The Writers’ Children: the Wolfert Family Papers

When the impractical and somewhat hazardous desire to write books is passed down through a family, the results are often dangerous. Consider the Wolfert family, whose papers I recently had the pleasure of processing here in the Special Collections Processing Center. The father, Ira Wolfert, was a well-known war correspondent (his coverage of the Battle of Guadalcanal won a Pulitzer) and the author of Tucker’s People, a novel concerning the numbers racket and political corruption in 1930’s New York City which was a post-war bestseller: a feat he would never again equal. The mother, Helen Wolfert, was a school-teacher, an intermittently successful poet, and a polemical essayist on a wide range of subjects, from the space program to the Song of Songs—but was beset throughout her life with rejection and persistent lack of recognition. Their son, Michael, fancied himself a novelist but could best be described as a career bohemian, turning down plum positions in UNESCO (the then-new cultural wing of the UN) and dragging numerous wives and children from Paris to Tangier to Sweden as he attempted to produce a novel that would justify these peregrinations.  (Their daughter, Ruth, seems to have briefly entertained literary ambitions, but decided—in a move that seems commendable and somewhat fitting—to pursue a career in family therapy.)

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Raman and the Rays of Light

Philosophical Magazine is one the oldest and longest-running scientific periodicals—published from 1798 to the present day (now published by Taylor & Francis). The name of the journal derives from when the term “natural philosophy” covered aspects of science including: astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, geology, medicine, physics, and zoology; in addition to natural phenomena such as aurora, earthquakes, lightning strikes, and volcanic eruptions (Davis, 2010, p. 1).

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Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (britannica.com)

Among the many notable scientists who have appeared in the pages of Philosophical Magazine—including Lord Kelvin, Niels Bohr, and Sir Joseph John Thomson—is Chandrasekhara Venkata (“C.V.”) Raman (1888–1970), an Indian physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930 “for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him.” The Nobel Committee described the Raman Effect:

“When light meets particles that are smaller than the light’s wavelength, the light spreads in different directions. This occurs, for example, when light packets – photons – encounter molecules in a gas. In 1928 Venkata Raman discovered that a small portion of the scattered light acquires other wavelengths than that of the original light. This is because some of the incoming photons’ energy can be transferred to a molecule, giving it a higher level of energy. Among other things, the phenomenon is used to analyze different types of material” (Nobel Prize, 1930).

The newly processed collection Philosophical Magazine galley proofs for science articles, 1920-1921, Ms. Coll. 1329, consists of galley proofs of science research articles for Philosophical Magazine published from 1920 to 1921. Most of the galley proofs show proofreader edits, as well as some author edits, and many of the proofs are accompanied by manuscripts or typescripts of the articles, which makes for a fascinating glimpse into the publishing process for this scientific journal in the 1920s.

 

Before his 1928 discovery of the Raman Effect, Raman and fellow scientist Bhabonath Banerji published a 1921 article in Philosophical Magazine (volume 41, issue 243) entitled, “On the Colours of Mixed Plates” (the galley with handwritten edits is pictured above).

While the article, which investigates “the colours exhibited by a mixed plate or film consisting of two interspersed transparent media,” is far above the head of this non-scientist, I was able to appreciate the publication process exhibited in the files found in this collection (Raman and Banerji, 1921, p. 338). Along with the galley proof of “On the Colours of Mixed Plates,” included in the collection is the typewritten manuscript (pictured below).

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Box 2, Folder 16

Also included is the illustration used for the article, shown below (left) alongside the printed illustration (right), which is cut and pasted to a board– ah, the days before Photoshop!

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Box 2, Folder 16

This collection, which is now open, will be useful to researchers interested in the publication process for some of the most notable scientists of the 1920s and the journal that presented their groundbreaking ideas.

 

References

Professor E.A. Davis (2010). Philosophical Magazine Archive, Philosophical Magazine, 90:S1, 1-2, DOI: 10.1080/14786431003659149

The Nobel Prize (1930). Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman – Facts. Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1930/raman-facts.html

C.V. Raman M.A. & Bhabonath Banerji M.Sc. (1921). XXX. On the colours of mixed plates.—Part I, Philosophical Magazine, 41:243, 338-347, DOI: 10.1080/14786442108636226

“Women Ain’t No Fools” – The Paul Eldridge Papers

Paul Eldridge (1888-1982) was a poet, novelist, essayist, short story writer, and teacher. Eldridge was born in Bucharest, raised in Philadelphia, and spent most of his life in New York City. He married fellow writer, stage actress, and soprano, Sylvette De La Mar (also known as Sylvette De Lamar, née Sylvia Reiss). Whenever I catalog a collection, I love to find photographs that allow me to picture the collection’s creator as I work, so imagine my delight when I came across these dapper photos of Paul and Sylvette, below.

 

Paul viewed Sylvette as his intellectual equal and dedicated all of his books to her. Alongside this respect for his wife and life partner, Paul Eldridge displayed a playful irreverence with regard to concepts of male and female roles, as is evident in the subjects and titles of many of his works.

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Behind the Scenes–in person and virtually

On October 17, 2017, the catalogers of the Special Collections Processing Center had the chance to show off some of their favorite items! This year we offered tours of SCPC so that visitors could learn what happens to a book or collection “behind the scenes”–from the time that it is purchased or gifted, right up until it is publicly available.

