Category Archives: Archives

All Roads Lead Back to Brooklyn

Matthew and I had the pleasure this summer to work with Dr. Henry Goldschmidt in having a library and archives session with the Religious Worlds of New York Summer Institute 2016 fellows.  In addition to giving an overview of the resources at the Burke Library and elsewhere, we also had them look through the Department of Church Planning and Research records, 1855-1985.

This was a great collection for them to look at since it contains a ton of reports largely compiled between 1930 and 1980 on practiced religions in New York City.  Needless to say the uses of this collection are infinite in possibility!  This collection is such a rich resource on the history of NYC’s demographics.  One fun fact: the surveying tactics that the organization used were adopted by the U.S. Federal Census!

There are many reasons why I love working with students who are doing archival research, but one reason in particular are the discoveries they make — which if it were me going through the boxes, might have been details I would have overlooked.

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One such discovery (well there were several during this class session, but the one that stands out in my memory) was within this 1946 publication titled Brooklyn U.S.A. by John Richmond and Abril Lamarque, which I am pretty sure I came during my tenure at the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library and archives.

 

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Inside this unassuming but eye-catching publication we are introduced to Sidney Ascher, the president and founder of the “nondues-paying” Society for the Prevention of Disparaging Remarks Against Brooklyn.

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Looking some online I found this awesome interview with Sidney about his club from the WNYC Archives from August 4, 1948.  In this interview he proclaims that there were half a million card carrying members and when asked what one had to do to become a member, Sidney states “Just love Brooklyn.”

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Image from http://onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.com/2012/09/05/the-society-for-the-prevention-of-disparaging-remarks-about-brooklyn/

 

#LoveInAction: Voices in Social Justice

 

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The Burke Library is excited about the start of it’s newest outreach project, #LoveInAction: Voices in Social Justice.  This project will train two Union Theological Seminary students in the theory and practice of oral history and archival research.  The students will be doing extensive research in the Union archives in order to prepare and conduct oral history interviews of alums during the Student Interracial Ministry reunion, a program that will happen in May 2017 (details TBD).  The participating students were selected through a competitive application process and we are thrilled to announce them here:

Kristine Chong
Tabatha Holley

We are so excited to have Kristine and Tabatha working with us on this amazing project for the next academic year!  We will be sure to post updates along the way.

Cartoonists, Dramaturgs and Old Testament Feminists: An Archivist’s First Months at the Burke

Hello Burke world! I joined Union’s library staff this February, filling a vacant Project Archivist position whose previous occupant guided the successful processing of the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives, the Missionary Research Library collection, and more with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation and other grant-funding organizations and individuals. I’m originally from New Mexico (a place with an aridity that I’m sorely missing during my first summer on this swampy island), and recently completed my M.L.I.S. in Archival Studies from McGill University in Montreal. Coming into this community has been in many ways a rigorous crash course in ecumenical studies, but happily a smooth process of folding into and keeping step with the everyday work of a small academic archive situated in an expansive research university. The learning curve I’ve ridden this spring has been notable given my status as a new archival professional with interests both in academic librarianship, special collections and rare books and archives. Prior to coming to the Burke, my background in archival practice had been situated in the U.S. and Canada, and primarily saw me leading small survey and processing projects in cultural heritage, art and academic settings with an acronym-riddled arsenal of best practices and archival theory at my disposal.

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Phyllis Trible at work. Trible’s archive consists of text-based, visual materials and realia reflecting Trible’s historic career in Biblical criticism, feminist studies and the Old Testament. Her papers bridge the UTS Archives to the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, and is an actively growing collection now available for on-site consultation. 

