600 young people from outside of Mississippi descended upon the magnolia state much to the outrage of an already beleaguered white community. They came as a peaceful army because of the way things are in Mississippi for the Negro, because they wanted to help.”

Throughout the documentary, Fischer challenges the white citizens of rural Mississippi about their views on the segregation of schools and the voter registration roadblocks and obstacles for black Mississippians. Many of the citizens she interviews do not think that blacks want to vote or have the intellectual capacity to make an informed decision. These raw interviews with segregationists, Northern activists, rural black citizens of Mississippi, and black civil rights leaders portray the strain and passive hostility that existed during the Summer of Freedom.  

Students attending an indoctrination course before heading down to Mississippi to help during the Freedom Summer of 1964.

In this recording of Fischer’s raw interviews, she speaks with a number of citizens from Mississippi. The audio starts with a recording of a teacher in one of the Freedom Schools set up to help bring a better education to the young black children and black adults in rural areas of Mississippi. Fischer then speaks with Jack Tannehill, editor of the Neshoba Democrat, the weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, MS. Mr. Tannehill talks about the blacks in Mississippi registering to vote. His opinion is that blacks do not want to become involved in politics. An unknown gentleman from Greenwood, MS agrees with Mr. Tannehill. He also speaks about black voters in Mississippi, claiming that they are never turned away. He says that getting to and from the courthouse is not difficult, and it is accessible to everyone who wants to register. He finishes by stating that most of the black citizens in his county are not educated or equipped to be voting at all.

The audio continues on with interviews of black citizens of Mississippi including Hartman Turnbow and Fannie Lou Hamer. Turnbow discusses the process of registering to vote and how difficult it was for blacks in his county. He mentions the activists who helped them study for the examination and led them to the courthouse. Turnbow was one of the first African-Americans to register to vote in the state of Mississippi along with a group known as the “First 14.” Fannie Lou Hamer speaks about getting arrested and the violence that occurred while traveling from a voter registration and citizenship workshop.

Fannie Lou Hamer speaks at a Freedom Democratic Party rally in 1965.

The last few interviews feature young civil rights activists that traveled to Mississippi to help the black communities and register people to vote. The activists talk about the measures taken to get people to register including bringing groups of blacks to register with the only security precautions being a fast car. Fischer travels with a young activist who goes door to door to speak with black citizens about voting for the Freedom Democratic Party. The audio ends with Fannie Lou Hamer speaking candidly and emotionally about the state of racial tensions and violence in America.

Special thanks to Elizabeth Starkey. 

WNYC archives id: 61631, 61491, 61490

Former Veep Alben Barkley at the Book and Author Luncheon

The former vice president under Truman, now recently elected “junior” senator from Kentucky (he was seventy-seven), Barkley is ostensibly here to plug his memoir, That Reminds Me. However, his speech is mostly a mixture of (even then, one senses) antiquated campaign jokes and a paean to public service. Barkley was a professional politician and proud of it. Having served in various legislative bodies almost all his adult life, he professes contempt for “those citizens who wrap their spotless garment around them and withdraw from any public activity.” He makes a plea for Senate and House members to receive a greater salary, so they can maintain two establishments (one in Washington DC and one at home.) Illustrating his points with anecdotes about Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and John Randolph (Barkley speaks so familiarly of these historical figures one almost believes he knew them personally), he makes a timely case for mutual respect and the spirit of compromise in governance. Legislators, he urges, should “reflect not the whimsical will of the people but their profound judgment and profound convictions.”

This endorsement of collegiality and bipartisanship can be seen two ways: as a glimpse of a bygone era of more gentlemanly deal-making or as a hint that today’s problems of ideological gridlock were just as pressing then as now. Perhaps of more interest, though, is Barkley’s delivery. He indulges in a leisurely, orotund style and often rises to a kind of mellifluous bellow taking one back to the fairgrounds and outdoor meetings of the early 20’th century, when a “stump speech” was indeed delivered on a stump. 

Alben Barkley was born in 1877. He represented his native Kentucky in the House of Representatives in 1912 and in the Senate from 1926. Barkley became majority leader in 1937, succeeding “Scrappy Joe” Robinson, a combative and dictatorial ruler.  As the Dictionary of American Biography recounts, Barkley’s style was different.

Alben Barkley extends his hands
(Harris and Ewing/Wikimedia Commons)

 Barkley’s performance as majority leader drew mixed evaluations. Robinson had been one of the strongest leaders in the history of the Senate, and Barkley succeeded him just as the conservative coalition was beginning its twenty-five year dominance of the Congress. He not only faced difficulty with the Republicans but also suffered frequent obstruction from powerful members of his own party. He appears to have seen his job as one of conciliation between the conservatives on Capitol Hill and the militant New Dealers who formulated the White House legislative program. Barkley’s own policy positions were predominantly liberal, even to the extent of supporting civil rights legislation, but he usually counseled acceptance of whatever compromises could be put through the legislative process. Frequently criticized as weak and ineffective, he was nonetheless capable of ordering the Senate sergeant at arms to “arrest” absent members in November 1942, in an effort to compel their attendance to break a filibuster.

Although backing most of FDR’s New Deal legislation, Barkley’s relations with the White House could be tense, most notably during Roosevelt’s veto of the 1944 Revenue Bill. Later that year, he vied unsuccessfully for the vice-presidential nomination. His relationship with the eventual nominee, Truman, was civil but cool. He is perhaps best-remembered as having inadvertently coined the campaign slogan, “Give ’em hell, Harry!” Despite being elected vice president in Truman’s upset victory of 1948, his heart remained in Senate. As the website senate.gov relates: 

Barkley was the last of the old-time vice presidents, the last to preside regularly over the Senate, the last not to have an office in or near the White House, the last to identify more with the legislative than the executive branch. He was an old warhorse, the veteran of many political battles, the perpetual keynote speaker of his party who could rouse delegates from their lethargy to shout and cheer for the party’s leaders and platform. … He was partisan to the marrow, but with a sense of humor and a gift of storytelling that defused partisan and personal animosities. 

Barkley’s death seems entirely in keeping with the devotion to public service he speaks of here. In 1956, after regaining his place in the Senate, he declined an offer to switch seats with a more senior senator so as to be able to sit in the front row of the chamber. Giving a speech at Washington and Lee University, he alludes to Psalms 84:10, proclaiming:

 “I am glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty.”

Then, as can be heard on youtube.com, there is a crash. The announcer explains that the senator has collapsed. A call is made for a doctor. Barkley had died, on the podium, addressing the crowd. 


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150152Municipal archives id: LT2987

Bad Children of History #32: The Cutting-Edge School Desk

We found some naughty imps of yore in an unlikely place: an 1892 book on the industrial arts.


This folio contains a true bonanza of illustrations, covering all manner of modern inventions. Each page is arranged to show developments in the design of the invention, beginning with the primitive, and ending with the cutting-edge.


(Have you been wondering about the vanguard of egg carriers? This book can satisfy your curiosity!)

The entry on school furniture shows some truly marvelous folding desk contraptions, as well as simpler wooden desks populated by….

…misbehaving schoolchildren! We have a scowling miss undergoing some unfortunate piliferous bullying, the infamous Sleeping Guy with his head on his slate, and a lively scene of bench-style seating gone awry. Here’s a close-up of the latter situation:


“Hey, Johnny? Hey Johnny!”

“Not now, Caleb, I’m doing my sums.”

“Johnny! Hey. Yer forehead is weird. Can I look at your sums?”

“No, Caleb. Stop being a hornswoggler. Just because this primitive wooden school furniture lacks a flat surface for you to work on doesn’t mean you can pester me.”

“Hey, Johnny. Why don’t you have ears. Did ya see the dunce kid? Did ya see his walkie talkie?”

“SHHH. Caleb. Geez.”

National Archives Begins Online Release of JFK Assassination Records

Today at 8 a.m., the National Archives released a group of documents (the first of several expected releases), along with 17 audio files, previously withheld in accordance with the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The materials released today are available online only.  Access to the original paper records will occur at a future date.

Download the files online: https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release

Highlights of this release include 17 audio files of interviews of Yuri Nosenko, a KGB officer who defected to the United States in January 1964. Nosenko claimed to have been the officer in charge of the KGB file on Lee Harvey Oswald during Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union. The interviews were conducted in January, February, and July of 1964.

Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961
Record Group 111, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (111-SC-578830)

This set of 3,810 documents is the first to be processed for release, and includes FBI and CIA records—441 documents previously withheld in full and 3,369 documents previously released with portions redacted. In some cases, only the previously redacted pages of documents will be released. The previously released portions of the file can be requested and viewed in person at the National Archives at College Park (these records are not online).

The re-review of these documents was undertaken in accordance with the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which states: “Each assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full, and available in the Collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of this Act, unless the President certifies, as required by this Act, that continued postponement is made necessary” by specific identifiable harm.

The act mandated that all assassination-related material be housed in a single collection in the National Archives and defined five categories of information that could be withheld from release. The act also established the Assassination Records Review Board to weigh agency decisions to postpone the release of records.