The Behind the Scenes tours were in-person only, but in case you didn’t make it to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, you can discover online the invisible sights and unheard sounds of the moments before the big moments … before the counter-attack is launched, the play performed, an execution ordered, a new bestseller published.  And you might just discover why the catalogers in SCPC love their jobs so much!

 

Save the Date for Behind the Scenes: Archives Month 2017

The hurried scratching of pencil on paper as a code-breaker races against time…
The nervous pacing of an actress…
Sibilant whispers of advice into the ears of the powerful…
The crumpled publisher’s rejection letter, together with an annotated and crossed out draft…

These are the invisible sights and unheard sounds of the moments before the big moments … before the counter-attack is launched, the play performed, an execution ordered, a new bestseller published.

Catalogers are always behind the scenes, where they delight in finding previously lost or hidden secrets and making them available to the public.  Join the catalogers of the Kislak Center to learn about their favorite behind-the-scenes moments found between the covers of rare books and deep in the folders of archival collections.

Linger over our selections on October 17, 2017 from 5:30 to 7 pm at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, located on the 6th floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center at 3420 Walnut Street.

Free and open to the public (bring photo id to get into the library)!

Comics and Graphic Treatments of the Middle East: Not Just for Beginners

The Allan Solomonow papers, 1944-2016 [bulk: 1960-2009], Ms. Coll. 1247, are now processed and available for research.

Allan Solomonow (born 1937) is a Jewish peace activist who was active in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area from the 1970s through the 2010s. His particular concern was Middle East peace, and especially, the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Researchers who have an interest in US policy in the Middle East, the role of both secular and religious peace organizations, and ongoing Arab-Israeli dialogue will find much of interest in the collection.

One topic that interested me as I worked my way through the materials is the use of cartoons, comics, and other types of graphic representation to convey thoughts and ideas about a topic as sensitive and fraught as Middle East peace.

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Ghosts on the Shelf: Or, the Long-Awaited Return of Charles Durang’s “History of The Philadelphia Stage Between the Years 1749 and 1855” (But, Wait, Wasn’t that Thompson Westcott’s?)

Historians of American drama know it well: there is hardly a more precious source on 19th-century Philadelphia theater than Charles Durang’s work dedicated to the history of the city stage in the years between 1749 and 1855. A painstakingly detailed account of the theatrical activities that took place in Philadelphia over a century, Durang’s work appeared in weekly installments on a Philadelphia newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, and was thus widely available at the time it was published. Today, it can be found in dozens of libraries across the U.S., either in its original form – that is, as clippings from the original newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s, often pasted onto more or less inclusive scrapbooks – or, much more frequently, as a microfilm.

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The title page of volume I of Thompson Westcott’s scrapbooks of Charles Durang’s history of theater in Philadelphia. Westcott’s signature and the date can be seen on the bottom left corner of the image. To the left is an engraving of actor, playwright, and theater manager David Garrick

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Jewish Women and Religious Devotion: The Rise of the Tikhine

The Chava Weissler papers are now available for research!

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Prayer is how the devout connect to the divine. It helps shape the life cycle and daily schedule of all religious communities. But, prayer is not always an equal experience for those who wish to participate. Judaism is a religion that has a reputation of being male centric and Hebrew centric. These tendencies extend to prayer and the daily or life cycle events to which they are tied. For generations, Jewish women were excluded by both the content and language of Jewish prayer, which can often be focused on men and are typically written in Hebrew, which not all women were taught to speak or understand.

However, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new prayers known as tkhines began to appear. These private devotions were usually written in Yiddish, by both men and women, and were intended to be used by women and men who did not have extensive knowledge of Hebrew. These new prayers opened up Jewish ritual practice for women in an entirely new way, allowing them to build new connections to the divine and to be fuller participants in key Jewish rites. However, these tkhines also helped create a religious dialogue and set of practices for areas that traditionally fall within the “women’s domain” and are not addressed in typical Jewish prayer. Women suddenly had a means by which to verbally express their supplications to God regarding pregnancy, childbirth, infertility, and widowhood, to name a few.

Enter Dr. Chava Weissler, professor of religion. In 1985, Dr. Wiessler was a member of the Princeton University faculty and had just returned from a trip to the Jewish National and University Library, bringing back with her pounds of photocopies of the over 900 tkhines she found in their collection.

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Already an enthusiastic scholar of Jewish women’s lives, Dr. Weissler was enthralled with her find, which would become the basis of her first book, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women. Weissler’s research was some of the first to address tkhines and Jewish women’s prayers. Much like the tkhines themselves, her writing opened up a whole new world of understanding, forever changing that way that both Jewish women’s payers and women’s roles within the Jewish community are perceived. Her work was at the cutting edge of the field, and continues to influence new generations of scholars.

The Charlotte Cushman Club records: A Window on Philadelphia Theater History

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.

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The Charlotte Cushman Club house at 239 South Camac Street, Philadelphia

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“Un remede pire que le mal”: Medical Quackery and Political Commentary in the Helfand Collection

This print, by J. J. Grandville, refers to bloodletting, a mainstay of medical practice well into the nineteenth century.

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.

Hydropathy (also called “hydrotherapy” or “water cure”) was a therapeutic treatment popular in the nineteenth century.

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.

Lobau hovers above Paris on his flying syringe.

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.

This allegorical print, “un remede pire que le mal,” uses medical themes to express a political sentiment.

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.

This print shows Veron in the role of quack pharmacist, a frequently-occurring character in nineteenth century French comical prints.

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.