Happy Birthday, City of Vancouver

Today is Incorporation Day, marking 130 years since the City was officially incorporated. The City of Vancouver is 130 years old!

Tillicum the otter, mascot for the Vancouver Centennial Commission's celebrations. Identifier 2011-010.2218.

Tillicum the otter, mascot for the Vancouver Centennial Commission’s celebrations. Identifier 2011-010.2218.

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve recently been given funding from the B.C. History Digitization Program to digitize photographs and some graphics from the Vancouver Centennial Commission fonds. The Centennial Commission was formed in 1979 and was responsible for organizing Vancouver’s Centennial celebrations in 1986.

1980s-style bike racks, a Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-3.

1980s-style bike racks, a Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-3.

In addition to that project, we will be digitizing photographs from the City’s Legacy Program. This program was designed to enhance civic infrastructure (for example, by painting and lighting the Burrard Bridge) and to embellish the City with public art, amenities and signage.

Totem pole carving in progress. A Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-9.1.

Totem pole carving in progress. A Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-9.1.

We’ll be making these available as quickly as we can, releasing them in batches as they are ready, so that you can use them as soon as possible. Watch this space—we’ll let you know!

Art//Archives Open Hours: Today and Tomorrow

Just a reminder: Special Collections has open hours every Tuesday from 10:00 – 1:00, and every Wednesday from 3:00 – 7:00. You can stop by to browse a selection of items set up in the Reading Room, or you can request items related to a topic of interest. (Have you been wanting to look at children’s books illustrated with woodcuts, or diagrams of early 20th century plumbing systems? This is a great opportunity!)


Images above, clockwise from upper left: “Sheet metal shoe for advertising” from Metal Worker, Plumber, and Steam Fitter (October 22, 1915); Kutroff, Pickhardt, and Co. advertisement with fabric samples from Textile Colorist (47.561, September 1925); “United States Weather Bureau” from Peerless Paris and Its Marvelous Universal Exhibition (Philadelphia: Universal Expo Publishing Company, 1900); “Sea Urchins and Starfish” from Research Design in Nature (Chicago: John Gilbert Wilkins, 1931).

We’re located on the 3rd floor of the Providence Public Library, at the top of the marble staircase. We’re also open by appointment; just give us a call or send us an email!

The Emily Dickinson Riots

Following the lamentable events in the town of Amherst last night, and as the community awaits an estimate of the damages and the full list of casualties, we felt that it would be appropriate to take a look back at the history of Emily Dickinson related violence in Amherst.

The earliest destruction associated with Emily Dickinson is, alas, confined mainly to conjecture. Following a series of mysterious nocturnal fires in the town of Amherst in the late 1870s and early 1880s, rumors began spreading of sightings of a white clad figure in connection with the blazes. The complete destruction of the college’s Walker Hall on the night of March 29, 1882, one of this series of fires, was linked with Dickinson some decades later. In a deathbed confession, mathematics instructor Fred A. Gaylord revealed that he had been maintaining a passionate correspondence with a mysterious and poetical local lady with dreadful penmanship; days before the blaze he had threatened to publish her letters if she continued to refuse to meet him in person. Her letters were, of course, completely destroyed in the conflagration.

Walker Hall after fire

Burned out shell of Walker Hall, 1882



Some fifty years later, in 1925,  Amherst College students were holding their annual declamation contest in the College Grove. Unrest began during the event when factions supporting Arthur J. White, who recited Wordsworth, and Elmer P. Hurst, reading Emily Dickinson, began to deride one another’s literary discernment. Violence erupted after the judges unanimously chose White. The brawl quickly spread through the crowd leaving a large portion of the student body nursing injuries to body and dignity.

President Olds remonstrated the students the following day and officially banned both Dickinson and Wordsworth from campus.

President Olds addressing students

President Olds addressing students in front of College hall



In April of 1956, as news of Millicent Todd Bingham’s donation of her Emily Dickinson manuscripts to Amherst College spread throughout the town, a large group of passionate supporters of Amherst’s Jones Library gathered on the town common. Already nettled by the donation of Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s manuscripts to Harvard, this latest news was unbearable insult to the loyal library patrons who felt that Dickinson’s works belonged at the public library. Torches were lit and as the angry mob grew, groups of torch bearing citizens roamed the campus terrorizing undergraduates and professors alike. Late in the evening the mob reconvened in the town common and burned both institutions of higher learning in effigy while chanting, “Emily for the People! Emily for the People!”



In 1989, the renowned expert in early photographic portraiture, G. D. Anderson, offered a rare opportunity for the public to bring possible Emily Dickinson, ca. 1847daguerreotypes of Emily Dickinson to him for assessment. Much to his astonishment, 126 individuals attended the event, held in the Masonic Lodge in Amherst. In order to keep the crowd amused during the long wait for individual consultations, Anderson made the short-sighted suggestion that attendees form small groups to discuss the merit of the images they had brought. Tragically, all 126 daguerreotypes were destroyed in the resulting melee. Following the incident, Anderson removed himself entirely from public life and is rumored to now be a llama farmer in northern Vermont.



In 2008, in a carefully hushed incident, Amherst College Physics Professor Dr. Johanna Ehrikson pursued her Emily Dickinson research to the near annihilation of the planet. Dr. Ehrikson was exploring the hypothesis that Emily Dickinson had embedded the Theory Of Everything (TOE) in her written works (specifically the fascicle books). Intending to publish the TOE in a paper jointly authored by herself and Dickinson, Dr. Ehrikson fed Dickinson’s works into a secret algorithm to begin the process of decoding. To her astonishment, the overwhelming weight of the profundity of Dickinson’s poetry caused a very small black hole to form. It was only the quick action of student assistant Emma Rahlsten, who recognized the danger and quickly hit the kill switch, that stopped the black hole before it became large enough to be self-sustaining. The black hole evaporated, life on earth continued as we know it, and Professor Ehrikson decided to pursue other avenues to tenure.



Most recently, as I’m sure we’re all aware, was the pub fight at the 2011 Emily Dickinson International Society conference. A heated debate between opposing camps of scholars on the meaning of Dickinson’s dash lengths escalated to nose tweaking and ear pulling and quickly developed into an all-out brawl that caused significant property damage to the now defunct Groan & Quail and changed the course of a number of scholarly inquiries.



All of us at the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections offer our sympathies to those affected by last night’s incident and our sincere hope that we can finally all come together and stop the violence.

Edit: Happy April Fools Day!

With gratitude for the research assistance of Dr. Theresa J. Brandt and Margaret Dakin.

Over 2100 more maps are now online

Thanks to funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program, we’ve recently completed a project to digitize over 2100 maps and plans and made them available online for you to use and re-use. We’ve tried to digitize these maps with enough resolution to support future types of re-use and processing, including optical character recognition and feature extraction.

These maps and plans hold quite a variety of information. We have put a small selection of images on flickr as a sample.

Want to see how the city was reshaped? You can see the before and after of a section of Point Grey in 1925, before it was part of the City of Vancouver.

Plan of government subdivision at Point Grey, B.C. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 359.

Plan of government subdivision at Point Grey, B.C. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 359.

Here’s a plan for an airport built out into the sea at Spanish Banks, with a proposed airfield and mooring mast for airships (this was before the Hindenburg disaster), a 20,000-seat stadium, night lights, winter gardens, swimming pool, and a children’s protected swimming channel.

Vancouver airport plan, 1928. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 377-: 1972-568.2.

Vancouver airport plan, 1928. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 377-: 1972-568.2.

Here’s a 1969 plan for Jericho Park which includes an ice palace, miniature train and tennis.

A preliminary proposal for development of Jericho Park, 1969. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 965.

A preliminary proposal for development of Jericho Park, 1969. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 965.

This one shows Cable TV service areas in 1964:

Cablevision : Vancouver, B.C., Canada, September, 1964. Reference code AM1519-: PAM 1964-185

Cablevision : Vancouver, B.C., Canada, September, 1964. Reference code AM1519-: PAM 1964-185

We have a number of plans that show the development of Vancouver’s water works. This one shows proposed extensions and improvements, including reservoirs in Stanley Park and Little Mountain. Here’s a detail of one section. Note that False Creek still extends well past Main Street at this time, and the City of Vancouver does not go further south than 16th Avenue.

General plan of proposed extension & improvements, circa 1907. Reference code COV-S371---: LEG1153.092

General plan of proposed extension & improvements, circa 1907. Reference code COV-S371—: LEG1153.092

This map shows which businesses were operating on False Creek and where, in 1952. This image is a detail from the Main Street end of the Creek.

False Creek development survey occupation plan, September 1952. Reference code AM738-F1-: MAP 913.

False Creek development survey occupation plan, September 1952. Reference code AM738-F1-: MAP 913.

You can see how the City used land in 1984.

City of Vancouver Land Use 1984, published by City of Vancouver Planning Department. Reference code PUB-: PD 1984.

City of Vancouver Land Use 1984, published by City of Vancouver Planning Department. Reference code PUB-: PD 1984.

From the Leon Ladner fonds, this map shows Shaughnessy Heights in 1912 and is annotated with the names of the property owners. Here’s a small portion:

Map of Shaughnessy Heights, 1912. Detail of reference code AM641-S8-: LEG1363.01.

Map of Shaughnessy Heights, 1912. Detail of reference code AM641-S8-: LEG1363.01.

We’ve digitized some of the non-map materials that go with the maps. For example, on the other side of a map of Greater Vancouver in 1911, there is “What the man who comes to Vancouver wants to know”, listing hotels and room rates, the first-class (and merely good) restaurants, tea rooms, clubs, theatres and the baseball schedule for the Vancouver Beavers.