The National Archives established the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection in November 1992, and it consists of approximately five million pages of records. The vast majority of the collection (88 percent) has been open in full and released to the public since the late 1990s. The records at issue are documents previously identified as assassination records but withheld in part or in full. Federal agencies have been re-reviewing their previously withheld records for release, and will appeal to the President if they determine that records require further postponement.

For more information, please see the following online resources:

Amherst-in-Holyoke, 1910-1952

Over the River

We have written about Amherst’s missionaries who traveled the world, but some missionary work was done much closer to home. For just over forty years, Amherst students worked with Holyoke’s Rev. Dr. Edwin B. Robinson (class of 1896) at Grace Church. Holyoke was a busy manufacturing city; Grace Church was a working-class congregation located in the Flats, where tens of thousands of immigrant families worked in the paper and textile factories and lived in crowded tenements (often company-owned).

A large brick factory wreathed in smoke from its four chimneys sits along a flowing canal.

Parsons Paper Mill, in Holyoke (1909), with coal smoke billowing from its chimneys.
Image from the Library of Congress [1]

Starting in 1910, when Arthur Boynton (class of 1910) asked Rev. Robinson about running a summer program at the church, a partnership developed. A handful of students would spend six weeks each summer running a ‘Vacation School’ for local children, teaching classes, doing recreational activities, and holding services. A number of well-connected Amherst students took part early on, including Professor Olds’ (later, president of the College, 1924-1927) two sons, Leland and George D. (Jr.), for the summers of 1911 and 1912. About sixty students would take part over the 42 years the program ran; it ended in 1952, the year after Rev. Dr. Robinson’s death.

Several years ago, my granddad volunteered to sort through the archives at his church (United Congregational Church) in Holyoke. While doing the work, he found mentions of an Amherst College summer program in the city with Grace United Church (in 1995, it merged with the Second Congregational Church to form the present United Congregational Church). At the time, it was just an interesting tidbit of local history.

Unexpected Connections

Now that I’m part of the team here in the Archives, I’ve had the chance to do a bit of digging as I’ve learned my way around. While researching the program, I found this gem in George D. Olds, Jr.’s biographical file. The writing on the back of the picture only notes that Olds is in the shot, with no details about the origin of the image.

However, I immediately recognized that it was from the summer program, and that Olds (on the far right) is posing with the children from the Vacation School in front of the church, as a nearly identical photograph is in a 1933 article in the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly. [2] One of the best things about working in libraries is the way little fragments connect unexpectedly.

Several dozen children pose together on a staircase. An adult man in a suit stands to the right. A wooden door behind the group stands open.

George D. Olds Jr., and the Amherst College Vacation School in Holyoke, MA. Summer 1912. [3]

What did the students think about their work?

Some students, like George’s older brother, Leland Olds, were deeply affected by their work in Holyoke. Thirty-seven years later, Olds referred to his time in Holyoke during a difficult confirmation hearing. Up for his third term as chair of the Federal Power Commission, Olds stated, “During two summers while I was at college I helped to run the vacation school of Grace Church in the neighboring industrial city of Holyoke, Mass… There I learned at first hand the impact of the industrialism of that period on the lives of the children of wage earners.”
Olds continued on to describe how his time in Holyoke (and later in Boston and New York) informed his early work for labor unions and workers’ organizations.

Grace Church proved a real trial heat. We taught and preached, led square dances and sang songs; we shared the gloom of unopened mills and the joy of an extra day’s work; we visited, listened and learned.

–J. Herbert Brautigam (class of 1939) [5]

Fun in the sun…

Amherst students handled the lighter side of things: they were in charge of entertainments (one student would write a play, often about Amherst-related topics, like Doshisha University, or the College in Wartime, while another was responsible for a circus fair), and daily services.

Before the summer was over passers-by on Race or Cabot Streets became accustomed to hearing any one of a number of songs rendered with great enthusiasm, the most popular of all being “Lord Jeffrey Amherst”. Once a week the whole school went on an outing to Hampden Pond, where there was a ball game and swimming, to say nothing of a trolley ride both ways and a lunch in the picnic grounds.

–Amherst College Christian Association annual report (1916) [6]

What don’t we know?

What’s missing from the story in our collections are the voices and experiences of the children and families participating in the vacation school. The published work (short pieces in the Holyoke Transcript and the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly) on the program is silent about the children attending, except in general statements about keeping the children occupied and out of trouble; children under seven attended kindergarten, girls older than seven learned sewing, and boys learned chair caning and carpentry. Some boys were also trained in printing.

A boy stands at a small galley press, while a young man stands behind him at a full printing press. Two cabinets of loose type stand against the right wall of the small room.

Holyoke Vacation School Printing Room. This was started in 1915, when Julius Seelye Bixler (class of 1915) obtained the second-hand press. [6]

We do have a typed manuscript written by Charles G. McCormick (class of 1937), describing his summer at Grace Church. McCormick’s piece is more open about the daily struggles of life he witnesses among the families he visits with; there may be further recollections in other participants’ files here in the Archives.

Diving Deeper

Anyone interested in digging further into Holyoke workers’ lives will also find interesting material over at Holyoke’s history collections at Wistariahurst Museum and Holyoke Public Library.


[1] Haines Photo Co., Parsons Paper Co., Holyoke, Mass, 1 photographic print : gelatin silver (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, 1909), https://www.loc.gov/item/2007661042/

[2] Clark, William W., “Amherst in Holyoke,” Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly 23 (1933): 104–10.

[3] George D. Olds Jr., 1913,” George D. Olds Jr. Alumni Biographical File, Class of 1913, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst, MA.

[4] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Nomination of Leland Olds., “Reappointment of Leland Olds to Federal Power Commission” (81st Cong., 1st sess., Sep 27-29, Oct 3, 1949), https://hdl.handle.net/2027umn.31951d03588500w

[5] Brautigam Jr., J. Herbert, “Church and College Work Together,” Pilgrim Highroad, 1939, General Files: Religion: Amherst-in-Holyoke, Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA.

[6] Amherst College Alumni Council, Annual Report of the Committee on Religious Work, 1916 (Amherst, MA: Amherst College, 1916).

NARA serves as the lead federal agency for SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context)

October 31, 2017 will mark the end of the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) pilot phase; an endeavor funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Since receiving the grant in August 2015, SNAC has moved forward in its goal of establishing a sustainable, community-driven and -supported cooperative for sharing descriptive archival data; archival data housed in search system which forefront the identities and stories of millions of creators of archives, special libraries and museum holdings.

As the pilot end date approached, there was still work to be done, so the cooperative leadership officially requested an extension, and Mellon granted an additional three months. It’s also important to know that SNAC was invited to apply for a second pilot phase with funding from November 2017 through October 2019. The grant proposal for the next pilot phase is pending the award grant from the Mellon Foundation at this time. The cooperative leadership and membership are excited about the prospect of SNAC’s future development.

SNAC’s user interface mosaic tumbler

NARA’s official involvement in SNAC started in 2012 when Archives staff accepted an advisory role in SNAC as the project morphed from a research and development venture into an effort to launch a new cooperative of archives data sharing. Presently, two staff from NARA’s Office of Innovation, Jerry Simmons and Dina Herbert, represent the agency as External Agency Liaisons to the SNAC cooperative. They coordinate all of NARA’s efforts for SNAC work, including active participation in the planning and development of SNAC’s governance and administration along with the seventeen partner institutions. NARA, as the Federal lead institution, forms one third of the SNAC operations effort, working closely with representatives from the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the California Digital Library.

From the beginning of the pilot phase in August 2015, NARA’s representatives were actively involved in SNAC’s user interface system development through consultation and software testing. Currently, NARA’s SNAC Liaison team responds to requests to test newly developed system functions, ensuring all necessary user requirements are met. Additionally, we work closely with the leadership of the SNAC Communications and SNAC Editorial and Standards Policy working groups in order to coordinate efforts and share responsibility for communicating all aspects of SNAC activity to the cooperative partnership, and to be a responsive voice to policy issues surrounding descriptive standards and use policies implemented in SNAC.

Sample SNAC record with links to archival collection descriptions

In keeping with NARA’s dedication to social media, NARA’s SNAC Liaisons are engaged in a robust Twitter project to bring exposure to SNAC’s rich content of descriptive data. Regular tweets with anniversary-focused themes have been well received in the early months of the effort. And, in keeping with the cooperative spirit, NARA SNAC Liaisons are actively teaming with social media experts from partner institutions to promote SNAC and to demonstrate its power to connect records creators with shared relationships and common life stories. Among these efforts is a special project to demonstrate the relationships between polar explorers, their personal and professional connections, their affiliations with polar expeditions, and the locations of their personal papers and artifacts.

Admiral Robert E. Peary’s SNAC record demonstrating his relationship (with a link) with ship captain and polar navigator Bob Bartlett.

In its primary role, NARA has taken the lead in development and execution of SNAC’s formal training program called the SNACSchool. Both of NARA’s SNAC Liaisons are active members of the SNACSchool Working Group along with SNAC partners from other SNAC partner institutions including Barbara Aikens, Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art; Alan Mark, George Washington University Library; Melanie Yolles, New York Public Library; and Glen Wiley, University of Miami Library. The working group formed in late 2016 with the primary mission of developing a formal training program for SNAC. The current curriculum includes modules covering basic archival authority control, searching the SNAC database, and creating and editing data in SNAC.