The extent of my religious studies acumen prior to joining the Burke was limited to my middling knowledge of the Presbyterian beginnings of the small Midwestern town where I lived during college, the particular dryness of Eucharistic hosts during my Catholic adolescence, and a fairweather interest in the eternal consequences of my meager mortal actions. I come from a literary studies and critical theory background, and have always been drawn toward the nuanced, less visible ways in which people and communities of people make sense or chalk up their experiences of this life, those experiences of religion and spirituality that respectively become occasions for world-making, diasporas, rituals and art forms that seem endlessly abundant in relief and hope. Part of what compels me toward the humanities, history and narrative has been the particular privilege and work of acknowledging my own ignorance of the world beyond my own, the limits of individual perspective, but also of the ways in which knowledge is produced to bind our subjectivities to one another. In the process of memory-making and historicization, I am equally interested in the erasures and violences that also constitute a part of the ways in which we understand our spiritual and social worlds.  Theology, perhaps more than any field I’ve taken up so far in my life and nascent work, attests to this pervasive knee-jerk desire to balance sense-making with reverence, critical thought with faith, silence with articulation. This process of coming to know, even in silence and subjectivity, is what drew me to library science, and archival practice in particular.

The projects that met me at the Burke did not disappoint. As the Project Archivist responsible for the processing, housing, and long-term preservation of the UTS 1 Archives – an aggregate of archival collections stemming from faculty, alumni, and other Union-affiliated individuals acquired by the library – I have become a sudden steward of a world steeping in interdisciplinary, interdenominational discourse. From my first day in the library, I realized that I had entered a space that, though a slim five-block walk north of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, is unique in its historical and academic context. As one of my colleagues told me on admiring the crucifix-emblazoned doorknobs leading into our on-site archival space, “The divine is in the details”. It’s indeed astonishing to be a custodian of archival collections outside my formal background and to learn so quickly and richly about the haptic space the seminary is situated in, the gargoyles that greet me in the stairwell, the filigreed doorknobs evoking Union’s denominational past, the engraved edifice on the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary (…“And the bush was not consumed”), or the limestone gauntlet of the neighboring Interchurch Center (a.k.a. the God Box).

The variance and allure of the people and spaces I’ve had the privilege of connecting with since arriving at the Burke has been matched only by the archival collections themselves. With the invaluable assistance of library school interns, Columbia and UTS student employees, and the support of my colleagues and mentors, I have been bolstered in processing the papers of people like Phyllis Trible, a beacon of Union’s community and bracing feminist Biblical scholar; Max Coots, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Union graduate whose joint Master’s in religious education in 1953 between Teacher’s College at Columbia and Union was fulfilled with a brilliant full-color cartoon thesis depicting the politics of post-war activism, racism and redemption through the UU tradition; and the papers of Bob Seaver, Union’s beloved late professor of Speech and Drama, whose papers include audiovisual evidence of his singular teaching style as well as his extensive work in religious drama in the ecumenical and theater communities. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Seaver’s papers so far have been his extensive notes used when preparing for his courses in preaching. In these notes, Seaver’s approach to vocal exercise and tuning the human voice become a form of scrawled language poetry. One undated note card reads:

We’ve been dealing with how to release breath
F U L L Y
Breath — The source of sound
Work on the jaw
Tongue, concerns
Throat
How to free the channels
Through which sound travels
Jaw — widens the exit
When some deep emotion
Is the impulse for sound

Tongue — shapes sound 
Articulation
Throat — the main channel
The task — relax the channel

Stimulate the source.

***

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Two frames of Max Alden Coots’ cartoon thesis submitted in fulfillment of his M.Div./M.Ed. in 1953 from Teachers College and UTS. Coots, an artist and Unitarian Universalist Minister, is one exemplar of the visually and conceptually compelling approaches to religious education that Union alumni and faculty have practiced throughout their careers. 

Processing collections coming from individuals like these is not only a privileged sort of intellectual labor, but one that begs to be curated and made accessible to researchers beyond the auspices of Union’s immediate audience. Drawing on the talents of our in-house staff and from the support of our larger organization, I feel confident that new knots of researchers, students, scholars, and armchair theologians will find themselves as intrigued by the gems to be found at the Burke as I have become only six months into this new role through a mix of digital curatorial work, on-site exhibitions, cross-institutional collaborations, and streamlined practices for uploading and curating finding aids.

