Perhaps even more than their male colleagues, actresses are often treated like cultural icons dangerously running on the sharp edge between scandal and sanctity, supported and haunted at the same time by an endless flow of more or less authorized anecdotes, interviews, photographs, Instagram posts, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers. But a century ago, in an age in which theater districts still served as meeting places between prostitutes and their clients, the reputation of actresses, especially in the earlier stages of their careers, was often considered dubious unless otherwise proven. In Philadelphia, a group of wealthy theater-lovers thought that young actresses should at least have the right to escape “the brothel-like atmosphere of cheap hotels and the rude stares of corset drummers;” and in 1907, they opened a new organization, the Charlotte Cushman Club, to provide them respectable lodging while performing in the city.
The prints in the Helfand collection of medical quackery ephemera (Print coll. 34) deliver a strong dose of medical skepticism. The eclectic collection spans chronologically from 1736 to 2006 (with some undated materials) and ranges in genre from toothpaste advertisements to hymn sheets distributed on saints’ feast days. This printed ephemera speaks to the public perception of medicine in an era of very minimal professional regulation. Until the last century, patients had to be wary about charlatans in order to guard themselves against financial exploitation and threats to their physical wellbeing from fraudulent or unqualified healers.
Perhaps the best-represented type of medical quackery ephemera in the collection is an assortment of caricatures and political cartoons from nineteenth century French periodicals and satirical newspapers. A print from one such publication shows three predatory looking doctors, with the heads of leeches, explaining to their frail and wide-eyed grasshopper patient that they will bleed him tomorrow. This is a reference to the once-popular practice of phlebotomy, an intentional withdrawal of blood to cure diseases or promote general health. Another comical print titled “Les Hydropathes” shows a man shivering under a torrent of ice water, part of a trendy health regimen meant to cleanse the body of impurities.
Other caricatures strike a political tone. A print published in 1831 shows Marshall Lobau, who had recently used fire hoses to intimidate protestors, perched atop a giant, flying clyster syringe. In a caricature published in Le Charivari in 1850, the politically active entrepreneur Louis-Desire Veron is depicted as a pharmacist, as he attempts to pulverize the newspaper’s mascot, a jester, with a mortar and pestle. Another image features an allegorical France being force-fed “un remede pire que le mal” (“a treatment worse than the disease”) by Veron. In these prints, medicine is employed as an expressive metaphor through which to comment upon politics: dissatisfaction with one sphere can be illustrated (literally) through derision of the other.
While political commentary and criticism are still alive and well, the sentiment that carries through the Helfand collection –one of extreme distrust towards the medical establishment- is encountered much less frequently today. Part of this may be because of the great improvements in medicine that have taken place over the last three centuries. Where a physician might once have drained a pint of blood from an ill patient, today’s practitioner will prescribe antibiotics. Furthermore, the medical system has evolved. “Quackery” is now much less of a threat because medicine is strictly regulated. Doctors have to go through years of standardized training, and drugs are rigorously tested in clinical trials.
Yet the historical events that have elevated the sphere of medicine may also have carried a few disadvantages. While the process of medical professionalization (which took off in the early twentieth century) has created new kinds of scientific authority and expertise, it has probably also blocked some avenues for productive criticism of the field. Medicine today is not perfect, nor is our national healthcare system. As I look through the prints in the Helfand collection I am deeply appreciative of the quality of medicine available in the twenty first century – but also a little wistful for a type of lively, popular critique that seems to have fallen out of date.
Samuel Roth (1893 –1974) was an American publisher and writer. Yet, he was so much more, as I discovered when I processed the Jay A. Gertzman collection on Samuel Roth, 1926-2014, Ms Coll. 1315. Jay A. Gertzman, Professor Emeritus at Mansfield University, describes Roth:
“Samuel Roth publicized himself as a literary Johnny Appleseed, bringing to ordinary Americans the modern literature of two continents, despite its sexual explicitness. He was also a master of prurient advertising of borderline mail order sex pulps and sensational human interest stories. He put himself in the direct line of fire that municipal, state and federal law enforcement officials and moral entrepreneurs reserved for pariah capitalists.”