Training module for creating and editing SNAC records

Next week, SNACSchool will make its debut at the Millar Library on the campus of Portland State University during the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting. SNACSchool instructors will host a group of new SNAC users for a live classroom event, and another group participating remotely from several locations across the country. SNACSchool’s future will involve in-person events at large conferences such as SAA, however, a great deal of energy is now dedicated to developing a training schedule via remote events, while developing a highly flexible, self-paced learning platform for the cooperative’s future.

Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi Announces Appointment of John F. Tierney to the PIDB

On July 11, 2017, the House of Representatives Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi announced the appointment of John F. Tierney to serve a three-year term as a member of the Public Interest Declassification Board.   The members of the PIDB look forward to working with Mr. Tierney as they continue their efforts to improve declassification and modernize the classification system. You may access a biography of Mr. Tierney here.

Information Security Oversight Office Annual Report to the President

The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), established in 1978, is responsible to the President for overseeing the Government-wide security classification program, and receives policy and program guidance from the National Security Council. ISOO has been part of the National Archives since 1995.

Today, ISOO released online its Report to the President for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. This annual report includes information on government agencies’ security classification activities and costs, and provides an update on the implementation of the Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) program. This annual report was mandated by Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information.

FY 2016 report highlights include:

Classification Activity:

  • A 27 percent decrease in original classification activity, for a 2016 total of 39,240 decisions.
  • A 5 percent increase in derivative classification action, up to 55,206,368 decisions.

Declassification Activity:

  • Under automatic, systematic, and discretionary declassification review, agencies reviewed 102,172,703 pages and declassified 43,943,600 pages of historically valuable records. This was a 17 percent increase in the number of pages reviewed and 19 percent increase in the number of pages declassified.
  • Agencies reviewed 248,413 pages under mandatory declassification review and declassified 117,453 pages in their entirety, declassified 92,678 pages in part, and retained classification of 38,282 pages in full.

Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) background and implementation:

ISOO published the CUI Federal regulation (32 CFR part 2002) in the Federal Register on September 14, 2016. This regulation promotes the protection of CUI, appropriate information sharing, and consistent safeguarding and dissemination practices.

ISOO helps agencies implement the CUI program by conducting formal appraisals of existing agency practices, consulting with executive branch agencies and supporting elements (i.e., component agencies and non-Federal entities) on strategies and practices related to implementation, and raising awareness of key CUI program elements, timelines, and requirements through briefings, training sessions, and panel discussions.

Industrial Security:

The National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee (NISPPAC) established an Insider Threat working group to facilitate information sharing within security agencies on insider threat programs. ISOO Director Mark Bradley chairs this Committee and appoints its members.

ISOO is updating the Directive on Safeguarding Classified National Security Information (32 CFR part 2004).

As ISOO begins their next reporting cycle, Director Mark Bradley states that, “ISOO will focus on improving our methodology in data collection and will begin planning and developing new measures for future reporting that more accurately reflect the activities of agencies managing classified and sensitive information.”

Read the full Annual report, including an archive of previous annual reports, on the ISOO website: https://www.archives.gov/isoo/reports

Discovering the “Sussex Declaration”

Only two parchment manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence dating back to the 18th century are known in the world. One is held by the National Archives and displayed to the public in the National Archives Rotunda in Washington, DC. The other was recently discovered in Chichester, England, by two Harvard University historians, who recently spoke about their discovery at the National Archives in the public program, “Discovering the Sussex Declaration”:

Danielle Allen, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and colleague Emily Sneff, Research Manager for the Declaration Resources Project identified a second parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence in Chichester, England. Allen and Sneff came across the “Sussex Declaration,” as it has come to be known, in August 2015, while conducting online research of the digitized records collection of the United Kingdom National Archives for Harvard’s Declaration Resource Project. This previously unknown manuscript, dating from the 1780s, is written in the hand of a single clerk.

The Declaration Resource Project set out to build a database of all known editions of the Declaration of Independence as an informative and educational resource about the Declaration. The original Declaration of Independence, also known as “The Matlack Declaration” scribed by Timothy Matlack, is preserved and displayed at the National Archives Rotunda.

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Catherine Nicholson, former conservators at the National Archives, were consulted by Allen and Sneff and provided advice for the authentication of the Sussex Declaration. When the National Archives Rotunda in Washington, DC was renovated in 2001, Ritzenthaler and Nicholson had the opportunity to remove the Charters of Freedom (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights) from their earlier encasements to perform examinations and conservation treatments. Their hands are the last to have touched the Declaration of Independence.

The Sussex Declaration is currently housed where it was discovered at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, England. Officials there are working to ensure its proper preservation and care now that they know the valuable item within their possession.

Read more about Sneff and Allen’s discovery and the Declaration Resource Project: https://www.archives.gov/news/topics/sussex-declaration

Hugh Mulzac: Captain, Victim, Survivor

In this 1943 edition of Great Americans, a program claiming to provide “authentic biographical sketches of outstanding Negroes in the American scene,” Captain Hugh Mulzac is profiled…although elevated to sainthood might be more the more appropriate phrase. Mulzac’s story is a fascinating one and definitely worth telling, but this ham-handed bit of propaganda sounds more like the output of Radio Moscow than any homegrown product. There are hokey dramatic scenes throughout, charting young Hugh’s progress from a cabin boy on British ships to his eventual attaining of American citizenship and qualifying for his Captain’s license. Many of these gloss over or flatly contradict the actual incidents of Mulzac’s (much more colorful) past. The tone is condescending. Actors often stumble or forget their lines. Yet the facts, even when shoehorned into what increasingly becomes clear is an overt political agenda, are compelling. Mulzac, an African-American, could not get a ship to command, the fear that a white crew would not obey a black man outweighing his obvious qualifications. This came to a head in World War II, when the need for commanding officers became acute. In the radio drama, Mulzac goes to the Maritime Union, where an organizer tells him, “This war’s against discrimination. White or black, we’re in it together!” The archive’s recording of this program then ends abruptly. In fact, the real story of Captain Hugh Mulzac is much more instructive…and not nearly so uplifting.

Mulzac was born in 1886 in the West Indies. He ran away from home at an early age and led an adventurous youth. Eventually, he became an accomplished seaman. As the Maritime Administration website explains:

By 1920, Mulzac passed the examination as a U.S. shipmaster, but there were no shipboard berths available to a black captain. Although he held a master’s license, which qualified him to be a ship’s captain, he worked for the next 20 years mostly in the steward’s department of various shipping lines. This was the only shipboard work he could find, and he became an expert in food service management. With the outbreak of World War II, Mulzac recognized an opportunity to use his license and command a vessel. At age 56, he was named master of the new Liberty ship Booker T. Washington , christened by legendary opera singer Marian Anderson. Mulzac insisted on having an integrated crew, not the all black crew that had been planned. The U.S. Maritime Commission relented, and the Booker T. Washington made 22 round-trip voyages with Mulzac at the helm.

This would seem to be the happy ending the program is heading towards when it breaks off. Alas, it was not to be. Hugh Mulzac was indeed America’s first African-American ship master. But the war effort’s yoking of patriotic fervor with civil rights proved short-lived. As blackpast.org reports:

When his last assignment on a Liberty ship ended in 1947, now 61-year-old Mulzac was still denied the opportunity to command privately owned commercial vessels. He retired from seafaring and turned to radical politics. In 1950, Mulzac ran on the American Labor Party (ALP) ticket for Queens Borough President.  He received only 15,000 votes in his losing bid.  With the U.S. in the midst of the Cold War, Mulzac in 1951 was blacklisted by shipping companies because of his affiliation with the controversial ALP which many considered a Communist organization.  The U.S. Government also revoked his seaman’s papers and license.  In 1960, a federal judge reinstated Mulzac’s seaman’s documents and license and soon afterward at the age of 75 Mulzac found work again as a seaman. 

Mulzac’s moment in history was brief but intense. His successful command of a mixed crew was a rare attempt to overcome differences of both race and rank in the highly stratified setting of life at sea. The Village Voice quotes one of the sailors who served under Mulzac:

“The Booker T. was the only ship I’ve ever been on which had a sense of purpose from the top down,” Rosenhouse told The Voice. He recalled the classes in seamanship, in art, and in international affairs, as well as the tongue-lashing he’d received when he chose to stand watch on a stormy night inside. “On the bridge we called Mulzac ‘captain,’ but when he came to union meetings we called him ‘brother.’ Beefs between the officers and the men could be settled on that ship,” Rosenhouse said.

Hugh Mulzac died in 1971.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 5971Municipal archives id: LT5750

Association of Canadian Archivists Conference 2017

In early June, I attended the annual Association of Canadian Archivists conference in Ottawa. The theme was Archives, disrupted – an exploration of “how archivists and archival institutions progress, respond, change and persevere in response to disruptive forces, which may arise from outside or can be self-imposed” (from the conference program, which can be found here). Here are some of the highlights.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa. Photo by Michel Rathwell (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr


In keeping with the conference theme, sessions addressed a variety of emerging and potentially disruptive issues in the archival field, and explored the challenges and opportunities that might arise.

