Being sick, English style

The congested head, the hacking cough, the sore, sore throat … we have all suffered through the common cold.  May I suggest Syrup of Squills?  Or perhaps Dr. King’s Pectoral Balsam?  We recently acquired a collection of English pharmaceutical labels from four chemist shops all located at 32 High Street, in Emsworth, England, which operated from the 1890s to the 1930s.  The August 24, 1895 Chemist and Druggist reports that Alfred Mumford purchased Mr. Edwin Stubb’s business at High Street, in Emsworth; in 1904, Mumford retired, selling his business to H.J. Carr and Co.; in 1924, Harry J. Carr died; and by 1925, W.T. Slatter was in business at 32 High Street.  It is unclear how long Slatter was in possession of the business before H. Densem became the owner.

Carr and Slatter both sold solutions for the common cold.  If you were suffering when Harry J. Carr was the pharmaceutical chemist, he probably would have sold you Syrup of Squills which was used for easing a cough.  By the time that Slatter was in business, you would have been sold “Dr. King’s Pectoral Balsam,” which was described as “A safe and speedy cure for Coughs, Colds, Bronchitis, Asthma, Pleurisy, Shortness of Breath, Hoarseness, Sore Throat, and all Affections of the Chest and Lungs.”  Around the same time period, chemist shops sold “The Ruby Cough Mixture” for coughs, colds and sore throats.  The list of ingredients (which includes vinegar of squills) scarily lists “tinct. of Camphor (Poison).”

If you had a kid and were worried about “Wind, Griping, or Stomach-ache,” you might have given them H. Densem’s “Children’s Soothing Mixture, which you will be relieved to know was free of opium or, for that matter, “anything injurious.”  Whew. According to my research for this collection, and specifically Ray Church, the number of chemists and druggists increased “from something over 10,000 to more than 40,000,” from 1865 to 1905, as a result of a variety of factors including national advertising for patent or proprietary medicines, increased transportation, and “the growing number of wholesaler-manufacturers who, by expanding the supply and range of ingredients, facilitated retailers’ ability to make up their own preparations,” (Church, Roy. “The British Market for Medicine in the late Nineteenth Century: The Innovative Impact of S M Burrows & Co.,” Medical History. Volume 49, Pages 281-298, 2005).

“Motion in the Brain & Action in the Heart”: Treating Lovesickness from the Lectures of Dr. Benjamin Rush

The Benjamin Rush lecture notes (Ms. Coll. 225) is a collection of notebooks kept by medical students at the University of Pennsylvania between roughly 1783 and 1810. These documents present readers with that era’s most advanced understandings of medical theory, and reflect the highest quality of medical education available in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century America. The careful, handwritten notes faithfully transcribe the words of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a socially prominent and professionally revered physician who taught courses in Chemistry, the “Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Practice” and the “Theory and Practice of Medicine” at the University from 1769 to 1813. The notebooks describe topics ranging from anatomy to epidemiology, as well as the causes, symptoms and treatments for dozens of medical conditions including rheumatism, asthma, gonorrhea, cancer, ring worm, scurvy, ulcers, tetanus, morning sickness, malaria and… love.

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Douleur ou pas de douleur–it was your choice!

One of the things that I love about archival collections (and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that there are many) is how connected I am to the history that shaped our lives today.  Occasionally, I am nostalgic (until I remember the lack of plumbing), but I am NEVER nostalgic when I work with medical collections and especially dental collections.  I recently worked with a small collection of French dental ephemera and was, as always, surprised by how much the field of dentistry has advanced over the last 100 years.

This collections consists largely of advertisements for dental offices (or cabinets dentaire) in France.  Most of the them advertised American dentists or American methods and bragged about all sort of new methods and drugs.  I was most entertained by the ones that offered patients the choice between pain-free and, presumably, pain-filled procedures. The real question was how much was a pain-free experience worth?  Because one did have to pay extra for it!

What sorts of services were available for a patient?  Just a few are nettoyage de la bouche (cleaning the mouth), extractions sans douleur (painless extractions), reconstitution des dents cassés (fixing broken teeth), obturations (fillings), disparition de la carie (removing decay), aurifications & opérations métalliques (capping teeth), soins préventifs (preventive care), plombage (sealing), and couronnes dentaires artificielles (crowns).  Gold caps could be made quickly and without any suffering!   Painless extractions by a very effective and inoffensive procedure! Teeth filled by a new procedure!

