The “Theatricals in Philadelphia” Scrapbooks: Or, How Yesterday’s Old Stuff Became the Treasure Trove of Today

The complete set of “Theatricals in Philadelphia” scrapbooks (MS. Coll. 1384)

If you work in an archival repository, you know that no matter how uninteresting or randomly assembled a collection may appear, it probably meant a lot to whoever decided to put it together. Archivists are also used to dealing with the hyperbolic language of the auctioneers from whom collections are sometimes purchased. Everything has to be “unusual,” “rare,” “unique,” etc. to attract the generous offers of the bidders. So, there seems to be nothing special about the note that opens the 15-volume scrapbook set of “Theatricals in Philadelphia”. The anonymous writer – probably an employee of the well-known Philadelphia auction house of Stanislaus Henckels – informs us that “somebody has devoted almost a lifetime in making this collection,” which is of course defined as “invaluable,” at least to “those interested in Philadelphia theatrical affairs.” 

A description of the “Theatricals in Philadelphia” scrapbooks found at the beginning of volume I

But let’s face it: who, in 1920 Philadelphia, could be interested in purchasing a huge pile of materials on literally anything happened on the city stages only a few decades before? Sure, today’s opera aficionados would likely love to read page after page of Pavarotti programs, and admire dusty portraits of the singer clipped out of 1990s magazines; and theater buffs may crave to know more about the time when the Trocadero – which will permanently close at the end of May 2019 – was the kingdom of burlesque, and the 4,000-seat Broad Street Metropolitan Opera House – which was recently reopened as a concert venue – was used as a church. But 3,500 pages of this (and what’s more, in no apparent order)? Maybe it’s a bit too much. Continue reading

Heroines Behind the Scenes of War

World War II provides much of the lore and mystique which fuels the modern American culture.  From movies, books, and television documentaries, it is hard to escape the particular monopoly this time period has on popular media.  When it comes to women of World War II, media tends to focus on those who have driven ambulances onto battlefields, stitched up patients on bloody stretchers, or spied behind enemy lines; but women served heroically in many ways, on the home front and overseas.  The Jane Wright Proctor Wallis family papers (Ms. Coll. 1310) tells one such story.

HoneyinmaskWhen the United States entered World War II, many families and individuals answered the call to serve anyway they could.  One such person was Honoria Wallis (Honey), the eighth child in the Wallis family, who after college, was working as a social service worker in Philadelphia. Upon joining the Red Cross Medical Corps, Honey was trained at the 46th General Hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas, from September 1942 to June 1943.

In July 1943, Honey was sent overseas, eventually serving “somewhere in North Africa,” in England, and “somewhere in Italy” as head medical social worker, where her job including “writing letters and securing comforts for sick and wounded soldiers to wrangling a circus tent for use as a recreation center.”

ms1310 nursing crew 1

Honey wrote to her mother whenever she was able, offering what news she could share, as well as her impressions of her surroundings. In addition to reassuring her family of safety measures for the social workers and describing eating out of mess kits, “a system which should have been organized in [her large] family years ago,” Honey wrote requesting light and diverting reading material to be sent for the injured soldiers (“western, mystery, and detective stories are badly wanted!”).  A letter from January 15, 1944  reads:

“We continue to be exceedingly busy, going as many hours as we can hold out…Our days are spent in the wards, giving out comfort articles which the men need.  Both sick and wounded, they come in from the front without any of their personal articles.  Many men cannot write their own letters.  We wrap and censor packages for mailing.  We help them with necessary telephone calls or telegrams.  We read to them and give any comfort and sympathy in our power.”

Typical nursing scenes

A scrapbook page documenting time in Naples, Italy 1944

Honey’s letters are fairly cheerful, but she clearly experienced hardships.  She writes of bad weather tearing down tents, illness, lack of sanitary facilities, long hours, and, of course, watching patients suffer.  In addition to the general miseries of war, some of Honey’s friends were killed in a plane crash and others were sent home with tuberculosis.  By the end of the summer of 1944, only Honey and one other woman from her Fort Riley class remained.  Despite all the difficulties, Honey stated, “I have never worked so hard nor been so happy in all my life.”  Although Honey “preferred to work directly with patients,” she was promoted to hospital supervisor, and she was assigned to hospitals in Naples and Rome until the end of the war.

