Category Archives: History

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.”

#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!

Light in the Darkness

“Every book is a little light in that darkness”- Scott Landon

My job at the library resembles the craft of archaeology. On any day, I may come home from work with several centuries of dirt on my hands.

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This can be from crosschecking in world cat whether we have Der Kleine Katechismus Dr. Martin Luthers mit Erklarung Fragen und Antworten, or finding a 1921 map of Congo Belge in a box of uncatalogued materials.

Sometimes it’s a bit more like Octavtio_cart2P.I. business where I have to figure out if this anti- catholic tinged flyer suggesting doom for protestant America should JFK be elected president was written by the same group as that pamphlet suggesting the public school system is a “captive” of Popish control.

But sometimes my job is like a gardener, what with all the dirt.  I uncovered the bulletin for Booker T. Washington’s Memorial service, which took place 100 years ago. The effects of time on these documents end up on my hands.

Closer to my own research interests are reprints of executive order 9066 from FDR ordering the Relocation of Japanese Americans along the west coast during World War II. There was also a photo bulletin showing the lives of Japanese Americans in the Internment camps, and another entitled “70,000 American Refugees made in America.” Perhaps most important about the experience for me is the chance to be reminded of what has happened to bring us to where we are. Pieces of history are in these stacks and archives, and every day I find out something I hadn’t known before.

The thing I would most like to share is an interview I found with Dr. Vincent Harding in SGI Quarterly. Among the other quiet gems of Harding’s spirit and words, are his cautious approach to memorializing the phrase civil rights movement, which he thinks can be seen by our generation in terms of “success,” and therefore conclude that the struggle is “finished.” Harding would encourage us to speak instead of “the expansion of democracy,” reminding us of our responsibility to our ongoing task.

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I perform a very small role in the vast process of memory and integration that is ongoing here at the Burke.  While it’s not often pretty, it helps us remember, and understand, and hopefully participate in taking responsibility, together.

 

#LoveInAction

 

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I started at the Burke Library a little over a year ago.  Not coming from a theological background, I was a little intimidated. However I quickly saw how my background in public history and public services could help do effective outreach to promote usage of the amazing materials in our special collections by Union students. It was during my first Student Senate meeting where the new senate officers announced that they would be adopting the theme #LoveInAction.

Based off of the infamous words of Union professor, Cornel West, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public,” #LoveInAction embodies perfectly the activist spirit held by the students, alumni/ae and faculty at Union both today and yesterday.  Seeing an immediate link between Union’s archives and this sentiment, I saw the potential in getting students aware of Union’s history not just through other’s words but through their own research experiences.  With the approval from the Burke Library’s director, Beth Bidlack, I set upon recruiting Union students to curate the library’s display cases that would help begin to tell of Union’s activist history.

Three students were recruited, Benjamin Van Dyne (MDiv, 2017), Carolyn Kaasen (PhD cand.), and Timothy Wotring (MDiv, 2016), to curate a series of three small exhibits in the library’s first floor display cases.  Each student has curated an exhibit that narrates Union’s activist history in one area: Carolyn selected education; Benjamin, activism in action; and Timothy, local community involvement.

Timothy’s exhibit, which is currently on display until September 28, 2015, focuses on the East Harlem Protestant Paris (EHPP).  Created by Union students in 1942 EHPP was an interdenominational ministry that provided leadership in the development of community life as served as an excellent example of an ecumenical ministry in a local, inner-city setting.  For his exhibit, Timothy dug into  the EHPP (1942-2007) records held at the Burke Library.

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Up next will be Benjamin’s exploration of activism in action, and will focus on Union’s archives relating to student-led activism.  Primarily focusing on the time period between 1922 through to 1969, his cases hope to show the major shift in the civil rights narrative that occurred in the mid to late ’60s.  Benjamin’s exhibit will be on view from October 5, 2015 to November 30, 2015.