Be aware that beauty WAS important … not just the science and medicine behind these awesome new and if, you were willing to shell out the extra francs, painless procedures.  The Union Dentaire chose to highlight Les Dents Odontalines (possibly a brand of denture?) which were advertised as the most beautiful and the most solid that exist as well as being useful for health and beauty.  A few other dental offices used a fair and smiling lady on their brochures, no doubt as a little extra incentive.

Come explore this fun collection and perhaps next time you go to the dentist, you can inquire as to how much less your procedure will cost if you go for the pain-filled experience!

SAVE THE DATE: Kislak Center’s Annual Archives Month Philly Event : October 16

Defying Convention: Audacious Women in the Kislak Center Collections

Dorothy Searle photograph album, 1914-1917, Ms. Coll. 848

Women have always challenged the world’s expectations of them and the Kislak Center’s Special Collections Processing Center has the proof. Meet the adventurous, globetrotting women who have explored continents, settled in new lands, and made history. From the 15th century to the present, our collections show women as scientists, activists, teachers, explorers, writers, patriots, and healers whose efforts to change the world have inspired countless generations of women. 

The Special Collections Processing Center reveals written and visual accounts of extraordinary, independent women who were determined to forge their own paths.  We welcome you for a one evening show-and-tell during Archives Month to see our rare books and manuscripts chronicling the exploits, adventures and mishaps of these extraordinary women. Join us on Tuesday, October 16th from 5 to 6:30 at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts in the Class of 78 Pavilion (6th floor of the Van Pelt Library).

Please bring photo ID to enter the Van Pelt Library!

The Fabulous Whites

By early 20th century American standards, Frank, Mary, and Doris White were a remarkably adventurous family. In 1925, when less than .5 percent of the American population travelled overseas—and the majority of those who did travelled exclusively to Europe—the White family embarked on a grand tour of staggering proportions. Setting sail from San Francisco, they travelled by boat to Hawaii, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, the Middle East, and, finally, Italy. And all this when Doris was only ten years old.

Perhaps more important than the sheer novelty of the White family’s journey was the spirit in which they engaged with it. In our collection of the Doris White family papers, the Kislak Center is lucky enough to have not only extensive photo documentation of the trip (some with distinctive early colorization), but also Frank White’s careful notes on the reverse of each photograph, which demonstrate his keen interest in cultural habits. It’s hard to imagine the average American tourist of the time having an interest in the mealtime procedure of a boat crew outside Sri Lanka, for example, much less the kind of pragmatic (if slightly Eurocentric) assessment Frank White provides here. It’s true; using banana leaves saves on dishwashing!

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IMG-1454At other times, one can detect a note of confusion in Frank’s explanations, as with this description of riding around in a rickshaw. Perhaps, if given the choice, the Whites would have chosen other transportation accommodations? And yet the accompanying note is conciliatory enough. As one would expect from the rare American family travelling across Asia, the Whites were always willing to be accommodating.

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As the journey wore on, however, a certain amount of travel fatigue began to set in. Frank White was less excited about riding a small donkey than he was about riding in a rickshaw, and he was less than happy about the sheer amount of beggars crowding the holy sites in Jerusalem. Perhaps, considering the unorthodox itinerary the Whites were pursuing, some burnout was to be expected.

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However, despite occasional misgivings at some of the less enjoyable parts of the journey, the White family seems to have maintained their interest in the people they met. Their guide in Egypt, Abdu Mohamed, asked for this posed picture, which Frank later sent to him, establishing a correspondence. Clearly the man had left an impression on Frank. “[H]e could look right through you and tell you all you did[…]”

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Unfortunately, our collection here at Kislak contains no reflections by the family on the effect of this momentous trip—but it does contain photographic accounts of later trips by Doris White, the family daughter, who one imagines must have been inspired by this formative journey. Indeed, Doris enrolled in the Kansas City National Training School, which trained missionaries—and was, based on photographic evidence from the collection, a lively and popular student.

