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An Ample Nation

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

I have heeded beautiful tempters…*

All 25 graduates of the Class of 1850.

Open the valves of your attention and heed the beautiful tempters of the Class of 1850, William Austin Dickinson’s class. These students were all known to the Dickinsons, some better than others, some mentioned in Emily Dickinson’s surviving correspondence, some not.  The class had 25 graduating members,** and there are daguerreotypes for all of them in the Archives and Special Collections.  Unfortunately, most of them are unidentified.  Even worse, the class members graduated into a world of extreme facial hair, so in trying to put names to the 22 unidentified daguerreotypes one must attempt to match a smooth-shaven 22-year-old with a hirsute 75-year-old who left off shaving upon leaving Amherst and never picked it up again.  Believe me, it hurts:

Daniel Worcester Faunce at his 50th Reunion.

Even so, we know or have good guesses for many of the graduates, in particular those who wear a fraternity pin in their daguerreotype. For example, there were four students known to be in Alpha Delta Phi, Austin’s fraternity. Three of them had been identified earlier, but the fourth remained unidentified until the daguerreotypes were conserved and their details became clear and allowed us to see the fourth student wearing the Alpha Delta Phi pin. By elimination, then, this would be John Howland Thompson, Austin’s roommate in their sophomore and junior years.

Delta Upsilon had three members, Albert Beebe, John Cory, and Daniel Faunce. Beebe had a photograph taken when he became a missionary about five years later, so there’s something to compare against the daguerreotypes showing the Delta Upsilon pin. Faunce had three photographs online, and even though they showed him quite a bit older, they were helpful. Once again, we identified a potential Cory daguerreotype by the third pin.

When all the daguerreotypes were sorted by fraternity pins – or by no pin at all – and sorted against all the identified photographs of class members we found online, we were left with a small group of No Hopers.  For this handful, we couldn’t even guess their identities within two possibilities, the way we could with (for example) the five members of Delta Kappa Epsilon, three of whom were comfortably identified (Avery, Garrette, and Newton) with two that had to be one person or the other (Hodge or Nickerson). Even if we had tentative identification for the No Hopers, it wasn’t comfortable. Three of the five remaining are Augustine Milton Gay, Sylvester John Sawyer, and Thomas Morrill Stimpson.  They may be these three men — but which is which?

Another man we couldn’t identify is the Seed King, James J.H. Gregory. Yes, the charitable, ahead-of-his-time Seed King belongs to Amherst, which suggests that we may have missed the opportunity for a cruciferous mascot.  Although there are three older photographs of Gregory online, he still proved difficult to identify and we remain of mixed opinion about which student he might be.  Unfortunately for our purposes, he doesn’t seem to have belonged to a fraternity, so there was no help available that way either.  If we can agree on a match in the future, he should have his own blog post.

One student identified in a half-proven, half-hopeful way is Henry Shipley, apparently the bad-boy of the class. Shipley spent 1846-47 at Harvard studying medicine (he appears in a catalogue) before he transferred to Amherst in early May of 1847, when he shared a room with Martin Root ’49 in North College (“Shipley is my chum,” wrote Root in his diary).  While at Amherst, Shipley was an editor of the student paper the Indicator, which published Emily Dickinson’s valentine in February, 1850. Shipley commented on the valentine coyly, suggesting that he didn’t know the author when–even if Carlo the dog was the only tip-off–he probably knew perfectly well who it was.  After Dickinson signs off with “C.,” Shipley answers the valentine in the same romping style.

Shipley proves to be quite a character.  William Gardiner Hammond’s “Remembrance of Amherst, 1846-48” describes Shipley and another student sliding into campus drunk after a sleigh ride to and from Northampton:

It would appear from this account that Shipley’s nickname was “Chicken,” and I wish I knew why but I don’t. Now, you know the administration must’ve heard about Chicken’s caper, and sure enough, the Early Presidents Collection contains Henry Shipley’s required “confession,” a document unexamined until now:

Here’s what the letter says:

To the Faculty of Amherst Col.

Gentlemen

In addressing you upon a subject which has weighed heavily upon my mind I shall not attempt any palliation of the fault[.] But wish to express to you as a body, the sincere regret I feel in having thus wounded your feelings by committing such an open violation of your laws.

