Janeites unite to remember an amazing woman!

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.

Survivors of War: Albert D. Hequembourg and his diary

Hequembourg’s ID card

Today on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, I would like to tell the story of Albert D. Hequembourg and his two-volume diary, both of whom happily survived his service overseas in Belgium and France in 1918.  Hequembourg, a 1908 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, was a dental surgeon who volunteered for service shortly after the United States declared war.  He served most of his first year on American soil, providing dental care for soldiers who were training for duty in Europe.

July 7, 1918 entry

On June 5, 1918, Hequembourg left New York City and traveled to France aboard the S.S.  Mauretania; landed in Liverpool, England; traveled south by train to Southhampton; and took Channel transport to Havre, France, arriving there on June 14, 1918. During his time overseas, he was “in action from close to Ypres, Belgium to Amiens, France,” (inside front cover, Volume 2).  In an entry written on July 7, 1918, somewhere in France or Belgium, Hequembourg describes examining the teeth of 348 American soldiers.  He does not appear to have treated injured soldiers–instead, he was performing typical dental work:  “getting patients ready to go to front, filling root canals and putting treatments in to hold over till they get back.”

Front line dental office

Hequembourg appears to have been a keen observer who was aware of the historic impact the War would have on the world.  As such, he seems to have taken advantage of opportunities to see the front and he describes in great detail being caught in a German air-raid, living in a dug-out and working in a dental office in “a corrugated iron shed camouflaged with branches,” and seeing a field hospital. It seems that Hequembourg and his fellow soldier Lt. Rhea traveled with transport and were often in the midst of shelling.

Inside front cover of Volume 2

In the midst of one such shelling, his belongings were struck by German artillery fire (resulting in the mud on the front cover) and he thought he had lost the diary … but it turned up, albeit missing the key to the locations he describes in the diary!  As a result, we have an amazing resource for people studying first-hand non-combat experience to life on or near the front lines of World War I.   Before processing this collection, I never once thought of dentists serving during World War I and I never once thought of the American Expeditionary Forces having their teeth cleaned or having potentially painful problems with their teeth being treated.  One of the many things I absolutely love about my job is the constant exposure to new perspectives on “old history.”

I feel as if, at some point, I should stop being surprised by how much has survived and is available for use today in the amazing libraries and archives across the world.  If you are interested in some of our other amazing World War I collections, may I personally recommend a few of my favorites:

David Rosenblum World War I letters,1918-1919, Ms. Coll. 1262
R. Norris Williams collection of World War I material, 1914-1988, Ms. Coll. 956
Dorothy E. Withrow collection of World War memorabilia, 1892-1951, Ms. Coll. 930

Atha Tehon: Loved much more than “a cat’s whisker”

I knew I was going to love Atha Tehon from the moment I started my research on her—before I ever even opened a box of her papers.  As always, I started with a simple google search and one of the first results was “Syracuse woman adopts four cats with $50,000 trust fund.”  Turns out, those four cats belonged to Atha Tehon, a book designer and art director for children’s books.  She had lost her husband and lived alone—and for the first of many times during the processing of her papers, I was struck by her thoughtfulness and caring—not just of her concern for the well-being of her pets after her death, but also the financial burden four cats would put on the good soul who adopted them.

I started with her correspondence thinking I would separate her professional correspondence from her personal correspondence; but  I quickly discovered that this was impossible—professional colleagues soon became treasured friends who  communicated long after a project was completed.  As I scanned the contents of her letters, it was clear that she was beloved—every letter was full of respect and love. In one letter, Guy Fleming, writing to someone who forwarded a copy to Atha, stated “I remember Atha perfectly well:  … there she’d be, center of a circle of peace and calm,” (box 3, folder 1) which seemed to accurately put into the words the woman I was quickly getting to know and love.