"What the man who comes to Vancouver wants to know", 1911. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 749-: LEG1277.7.

“What the man who comes to Vancouver wants to know”, 1911. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 749-: LEG1277.7.

In the coming weeks, we will make the maps available as TIF files, as we have for our other maps. Please let us know how you are using these maps and plans!

This digitization project was made possible by funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia. Irving K. Barber Learning Centre logo

Federal Music Project Mixtape: Black Voices on the Air

The Federal Music Project (FMP), was one of several programs under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) aimed at finding employment for thousands of Americans in the arts. The FMP primarily produced symphonic and orchestral music, however, the project also employed musicians and researchers involved in regional and marginalized forms of music such as Western, Creole, Mexican Orquesta típica and so called “Negro spirituals.” 

The WNYC and Municipal Archives contain several FMP recordings of African American choral groups singing spirituals and other traditional songs. Through the cracks and pops come expressive vocal arrangements and breakout solo performances. Click on the listen button to hear a mixtape, featuring highlights from these recordings. This is just a cross section of the variety of genres, intricate harmonies and emotional intensity that set these songs apart from other FMP productions.

Though the program created a platform for marginalized performers, they were subjected to the same discrimination typical of Jim Crow America. Music groups were segregated along racial and ethnic lines despite playing to large, integrated audiences. Most were subjected to discriminatory practices, such as unequal wage classifications and performing stereotypical music associated with the idealized antebellum south and minstrelsy.

The spiritual, originally used as a form of slave resistance, echoes the singers’ contemporary struggles. The announcer introduces Sit Down Servant, by the Juanita Hall Choir (Program No. 4), as “…the story of an old colored woman who’s not allowed to sit down in this world, but looks forward to her golden chair in the next.”

Since most of the arrangements hail from the spiritual tradition, Christian faith is the predominant subject matter. An unusual exception, however, is an arrangement of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy, by the Los Angeles Colored Chorus (Program No. 79), in which the performers sing a harmonic backdrop for a spoken word recitation of the famous monologue.

The recordings frequently invoke modern forms of popular music such as swing and blues. These genres are most apparent in Program No. 79 in which the standard Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is reinterpreted as a “swing spiritual” in The Chariots’ Done Come and Swing Low. This program contains another swing spiritual Someone Stole Gabriel’s Horn and finishes with W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues.

Announcers, speaking as if to an all-white audience, emphasize the otherness of each group when introducing a song. In a recording of the Negro Melody Singers (Program No. 4) the announcer suggests, “You may never have witnessed the Negro folk dance but the lively music of Shortenin’ Bread will give you a vivid picture of the gaiety of such a dance!” The intention seems to be ethnographic study, evident on Program No. 16, as the Negro Melody Singers perform a series of vendor street cries heard in neighborhoods across the east coast. In Program No. 52 the announcer describes the song Dark Water as a “modern spiritual with negroid characteristics”, espousing essentialist attitudes towards African Americans at this time. 

In spite of the WPA’s tokenism of marginalized artists, the Federal Music Project helped propel the careers of some performers, most notably the musical theater actress Juanita Hall. Furthermore, historian, David Woolner points out that the WPA,

“…hired and featured the work of hundreds of African American artists; and from the New Deal’s educational programs, which taught over 1 million illiterate blacks to read and write and which increased the number of African American children attending primary school.” (African Americans and the New Deal: A Look Back in History)

In his book Sounds of the New Deal, Peter Gough sums up the conflicted legacy that these recordings leave:

“These events—and the growing Anglo fascination with jazz, blues, and the spirituals—did not directly translate into improved economic situations for black people living in the United States. African Americans suffered disproportionately during the Great Depression, as black unemployment remained nearly twice as high as that of whites. Yet, the decades-long upsurge in violence against African Americans dropped significantly by the mid-1930s and into the 1940s, and the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had expanded alarmingly during the 1910s and 1920s, also began to wane. Further, while the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance or New Negro movement failed to eradicate negative racial stereotypes, there did emerge during the 1930s a growing public awareness of African Americans and an increased interest in their culture—though often predicated on romanticized notions of the Old South of the nineteenth century.”

Track List

  1. Way Over in Beulah Land – Juanita Hall Choir
  2. Raise a Ruckus Tonight – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  3. Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  4. To Be or Not To Be – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  5. Ezekiel Saw the Wheel – Negro Melody Singers
  6. In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning – Negro Art Singers
  7. Steal Away – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  8. Hallelujah Chorus (Handel’s Messiah) – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  9. This Train and Same Train – Negro Melody Singers
  10. Dark Water – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  11. The Chariots’ Done Come and Swing Low – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  12. Joe Brown’s Coal Mine – Negro melody Singers
  13. Little David – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  14. Street vendor cries – Negro Melody Singers
  15. Scandalize My Name – Juanita Hall Choir
  16. Sit Down Servant – Juanita Hall Choir
  17. Four and Twenty Elders – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  18. Someone Stole Gabriel’s Horn – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  19. Go Down Moses – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  20. I Been in the Storm So Long – Negro Melody Singers
  21. Poor Mourner’s Got a Home at Last – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  22. St. Louis Blues – Los Angeles Colored Chorus

From exile to exhibition: Stirling treasure on tour

This spring one of the treasures of our Archives and Special Collections is setting off on a journey to Paris where it will feature in a major new exhibition on the life of the Emperor Napoleon. The volume is a British military signal book which contained detailed instructions for the garrison guarding Napoleon during his exile on the island of St Helena.

The signal book is a well-travelled volume. It was first used by Colonel Mark Wilks, Governor General of St Helena in 1815. This piece of Napoleonic memorabilia passed through the hands of a number of collectors until it was purchased at auction in New York by the family of Burt Eddy Taylor in 1928. In 1969 Mr Taylor donated his collection of Napoleonic material, including the signal book, to the new university library at Stirling. Now, in 2016 it sets sail again, for the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.

Our signal book being checked by the Emperor before its departure for Paris.

Our signal book being checked by the Emperor before its departure for Paris.

The signal book will feature in Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire, a major new exhibition looking at Napoleon’s period of exile on the mid-Atlantic island which opens on 6 April 2016. Our small, scruffy volume will take its place alongside an extensive range of items from collections across Europe which have been brought together to tell the story of Napoleon’s captivity on St Helena.

Detail from inside cover of the signal book.

Detail from inside cover of the signal book.

The signal book highlights the lengths the to which the British went to ensure Napoleon did not escape from the island. The inside covers illustrate the flags and signals which were to be used for communication including those for raising the alarm if Napoleon was missing. To limit the chance of rescue by his supporters a garrison of 1,300 troops was placed on the tiny island. In addition four Royal Navy ships patrolled offshore. Within the pages of the book further detailed instructions were laid out in the event of Napoleon’s absence:

‘the Signal Officers of the different posts are strictly enjoined to lose no time in communicating the intelligence personally to the places nearest them where troops may be stationed to the end that patroles may be immediately sent out in every direction to insure the impracticability of any person escaping from the island.’

The procedures put in place evidently worked. Napoleon remained on the island until his death in May 1821.

Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire

Musée de l’Armée, Paris

6th April – 24th July 2016

Bad Children of History #24: Ransacked by Rufus

Readers will be unsurprised to learn that a fine source of historical bad children is the 1864 book Frank and Rufus; or, Obedience and Disobedience. (I was hoping for an old-fashioned version of Goofus and Gallant, but alas, it’s not really like that at all.) Its author, Catharine M. Trowbridge, also wrote the 1867 book Charles Norwood; or, Erring and Repenting, which sounds to me like Frank and Rufus was so good that she wrote the same thing again, but with a different main character.


Anyway, one of the stars of this book is the young Rufus Dean. He’s a sweet boy with lots of friends, although his impish constitution sometimes leads him down misguided paths.


Here’s Rufus slyly pocketing a dime and a half-dime that his mother left on the windowsill. Why would such a sweet boy do such a thing, taking what Trowbridge calls “a very formidable step in the downward path”? The author explains that “he had repeatedly yielded, when tempted, to disobedience and deceit; and in this way, had greatly weakened his moral power to resist temptation.”

What happens to a boy with weakened moral power? I didn’t  read all 280 pages to find the details, but I can tell you that Rufus becomes a drunk and disgraces his family name, and that his sister, when grown, even refuses to name her first-born son after him, as the name Rufus is “tarnished”. Frank, on the other hand, having learned obedience, becomes someone whose “fellow citizens honored and trusted him” and whose “faithful and judicious mother found in him the support and joy of her old age.”

Take note, dear readers: don’t steal 15 cents, or the situation may snowball until your mother looks wan, your sister hates you, and you’re forced to seek “relief in the stimulus of the wine-cup”.


Fleur Cowles’ Literary Takedown of Eva Perón

Fleur and Evita; Two Strong Women Go Head-to-Head

“I’m not an author,” Fleur Cowles protests, at this 1952 Book and Authors Luncheon. The sole reason for writing Bloody Precedent, a memoir of her trip to Argentina, is to recount her meeting with Eva Perón, wife of that country’s dictator Juan Perón. Despite some rather striking similarities shared by these two ambitious, self-confident women, they did not hit it off. Cowles, then wife of the newspaper and magazine magnate Gardner Cowles, “loathed” Evita who, in turn, spoke to her “like a minion.” Much is made of Evita wearing a “colossal” diamond orchid which, Cowles sneers, must be worth “a quarter-million dollars.” (This from a woman who, in later life, owned a large residence in one of London’s most prestigious addresses, an Elizabethan farmhouse, and a castle in Spain.)