I know that I have disgraced myself. I feel it deeply. And that alone will I think deter me from the commission of a like offence. But the gratitude, which I owe you for your undeserved clemency in this affair is even a stronger barrier[,] and must not be expressed by me in words, but I shall endeavor to let my actions speak [“for” scratched out] That I may not abuse but repay your kindness is the heartfelt wish of your much obliged & humble sevt’,

H Shipley

Amherst Col’ Feb 29th 1848

The faculty minutes record the request for his confession and the result:

March 1st…A confession from Shipley was read, upon which Voted — that it be accepted.

Shipley got off rather lightly: he wasn’t expelled and his confession seems to have been the end of the matter.  However, John Thornton Wood, his partner in crime, was sent home and apparently escorted off the property — the faculty minutes record that “Profs Warner & Snell be a com. [committee] to see that he leaves town tomorrow.” The minutes are full of notes detailing which faculty member was assigned to write to the fathers of other students to describe their “deficiencies,” “deliquencies,” and “misdemeanors,” and often to take them home. It may be that Shipley’s talents kept him from being dismissed – Hammond mentions Shipley several times and describes him as “a first-prize man,” and Dickinson biographer Al Habegger pegs him as “a gifted reprobate,” identifying Shipley as the student whom Professor Tyler described as “one of the most hardened & hopeless & at the same time one of the most talented men of the Senior Class.” (Wars, p 237.)

Of course, despite the religious nature of the early college, drinking had always been at least an occasional problem. In “the Seed and the Sowers,” F. Curtis Canfield writes of the fall of 1821, shortly after Zephaniah Swift Moore had arrived in Amherst on a cropped-tail horse to take on the presidency of the new college, when “an [Amherst] Academy pupil, one Charles Jenks, had invited certain college students [including a young Edward Dickinson]***…to his rooms after nine o’clock for an oyster supper and ‘that after supper they had cherry rum and gin, that they drank to excess, and that about twelve o’clock they all of them came to the institution and behaved in a very indecent and riotous manner and made great disturbance until one o’clock or later.’ Which goes to show that the authorities couldn’t be too sure, always, that Old Scratch had been driven off Mt. Zion. ‘Segars’ and cherry rum and oyster suppers were a mighty potent combination – the road to infamy and ruin was paved with them.” (Seed, p. 19.)

Shipley seems to have remained on the straight and narrow enough to graduate, even though in his final months at Amherst he managed to insert a story in the Indicator that quotes Swift on the subject of inebriation — it was as if he couldn’t resist poking a finger in the eyes of the administrators who would read the piece:


To be continued,” indeed.  Shipley’s subsequent career sounds suitably adventurous.  Initially, he returned to Harvard and briefly studied law (he appears in a catalogue for 1850-51), then he is said in later accounts to have been a druggist in Kentucky (presumably using what he learned at Harvard before he went to Amherst).  Then he headed west and worked as an editor on several newspapers in California and Oregon.  In 1854 we find him as the editor of “the Grass Valley Telegraph,” the newspaper for a gold mining town in Nevada County, California.  It was at this post where he met dancer-actress-adventuress Lola Montez, who, in a respite from her career, also took up residence in Grass Valley.  In November 1854 Lola and Henry Shipley had at least two documented encounters: in the first, she pulled a gun on him, and shortly thereafter she took a horsewhip to him.  The story was recounted in several newspapers — his account and her account were repeated enough to reach Amherst and the ears of the Dickinsons.  They both left Grass Valley in 1855.   Shipley’s old acquaintances would have heard of him again in November 1859, when he committed suicide almost a year after he fell off a horse, sustained severe injuries, and suffered from depression.  Montez’s earlier taunt, reframed from one Shipley had thrown at her, seemed apt — “Sic transit gloria Shipley.”  To recap his career, then:

In attempting to identify Shipley among our daguerreotypes, we must go by a fraternity pin, the number of students attached to a given fraternity,and one source that refers to him as a blonde. And then there is that flamboyant personality.  All these things lead me to hope with all my heart that the following image is Shipley because no other daguerreotype suits his biography so well.  Note his rings, his manicured fingers, his fancy, patterned neckcloth, and the fraternity pin, gilded by the photographer no doubt at the sitter’s request since no other daguerreotype in this group has this detail.   Is he not a beautiful tempter?