As I scythe through the work accomplished and the projects that I’ll undertake over the next two years, I am becoming pinchingly aware that I’ve just begun to skim the surface, to scratch the bed of all the intellectual and physical labor that lies ahead. As we approach our goal of 30-35 linear feet of processed archives per month, and as the steamy heat lamp of New York City summer settles in, I could hardly feel more energized to embark on the remaining mountain of collections. Where do you even begin to excavate the history of glory? Flick light, switch on dual monitor. Select Start.

 

Letters between a Prisoner and a Soldier: The Houser-Shinn Correspondence from the Roger L. Shinn Collection

 

“I’ve never had the experience of writing to anyone in the army before. I suppose you’ve never written to anyone in jail before, so I guess we’re even.”  George Houser, July 17, 1941

George Houser and Roger Shinn first met as students at Union Theological Seminary, living across the hall from each other on the fifth floor of the dorms. The two young men, both sons of pastors, bonded in their early years of graduate school, frequently stopping by each other’s rooms for long conversations and playing on the same basketball team. As World War II escalated, they together began to question the role of Christians in matters of war and peace, and co-wrote an editorial in The Union Review about their correspondence with Canon Raven, a British pacifist. They shared admiration for Raven’s expression of his pacifism, and wrote together in the spring of 1940 that “in the ultimate analysis, the Christian must stand for the way of the Cross, and the problem of war is the place for our age to take the stand.”

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Credit: UTS1: Roger L. Shinn Papers, 1920-2010, Series 3D, box 1 folder 1, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Ultimately, however, the two friends took quite different stands. Houser decided that it was his duty as a Christian to reject war and consequently refused, along with seven other students at Union, to register for the draft. He was subsequently arrested and served a year at Danbury Federal Prison instead of completing his degree at Union. Shinn not only registered for the draft, but waived the exemption he could have taken as a theological student. Rather than continue on with his doctoral studies after graduating from Union, he began basic training for the Army. Throughout Houser’s imprisonment and Shinn’s training, the pair maintained a steady correspondence. The conversations that had once taken place in their fifth-floor dorm rooms now occurred in letters as they continued to wrestle with their respective positions. Shinn held onto copies of the letters he typed to Houser, along with Houser’s handwritten responses from prison:

“I’ve been sending out Christmas cards this week. The two-cent stamps which I got at the post office have pictures of big guns on them and the words ‘National Defense.’ It seemed a terrible irony to be putting those stamps on Christmas cards… Reconciliation is so much more wonderful than fighting. I just don’t see how it can be accomplished until some other forces are crushed.”
– Shinn’s letter to Houser, Dec  22, 1940

“In the abstract-that is, in principle-you and I agree pretty much. But the more I think about the world situation, the more I feel that I would have to become a complete defeatist and cynic in order to support one side or the other in the war… The cycle has to be broken somewhere, and I think one of the important points at which to break it is at the point of the method of war.”
– Houser’s reply to Shinn, Dec 26, 1940.

Even as their differing positions took them further and further from each other, Shinn and Houser diligently reminded each other of the shared aspects of their convictions. The tone of their letters remained light even as they disagreed, with friendly banter and frequent apologies for not having the time to write more. As Shinn’s number came up in the draft he wrestled with whether or not he should join the Army or take advantage of his exemption as his mentors, Reinhold Niebuhr and Henry Sloane Coffin, advised. When he decided that, given his support for the war he felt compelled to serve in it, Houser was one of the first people he told. Houser wrote back disagreeing with his friend but supporting his decision to accept the consequences of supporting the war.