In a session titled O Triple Store, What Art Thou?, Evelyn McLellan of Artefactual Systems, Kate Guay of the Northwest Territories Archives, Tim Hutchinson of the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections, and consultant Anne Ward presented on the potential impacts of linked open data on archival practice. Wikipedia defines linked data as a “method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful through semantic queries” – that is, using existing Web technologies to publish data in a way that enables computers to read, query, and connect data from different sources. Publishing archival descriptions as linked data has the potential to facilitate discovery of related resources across institutions and provide richer contextual information about records’ creators, creation and use.

Data modeled as a graph. Slide courtesy of Artefactual Systems

The application of semantic technologies to archival work was discussed in more depth in a session titled Disrupted description? New directions in archival theory and practice. Kat Timms of Library and Archives Canada presented on the ongoing work of the International Council on Archives (ICA) Experts Group on Archival Description (EGAD, which has to be one of the best acronyms in the field), who have drafted the Records in Contexts conceptual model (RiC-CM) and are working on RiC-O, to be expressed as a W3C OWL (Ontology Web Language). RiC is intended to supplant the existing four ICA standards for describing archival records (ISAD-G), records creators (ISAAR (CPF)), functions (ISDF), and archival institutions (ISDIAH), providing a semantic web-ready way to capture and describe archival contexts in all their glorious complexity. Giovanni Michetti of Sapienza University of Rome addressed this complexity as it applies to the concept of provenance, while Chris Prom of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discussed the challenges to traditional archival description posed by Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Disruption is certainly in the air, and I look forward to seeing how the ideas and efforts described may translate into everyday archival practice in the near-ish future.

An archival description conforming to RiC-CM presented as a diagram. From Records in Contexts: A Conceptual Model for Archival Description, Consultation Draft v0.1, September 2016


The day before the conference officially began, I took part in The Archives and Technology Unconference, or TAATU. TAATU is an annual opportunity for folks working at the intersection of archives and technology to get together and share knowledge and ideas in a fun, relaxed atmosphere, and 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of the event. This year’s TAATU was generously hosted by the City of Ottawa Archives at their (relatively) new purpose-built facility. Participants swapped stories of digital forensics efforts, migration of multiple databases to a single system, and development of generic-yet-sufficiently-granular digital preservation workflows, as well as enjoying a few rounds of IT Balderdash, proposing fake definitions of terms including grey goo (real definition here) and frobnicate (real definition here).

City Archivist Heather Gordon also attended the ACA conference this year, allowing us to take advantage of the many concurrent sessions on offer. Of particular interest was a session on monetary appraisal which provided an update on the work of the National Archival Appraisal Board and a lively discussion of fair market valuations in the age of digital recordkeeping. Also of interest was a debate-style session involving Michael Moss and David Thomas from Northumbria University and Daniel German and Leah Sander from Library and Archives Canada. The resolution posed was “To serve the common good, archivists must reject ‘Archives as cultural heritage assets’ and embrace their role as strongholds as evidence.” Moderated by Geoffrey Yeo of University College London, each debater had seven minutes to present and then rebut, followed by audience participation on the question. The room was surprisingly evenly split between those professionals focussed on digital preservation and data management (in favour of evidence), and those who focus more on analogue recordkeeping and preservation (in favour of cultural heritage asset). Our City Archivist suggests that the answer depends on the audience we serve at any given time, and that we shouldn’t reject one role at the expense of the other; there is room, and a need, for us to be both.

The ACA conference is an opportunity to exchange knowledge with the Canadian archival community and keep current with the latest developments in archival theory and practice. Kudos to the conference committee for organizing such a lively, engaging event!

Curfews, Nightsticks and Juvenile Delinquency

In this 1959 edition of Public Press Conference, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner is joined by Youth Board President Ralph Whalen and Police Commissioner Stephen P. Kennedy in answering questions sent in from listeners. The moderator is Gabe Pressman. A proposed curfew and the police use of nightsticks are hot issues of the day. Mayor Wagner reports most city officials are opposed to a curfew for young people, pointing out that the small percentage of troublemakers such a restriction would affect are the very types who have bad home lives and would instead congregate in “cellars and backyards,” still causing trouble. Kennedy, the police commissioner, is in favor of retaining nightsticks. He warns that the police department “is not a punitive agency, not a social service agency, but a law enforcement agency.” A listener accuses the Youth Board of “giving gang lords a special glory.” Whalen defends the organization, insisting that if it sees any evidence of illegal activity, it contacts the police immediately. But “gangs exist,” he points out. His job is to “bring them around.” Another listener blames “coddlers, lenient justices, professional do-gooders, and sob sisters” for the recent upswing in gang violence. Whalen argues for more parental authority to be exercised.

There is a surprising question for Wagner submitted by none other than former President Herbert Hoover! He advocates increased funding for Boys Clubs (with which he had a long affiliation) and other organizations. The problem, Wagner points out, is that the hardcore delinquents can’t be tempted to join such groups. A more eerily topical note is sounded when a listener asks “Why are people allowed to buy guns so freely?” Wagner’s and the Police Commissioner’s answers could be ripped from today’s headlines. Tighter legislation needs to be enacted, on the federal level. Otherwise, guns simply come in from states with loose or nonexistent regulation.

While the problem, even the term itself, “juvenile delinquency” (and its proposed solutions) may seem quaint, one can discern from this uneasy discussion the seeds of New York City’s eventual descent into the maelstrom of crime, “white flight,” and fiscal insolvency that characterized the next decade. The municipal government, however well-intentioned, seems ill-equipped to respond to changes brought on demographic and cultural shifts in the population. 

Robert Wagner (1910-1991) was a popular, three-term mayor. His father had been a powerful New York senator. Wagner himself, though a product of the Tammany Hall, turned on the machine in his final campaign. In its obituary, the New York Times summarized Wagner’s tenure, noting:

By the time that young Robert became Mayor, at the age of 43, the city was undergoing profound change as post-World-War-II prosperity enabled middle-class whites to start moving to the suburbs in waves. They were replaced largely by blacks from the South and Puerto Ricans lured here by the hope of better jobs and less racial discrimination than they had found in other parts of the country, as well as relatively generous welfare benefits. Mr. Wagner, even his critics acknowledged, grasped the enormity of the social problems that were accelerating and sought in a deliberate, methodical way to solve them…Flexing his political muscle, Mr. Wagner won infusions of state and Federal funds to clear slums in urban-renewal areas, build public housing and to help maintain the 15-cent subway fare. He granted collective-bargaining rights to municipal labor unions. He integrated government with more black and Hispanic appointees who began to reflect the city’s rapidly changing population. And his third-term campaign against his estranged political mentors dealt the Democratic machine a defeat from which it has never recovered.

Gabe Pressman (1924-2017) was one of the first television reporters to cover City Hall and started his electronic media career as the host of WNYC’s Campus Press Conference. The Wall Street Journal noted, when

…he arose to address his fellow New York Press Club members at their annual awards ceremony in June, his admonition to jealously guard the freedom of the press was as full-throated as ever. “I think I’m sort of a nut job on the First Amendment,” he admitted. …Mr. Pressman’s message to his colleagues was never to fear speaking truth to power. “If the press doesn’t stand up for that, no one else will,” he said. “It’s unusual for anyone in authority to stick up for the press. We have to do it for ourselves….Part of my effort is to brainwash my fellow journalists into doing more human-interest stories about the people we serve.”


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 5713Municipal archives id: LT8817

Books in Books


This week I’ve had the pleasure of adding a number of scrapbooks to our Amherst College Scrapbooks Collection. As I assessed the scrapbooks I was adding, I noticed that a number of them had been created by pasting material into existing books. This was a common practice for centuries and I always enjoy running across new examples.

My interest is two-fold: the underlying books are, by their nature, something that the owner no longer wanted and would otherwise have discarded. We don’t tend to have many examples of some these more ephemeral volumes, for instance: sales catalogs, subscription books, and penmanship notebooks. Also interesting is what types of materials the creator of the scrapbook chose  to put in a volume with a visually cluttered background. In the 19th century, when the bulk of our scrapbook collection was created, blank books would have been relatively accessible to college students. Indeed the majority of our scrapbooks were created in volumes sold for that explicit purpose. Often the scrapbooks created in books were more informal, a way for the maker to keep track of interesting news clippings or humorous anecdotes rather than a showpiece of memorabilia from their college years.



This scrapbook (pictured here and at the top of this post) was created by Charles Lord, Amherst class of 1838, in an old penmanship notebook.


Edward Lacey, class of 1890, created this scrapbook in the “Value of Railroad Securities, Earnings and Charges, Prices of Stocks and Bonds”. Under memorabilia from Mount Holyoke and clipping on college sports, the tables of values are still visible.


