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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Samuel Roth, “Prometheus of the Unprintable”

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.”

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Photo via Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library

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.

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Box 3, Folder 2

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.

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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.

Frozen Dolls and Famous Actresses: A Tale of Two Charlottes

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.

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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.

Sing Ho, the Franklin Inn Club!

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.

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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?”

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(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.

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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.

“I was very much disappointed …”

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.

Through Being Cool: Arthur Hobson Quinn and the Modernists

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

The Correspondence of James T. Farrell: a smorgasbord of the 20th century

The ring has been cast into the fires of Mount Doom; the dragon has been slain. The sword has been released from the rock and the spell lifted from the lands.  Nearly two years and three hundred boxes later; it is finished.  The correspondence series of James T. Farrell (1904-1979) has been my project since I started working here in the Special Collections at Penn, and while it has certainly sent me through the entire Kübler-Ross cycle of grief, I cannot be happier that this collection is now available to researchers.

Aside from the literary and biographical insight, Farrell’s correspondence  includes a wide range of materials dealing with 20th century thought: political figures, philosophies, the arts, and sports. Additionally, due to Farrell’s intent to keep a record of nearly everything, a variety of materials from fan mail, scathing and silly messages to organizational bulletins, solicitations, and cultural ephemera are preserved in the correspondence.

After sifting through thousands of pages, let me share a few of my favorite offbeat themes found within the Farrell.

Quirks

One cannot start sifting through Farrell’s correspondence without noticing at times it feels as if you are working through graphology puzzles, or as I affectionately like to put it, looking at an electrocardiogram.  Having personally endured Palmer method penmanship classes in grade school, I feel confident assuming that Farrell, who also had a parochial school upbringing, would have been subjected to the same torment.  However, despite my best efforts, often times I found myself wondering if I needed to consult a hieroglyphics expert at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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A mild example of Farrell’s handwriting

Farrell’s handwriting at times was a bear, perhaps accentuated by the use of amphetamines and alcohol, and could quickly became illegible over the course of a letter.  It was very reassuring to see that throughout the correspondence, this was a common issue.  On occasion, Farrell’s handwriting lead to many misunderstandings and arguments, to include a fallout with arguably his biggest professional supporter, James Henle.  However, despite the difficulties presented by Farrell’s scrawling, I believe a letter from Marcus Cunliffe (January 9, 1960) expresses working through the challenge best, “I am getting the hang of it, and the struggle is certainly worthwhile.”

On many occasions, Farrell’s publishers repeatedly pleaded  for him to use a typewriter and eventually he obliged, at least some of the time.

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Interesting post script

Despite their legibility, these typed letters were not always without Farrell’s idiosyncratic ways.  One of my favorite examples of this is from a letter written to the Hotel du Danube. The letter itself is particularly mundane however, after typing the contents in very light ink, Farrell announced at the very bottom, that he finally had changed the typewriter ribbon.  Unfortunately, there is no way to confirm if the letter was actually sent–copies of unsent correspondence are very common within the collection– however, I find little quirks such as these to be very revealing to the inner workings of James T. Farrell.

Mums and Nuns and Guns, Oh My!

Scholars have asserted that Farrell often was writing autobiographically and used his life and family as blueprints for his stories. Much like himself, a key element to characters found in Farrell’s writing is that they are born and raised Catholic, often attending parish schools.

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A mother, who is none too pleased

On quite a few occasions, Farrell would receive letters from mothers expressing their displeasure with themes in his novels, and the corruption of “the minds of young people.” One mother even took it upon herself use the cover of her son’s copy of Young Lonigan to express her dismay, labeling it “a bad book for boys.”  Mrs. T. Luhy  (Box 153 Folder 10) writes, “I was ashamed that you have on the back cover that you graduated from a Catholic school. Please ask yourself if you wish your little son to read this book when he is in his teens.”

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Letter from Mrs. T. Luhy

As if his penmanship wasn’t enough, Farrell’s portrayal of everyday Catholics also drew the ire of the religious community.  Sister Roberta of the College of Paola (Box 201 Folder 3) warned Farrell about his own salvation. “Mr. Farrell, do you realize you are either directly or indirectly irresponsible for the moral sins committed by every person whom there is a deliberate stirring of venereal pleasures as a result of reading your filth.”  However she concludes, “If you are as your work indicates a fallen away Catholic for whom a good dear old mother prayed or is still praying, get down on your knees, beg pardon of the God whose law of purity you have handled so lightly and broken so violently. Go to a priest and get your past cleared.  I shall be happy to pray for you.  And in future consecrate your creative gift to God spreading His kingdom on earth through a clean, Catholic press.”

Although most of these letters were not met with replies, Farrell did make it a point to document them and include them in his papers.  He even offered additional information for this lively correspondent.