Later, when Doris set out on trips of her own, her family’s intrepid spirit and ability to slip easily into native custom were on full display in these photo albums of her trips through California and Mexico in the late 1940s. While North American travel was certainly much more common than the sort of trip she and her family had taken in the 1920s, the idea of an unmarried female traveler was still a novel one. It was one thing for Frank White to travel the globe with his family in tow, and another thing for his daughter to don a Sombrero and Mexican garb.

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Doris White wouldn’t stay single forever. Shortly after her trip to Mexico, she married Richard Ischinger. Is he the man she’s sitting with on this shot taken atop a rocky promontory? Not according to the back of the photo, which identifies him as “J. Whitman Evans.”

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Although marriage was in her future, Doris wasn’t waiting around for it to appear. She was 33 by the time she married, and—thanks to her family and to her own sense of adventure—had already experienced more of the world than most American women could have hoped to see.

Taken together, the White family were fascinating outliers: an example of early 20th century American travelers who stepped outside of their usual scripts, whether of gender, culture, or national origin, and participated in experiences totally foreign to most of their countrymen. And, as a result, these family photographs are a completely surprising series of documents, showing the limits of contemporary possibilities for American lives.

Ma, Mama, Mother, Mumsie, Mrs. Biddle, and Cousin Maria

Despite the prominence of the Biddle men in Philadelphia history, the Biddle family papers are dominated by the Biddle women, and in particular, Biddle mothers.  In typical mother fashion, these mamas kept track of their families, had enough clout that their teenage sons (and grown-up sons) wrote daily letters, and demanded ever more news!  What was extremely fun about this collection was glimpsing the relationships between mothers, their children, their own mothers, and their in-laws.

Biddle Family Tree

This collections seems to be anchored by the marriage of Julia Biddle and Arthur Biddle–yes, two Biddles–in 1880.  The resulting family tree is a sight to behold.  Arthur and Julia shared great-grandparents (Clement (1740-1814) and Rebekah Cornell (1755-1831) Biddle) and their grandfathers were brothers.  As with many old families, there were lots more discoveries of “close family relations” to find.

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Sex (Mis)education: the Jay A. Gertzman research collection on censorship

After the Comstock Act (named after famed anti-obscenity crusader Anthony Comstock) was passed in 1873, it became illegal to send any material deemed “obscene” through the U.S. Postal Service. Comstock, from his position as a special agent for the U.S.P.S., became a one-man arbiter of whether a given piece of material was or was not appropriate for transportation through the mails. Comstock was a conservative New England fundamentalist who saw evidence of sin in almost everything, from the obvious (contraception) to the less obvious (dime store novels for teenagers). He also censored any material which dealt explicitly with sex education.

From the Act’s inception, reformers petitioned for its removal. They attacked the Act on several fronts. Why was the opinion of one man (Comstock) sufficient to decide whether something was or was not “obscene?” Why should the private decisions of married people to purchase contraception be subject to invasive action by the government? And why should educational material concerning human sexuality be deemed obscene, if its intent wasn’t prurient, but instructional?

The question of intent makes this last question particularly complicated. This month, as I processed the Jay A. Gertzman research collection on censorship, a research collection focused on the prosecution of “obscene” literature, these complications came into stark relief. Because we live in a time in which censorship laws are significantly more relaxed than they were in the beginning of the 20th century—and because the Comstock Laws were also used for more sweeping repressive measures, like restricting the sale of contraception—it can tempting to view the battle over obscenity as a battle between virtuous free-speech advocates and fear-mongers. In such a narrative, Comstock’s obsession with prurience silenced many decades’ worth of common-sense sex education.

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A Scrapbook, Two Families, Two Murdered Presidents, and Other Animals: A Riddle From the Charlotte Cushman Club Records

In 1870, children’s writer and translator Henry William Dulcken – best known in England for his translations of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories – published in London and New York an educational book titled Animal Life all the World Over: With Remarks On the Trees and Plants of Various Regions. As the title suggests, the book describes the aspect and life of the fauna from the four corners of the earth, with the help of a gallery of splendid hand-colored illustrations depicting animals, plants, and the landscape in which they live.