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* Quotations above from Emily Dickinson, excerpts from Johnson Poem 303 and Letter 35 (April 3, 1850).

**The graduating members of the Class of 1850 are: William Fisher Avery, Albert Graham Beebe, Henry Walker Bishop, John Edwin Cory, Minott Sherman Crosby, William Austin Dickinson, John Graeme Ellery, Daniel Worcester Faunce, Thomas Legare Fenn, Edmund Young Garrette, Augustine Milton Gay, Archibald Falconer Gilbert, George Henry Gould, James John Howard Gregory, Leicester Porter Hodge, George Howland, Jacob Merrill Manning, Jeremiah Lemuel Newton, Joseph Nickerson, David Temple Packard, Sylvester John Sawyer, Henry Shipley, Thomas Morrill Stimpson, John Howland Thompson, and Lyman Richards Williston.

***Polly Longsworth reminds me that Edward Dickinson was among the cherry-rum drinkers in this affair and that his friend Osmyn Baker alludes to it in a letter to Dickinson from this period (the letter is at Harvard’s Houghton Library) .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The class of 1877 in Barrett Gymnasium in their class uniforms holding dumbells, February 1875. In physical education classes at this time, students stood in formation and executed synchronized calisthenic routines in time to live piano music.

Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce the newly available Department of Hygiene and Physical Education Records. This collection documents Amherst’s groundbreaking Physical Education program from its early development in 1861 to the 1930s.

Amherst’s Hygiene and Physical Education department was the first of its kind in the nation. Interest in organized exercise had been growing for decades, along with concern about the perceived ill health of college students, who were presumed to spend all their time hunched over their books. Following the deaths of two Amherst students in 1855, President Stearns began advocating for a formal department of physical education to improve the strength and stamina of the student body. This department was approved by the Trustees in 1860 and, following a brief stint by John Hooker, Edward Hitchcock, Jr. (son of the former president and graduate of the class of 1849) was appointed professor of Hygiene and Physical Education in 1861.

Hitchcock developed a system (later known as the “Amherst Plan”) of mandatory group calisthenics (known as light gymnastics) four days a week for all students, along with voluntary strength training (heavy gymnastics), classes in anatomy and healthy living (“hygiene” courses), and extensive measurements of all students taken throughout their college careers. These measurements were used to demonstrate the progress made by individual students and to prove the efficacy of the program as a whole.

Page of a record volume showing the compiled physical measurements for the class of 1885

Hitchcock’s passion was for the application of scientific methods to the field of strength training and health building. Anthropometry is the study of the human body using detailed measurements; this field was developing when the Amherst program started and came into its heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hitchcock was a notable figure on the national stage, writing articles and presenting at conferences about the anthropometry program at Amherst.

In addition to collecting measurements of individual students physical size and capacity, Hitchcock and his successors also recorded extensive health histories, and gathered statistics on a variety of topics like handedness, tobacco use, and eyesight. Most concerning, from a more modern perspective, they also gathered information on students’ national and ethnic backgrounds. The use of anthropometry for measuring and promoting physical health and development was a positive face of what eventually developed into the eugenics movement and this darker aspect can be seen in places throughout the collection.

 

In the 1890s, additional faculty joined the department, but the format of the courses and philosophy of the department didn’t start changing for a couple more decades. Eventually the mandatory daily classes were dropped along with calisthenics and hygiene courses; the measurement of students ended in the 1940s. By the late 1940s, the Physical Education department more closely resembled its modern counterpart, with courses in team sports and a focus on athletic training and coaching. This collection covers the period to 1933, the year when the department changed its name to drop the “Hygiene”, this symbolic shift was chosen as a cut-off point for the collection. More recent Physical Education records are also available in Archives & Special Collections.

Booklet on using the equipment in Pratt Gymnasium

The records of the Hygiene and Physical Education department contain a wide variety of records, from syllabi for hygiene courses and record books showing gymnasium attendance to student measurements and annual reports presented to the Board of Trustees on the department’s activities. Of particular interest are more than a dozen volumes of bound memorabilia created by Professor Hitchcock to document the history of the department, many of the items in these volumes have Hitchcock’s notes on them. Hitchcock was an avid collector (or, less kindly, a real hoarder) and his collections of college history materials formed the foundation of the current College Archives.