This scrapbooks was created in a volume containing the first nineteen annual reports of the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. The compiler of this book tried hard to completely obscure the original text by pasting newspaper clippings tightly spaced over the whole page. He didn’t finish the job however; the later pages of the book reveal the underlying text where articles are tucked between the pages but not yet pasted in. This compiler is unknown, although assumed to be a member of the class of 1876 based on the content of the book.


When George Waite White, class of 1861, was looking for a book to use for his college memorabilia, a copy of a bound subscription book for Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, first published in 1850, came to hand. Purchasing books by subscription wasn’t unusual at this time (somewhat like a kickstarter or Amazon pre-order) and this subscription book allowed potential subscribers to see what the cloth binding would look like and read a summary of the work and many, many testimonials. Other subscription books might have had selections from the text and sample illustrations. George only filled a few pages, so we can see the subscription list, with only two names on it, unobscured.


Henry Holmes, class of 1860, created this scrapbook of humorous newspaper clippings in an 1847 edition of Emerson’s North American Arithmetic. He made no attempt at obscuring the original text, which makes for a visually confusing reading experience.



I saved my favorite scrapbook for last. James Plimpton, class of 1878, created this one in a 220 page, illustrated brass goods catalog from 1871. Except for the illustrations of brass products in the background, this is a classic undergraduate scrapbook full of programs, tickets, dance cards and other memorabilia. I love nineteenth century catalogs and this is an excellent one – I particularly enjoy the odd conjunction of materials: baseball programs with faucets, concert tickets with steam whistles.


I’ll close with gratitude for James Plimpton and every one of the nearly 200 alums whose scrapbooks have made their way to Archives & Special Collections over the years for the fascinating glimpses they give us into their lives and interests!

Searching for Amelia

On July 2, 1937, famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart went missing during an attempt at a round-the-world flight along with her navigator, Fred Noonan. Following the report of her disappearance, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels, including the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, assisted in search operations. These efforts are detailed in the “U.S. Navy Report of the Search for Amelia Earhart, July 2-18, 1937″.

While the details around Amelia Earhart’s disappearance remain a mystery, researchers recently found this photograph within the holdings of the National Archives which they believe shows Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan alive on a dock in the Marshall Islands after their disappearance over the Pacific Ocean.

PL-Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll, Jaluit Island. ONI #14381. Jaluit Harbor. National Archives Identifier 68141661

There is much to learn about Amelia Earhart in the resources and records held at the National Archives. For example, a search in our Catalog reveals photographs of Earhart, documents related to the search of her missing aircraft, as well as a letter she wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt before her flight, asking for help coordinating with the Navy to refuel her plane in air over Midway Island. You can also learn more about the radio log of the last communications with Earhart on our Text Message blog.

View more National Archives resources related to Amelia Earhart on archives.gov.

While we may never know the complete story of what happened to Amelia Earhart during her fateful flight 80 years ago, this photograph is just one example of the many fascinating finds uncovered by researchers at the National Archives on a regular basis. Among the billions of records held at the National Archives, there is always something new to discover. What will you uncover in your research?

Finishing up the “Shoebox Papers” of Dirac

The following is the second of two posts from Dr. Kathy Clark, a professor here at FSU in the College of Education. You may see the first post here. For the past several years, she’s been involved in the digitization and description of a set of papers in the Dirac Collection that are known collectively as the “shoebox” papers. These materials are available online and will shortly benefit from enhanced description from Dr. Clark.

I should say that the “we” in this case are an incredibly bright and talented young man, Emmet Harrington, and myself. Emmet was an undergraduate honors student, who selected my project as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) at FSU. Although his UROP commitment was only one year, Emmet continued on the project for a second year, and his work was funded by the HOMSIGMAA grant. Emmet graduated from FSU in May 2016, with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. He began the Ph.D. in mathematics program at Michigan State University in Fall 2016. Emmet’s work on the “shoebox papers” project was invaluable, and he was responsible for three key aspects of the project work.

Using substitutions to simplify polynomial equations
Using substitutions to simplify polynomial equations. From the “Shoebox Papers.”

In particular, Emmet first reviewed the scans of the original items that I identified in 2012 for their mathematical content, and this was necessary work for metadata entry. Emmet also selected interesting problems, which we would ultimately highlight and discuss during a workshop as part of the Seventh European Summer University in Copenhagen in 2014. Finally, Emmet spent a great deal of time cropping images from the original images (of the “shoebox papers” that I selected in 2012), for the purpose of focusing on particular aspects of Dirac’s mathematical doodlings found in the “shoebox papers.” We felt this was an intriguing first project for the purpose of highlighting one aspect of the Dirac Papers at FSU. For example, because of Dirac’s reputation as a Nobel prize-winning physicist, we purposefully investigated the collection for examples of pure mathematics, since Dirac first began his academic life in the field of mathematics.

Finally, Emmet and I submitted a short paper to the BSHM Bulletin: Journal of the British Society of the History of Mathematics, in which we tell the story of our work together, and in which we highlight examples from our investigation into the “shoebox papers” (Clark & Harrington, 2016).

In closing, I want to publicly express my appreciation to HOMSIGMAA’s interest in the Dirac Papers at FSU. I greatly appreciate Dr. Amy Shell-Gellasch’s encouragement to me to seek funding for this project, and for assisting me over the years as we’ve tried to accomplish what we set out to do. I am also supremely appreciative of the assistance and encouragement of Dean Julia Zimmerman, Associate Dean Katie McCormick, Digital Archivist Krystal Thomas, and Studio Manager Stuart Rochford, all of the FSU Libraries. Without them, this work would not have been possible. I am especially grateful for their patience with me, as they have waited a very long time for me to finish my part of this work so that it can be shared with the world.


Clark, K. M., & Harrington, E. P. (2016). The Paul A M Dirac papers at Florida State University: A search for informal mathematical investigations. British Society for the History of Mathematics Bulletin, 31(3), 205-214.

The Night in 1924 When WNYC Became Real

Pictured above is a piece of New York City history: the engineering log of WNYC’s first official broadcast 93 years ago. It began just before 9 p.m. on July 8, 1924 and lasted a mere three hours and 26 minutes. But in that time, bands played, singers sang, and various municipal figures extolled a new day in communications. Mayor John F. Hylan was one of those caught up in the moment. He leaned into a microphone and pronounced that radio now would bring news to the people of the city “in an interesting, delightful, and attractive form.”

Below are annotations for the entries in the engineer’s logbook shown above. Gaps were filled with newspaper and magazine accounts of the event. We’ve also provided context on some of the personalities cited.

WNYC’s reception room on July 8, 1924.
(Photo by Eugene de Salignac and courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives)

Some 2,000 invitations for the station opening had been sent out and reportedly more than 500 well wishers arrived to tour the new facilities on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building in the two hours prior to the broadcast. At this ‘open house’ the station’s first guests were welcomed to ‘a Spanish garden’ of ‘Moorish design’ with caged songbirds and colored lights adding an exotic ambience to the experience. You can read some of the newspaper accounts at this earlier archive blog piece: Romance of Radio.

Meanwhile, just one flight above, rooftop guests, with their drinks and hors d’oeuvres in hand, were chatting in the warm night air and looking west across the Hudson River at the Jersey lights and waiting anxiously for the public address speakers mounted around them to begin carrying the evening’s event.

8:54 P.M. On the air — no modulation. H. E. Hiller. 

Harry E. Hiller in 1930.

Harry E. Hiller was at the controls when WNYC officially signed on the air. He was among WNYC’s original staff of 17 and hired for $2,700 a year. Hiller had come to WNYC from WBZ, which at the time was located in Springfield MA. Like WNYC’s Chief Announcer Tommy Cowan, Hiller was a radio pioneer, also having worked at WJZ in Newark, the New York metropolitan area’s first radio station.

8:58 Star Spangled Banner with Police Band and soprano – ACN. 

‘Tommy’ Cowan as seen in 1938.
/WNYC Archive Collections)

Marian Fein is the soprano who sings the national anthem. ACN is the announcer Thomas H. Cowan. He is known to listeners only as “ACN” which stood for “Announcer-Cowan-New York” since, at that time, announcers and engineers did not reveal their real names on the air. WNYC’s founder Grover A. Whalen hired ‘Tommy’ just a week earlier to be WNYC’s Supervisor of Broadcasting at the princely sum of $3,000 a year and wrote, “the opportunity which is before you…is so great, so broad, and so limitless…” Cowan’s was the first voice heard when we went on the air July 8, 1924. Tommy was also the first announcer on the air in the New York metropolitan area when WJZ Newark started broadcasting in 1921. He announced the first World Series broadcast based on descriptions phoned into him from the game, as well as covering the June, 1924 Democratic National Convention from Madison Square Garden for WJZ. 

9:02-9:09 Invocation, Blessing and Prayer

Catholic – Monsignor Charles A. Cassidy of Staten Island represented New York Archbishop, Patrick Joseph Cardinal Hayes.

Protestant – Reverend Dr. Charles H. Nauman represented Bishop William T. Manning.

Jewish – Rabbi Bernard Drachman (1861-1945) was the leader of Orthodox Judaism in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. 