Roth faced many legal battles and short periods of jail time over the course of his career. He is most well-known for his unauthorized publication of excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses in the periodical Two Worlds Monthly. This unauthorized release of Ulysses provoked an International Protest organized by Joyce and Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach, in 1927.
The minority ruling from his 1957 Roth v. United States case provided the precedent for the 1959 case Grove v. Christenberry, which changed the definition of obscenity, making it easier to publish explicit material if it had artistic, literary, political, or scientific merit.
This collection features research that Jay A. Gertzman conducted in preparation for writing his book, Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist, which was published by University of Florida Press in 2013. There are photocopies of Roth’s publications, prison letters, and legal documents, as well as original research notes by Gertzman. Roth’s other publications included Bumarap: The Story of a Male Virgin, published in 1947 (below left), and the periodical Good Times: A Revue of the World of Pleasure, published from 1954-1956 (below right).
Among the most entertaining correspondence in the collection is from “anthologist of erotic humor” Gershon Legman (1917-1999) to Gertzman, a sample of which is below.
This collection of research on Samuel Roth– aka the “Prometheus of the Unprintable,” as writer Robert Antrim referred to him in 1973– is now open for use. Researchers may also want to check out the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which has in its holdings the Samuel Roth papers, 1907-1994.
Somewhere in the New England countryside, first half of the nineteenth century. It is a cold winter night. In a lonely home on the side of a mountain, a young woman named Charlotte is dressing up to go to the ball. Only, the ball will be held in an inn fifteen miles away, and the only available means of transportation is the open sleigh of Charlotte’s boyfriend Charles. “Be careful,” says Charlotte’s mother to her daughter, “make sure to wrap up in a warm blanket, if you don’t want to freeze out there!” “There is no way, mom,” Charlotte responds, “how can I expect my splendid dress to be seen if I muffle myself up in that ugly blanket? My silken cloak will be quite enough.” The bottom line: Charlotte is found frozen to death by her beloved Charles at the end of their ride on the snow.
The Common Press was founded at the University of Pennsylvania on January 17, 2006, the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. As such, you would be right if you guessed that the “Ben” below is, in fact, in reference to Benjamin Franklin (2006, created by students at the Common Press).
The Common Press was conceived as an interdisciplinary project by the Kelly Writers House; the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts; and the University of Pennsylvania Fine Arts program, to create an environment encouraging collaboration among students with an emphasis on working among digital and analog design, writing, and image making. Located in the printmaking facility of the Fine Arts program, the press houses equipment spanning over two centuries including several antique presses, lead and wooden type, and wood cuts and photogravure plates.
Common Press printed projects and ephemera, 1998-2016, Print Coll. 37, includes broadsides, posters, flyers, postcards, cards, and chapbooks, and the projects were created using a variety of printing processes and techniques. Event posters include the one below, printed using charcoal (2010, created by Sophie Hodara and Matt Neff).
Over the years, the press has formed long-standing relationships with local institutional partners including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Wharton Esherick Museum, the Print Center, and the Institute of Contemporary Art– an example of which is shown below (2012, created by Mark Owens).
The projects show a variety of printing techniques and image styles– see details below of two striking examples from 2010 (at left, created by students at the Common Press), and 2007 (at right, created by Matt Neff).
The projects also feature pieces of captured language, as well as famous sayings, as in the two examples below– at left (2006, created by students at the Common Press), a bit of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin, and at right (2008, created by students at the Common Press), a snippet of overheard conversation.
If these images have inspired you to embark upon your own letterpress project, I’ll leave you with this final sentiment, below (2012, created by Marianne Dages).
This collection is now open for research use.