“To me it is impossible for a person to accept comfort and luxury for himself while others are suffering and deprived. This is an eternal criticism of the faculty of Union Seminary as far as I am concerned. How Reiny [Reinhold Niebuhr] can do it is more than I can see. The danger of his position is just that of not ceasing to compromise. Of course I expect nothing different from Uncle Henry [Henry Sloane Coffin]. So I think from this angle, your choice is right…”
– George Houser, Feb 20, 1940

Neither friend shied from challenging  the other to change his mind. As Shinn prepared to go to war and Houser realized that he would not be able to return to Union, their letters tell their sadness about how their paths, and those of their community at seminary, had diverged. This sadness and the strength of their differing convictions only made their theological and ethical debates more urgent.

“…It is not like a year ago, when we could brush past our differences by simply saying of the other fellow, ‘he’s sincere,’ or ‘he’s a good fellow.’ When you actually believe thoroughly that the other man, if his policies were carried out, would plunge the world into turmoil and chaos, or remove any possibility of historical justice, then the differences cannot be reconciled breezily. Unity, then, must lie in a faith more profound than the church has usually preached.”
– Roger Shinn, July 4, 1941

A letter from the Danbury, Connecticut prison where Houser was incarcerated, notifying Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

A letter from the warden of the Danbury, Connecticut prison where George Houser was incarcerated, notifying Roger Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

After 1941, the correspondence between the two men appears to stop. No more letters to or from Houser appear in the Shinn collection. Their lives continued to head in different, though related, directions. Houser moved to Chicago to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist anti-war organization, and then turned his attention to civil rights issues within the United States. He helped to found the Congress for Racial Equality in 1942 and participated in the original Freedom Ride before devoting the rest of his career to abolishing apartheid and colonial rule in Africa.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter Bayard Rustin at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

 

 

Shinn, meanwhile, served in World War II and was held as a prisoner of war. Upon his return, he completed his doctorate at Columbia and enjoyed a long career at Union as a faculty member, dean of instruction and, briefly, acting president. His participation in later political activities at Union is particularly notable in light of his earlier friendship with Houser. When Union students again refused to register for the draft during the Vietnam War, Roger was one of the faculty members who wrote a letter supporting them. He also was among members of the Union community who published a statement regarding apartheid in South Africa in 1967, and worked through the 1980s to divest the Seminary’s endowment of shares in companies profiting from apartheid. Although the former hallmates chose different ways of living into their convictions as Christians, it seems that throughout their lives they continued to “agree pretty much.”

Hanging Out With Ulanov

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been working to finish up some processing projects in the archives. In particular, I have taken over the initial processing of the papers from former Union alumna and Professor Ann Belford Ulanov. These papers start with her work from her student years at Radcliffe College and end as faculty at Union Theological Seminary. A much larger portion of the collection covers Dr. Ulanov’s career within the Psych and Religion Department at Union as well as the manuscripts she produced.

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Although it is always such a wonderful feeling to finish up a project, continuing to process another person’s work can at times be difficult. Sometimes you have an outline of what to expect and others you will just have to dive right in and see for yourself. For this collection, a fair amount has already been processed and what I have been doing is tackling sub-series, piece by piece, to make sure that what it contains does not belong elsewhere. This has been my first collection where I am using my judgment in such a way and it has been very educational.

Of course archivists cannot really read while doing this initial level of processing. I just have to peruse enough to figure out what each piece is and put it with similar items in large folders. Yet still, I love that I get a sense of who a person is by their papers. What kind of correspondence did they keep? What voice did they use with students, peers, and members of the community? What mementos did they keep years later? How did they organize it all?

With the portion Dr. Ulanov’s papers that I have been working through, I have been able to get an interesting portrait of who she was during her time here. It spans decades and I even saw hints of old arguments that are still alive on campus today. As I write this, I am winding down to the last box out of 7 in the last sub-series to be accounted for. There is still quite a ways to go, but I feel getting it all done will leave me with a lovely sense of accomplishment.