These records are a rich resource in many areas: not just the history of physical education, but also student health and understandings of health, the development and promotion of the study of anthropometry, constructions of masculinity, muscular Christianity, and the student experience at Amherst in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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The interior of Pratt Gymnasium in 1885. Visible in this picture is gymnastic equipment, the piano for accompanying group classes and bleachers on the balcony for public exhibitions.

The Charles Drew House

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The Charles Drew House in a previous form

 

It is always thrilling when a single location on campus can pull together from the archival record multiple threads of Amherst’s history. In preparing for Professor Mary Hicks’s Black Studies class in research methods, we discovered the history of the Charles Drew House, a history which incorporated material from five different collections: the Fraternities Collection, the Biographical Files, The Alfred S. Romer Papers, the Building and Grounds Collection, and the Charles Drew House Photo Albums.

 

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A 1922 article from the Springfield Union on the completion of the Phi Kappa Psi renovations

The history of the Charles Drew House begins with the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at Amherst College. Founded in 1895, the fraternity first occupied a home on Amity Street in Amherst. It purchased and remodeled in the late 1910s the mansion owned by Julius Seelye, a former president of the College. The Springfield Union touted the home’s “choicest location” in town and the justification of “as pretentious a motive as the circular porch.”

In the midst of World War II, the fraternity came close to losing its home. Amherst College administration considered prohibiting fraternities on campus. Advocates, including many alumni, convinced the trustees to preserve fraternity life with the condition that certain reforms would be made. In 1946, the trustees of Amherst College announced that fraternities would be required to remove any clause in their constitutions that discriminated against pledges based on race, ethnicity, or religion.

This momentous change challenged the national attitudes toward inclusion in fraternities. This became evident when the Amherst chapter of Phi Kappa Psi pledged Thomas Gibbs, an African American freshman, in the spring of 1948. Gibbs was a member of the track team and a class officer. A fellow Phi Kappa Psi brother described him as “quiet but not shy, and all in all, an extra special sort of fellow.” Students and alumni alike were largely in support of Gibbs joining. The Fraternities Collection in the Amherst College archives provides evidence of community opinion. However, the national organization pressured the Amherst chapter into depledging Gibbs until the fraternity had had ample time to consider the affair. In the fall of 1948, the Amherst chapter polled Amherst alumni and the Phi Kappa Psi national community and moved forward with their plan to pledge Gibbs. The story garnered news interest and the national organization – bristling at Amherst’s perceived public defiance – pulled the Amherst chapter’s charter. The chapter pledged Thomas Gibbs and became a local fraternity: Phi Alpha Psi.

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A letter sent by the Amherst chapter asking for the advice and support of its alumni.

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The Phi Alpha Psi entry in the Olio of 1951, the year Thomas Gibbs graduated. In his time with the fraternity he was elected president.

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This March 1948 letter written by a member of the pledging committee seeks Romer’s advice on Thomas Gibbs.

 

 

 

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The chair of the Phi Alpha Psi corporation at the time was Alfred Sherwood Romer (AC 1917), the director of Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. His papers in the Amherst College archives contain correspondence between Romer, the Phi Kappa Psi brothers, and alumni. The correspondence demonstrates a variety of opinion on the matter. Romer wrote an article, “The Color Line in Fraternities,” which was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1949. It garnered attention. A student in Illinois read the article in her “Social Problems class” and wrote to Romer in the early 1950s, curious as to the outcome. This prompted Romer to write a postscript to the article.

 

 

 

This exchange between Romer and Miss D. Frederick in 1951 shed further light on the Gibbs/Phi Alpha Psi story. Click on the images to view them in closer detail, and note the secretary’s shorthand on D. Frederick’s letter to Romer.

 

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Drew’s (r) entry in the Amherst Olio from his fourth year, 1926

Charles Drew was born in Washington, D.C., in 1904. He attended Amherst College and graduated in 1926 – afterwards he received an M.D. and a C.M. from McGill University. Charles Drew was known for his pioneering research into blood banks and the use of blood plasma. During the early years of World War II he spearheaded the collection of blood plasma as part of the “Blood for Britain” program. He also was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank. He served for many years on the faculty of the Howard University Medical School. Tragically, Drew’s life was cut short in an automobile accident while driving with colleagues to a conference at the Tuskegee Institute. Many organizations honored Charles Drew by putting his name on elementary schools, a medical university, and residence halls at both Howard University and Amherst College.