After the war in Europe was over, Honey was Acting Field Director at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado, which treated mostly tuberculosis patients, many of whom were released from Japanese prison camps. Honey was no doubt seen as a great hero to the bored and lonely patients recuperating in military hospitals.  With books, music, movies, puzzles and recreation centers, she provided diversions from terrible memories and brought laughter into the dark world of war.



A daughter’s love–Helen Weiss’s courage and empathy

Sometimes, right from the opening of a box, I know that I am going to love a collection–and that was the case with the Frank Weise collection of Helen Weiss material.  This small collection packed a quick punch–as I peered in the box, I saw letters (always a favorite of mine), some music by Weiss and music-y ephemera, and some mysterious memorial material.  It was the memorial material that piqued my interest almost immediately–I kept thinking that I was reading things wrong because Helen died in 1948 when she was only 28 … adding to puzzle was the very vague description of the cause of her death (“an accident of the slightest kind, occasioned the initiation of the evil (disease) that caused us to lose her”) in an obituary written by Carlos Raygada (box 1, folder 11).

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Skryté Stříbro! (Hidden Silver!)


Title leaf of Voigt’s Beschreibung der bisher bekannten Böhmischen Münzen Bd. 2 (1772)

Most people have hidden a little cash in a book at one time or another, and librarians are never surprised to encounter examples of things tucked into books about them, like dried plants pressed in herbals. That said, I wasn’t expecting to find medieval coins laid into an eighteenth-century numismatic handbook, but that’s exactly what happened when I paged through the Kislak Center’s copy of the second volume of Mikuláš Voigt’s Beschreibung der bisher bekannten Böhmischen Münzen nach chronologischer Ordnung (Prague: Gerlische Buchhandlung, 1771-1787). The Piarist Voigt (1733-1787) was a pioneering Czech numismatist who studied the Podmokelský poklada hoard of Celtic rainbow cups buried in a bronze cauldron and unearthed by a farmer at Podmokly in western Bohemia in 1771as well as writing this inventory of then-known Bohemian specie. A previous (unidentified, alas, but possibly 20th-century) owner of our copy of volume 2 laid in four small envelopes containing two thirteenth-, one fourteenth-, and two fifteenth-century coins next to the engraved illustrations depicting them.

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CJS Rare MS. 493: A historical record and eyewitness account from 18th century Jewish Alsace

CAJS Rare Ms. 493 is a manuscript donated to the Penn Libraries in 2018 and part of the Moldovan Family Collection of Judaica at Penn Libraries.

This manuscript is called a Pinkas, which is a historical ledger most often owned by a community. The purpose of these were to document histories and people important to the specific community. Also, Pinkasim are sometimes especially valuable because of eyewitness accounts of events and personalities which can be written in the hand of the author.

In this case, a Pinkas was a ledger for Avraham Freimann, a mohel (ritual circumcisor), using it to record each circumcision ceremony, while providing the name of the family and child, the place, date, and often time of day. He often provides even more detail; if a prominent person was in the audience, or another event was taking place.

Bischheim is a suburb immediately north of Strasbourg, the capital city of the Grand Est region of France. During the 18th century Alsacian Jews lived in suburbs and villages around Strasbourg, but most often not in the city. The information provided in the Pinkas is very valuable showing the spread of Jewish life across Alsacian towns in the Strasbourg area.

Hebrew tombstones in the Jewish Cemetery in Bischheim. Credit: Beit Hatfutsot

Freimann visited many towns and some cities to perform his work. Towns and villages cited in Alsace include Botwiller, Mundolsheim, Ittenheim, Haguenau, and Osthoffen; some travels across the Rhine into German lands include mention of ceremonies in Shopfloch, Dresden, Friesenhausen, and Reishaufen.

