Marriage: a most dire institution

In the Veale family papers, 1872-1899, Dr. Henry Veale, a British Army physician, received a series of letters from two individuals, both of whom described their decidedly gloomy take on marriage.

The first letter, written on April 28, 1884, by William Aitken (probably a patient), states:

I wish myself to be the first to tell you of my intention to marry a wife.  She is a very old friend who shared (with my sister) in the dismal watches of the day and night during the long illness and the recovery from which I have so much to be grateful to you.  Since my sister left, this dear friend has continued to take care of me and of my household.  Hence she has become a necessity for the valetudinarian life I am now condemned to pass; and so for my own comfort and peace of mind as well as for the sake of propriety, I have resolved to take this course. (box 1, folder 2)

Roughly fifteen years later, Henry Veale received a letter from his twenty-five year old son, Sidney Veale Byland, a lieutenant in the India Staff Corps, who, after discussing the difficulties of army life states:

The only alternative is to marry  and live unhappily on alternate days so as to get a little change.  It makes one almost wish to have someone to squabble with with so as to get through a few odd hours. (box 1, folder 4, letter dated June 23, 1898).

The full set of letters from each correspondent shows that these two writers shared more than just their dismal views on marriage: they both suffered from indigestion. So, was marriage really such a dreadful thing?  Or were these two simply grumpy because of all their discomfort?  This Valentine’s day, may I suggest adding some prettily packaged antacids to the thoughtful and loving gift for your special someone, just to be safe!


Going Once, Going Twice! A “Lot of Sundries” for Sixteen Cents

In 1684, Samuel Levis moved to Pennsylvania from his hometown of Leister, England, and settled near the Darby Creek on a parcel of land he had purchased from William Penn. Samuel Levis’ descendants –including at least five more individuals by the same name- established a number of profitable mills in the area, where they manufactured first paper and then, by the mid nineteenth century, cotton. The Levis family papers (Ms. Coll. 1282) contain documents representing generations of family history, from tax returns to report cards to invitations for tea.


Among these papers are two unassuming booklets, hand-stitched and bound in rag paper. One, dating to 1803, is “An Inventory of The Goods and Chattles rights and Credits” of Isaac Lobb, “appraised by us the Subscribers”. With line-by-line price estimates for all of the late Mr. Lobb’s belongings, the inventory would have provided his beneficiaries with a record of the contents and approximate value of their newly-granted property. The other booklet, composed a decade later, documents the “Vandu” (or “vendue”, a then-common term for a public sale) of the estate of John Hibberd, and lists each item that was auctioned, its selling price, and its buyer.


A page from Lobb’s Inventory; a “heckel” is a tool for processing flax.

These practical documents, so sparing in their use of words, provide a surprisingly vivid picture of the homes and lives and work of John Hibberd and Isaac Lobb. The ‘Inventory’ progresses room by room, so reading it is almost like taking a tour of Lobb’s house: one moves from the “little back room” to the “garret” and concludes “in the shop”. In both texts, lists of hogs, horses, sheep, dozens of beehives, a “Hare Live”, and cows with charming names like “Cherry” and “Lovely” and “Reddy”, give a sense of the animal life on both farms. Listings like “4 cheese fats”, a “bag of dryed apples” or “bread toster ladle & fleshfork” suggest the foods these men ate. Other items, like “3 dung forks”, “smith tongs” and a “coopers adze” indicate the types of labor the farmers performed. These booklets also describe some possessions that seem, by modern standards, too insignificant to include in an inventory of assets, or undesirable for purchase at auction: a “lot of Onions”, a “rat trap”, “bucket & beans” and a few “old baskets”, for example.


By far the most common entry in both books is for a “lot of sundries”.

The booklets evoke both a way of life and an economic environment that are strikingly different from those prevailing in the twenty-first century United States. Today, we consume and expel stuff (from clothes to books to electronics) at such a rate that it’s almost hard to imagine a world in which there was a market for something like the second-hand bottle of molasses sold at Hibberd’s vendue. For me, these centuries-old books were a reminder to appreciate the value of even the most quotidian goods, and not take for granted the relative abundances of modern life.

Looking Back at the History of Ocular Medicine through the Albert Collection of Ophthalmology Material

One of the most compelling aspects of processing manuscript collections is the ever-present possibility of finding something unexpected: a photograph tucked between leaves of correspondence, or a Christmas greeting card inexplicably lodged in a stack of legal papers. Nevertheless, I was unprepared last week to lift a pile of photocopied journal articles and find my gaze locked with that of a disembodied human eye:

Well, a prosthetic eye. This early twentieth century glass specimen, a work of realism down to the last hair-thin blood vein, is one of many curiosities in the Dr. Daniel and Eleanor Albert collection of ophthalmology material (Ms. Coll. 1320). From sixteenth century optometric treatises (“Theses Medicae, de Ophthalmia” by Paulus Weinhart) to twenty-first century scholarship (“Eye Making: A Brief History of Artificial Eyes Made in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Surrounding Areas” by Michael Hughes), the varied contents of this collection represent numerous stages in the development of the field of ophthalmology, and significant moments in the history of medicine. A letter written by Helen Keller in 1936, after the death of her friend and teacher Anne Sullivan is heart wrenching (“it is winter in my life since the guardian angel of fifty years no longer walks by my side”). Other files are macabre, including a post-mortem photograph from 1875 of a set of short-lived quintuplets. And nearly outnumbering the manuscripts in this collection are dozens of antique ophthalmoscopes and spectacles, from diminutive Victorian eyeglasses with emerald and cobalt colored lenses to round Chinese tortoiseshell magnifiers (and, of course, the unnerving artificial eye).