Carolyn has been researching forms of activism within education and has been sifting through the student driven and led Student Interracial Ministry (SIM) records (1960-1968) and archives relating to the Free University and the Union Commission. Carolyn’s exhibit will be on view in January 206 through to April 4, 2016.

Each exhibit also has a program tied to it.  For the unveiling of Timothy’s display cases, the Burke Library hosted a panel that was organized by the student curator and which brought 3 Union folks together, all of whom are at different points in their activist careers, to discuss the guiding philosophies of the EHPP founders.  Benjamin is working with Burke Library staff and the Union alumni/ae liaison to put together a panel of Union alumni/ae and current Union students to reflect on how their education here at Union is preparing and/or has prepared them for a career in activism.  This panel is to take place in the main reading room of the Burke Library on Friday, October 9th from 2-3:30pm, and is part of the roster of fabulous events planned for Union Days 2015.

If you would like additional, more detailed accounts of this project please check back here as links will be added to articles that are slated for publication shortly!

We are looking to carry on this project for at least another round, and are on the look out for new student curators. If you are interested and are a current Union student please reach out to us by email:

burke@library.columbia.edu

The next round would start in early January 2016 and run through the spring semester.  The time commitment would be at least 3 group meetings during the semester as well as individual research sessions.

Even if you feel you might not have the time to commit to being a student curator you can contribute to the project in other ways.  In order to help students document all of the work they are doing that celebrates the theme #LoveInAction, we have created a website that invites members of the Union community to contribute their personal photos, videos, writings, etc.

The Papers of Caroline Worth Pinkham

So far this semester, I have had the pleasure of processing four collections within “Series 1. Papers of UTS Faculty and Students” of the Union Theological Seminary Archives.  The creators of the first three of these collections had some things in common: all were born in the early-to-mid-19th century, male, and had long careers as pastors in the Presbyterian church.  All were also prominent citizens of their time: George Washington Blagden occupied the pulpit at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts and Thomas Samuel Hastings preached at West Presbyterian Church in New York City and served as president of Union Theological Seminary during the Charles Briggs heresy trials.  Phillips Brooks was famed for his preaching in his time and has been remembered long since, as he is memorialized in multiple published biographies and sculptures in Boston, Massachusetts and Alexandria, Virginia, and several schools bear his name.  In many ways, these may be the kinds of collections one would expect to find within the UTS archives and when I was assigned my next collection, I was ready to pick up where I had left off and add another Presbyterian pastor to my processing roster.

Enter Caroline Worth Pinkham.

Pinkham_HeadshotUTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 1, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Born near the close of the 19th century in Flushing, New York and not a pastor, but, as I was to learn, the first woman to receive the Ph.D., from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary in the History and Comparative Study of Religion, Pinkham lived a long and fascinating life, which is chronicled in her papers.  Raised with economic advantages and terrifically well educated, she held several jobs before marrying and moving to Lucknow, India, where she lived for several years in the early 1920s.  Back in the United States, Pinkham earned undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degrees over a period of time while living with her husband in New Jersey, South Bend, Indiana, and Portland, Maine.  She was also a published author many times over, beginning at age 15 with the publication of her vacation tale “The Devil’s Hole in Bermuda” in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Sunday, August 4, 1912 ) and ranging from academic writing such as her master’s thesis and dissertation to work intended for a more general audience like her A Bungalow in India: Intimate Glimpses of Indian Life and People (1928).

Processing Pinkham’s collection was quite simple from the perspective of an archivist, as it arrived well-organized and in an access-ready order.  Most of the work to be done involved skimming the collection for information for a biographical note and rehousing.  The collection consists simply of a manuscript for an unpublished autobiography and manuscripts for a number of other books.  The content of that material, however, is incredibly rich and paints a vibrant portrait of a thoughtful, perceptive woman who engaged in 20th-century life with brio.  The collection also is enlivened by a large number of photographs as well as other ephemera, such as postcards, cancelled stamps, greeting cards, programs, and news clippings.