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The first page of the copy of Henry William Dulcken’s Animal Life All the World Over held by the Kislak Center for Special Collections. A dry flower, probably included in the volume by its previous owners, can be seen on the left.

All this, of course, was done from the perspective of a man writing from the metropole of the most powerful colonial empire of the time, just a few years after Charles Darwin had presented his evolutionary theory to the world with his On the Origins of the Species. One, then, should not be surprised to find references to the glorious Kings and Queens of Western Europe, and to read at the same time hopeful passages about the “happy time when… among the benighted people” of Central Africa “the knowledge of the [Christian] truth shall have penetrated.” We can tell many things about the founding values of a society from the way its youth are educated, and in this sense, Dulcken’s book is a valuable witness of the Victorian past.

Almost a century and a half later, the book is not so easy to find of the shelves of American and European libraries. But the only copy of it held by the University of Pennsylvania, now part of the Charlotte Cushman Club records, is truly unique, because it tells us as much about its owner (or its owners) as it does about its content.

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A page from the scrapbook. What appears to be an autograph by Edwin Forrest can be seen in the bottom part of the page.

Sometime at the end of the nineteenth century (we don’t know precisely when), somebody (we don’t know exactly who) turned her/his copy of Dulcken’s book into a scrapbook. The gatherings that formed the original book, all of which are still present, were separated, reshuffled, and then rebound in a new volume also including a few photographs, and several clippings of disparate subjects, but especially of theater reviews, poems, proverbs, jokes, and obituaries.

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The scrapbook as it appears today

These added pages include oddities and precious souvenirs, such as an engraving depicting Chicago after the great fire of 1871, a seemingly original autograph by legendary actor Edwin Forrest, and a macabre “bouquet of game” with dead birds of any kind. Two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield – both assassinated – are remembered by poems written in their honor at the time of their death.

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“A bouquet of game” included in the scrapbook

 

Identifying the author and the owners of the scrapbook is a challenging endeavor. A possible hint comes from an obituary pasted in the first pages of the volume, next to a group of poems in honor of President Garfield. The person being mourned is Aurilla B. Drew, born in 1800 in Providence, Rhode Island, and died in Philadelphia at the age of 87. Over the clipping, an unknown hand specifies that Aurilla was “great grandma Drew.” Did the book belong to a descendant of Aurilla? It is hard to say, although the last name Drew constantly recurs in the scrapbook, mostly in connection with a certain I. N. (or J. N.) Drew, an actor member of the successful Richmond and Von Boyle Comedy Company. He could have been Isaac Newton Drew, one of the eleven children of Aurilla Drew (whose maiden name was Aurilla Virginia Bartlett) who died while traveling to Washington, D. C. in 1899, as also reported by a clipping found at the end of the scrapbook. It is certain that did not belong to another Drew family also mentioned in the scrapbook, that of John Drew (1827-1862), an actor from Ireland and father-in-law of Maurice Barrymore, himself an actor and patriarch of a famous acting family.

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Obituary for “great grandma Drew” Aurilla B. Drew, 1886

One of the youngest members of the Barrymore family, actress Drew Barrymore, carries in her first and last name the weight of 150 years of American theater.

 

And what about the obsession with murdered presidents? Theater has a lot to do with at least one of them, Abraham Lincoln, who was famously – and very theatrically – killed by actor John Wilkes Booth while he was attending a play at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington D. C. History has it that after Booth fatally shot Lincoln and fled the theater, actress Laura Keene, who was on stage, reached the presidential box and cradled Lincoln’s head on her lap. The blood of the dying president stained the dress of the actress, making it a relic to be exposed in museums – it is currently on display at the National Museum of American History – or to be photographed and reproduced in the form of postcards and other printed mementos. One such postcard, printed in Springfield, Illinois, was placed between the pages of the scrapbook along with some unrelated clippings, and what seems to have been a red rose.