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By the mid-1960s, Phi Alpha Psi (also known as Phi Psi) had withdrawn from the fraternity system and were known for their reputation as a counter-cultural institution on campus. In the 1970s Phi Psi pushed for the house to be named after Charles Drew but the organization was denied. For more information on Phi Psi visit Amherst Reacts, a digital humanities project put together by Amherst students in 2016.

 

In 1984 Amherst College banned fraternities, following the resolutions laid out in the  Final Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Campus Life. The houses were transformed into dormitories and were renamed after significant members of the college community. The unofficial Charles Drew House once again pushed for an official dedication and was granted such in 1987.

Today, the Charles Drew House sponsors “events that will celebrate the achievements of black people such as Charles Drew and explore the cultures of Africa and the Diaspora at large. This house was founded as a space where members of the Amherst community can engage in intellectual debate, social activities, artistic expression, and all other endeavors, which highlight Africa and the Diaspora and the accomplishments of its diverse peoples.” (see the full constitution here)

The Charles Drew House also lives in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, where scrapbooks and photograph albums kept by the residents of the Charles Drew House from 1986 to 2010 are held.

 

 

7403648354_ecc1a4a073_oIn March 2012 eight wooden crates of WWI posters and ephemera were transferred from the Mead Art Museum to the Archives & Special Collections. These WWI materials all came from John P. Cushing, Amherst Class of 1882, and a complete guide to the collection is now available.

John Pearsons Cushing was born in Lansingburgh, New York on September 5, 1861. He attended high school in Lynn, MA after which he studied for two years at Boston University. He transferred to Amherst College in 1880 and finished his B.A. with the class of 1882. He went on to receive his M.A. from Amherst in 1885. During the time he spent working on his masters degree he also taught at Holyoke High School. He acted as Vice-Principal of Holyoke High from 1889-1892.7403655586_0536f7ffe4_o

cushingFrom 1892-1894 Cushing attended the University of Leipzig. His dissertation, ‘The Development of the Commercial Policies of the United States’ was published in 1894. Cushing received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Leipzig that same year. Upon his return to the United States, Cushing became a professor at Knox College in Galesburg, IL from 1894-1900. He returned to New England in 1900 to begin serving as headmaster of Hillhouse High School in New Haven, CT. In 1911 Cushing left Hillhouse in order to begin his own country day school for boys. Hamden Hall opened in Whitneyville (what is now Hamden) CT in 1912 where Cushing acted as headmaster until his retirement in 1927.

newsclippingWhile headmaster of Hamden Hall School for Boys, Cushing encouraged his students to collect WWI posters.  The above newspaper clipping reads “Posters of all sizes and descriptions, posters large and small, posters gray and sad, posters artistic and lurid, in fact every kind of poster that has in any way to do with the conflict of nations now raging is what [the students] are interested in.  One of the objects of their collection, of course, is to obtain as great a variety and as many hard-to-get posters as they are able to, and competition is among them, though the spirit of friendly rivalry prevails.”

During the outbreak of the first World War, governments across the globe realized that they needed an effective way of communicating their needs to the general populace. Through the production of propaganda posters, they could reach a wide audience and create a unified cause for citizens to get behind.

7375720552_0c184bde3f_oCitizens contributed to the war effort by enlisting, constructing military supplies, conserving food, and buying war bonds. Artists contributed by donating their work to various government agencies for the propaganda posters. These colorful works of art appealing to patriotism and nationalism grabbed the attention of the viewer and communicated a message powerfully and succinctly.7939458028_253c0dbb72_oThe visual appeal of the posters was made possible by the printing process known as choromolithography. In this process, a flat piece of limestone is used. The positive part of the image is applied with an oil-based ink. The rest of the stone is washed with a water-based solution. The oil repels water so that when the paper is applied, only the oil sticks and the rest of the sheet is kept clean by the water. This process can be done multiple times with different colors in order to achieve a poster print with as many colors as the artist desires. The most difficult part of this process is keeping the same alignment during multiple prints on the same poster.