Daily Life

IMG_5308UTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 1, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

One aspect of what makes Pinkham’s manuscript for Victorian Echoes, An Autobiography so special is that early on she begins weaving in excerpts from diaries that she kept during the time that she writes about.  For example, she includes a diary entry from when she was 18 in which she said, “A day to remember: I traversed the numerous buildings of Barnard and Columbia.  I was overpowered by their massiveness and splendor.  They surely were great bulwarks of knowledge” and then reflects, “Now in my sunset years I might add to my early diary that little did I know then that one day I would attend classes at Barnard, and eventually be the first woman to get the Ph.D., from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary in the History and Comparative Study of Religion” (Box 1, Folder 6).

As the autobiography continues, the retyped diary component becomes predominant and regular entries describe Pinkham’s day-to-day life: as a student at the Packer Collegiate Institute (“At school I had the pleasure of dissecting a poor sheep’s brain.  If I don’t understand the working of a brain now, my own cerebral hemisphere must be a hollow cavity”), what she wore (“After two hours hunting for a coat, I have managed to get one at Nuttings.  It is a navy blue corded serge.  Style demands that I should wear a mustard shade, but that color makes me feel bilious just to look at it.”) and ate (After German Club I went to H.S.’s at the Mohawk.  We made fudge.  I have never tasted richer confectionary!  We used maple sugar, cream, chocolate, marshmallows, vanilla, and a pound of butter”), the lectures (“In the evening we three heard Dr. H. at Plymouth Church speak on The Russian Revolution  We also heard him speak on the present war.  He seems to be reaching the heights of his predecessor, Henry Ward Beecher.  He hurled his condemnation on those Americans who do not show moral indignation at the indignities that Germany has inflicted”), sermons, and performances (“Mother took me to the Hippodrome.  There was one startling act after the other; Sousa’s band, marvelous acrobats, dancers and skaters”) that she attended.

FullSizeRenderUTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 1, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

She also speaks compellingly of events and political issues occurring around her and farther away:

“A beautiful illustration of Gidding’s theory of Like-mindedness came up today, It was horrible in character.  Five thousand women and children crowded City Hall Park, and cried for food.  Stable articles, such as potatoes, bread and milk have soared to such heights within the last few days that Eastsiders of N.Y. find themselves starving.  It was not a reasonable crowd.  The two fundamental instincts, hunger and the desire for preservation, had been hit.  It seems criminal for carloads of food to be rotting, because of lack of transportation.  Warehouses are stored with food which the owners refuse to sell at reasonable prices”  (Box 1, Folder 6)

Pinkham also has an uncanny ability to describe changes that she senses as they happen.  In October, 1917, she notes:

“Everywhere you go, in everything you do, you find traces of the war.  Our music is changing from silly love-sick tunes to popular martial strains.  There are exalted themes even in posters and magazine illustrations.  Perhaps because of the very horrors of war, we are turning to higher and more beautiful themes” (Box 1, Folder 7).

Following her graduation from school, Pinkham held a series of jobs in offices that she describes in her autobiography.  A quotation from her diary in 1919 during her employment at Sperry Gyroscope Company displays her keen sense of observation, which seems to have informed her writing:

“It is interesting to watch the different types of men at the office.  There are hustlers and bustlers, dreamers and procrastinators, and some who are well rounded individuals.  They all have to be handled with gloves.  Each has to be catered to.  Neither wants to feel that his work is not receiving the same amount of attention.  The busier the man the less critical he is of trivialities.  The real high mighty mites do not show their authority.  They unconsciously command attention.  It is not difficult to pick out the true executive” (Box 1, Folder 7).

“Oh, the joy of a real companion for a husband.”

When she was 22, Pinkham met her future husband, a former aviator in the United States Air Service called Lloyd Francis Pinkham, at a September, 1919 dance at the Pershing Club, which was club operated beginning in 1918 to provide hospitality and accommodations to officers.  She wrote of him in her diary, “He said that he saw me in the subway with Mother.  He decided that I must be going to the Pershing Club.  With all of the activities that go on in N.Y., how did he know that?  He rushed to the Y.M.C.A. in Brooklyn, where he was staying, showered, changed his clothes, and sped to the Pershing Club” (Box 1, Folder 7).