#LoveInAction: A reflective essay

That sounds familiar! #LoveInAction_CarolynAs I sifted through the materials in the Burke archives, reading student publications and looking at pictures that were over forty years old, I kept recognizing my classmates in these relics from our predecessors. My project was tracking a series of student-driven movements in the 1960s and 1970s that radically transformed the academic program and governance structure at Union. One of those, the Free University of 1968, began with a late-night call to mobilize seminarians because the police were moving in on protests across the street at Columbia. It was after the end of the semester, and well after midnight, but the students rallied and turned out to support the protestors. That happened my first year at Union, when the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zucotti Park was raided. That night a group of us had settled into the Social Hall with cups of coffee and end-of-semester papers to write. But within fifteen minutes of the first tweets announcing the raid, we were all headed downtown to see how we could help. It happened again in 2014, as the Union community turned out en masse to participate in #BlackLivesMatter protests across New York City.

Back in 1968, after a night of supporting Columbia students in their confrontation with the police Union students came home and looked at their own community. At Columbia, students were protesting major justice issues: links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the Vietnam War, as well as the gentrification of Harlem. But Union students recognized that their own institution, too, was complicit in perpetuating injustice. The last week of classes was canceled and replaced by what was called the Free University as the entire campus instead spent the week investigating Union’s problems and making a plan for moving forward. This balance between protesting injustice outside our walls and engaging in serious soul-searching within them is also one I recognize in my classmates. Union in Praxis, activism surrounding the Jackson Mitchell Chair, the Latinx Working Group, #WhoseUnion – all of these belong to the same tradition as the Free University. And like the movements I’ve seen in my time at Union, the Free University was a messy endeavor. Some students were frustrated that activism was interrupting their studies, and considered the Free University a waste of time. There was tension between those whose energies were focused on issues at Union, and those who were pulled toward solidarity with the Columbia protestors.

The Free University ended with the academic year but the issues it raised continued to be addressed, first by a working group called the Union Commission and then by the Union Assembly, a body of faculty, students, and staff that governed the school for five years. Major changes occurred during this time: the switch from an A-F grading scale to our current system, closing the School of Sacred Music, replacing the B.D. with the M.Div. and the Th.D. with a Ph.D., and Union set a goal of recruiting and admitting students and hiring faculty, “so that Black persons will number at least one-third of the total… and so that women (including Black women and those of other minorities) number at least one half the total.” Here, too, I recognize my classmates in the dozens of past students who participated in the necessary, but rarely glamorous, committee work of negotiating and discerning a better path forward for the seminary on first the Union Commission, and then the Union Assembly. Working alongside faculty, administration, alumni/ae, and staff for five years, students contributed to major changes in how Union functions. All of this work – from confrontations with police in the streets to policy changes within Union – is activism. All of it is #LoveInAction.

Carolyn Klaasen, among many things, is a current PhD student at Union Theological Seminary and one of the student curators for the library’s #LoveInAction project. Carolyn’s exhibit is currently on display through to May 16, 2016 on the 1st floor of the Burke Library. Her exhibit is a look into activism in education exploring the archives of the Union Commission and Union Assembly, and the Student Interracial Ministry, both of which were student-driven.  The records of the Union Commission and Union Assembly document the school’s history roughly from 1968 to 1974 and are housed within the Union Theological Records, 1829- held by the Burke.  The Student Interracial Ministry Records, 1960-1968, also held by the Burke, are a testimony to a student-run ministry in which students, congregations and community members from racially diverse backgrounds came together to be part of a radically different and truly immersive hands-on approach to ministry education.

My Own “Final Blog Post” Has Arrived

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~Walt Disney

As I look back on the last four years and four months that I’ve spent as the project archivist at the Burke Library, I am so thankful to have had this opportunity. This position is what brought me to New York City. I’ve grown so much professionally and personally thanks to Columbia.

My main priority at the Burke Library was to process, arrange, describe and make available collections. My first grant from the Henry Luce Foundation focused on the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. Over the three-year time period, my team of students and I processed 781 linear feet of archives (178 collections). Since the start of my second grant, which began in January 2015, 377 linear feet (45 collections) has been processed. In total, I’ve had a direct impact on scholarship, research and learning because I’ve made 1158 linear feet (223 collections) available for researchers.