The actual encounter between the two seems to have been short, though Cowles claims Evita “let her hair down” because she had no real friends to talk to. Instead of gossip, we are treated to an analysis of the current political situation in Argentina, a country which troubled the US government because Eva Perón’s obvious support of labor unions and her interest in aiding the poor smacked of socialism. This is seen when Cowles, after painting the couple as typical South American despots, confusingly calls Evita “the John L. Lewis of Argentina.” Much is made of her being the power behind the throne and the “Petticoat Curtain” which supposedly shrouds the country. At the end, there is gruesome speculation about Evita’s cancer and what her death would mean to her husband’s grip on power.

Fleur Cowles (1908-2009) went to great lengths to hide her modest beginnings in New York City and New Jersey. A career woman almost before the term existed, she had made her way in the world of advertising before a third marriage to Cowles, owner of, among other publications, the Des Moines Register and Look Magazine, vaulted her into high society, which quickly became her natural element. She helped Cowles redesign and expand the appeal of Look (which competed with Life as the nation’s top magazine) but her greatest achievement was the short-lived Flair. A frankly elitist magazine, combining art and fashion, giving the reader a taste of the publisher’s upper-class interests, the preview issue, as the New York Times reports:

“…boasted a two-layer cover. The outside was embossed with a basket-weave pattern and punctuated with a hole, through which could be seen a picture of a man and woman embracing. The inside cover showed the couple as part of a wall layered with a collage of shredded posters. A spring issue featured the rose, a flower Ms. Cowles painted and extolled until her death. The issue was suffused with a rose fragrance, some four decades before scent strips became ubiquitous. Housed within it, bound as a booklet, was a tribute to the rose by Katherine Anne Porter. The magazine itself had a rose named after it — Flair rose — and there is a Fleur Cowles rose as well. Flair published stories and articles by W. H. Auden, Jean Cocteau, Simone de Beauvoir, Angus Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Ogden Nash and Clare Boothe Luce, among others. Salvador Dalí, Saul Steinberg, Lucian Freud, Rufino Tamayo and even Winston Churchill were among the contributing artists.”

The magazine was, to some extent, a success, doubling its readership in one year, although it also met with a fair amount of what now could be seen as sexist ridicule. But Flair lost a tremendous amount of money. After her husband shut down publication, Cowles moved on, marrying timber tycoon Tom Montague Meyer and becoming a legendary London hostess.

Eva Perón (1919-1952) remains a controversial figure. Although the civil rights abuses and trampling of democracy under the Peróns are well-documented, so too is her genuine interest in reaching past that country’s entrenched elite and attempting to empower previously ignored sections of society. As the website history.co.uk recounts: 

“In 1947, she set up the Maria Eva Duarte De Perón Welfare Foundation, which distributed money, food and medicines to those most in need. The money came from ‘contributions’, not always willingly given, from businesses and unions. The result was very popular with the poor masses, but far less popular with the elite. Evita further angered the elite with her active campaign for female suffrage. Suffrage for women was enacted in 1947, largely due to the energy and soul that Evita poured into the campaign. … She died from cancer on 26 July 1952, aged just 32. Public grief was intense, and unprecedented in Argentina. Her precise role in Argentinian politics is still hotly debated, and her supporters and enemies battle it out to write her legacy. There is no doubt, however, that she was a remarkable woman who made her mark on history.”

Viewed from a historical perspective, these two women would seem to have had much in common: a rise from humble beginnings, power wielded through a compliant spouse, resistance met because of their sex. Perhaps, though, as this talk would indicate, each diva required her own separate stage. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150529
Municipal archives id: LT2317

Spring Fashion at FSCW

The azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom, thunderstorms have started rolling through in the afternoon, and sunbathers and hammock dwellers have returned to their regular spots on Landis Green, which can only mean one thing: spring has arrived in Tallahassee! While the weather and native plant life hasn’t changed much in the past 70 years, fashion sure has. Take a look at some FSCW Easter styles, which in true southern fashion was all about white shoes and big hats.

My Easter Hat, Mary Tarver Willis Photograph Collection (HP 2009-043), 1948-1951.

Students Posing in Their Easter Outfits on Landis Green, Sam Lamar Collection (HP 2007-080), 1938-2005.
Student Making Sure Her White Easter Shoes Are Still Clean, Sam Lamar Collection (HP 2007-080), 1938-2005.
Female Students in Their Easter Dresses Relaxing on Landis Green, Sam Lamar Collection (HP 2007-080), 1938-2005.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.


Protecting digital material: Strategies for digital preservation

In the first post in this digital preservation series, I shared some of the unique challenges digital material brings to the preservation game. In this one we will look at some of the technologies and tools digital stewards employ to protect our digital assets.

How can you tell when a computer file has been corrupted? If you try to open it funny, glitchy things might happen. How can you test whether a digital file is uncorrupted? This requires a bit more thought. Digital files are at their base-level a long string of 1’s and 0’s. This is called the file’s bitstream. Preservationists could compare one bitstream to an earlier copy of it, but this requires a lot of processing power for large files, with no guarantee that your comparison copy isn’t also corrupted.

This is where checksums can help us out. Checksums are character strings generated by a class of algorithms called hash functions or cryptographic hashes. You can try one out here: http://md5checksum.com/. Hash functions are used to encrypt lots of things. Passwords submitted to websites are hashed in your browser. Kind of like this:miguezBlog003encryption.png

Hash functions can also be applied to the bitstream of a file. Due to the nature of the various algorithms used even a single change in a one or zero will produce a drastically different checksum. If at the beginning of the preservation process a digital steward produces a checksum for the bitstream, she can now test for data integrity by rerunning the hash and comparing that output to the original checksum.

Now that we can test for unwanted changes in computer files, how can we ensure we always have a valid copy of it? A system called LOCKSS can help with this. LOCKSS stamiguezBlog003LOCKSS.pngnds for Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. Similar to the idea of backing up personal files, LOCKSS will duplicate the files given to it and then distribute copies of files across several servers. The idea is to spread the system out over many servers in diverse geographic areas to minimize the risk of a single disaster (natural or otherwise) compromising the entire system. These distributed copies are then regularly hashed, and the checksums compared to test the validity of the files. If a checksum comparision fails, that server can delete it’s failing copy of the file, and ask the other servers for a new one.

Digital preservation is a rapidly developing field. New challenges requiring new solutions arise every day. In the third and final post in this digital preservation series, I’ll discuss activities you can undertake to protect your personal digital heritage.

The Mystery of P. Campbell

Here at the WNYC Archives, we’re often handed mysteries – two-sided 16-inch slates with utterly unique silent spiral etchings, scans of reticent catalog cards referring back to them, and the nonce codes and illegible scrawl from 50 – 80 years past written on their custom green and cream WNYC labels. Maybe an insert, if we’re lucky. It’s our job to turn all this into something that people can make use of, by A) digitizing these recordings and making them available in house and online, and B) providing a more accurate and more thorough catalog record for each of the 1 to 121 minute recordings we’ve painstakingly shifted from one type of disc to another. If there’s little in the way of a paper trail and a speaker greets us cold, it can be a bit of a puzzle.

I’d like to invite you to help us solve one of these puzzles. I’ve already taken care of part A. Together we’ll get a start on part B. We’re going to find out just who is speaking, who he or she is speaking to, and what the heck that person is talking about. We’re going to examine the first 45 seconds or so of the recording, bit by bit, phrase by phrase. We’ll start though, with what little written record remains. 

This is the OCR’d text from a copy of the original library catalog card:

T “p
7967 Conr/urers . _ „
‘ITe^-VTctories for .or.en
1 album 2 s. 1C in. 6/b/su
Dr CRRIBELL t L’-e on the topic “The Con-sumer
IR Vre Future”

Caribbean Conjurers of the future? Probably not. Truth be told it’s a little clearer with the naked eye: As you might have guessed from the title of this blog piece, “Dr CRRIBELL” is “Dr. Campbell.” And “6/b/su” is somehow 6/6/58. Hopefully that gives you some hints, but you can typically tell a lot more from the recording itself, so let’s have a listen. Take your time to reflect on what you’ve heard and we’ll reconvene after each clip.

The future will call for a reappraisal of many of today’s values and attitudes…

Whoa, easy Engels! Let’s ignore for a moment the possibly revolutionary sentiment of the phrase itself and instead concentrate on the more prosodic aspects of this clip – her tone and accent in particular. It’s calm, measured, and undeniably Australian. It’s not the Bahbie-thick Australian of a Dundee Paul Hogan, or Bond-villain Rupert Murdoch, but neither is it the placeless Australian laureate of a Cate Blanchett or Nick Cave. Come to think of it though, maybe there is a mite of R.P. dignity behind it, is there not? Perhaps it was learned in London, or cropped from the affectations of New York’s cultural and intellectual upper crust.

It is clearly a woman speaking, so we should consider the limited number of options available to women in late 1950s New York (and whether they will be reappraised), but we’ll table that for now. Whether her voice is “maternal,” “feminine,” or what-you-will is subjective, but I think there’s an undeniable presbyphonic dip in pitch that comes with age. I’d say she’s somewhere in the 50-65 range.

Some people temper their political opinions as they advance in years. Others don’t. Based on her rather subdued tone I’d suspect that if she is planning an insurrection, it’s more of a Fabian sort than a Marxist one. And her speech can’t have been that revolutionary, it did air on WNYC after all, still at the time closely allied to the municipal government. Nevertheless, it’s quite an introduction, and it hints that the speech with call some of those “values and attitudes” into question.

