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Archive for the ‘Amherst College Alumni’ Category

This guest post was written by this summer’s Norfolk Charitable Trust Intern, Elliott Hadwin (AC 2019).

Before archivists can get collections ready for use by researchers, they have to get the collections ready for themselves! This summer, as the Norfolk Charitable Trust Intern, I undertook two projects to help prepare eight new collections ready for processing by the Norfolk Charitable Trust Transition Archivist, Jess Dampier: preliminary research and physical assessment. The goal of doing this kind of work before processing is to help the archivist get oriented in the collection and contextualize the materials, but before I get to my work with the collections, let me tell you a little bit about the collections themselves.

In the winter of 2018, the archives received a generous donation from the Norfolk Charitable Trust of eight new collections:

  • Henry P. Kendall Archive,
  • Evelyn Louise Kendall Archive,
  • Henry W. Kendall General Archive,
  • Henry W. Kendall Nobel Prize Archive,
  • Henry W. Kendall Photographic Archive,
  • John P. Kendall Archive,
  • Kendall Company Archive,
  • and the Kendall-Plimpton Genealogical Archive

All together, that’s about 150 linear feet of materials on or about the Kendall family. For a better idea of the size of that, that’s about 150 banker’s boxes. It seemed like a lot to me at first, especially because there’s such a wide range of topics covered! The Kendall family has always been very active in everything from business to philanthropy to the arts, and quite a bit of that is represented here. Henry P. Kendall (Amherst College Class of 1899) bought a failing textile mill in the early 1900’s and turned it into the multinational Kendall Company, an important supplier of medical textiles, primarily bandages during the first and second World War. His wife, Evelyn, was a Canadian born nurse and artist, as well as an avid collector of art, shell art, South Caroliniana, whaling memorabilia, dolls, and early aeronautic memorabilia (primarily ballooning). Their older son Henry W. (Amherst College Class of 1950) was a Nobel Prize winning physicist as well as an expert outdoorsman and photographer. Their other son, John P. (Amherst College Class of 1951), was a businessman with the Kendall Company until it was acquired by Colgate-Palmolive in the 1970’s, as well as an important figure in Hampshire College history (but more on that later!).

 With the preliminary research, one of the main goals was to get a better sense of the people who created the collections; what it would’ve been like for them to live in that time period, what kind of work (professional or personal) they did, what their hobbies and interests were, etc. Since the Kendall collections have a good amount of personal materials (photographs, memorabilia, correspondence, etc.) it was great to turn to the collections themselves for this context but simply because of the cumulative size of the collections and the long history of the Kendall family, there were lots of other rabbit holes to go down. One of the first challenges for me was to wrap my head around all the members of the family. To get started, I made a very rough family tree – but the Kendall family has been in New England for centuries and for a while it was almost more confusing than before!

But as I started to learn more about the individual family members, they each began to take shape and it became easier to keep them all straight in my head. Something I had not expected was how strongly the Kendalls have been connected to the Connecticut River Valley. Although many members of the family have been Amherst graduates, it became apparent as I researched more that their connections went way deeper than just Amherst College. For example, I’d seen a few references throughout my research to John P. being an important early supporter of Hampshire College, but never anything about the exact nature of that, so I took a trip to Hampshire to look at their archival records of the college’s founding. John P.’s interest in Hampshire might have been sparked, at least in part, because of his personal connection to his cousin Amherst College President Calvin H. Plimpton and his college friend Charles Longsworth who was Hampshire’s founding Vice President. But he also obviously supported the college’s founding principles: he had provided some input on The Making of a College, and starting in 1975 served as the chairman of the Board of Trustees. According to the student newspaper Climax, he became chairman during a particularly tumultuous time in Hampshire’s history, when students were regularly protesting the Board of Trustees because of changes to financial aid and other dissatisfaction on campus.