IMG_6001UTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Less than a month later, Lloyd had left to return home to Maine before embarking on a stint of world travel and beginning work for Standard Oil in Madras, India.  Included in the autobiography manuscript during this period, in the chapter “Courtship,” is the correspondence between Pinkham and Lloyd, which continues until Lloyd’s proposal in 1922.

IMG_5999 UTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Both write of happenings large and small in their respective locations and soon after, begin to fall in love.  Lloyd wrote:

“Today I was very much pleased to receive Christmas and New Years Greetings from a very good friend of mine.  Oh!  You could never guess?  She is a very sweet little dancer, whom I used to ‘trip the light fantastic’ with at the Pershing Club, when I was a young chap and not burdened with business cares.  I believe that she is a voter in your home town, is registered as having no occupation in particular, but really does teach a Sunday School class on the Q.T.  She eats ice-cream and cake, attends lectures on the Philippine Islands, a very interesting conversationalist, an accomplished violinist, uses a royal typewriter, is very thoughtful and considerate of her friends and on the whole she is one of these true blue, fourteen karat young ladies that would just cause one to know her ‘to find something about everything to be glad about’” (Box 2, Folder 1).

Soon after marriage, Pinkham writes of Lloyd teaching her to drive:

“He said today that he wanted me to be able to do everything he did. – Oh, the joy of a real companion for a husband” (Box 3, Folder 3).

Pinkham and Lloyd’s love was lasting.  While his career (at The Remington Cash Register Co. following their return to the United States) took them to live in South Bend, Indiana and Portland, Maine at various points, Lloyd remained supportive of Pinkham’s academic ambitions.  In 1934, she noted that “L writes, ‘Sweetheart, I am very proud of your intellectual attainments, and I too, would not rest content until you have completed what you set out to do.  I am right behind you in whatever you set out to accomplish.  All my love to the best wife a fellow ever had.”  In 1935, Pinkham records an excerpt from a letter from her husband, which includes:

“While other folks find it difficult to take two credits, my wife steps out and takes eight, lives in another State, and drives fifty miles back and forth each day.  I am quite aware of the mental effort and push it requires to accomplish that, and also get the rank that you do in your studies.  You have such a keen insight into things that I always like to get our observations and deductions on my problems.  I sure could not live without you” (Box 4, Folder 11).

Americans in Colonial India

After marrying Lloyd, Pinkham returned with him to India, where they lived during 1922-1925.  For this period, included in the autobiography manuscript material is a set of letters from Pinkham to her parents in which she describes her life in India, as well as larger events of the day.

For example, in 1923  she wrote:

“There has been a great rejoicing among the natives for the past few days, due to the fact that the Government has released Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi” (Box 3, Folder 7) and, in further depth: “Great masses of Indians are becoming educated and want to run India.  They are, of course, not fully educated because of the years of suppression, and if they do get Home Rule will probably make a sad mess of it at the beginning.  There is a lack of unity among the Indians.  The Muhammedans are always rising up against the Hindus and vica versa.  Because of this fact, England for many years has been able to pit one against the other, so to speak, and rule on the side line, but things are changing.  There is really not the opportunity to invest in things out here, because times are so changeable.  If the Indians demand home rule, I am inclined to think that Europeans will be able to reside only in the largest cities and then just for commercial purposes.  If the Englishman goes in India, the American will have to go too, I think” (Box 3, Folder 5).

Combined with the courtship correspondence between Lloyd and Pinkham, these letters to her parents constitute a spectacular source of primary source material of expatriate American life in India during the early 1920s, a time when organization against British colonial rule was increasing.

“Reams of paper and a pencil make me happy beyond words.