So we have a well-traveled, if not cosmopolitan, late middle-aged woman, originally from Australia, giving a speech on an as-yet-unknown subject to two audiences: one as-yet-unknown – the assembled crowd (can you hear the “room” reverb?); and a known audience – WNYC listeners (like you!). As sharp as her words are on paper, the edge has been rounded by her age, temperament, and (probably) a learned pragmatism in life and in politics.

…For one thing it will, I believe, be more consumer minded…

I think we were wise to note the tone ahead of content in the first snippet, but let’s reverse the process for this second one.

“For one thing” is the sort of phrase that keeps a speech’s steady pace, but is otherwise basically meaningless. We can safely ignore it. What’s interesting is the use of two phrases which on their own imply something close to certainty – it will…, I believe – now nested to imply doubt, a reasonable acceptance of uncertainty. I think it’s telling. “It will” is pure force; “I believe” tempers it, opens it up. “I believe” becomes at once a hedge, an implicit statement of a belief in autonomy and human agency, and an explicit statement of, well, belief. It’s not the cold, dead conviction one gets from ideologues, for whom it is less a question of belief than of truth or falsehood. For a Marxist, for instance, the coming rise of consumerism would be closer to a certainty – small degrees on history’s established arc, any “belief” to the contrary an easily dispelled example of false consciousness. The same might be said of a rabid capitalist, communism’s uncomfortable obverse. Our speaker seems to be saying “this is what I expect of the future, but I’m not sure. Other people believe other things.” Or as one of my favorite professors was fond of saying, “reasonable people can disagree.”

The topic of the speech is coming into focus, and in just the first 11 seconds. Efficient, she is. Her speech will apparently be about the coming shift to a more consumer-minded future. Whether this is good, bad, bad-then-good, good-then-bad, or vanilla-bean-neutral is yet to be seen.  She strikes me as someone who will leave such value judgments to the side though, tacit, if anything.

Pausing to take stock, we can feel more confident in her pragmatism and we know that the speech will have an economic focus, on a coming consumer culture. We also can be confident that her beliefs, while strong, are not set in stone, and are open to light of evidence.

…and this is the aspect of the future which I have been asked to talk to you about today…

I think it’s time to mention briefly the limitations placed on women with professional aspirations in late-1950s America. There isn’t space to elaborate here, other than to say they were often severe, unfair and unfortunate, and as much as she pushed hard to get where she is at the time of this record – a “Dr.” – those limitations undoubtedly pushed back. From this clip we can tell that she is enough of an authority on the subject of consumerism to be asked to speak about it by a person or persons for whom the traditional definition of the word “authority” might be a more literal fit – a man or men in a position of power in the municipal or state government, or a university, less likely a businessman. There is of course a chance that one of the prominent women’s groups of the time – League of Women Voters, Women’s City Club, etc. – or perhaps an Eleanor Roosevelt, noted consumer advocate, might have brought our speaker in, but I wonder how often they drew crowds as obviously captive as this crowd seems to be. I’d suspect not as often.

So we now know that our speaker is likely a trained specialist in the topic of consumerism, a Ph.D holding economist, speaking at the behest of powers that be to a group likely not there to see her specifically, more likely required to listen to her speech for their edification.

…As homemakers you will be responsible for spending a large part of the family income…

Disappointment. In two senses.

Most obviously in the fact that the values and attitudes to be reappraised do not involve greater opportunities for women. But it’s a retrospective disappointment, and maybe we’re reading too much into it – she is speaking at the behest of others, which probably constrains her rhetorical options. You can’t blame her for having missed the social and economic advances made by women as they have transpired in the present day, but you can’t help but wish she hadn’t, especially for the benefit of her in-person audience – young women, probably college aged. Perhaps our speaker, reflecting on her own difficult path to achievement, likely met with that time’s biases and aggressive sexism, was reasonably pessimistic. It’s hard to say. 

The other disappointment – for the archivist, the listener, the detective – is that as the mystery is revealed, the narrative is constrained – the listener’s inherent interest in the subject starts to matter more and more, the story less and less. Sure, anything could happen, but we can’t deny that some things are more likely than others – particularly in a prepared speech, as opposed to, say, a debate, a talk radio têteàtête, or even a Q&A sesh. Each new word, new phrase, new paragraph reveals progressively less new information. Authors have written of chasing the “incipit” for a book’s length, where no word … is [in]significant. Can a speech, especially one as muted as this, be expected to do the same? It is asking a lot. Still, for those on the hunt for information on the role of women in an incipient consumer society in 1950s New York, this will probably be a veritable gold mine.

From this snippet we can tell our speaker, in spite of having opened up a challenge to the era’s values and attitudes, has actually retained a few in her prediction. Though she’s unwittingly missed a prime target, it’s unclear just how wide of the mark she is in general. I think it’s reasonable to agree that she is at least partially correct in seeing a rise in consumerism, even if she isn’t as prescient about the socioeconomic place of women in the future.

…some of which, of course, you may earn yourself…

Again a hedge, this time against the implicit assumption that the assembled women’s primary economic role will be “homemaker.” In fact it could be read as code, though that might be generous. But I’d imagine some members of her audience read it as exactly that, while others let it slip right through. It is a mistake to imagine passive listeners and I think it’s important to recall that the audience isn’t us. It isn’t even 1958 WNYC listeners, though many undoubtedly heard it. It’s a group of young women, probably navigating their first few years of adulthood in 1950s New York. A prediction in this atmosphere isn’t really a pure prediction, it can also be a call to action, an invitation for these women to reflect on their agency in creating their own future. From that perspective, her accuracy or lack-thereof is beside the point. 

In this section we can reaffirm her faith in agency and her faith in her audience, even if one does get the sense she still has a point to make about the homemaker’s role in the coming consumer society… 

…How are you going to carry out this spending function? How are you going to behave as consumers? Your actions will affect the future not only of your family, but of society as a whole. Remember that in spending money you are exercising power.

…And there it is. Our late middle-aged female Australian economist is speaking in front of a group of young women, asking them, in so many words, to reflect on their place as homemakers (and maybe more) in a society in which the way money is spent on consumer goods will grant them a power not wholly appreciated in 1950s America. The rest of the speech will elaborate on this theme. 

I think at this point there is more than enough information to start trawling the web. Using a popular search engine (and a depersonalizing “&pws=0” tag), a search of “consumer economists New York 1958 Australian” yields this excellent capsule biography as 2nd result on the 2nd page. It would have been first if we’d added the name “Campbell,” which we knew from the catalog card, but where’s the fun in that? It is through this short bio that we can test our interpretations, and you can move on to listen to the rest of the recording, while I dutifully complete our catalog entry of this speech on “the Consumer in the Future” by the Australian-American economist, professor, and civil servant, Persia Campbell.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150239
Municipal archives id: LT7967


Happy Easter

The Archives will be closed for the long weekend and open again on Tuesday.

Two girls looking at rabbit on table, Pacific National Exhibition, 1952. Reference code AM281-S8-: CVA 180-1765.

Two girls looking at rabbit on table, Pacific National Exhibition, 1952, detail. Reference code AM281-S8-: CVA 180-1765.

Let’s Talk! Join me for the Open Government Webinar

Since 2010, we have made significant accomplishments in open government at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). We have published 3 plans and accomplished more than 120 commitments. NARA commitments are even featured in the U.S. National Action Plan on Open Government.  But we still need to do more and we need to hear your ideas on how we can improve.


Please join me for a webinar with other NARA executives on Tuesday, March 29 from 2:00 – 3:00 PM Eastern Time. We will provide an overview of the agency’s next Open Government Plan and related topics and seek your ideas, suggestions, and feedback on what we can improve.

Register for the webinar today.  

Do you have ideas on how to improve the researcher experience?  Do you have suggestions for better ways for NARA to collaborate, encourage public participation, or innovate? How can we provide greater transparency to our records or our processes? Let us know!

Learn more about our efforts by reviewing our previous Open Government Plan and visiting Archives.gov/open.

Share your suggestions or questions in advance and during the webinar on History Hub, our pilot collaborative platform, or email opengov@nara.gov. You’ll also be able to make suggestions by chat or phone during the webinar, but we’d love to have your contributions on History Hub.


  • Introduction – David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States
  • Open Government Plan Process – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Innovation – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Research Services – Ann Cummings, Access Coordinator
  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – Gary M. Stern, General Counsel and Chief FOIA Officer
  • Declassification – Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center
  • Records Management – Laurence Brewer, Acting Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government, and Director, Records Management Operations Program
  • Ideas, Comments, and Suggestions – Participants of the webinar are asked to share their thoughts on what NARA should do to strengthen open government.

Visualizing an Invisible Machine

View of the current exhibit on the digital library

For our current exhibit, What’s Past is Pixels, we faced a challenge. How do we represent our digital library in a physical space? To some extent, we could easily do so with pulling the physical objects we’ve digitized and talk about the challenges and decisions we made when translating them online. We could visualize the metadata created, highlight digital representations through screens and screenshots. What I could not wrap my head around, and what of course was on my list to figure out, was representing what the digital library was in some visual form…

As an exhibit planning group, we decided on the words representing the main functions of the digital library: discovery, scholarship and engagement. We also as a group decided on the raw ingredients that made those functions go: materials, community and system. My colleague working on the visualization with me originally suggested some sort of web visual, which would show the interconnectedness of the ingredients and functions. However, while that solved one problem (showing how the digital library works), it didn’t quite show how it worked in the bigger context of DigiNole, the platform that also held the Research Repository.