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Postcard with a picture of Laura Keene’s blood-stained dress

In hindsight, this memorabilia (and, all in all, the scrapbook itself) seem to have to do with a certain idea of theater as a dignified, “high” art, one that clearly began to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century – and of which the Charlotte Cushman Club, the institution that donated the scrapbook to the Kislak Center, was direct expression until a few decades ago. Perhaps Dulcken’s volume, after having served its function as a children’s book, was deemed not too important by its owner, and was subsequently used as a mere support to document with an almost religious zeal not only the career of many women and men of theater (Isaac Newton Drew and John Wilkes Booth, but also Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, and Laura Keene), but maybe also the genealogy of a whole family.

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A caption handwritten in the back pastedown of the scrapbook

And yet, a caption penciled on the back pastedown of the book reveals that the scrapbook – animals, dead presidents, blood, and all – may have, after all, been used (assembled? inherited?) by a young reader: “my name is Molly, herein 12 years old. February 24th, 1920.” The circle is closed: a children’s book transformed into adult matter returns to childhood again.

 

 

Far from home … and mail at the pace of a snail

In November of 1897, Lieutenant Sidney Veale Byland shipped out from London to India where he spent the last year of his short life. Without telephone service, emails, text messages, etc., he communicated with his father, a physician in England, by frequently writing letters which included extremely candid descriptions of the world around him and which grew increasingly cranky, as time went on. The letters are quite fun to read today–but I wonder what it must have been like for his father to read while living some 4,000 miles away, knowing that his son was struggling and that he was essentially unreachable.

At the beginning of his time away, Byland’s unique style is evident: he describes an acquaintance as “puffed with pride being the son of his father and the most standoffish haw haw of a little owl that I have ever had the misfortune to meet,” (February 2, 1898). He describes his work and the difficulties of working with accounts that have been mismanaged, but for the most part, he is good humored, even while acknowledging that his work is “hopeless,” (April 30, 1898). In one of his letters, he mentions to his father that “as you know, I have always been of a slap-dash, happy-go-luck disposition” (December 12, 1898).

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“In Labor I Find Peace”: The Works and Notes of a Mysterious Italian-American Composer Find A New Home at Penn

If you are a music historian and have never heard of F. Antonio Di Cecco (1888-1954), don’t worry: neither had the author of this post until a few months ago. After all, why should you know him? Contemporary newspapers reveal very little about his work as a composer and conductor, and when journalists did write something about his music, their opinions were not too flattering.

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A review of a concert featuring music by Antonio Di Cecco, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 15, 1924

A concert featuring Di Cecco’s ballet ”Primavera Italica (“Italian Spring”) and a few others of his works was organized in Philadelphia in October 1924 by a committee of Italians living in the city. “Mr. Di Cecco has real musical feeling,” wrote a reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “but it seemed at times as if he were groping after expression rather than finding it…he is not a born melodist; his themes lack spontaneity.” Overall, the journalist concluded, “it must be said that the composer’s bent seems to be elegiac,’ at times “rather monotonously so.”

Yet, despite his apparently unimpressive record, there are very good reasons to believe that Di Cecco’s works, now part of the F. Antonio Di Cecco collection of manuscripts scores and notebooks, may be of great historical value today. Apart from a few notable exceptions – for example, Gian Carlo Menotti, along with the younger John Corigliano and David Del Tredici – the life and music of Italian-American composers remains today largely unstudied. This is especially true for the crucial period around the turn of the 19thcentury, when millions of impoverished Italians came to the United States to look for better job opportunities. Between the 1880s and the early 1920s, Italians were often viewed with suspicion by both Americans and members of other ethnic communities. These were the years in which the stereotype of the loud, uncultured, ever-gesticulating, mafia-affiliated Italian was born—a stereotype that finds more than an echo in many entertainment products, from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather to the unlikely mobsters of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.


To help each other in a foreign-speaking, hostile land, Italians began to form ethnic businesses, associations, and institutions, including hospitals and schools. Di Cecco’s concert of October 1924, for example, was organized by a special committee named after the composer — the “Di Cecco Music Committee” – to raise funds in support of an Italian hospital in South Philadelphia.

Di Cecco was a child of the great migration wave of the late 19thcentury. His parents, Vincenzo Di Cecco and Giacinta Tavani, moved to the U.S. from the little village of Fara S. Antonio, in Northern Abruzzo, in 1896, and relocated in the Philadelphia area with their sons Antonio (then barely 8 years old), Raffaele, and Nicola. Two daughters, Mary and Susie, were born in the U.S. The family was probably of humble origins, but over the years managed to consolidate their position. In 1921, Mary Di Cecco and her husband Eugene DiFilippo bought a store in Toughkenamon, in the Western suburbs of Philadelphia, and lived there until the end of their lives.