Apart from the archives having an impact on research, teaching and learning, the internship program that I created and run has been very successful. I supervised a total of 18 library school interns, not only from NYC schools but also from other locations in the USA, as well as France and Canada. They are now employed by museums, archives, universities, corporate businesses, seminaries and other institutions.  I supervised 17 other students who were matriculated at Columbia or Union Theological Seminary. Thirty-five students in four years – not too shabby.

This very blog that you are reading started because I thought it would be useful to have students write more in-depth about their experiences with collections that were part of the first grant. Now it has grown into the general Burke Library blog and has so many voices and knowledge reflected by the posts. I also started running the Burke Twitter and Facebook pages; both of which have an ever-growing list of followers. All of these things are now in the very capable hands of Burke’s public services librarian, Elizabeth Call. She has taken these social media accounts into new and exciting venues and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow them.

I’ve written reports; participated in Wayfinding studies; served on committees and other advisory committees; curated two digital exhibits; written newsletters; made the Burke more efficient with usage of space; created documentation; written LibGuides; presented in classes for Columbia, Union Theological Seminary and Barnard College; presented at conferences; and on and on. I’ve grown tremendously as a professional over the last four years in New York City. And really, what more could you ask for?

I want to thank my amazing coworkers for being so supportive of me and bringing their own expertise to the table. I want to thank Alysse Jordan, who was interim director of the Burke Library when I first started in August 2011 – I could not have asked for a better “First Mentor” at Columbia (who I am very happy to call a friend now!). To my wonderful students that I’ve supervised over the past 4+ years: I’m proud to have been part of your career and look forward to watching you grow in our field.

Thank you to all and I wish you the very best!

First Collection Completed

My first archival project here has been completely fascinating.  The Catholic Church in India from 1880-1893? I know absolutely nothing about that! I found myself absorbed with the first few volumes, trying to get a sense of that world.  The pages were browned, the edges were crumbling, some of the spines were a wreck and the smell evoked cherry-wood bookcases surrounding cups of tea and deep leather sofas.  I do not think I have held a book that is 135 years old.  That alone was enthralling.

Many of the pages include multiple clippings without author or publication.  As a librarian and grad student, this bothered me. What was the source? Was it reliable?  Yet the stories they contained were often very interesting and I found myself reading them.  Then there were the larger publications of the church.  These served to inform about the status of the missions and give an impression of the people and places that the missionaries were encountering.  Some of these included illustrations.  The captions on these were always worth reading since they gave insight into relationships and impressions.

This collection, when I got into it, seemed a bit like organized chaos.  I appreciate the Finding Aid that I learned how to create for it so that hopefully people interested in the material will be able to enjoy looking through it as much as I did.  On a final note, as a self-professed lover of languages I enjoyed sorting through not only English but also the French and Portuguese items included!

Sexual Politics in the Archives

As an incoming MA student at Union, having previous experience working libraries as well as a Master of Information & Library Science degree under my belt, I’m excited to join the student staff at the Burke Library for this next step in my academic studies in theological librarianship. My  area of research is ethics, specifically around issues related to the role of church institutions and the rights of gender and sexuality minorities, and I was surprised to discover in the archives a letter written by Anthony Comstock—one of the principal villains in the story of America’s war on “obscenity” and author of the highly conservative Comstock Laws, which criminalized the dissemination of information regarding contraceptives, abortion, and erotica—in one of my first-ever projects in the Burke Library.

This project was for the papers of James Morris Whiton (1833-1919), a Congregational minister who preached and taught in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Whiton wrote back and forth with Anthony Comstock, and this correspondence has remained buried in his papers for about a hundred years—it was unlisted in the handwritten contents list accompanying Whiton’s papers. Its significance emerged gradually as I refoldered and rehoused these documents.

series 5, box 1, folder 3

James Whiton

You may be wondering why we have the James Morris Whiton Papers. He is not an alumnus, and he never taught or worked at the Seminary. One possibility is that Whiton served as Chairman of the New York State Conference of Religion for several years around the turn of the century, alongside William Adams Brown, Presbyterian minister, systematic theologian, ecumenist and UTS professor. As colleagues, Whiton and Brown may have shared and influenced one another’s ideas. Perhaps someone felt that the Whiton Papers would be a good addition to collections that reflected the history of this intellectual circle.