There are many other aspects of the autobiography and embedded diary that are of great interest, such as Pinkham’s reflections on spiritual matters, both internal (e.g., on Mar. 17, 1926, “St. Paddy’s Day! I have tolerance for Catholics.  When it comes to the things that really count in life, they are true.  People should not have religious prejudice.  Why should Catholics and Protestants slight each other?  God alone is perfect.  Help me to keep away from narrow religious fanaticism!  Whether to worship through Christ or the Virgin, what does it matter?”) and external (e.g., in 1935: “Many Protestant denominations have much to learn in regard to women and their status.  Woman is indeed the conservor of the race.  I think this world would be a better place if women had a share in the management of world affairs.”)

Towards the end of my processing of the collection, I realized that beyond her connection to Union Theological Seminary, Pinkham shared something else in common with the pastors whose papers with which I have worked already.  Each of the creators of these collections are writers of sorts, whether they used the skill primarily in preparing sermons, remarks, words to hymns, or, like Pinkham, to reveal themselves in narrative or fiction.  One of the unexpected pleasures of accessing materials at the Union Theological Seminary Archives is getting to read the words of people who took such joy in expression.  As Pinkham put it in a letter to her future husband in 1922: “Reams of paper and a pencil make me happy beyond words.

 

Update from an Intern

As I write my second entry as an intern of the Burke Library, I am struck by the great contrast between this day and my first day in January. In time for a number of faiths’ holidays, New York has at long last emerged from a long winter and spring has arrived. And, thanks to this internship, I can finally say that I have processed some archival collections!

Most recently, I completed work on the papers of Thomas Samuel Hastings (1827-1911), who served Union Theological Seminary as a professor and president for many years following a long career as a pastor, primarily at West Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Working with these papers was brilliant exposure to the kinds of materials prevalent in late-19th-century and early-20th-century archives, such as handwritten and typed correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs and allowed me to practice a wide range of basic preservation techniques while handling and re-housing the collection.

The intellectual content was also absorbing, as the collection contains significant correspondence with John C. Brown, a banker and long-time member of the seminary’s board of directors, that touches upon the Charles Briggs affair.

As president of Union Theological Seminary, Hastings was intimately involved in defining the seminary’s position within the larger theological debate then occurring regarding revision of the Westminster Confession and marshaling support for Briggs during his trial for heresy (described in greater detail by Ruth Tonkiss Cameron in a blog entry last month). Researchers interested in that particular moment in history will find rich material for review, such as the May 31, 1893 letter to Crosby in which Hastings’ strong feelings with respect to whether Briggs should withdraw from the church or merely from the heresy case are conveyed. Hastings avers that “to withdraw from the church would be to desert his [Briggs’] friends, to desert the minority and to give up the whole history of the Presbyterian Church to the despotism which traditionalism and bigotry are now maintaining” [1].

Letter 1

While this excerpt from Hastings’ private correspondence could enrich one’s understanding of an epochal moment in American Presbyterian history, the seminary’s ultimate support of Briggs and his faculty status is well known and related in published sources. One of the special aspects of accessing archival materials, however, is that it enables one to try to shift the vantage point from which one seeks to view past events: to be not just a consumer of an official, third-party history, statements prepared for posterity, or later reminiscences of a participant.

­Viewing this letter within the context of the Thomas Samuel Hastings Papers, one can compare and contrast it with other letters to Crosby regarding board matters and try to develop a sense of the weight that various actions and opinions were given by participants at the time. Working with this particular collection has also given me an appreciation for the value to researchers of the existence of institutional collections like Union Theological Seminary’s archives, as I am beginning to see how individual archives, such as those of Charles Briggs, Thomas Samuel Hastings, and Williams Adams Brown, to name just a few, that arise from the same affiliation can “speak” to each other and form a more complete picture of past events.

I have been enjoying interning at the Burke Library immensely and I am glad that some time remains before the end of the semester. I look forward to continuing to learn something new each week at the library and am hopeful that I can process several more collections over the next month.


 

[1] Letter to John C. Brown, UTS 1: Thomas Samuel Hastings Papers, series 1, box 1, and folder 4, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.