Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2017

Over the River

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected Connections

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

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

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

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

What did the students think about their work?

Some students, like George’s older brother, Leland Olds, were deeply affected by their work in Holyoke. Thirty-seven years later, Olds referred to his time in Holyoke during a difficult confirmation hearing. Up for his third term as chair of the Federal Power Commission, Olds stated, “During two summers while I was at college I helped to run the vacation school of Grace Church in the neighboring industrial city of Holyoke, Mass… There I learned at first hand the impact of the industrialism of that period on the lives of the children of wage earners.”
[4]
Olds continued on to describe how his time in Holyoke (and later in Boston and New York) informed his early work for labor unions and workers’ organizations.

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

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

Fun in the sun…

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

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

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

What don’t we know?

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

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

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

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

Diving Deeper

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

_DSC0827

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

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

 


_DSC0825

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

 


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

 


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

 


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

 


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

 


_DSC0846

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

_DSC0843

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

Read Full Post »