climax

Climax, January 14, 1975, from the Hampshire College Archives

In addition, many of the women in the family attended Mount Holyoke College: Clara Idella Plimpton (Henry P.’s mother) was class of 1871, Helen Idella Kendall (Henry P.’s sister) was class of 1900, and Helen Louise Kendall (Henry P.’s daughter) was class of 1951. And even before that, Henry P.’s grandmother, Priscilla Guild Lewis Plimpton, was one of Mary Lyon’s first students at Wheaton Seminary before Lyon went on to found Mount Holyoke College. Especially because none of these women are very heavily represented in our Kendall collections, I decided to make a trip to Mount Holyoke’s archives to collection biographical information and look at the Kendall Papers. While researching there, I learned that Clara Idella Plimpton is also credited with being the first woman to spend her junior year of college abroad. Clara Idella went on to marry Henry Lucien Kendall, but was widowed at a young age and raised Henry P. and his sister by herself on the Plimpton family farm in Walpole, MA.

The Kendall family connection to Walpole was also a strong one, and I ended up making a trip to visit the Walpole Historical Society. They had also received a donation from the Norfolk Charitable Trust, mostly concerning the Plimptons’ side of the family, and I was able to get a better sense of where materials related to our collections are kept. For example, they had the originals of some things we only had copies of, and vice versa.

While all of the research was going on, I was also working on physical assessments with the Norfolk Charitable Trust Transition Archivist, Jess Dampier. Like the preliminary research, a part of the physical assessments is just to get acquainted with the materials. Since these collections had already been worked on by an archivist at the Norfolk Charitable Trust, they came to our archives in relatively good shape. Since I’m just starting out working in archives, I thought it was really helpful to see the choices a previous archivist had made about housing, arrangement, etc. and try to understand why those choices were made. Sometimes, however, the questions we were asking ourselves were very basic “what is this?”, for example with Henry W.’s scientific materials that we received.

Another “what is this?” moment happened with a clear, plastic pyramid that had been given to Henry W. to commemorate a diving expedition. What I initially thought was a piece of coral inside turned out to be a Styrofoam cup that had been crushed under the pressure when it was taken down to their diving depth. I also really enjoyed looking at Evelyn’s doll miniatures, just because I was surprised by how intricate they are!

The other part of the physical assessment though is to find and address any immediate preservation issues. Thankfully, the issues we ran into most often (understuffed boxes and non-archival housing, for example) can be fixed by re-housing the materials. We did, however, find some mold on some leather materials and some film reels with vinegar syndrome. For now, these items will be placed in cold storage to stop the spread the leather’s mold and the films’ degradation.

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Box 57 of the Henry W. Kendall General Archive. The items with mold damage have been isolated for now, but will be put in cold storage soon. Other plastic bags in there are non-archival and will eventually need to be removed or replaced.

In the end, the whole range of Kendall collections ended up getting a color-coded makeover!

After the research and the physical assessment, it’s much easier to work with the materials without getting mixing up the family members or the boxes themselves. Hopefully, the preliminary research will not only help Jess with processing the collections, but also help visitors as they use the Kendall collections to conduct their own research.

Special thanks to John and Sue Anderson at the Walpole Historical Society for hosting me for the day, and to Emily Moran at Hampshire College for helping me access their archival records. And a huge thank you to the staff at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections for supporting this internship!

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Dyer diary

On July 8th, 1862, Ebenezer Porter Dyer Jr. (Amherst College Class of 1861) received an urgent letter from the Boston Educational Committee asking him to sail the next day from New York City “to go to Port Royal, S.C. as Superintendent of Plantations”. It turns out the letter Dyer received was wrong (once he arrived in New York, he found the ship wasn’t scheduled to set sail for several days) but Dyer still left his home in Massachusetts that night to embark on a year of living in South Carolina during the Civil War.

The year that Dyer spent in South Carolina is detailed in his diary, which I recently rediscovered along with some of Dyer’s short stories and journals while working with 19th century alumni materials.  His diary gives a glimpse into his life from 1862-1863, while he worked as a Northern relief worker in the South during the Civil War. In the first entry, Dyer tells us about his frantic departure for New York, sailing to South Carolina through a Union blockade, arriving at the plantation and quartering Union soldiers there, and his observations of religious life on the plantation. But after his hectic arrival, things seem to calm down for Dyer, and his diary turns more towards social calls with other New Englanders living in the South, being constantly tormented by mosquitoes, and the boredom of being stuck inside because of heavy rain with no books to read.