9:16 Selection Police Band

The Police Band playing over WNYC from the roof of the Municipal Building in 1930.
(Eugene De Salignac/NYC Municipal Archives)

The Police Department Band was a staple of public events. At the time, the police, fire and the sanitation departments all had bands performing for the on-going assortment of ribbon-cutting and corner stone-laying ceremonies that frequently populated the municipal day book. However, this evening’s studio performance was no plum assignment. The new studios had just been painted a day earlier. Unfortunately, the paint sealed the special acoustic wallpaper so that sound bounced off of it rather than being absorbed. It was a fact that only became apparent as the broadcast was about to begin. At the last moment heavy drapes were hung on the walls and ceiling to dampen the sound but this also resulted in making the studio airtight. Needless to say, the performers were not pleased on that humid July evening.

The cover of the November 1924 Radio Stories magazine with the article by Hazel Ross, “The Birth of a New Station.”
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Writing in the pulp magazine Radio Stories, Hazel Ross described the scene: “With fifty or more, their instruments and music racks, jammed into that one small, heavily insulated room, the atmosphere took on the nature of a Turkish bath. Dripping drummers fled to the outer air in the very midst of martial selections…sweating saxophonists, casting fame and discretion to the winds, struggled out of the torture chamber, tearing open their shirts and gasping for air. Director Christie Bohnsack gave them time to mop their swimming brows, dosed them with ice-cold orange juice and then herded them back into their proper places with a masterly tactfulness…”

9:19 one moment please 

Rodman Wanamaker
(Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

Although not noted in the log, newspaper accounts reported that at this point Rodman Wanamaker followed the police band and introduced Mayor Hylan. The department store magnate had headed up the original Board of Estimate committee appointed to study Whalen’s proposal of a city-owned and operated radio station. In April 1922 Mayor Hylan announced the committee at the opening of Wanamaker’s New York radio station WWZ.

Grover Whalen scrapbook clip of The Brooklyn Standard Union courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.

Wanamaker’s introduction was interrupted by a furious summer thunderstorm that sent those listening on the rooftop racing for cover. The Brooklyn Standard Union’s front page the next day reported, “It supplied the real thrill of the evening. The crowd jammed the doorways, getting thoroughly drenched. One woman fainted, but was revived when taken downstairs to the offices of the Parole Commission, which immediately became the scene of animated but confused activity. An obliging youth named Mulligan, a city employee, put in an appearance with a handful of towels which the youngsters and the fairest of the visitors seized forthwith. Several young women discovered that their wet dresses were shrinking. Numerous hats were shrinking. Park Commissioner Edward T. O’Loughlin of Brooklyn flitted back and forth through the corridors drenched to the skin and anxiously looking for ‘Ma’ O’Loughlin, from whom he had been separated in the crush. Borough President Connolly of Queens, who had remained inside all of the time, nearly started a ‘riot’ by asking an acquaintance if ‘it had been raining outside.’ “

9:22 Mayor Hylan speaks

New York City Mayor John F. Hylan.
New York Police Department, Annual Report (1918), p.1. Held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections.

“Municipal information, formerly available only after perusal of reports, is now to be brought into one’s home in an interesting, delightful and attractive form.  Facts, civic, social, commercial and industrial, will be marshaled and presented by those with their subjects well in hand. Talks on timely topics will also be broadcasted. Programs sufficiently diversified to meet all tastes with musical concerts, both vocal and instrumental, featured at all times, should make ‘tuning in’ on the Municipal Radio pleasant as well as profitable.

“Through the employment of this modern and very effective means of transmitting information, an aroused public interest in the municipal government may logically be expected to ensue upon a broader understanding, a clearer knowledge and a deeper appreciation of its functioning. And it follows, as night the day, that the more enlightened the citizenship, the better it becomes.” To read Mayor Hylan’s complete address go to: Hylan’s WNYC Speech. And, for more on the Hylan-WNYC backstory see: Mr. Hylan in the Air.

9:42 1/2 Ax Re: Vincent Lopez now in studio.

Dance band leader Vincent Lopez in the 1920s.
(Harold Stein/WNYC Archive Collections)

Tommy Cowan tells the listening audience that dance band leader Vincent Lopez (1895-1975) has just come into the studio. Vincent Lopez was a popular radio dance band leader. He began broadcasting a 90-minute program over WJZ Newark in November 1921. Lopez became one of the country’s most popular bandleaders through the 1940s, and his flamboyant style was said to have made an impression on Liberace. In 1941 Lopez and his orchestra launched a twenty year stint as the house band at Manhattan’s Taft Hotel.    

9:43  “Novelette” Mr. H. Neumann pianist. 

Herman Neuman at WNYC’s piano in 1927.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Herman Neumann was hired as WNYC’s first music supervisor or music director and an assistant announcer at $2,700 per year. During WNYC’s earliest days, Neuman also acted as staff pianist. In 1929 he started The Masterwork Hour, radio’s first regular and later, longest running, program of recorded classical music. In a 1964 interview he recalled he would give as many as five piano recitals a day, announcing the selections himself from a standard volume called Masterpieces of Piano Music. Neuman said that many of the vocalists he accompanied were “song pluggers” who were dispatched to the station by music publishers to sing their latest songs on the air and encourage the sale of sheet music.

9:45 Mr. Lopez speaks

The orchestra of pianist Vincent Lopez in the early 1920s
(WNYC Archive Collections)

9:47- 10:27 Lopez and Orchestra Perform:

June Night, Limehouse Blues, Aida (modernized), Nola, Hottest Man in Town, Echoes of New York,  Rubetown Frolic, What’ll I Do, Kitten on the Keys, piano solo, In a Ronderouz, I Can’t Get You, and a medley of George Cohan hits.

10:27 end of dance selections  Thanks for calls and etc. Anx

Tommy Cowan back-announces the last musical selection and thanks all of the station’s well wishers for their calls.

Carbon microphone from 1920s
(WNYC Archive Collections)

10:29 Microphone crackles. Loose battery connection.

This was WNYC’s first official on-air technical difficulty. It was not, however, the only electronic snafu of the evening. The New York Times reported the following day that Mayor Hylan’s wife, “on an upper level, missed the Mayor’s speech when the amplifier failed to yield to his voice. It was found that the horn was rigged to a microphone whose adjustment had been overlooked so that it had not been ‘tuned in.’ “

10:30 Grover Whalen speaks.  (Relay trips)

Grover A. Whalen.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Grover A. Whalen was the outgoing Commissioner of Bridges, Plant and Structures, the parent agency of WNYC. It was Whalen’s strong belief that New York City should have its own radio station. He fought long and hard from 1922-1924 to make this idea a reality. He convinced the Board of Estimate to appropriate the necessary $50,000 to get the station on the air and battled against the emerging communications giants (AT&T, Westinghouse, General Electric and RCA), those he called “the radio trust,” to get a transmitter on his own terms. According to L. E. Brown in The Sun, Whalen “gave a brief outline of the difficulties encountered in securing the apparatus and installing it.”

10:35 President Connolly, Boro of Queens, speaks.

Queens Borough President Maurice E. Connolly in 1918.
(Press Illustrating Service, Inc./WNYC Archive Collections)

Maurice E. Connolly was significant because he had a sympathetic ear for technical innovations and sat on the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the governing body that appropriated money for capital projects. He was the first person Commissioner Grover Whalen approached in 1922 about the idea of a city radio station. As the Commissioner of the Department of Bridges, Plant and Structures, Whalen suggested to Connolly that he submit his (Whalen’s) proposal for a city radio station to the board. On March 17, 1922, Connolly recommended to the board that a committee study the proposal.

10:48 JA Lynch Boro President of Richmond speaks. 

John A. Lynch is the Borough President of Staten Island and member of the Board of Estimate.

10:54 GAWhalen speaks. -ACN-  HEHiller 

Commissioner Grover Whalen returned to the microphone. It appears he was joined by announcer Tommy Cowan (ACN)..

10:59 short intermission

11:02 Ernest Jones Billy Hare & Vaughn DeLeath in a humourous dialogue.

Billy Jones and Ernest Hare on the air in 1923.
(NYWTS Collection/Library of Congress)

Vaughn DeLeath in the 1920s.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Jones and Hare were among of the most popular radio entertainers and recording artists of the time. Performing as The Happiness Boys, they were perhaps known best for their release on Victor Records Twisting the Dials, a comic vaudeville routine about that new media known as radio. Vaughn DeLeath was a a popular jazz singer and crooner in the 1920s earning the nicknames The Original Radio Girl and The First Lady of Radio. She was best known for her rendition of Are You Lonesome Tonight. However, it is curious that in reviewing the numerous newspaper and magazine articles about this event, not one mentions these leading radio performers or their routine. 

11:12 Estelle Carey. Soprano

Estelle Carey in 1921.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Estelle Carey (1890-1963) was a Canadian-born soprano who pursued a career in the United States in the 1920s performing in Detroit, Chicago and New York. The Canadian Encyclopedia writes that during a year long engagement at New York’s Strand Theater in 1923, her charming coloratura voice earned her the title, ‘The Little Brown Thrush of Broadway.’