This collection contains more than 700 World War I posters, ephemera, and propaganda collected by John P. Cushing (AC 1882). The collection includes work from the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Canada and Spain.  The finding aid for this collection includes item level detail about each poster.  Many of the posters in this collection have been photographed and the images are available on the Archives’ Flickr page.  To view items from this collection in the Archives, please contact the department in advance to request access at archives@amherst.edu.

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The Networked Recluse

From now until the end of May, visitors to the Morgan Library & Musuem in New York City will be able to stand in one room and see Emily Dickinson manuscripts and other pieces drawn from seven different collections. The exhibition is the culmination of a two-year collaboration between the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections and the curators of the Morgan Library.

Take a look at the information on the Morgan’s web site: http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emily-dickinson 

I want to use this blog post to thank several of the people who made this happen, starting with my collaborator on the Morgan side, Carolyn Vega, Assistant Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts. I often say that I got to do the fun parts of the exhibition while Carolyn took charge of less-fun things, like arranging loans from several different repositories.

That very work is what makes this exhibition so special — many of the items brought together have never been exhibited together before, and will likely not come together again for quite a while. Chief among these items is the famous portrait of the Dickinson children, which has not left the Houghton Library at Harvard University since they acquired it in the 1940s.

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Here is the portrait as it is now displayed in the gallery at the Morgan, against a backdrop of the reconstruction of the wallpaper from Dickinson’s bedroom. That wallpaper was only discovered as part of the reconstruction of Dickinson’s bedroom undertaken by the Emily Dickinson Museum in 2013. We are all very grateful to Houghton Library for lending this work, and to Jane Wald and the crew of the Emily Dickinson Museum for their support of this exhibition.

Other recently discovered Dickinson items include the portrait of two women, one of whom MAY be Emily Dickinson:

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While this daguerreotype remains the private property of an anonymous collector, “Sam Carlo” was kind enough to place it on deposit at Amherst College and to allow us to include it in this exhibition. For the first time ever, visitors can see the portrait of Dickinson as a child (Houghton Library), the silhouette cut when she was 14, the lock of her hair, the authentic 1846 daguerreotype, and compare all of those likenesses to this recently discovered image.

Other lenders to the show are: the Emily Dickinson Museum, Mount Holyoke College, New York Public Library, and Boston Public Library. The Morgan’s own holdings of Dickinson manuscripts round out the total of seven institutions who contributed to making this show a success. Many thanks to all of them.

Another massive thank you goes out to Mark Edington, Director of the Amherst College Press, who valiantly managed the production of the exhibition catalogue: The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson. As with all of the products of the Amherst College Press, anyone with an internet connection can download the complete work as a PDF file. Copies of the printed book are currently available through the Morgan Library gift shop. Many thanks to Mark and to our contributors: Marta Werner, Susan Howe, and Richard Wilbur.

Last, and definitely not least, I must thank the staff of the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections for their knowledge and support and patience. We have a lot to be proud of, and none of it could have happened without them.

I will end with a link to the first review of the exhibition which appeared in the New York Times on Friday, January 20 — the date the exhibition opened to the public. Pulitzer Prize winning critic Holland Cotter said many nice things about our work, for which we are all extremely grateful:

“I’m Nobody”? Not a chance, Emily Dickinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you follow this blog –and you should– then you know that Amherst has a lot of collections from missionary families.  Because I work with these collections a lot, especially in arranging and describing new ones, I’ve settled into a comfortable theory about how the work of missionaries changed over the decades and generations.  I notice a first generation of “strict missionaries” whose goal is first and foremost to spread the gospel.  Their children, often born and raised abroad, speak two or three languages, and they know their parents’ work and where it succeeded and where it failed.  They’re still usually missionaries working for the American Board, but their work often branches into teaching at primary and middle-school levels, or working in a medical clinic.  A third generation is even more removed from the original mission work and its members become professors or doctors. Fourth and fifth generations might see some diplomats, government professionals, and journalists.  The shift feels linear.  But I always knew this way of thinking was a broad generalization, and too comfortable.  I knew there would be someone to rock the boat, to mess with my theory — to zig where so many seemed to zag.