Freimann’s opening entry for his relocation to the Alsace (on f. 2r)

He also records two ceremonies performed in the presence of a famous philanthropist and member of the courts of Louis XVI of France, Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim (Mendelsheim? ca. 1730 – Strasbourg 1793) and notes his prominence in the entries. Cerfbeer was a supporter of a yeshivah in Bischheim as well.

Oil portrait of Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim, now in the collection of the Musée historique de Strasbourg. Wikimedia Commons.
Entry describing a ceremony in the presence of Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim.

So, this volume contains Freimann’s eyewitness accounts to historical events as well. For example, he notes hurrying a procedure during an expected invasion on the synagogue he was in by armed mercenaries from neighboring La Wantzenau, though it didn’t happen; as he writes, “God foiled their evil plot”. I will paste the full cataloging note, including the war that was taking place during this time in the Alsace environs:

“Document[ed] events in the community involve the War of the First Coalition between France and the European Powers: a hurried ceremony on 19 Av 1794 in Bischheim during a riot of “haters of Rofichlun [?], שונאי ראפיכלין” from neighboring “Ṿantsine” (La Wantzenau, sometimes called Wanzenowe) would destroy the synagogue, but “God foiled their evil plot” (f. 10r); an elaborate inscription celebrating a family arriving on a boat on the Rhine after being held capture by the invading German troops, in which Shimon b. Mosheh and his family escaped using the Schiffsbrücken (pontoon bridges) near Strasbourg to Kehl in secret while the Germans were dozing (“yeshenim shenat ha-sus”) after the enemies were driven to the Donau, and upon the arrival of the hostages and a circumcision ceremony there was great celebration (f. 13r-13v). He inscribes his grief and sorrow on the day his son was enlisted into service by the armies of Napoleon, in Switzerland, and had to move to Basel to wage war against England and notes that he prayed daily for his return and that he should remain Jewish (f. 19v-20r); the last entry by Freimann possibly mentions his son’s return, during a ceremony in which he served as sandaḳ, perhaps for his grandson. The entries are written in simple form, most being two lines containing the date, name, and sometimes place of the circumcision performed. Written in Ashkenazic cursive script, with many entries hastily written and with different color inks. In a colored board binding with a soft leather spine, likely original.”

Penn Work Study Students: Job opportunity in the Special Collections Processing Center!

Archival Assistant: LGBT Center Papers

The archival assistant will efficiently process the archive of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center of the University of Pennsylvania in order to make it accessible for researchers. Following archival standards, the archival assistant will arrange the collection in logical and user-friendly order, will describe the material in a finding aid using a collections management database, assess material for conservation or preservation needs, and will house the collection in archival boxes and folders. The Archival assistant will also promote use of the collection through social media.

This is a 300-hour position, with the possibility of extension.

• Interest in the history of the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania and in gender studies
• Interest in history, primary sources, and archival material, as well as an interest in making collections available for research.
• Facility in the use of computer applications.
• Ability to work both independently and with others in a collaborative work environment.
• Strong oral and written communication skills.
• Willingness to take direction and constructive criticism relating to finding aids, blog posts, and other work products
• Willingness to write blog posts about the LGBT Center collection and the work performed in the Special Collection Processing Center and to contribute to the Kislak Center’s Instagram account.

• Experience processing archival collections or using them as a researcher.
• Coursework in historical methods, archival studies, and/or metadata standards
• Reading at least one Romance language
• Undergraduate degree preferred, but not required

Official job post

Please apply for this position through the Penn Libraries Student Worker Common Application If your application is selected, a hiring manager will reach out to you to schedule an interview.

A Kislak/SCPC representative will be at the summer job fair, held Tuesday, May 21st (

Lifetime(s) of work

One hears of a “labor of love” and a “lifetime of work” pretty frequently, but one truly sees its meaning in the Gordon A. Wilson notes and papers relating to the works of William Romaine Newbold.  It all starts with Aristotle!  William Romaine Newbold was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who lectured on philosophy and worked extensively translating Aristotle’s Metaphysics. According to the long history of the translations, before his death in 1926, Newbold handed over his work to one of his students Hartley Burr Alexander. Alexander proceeded to work on the manuscript with one of his students, Gordon A. Wilson, until his death in 1939. And then, Wilson worked with the manuscripts until his death in 1974. In case you are worried, I don’t think it was the manuscript that finished off any of the scholars mentioned above.