As I moved on through the remainder of her papers, I determined that she was peaceful and calm because she put herself in order through the EXTENSIVE use of post-it notes … I suspect that there was a fairly large number in the budget line for post-its at Dial Books for Young Readers where Atha worked for thirty years.  She may have been calm, but there is absolutely nothing calm about her calendars which show what her day-to-day life must have been like.  She seems to have had her hand in many of our most beloved children’s books and worked closely with any number of extraordinary authors and illustrators including Tom Feelings, Jerry Pinkney, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, and Margot Zemach, to name only a few.

This collection is nothing short of a visual delight—pretty much every folder contains copies of beautiful illustrations for children’s books in every possible state of completion.  Sometimes there are rough sketches, sometimes the finished product, and occasionally, you can really see how a book started, evolved, was revised, evolved again, and was completed.  But her book projects are not the only place in the collection that we find art.  Atha Tehon, herself, was an accomplished artist and the collection holds sketchbooks, pencil drawings, Christmas cards of her own design, photographs of her paintings, etc. She was also friends with a whole host of creative people who sent her artwork, illustrated letters, and beautifully handmade Christmas cards.  The entire time I worked on this collection, I was in heaven.

When I came to the end, I was sad … I had truly enjoyed the company of Atha Tehon and I thought I knew her pretty well, but I was wrong. I saw the humble, beautiful woman she was, certainly, but it was only once I read  the letters and notes people sent after she died, that I truly understood what an amazing woman she was and how far-reaching her influence.  The folder of memorial information came to me late in the processing stage (it was not part of the papers that came to us after her death), but as I sat reading, I had tears in my eyes.  It was only here, in words of others, did I learn how many people credited her with the success of their careers in publishing, design, and illustration and how much they learned from her.  It was here that I learned that she was known for “Athaisms” and for inventing “a measure for that huge gap between a hairline and a ½ point space—the ‘cat’s whisker.’” (box 2, folder 10).  Jerry Pinkney stated that “she had the rare gift of a critical eye as well as an uncanny ability to gently support, nurture, and inspire illustrators to create their best work,” and Sara Reynolds, senior designer for Dial Books for Young Readers from 1984 to 1987, wrote in “A Tribute to Atha” that “Atha cared about those who worked with her as much as she cared about every detail in a book.  She was kind, patient, thoughtful, and always ready to listen.  When we worked with Atha, we were a family, and after we left her staff, we were still a family … Atha seemed ageless, and now we grapple with the knowledge that she wasn’t.  But her voice, vision, and legacy live on in thousands of books, hundreds of illustrators, and scores of editors, designers, and art directors who benefited from her wisdom, taste, sensitivity, and support.”

Who would not wish to be remembered in such a way?



Happy Valentine’s Day!

We frequently find delightful items in our collections, and sometimes they are incredibly timely!  Elsa stopped by with these four images from the magazine Christopher Street. You’ll find these specific images in Vol. 2, No. 8 from February 1978, on the cover and pages 33, 36 and 37.

Liz found, in a copy of Cuckoo of the log raft by Bessie Marchant (London: George Newnes, [not before 1931]) (Schimmel Fiction 3036), that the former owner, Anne M. Noble, kindly added a “Boys I love” note!  We are particularly delighted that the “boy in grey” is included. My college crush was “the boy in the basement” so I totally get it!


Party like its the 1920s

Here’s hoping that your office holiday party is half as fun as Burton Rascoe’s!  This photo is clearly from a newspaper office’s holiday party in the early 1920s.  I think it is the New York Tribune, but I cannot be sure.  Regardless, everything about this party is positively delightful–from the general messiness of the office, to the “interesting” decorations, to the fashions of the day!.

rascoestaffpartyfrom the Burton Rascoe papers, 1890-1957 (bulk: 1920-1957), Ms. Coll. 1145
Box 26, Folder 9

