Royal Connections…

Jocelyn K. Wilk
Public Services Archivist

This past March, I was asked to entertain a group of visitors from The Royal Oak Foundation – the American supporters of The National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The National Trust is one of the world’s largest and most progressive conservation organizations.

These guests were on campus for an architectural walking tour and it was thought that they might find a visit to the University Archives an interesting way to end their day.  For their entertainment, I directed them to a University Archives exhibit (“Alma Mater: Origins”) on display in the RBML’s Chang Octagon as well as some historical items related to Columbia’s British royal visitors which I pulled together, just for them, in the University Archives reading room. I figured if anyone was going to be intrigued by these royal ties, it would be The Royal Oak visitors!

I decided to display items related to two events: the June 10, 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (better know today as the "Queen Mother”) and the Queen Mother’s honorary degree which was awarded to her on October 31, 1954 as part of Columbia University’s bicentennial celebrations. As I gathered up the usual array of photographs, arm bands, pins, programs, and invitations related to the 1939 event, I decided to also check the Trustee Minutes for 1939. I had never looked in them for anything related to this royal visit and I was very glad I decided to this time!

 In the April 3, 1939 minutes I found a transcription of a letter dated March 30, 1939 that was sent to President Nicholas Murray Butler from George T. Summerlin in the State Department’s Division of Protocol. In the middle of explaining the upcoming royal visit and all that would entail I saw a paragraph which, in light of the recent movie The King’s Speech, suddenly held much interest:

“For your confidential information, the King, on account of the impediment in his speech, should not be expected to make an address.  If any talking pictures are taken, the President suggests that you and the King move your lips but that the King should not speak.”

Before the movie came out this past winter I had never known about King George VI’s speech impediment and suddenly, right in front of my eyes, there was a direct reference to it sitting in the Columbia University Trustee minutes all this time!

Just goes to show, you never know what you’ll find in the archives until you start digging around.

 Queen Elizabeth, King Edward VI and President Nicholas Murray Butler

(left to right)  Queen Elizabeth, King George VI, and President Nicholas Murray Butler walking across the Low Library Plaza.

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