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Mary Di Cecco DiFilippo (Antonio Di Cecco’s sister) and her son Eugenio DiFilippo jr. photographed in their general store in Toughkenamon, PA. From Keith Craig, New Garden Township (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

As for Antonio, his life seems to have been more eventful. He served in the Italian military during World War I, and remained in his native country until 1923. He appears to have studied composition at the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna—a fact that his compatriots from overseas did not fail to remark on in their enthusiastic reviews of everything meant to symbolize Italian creative genius in the eyes of Americans.

In those years, Antonio lived in between two worlds. He was in Philadelphia from 1923 to 1924, and then back in Italy until 1930. For a historian, it is tempting to reflect onto Antonio’s works the years of hardship of his own diasporic existence as well as the reality of a whole community living away from its country of origin. For example, ”Primavera Italica” is opened by a “chorus of the exiled,” whose Italian text (to be sung “nostalgically”) laments the pain of being separated from the beloved motherland: “I long for the land of the Sun/ My heart is broken in pain.” The libretto of the ballet is inspired by the struggles that ancient Italians suffered during the early Roman Republic, when they had to resist repeated invasions of the peninsula by foreign people. Yet, it took all that suffering to make Rome thrive and triumph.

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“Lavorando trovo pace” (“In labor I find peace”), the motto that Di Cecco

The myth of imperial Rome, along with assertions from the libretto such as “Italian people do not give up: they fight back and suffer,” eerily resounds with the political rhetoric of the Fascist regime, which came into power only one year after the libretto was completed. It is easy to see, however, how this imagery also resounded with the feelings and hopes of many among those who left Italy to find new home in the United States. Di Cecco’s motto “In labor I find peace,” written in Italian or Latin on the front of many of his scores, suggests that even his own work as a composer could be seen as a way to heal from homesickness.

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Antonio Di Cecco’s notes on music instrumentation, from one of his notebook

After having completed his three-act opera “Caino” (“Cain”) at the end of the 1920s, Antonio’s work was influenced by the political climate of the New Deal. Mostly tonal and traditional in style, Di Cecco’s music perfectly fit the ideal of artistic accessibility of the time, but his hymn “Lead Us On, Oh President” (1934), including a direct mention in the lyrics of President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself, probably showed more patriotic zeal than it should have had. For another composition, the orchestral “Philarmonia Ouverture” (1939), Di Cecco had a professional copyist prepare duplicates of separate instrumental parts, probably in view of a public performance of this work—no traces of which, however, could be found in the contemporary press.

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A passage of the full score of Di Cecco’s opera “Caino”, act I

After that, silence. No more music is available for the last decades of Di Cecco’s life. Perhaps the end of the Federal Music Project in 1939, and the decline of other programs connected with the Work Progress Administration, led Antonio to gradually abandon composition? And after all, to what extent had Antonio’s music been successful up to then? Was he able to earn a living from music, or was music just something he cultivated along with other professional activities? Nothing certain is known about any of this.

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A textbook once belonged to Di Cecco, probably from his years at the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, Italy

Since Antonio’s death in 1954, it seems that he had been completely forgotten as a musician, until his descendants, Mary Di Cecco’s children Aida DiFilippo Stainback and Ralph Leonard DiFilippo, donated his scores to Penn in March 2018. Among these manuscripts are six orchestral works, two marches, four vocal and choral works, two piano works, one opera, and a ballet, for a total of 16 complete compositions. Music is elusive, and these works, like any other music ever composed in history, say probably much more about their creator than we will ever be able to grasp (or, perhaps, we will grasp much more than the artist originally intended to say). Both as music and as material objects, however, these scores open the door to multiple research alleys: from the history of emotions, to (Italian) immigration, to New Deal art, and to national and diasporic identity. Jut as Di Cecco struggled to find a home during all his life, the scores themselves needed to find a new home to allow, for others, new intellectual adventures.