I kept playing around with the idea of engines, which eventually led me to the final graphic of cogs and functionality as the motion moving the cogs. The digital library was only one engine of DigiNole so the Research Repository could be represented as a part of the greater machine in which the digital library moved. From there, I assigned each ingredient to a cog of the machine and then named the movements after the different functionality we wanted to highlight. It was clean, simple and did its job in illustrating a highly conceptual idea in a straightforward manner for the exhibit without lots of text and using vocabulary that our intended audience (non-librarians) wouldn’t understand. Hopefully it succeeded!

The finished visual to explain how the digital library works
The finished visual to explain how the digital library works

What’s Past is Pixels: Developing the FSU Digital Library is located in the Strozier Library Exhibit Room and is open 10am to 6pm, Monday through Thursday, 10am to 5:30pm Friday. It will be held until April 8, 2016.

The Sanger Shepherd Process

We’re making a start on cleaning, digitizing and recording a beautiful cabinet of lantern slides which used to form part of the Ashmolean Lantern Slide Lending Library. It’s a big job, and one we couldn’t do without the help of our new student volunteers – Bridget, Amy, Alice and Ed.

Almost as soon as he had started cleaning a set of slides, Ed came across this and drew it to our attention:

box 249 sanger shepherd005

It’s a colour image of a fresco from the famous Bronze Age site at Knossos in Crete, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 onwards. Colour images are a rarity in our lantern slide collection, not least because it was difficult and expensive to achieve a colour image before the introduction of Kodachrome in 1935. It is probable that the wealthy Evans was responsible for commissioning this expensive image. The colour slide was created using the Sanger Shepherd method. Red, yellow and blue filters were used and the results amalgamated to create the final colour. Sanger Shepherd and Company Ltd were active from 1900 to 1927, so Evans was using cutting-edge technology.

The next slide in the slide box shows some of the processes for creating the right mix of colours, with an outline drawing of the same fresco indicating how the colour filters should be set – an interesting find for historians of photography:

box 249 sanger shepherd003

The image itself, known as ‘The Captain of the Blacks’, is highly contentious. When Sir Arthur Evans began excavations at Knossos he was heavily influenced by his reading of Classical authors in his interpretation of the site and its frescoes. When he came across this fresco, it was damaged. The lead runner has survived, but only the legs of two following runners and a tiny part of the back of the head of the second runner were visible. This was enough for Evans to construct a narrative of African enlistment in Minoan armies, as he argued in his publication of the site (Evans 1926, p756).

We’ve found a dozen more Sanger Shepherd colour images in this box. Who knows what we will find as we keep going through the collection?


Evans, A. 1926. The palace of Minos : a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos vol II (London, Macmillan)

Why Should Women Be Educated? President Eisenhower ‘Mansplains’

Why should women be educated? What sounds like an odd question today was very seriously considered by Dwight D. Eisenhower and other speakers at a luncheon fundraiser for Barnard College, held at the Waldorf-Astoria on October 19th, 1961. Eisenhower, who was the President of Columbia University for the brief interim between his career as a General and his tenure as POTUS, speaks about his belief in the need for an educated populace to solve the major problems of the time (read: communism). With all of the deleterious effects of “the pressure groups of labor, of the agricultural community, of the people who hate this or like that” on public discourse, what role can women play in a sensible approach to self-government? Mostly, according to Eisenhower, as good mothers to the nation’s children.

Although Eisenhower is quick to say he doesn’t “want for a moment to decry the importance of the woman doctor, the lawyer, the social worker, the teacher” or even the woman scientist, he speaks mostly to the “inescapable duty of the mother” to prepare her children to be informed citizens. In this respect, he argues, “to make a distinction between men’s and women’s education is as silly as the value of it is obvious.” Furthermore, women have to be educated to be able to vote.

Eisenhower is introduced by then-President of Columbia Grayson Kirk and by Millicent Carey McIntosh, who was the chief administrator at Barnard from 1947-1962–first as Dean of the College and later as the President. McIntosh was known for her insistence that women could engage in both professional careers and family life and lived out this conviction as one of the first married heads of a Seven Sisters college. She also undertook massive fundraising campaigns during her tenure, resulting in the construction of two new buildings on campus (Lehman and Reid Hall) and the addition of the Minor Latham Playhouse to Milbank Hall. McIntosh was well-liked on Barnard’s campus (where she was referred to as “Mrs. Mac”) as well as across the street at Columbia. (Barnard is affiliated with Columbia University; the two institutions are financially and legally separate but share many resources and have cross-listed undergraduate courses.)

As an archivist at Barnard, I was excited to hear about this recording from WNYC Assistant Archivist Ana Marie, and I wanted to see what other materials we had at Barnard that might contextualize it. An article about the luncheon in the Barnard’s student newspaper, the Bulletin, glosses over Eisenhower’s remarks about child rearing and focuses more extensively on McIntosh’s speech. While the WNYC recording cuts off after Eisenhower’s speech, I was able to listen to the complete recording we have in our audio collections, including the introductory remarks of Vice Chairman of the Barnard Board of Trustees Francis T. P. Plimpton, as well the extended remarks of McIntosh after Eisenhower finished. McIntosh speaks about funding structures, citing the 1961 figure that only 1.3% of corporate donations given for higher education went to women’s colleges, even though the vast majority of private colleges at the time were single-sex. She also notes shortages in candidate pools–in both feminized professions like librarianship and nursing as well as fields such as electronics engineering. In McIntosh’s words, it is important to think of college education “not as something nice for the girls, but as something that is so basic to our culture and to our future that we will all rethink our patterns.” 


Martha Tenney is the Digital Archivist at Barnard College. For more information on our collections, including the papers of Millicent C. McIntosh, see archives.barnard.edu.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150267

Municipal archives id: LT9442

A Book Collector’s Legacy

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Title page of Dame Wiggins of Lee by John Ruskin with illustrations by Kate Greenaway (1855)

At over 22,000 rare books and over 65 linear feet of manuscript materials, The John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection is easily the largest single collection in FSU Special Collections & Archives. It serves as a living testament to its creator, John MacKay Shaw (May 15, 1897-March 15, 1984), an AT&T business executive, philanthropist, writer, and bibliophile. While the original 5,000+ volumes in Shaw’s book collection focused on 18th and 19th century British and American poetry written about childhood and/or for children, it has expanded to contain volumes on biography, bibliography, collecting, writing, and publishing. The collection contains works by major authors and illustrators — Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Kate Greenaway, Thomas Bewick, and Lewis Carroll, to name a few — and can serve research interests as diverse as publishers’ bindings, Victorian serials, sacred hymns, and World War I.

The books of the Shaw Collection are wonderfully complimented by the John MacKay Shaw manuscript collection (01/MSS 2008-006). This collection includes Shaw’s personal correspondence (including letters from Dr. Seuss!), lectures, and photographs, as well as administrative information about the development of the Shaw Collection at FSU Libraries. Among the literary materials in the manuscript collection can be found Shaw’s meticulous notes and source materials for his five-volume bibliography on Childhood in Poetry. It is these bibliographic notes that give us window into the world of a twentieth-century book collector.

Shaw’s bibliographic notes on John Ruskin (01/MSS 2008-006, Box 62, Folder 58)

Shaw’s bibliographic notes are organized by author, with a listing and description of every book by that author in the collection. There are also notes on where each volume was purchased and for how much (invaluable information to anyone studying the provenance of books in the collection), sometimes accompanied by the delightful anecdotes of a true bibliophile. Under the file for John Ruskin, Shaw remarks of the 1885 edition of Dame Wiggins of Lee, and Her Seven Wonderful Cats illustrated by Kate Greenaway:

“This has been for me a most illusive book. Although not an expensive one… it has seemed that I either bid low or my order gets to the bookseller just after someone else has bought it. Now I have a copy, and an almost perfect one it is.”

In a digital world, where online auction sites and search engines have revolutionized the world of book selling and collecting, Shaw’s notes tell of the struggles and triumphs of a collector in this golden age of bibliophilia. Shaw’s manuscripts add rich layers of meaning to the books in his collection, and both will live on for generations to come.


RI Photographs, hot off the digital press!

Thanks to our Digital Projects Manager and some very speedy scanning technicians, we’ve uploaded our first big batch of Rhode Island photographs to the Providence Public Library’s digital library!

These photos, from our Rhode Island Photograph Collection, show places from Glocester to Newport (with plenty of Providence); there are Vanderbilts and tradesmen, Ida Lewis and her dog, and people testing out early airplanes.

The images can be browsed, or can be searched by creator, subject, keyword, or date. Stay tuned for many more images of Rhode Island’s past as we continue with our digitization process!

This year’s Vintage Viands theme

Mark your calendars! Vintage Viands will take place this year on Friday, September 23, 2016, from noon to 2:00 pm. Last year’s 1940s theme was so much fun! 
This year, we would like your input on the theme. If you have a UNCG login, please fill out our poll! You can pick one of the ideas that we have provided, or you can write in your own. If you are on campus, you can also swing by the library and cast a paper ballot across from the reference desk. 
Vintage Viands is a taste-testing event put on by Digital Projects and Special Collections that promotes our Home Economics Pamphlets Collection. There are a number of pamphlets digitized online and several more housed in Special Collections. Faculty and staff in the library pick a recipe based on the year’s theme and make it as close to the original recipe as we are able. It’s a fun way to see how recipes and taste have changed throughout the years! 
Hope to see you in September!