As Superintendent of Plantations, Dyer mostly taught and preached, with some administrative duties, like payroll for freedmen who remained on the plantation. This was all part of the Boston Educational Commission’s mission as a relief organization to aid “persons released from slavery in the course of the war for the union”. The Boston Educational Commission would eventually expand its efforts and become the New England Freedman’s Aid Society, but at the time Dyer left for Port Royal the Boston Educational Committee primarily sent teachers and clothing to South Carolina.

It’s not clear from Dyer’s diary how or why he ended up teaching for the Boston Educational Committee. From the “First annual report of the educational commission for freedmen”, it seems like he probably applied and that there was a lot competition, but it’s also unclear why he was asked to leave in July (not February like the other teachers) and on such short notice. It would be interesting to know what made Dryer so passionate that he was happy to leave at a moment’s notice, or if the emphasis on service during his time at Amherst College influenced that at all. But either way, Dyer’s diary gives us an Amherst alum’s perspective on the South during the Civil war, and new information about what Amherst alumni were doing during that era.

The First annual report of the educational commission for freedmen used above is Collection Reference Number GLC06232.15 at The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. All copyright belongs to The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

For more information on the Boston Educational Commission’s activities, check out the New England Freedman’s Aid Society Records (digitized) from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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“…concerning Bill’s College. I believe I could study better at home, than here. Your son, E. S. Snell.”

Strong Snell, about 1847

In this post – part three of the Snell family on the installment plan (parts one and two here and here) – two letters from Ebenezer Strong Snell, Amherst College’s first student, give us a personal account of key moments in Amherst’s early history: President Zephaniah Swift Moore’s move to Amherst in 1821, and the obtaining of the charter in 1825.

The first letter, dated June 1821, is from the end of Snell’s junior year at Williams College.  Written a few days after Moore announced his intention to leave Williams, Snell describes the turmoil that ensued.  Even before Moore’s departure, Williams had been unsettled over the question of whether, primarily because of its remote location, it should move to Hampshire County.  In fact, Moore is said to have assumed Williams would move before he accepted the presidency there and then announced his support in his inauguration speech in 1815 — what an uproar that must’ve caused. But while no one should’ve been too surprised when Moore announced shortly before the 1821 commencement that he would leave Williams for Amherst, it was still a traumatic event for those tied to the institution.¹  To some it seemed that with Moore’s exit the college might fail.  What then would Williams College degrees be worth, the students wondered.

North Brookfield (bottom right), Amherst (center), and Williamstown (top left). Snell’s route between home and college probably took him through Plainfield. “Map of Massachusetts,” by H.C. Carey (1822). From the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

From a geographical perspective, moving Williams to Hampshire County (whether to Northampton or Amherst) would’ve brought Strong Snell quite a bit closer to his family in North Brookfield.  More importantly, Snell’s family had longstanding ties with Moore, so their allegiance probably lay entirely with the president and his stated desire to move the college.  When Moore actually left Williams, Snell was one of the 15 students who accompanied him.

Strong Snell’s 1821 letter is addressed on the outside to his father and folded like a puzzle so that it opens to one letter containing a second folded and sealed page.  The first letter, addressed to “Dear Friends” is carefree and casual–actually, it’s boring.  It assumes that Rev. Thomas Snell, as addressee, would open the letter and read it aloud, for on the side it has a single line that names its intended audience: “You must consider this as addressed to the whole family.”  Think of the Snells gathered in the parlor to hear Rev. Snell read this letter.  The family must’ve thought everything was just fine way up there at Bill’s College. Transcription below images.

Rev.d Thomas Snell., North Brookfield, Mass.