All my new friends are dead–2016 edition

Not long ago, I was telling a loved one how difficult I find it to make new friends as an adult.  I was told quickly, and emphatically, that I was being ridiculous–that I make new friends all the time–it’s just that almost all of them are dead.  Instantly, I was filled, absolutely filled, with what A.S. Byatt beautifully describes as “pale gold goodwill.”  Because this is true–I do make new friends all the time and, because I am an archivist, most of these new friends are, indeed, dead!  But this does not make them any less dear to me, and in fact, I often spend more waking hours in the company of my dead friends than I do with my living friends!

burton2016 has been a very good dead-friend-year for me. I was lucky enough to become acquainted with Burton Rascoe and his snarky humor–I chuckled over his letters as if he was sitting beside me; I admired the smooth flow of his language; and I nostalgically and wistfully enjoyed his 1920s parties. depreistprayers I also experienced the gentle kindness of James DePreist, a renowned conductor and the nephew of Marian Anderson.  I read the prayers he penned on post-it notes and hotel stationery before his performances and felt that I better understood him as a man and as a musician.  And then, I met Corneille, who I desperately wish was still alive (she would be about 116 years old today) because I really, really want to hang out with her.

Continue reading

Happy Halloween (from the most fabulous witch EVER)

Happy Halloween to one and all!  If you are looking for a truly fabulous costume, we have the perfect volume! Fancy dresses described, or, What to wear at fancy balls, by  Ardern Holt, is an 1887 book containing gorgeous color plates and the description of costumes to be worn to fancy dress parties.  Here is the most traditionally Halloween of the costumes, but every one is absolutely amazing!  You would be the envy of every Halloween-er should you dress from this book!


Celebrate People’s History

2016-10-11-11-45_page_10One of the best parts about preparing for our Archives Month Philly Event (this year our event, “By the Book:  Making–And Breaking!–The Rules,” is on October 25) is looking at my colleagues’ favorite finds.  This year, Abby Lang suggested an amazing collection of posters, Celebrate people’s history, compiled by Josh MacPhee, a designer, artist, and archivist who is a founding member of both the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative and Interference Archive.  He is also an author and editor and clearly interested in social justice.

2016-10-11-11-45_page_11According to the Justseeds Artists Cooperative website, “this cloth-bound box set documents the first 18 years and 100 posters in the Celebrate People’s History Poster series. The posters are rooted in the do-it-yourself tradition of mass-produced and distributed political propaganda, but detourned to embody principles of democracy, inclusion, and group participation in the writing and interpretation of history. It’s rare today that a political poster is celebratory, and when it is, it almost always focuses on a small canon of male individuals: MLK, Ghandi, Che, or Mandela. Rather than create another exclusive set of heroes, I’ve generated a diverse set of posters that bring to life successful moments in the history of social justice struggles. To that end, I’ve asked artists and designers to find events, groups, and people who have moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world. The posters tell stories from the subjective position of the artists, and are often the stories of underdogs, those written out of history. The goal of this project is not to tell a definitive history, but to suggest a new relationship to the past.”

2016-10-11-11-45_page_08Each poster is offset printed and the box set includes a letterpress printed half-title sheet with curator’s statement.  One of the amazing things about these posters is that despite the date of the event, so many of them are completely relevant today.  We still worry about the same issues:  African American rights, Native American rights, gender equality, workers’ rights, environmental issues, and animal rights.  Every single poster is beautiful, powerful, and educational.

Researchers–come to the reading room to check out these images; students–use these images in your papers and projects, and everyone–come to see just one of these beauties displayed at our Archives Month event as an example of people who challenged the rules!

By the Book: Making–And Breaking!–The Rules

archives16_300Ah, rules! Where would we be without them? According to some, we would be savages at the dinner table, we couldn’t shoe a horse, and Penn students would be dueling willy-nilly! As a result, rules have flourished: governments issued them, activists challenged them, and inquisitors enforced them. And literary critic Burton Rascoe had so little faith in his own ability to follow the rules of society that he purchased pre-printed apologies to send following events! As part of Philly Archives Month, join the catalogers of the Kislak Center to meet the medieval to modern role models and scape-graces who inhabit our collections.