Almost every day as I drag myself out of bed (I am not a morning person), I wish that I could spend the day curled up with a book and a lovely cup of coffee. Today, however, I am recommending that we all take at least a few moments, select our favorite Jane Austen novel (everyone should have at least one!!!), and drink a cup of tea to celebrate and remember this extraordinary woman who is still so very much alive 200 years after her death on July 18, 2017.
From films, tv shows, to new novels based on or inspired by her originals, the lovely Jane is very much present in our world. You can join a society and you don’t even have to live in the UK to do so … the Jane Austen Society of North America even has an Eastern Pennsylvania Region chapter.
Here is a watercolor portrait, presumably of Jane Austen … we don’t know who painted it or when, but it was found in Volume I of a three-volume edition of Emma (London: J. Murray, 1816), held by the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. (call number: PR4034.E5 1816). The watercolor can be found in box 1, folder 35 in our Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection.
The lives of writers and scholars in early 20th century Philadelphia often involved the Franklin Inn Club, the artistic society, founded in 1902, which claimed among its members a large percentage of the city’s leading cultural lights. But despite the collective intellectual and artistic intensity housed within its relatively small space, the atmosphere at the Franklin Inn was remarkably relaxed; the building on Camac Street served as a gathering place for lunch, after-work dinner and drinks, and occasional picnic outings to nearby scenic locales. It also hosted an impressive number of amateur theatricals, one of which was held yearly to celebrate Ben Franklin’s birthday—and, judging by the programs I’ve found in the papers of John Louis Haney, president of Central High School from 1920 to 1943, noted scholar of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and long-term member of the Club, these theatricals were pretty riotous affairs, and prove that a literary society of that era was never in danger of taking itself too seriously.
We begin with an evening’s entertainment from 1917: The Yellow Dye, or, the Moulting Hero: a farce tragedy in five acts, being a pirated dramatization of Jorg Jib’s popular novel The Yellow Dove. Where to begin with the many joys on display within this small piece of paper? For one thing, we have a window into the literary tastes of the Club members; The Yellow Dove, an enormously successful popular novel at the time, clearly came in for some riotous and none-too-kind ribbing for lines such “she sank low in her armchair, her senses numb from the horror of the revelation. Her thoughts became confused like that of a sick person awaking from a nightmare to half consciousness, peopled with strange beautiful images doing the dark things of dreams. Cyril—her Cyril—a spy!”
From the gently sarcastic character appellations (“the hanemic hero,” “the ‘usky ‘eroine”; clearly George Gibbs had a fondness for cockney dialect) to the name itself, one can imagine the sort of “farce tragedy” the audience would have to deal with. All this, in addition to the all-male cast (the Franklin Inn didn’t admit women until 1980) would have lent the evening an air of appealing absurdity.
But if the adaptations were charming, it was the original plays that were the most riotous. The one-act play advertised for January 6, 1921 simply entitled Hootch has no relation to any other extant literary work, and perhaps that’s all for the best—but the tantalizing glimpses provided by the program raise all sorts of questions. Who is this family, the Swags—and what are they interested in? Why is Volstead Hunter “a martyr to duty?” And—perhaps most importantly—how can anyone with the name Swag, no matter how young, truly be an “innocent child?”
(Actually, the most important question is probably how Dr. (Ellis Paxson) Oberholtzer, famed biographer and club secretary, managed the “mature but still fascinating” role of Mrs. Swag.)
Calling such a play Hootch may have had to do with the play’s contents, but it also signals the implied state of the audience attending such a performance—and indeed, we have written evidence of the fondness for alcoholic refreshment evinced by the club’s members, in the form of an ode to cultural drinking.
While undated, one can imagine, considering its inclusion in the archives among other Franklin Inn material from the period, that its ironic repudiation of demon liquor was a reaction to the rules of Prohibition. But regardless of its era, its lines—alongside the spirited amateur theatricals it complements—give a sense of the ways in which the Inn’s membership melded high culture with a high tolerance for satire and spirits.