Williams College June 21 1821

Dear Friends,

I expect an opportunity to send to Brookfield tomorrow, though I know not, by whom. Some one passed College this afternoon, and left word with a student, that if I wished to send home, he would oblige me within one or two days. I have not been able to conjecture, who it was; and am very sorry that I could not be called soon enough to see the person. I was before expecting to write in a short time, and to give you an account of my journey, which was too agreeable not to be mentioned. The pleasantness of the season, and of those days in particular, with other circumstances, rendered my ride most delightful. Not perplexed with the usual cares of travelling, I could enjoy the whole scenery, that might come into view, or, by interesting conversation, forget my situation, and imagine myself in the south-west chamber; so that the stage seemed to me, as to [Prince] lee-Boo, a little house, drawn off by horses.² I arrived [in] Northampton about [8?] o’clock in the evening, and started for Wmstown at 4 in the morning; the fields of waving grain looked more beautiful than I can express; the air was fresh and cool; and the early songsters of the grove almost charmed me, as I was hurried over the level shore of the Connecticut. The huge mountains, that fill up the road towards the end of my tour, appeared far less tedious than usual. In short, I never enjoyed a journey as I did this. Esq. Noble’s daughters, returning from Boston, were my company from Northampton to Wmstown. I was but little fatigued, and was able to commence study within two hours after my arrival. I hope to hear soon, that the family are better, than when I left home. Please to remember me with esteem to the Miss Bigelows and Mercy [T.]—-. From your son and Brother, E.S. Snell.

[sideways:] You must consider this as addressed to the whole family.

The second page, intended only for his dad, is where the truth comes out:

This part of the letter I fold and seal by itself, that if you wish you may cut it out and let the other part be seen.

Williams College. June 21

Two or three days ago, the President announced to the students that he had received and accepted an appointment at Amherst; that he should resign his office in College after the next commencement; that as long as he staid here, he should feel the same interest in us, as students, that he always had done, and hoped that none would be so troubled about these circumstances, as to cause any interruption of the usual order. But his wishes & expectations, I fear, will all be scattered to the winds, if I should judge from the present movements within these brick walls.

The Class meetings of the Seniors, I would presume, would average one per day for a week past. And most of their consultations appear to be upon the subject of graduating, &c &c. of the like kind. Ten of the class have bound themselves, that on no condition whatever will they ever graduate in [W.] College. Six more have also bound themselves (before they knew the determination of the ten) that, if the ten came to the conclusion above-mentioned, they would never graduate here. As things now stand, I have no doubt that the Commencement is entirely broken up. Every thing is hilter-kilter; reports fly about the town, to & fro, quicker, as I should think, than the birds could carry them. Every body is full of suspicions. The black wood-cutters and ragged strawberry-pedlars, as they fear the loss of the grand source of their revenue, appear to take as great an interest in the matter as any one. Dr. Moore and the Students are the common subjects of talk in College or town. Destruction, ruin, death and oblivion are the predictions of most of the students concerning Bill’s College.

I believe I could study better at home, than here. Your son, E.S. Snell.

Things got better for Williams College after the arrival of the new president, Edward Dorr Griffin (the third person to be offered the position), who slid into place at noon during Commencement.  Williams had endured years of uncertainty and come through it in one piece, and it would remain “in the valley of the Hoosac, one of the handsomest valleys in the world.”  And Amherst College was open and operating.  But Williams could give degrees – Amherst couldn’t. It didn’t have a charter from the state legislature allowing it to do so, and that was to remain a sticking point for several years.  In the meantime, Amherst gave certificates. Rain checks.  IOUs. A graduate was “deserving of the title and degree of Bachelor of Arts,”³ but he wasn’t getting either one.  Now it was Amherst’s turn to worry about the value of its degrees, or non-degrees.