Carey performed, The Winds in the South, Daddy, and Our Little Songs.

11:24 Six Brown Brothers – Saxophones. 

The Six Brown Brown Brothers pictured on the sheet music cover of That Moaning Saxophone Rag in 1913.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

The Six Brown Brothers were a celebrity saxophone sextet. They were instrumental in popularizing the saxophone in the 1920s and often performed in clown costumes in both white and black face. They were William, Tom, Alec, Percy, Fred and Vern Brown. They began working in circuses and then minstrel and vaudeville shows. Bandleader Tom Brown claimed to have transformed the ‘siren of Satan’ to the apex of ‘the cool.’ The group’s records were the first discs of a saxophone ensemble in wide circulation.

11:26-11:37 The saxophone group performed Daughters of the American Revolution March, “Medley” and At Dawning. 

11:38-11:50 Senor Alonzo, violinist

Senor Alonzo or Señor Alonzo remains a mystery although he performed Ave Maria with piano (probably Herman Neuman) and Spanish Dance.

11:52 Six Brown Brother Descriptive Selection

Clip from the “Journal” July 10, 1924.
(NYC Municipal Archives/Grover Whalen scrapbook)

11:59 Thanks for good wishes from WOR and others

The New York Telegram and Evening Mail reported the next day that hundreds of congratulatory messages had been received by telephone and telegram from persons who had listened in for the first time. Charles B. Poponoe, the director of station WJZ, also sent a huge bouquet of roses with a note that the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and New York’s pioneer station wished the first municipal station “all the luck in the world.”

 July 9, 1924 A.M. 

Ad for Huston Ray performing at the Majestic Theater in Elmira, New York in March 1925.
(Elmira Star Gazette)

12:01 “Elegie” transcription Huston Ray pianist

Huston Ray was the stage name for Ray Daghistan of Elmira, New York. The Post Star of Glen Falls, New York had this to say of Ray in August 1924: “Of all the people in the world who play the piano there is not over two score brilliant pianists and Huston Ray has the honor and distinction of being one of the small number. He is an accomplished musician, one whose technique and expression are faultless and with all the intimate personality that immediately puts him on good terms with his audience.”  Ray was described as a graduate of the Winn School of Popular Music in Elmira, New York, where he also taught popular music and ragtime.

12:05-12:11 Ray performs Hungarian Rhapsody #6″ and What’ll I Do.

12:12 95th Ballot returns. Dem Conv.  

Special Guest ticket to the 1924 DNC.at

WNYC went on the air in the final hours of the 1924 Democratic National Convention, held uptown at Madison Square Garden from June 24 to July 9. Grover Whalen’s original schedule had the station’s opening ceremonies on Friday, June 20 with regular broadcasts beginning the following Tuesday by covering the convention’s opening.  However, Whalen did not announce the station’s completion and readiness for air until June 18 in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover requesting a wavelength of 525 meters. Hoover responded by telegram late on June 21, issuing an experimental license with the call letters 2XBH. Still, Whalen needed a permanent Class B license and it appears political opposition was coming from WAOW in Omaha, which also operated at 525 meters. Meanwhile, The Sun wrote, “The Commissioner is ready to install direct wires from the studio in the Municipal Building to the Convention Hall at Madison Square Garden as soon as the permanent license is received.” WNYC got the Class B license, but not in time to cover the convention.

Newspaper headline about WNYC interference with DNC coverage.
(Grover Whalen scrapbook/NYC Municipal Archives)

Additionally, WNYC caused some upset among some convention listeners with its test broadcasts on July 5 and 7, as well as the official opening on the 8th. Newspapers reported that those with homemade receivers or less elaborate commercial sets were at a disadvantage in distinguishing between WNYC’s 525 meter wave length and WEAF’s 492 meter signal, leaving the listener with a jumble of the two. Hazel Ross wrote, “Just when the balloting was hottest, WNYC, gleefully taking her maiden dip in the ether, came in so strong that it was impossible to tune her out!” 

FDR delivers the nominating speech for Alfred E. Smith at the 1924 DNC.
(FDR Library)

It took a record 103 ballots to nominate a Democratic presidential candidate in 1924. It was the longest continuously running convention in United States political history. John W. Davis, initially an outsider, eventually won the presidential nomination as a compromise candidate following a virtual war of attrition between front-runners William Gibbs McAdoo and Al Smith.

12:15 Auld Lang Song  Chorus.  

12:16 1/2 “Old Kentucky Home” “Home Sweet Home”  Huston Ray pianist

12:17 1/2 Grover Whalen speaks  

NYC Commissioner and WNYC head William Wirt Mills in 1924
(NYC Municipal Archives)

Grover Whalen provided concluding remarks for the evening’s festivities. He had resigned as the Commissioner of Plant and Structures several days earlier to work for Rodman Wanamaker. There were rumors something had come between him and Mayor Hylan. The commissioner, however, publicly insisted that the $10,000 a year he made just wasn’t enough to support his family. Mayor Hylan made him Honorary Radio Chief. The man now in charge of WNYC was Whalen’s deputy, William Wirt Mills.

12:20 Sign off

Newspaper accounts also mention two singers performing that evening not noted in the logbook: Soprano Muriel Tindal and a contralto named Rene Warwick. The British-born Tindal was at the Metropolitan Opera from 1921 to 1923. Despite research, information about Rene Warwick has not yet been located.

WNYC’s illuminated call letters, each nearly eight feet high, on the western face of the Municipal Building, July 8, 1924. The letters were flanked by glowing red cupolas.
(Eugene de Salignac/NYC Municipal Archives)

Special thanks to Alexandra Hilton, Archivist at the New York City Municipal Archives for her assistance.

Mr. Hylan in the Air

“CITY’S RADIO PLANT OPENED BY MAYOR,” the New York Times headline read on July 10, 1924. “HYLAN PARTY IS DRENCHED.” The inauguration of “Station WNYC” by New York Mayor John F. Hylan had indeed taken place during a summer electrical storm, whose approach had been concealed by the dazzling new lights of the Municipal Building tower, where the gala opening was held. Even the Fireman’s Band, the newspaper noted with barely-suppressed amusement, had their pomp and circumstance extinguished by the sudden cloudburst: “the sheets of rain partially filled the large bass horns, which the musical but hurried firefighters accidentally inverted like brimming goblets upon many heads.”

WNYC’s illuminated call letters on the western face of the Municipal Building, July 8, 1924.
(Photo by Eugene de Salignac and courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives)

This unintended immersion baptism did not douse the Mayor’s enthusiasm for the city’s new medium, however. In his opening broadcast, Mayor Hylan boasted that New York was now the first American city to offer a municipal radio station,* with “uninterrupted…recreational entertainment for all the people.” In fact, 1924 would be a year of many New York firsts: the first time the Yankees won the World Series (and their first season at the new Yankee Stadium); the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; the first automatically controlled traffic lights (which only blazed red or green); the first time the black actor Paul Robeson performed at the Greenwich Village Theatre (in the controversial O’Neill play “All God’s Chillun Got Wings”). As the city was innovating and evolving, however, the nation was constricting. Hylan’s citizenry were fully aware of the local implications of Prohibition, or of the brand-new Johnson-Reed Act —a piece of legislation that used a national-origins quota to limit immigration to the United States and excluded all Asian immigrants, without exception.

Given this context, Mayor Hylan might have been expected to hit lofty themes in his inaugural radio address, perhaps contrasting his cosmopolitan constituency with the retrograde policies and fearfulness of the greater United States. Instead, brand-new WNYC listeners were treated to a monotonous lecture on the “operations of municipal machinery,” and the ways in which radio can furnish “facts —civic, social, commercial and industrial” for “public enlightenment” and general uplift. “We are prepared to tell you over your own radio,” Hylan went on, “just exactly what is being done to make your city a better place to work in and to live in …this will provide a fact basis upon which the people may found constructive criticism. That is what is needed and always welcome.”

These platitudes were a rehash of the remarks Mayor Hylan had delivered at his own inauguration six years earlier, when he was elected as the Tammany Hall candidate and was generally believed to be in thrall to William Randolph Hearst, the powerful publisher and isolationist politician. In an effort to separate himself from his backers, the brand-new Mayor denounced “favoritism” and spurned political “catering to any newspaper.” “Words do not mean anything unless there are facts behind them,” he insisted. “Just criticism will help us, false criticism will not greatly injure us, and the [involvement] of the people has nullified the value of puffing and systematic laudation, even to those who have a craving for it.” Hylan returned to this concept in his WNYC address as well, urging listeners to “send along your suggestions” for how to improve the city. “An enlightened citizen interest, militantly expressed, is now in keeping with the trend of the times.”

