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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Archiving for Artists: Tips from the Etta Winigrad Papers, 1968-2016

I recently processed the Etta Winigrad papers, 1968-2016, a collection of slides and photographs of artwork, correspondence, and exhibition records belonging to Philadelphia-based sculptor, and University of Pennsylvania graduate, Etta Winigrad.

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In addition to her amazing art (see above), I was struck by how many things Etta Winigrad did right in terms of organizing and collecting her papers. I mentioned this to a couple of my friends who are visual artists and they immediately asked me about best practices for storage of their own papers. While a short blog post absolutely cannot replace a proper workshop, class, or consultation with an experienced archivist, I thought it might be helpful to outline a few basic tips for artists organizing their archives. Please note that these tips are intended for straightforward archival collections such as loose papers and notebooks, and not for complex artworks in various mediums and materials which are better preserved in museum settings by art conservators and archivists. This blog post only addresses paper files and not born-digital files or files on media such as DVDs, CDs, VHS, etc. (See the end of the post for additional resources.)

First off, you may be thinking to yourself: I’m an active artist, but I don’t think that I’m going to be famous enough for anyone to want to collect my archives! Without going too deeply into this issue, I will say that there may be an interest in your archives for their historical/research value, even if you’re not the next Andy Warhol. For instance, the university you attended may be interested in acquiring your archives for your connection to their school. And, at the very least, you may want to leave your archives to a member of your family as a piece of family history.

Archiving for Artists: A Few Basic Tips

Location
Keep your papers out of direct sunlight and in an area of relatively low temperature and humidity. Basements, garages, and hot attics are not good locations for your papers. Dust, moisture, and bugs/pests will damage your papers, so you’ll want to store them in containers of some sort (see next item).

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Storage containers
If you prefer to pile your papers, use storage boxes to organize them. If you prefer to file your papers, a filing cabinet may be best for you. Whatever container you use—whether it’s a metal file cabinet, a cardboard Banker’s box, or a plastic tub, to offer a few examples—make sure that your files are protected from dust, moisture, and bugs/pests. You may have heard about acid-free folders and boxes, which archivists use for storage, but these boxes are pricey and only necessary for long-term storage. If you donate/sell your archives to an institution, the archivist who processes your collection will transfer everything into acid-free housing, so you shouldn’t worry about this for short-term storage. As most artists already know (hello, flat files!) it’s best to store paper flat, rather than rolled, and never folded, as the folds will damage the paper and, over time, the paper will begin to tear at the folds.

Dates and Labels
Whether you place your papers in folders or boxes, do make a habit of dating the folders, boxes, or pieces of paper themselves. Etta Winigrad, as an example, was very diligent about dating the files containing her exhibition records, which was immensely helpful in processing her papers. Remember also to date your sketchbooks and notebooks (not necessarily for every sketch or note, but intermittently throughout the book is helpful, especially since they usually cover a large span of time). Labels that identify your artwork or the exhibition that the artwork was shown in are also very helpful for your future archivist. Etta Winigrad has many slides in her collection, for instance, and the slide boxes are labeled with the titles of the artworks shown on the slides (see above).

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Fasteners

Adhesive tape is the enemy. Over time, the glue on the tape will become yellow and gummy, marking the papers, and the tape itself will become brittle. Paper clips and staples are also problematic, as they damage papers both mechanically and by rusting over time. Processing archivists are usually working with backlogs and do not have time to remove staples and paper clips from every collection and, even if they do, the staples and paper clips will have already damaged the papers to some extent. Plastic paperclips, while they avoid the rust issue, can also damage the papers they fasten. Rubber bands rot over time and may attach to the papers as they disintegrate. The solution? There is no simple one. If you can go without a fastener, you should, especially if the papers are already grouped together in a folder. And fasteners should never go on top of original artworks like photographs or drawings.

LOCKSS
You may have heard of LOCKSS, or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. If your work appears in an exhibition, keep more than one copy of the exhibition flyer or program, as Etta Winigrad did. Keeping more than one copy ensures that, if something happens to one of the copies, another is available as back-up. As another great example from the Etta Winigrad collection, one of Winigrad’s essays appears in an issue of Ceramics Monthly. One copy of the magazine, while still legible, has water damage, but she kept another copy of the same magazine issue, as well as a printout of the article. (Keeping multiple copies is especially important for digital files which, again, we won’t go into here.)

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For more in-depth information, see the resources below. You may also inquire at a local archives, historical association, or library with archives and special collections holdings to see if an archivist, librarian, or curator can meet with you to answer your questions.

Thanks for your great example, Etta Winigrad! This collection is now open to researchers.

 

Resources for Collection and Preservation

Library of Congress – Audio-Visual Preservation:
https://www.loc.gov/avconservation/

Library of Congress – Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper:
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/paper.html

Library of Congress – Digital Preservation:
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/

National Archives – How to Preserve Family Papers and Artifacts:
https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives

Northeast Document Conservation Center – Preservation:
https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

Smithsonian Institution Archives – Preservation:
https://siarchives.si.edu/services/preservation

“Getting Fat and Lazy” in World War I France

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Stationed overseas in small towns surrounding Dijon, France, David Rosenblum was far from the front line during World War I. Rosenblum described his time in the United States military from 1918 to 1919 as being “just like a vacation and a little hard work.” In his letters home, he talks about girls and ‘grub,’ about missing home, his odd jobs, and stories of his military experience.