The town, the students, and the faculty had invested a lot in the promise of Amherst College, emotionally, physically, and financially.  Regional newspapers followed the struggle with the state legislature for the charter, and it wasn’t at all clear to readers that Amherst would triumph. There were enough powerful opposing interests to make it a hard contest.  In the end, the vote in the House was 114 to 95.4

 

There are of course no photographs from this period, but there are photographs from the 1946 Amherst College Masquers production of Curtis Canfield’s play, “the Seed and the Sowers,” and one scene examines the fight in the legislature (click on image for gallery):

By the time the charter was finally granted in 1825, people who had sweated through the ordeal were ready to celebrate. Strong’s letter of February 23rd captures the moment of Humphrey’s return from Boston with the charter the day before, when a crowd turned out to greet him and see the document.  Strong happened to have caught the stage home with Humphrey and others, so he had a first-person view of the event.

People familiar with the history of Amherst College will note that Strong misdated his letter by two years — he wrote “1823” — but there is no doubt that the charter was granted in 1825, and that Humphrey, whom Snell refers to as President (“Prest“), didn’t assume that position until later in 1823, after the death of President Moore in June of that year. It’s bizarre that Snell misdated the letter in this way — one can only speculate about how it happened — but there seems no doubt.  In the transcription that follows the images of the original, I kept his date but noted that it was in error.

 

Amherst. Feby. 23—1823– [sic]

Dear Mother,

I stopped into the stage at N. Braintree about half past one with very agreeable company. In the first place, there were Prest Humphrey and Mr. Austin Dickinson, who came and took dinner at Mr. Fiske’s while the stages were changing and other passengers taken in. Then Miss Mary Jocelyn (if I have spelled it right) and her Brother going to Enfield. Mr. Barr, the singer, going to Greenwich, three students, coming here to the Academy; and one man unknown to me. As you see I met a larger party of acquaintance than I often do in Brookfield or Amherst. The President seemed to be in very good spirits, and very soon after he had come into Mr. Fiske’s informed us that he had the charter in [his] pocket, and that it might be seen in the next [Recorder]. But he regretted that the house thought fit to sacrifice two of the most active Trustees as a peace-offering to the opposition. Mr. [Nathan] Fiske and Esq. [John] Smith were removed from the board.5  The President told Mrs. Fiske to congratulate her husband on being dismissed in so good company and on receiving what might be esteemed so signal an honor, since all would understand that they were removed on account of having so faithfully served the interests of the Institution. The inhabitants of the village here were on the “tiptoe of expectancy” when the stage-horn sounded. The front of Mr. Boltwood’s tavern was blackened with the crowd of anxious spectators, waiting to see who had come and what news the passengers had brought. The horses had not stopped before Edward and James were thrusting in their heads and shaking hands with their father. Edward asks “have you got the Charter?” The Pres. answered in the affirmative. James, half way between laughing and crying, says “O-h-h-h! you wouldn’t come without that.” The joyful report flew quick through the throng, and when I alighted one broad smile was resting on all their countenances. Soon I felt them pressing by me into the house, to hear the charter read by Mr. [Austin] Dickinson, who had a copy of it with him. But I felt not at all inclined to follow. More than half sick with riding, I thought a feather bed would do me more good than all the chartered colleges in the union.

President Heman Humphrey brings the charter home: “Men of Amherst! We are at long last a chartered college.” (From the 1946 production of “the Seed and the Sowers”).

We have not made out much today. Every body’s attention is taken up with the celebration of the afternoon and evening. I have come near jumping out of my seat repeatedly in the school-room at the report of the cannon. And now (8 o’clock in the evening) the people are expressing their joy by firing cannon, ringing bells, and illuminating College[s] and Academy. A committee was sent by the townsmen to the President this morning to consult him respecting the expediency of doing all this. He said he should not advise it, but would not object, if the people were desirous of making a celebration. If I had been consulted, I should have expressed the same sentiment—at least the former part of it. Now it seems rather strange to me, that the populace are not willing to concur in the opinion of the two principal men in town. At 9 o’clock, subscribers from the neighborhood (I know not who,) will take supper at the Mansion House, when 17 reports will be heard from the cannon, in honor (I suppose) of the 17 Trustees. Many respectable gentlemen in town are helping on this business, but it looks to me too much like boys’ play. I cannot relish it in the connection in which I must view it – if it were on some military occasion, I should enjoy the roar of the field-piece, & the brilliancy of the illumination, but I can now express my joy better by writing home.