Generation without Farewell

Modern Germany is the subject of Kay Boyle’s talk at this 1960 meeting of the Book and Author Luncheon. Although ostensibly here to promote her new novel, Generation Without Farewell, Boyle rather refreshingly lauds another writer, the little-known Theodor Plievier, calling him “Germany’s greatest post-war writer,” as well as offering quotes on the current state of German society from Otto Frank (father of Anne Frank) and Carlo Schmid of the Social Democratic Party. The title of Boyle’s book comes from a play by Wolfgang Borchert, an anti-war writer Boyle was deeply influenced by.

As this list reveals, Boyle had an intimate and complex relationship with German culture and a strong personal interest in the country’s fate. That is what she dwells on, speaking of Germans who were under twenty when the war began and who are now in positions of authority. They have great feelings of condemnation, resentment, and betrayal for those who came before. She frankly admits that the protagonist of her novel is based on a real German and talks about his current job and opinions. “The past is acknowledged by the writing of books,” she proclaims, going on to lament that “we have not heard enough from the creative artists of Germany.” Again quoting, this time George Steiner, she complains of  “a terrible stillness at the heart…the death of the German language.” It is unclear if she is out of touch with the literary generation about to make its mark not just on German but world literature or if her personal connection to works of the immediate post-war period blind her to the burgeoning talents of those authors who will shatter the abovementioned silence. This is, after all,  one year after the publication of both Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum and Heinrich Boll’s Billiards at Half Past Nine. However her lack of self-promotion, at this blatantly commercial event, is refreshing.

Closely identified with the expatriate world of the Twenties and Thirties, Kay Boyle (1902-1992) was a prolific and, for many years, popular novelist, short story writer, and poet. By the time of this performance, however, her literary career was in decline. Her emphasis on social justice and professed left-wing views did not play well in Cold War America. Neither did her flamboyant personal life. William Pritchard, reviewing her biography in the New York Times, notes:

“…she acted on the un-Socratic premise that first impressions were the only ones of value. She never hesitated to follow the dictates of impulse, leaving her first husband to bear a child with the consumptive and dying poet Ernest Walsh and leaving her children in the care of others as her convenience dictated. Something similarly headlong may be observed in her literary productions, as she used, in her biographer’s terms, ‘her fiction to tell the truth about her life, to rationalize it, to mirror it.’ Ms. Mellen is more than once moved to wonder how this woman so full of “sensitivity” could perceive so little about her own daughters, three of whom at one time or another attempted suicide. The fact that Boyle preferred to live her life rather than examine it, eventually, her biographer says, ‘diminished her as an artist” and always “diminished her as a mother.’ Yet except for her championing of Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, Boyle had few regrets about her decisions. The writer Grace Paley, who got to know her late in her life, observed that people with full sex lives don’t have regrets.”

Boyle experienced something of a renaissance in the 1960’s, when her concerns once again were in sympathy with the spirit of the times. The Independent newspaper, in its obituary, tells how:

“In 1963, during her husband’s last illness, she became English Professor at San Francisco State University, a post which she held until 1979. In her late sixties she was imprisoned for demonstrating against the Vietnam war, an experience she described in a memorable essay published in the collection Words That Must Somehow Be Said (1985). She was also active in the civil-rights movement, and worked indefatigably against censorship and torture through PEN and Amnesty International.”

But fairly or not, most of the writing she is remembered for today centers on that glamorous between-the-wars period. The Los Angeles Times neatly captured her two public sides in its remembrance:

“Kay Boyle, the elegant novelist and expatriate who chatted and sipped coffee in Paris with such titans as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams, is dead at 90….’I probably write to express a feeling of guilt,’ Miss Boyle said in a 1949 interview. ‘I feel guilty for every act of oppression that has been committed in our time.'”

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150253
Municipal archives id: LT9000

Josiah Warren, “The First American Anarchist”

Occasionally, a researcher’s inquiry will lead to a surprising find in our collections or turn up a previously unrealized cache of rare publications.  Last week, just such an inquiry led me to four rather rare publications by Josiah Warren, often called “The First American Anarchist.”


Born in Boston in 1798, Warren was a musician and inventor in Cincinnati, Ohio before crossing paths with Welsh industrialist and social reformer Robert Owen in 1824.  Warren and his family lived and participated in Owen’s experimental utopian socialist society of New Harmony, Indiana for two years before ultimately rejecting Owen’s cooperative social philosophy.


Warren, concluding that society must preserve the autonomy of all individuals, founded his own social philosophy based on the “sovereignty of the individual.”  Warren’s theory called for self-government and individual responsibility as essential elements for an equitable society, as well as a system of “equitable commerce.”

Warren, Josiah.


Warren defined equitable commerce as a barter system where the cost of goods should be equal to the labor exerted to produce those goods, rather than the subjective worth of goods.  Instead of using cash for the purchase of goods, Warren advocated for the exchange of equitable money or “labor for labor” notes.


In 1833, Warren wrote and printed “The Peaceful Revolutionist,” asserted to be the first anarchist periodical.  Warren’s objective to have total control over the printing of his publications, led to his invention in the early 1830s of the first printing press to print onto a continuous roll of paper, known as the “speed press.”  Warren also cast his own type to use in the printing of his periodicals and pamphlets.


In the early 1850s, with his philosophy of individualist anarchism and in collaboration with fellow anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews, Warren established a new society on Long Island, NY named Modern Times.  Although Warren’s Modern Times community quickly dissolved, Warren continued to publish numerous pamphlets espousing his philosophy.  Four of these pamphlets are held in the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College.


All of these pamphlets can be found in our Library Catalog and are available for research in the Archives & Special Collections:

Warren, Josiah. Response to the Call of the National Labor Union for Essays on the following Subjects : 1. The Specie Basis Fallacy : 2. Strikes : 3. Co-operation : [etc.] / by the Author of “True Civilization”. Boston, 1871.   AC call number: File HD8072 .W31

Warren, Josiah. The Principle of Equivalents : A Subject of Immediate and Serious Interest to Both Sexes and All Classes of All Nations. Long Island, NY?, 1861.   AC call number: File HB201.P75

Warren, Josiah. Political Platform for the Coming Party. Boston, 1871.  AC call number: File E671.P65

Warren, Josiah. Periodical Letter on the Principles and Progress of the Equity Movement. v. 1, no. 8 (March 1855).   AC call number: File HN1.P47



Bailie, William. Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist, A Sociological Study. New York, Arno Press, 1972.

Butler, Ann. “Josiah Warren, Peaceful Revolutionist.” Thesis. Ball State University, 1978.

Warren, Josiah, and Crispin Sartwell. The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren. New York: Fordham UP, 2011.

Wikipedia: Josiah Warren. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Warren.

Impeccable Science: Flannel Frippery and Blasting the Blooming Complexion

Today’s impeccable science is drawn from the 1851 Buchan’s Domestic Medicine: or The Family Physician, a book that is a fantastic mix of sound advice, terrifying recommendations, gruesome descriptions of 19th century afflictions, and fanciful language.

The book’s segment on sleep and clothing appears near the beginning of the book, as proper attention to both (alongside aliment, air, and exercise) is a crucial element of good health. Buchan begins by counseling readers that “too little sleep weakens the nerves, exhausts the spirits, and occasions diseases; and too much renders the mind dull, the body gross, and disposes it to apoplexies, lethargies, and such like.”

Who wants weak nerves and a gross body? Not me! Probably not you! Thus, take note: “For adults six or seven hours is certainly sufficient,” counsels Buchan, “and no one ought to exceed eight.” And if one does sleep more than eight hours? “The indolent custom of lolling abed for nine or ten hours not only makes the sleep less refreshing, but relaxes the nerves, and greatly weakens the constitution.”

Ok, so less sleep is better, as long as it’s not too little sleep. But when should we sleep?

Nature points out night as the proper season for sleep. Nothing more certainly destroys the constitution than night-watching. It is great pity that a practice so destructive to health should be so much in fashion. How quickly the want of rest in due season will blast the most blooming complexion, or ruin the best constitution, is evident from the ghastly countenances of those who, as the phrase is, turn day into night, and night into day.

Oof, who wants a ghastly countenance? Definitely not me! I should sleep at night! And I should arise early in the morning, at least according to Buchan, for “surely the fore-part of the day is fitter both for business and amusement. I hardly ever knew an early riser who did not enjoy a good state of health.”

These recommendations, mind you, sound solid to me, so I’m inclined to heed Buchan’s following suggestions on clothing. He derides the corset, disparages the too-tight shoe, and scorns young men who wear flannel.

Flannel indeed is now worn by almost every young fellow. This custom is extremely preposterous. It not only makes them weak and effeminate, but renders flannel less useful at a time of life when it becomes more necessary. No young person ought to wear flannel, unless… some… disease renders it necessary.

Well! Avoid flannel! And while you’re at it, remember these wise words: “Finery is only the affectation of dress, and very often covers a great deal of dirt.”

New Gallery Exhibit – Postcard Views

A new exhibit, titled Postcard Views: Classic Vancouver Postcards in Drawings and Paintings, is now showing at the City of Vancouver Archives’ Gallery. The exhibit is by Robert Sandilands, a retired Vancouver architect with long standing interests in the histories of art, photography, Vancouver and, more recently, postcards.

Marine Building by Night (ca. 1940) – 2016, Painting: Acrylic on canvas. Photo: C.Hagemoen

Marine Building by Night (c.1940) – 2016.  Photo:C.Hagemoen

Inspired by the “Golden Age” of vintage picture postcards (ca. 1905-1940), Sandilands uses postcards, mainly from his collection, as “interesting models” for the creation of drawings and paintings. Sandilands believes that these postcards “can be viewed as miniature icons deserving of a larger representation… both for their material qualities as ink or photographic emulsion on card as well as their pictorial ambition”.