Printing annual reports and other publications is a long-standing tradition for American corporations. Providing the basic financial information of an annual report is typically mandated, but all of the extras – the year in review, the exciting updates, personnel announcements, and plans for the future – these all present opportunities for corporations to define and disseminate their company message.
This is particularly important during a time of war and we see this evident in the materials in the Lippincott Library collection of World War II corporate wartime publications. For the most part, these wartime publications are not annual reports. Many of them are special publications produced for employees and the general public with the goal of publicizing the work the company was doing for the war effort. These publications worked as a sort of advertisement or testimonial to the company’s craftsmanship and also highlighted the need for everyone to do their patriotic duty.
Companies took a variety of approaches in these publications, but it always came back to patriotic duty and the company’s contributions to the war effort. For example, the Gulf Oil Corporation’s publication, Power to Win, gave details on what the company was making and how the products were being used in the war. There is also a fascinating page where they tried to put rationing into perspective for people on the home front by explaining how much oil all of their military equipment used.
Another great example comes from the GMC Truck & Coach Division of General Motors. This publication, entitled A Report from the Front, is entirely about the amphibious vehicles (also known as Ducks) and how their use aided forces in campaigns.
It intersperses information about the machinery and manufacturing with details from the war and even excerpts of news reports about their use. This piece is unusual in the collection in that it is about a single kind of machinery, while most of the others gave updates on a range of products and events.
The Delco-Remy Division of General Motors includes descriptions of work it was doing on the home front in its publication, Our War Job. This included volunteer efforts, blood drives, holding victory revues, and campaigns for war bonds.
In World War II, the United States’ superior manufacturing capabilities helped to tip the odds in the Allies’ favor. These publications praised American production and almost made it synonymous with patriotism during the war. In them, companies expounded on the virtues of their newest products and how they would help in the fight for victory. They celebrated when plants were awarded the Army-Navy “E” for “Excellence in Production” and congratulated employees on reaching participation milestones in war bond programs.
These publications buoyed employee morale, boosted the corporate image, and served as a kind of continued advertisement of the company’s work in a time when they weren’t producing for the public. They are a fascinating example of the blending of patriotic messaging with corporate public relations.
The last thing I anticipated when processing a collection of 19th century business letters (the Austin and Austin business letters) from a paper mill, was to discover a character like Ruth Benjamin (1770-1857). She first caught my attention, because the vast majority of those who were writing to the company Austin & Austin were men putting in requests for paper orders and discussing money. Amongst this sea of men, both Ruth’s gender and the tone she used in her letters stood out.
At first, it was unclear to me what her relationship with the owner of the paper mill, Abner Austin (1771-1848), was. In her letters to Mr. Austin in 1817, at which point she would have been 47, only a year older than he, she takes the tone of a stern mother. She berates him in each letter, voicing her “disappointment” in him over and over in each letter for not sending her money, or sending her less money than she had wished for. Though the topic of these is the same as many of the other letters in this collection, her tone is far from professional. At first, I thought that she might be family member, looking for Abner to help her with her financial woes, as various family members of his had done in other letters. However, in one instance, she signs a letter to him “your friend” which, though uncharacteristically friendly in tone for Mrs. Benjamin, suggested that she was not in fact a family member.
After a bit of poking around, I discovered that Abner Austin and his brother had originally procured their paper mill and the land it stood on from a Mr. Nathan Benjamin in 1813. According to death records, Mr. Benjamin had passed away that same spring. As the Benjamins had only one daughter, Lucy (1791-1892), and no one else to take over the family business, it seems likely that either Mr. Benjamin’s death, or some circumstance that may have led to his demise, instigated the sale of the mill and property. However, this does not explain why the widow Benjamin continued to remain in contact with Abner Austin, or why she continued to ask him for money. Unfortunately, the handful of letters contained in this collection provide no real answers to this mystery.