Whiton held this prestigious position of Chairman when he was an older man; however, for most of his life, Whiton seems to have been thwarted in many of his attempts to achieve prosperity in his career. Although his diaries reflect a deep-seated sense of ambition, he resigned or was forced to resign from multiple positions as minister to various congregations and dean of various preparatory schools and seminaries. Whiton often complained of shortage of income; the reason for these unpleasant career shifts is not explicitly mentioned in his writings.

Anthony Comstock

Anthony Comstock

Whiton kept detailed personal diaries and maintained a comprehensive collection of his correspondence (including the Comstock letter) which spells out his unfortunate career trajectory. In 1872, when Whiton was the pastor of the North Church in Lynn, Massachusetts, he apparently wrote to Comstock to ask his assistance in his principal aim: eliminating the practice of passing-around of erotic books and other materials within the community of Lynn via the mail. (The Comstock Laws targeted the dissemination of information regarding contraceptives, abortion, and erotic materials by prohibiting these items being sent via U.S. Post.) Comstock replied to Whiton offering his assistance by any means necessary.

By this time Whiton had a reputation for his devotion to squeaky-clean moral standards in every community he led. However, some apparently found his tenacity overbearing; in Lynn, he recalls in his memoirs, he was viewed as being overly strict when he served as a member of the school board, advocating for stringent disciplinary measures to be taken against pupils. (He would later be ousted from his post as schoolmaster of Williston Seminary in 1878 in response to an outcry by parents that he was too strict in his scrutiny of pupils’ dormitories, imposing surprise inspections of the boys’ footlockers in search of contraband, leading to so many suspensions that the parents found his rule intolerable.) In Lynn, Whiton recalls, a local woman in his congregation once even spat on him in the street. It would be four years of tense relations with the community in Lynn before Whiton was forced to leave his post.

Was Whiton ousted because members of his community found his conservative attitude over-the-top? Did he feel alienated as the strict schoolmaster, and as minister in the town where he sought the assistance of Anthony Comstock—an unpopular figure even in his own time—in cleaning up the post office and ridding his citizens’ mail of lewd materials through search-and-seizure, to the point of being forced to resign from his position as minister? These documents paint a picture of a strict moral leader, hardworking and dedicated, whose efforts nevertheless led to alienating himself from his religious communities to the point of rejection. Further understanding of Whiton’s archives and research into his life and work may likely yield new insights into this complicated character.

But what a find for a new student staff member, incoming Seminary student, and early-career librarian in her first month at the Burke! The Comstock Laws have always held a particular fascination for me. Comstock clashed with Margaret Sanger and civil liberties groups because of his radical position on sending “lewd” materials through the post, including information about contraception and family planning. It would be interesting to read more of Whiton’s and Comstock’s correspondence to get further insight into Whiton’s theological position on these issues, and the theological position of the Lynn community who rejected the pastor partly for his too-strict enforcement of his conservative ethics. (Perhaps a Union student could conduct an investigation of the role of the pastor in terms of theological engagement and civic action vis-à-vis the U.S. Postal Service in the 19th century?) I’m more excited than ever to continue my studies here at Union and dig deeper into the Burke Library’s special collections in my academic endeavors.

Union’s Other Dynasty

The shadow and impact of Charles Augustus Briggs still hangs over Union Theological Seminary and the collections at the Burke Library. Charles, as well as his family members Emilie Grace, Julia and Alanson Tuthill, all have collections at the Burke, and many other faculty and staff collections contain records showing how the Briggs’ heresy trial affected their lives and work.

But did you know that there is another family, with a wide variety of collections at the Burke Library, which have also left just as much of a mark on the history of UTS?