I have been in to see Mrs. Moore [Phebe Moore, widow of Pres. Moore]—find her nearly as well as before she was taken sick. She and Miss Cary send much love. Dr. Humphrey’s youngest children are considerably unwell; their hired girl very sick. Illness is quite prevalent in town.

24—I find I received a wrong impression respecting the supper last night. I supposed it would be attended only by part of the College students and some young towns-people who wished to have a high. But I afterward heard that it was attended by a regular and respectable, as well as numerous collection. About 100 were present, consisting of the Prest. and all the other faculty of college, college students, and inhabitants of both east and west streets. Mr. Heath had previously asked me and Mr. Paine [Elijah Paine, Class of 1823] to attend but could not tell us who would be present. We laughed at the idea of being at the tavern with a toasting company at [9] or 10 at night, and receiving no further invitation, we staid at home about our business. It is possible we may be thought rather odd, but that will never trouble us.

Professor Estabrook returned last evening. He is about to take his wife and child and remove 700 miles to the south, into Virginia, the name of the town I have not heard. He has engaged a private school and is expecting to superintend an Academy for a very handsome salary. We have 40 students in today. I feel rather more “like work” than I did yesterday, or when I left home. I am called away to school and must put what I have written into the office.

Let the first one who can spend time return a letter as good, at least, as this, and as much longer as is convenient.

Your oldest boy—

Please to remember me to all the gentlemen—Father, Doctor, Brothers Thomas and William. Likewise to all the ladies—Sisters Martha, Sarah, Tirzah and Abigail, and every body else.

Newspapers all over the region echoed Snell’s description of the celebration and described the toasts he missed by being such a stickler for propriety and choosing a feather bed over the charter celebration:

How amazing is it that we have letters from the first student to enter Amherst College, and (all the more amazing) that he writes about these important early events in Amherst’s history?  There are more letters in the Snell Family Papers, many of which refer to other events in Amherst College history, and all of which shed light on this large, vibrant family of Western Massachusetts.

******************************************************************

Footnotes:

1. Read more about this period at Williams College here:  a_history_of_williams_college-excerpt-re-moore

2. For “Prince Lee Boo,” see “The History of Prince Lee Boo.”

3. In the entertaining little volume of chapel talks about Amherst College history called “the Seed and the Sowers,” Curtis Canfield writes about the charter problem and includes the text of one of the graduation certificates: seed and the sowers-excerpt-sm

4. See William S. Tyler’s “A History of Amherst College,” p. 151.

5. Tyler explains that these two trustees were probably removed because they were “among the active agents in the founding of the College, and as such, particularly obnoxious to its enemies.” Snell doesn’t mention the third trustee who merited removal, Rev. Experience Porter. Ibid, 153.

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As the centennial commemorations of World War I come to a close, we’ve been working to develop two class sessions focused on the local impact of the war. As a result, we’ve been digging into our biographical files on students from the period to track down hidden stories of Amherst students that went off to war.

As soon as the United States entered the conflict, the Alumni Council of Amherst College established a Committee on War charged with requesting information and updates from alumni who had served. Questionnaires sent out were almost universally returned, demonstrating a desire on the part of the alumni to remain connected to the College community and to accurately reflect their service during the war. The Archives’ student biographical files cannot capture the full extent of personal experiences in the war – but the files do provide enough detail to show the hardships faced overseas. In this blog post we present a selection of materials from the class of 1914. These materials present an interesting challenge for researchers. In the face a vast amounts of raw historical data, how do we begin to make sense of it all? And how do we begin to track down loose threads presented in the primary source?

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A typical war record information card sent by the Alumni Council (the original is a 3″ by 5″ card). This card lists Donald H. Brown’s (AC 1914) service history.

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An excerpt of a letter written by Donald Brown. This is a typescript copy of the original.