Mary Averett Seelye, ca. 1965

Mary-Averett Seelye, ca. 1965

The Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers (the “Franck Papers,” to be succinct but less accurate) contain an unexpected and substantial section of papers from Kate and Laurens Seelye’s daughter Mary-Averett Seelye, a professional dancer whose particular interest was what she termed “poetry in dance.”  Seelye was careful to explain that she didn’t dance to poetry, she danced poetry – she danced a poem.  It wasn’t an easy concept for some audiences to understand – reviews and articles show repeated explanation.

Seelye seems to have had an eye to her archives fairly early on: her papers make it possible to follow her career from start to finish, and include over 65 years of documentation illustrating the determination and hard work she put into that career.  It contains correspondence, photographs, publicity materials, reviews, interviews, an audio recording of a performance, and one film.

Mary-Averett Seelye was born in New Jersey but her family moved to Beirut (then in Syria) when she was only a few months old.  For one of the many résumés in the collection, Seelye made notes describing her childhood in a way that captures the years that formed her character and provided inspiration for her work:

Mary-Averett Seelye grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, where father taught; mother was active in voluntary women’s organizations.  Grandparents occupied a top floor apartment.  Turkish, French, Arabic filled the air.  She attended an American school, summered under olive trees overlooking the Mediterranean; mosquito netting; jackal howls.  Community-all-ages-baseball every Saturday afternoon provided public measure of the youngsters’ developing prowess to catch a fly and hit a homer.  Parents loved to dance.  Father taught daughters.  Daughters taught brother.  Easter holidays took the family to Palmyra, Jerusalem, Cairo, Damascus.  Part of an ethnic minority–yes–but a privileged one in which occupations were to learn and discover, educate, provide medical, spiritual, and economic help and “live in international brotherhood.”*

The Chambers-Seelye clan in Adana, Turkey, about 1922. Back row: Laurens H. Seelye (AC 1911); Kate Chambers Seelye; Dorothea Chambers holding her niece Dorothea Seelye; William Nesbitt Chambers. Seated: Cornelia Williams Chambers and her granddaughter Mary-Averett Seelye.

The Chambers-Seelye clan in Adana, Turkey, about 1922. Back row: Laurens H. Seelye (AC 1911); Kate Chambers Seelye; Dorothea Chambers holding her niece Dorothea Seelye; William Nesbitt Chambers. Seated: Cornelia Williams Chambers and her granddaughter Mary-Averett Seelye.

A stop along a Seelye family excursion, 1931.

A stop along a Seelye family excursion, 1931.

Seelye’s notes go on to record the family’s furlough in the United States that became permanent for Mary-Averett.  New England replaced the Middle East as home.  Seelye attended Bennington College in Vermont, where she studied drama.  In the winter of 1940, she formed the “Trio Theatre” with Carolyn Gerber and Molly Howe, two fellow graduates from Bennington.  The group performed”pieces incorporating movement and words,” including their version of Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit.”  Seelye then went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her M.A., which she received in 1944.

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Mary-Averett Seelye (at left), ca. 1943, with an unspecified member of the Trio Theatre at the Forest Theatre, located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Seelye at right. Forest Theatre, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

In 1949 she formed the Theatre Lobby with Mary Goldwater and worked as its production director for nine years.  The Theatre Lobby was a “pocket theatre” located in an old carriage house in the mews behind St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  The cast performed classic and modern works and was interracial at a time when other Washington theatres weren’t.  Seelye’s last work as director for the theater was Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in 1959.  The collection contains a note from Beckett to Seelye congratulating her on her work.  (Click on images for gallery.)

By the 1960s Seelye’s interest had turned increasingly to solo performances, specifically the concept of poetry-in-dance.  It was work that had grown out of her studies in drama and dance at Bennington College and that she had performed early on, then intermittently during the Theatre Lobby years, and then again — under the title of “Poetry-in-Dance”– beginning in 1957.  She would perform “Poetry-in-Dance” regularly through the 1960s and 70s.   Georgetown University’s Donn B. Murphy wrote a short memoir about Seelye in which he described the work that gathered momentum in this period:

Although American choreographers worked with words as early as Martha Graham’s American Document in 1938, Ms. Seelye was virtually alone in the continuity of her work in this mode, and in the individuality of her performances, presented over a period of more than thirty years.  She was noted for choosing exceptionally challenging literature and joining it with a movement idiom which is more often abstract than illustrative…