View of the gallery. Photo: C. Hagemoen

View of the gallery. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The exhibition includes 10 works based on 12 original vintage postcards of classic views of Vancouver, plus a digital slideshow of 58 vintage post cards representing the same selection of views.

The 10 original works are comprised of one, two or three drawings or paintings; with each format selected to suit the particular subject and composition. For Sandilands, the technique used for each work attempts to relate to the characteristics of the particular printing technique used to produce the original postcard.

If one compares the two post cards views of Prospect Point in the exhibit as an example, the first colour-lithographic postcard is rendered in oil pastel producing a more matte and textured effect similar to the original lithographic print. In contrast, the other post card view of Prospect Point,  a hand-coloured glossy “real photograph”, is executed with a smoother ink and paint technique with varnish for a glossier effect.

(l-R) Evening English Bay (ca.1919) – 2014 and a portion of City Lights (ca.1935) - 2015. Photo: C. Hagemoen

(L-R) Looking West from Prospect Point (c.1935) – 2013; and a portion of City Lights (c.1935) – 2015. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The way the works are displayed in the gallery reflects the location of the actual views outside the gallery.  According to Sandilands, “the sequence of the works on display forms a kind of a shorthand virtual panoramic tour of False Creek/English Bay/Burrard Inlet/Coal Harbour and relates to the view out the windows of the Archives building!”

Sunset English Bay (ca.1908) – 2013, two drawings: Oil pastel on Rives BFK paper. Photo: C.Hagemoen

Sunset English Bay (c.1908) – 2013.   Photo: C.Hagemoen

What inspired the use vintage postcards as artistic subjects? Robert Sandilands, explains how the Postcard Views project evolved:

I first encountered the Burrard Bridge card about 20 years ago…it was reproduced in a local magazine… I was impressed by this powerful little image and saw in it a possibility for making interesting pictures which would have a broad appeal. The three [Burrard Bridge] drawings in the show were based on that tiny reproduction.

Vintage “Golden Age” postcards, including the Burrard Bridge card that started it all. Photo: C.Hagemoen

Vintage “Golden Age” postcards, including the Burrard Bridge card that started it all. Photo: C.Hagemoen

Then I started collecting other post cards, looking for subjects that would have the same sort of pictorial potential and that I felt I could satisfactorily “re-present”. In the process I learned more about the history and production of postcards and the history of the views involved all of which made the postcards more interesting.

Sandilands notes that “none of the [postcard views] could be reproduced today – they are views of times past.” He adds, however, that “the essential beauty of the views endures.”

The exhibit runs from February 29th to July 15th 2016 in the Archives Gallery (Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM). An opening reception, with the artist in attendance, will be held March 16th – 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

Promotional card for exhibit.

Promotional card for exhibit. Courtesy: Robert Sandilands


Happy Birthday LeRoy Collins

Happy Birthday Governor Collins!

On March 10, 1909 Thomas LeRoy Collins was born in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1955, he was elected 33rd Governor of Florida and held that position until 1961. Collins attended Leon High School in Tallahassee, and earned his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1932, he married Mary Call Darby a great-granddaughter of two time territorial governor of Florida, Richard Kieth Call. Today LeRoy Collins is remembered as a voice for civil rights and on March 20, 1960 he delivered a speech wherein he declared that, as governor, he represented all Floridians “whether that person is black or white, whether that person is rich or poor, or whether that person is influential or not influential.”

The Thomas LeRoy Collins papers are housed at the Claude Pepper Library and are available to researchers Monday through Friday 9AM-5PM.

LeRoy Collins (who served in the US Navy from 1942-46) is pictured here with his son Thomas LeRoy Collins Jr. and wife Mary Call Collins on their visit to the US Naval Academy where Thomas was a cadet, ca. 1953

Ruby Diamond: 1905 Graduate of Florida State College and Philanthropist

In honor of Women’s History Month, please enjoy this post about Ruby Diamond, originally published on March 18, 2013 by Gina Woodward.

From Ruby Diamond Family Papers, 2007-037, Box 1, Folder 11.
From Ruby Diamond Family Papers, 2007-037, Box 1, Folder 11.

Ruby Diamond was born in Tallahassee on September 1, 1886. She was one of thirteen members of the Florida State College’s 1905 graduating class and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Chemistry. Ms. Diamond preferred that her wealth help those in need, and she contributed to many charities in Tallahassee and across Florida and was a generous donor to more than thirty-seven organizations.

Ms. Diamond was also a political activist and fought for lower taxes and racial equality. She and her brother Sydney, along with other members of the Jewish community, founded Temple Israel in 1937.

Ms. Diamond and her collection of snuff bottles. Ruby Diamond Family Papers, 2007-037, Box 1, Folder 11.
Ms. Diamond and her collection of snuff bottles. Ruby Diamond Family Papers, 2007-037, Box 1, Folder 11.

Ms. Diamond was a generous benefactor to Florida State University and established two scholarships for disadvantaged scholars. She supported the Alumni Association and the Department of Educational Research, Development, and Foundations.

In 1970, for her contributions to the university, Florida State University expressed its appreciation to Ms. Diamond by naming its largest auditorium, located inside the Westcott Building, in her honor. In 1971, she donated property in Tallahassee worth $100,000 to the university, and at age 95 in 1981, she donated downtown property assessed at more than $100,000 to partially fund an endowed chair of “national excellence” in the College of Education. In 2010, the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall was reopened after a $38 million renovation.

Ms. Diamond was 93 when this picture was taken.  From Ruby Diamond Family Papers, 2007-037, Box 1, Folder 14.
Ms. Diamond was 93 when this picture was taken. From Ruby Diamond Family Papers, 2007-037, Box 1, Folder 14.

The Ruby Diamond Family Papers in our collection include family photographs, correspondence between Ms. Diamond and her friends and cousins, genealogical materials, news clippings about the Diamond family, and her eulogy. The materials in the collection also contain information about the history of Tallahassee and Florida State University.

Amending America: How do we amend the Constitution?

Our new exhibition, “Amending America,” opens on March 11, 2016.

2016​ ​marks the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, written in 1789 and ratified on December 15, 1791. The original Bill of Rights, on permanent display in the National Archives Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, is still closely connected to the biggest issues of today–and to each of our citizens.

Here is a sneak peak of a musical number explaining how we amend our Constitution.  This animated video was made in collaboration with HISTORY and shows the story of how we amend, through the proposal and ratification process. It also illustrates why our Founders made it possible to amend, and explains the important role of the Archivist of the United States in the amendment process!

Did you know that more than 11,000 amendments have been proposed in congressional history, but never made it through the approval process? As part of the work preparing for the “Amending America” exhibition, NARA volunteers and staff transcribed and edited over 11,000 entries of proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as recorded by congress from 1787 to 2014. We have made this work available as an open dataset in CSV format, available for anyone to download on Archives.gov and Data.gov. What can you visualize or do with this data? Have suggestions for improvements, let us know!

“Amending America” is on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, from March 11, 2016 through September 4, 2017. Featuring more than 50 original documents from the National Archives, this exhibit highlights the remarkably American story of how we have amended, or attempted to amend, the Constitution in order to form “a more perfect union.”

Amending America is presented in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of AT&T, HISTORY®, and the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family.

Magician of the Week #41: Ron Urban

The cover of the August 1960 issue of Genii: The Conjurors’ Magazine features Ron Urban and two assistants partaking in some truly magical mischief.


At first glance, this is a fairly typical 1960’s stage magician’s scene: sequins, demure female assistants, a hodgepodge menagerie. Looking more closely, however, one begins to ask questions: are those… pigeons? Why are they different colors? How is that toy poodle so serene? Is one of those assistants wearing fishnets beneath her bloomers? Are all three of them on… ice skates?

Seeking answers, I turned to the magazine’s feature article. Since you’re undoubtedly asking questions that are 100% identical to mine, I’ll share my discoveries: those are not pigeons, they’re doves. They’re different colors because Ron Urban dyes his doves, in what the article calls a “living magical rainbow of pastel doves, very appealing to the eye.”  I know nothing about the tranquil canine. As for the costumes, as well as the ice skates, this photo is from Urban’s six month engagement at Chicago’s Conrad Hilton Hotel performing in an ice show called “Persian Parad-ice.”



On that note, let’s appreciate this fantastic head shot of the magician, complete with white bow tie, fetching finger waves, and mysterious boutonniere.


If you’re not yet smitten, listen to this: he also plays the saxophone.

Listen to a 101-Year-Old Clarion Call for Women’s Suffrage Preserved in Shellac

“Do you believe in a democracy? Do you believe taxation without representation is tyranny? Or is it tyranny only for men? Do you want a government of the people, for the people and by the people? And aren’t women people?

When Gertrude Foster Brown (1867-1956) recorded these remarks for Pathe’ more than a century ago, she was addressing voting aged men. At that point, women could only vote in 12 states and there was a referendum on female suffrage for New York State scheduled for Election Day 1915. But the suffragettes didn’t have the votes in the legislature. It wasn’t until two years later that New York State became the first Eastern state to adopt fully a women’s right to vote in the state constitution. In a letter to the editor of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brown called the vote “a modern weapon that women must have to get at the cause of social evils instead of treating their symptoms.”[1] And as she embraced the emerging media technology of the day, she was confident that women would soon be armed.