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Another example of a solicitation for information by the Alumni Council. The form also asks for “non-military” service, if applicable. The Alumni Council also asked for a “photograph of each man in active service, in uniform.”

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Charles Morris Mills (AC 1914) – an Amherst alum in uniform. Mills enlisted in 1917 and was discharged in the spring of 1919.

 

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A subsequent 1925 questionnaire for Mills indicates that he was “gassed Argonne Sept ’18” – referring to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a major part of the final months of the war.

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We’ll end with Merrill S. Gaunt (AC 1914), whose diary is pictured above. After graduating Amherst College, Gaunt attended Andover Theological Seminary before volunteering for the ambulance service in France in January 1916. He was in service at the start of the Battle of Verdun but succumbed to cerebrospinal meningitis. He died in the hospital in Bar-le-Duc, France, April 3, 1916. The Amherst College archives holds his diary for this period. Though only in the war for three months, Gaunt’s brief journal entries offer glimpses into the cruelties of war.

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1916 March 4: “Heard a woman cry when son dead.”

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1916 March 16: “Receiv’d Helmet and Gas mask.”

The diary also includes his Gaunt’s last entry, written in French:

 

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You may know from an earlier blog post, that here in the Archives & Special Collections we are conducting a shelf-by-shelf review of our collections.  This has prompted us to look through collections that do not get the most consistent use or that we aren’t as familiar with.  Recently, I surveyed the William P. Bigelow (AC 1889) Papers, a small collection of personal and professional papers of an Amherst College alumnus and professor.

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This blog post is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave last Friday to our regional professional organization, New England Archivists. We have a one-day meeting in the fall, and this year it was held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Our theme for the meeting was ethics in archives, and each of the nine presenters discussed collections or events that dealt with ethical challenges. 

Like librarians and doctors, archivists have a code of ethics that guides our work. You can read ours here: Society of American Archivists: Core Values and Code of Ethics for Professional Archivists. Shared discussion and consideration with colleagues is an important way for us to develop and learn as professionals, especially about ethical questions, which are always matters of judgment.


Describing Archival Collections—Ethical Considerations

It’s hard to say no to your boss, especially when it’s your first job as a professional archivist. Reprocessing the

Frederic Brewster Loomis (AC 1896) Papers

took far more of my time and labor than either of us expected. Negotiating this collection and its ethical demands was both personally and professionally challenging. Looking back now, nearly a year later, I find that I can better trust my own ethical judgments and see more vividly the violence inherent in overly “neutral” or “objective” descriptive practices. (more…)

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A pounce of cats.  A crash of rhinos.  A gaze of raccoons. A prudence of vicars.  A strength of Snells.

Whenever I think of the Snell family of Western Massachusetts, I think of collective nouns, especially the entertaining “terms of venery.” The Snells are such a distinct unit that they seem to demand their own term.  There are a lot of them, so there are many lives to follow and stories to be told.  And they’re tight-knit.  Something —  maybe it’s from those early days as a big family in North Brookfield – bound them together, even when some of them ended up on the other side of the country.  So there’s a strength to them as a group, and that suggests their term, a “strength of Snells.” It’s not as colorful as “a murder of crows,” but it certainly describes the Snells.

The Snells are of particular interest to us because of their links to Amherst College.  If you’re even a little familiar with Amherst’s early history, you’re likely to have heard of Professor Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876), known to his family as Strong.  Strong was about 14 when his father, Reverend Thomas Snell, a trustee of Williams College, was meeting with other trustees to discuss whether Williams should move to Hampshire County, and Strong was a student at Williams College during the September 1818 “Convention of the Congregational and Presbyterian Clergy,” when his father participated in discussions about an institution of higher learning in Amherst.  To make a long, complicated story short, a new college was finally formed in Amherst and Reverend Snell’s old friend President Zephaniah Swift Moore of Williams was chosen to lead it.  Shortly thereafter, in September 1821, Strong Snell and a small group of students accompanied Moore from Williams College to Amherst to open the new institution.

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