Cookies, Cards, and Cultivating Community: Gays at Penn in the ’70s, ’80s, and Beyond!

The LGBT community in the United States and at the University of Pennsylvania has come a long way since the 1970s. The Jeremy Duncan Nicholson* papers provide an illuminating snapshot of the efforts undertaken by students and faculty at Penn in the 1970s and 1980s to cultivate a vibrant gay and lesbian community on campus and in Philadephia, in which community members could fully enjoy the human and civil rights to which they were entitled. Moreover, the collection gives us a glimpse into the ways in which things have changed at Penn and in Philadelphia as well as how some things never seem to change. From my perspective as a current student, alumnus, and an active participant in campus life, including in the queer community, at Penn today, there were some very exciting and unexpected gems in this collection!

I loved this flyer from 1977 inviting incoming students to join Gays at Penn. Besides the offers of support and camaraderie, which are always necessary ingredients for building a healthy community, what stood out to me were the cookies! Having food at events is one of the surest ways of getting Penn students to come to your events. And who doesn’t love cookies?

Another thing that stood out to me was this note from Professor Ann Matter to Jeremy Duncan Nicholson from 1982. As far as we’ve come, we still sometimes have incidents involving students that we must attend to. Professor Matter was a resident faculty fellow in Van Pelt College House (now Gregory College House) when this note was written. Today, faculty fellows are still a valuable resource for students in the college houses.

In addition to the important work of faculty fellows, this note also draws my attention to changes in technology. Do you remember when you could call someone without using an area code? And when Professor Matter wrote that her phone died, she wasn’t talking about her cell phone battery dying. Technological advances have made it so that queer students can now communicate with faculty and each other at increasingly higher speeds and through several different avenues. One thing we may want to bring back, however, is the drama of referring to the repairing of your phone as a “resurrection!” (Ann Matter is a professor of religious studies.)

My favorite item from this collection is what seems to be a Gays at Penn membership card. The card is so simple against the backdrop of the complications of life as an LGBT student both in the 1970s and today. I have so many questions about this card, but I’ll only ask the most important one here: Where can I get mine?

*Jeremy Duncan Nicholson (b. 1948) was a community organizer for the gay and lesbian community at the University of Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia, from roughly 1975-1982, when he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. This collection includes material from several organizations of which Nicholson was a part, such as the Christian Association of the University of Pennsylvania (CA), the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (PLGTF), Gay Peer Counseling (GPC), Gays at Penn, and Philadelphia community health organizations, including Lavender Health and the Eromin Center.

Save the Date: From Antarctica to Zimbabwe on October 23!

As we approach autumn, catalogers in the Special Collections Processing Center turn our thoughts (with glee) to our annual Archives Month Philly Event.
This year, we are extremely excited to present:

From Antarctica to Zimbabwe:
Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices
In the words of Emily Dickinson, “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away.” But why stop at books?  Add atlases, letters, travel diaries, photo albums, sketchbooks, souvenirs, posters, ocean liner menus, and the armchair travel possibilities are endless.  Take a voyage through the far-flung geographical corners of our collections; the catalogers of the Kislak Center will be your guides!

October 23, 5 to 6:30 pm
Class of 78 Orrery Pavilion
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, sixth floor
(please bring photo id for entry into Library)
Free and Open to the Public! All are Welcome!

Back to School

Heading off to college?  You might want to take a peek at this once helpful guide for women published in Philadelphia by the John C. Winston Company in 1949.


Off to College by Suzanne Gould Emerson provided young women with helpful advice.  “In this indispensable guide book she tells you how to handle both your money and your men … how to make friends at school … how to dress …”  Social life and dating seemed the key to college life for young women in 1949 as the dust jacket flap notes there is “sage advice both on study and different types of dates (plus techniques for getting dates!).”

Wishing everyone a happy, new school year!

The above image is part of the John C. Winston Company Book Jacket Album, Ms. Coll. 1409 here at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.  The album contains approximately seventy dust jackets spanning the years from 1947 to 1955 and covers several genres.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Archival Assistant: LGBT Center Papers

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

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

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

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

A Fine Hand for Music

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

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


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Down on the Weisberger Farm

Where do booksellers go when they retire from the trade? Lawyers become consultants (ditto for doctors) and the academy has been known to accept tradespeople from all walks of life on an adjunct basis. But bookselling is not a popular college course, and the range of industries looking for freelance advice from hardened paper-traders is, so to speak, limited. Furthermore, what sort of job would be fitting for the archetypical bookseller’s personality? No other industry combines intellectual contemplation with the thrill of acquisition on such an integral, daily basis.

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A New Year Resolution from Clement Winston

There are no words to describe how much I love Clement Winston, budget analyst, artist, author, family man, and account keeper.  His papers are both informative and delightful–and happily, we have received a few additions that will be added to the collection this year.

In the meantime, for those of you who may be struggling with your new year’s resolutions as well as any left-over weight gain from the holidays, perhaps you (as I have) will take comfort in Clem’s words of wisdom.

Happy New Year, friends!

Best Wishes to Students during Finals!

Every time we step outside our office, just now, we can feel the pressure and stress on our dedicated, smart, and awesome student body as they are busily studying and preparing for their final exams and madly writing papers.

So, the catalogers of Penn’s Kislak Special Collections Processing Center send you an encouraging message (painted on silk)  from Mamie A. Jones, a young Philadelphian who we believe was probably a student at Friends’ Central School in the 1870s.  Her sketchbook holds a number of similarly beautiful drawings that she did during the early 1880s.

Good luck, students, at Penn and in schools, colleges, and universities everywhere!