“Women’s suffrage is coming; everybody knows that. President Wilson and his cabinet, Theodore Roosevelt, W.J. Bryan, Governor Whitman and Mayor Mitchell of New York City are in favor of it. Gentlemen, women have been working for 75 years for a share in your democracy. Won’t you give your wives and daughters, sisters and mothers, the rights you enjoy of enfranchised American citizenship?”

Gertrude Foster Brown began her adult life as a music teacher and concert pianist before becoming a women’s rights activist. Following the national passage of women’s suffrage in 1920, she wrote Your Vote and How to Use It, published by Harper’s the next year.

Impressed with her work and activism, women’s movement leader Carrie Chapman Catt asked Brown to take over The Women’s Journal, founded in 1870 by Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell. She remained there until the magazine’s closing in 1931. Brown was also active in the League of Women Voters and the New York Women’s City Club. She spoke out forcefully for the League of Nations, and during World War II, was a representative of the Women’s Action Committee for Victory and Lasting Peace at the founding United Nations conference in San Francisco, in 1945.

Gertrude Foster Brown, President of the New York State Suffrage Association circa 1913.
(Library of Congress)

[1] Brown, Gertrude Foster, “Want Suffrage First,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 14, 1914, pg. 8. 

[2] You may have noticed that Brown’s speech is on side “B”. Side “A” was given to a man, Rabbi Stephen Wise, also speaking in favor of women’s suffrage.

[3] Thanks to Ben Houtman and Wayne Schulmister for digital signal processing.

You can read a full transcript of Gertrude Foster Brown’s recorded remarks below:

The most important question before the country today is that of women’s suffrage. It is not only votes for women but the entire question of democracy that is at stake.  Ever since our government was founded, men have been proclaiming a government that should not be for the benefit of any man or class of men, but that everybody should have equal representation, where those who obey the law should have a voice in making that law. Gentlemen, that is the real question in votes for women. Do you believe in Democracy? Do you believe taxation without representation is tyranny? Or is it tyranny only for men? Do you want a government of the people, for the people and by the people? And aren’t women people?

Women vote already in twelve states, one-half of the total area of the United States. The women of Chicago, of San Francisco, of Los Angeles, Denver, Portland and Seattle are going to vote for the next President. Aren’t the women of this state as intelligent as the women of Chicago? Or, are eastern men less generous than men of the west? 

Millions of women taxpayers are asking for the vote so that they may have representation. Millions of women housekeepers are asking for the vote so that may help men with public housekeeping. Millions of mothers are asking for the vote so that they may stop child labor and help men protect the children and give them a better chance. Millions of working women are asking for the vote so that they may have the same power to protect themselves that men have. Women should have the vote because it would draw husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters closer together, giving them an equal share and interest in important public questions. Women should have the vote because it would compel men in public office to think more of the welfare of women, of the children, of decency and morality. Women should have the vote because it is unjust, shameful and cowardly for men to deprive women of that which they demand for themselves.

The home is the bulwark of our nation. Give the home two votes instead of one. Give the mother a vote as well as the father. If the Almighty can trust women to bear children, cannot men trust them to use their vote for the welfare of those children?

Women’s suffrage is coming; everybody knows that. President Wilson and his cabinet, Theodore Roosevelt, W.J. Bryan, Governor Whitman and Mayor Mitchell of New York City are in favor of it. Gentlemen, women have been working for 75 years for a share in your democracy. Won’t you give your wives and daughters, sisters and mothers, the rights you enjoy of enfranchised American citizenship?

RuPaul Lettin’ It All Hang Out in 1995

Monday, March 7th is the premier of the eighth season, and 100th episode, of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality competition series to crown “America’s next drag superstar.” RuPaul’s media and merchandise empire, among a bevy of new TV and web series, now includes an annual drag convention and podcast.

In honor of this queen of queens, we look back to a 1995 interview, with Leonard Lopate, promoting her autobiography Lettin’ It All Hang Out

(RuPaul at Quick Night Club, New York, 1980s. (Photo by Steve Eichner)/Getty)

RuPaul discussed her transformation from the child who used “every crayon in the box” to being named the first drag queen supermodel for MAC Cosmetics. Before moving to New York and becoming a glamazon, RuPaul started her career as a precocious teenage punk in Atlanta Georgia:

“My drag… was an extension of the punk rock that was a reaction to 80s Reagan era and it was social satire… making fun of our society and the things we held really dear to our hearts. Like the image of… this woman which wasn’t real but was like the image of Nancy Reagan which was this very coiffed, together a [doll-full] suit wearing thing. So we were making fun of that and it was called Gender-blank drag.” 

Anticipating this pressing rights movement, the topic of gender fluidity comes up frequently in the interview, “I think those formalities are becoming obsolete…It’s not important anymore. Just so long as you call me baby, that’s all I ask.” When asked about the newly elected conservative dominance in the 1995 house and senate, RuPaul is optimistic. She sees it as a clearing a path for a “massive revolution.” Perhaps that revolution has come and gone in light of current Republican control in congress. However, in a 2015 interview with Variety magazine on marriage equality, she speaks to the cyclical nature of politics. ”These windows of openness are literally that: They open and they close.”

This interview was recorded at a tipping point that lead to bigger success, bigger productions and of course bigger hair. From the uncomfortable ad lib insults between RuPaul and Milton Berle at the 1993 MTV Awards to breaking into acting and her three hour transformation process into drag, RuPaul presents her philosophy that hasn’t changed much in 21 years: “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”

Listen to RuPaul’s return appearance to The Leonard Lopate Show in 2010 to promote her second book, Workin’ It! RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style. 

Police Corruption and the Civilian Review Board

The 1966 restructuring of the  Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) was one of Lindsay’s most contentious actions as mayor, an indelicate handling of a seemingly minor issue that returned the year’s briefly simmering racial tensions back to an aggressive boil. The effect of the fight over the CCRB on the growing racial animus has been studied thoroughly, and while we certainly hope to add this to the available primary sources, we introduce this recording to show another side of the debate over the Board, which depending on your perspective is either dramatic irony revealed in history’s slow-release or a classic example of another unheeded Cassandra.

First, some background: Civilian review had existed in New York for over a decade, but until Lindsay had had no civilian presence on its governing board. Lindsay restructured the board to include 7 members, four of whom were civilians vetted by Lindsay, with the rest of the board and its staff comprising members of the Police Department. John Cassese, then president of The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the main union of New York’s Finest, was having none of it, drawing implicit racial undertones to the fore: “I am sick and tired of giving in to minority groups, with their whims and their gripes and shouting. Any review board with civilians on it is detrimental to the operations of the police department.” The PBA swiftly drafted a referendum combating Lindsay’s new board, to be voted on by the citizens of New York City on November 8, 1966.

This brings us to this October 28, 1966 recording, in which we hear Mayor Lindsay call to his press conference dais Russell Niles and Sam Rosenman, president and president emeritus of New York City Bar Association respectively, to give the Bar’s assessment of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent referendum number 1 on the November 8 ballot.* To hear Lindsay tell it, New Yorkers were not being asked to dissolve the CCRB, the referendum’s ostensible purpose, but something much worse:

“Its specific language would do far more than destroy the new Civilian Review Board [sic]. The language of the referendum would also prohibit the mayor, the city council, the board of estimate, and the commissioner of investigations from investigating complaints against the members of the police department…. We are speaking of the entire entire breadth of citizen grievances including graft and corruption…. The people of New York have been denied the opportunity to vote to abolish the board and nothing more.”

Under the wording of this referendum, which ultimately won by a nearly two to one margin, investigations of the police could only begin within the department itself. It would allow the police to become “a law unto itself.” In Lindsay’s mind, the referendum was a Trojan Horse. 

It’s Samuel Rosenman rather than Lindsay who performs the role of Cassandra in this press conference radio drama however. In the news that day was Commissioner of Investigations Arnold Fraiman’s recent work cleaning up the Sanitation Department, which like seemingly every department in the City government was hopelessly corrupt. Rosenman saw fit to bring this timely hero forth as an example of the kind of hands that could be tied with the passage of referendum 1.

It is here where the irony drops in: This was the same Commissioner Fraiman who later declined to investigate further the descriptions of the rampant graft of the 81st precinct made by Frank Serpico (whose story became a film and hit play). Serpico was a police officer, not a civilian, so Fraiman almost certainly should have and legally could have acted upon his tip, but given the passage of the referendum breaking up Lindsay’s civilian review board and handicapping inquiries into police misconduct, a promising avenue of investigation had arguably been legally blocked. Moreover, Commissioner Fraiman would have found it difficult if not impossible to receive the corroboration of citizens without an active civilian-led board to give voice to the people’s reports. It would take a New York Times cover story to get Serpico’s story out, leading ultimately to the Knapp Commission‘s efforts to fight police corruption. While this points to the potential of the fourth estate as a vehicle for social justice, I would note that this news conference, in which Lindsay, Niles, and Rosenman warn against the dangers that the passage of the referendum held for independent investigations of the police, in spite of landing on the front page of the Times, then and now the paper of record, did nothing to stop the referendum from passing with a substantial majority.

Lindsay’s battle over civilian reviews would later find an echo in the Dinkins administration’s efforts to install an independent board in the early ’90s, as well as in today’s clarion call that Black Lives Matter. As important as those efforts were and are, we should not ignore the other reverberations sounded in the efforts to reform civilian review in the Lindsay Administration’s first year – the October 28 warnings of Lindsay and the New York City Bar.

*Please refer to the recording for details on the Bar’s assessment of the referendum and its take on civilian review boards in general, as well as Lindsay’s, Niles’, and Rosenman’s comments.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 92395
Municipal archives id: T2679