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The Many Battles of Little Sparta

It seems a fair rule: artists should never respond to criticism of their work. But few artists are able to resist the temptation, and the outsized role that critics play in an artist’s success, especially in more rarified fields, makes it almost inevitable that the result will be rancorous. The critic has the privilege of print and access to a large readership. How can the artist hope to respond to opinions with which they disagree, especially when these opinions seem to present an existential threat to their reputation and livelihood?

In the case of Ian Hamilton Finlay, famous concrete poet and landscape architect—whose work I had the pleasure of archiving recently, through a collection sold by Graeme Moore, a landscape artist and Finlay’s longtime associate—the answer was a form of ideological warfare. In 1986, two architecture critics, Gwyn Headley and Wim Muelenkamp, under the auspices of the UK’s National Trust, published Follies, a guide to what they saw as eccentric buildings and gardens throughout the United Kingdom. The authors included Finlay’s Little Sparta, a garden full of sculpture and concrete poetry, in this volume. Perhaps they meant this as a harmless designation, or even a way to drum up interest in what they saw as an unfairly neglected site.

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Service and Suspicion in the Clement and Sophie Winston Papers

[Written by Rive Cadwallader. This was the last collection she processed before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania.  Congratulations, Rive!]

Clement and Sophie Winston were, in their own estimation, “not politically active individuals”. Both were engaged in service to their country -Clement as an economic analyst at the Bureau of the Budget and Sophie as a volunteer arts instructor with the American Red Cross- yet they “never joined any groups pushing particular causes.” The couple took road trips, wrote poetry, and sent handmade birthday cards to their friends. However, their respectable vocations, political neutrality, and typical middle-class lifestyle were not sufficient to protect the Winstons from suspicion under what Clement described as the “present condition of hysteria” that pervaded the United States during the Cold War. Clement’s position at the Bureau of the Budget subjected him to scrutiny under the Executive Order 9835, signed by President Truman in 1947, which required ‘loyalty checks’ for all federal employees to ensure “maximum protection… against infiltration of disloyal persons.” The Loyalty Board initially determined that Clement held “associations with particular individuals” whose political affiliations were in question, but by December 1952, it ultimately resolved that there was “no reasonable doubt” as to Clement’s “loyalty to the government of the United States.” Clement’s correspondence from this period reveals that the process of this investigation and hearing was intensely stressful and unsettling for him. He wrote to a friend, after his hearing,

“My emotions are terribly disturbed. It seems as if I have suffered a great, great loss. It seems as if someone near and dear to me, someone who was a part of me, were forever and irretrievably lost. I feel so broken and so ashamed.”

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A Fine Hand for Music

As the production of printed matter grows increasingly automated (not to mention digitized), the handwriting of the past feels more precious with each passing year. One of the great pleasures of working in an archival repository is appreciating the wild variety of human penmanship, from chicken-scratch capitals to the ornate, formal calligraphy of diplomatic documents. “He writes a fine hand” is no longer a well-understood saying, and yet I miss the physicality of the phrase: the sense of the appendage merging with the text it produces.

I was reminded recently of how fine handwriting can turn a written document into an object of beauty as I processed a collection of scores by Robert Capanna. Capanna was a Philadelphia composer and longtime Executive Director of the Settlement School, a community arts school with campuses across the greater Philadelphia area. The scores range from the early 1970s to 2016, a span that showcases interesting changes in the way music was drafted and reproduced. For the first few decades of Capanna’s career, he drafted his scores in pen and pencil on onion-skin, sending the finished versions off to the Theodore Presser Company for engraving and printing. You can see this process in Capanna’s score for “Day,” a long work for voices and chamber orchestra which he revised continually over more than ten years; the initial onion-skin draft, which Capanna’s precise penmanship, transformed into a readable (if more pedestrian-looking) printed score.


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