Whatever the ongoing nature of the relationship between Ruth Benjamin and Abner Austin was after the purchase of the paper, one thing is clear, she was a firebrand who had no compunctions about demanding what she felt was due to her.
Now that the worth of literary Modernism has become a commonplace within academic circles, one can forget how hostile most American academics were to experimental work in the first part of the 20th century. How delightful, then, to stumble, in his papers, across a handwritten note by Arthur Hobson Quinn, longtime professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, assessing the early work of T.S. Eliot:
“He can work phrases that are bitter and at times clever, and he has become very superior to all forms of life; he does not hesitate however to speak of his aunt as living in a fashionable neighborhood, and he betrays other signs of arrested development, such as a belief that being up at dawn is an achievement.”
No contemporary academic would dare treat an iconic Modernist with such flippancy! But even by 1950, when this note was written, the place for the movement within the academy was by no means clear, despite Eliot’s preeminent position of influence; traditional scholars like Quinn were still openly hostile to what others saw as innovations. That academics like Quinn ended up the losers in the debate only makes their reactions fascinating, fruitful, and often quite funny; the way he treats contemporary writers who exhibit Modernist (or even moderately experimental ) tendencies represents just how wide the chasm really was, even twenty years after the movement’s height.
In Quinn’s lecture notes, one can see this hostility expressed over and over again, especially in his assessment of contemporary poetry. For example, his dismissal of Marianne Moore’s 1944 collection Nevertheless as “only 7 poems on Elephants, etc – not important,” and his inclusion of her in a folder called “Contemporary Poets, B Grade.”
What, exactly, did Quinn present in opposition to such experiments? His aesthetic perspective is laid out well in a lecture entitled “Eliot and Others,” the notes for which are contained in this archive. “The best definition of poetry is that it is rhythmical language containing the elements of truth and beauty,” Quinn writes. “Contemporary American poetry has given up all three of these qualities to a marked extent.” Perhaps fittingly for a scholar of American theatre, Quinn sees the only hope for contemporary American poetry in musical theater, where “there are verses often of an unusual quality.”
Clearly, Quinn felt that contemporary American poetry was taking a turn for the worse—or, perhaps more importantly, a turn away from his own comprehension. In reading Quinn’s notes, one can sense a frustration with his inability to penetrate verse which seemed to him purposefully obscure, and his hostility to “difficulty” as an aesthetic project. In his assessment of Wallace Stevens, for example, he writes: “In his verse ‘Man Carrying Thing’ [Stevens] says, ‘the poem must resist the intelligence / almost successfully,’ which explains why he is not a poet.” The definition of who is (and, more importantly, who is not) a poet is one of Quinn’s rhetorical commonplaces. In order to reject the Modernist project, it was necessary to exclude them from the poetic canon entirely.
But what did it mean to be a poet? To Quinn, poetry was meant to be expressive, clear, and above all populist, even nationalist. In his lecture “The Magnificent Phrase,” he claims that the easy transmission of a phrase—its memorable nature, its accessibility—is what allows for poetry’s greatness, and its greatness is linked to a project of national identity. It’s telling that the contemporary poet Quinn references in this lecture, Edwin Arlington Robinson, is featured for his stanzas on Lincoln: “The face we see was never young / nor could it ever have been old.” Clearly poetry is particularly successful when wedded to an iconic representation of political power.
Considering this positivist, patriotic conception of poetry, it’s no wonder that the particular combination of pessimism and ambiguity that unified disparate strands of Modernism would be so difficult for Quinn and other traditional academics to accept. It was more than simply an aesthetic challenge; it was an assault on an entire worldview. (At the same time that he was writing these notes on contemporary poetry, Quinn was overseeing the creation of a massive textbook of American Literature entitled The Literature of the American People, and had already undertaken a vast socio-historical investigation of national identity entitled The Soul of America.) In the wake of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, academics like Quinn, invested in the idea of American Literature as a viable, coherent academic discipline, would find little common cause with the late Modernists, for whom fragmentation and ambiguity were the rule. Consider Quinn’s judgment of the work of William Carlos Williams: “no poetry=no unity or coherence.”