Extremely tall and thin, Ms. Seelye’s striking physical presence onstage was enhanced by minimal sculptural forms, carefully imagined costumes, and arresting lighting effects.  Though her works sometimes used music composed by Stephen Bates and Jutta Eigen, they were more characteristically performed to the sound of her voice alone.  She moved around, on top of, and through the sculptural pieces…

Investigating several cultures through personally devised visions in motion, Seelye was an actress-choreographer-dancer linked both with the earliest performers of antiquity, and the latest creators of avant-garde.”*

(Click for gallery.)

In 1972 she formed Kinesis, a logical extension of Poetry-in-Dance. She continued to dance into her late 70s. (Click for gallery.)

Of course, Seelye never forgot her youth in the Middle East.  Her way of remaining connected to the family’s roots there included a trip in the 1980s to perform in Beirut and Istanbul.  She also used Turkish and Arabic poetry in her repertoire in the United States.

Mary-Averett Seelye, posed among ruins, around 1984.

Mary-Averett Seelye, posed among ruins, around 1984.

Seelye’s papers indicate that she had some concern that her particular brand of dance might die with her if she didn’t take care to document her work.  Toward the end of her career she began to work with videographer Vin Grabill to film some of her performances. The result was a three-DVD collection of Seelye’s work, as well as a smaller film, “Poetry Moves,” featuring Seelye’s work with poet Josephine Jacobsen.  Seelye and Jacobsen collaborated for many years, and some of their correspondence is in the collection.  Clips of Seelye’s later performances may be seen at Vin Grabill’s Vimeo site, here.

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Franck Papers, Box 14, Folder 1: Resumes and other biographical documents.

Recently cataloged:

Pohadky Japonskych Deti / Joe Hloucha

Pohadky Japonskych Deti / Joe Hloucha

Published in Prague in 1926, this is a book of Japanese children’s tales, translated into Czech. Along with the tales, about half the book contains the author’s observations of the customs and life of children in Japan. The author, Josef Hloucha (1881-1957), has been called “the greatest Czech collector of Japanese art” and the book is illustrated with over 50 reproductions of photographs and woodcuts from his collection. The binding was designed to mimic the Japanese fukurotoji binding style, which Hloucha was very familiar with–over 600 examples of Japanese books dating from Edo to Taishō periods that he collected now reside at the National Gallery in Prague.¹

This is the only copy of Pohádky Japonských Dě available at a library in North America–how did it come to be here? It is part of a gift to the college from John W. Dower (AC class of 1959) along with his papers. As described in the finding aid for the Dower Papers, Dower is a noted American scholar on the history of Japan, who has won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, among other honors. His papers are:

chiefly a collection of primary and secondary research materials compiled by John W. Dower in the course of several decades of teaching, research, writing and publication on the history of Japan, particularly with regard to World War II and its aftermath, popular media and racial representation. It includes articles, archival source material, correspondence, photographs, research notes, and draft manuscripts for several of Professor Dower’s publications. … Together with the papers, Professor Dower donated a large collection of books and videos on Japanese history, culture, and cinema. These will be catalogued and added to the main collection of the Amherst College Library or to Archives and Special Collections. In addition, his gift also included 37 boxes of books and files comprising the bulk of the research library for a program and website at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2002-2014) called “Visualizing Cultures,” focusing on Japan and China in the modern world.²

The majority of these books are being added to the circulating collection of Frost Library. At the present time, over 300 have been added, and fewer than 20 have been placed in Archives and Special Collections due to age, scarcity, or fragility. Follow this link to see all the Dower gift books which have been cataloged so far. My heartfelt thanks go to Sharon Domier, the East Asian Studies Librarian, for all her excellent work on this collection.

dower4

¹Honcoopová, Helena, “Joe Hloucha – A Short Biography,” in Japanese Illustrated Books and Manuscripts from the National Gallery in Prague: a Descriptive Catalogue (Zbraslav : National Gallery, 1998), 12-14.

²Finding aid for the John W. Dower (AC 1959) Papers, 1850-2010 (Bulk: 1941-2010) http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/amherst/ma288.html