In amongst these eclectic artifacts are a few items that relate to the University of Pennsylvania including a letter written by a student at the School of Medicine in 1874. Reading this letter is like eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation: it’s both amusing and confusing. Which mutual friends are the correspondents gossiping about? What was the comic key to their inside jokes? But while this letter raises questions about the correspondents’ social circle, it answers some about their academic environment. The author, “G. G. S.,” writes (jestingly, one hopes),

“I really did not have time to answer [your letter] sooner. In the evening I dissect and during the day attend lectures and study. I would send you some skin if I could, for I know that you can’t get it in Emaus*- but it might make a smell and a sensation. So if you want any you must come down here.”

The documents in the Albert collection –indeed, maybe all historic manuscripts- are transportative in some respect. They provide a glimpse into a different, and sometimes profoundly distant, time and place. Yet it can be especially fun to peer into a past not wholly unfamiliar: the letterhead of the 1874 letter by G. G. S. shows Claudia Cohen Hall, where I’ve attended many a lecture (and exactly zero nighttime dissections). Now, after nearly a century and a half, this document has resettled just steps from the site where it was created.


*The Pennsylvania town where ‘Sam,’ the recipient of this letter, lived (and which is now spelled ‘Emmaus’).

Beyond the human cost–World War I’s financial implications

Box 2, Folder 8When it comes to archival collections, I almost always fall in love because I am forced to look at something in an entirely new way … the Paul Schrecker collection of Austrian World War I ephemera is no exception.  This collection documents a Viennese man’s experience on the home front during World War I. I have not really had the opportunity to work with primary sources from the Central Powers’ perspective.  The American perspective, sure!  And with some frequency, the British and French perspective too!  This collection was an absolute treasure trove of stuff folded up and squashed into an old scrapbook called Kriegserinnerungen 1914 (War Memories).

Box 1, Folder 6Nearly every item in this collection is illuminating, but what struck me over and over again was the cost of war … not just in lives (around 40 million), which goes without saying, but the financial cost of war and the efforts Austria made to afford such a catastrophic event.  It appears to me that Schrecker, in addition to recognizing the monumental effect the Great War would have on history, was supporting his country and the war effort by purchasing items produced for those purposes.  It appears that his brother was a civilian prisoner of war held at the Alexandra Palace in London, so the need to support the war effort was not only patriotic, but also personal.

Box 1, Folder 5As I began working with the collection, I noticed that a number of items were issued by Rotes Kreuz, Kriegshilfsbüro, Kriegsfürsorgeamt) (the Red Cross, the War Support Office, and the War Welfare Office).  According to my research online, the War Welfare Office was established in 1914 to “alleviate the plight of war victims – soldiers and surviving families,” (Wikiversity).  The organization sold postcards (between 2000 and 2500) a few of which are in this collection among a larger selection of postcards.  The War Welfare Office postcards in this collection (numbers 9, 10, 11, 143, 145, 149, 150, 234, 502, 542, 547, and two unnumbered) document battle scenes, military leaders, Franz Joseph, and patriotic images.

Box 1, Folder 9This collection also contains some absolutely amazing bookplates and a book mark issued by the Red Cross, the War Support Office, and the War Welfare Office.  We have fifteen bookplates, but none of my research comes up with more than two in any one other collection, so I cannot be certain if we have a full set.  Artists Karl Sterrer, Alfred Offner, Hans Maria Glatz, and Richard Moser created dramatic and sometimes disturbing images.

Box 1, Folder 7In addition to publications memorializing World War I that were published before the war was over (probably sold to bolster funds) and numerous subscription documents and requests for donations, the collection contains ration cards dating from 1915 until 1922.  Bread and flour, milk, sugar, and coffee were rationed throughout the war, but tobacco appears to have been rationed even after the war with one card from 1919 and another from 1922.  A fascinating (and confusing) document shows the hoops jumped through to claim a pair of shoes!

Despite his loyalty to his country during the Great War and its aftermath, with the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, Schrecker, a Jewish professor and a philosopher, was dismissed from his position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin 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.  He taught in New York and at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore before coming to Penn in 1950 where he remained until his retirement in 1960.



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).


Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (

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).


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!


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.



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

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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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.”


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.


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.


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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