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Szostak, Alexander: A lunatic who wrote letters to me, once threatened to kill me.             (Box 223 Folder 9)

The Triumph of Farrell

Although he endured many personal attacks on his character, James T. Farrell enjoyed a large share of fans and friends, who seemed to revel in his non conventional ways. Never a silent by-stander, Farrell fought to ensure he would be remembered, by any means necessary.  The James T. Farrell papers represents his legacy as an insatiable writer and collector who by personal effort and determination, left an amazing collection of 20th century thought for those in the future to dissect.

I leave you with poem written by Paul J. Gabriner, an early fan of Farrell.

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“Poem for a Die-hard Writer of Great Novels” (Box 102 Folder 50)

“…and though time is growing late, greatness never leaves the great.”

Small Details of a Big Life: the Paul Schrecker papers, 1921-1964

Paul Schrecker (1889-1963) was an Austrian-born philosopher who, in 1933, in compliance with the passing of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, was dismissed from his position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences and fled to Paris where he taught at the University of Paris from 1933 to 1940. He moved to the United States after the German occupation of France in 1940 and taught at the New School for Social Research, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and at the University of Pennsylvania from 1950 until his retirement in 1960.

Schrecker’s work is most notable for his writings on, and editing of, the works of Enlightenment-era philosophers Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) and Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715).

And yet, faced with this incredibly impressive body of work in the Paul Schrecker papers, as an archival processor, it’s often the personal elements of a collection’s creator that jump out. For instance, I made note of Schrecker’s consistent appearance throughout the years, as documented by his identification papers and passport. He seems the sort of person who was born looking very wise (naturalization photos, box 9, folders 1-2; journal cover, box 9, folder 20).

I also made note of his date books, ranging from the years 1933 to 1959. Schrecker’s eye for detail is reflected not only in his date-keeping, but in the beautiful marbled endpapers to be found in many of the books (box 8, folders 1-5).

I was also touched by the papers that documented his son Theodore’s birth, which include birth announcements, congratulatory cards and letters, and this flowery telegram (box 9, folder 5).

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I also couldn’t help noting how inexpensive it was to have a child in 1953—the University of Pennsylvania Hospital bill lists the total as $222! – and that fathers were only permitted to view their newborns through the window of the nursery after birth (box 9, folder 5).

This collection is of immense value to those studying Enlightenment philosophers and, as you’ve seen here, also includes elements that serve to bring Paul Schrecker, the person, to life. This collection is now open to researchers.

Havas: The human news aggregator

Charles-Louis Havas and the Agence Havas

For those who ever wondered how people got news briefs before the modern age, meet Charles-Louis Havas (1783-1858), the founder of what today is known as Agence France-Presse (AFP) Reuters. The wonderful collection of 101 lithographed news reports from 1845-1848 is a terrific example of how international news was shared before modern technology made it easy.

Based on what we found on the internet, Charles-Louis Havas was born in 1783 and after a stint in finance, he founded, in 1825, a news translation business, Bureau Havas, to service the French papers. The concept in the beginning was quite simple. He and his wife, speaking about a half dozen languages between them, could read and translate various international newspapers. His business grew through hard work, acquisition, and government relationships. Havas eventually began to hire international reporters to write original pieces, in addition to the continued translation services, for what became in 1835 the Agence Havas (one of these reporters was Paul Julius Reuter, future founder of Reuters).

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An example of what Agence Havas produced: an international news bulletin from 1847.  PRINT COLL. 29

Not only did Havas develop this translation/aggregation model, he innovated news distribution through a subscription formula (selling his news to small papers throughout France). Whether he did well solely due to his wits, guts, and sweat or whether his government relationships allowed him to dominate the distribution of news, he certainly became a notorious figure. Balzac openly accused Havas of having a monopoly in 1840:

“Le public peut croire qu’il existe plusieurs journaux, mail il n’y a en définitive, qu’un seul journal … Monsiuer Havas.”  (The public may believe that there exists a free press, but in reality, there is only one press, Mr. Havas.)

Havas was also different in regard to his interest in advertising – of his own paper but also as a revenue stream. He managed to involve his business in a new advertising model, devoting an entire staff to advertising, paving the way for the merger with Société Générale des Annonces soon after his death.  By that point, the Havas papers were as much about advertising as they were about news, if not more.

Considering the “technology” at the time, which included pigeons, it’s remarkable anyone could develop a business at all. Pigeons were heavily used to share stock market information between London, Brussels and Paris, but more substantial political and cultural news demanded a different carrier. While the railroad and telegraph revolutionized how information was transmitted, it’s still amazing to me that some of the main drivers of Havas’s success are timeless: a strong relationship with the government and an understanding of how to use advertising as an income source.