But even this seemingly ironclad judgment on Williams contains a kernel of self-doubt: “the Wanderer is a narrator—seems to be symbolic but I can’t tell about what.” This inability to comprehend, to make sense of the fractured nature of late Modernism, represented a threat to Quinn’s position as an authority. To add insult to injury, Quinn’s eyesight was fading, which made repetitious reading literally painful. Several times in his notes, Quinn reminds himself to ask his wife, Helen, to read the poems and see if she can make anything of them; whether this is a reference to physical or metaphorical legibility is impossible to say.
This brings us back to Quinn’s attacks on Eliot. As a poet/critic who managed to move from the vanguard of Modernist experimentation to a more comfortable position as one of the main critical influences of New Criticism, Eliot represented a much greater threat than Moore or Stevens or Williams. It was easy enough for Quinn to repudiate the work of individual Modernist poets, and exile them to the land of “not-poetry,” but Eliot seized the power of definition for himself. His work represented a reorientation of poetics towards a kind of academic Classicism, the antithesis of the broadly populist and even nationalist vision which Quinn championed. “It is an example of the semi-profound type of criticism,” Quinn writes. “very positive in statements, at times discriminating, but constantly shedding implications of profound depths of knowledge on Eliot’s part, especially of Foreign Literature and criticism, usually of books which the general reader would certainly not know, and which impress him or not, just as he is impressionable or not by that ex cathedra criticism.” For Quinn, interested in a common cultural legacy for the U.S. reader, prizing clarity and transmissibility above all things, Eliot’s insistence on difficulty and on European cultural tradition seemed an elitist boondoggle.
In hindsight, one can see in Quinn’s reaction to Eliot certain commonalities with the very poets he maligned. In his blanket hostility to Modernist experimentation, Quinn failed to realize that there were many practitioners who disliked Eliot’s academic orientation just as much as he did. Of his first reading of “The Waste Land,” William Carlos Williams wrote: “I felt at once that it had set me back twenty years, and I’m sure it did. Critically Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which would give it fruit.” Indeed, with a work like Paterson, Williams’ practice of historical quotation as method of establishing an American “voice” hewed more closely to Quinn’s conception of clarity and accessibility than he might have realized, albeit in a fragmented, anguished form. But Quinn’s anti-experimental perspective couldn’t allow for such nuances. He seemed to feel that the very idea of experimentation was a fad: an aberration in the development of cultural understanding. “Perhaps he wants simply to be fashionable,” he writes of Eliot, in the last in a series of notes in response to “Four Quartets.”
In response to this dangerous fad, Quinn—ever the scholar of drama—turned away from written poetry and towards the Broadway stage, where he could still find the sort of direct, plainspoken lyricism that he felt epitomized the “spirit of America”: most notably, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. In this, he prefigured some of the interest Postmodernist critics would have in popular culture as a whole—though not in the manner Quinn would have liked. The sort of unified nationalist cultural project he trumpeted was soon lost forever, a casualty of the 60’s, and the ironic gaze of Postmodernism, which turned the tools of the Modernists onto the very pillars of American popular culture that Quinn championed.
All this makes Quinn’s notes seem like something of a last stand. When looking over the production of his favorite poets from the early 20th century, his notes bemoan that so many of them simply stopped producing work as the century moved on. Seeing examples of the work he champions, one can easily see why. The strict meter, clear rhymes, and somewhat simplistic images contained in “Lilacs of the City,” by Brian Hooker, one of the librettists who Quinn claimed “surpasses anything I have seen by contemporary poets,” are so out of step with what has happened to poetry in the second half of the 20th century that we can see, in hindsight, that Quinn was right to make the terms of the argument “poetry v. non-poetry.” The whole nature of the form was being redefined before his eyes, and Quinn was on the losing end.