William Adams Brown

William Adams Brown

The family would be that of William Adams Brown.

When I was hired at the Burke Library almost four years ago, part of my project was to process the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. Apart from that being a really long name, I only knew WAB as an individual through his small collection of papers in MRL3. That collection in MRL however was more about Brown’s activities rather than Brown The Man. Now, as part of my second grant to process the UTS Papers, I’ve been given a different perspective.

I recently processed WAB’s papers in the Union record group and thought, “Wow, he was a pretty cool guy.” I wrote his biographical note in the finding aid and realized that much more how accomplished he was; although organizing these materials over seventy years after his death, there is only so much you can “know.”

That was until I reached his family scrapbooks. This collection of 15 boxes contains six very large scrapbooks, assembled by the Brown Family, that contain an amazing amount of detail, ephemera, sketches, poems, and just life.

I was convinced that I finally appreciating how great WAB was. Little did I know what I would understand about his family with the next collection I processed.

A page from William Adams Brown's scrapbook

A page from William Adams Brown’s scrapbook

That would be the papers of William Adams.

William Adams

William Adams

Other than being the maternal grandfather of William Adams Brown, and his namesake, I knew Adams was a theologian, minister, UTS professor and president. Adams’ collection is comprised of 29 boxes of material, 24 of which are sermons. The most informative things (on the surface anyway) were Adams’ collection of memorial books.

These seven volumes contain in amazing detail who William Adams was, and why we need to remember who he was in the present. His most important impact was to that at UTS. He was professor of Sacred Rhetoric, instructor of Church Polity, on the board of directors, and he served as UTS President from 1873-1880. Union had not had a president named by the directors for 31 years when Adams was appointed to the post.

William Adams holding William Adams Brown as a young boy

William Adams holding William Adams Brown as a young boy

He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization during his presidency, raised Union’s status in church life, and had a profound impact on the other students and faculty during his short time in the presidency. After Adams’ death in 1880, Roswell D. Hitchcock was named to the presidency; he said of Adams,

“The whole institution was toned up. Professors and Students, equally and all, felt the magnetism of his courtly and stimulating presence. On all public occasions, he was our ornament and pride.”

Remembrances from other UTS faculty who were impacted by Adams included Thomas Hastings, Charles Cuthbert Hall, Charles Briggs, Francis Brown and Charles Gillett.

While I was processing the William Adams Papers, I had assigned two smaller collections for interns to work on: John Rogers Coe and Jonas Coe. Again, we knew almost nothing about these men. Turns out that not only were they related to William Adams Brown, but he was the one to donate their collections to the library.

The Family

The Family

The Burke Library also has the papers of William Adams Brown’s father, John Crosby Brown. John Crosby’s father, James, was also interested in Union, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish professorships. John Crosby joined the Board of Directors at Union in 1866, becoming Vice President in 1883 and President in 1897. During his tenure Brown was involved in the great controversies affecting Union, including the heresy cases against Charles Briggs and Arthur C. McGiffert. He was also instrumental in many of the great advances made by Union over the forty years that he served. He donated a good deal of money to the Seminary, and he successfully encouraged others to give as well. The Board, under Brown’s leadership and with the help of faculty president C. C. Hall, convinced board vice-president D. Willis James to make the major donation in what would become the Morningside campus of UTS. John Crosby’s legacy is still in effect at Union: the tower built in 1928 that dominates the skyline over the Seminary was named the Brown Tower in his honor.

The parents of William Adams Brown: John Crosby Brown and Mary Elizabeth Adams

The parents of William Adams Brown: John Crosby Brown and Mary Elizabeth Adams

William Adams Brown and his family impacted Union Theological Seminary through their positions as professors, presidents and board of directors. However they also continue to impact the Burke – I have a feeling that there are more collections at the Burke Library thanks to the donation of William Adams Brown. I look forward to even more of these discoveries!

An Adirondack Honeymoon, from William Adams Brown

An Adirondack Honeymoon, from William Adams Brown