As it turns out, the “militant” expression of an enlightened citizenry was not at all what Hylan wanted WNYC to encourage —nor was the Mayor looking for “constructive criticism” from any quarter. For the next year, he used the municipal airwaves not to share municipal information, but as his personal bully pulpit, railing in speech after speech against the State Transit Commission, which managed the privately-operated subway systems in New York City and threatened Hylan’s hopes for a city-run system. Additionally, he censored the broadcast of rebuttals to these radio attacks from the Commission and the heads of the B.M.T and I.R.T., and circulated an anti-Transit Commission broadside entitled “Who’s To Blame?” at taxpayer expense. Nor was the Commissioner of Plant and Structures, whose job it was to oversee WNYC, exempt from participation in his crusade: Hylan enlisted him to read from his hagiographic memoir, Seven Years of Progress, on the air for fifteen minutes each night. By November of that year a New York Times editorial, “Mr. Hylan in the Air,” seemed to point out a new storm brewing around the Mayor with potentially far more destructive power than the one he faced on WNYC’s opening night.  His peremptory lockdown of the airwaves, the editorial said, could not conceal a “serious defection going on behind Mr. Hylan’s battle line.” Indeed, by 1925 the fight was in the courts: Citizens Union brought an action against Hylan and his Commissioner, enjoining them from using taxpayer funds for propaganda purposes. It was the first in a series of legal challenges that would end in an injunction, and it also ended Hylan’s hopes for reelection. He was soundly defeated in the Democratic primary that year by a glamorous, Tammany-supported State Senator named Jimmy Walker.

In a rumination on the downfall of Mayor Hylan, one editorial suggested the public might look to the “sinister political figure” who stood behind him –William Randolph Hearst. “Of his devising,” the editors wrote, “is the scheme, if there is one, to use Mayor Hylan in order to disrupt and defeat the Democratic Party in this city.” It is, of course, not hard to draw historical parallels between Hylan’s erratic tenure and the current political situation in the United States: the exploitation of a new and under-regulated media platform, the insistence on loyalty and the silencing of critics —even the presence of a “sinister” influence in the shadows. But it is more interesting to contemplate the persistence of that new media platform, ninety-three years later, long after Mayor Hylan and his broadcast battles have been forgotten. WNYC endured thanks to the New Yorkers who sued for the station’s independence from partisanship and power struggles in its early days. May it continue to operate on a “fact basis” throughout many more mayoralties to come.


*Editor’s Note: Actually, WRR in Dallas, Texas was the first municipal radio station in the United States. We can only guess that Mayor Hylan hadn’t really looked into it.   

Dissent: Catalyst or Threat?

The National Association of Manufacturers provides an unlikely forum for this 1970 debate between Ramsey Clark and William F. Buckley. CBS News commentator Eric Sevareid presides. The topic is “Dissent Within a Lawful Society.” Sevareid starts off with his own take on the subject. First warning that he is merely “a horseback philosopher” and quoting Walter Lippmann’s self-deprecating view of journalistic analysis being “notes made by puzzled men,” Sevareid then stakes out a centrist position, trying balance the desire of “the passionate young” for change with the older population’s respect for order. He has more sympathy for the Civil Rights movement, calling the treatment of African-Americans a “true stain on the American soul,” than for student-inspired campus takeovers, though he admits that the war in Vietnam does seem to call for some form of protest. What he sees as the solution is neither a radical reordering of the power structure nor a crackdown on those who call for such change but rather “a new art of government” to address these issues. 

Ramsey Clark calls dissent “the principal catalyst in the alchemy of Truth.” For him, protests, marches, sit-ins, etc., are “pleas for vision and understanding.” They are resorted to by people who have no voice in our society and so must employ these unorthodox methods. Although he deplores violence he understands where the deep rage and desperation of rioting comes from. Tellingly, he urges the (obviously all-white) audience to try and understand what it is like to be black. He also, shockingly for a former Attorney General in 1970, points out that the police “are capable of illegal violence too.” He concludes by calling for more communication between the government and its people as a way to reduce pressure and solve the pressing problems we face.

William F. Buckley turns Clark’s formulation on its head. Rather than seeing dissent as a catalyst in some alchemical search, Buckley feels he knows certain Truths and wants to act on them. By knowing Truth one knows Error, which must be combatted and its adherents punished. There is no such thing, he argues, as the “peaceful revolution” championed by those who perform radical acts of dissent. Revolution is by nature violent. The opposite of revolution, he claims, is evolution. In practical terms, his seemingly mild-mannered prescriptions become more chilling. Foreign policy is largely the prerogative of the executive branch and must be supported. It can only be changed by elections. The waves of anger and protest sweeping the nation are being encouraged by “opinion-makers.” He then singles out civil rights attorney William Kunstler, recommending his disbarment for encouraging illegal acts of protest and laments the failure of Congress to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. The tyranny we should fear is from the Left. Our response should be “a sign of firmness.”

A question-and-answer period follows during which both speakers elaborate their views. Clark calls for a diffusion of power back to the community level. Buckley emphasizes the need for order and compares student protestors to members of the Hitler Youth Movement. Aside from the debate itself, which sounds remarkably and depressingly topical almost fifty years on, it’s interesting to hear the persona adopted by each speaker. Clark presents himself as a mere country lawyer full of concern for the common man. Buckley revels in his command of ornate English constructions and lengthily quotes from memory such conservative luminaries as Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, and Hilaire Belloc. One is struck by how none of the three speakers condescend to their audience. While the issues of 1970 remain relevant, the level of discourse over the ensuing decades has sunk, while the willingness to listen to the other side seems to have disappeared entirely.

Eric Sevareid (1912-1992) was a swashbuckling journalist and radio reporter who covered the fall of France and many other crucial episodes of World War II. One of “Murrow’s Boys,” he became a familiar face of CBS News during that network’s rise to prominence, eventually settling into the role of commentator on national and international events. Albert Auster, writing for the Museum of Broadcast Communications website, recalls:

From l964 until his retirement Sevareid appeared on theCBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. During that period his Emmy and Peabody award-winning two-minute commentaries, with their penchant to elucidate rather than advocate, inspired those who admired him to refer to him as “The Grey Eminence.” On the other hand those who were irked by his tendency to overemphasize the complexity of every issue nicknamed him, “Eric Severalsides.” Sevareid himself said that as he had grown older his tendency was toward conservatism in foreign affairs and liberalism in domestic politics. Despite this, after a trip to South Vietnam in l966 he commented that prolonging the war was unwise and a negotiated settlement was advisable.

One of Sevareid’s most memorable comments was on Richard Nixon’s resignation. “Few things in his presidency,” he pointed out, “became him so much as his manner of leaving…”

Ramsey Clark (b. 1927) was the son of a former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice. During his own tenure as Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, he pushed to enforce civil rights legislation but also prosecuted anti-war protestors. His subsequent political evolution has been one of the most striking in American politics. As the Encyclopedia Britannica reports:

Upon leaving office as Nixon became president, Clark embraced his activist tendencies with a passion. For Clark, crime emerged from the dehumanizing effects of poverty, racism, ignorance, and violence. He argued that America needed to address those problems through education and rehabilitation rather than resorting to prisons, which he saw as criminal hothouses that only exacerbated the problem.

In addition to championing a more holistic approach to criminal justice, Clark sought to address specific issues. In 1973 he and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Roy Wilkins launched an excoriating attack on the Chicago Police Department and the state’s attorney for their roles in the 1969 shooting deaths of Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. Clark claimed that violence occurs when such little value is placed on others that perpetrators see no wrong in seeking to control or destroy them. That charge would be the leitmotif of his subsequent political activism as his emphasis shifted from U.S. government actions at home to actions abroad.

Indeed, Clark has since become known for his fierce opposition to American overseas involvement in the Middle East, even going so far as to represent Saddam Hussein.

William F. Buckley (1925-2008) was the most visible conservative theorist of his day. His long-running television program Firing Line provided viewers with a contrasting view to the perceived “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. But it was the founding of The National Review in 1955 that will most likely be seen as his lasting contribution to the cause of conservative reform. Buckley legitimized what was then largely regarded as a movement whose advocates were politically untouchable. In its obituary, the New York Times reports:

The National Review helped define the conservative movement by isolating cranks from Mr. Buckley’s chosen mainstream. “Bill was responsible for rejecting the John Birch Society and the other kooks who passed off anti-Semitism or some such as conservatism,” Hugh Kenner, a biographer of Ezra Pound and a frequent contributor to National Review, told The Washington Post. “Without Bill — if he had decided to become an academic or a businessman or something else — without him, there probably would be no respectable conservative movement in this country.”

This nostalgic view of Buckley must be balanced against his longstanding approval of racial segregation and his infamous suggestion, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, that gay men should be tattooed on their buttocks. As this debate makes clear, beneath his famously feline delivery lurked some very sharp claws.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 151493Municipal archives id: T7712, T7713, T7714, T7715 and T7716

Access for All

Moments of political turmoil are an opportunity for organizations to define what they really believe, and in January the American Library Association did just that with a statement titled, “ALA opposes new administration policies that contradict core values.”

We liked the statement so much we thought it deserved a chance to move off the screen and onto the page, so we teamed up with local letterpress printers DWRI Letterpress to create a broadside version of an excerpt of the statement. The text was set on one of the DWRI Linotype machines and printed by hand.

We’re going to post copies here at PPL, but we printed more than we’ll need, and we’re happy to share. If you’re interested in having a copy for your library, just contact us. We might even throw in a copy of our awesome new comic.

The finished broadside and the forme used to print it.