If you missed the event, which was held October 25, 2016, check out the online version of the evening!

Archives Month Philly event hosted by Penn’s Special Collections Processing Center generally take place in the University of Pennsylvania, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, sixth floor, 3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA

This event was free and open to the public!  We look forward to seeing you next year at our annual show and tell!

Pass the Hemlock … but let Burton Rascoe live!

IMG_0183There is so much to love in the Burton Rascoe papers, not least, Burton Rascoe himself! Mr. Rascoe, for those who don’t know him, was a delightfully snarky and brutally honest literary critic and journalist.  He is known, not only for his own writings, but for championing the work of some of America’s best known literary giants, including Theodore Dreiser, H.L. Mencken, Sherwood Anderson, James Branch Cabell, and Carl Sandberg to name just a few.  Mr. Rascoe (1892-1957) started his career in Chicago, but moved on to New York in 1920.

IMG_0170I knew I was going to fall hard for Mr. Rascoe when I came across a letter he wrote to H.L. Mencken in which he complained about Theodore Dreiser (with whom he had a close personal relationship, deeply admired, and about whom he wrote his first book).  Nonetheless, when Mr. Rascoe had something to say, he said it.  In this case, he stated: “Dreiser’s stupidity and ingratitude give me an acute attack of proctalgia. What the hell is the use?  Here you have touted him in and out of season, fought his battles for him almost single-handed, sacrificed your time and money to secure him a hearing, and written a wholly admirable adjutication [sic] of his aims and methods, and he, the thankless fathead, is offended!  Pass the hemlock!” (box 4, folders 7-9).  I looked up proctalgia, and it is does not sound great.  I expect that Rascoe was not always popular after writing things like this, but he had his defenders like Bertha Downing who wrote “on the whole, Rascoe is good for one, like spinach and carrots, not pleasant but healthful … I say, let him live.” (Box 17, Folder 29). Possibly because he was so incredibly blunt and honest and forthcoming, it seems that many were simply delighted by him. Indeed, he had any number of correspondents who addressed him early in their correspondence as “Dear Mr. Rascoe” but who later addressed him as “My very dear Burton.”

Edward C. Caswell

Edward C. Caswell

The correspondence, all by itself, is a reason to love this collection. In a world of email and text messages, I often find myself wallowing in nostalgia while processing correspondence in archival collections–there is really nothing quite like that physical piece of paper on which the personality and the character of the writer can be seen in smudges and quirky handwriting.  I can only imagine the pleasure Rascoe had in receiving delightfully illustrated letters; from the absolutely exquisite artwork of Edward C. Caswell, to the more cartoon-y illustrations of Gene Markey, to the colorful sketches by Anna O. Thomas, to the charming drawings by his niece Judy Rascoe.

IMG_0178 - CopyThis collection is absolutely rife with visual delights.  Not only did Mr. Rascoe sketch, but many others sketched items for him.  One of my favorites is this drawing “Ted” did although I think it seems out of character (from all I gathered, Mr. Rascoe was an absolute bundle of energy). Regardless, it and all the other sketches in the collection (see box 16, folder 20 and box 26, folder 4) provide a wonderful window into the world in which Mr. Rascoe lived.

IMG_0182For me, a collection is truly great (not just containing items from important and influential people) when I feel like I get to know the creator and their surroundings.  I love when I can imagine their world and how they fit into it.  Mr. Rascoe makes this so easy … from his openness in his writing, to the sharing of his photos and sketches, to the inclusion of less-than-flattering descriptions of his work … he is not hiding who he is and the papers were not sanitized to make him look good. Although including a photograph of yourself with not one but FOUR kittens is guaranteed to help in that department!

Come to the Kislak Center and get to know this man … you might not love him as I do, but you will find him fascinating!