The David Rosenblum World War I letters offer an alternative perspective of overseas service during WWI, far from the frequently recounted horrors of the front line. Rosenblum was stationed outside of Dijon, France which was inland of the southernmost portion of the front line between France and the German Reich by 1918, when he began his service. Working for the Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop around 200 kilometers behind enemy lines, Rosenblum assembled Fords and lead pipes.

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He went on to work as a stenographer, joking, “Our hero, undaunted braves the storm and fights on for liberty. Yes, verily he fights on pounding this cute little typewriter…It seemeth strange that the government can’t find more use for our hero other than the delicate task of typing.” Rosenblum frequently poked fun at his role in the war, with a full understanding that his conditions were quite pleasant (and un-heroic) compared to his fellow soldiers fighting on the front lines. Finally, in these letters, he discusses his time as an official military entertainer, playing piano for soldiers, nurses, and officers in various Red Cross locations in France, and of course, “getting fat and lazy.”

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Rosenblum’s humor is evident throughout the letters. He takes every opportunity to gently poke fun at the French and their pace of life. On October 11, 1918, he informed his family of the attitudes towards the French among the soldiers, “Oh: yes, we call the French frogs and France is called Frog country and the boys are not one bit keen about the frogs. Golly, but they are slow. How they ever stopped Germany is a mystery. We do more in a minute than the frogs in a month…they are slow and way behind the times; the engines and railroads and conveniences are medieval.” He continues the use of the term frog until his departure from France. Despite his joking, Rosenblum had clear affinity for certain aspects of French culture. He frequently notes the charm of the towns and expresses a liking for the children who were enamored with the American soldiers.

r1But, above all else, in his letters Rosenblum expresses a love for the ‘grub’ and girls of France. Of the 26 letters in this collection, every single one mentions food. Be it the underwhelming food of the station, or his wonderful culinary experiences in town, Rosenblum was focused on the grub. He frequently talked about the bread, cheese, wine and jam that he would purchase or be gifted in the towns, and about the restaurants he would visit with his military buddies. He also mentions the French women several times, most fondly, the one who made him an omelet and the several that offered him bread, cheese, wine, jam and sweets. He also recounts the French love of American cigarettes, and how this love helped him initiate conversation with French women, “I saw a beautiful looking young lady looking out the window. She smiled friendly, everyone does – perhaps it’s the U.S. uniform or the thought of a cigarette – I guess the latter.”

Rosenblum’s experience was far from the heroic and glorified stories of boys being sent overseas and returning as weathered men. Rosenblum retains a sense of innocence. During the war, he is well fed, works in a protected and comfortable environment, and has plenty of opportunity for enjoyment. That being said, this collection offers vibrant description of small-town France and its people in the early 20th century, first-hand reports of the morale of soldiers at the end of World War I, and a look into the charming and humorous attitude of a young man, like many others, who was thrust into a less-frequently recounted military experience.

“I felt more than a little used” – Don Stacy’s Correspondence with Vilém Flusser, 1973-1976

Donald L. Stacy (1925-2008), known primarily as Don Stacy, was an artist and art teacher born in New Jersey, who lived and worked for most of his life in New York City. Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), pictured below– a Czech-born philosopher who lived for a long period in Sao Paulo, and later in France– wrote on media and technology, and on communication and artistic production, among other concepts. Flusser’s writings are extremely influential and are still being enthusiastically taken up today.

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The correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser in this collection takes place primarily between 1973 and 1976 (Don Stacy correspondence with Vilém Flusser, Ms. Coll. 1261).


Though Stacy and Flusser discuss many fascinating concepts surrounding philosophy, art, and creativity, I found myself most compelled by an exchange early on in their correspondence in 1974. Stacy wrote to Flusser to express his displeasure at their first in-person encounter; Flusser had asked Stacy to set up contacts for him in New York City so that he could give lectures, and Stacy revealed in his letter dated May 1, 1974, that he felt used by Flusser as a result of Flusser’s time in New York City.

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Ms. Coll. 1261, Box 1, Folder 2

The two men work through this disagreement, with Stacy appealing to Flusser on an emotional level and Flusser maintaining an intellectual stance—one wonders if their different approaches are as a result of their respective cultures—and go on to share further ideas regarding art and philosophy and develop their friendship over the years to come.

Another aspect of the collection that struck me was the self-conscious nature of the correspondence, in that the two men were clearly aware that their letters would be collected one day. The letters from Stacy in this collection are unsent draft copies and, in his last letter to Flusser (dated March 7, 1983), Stacy notes “You could publish a book – letter to an unknown artist!” (For additional resources relating to the correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser, please see the Berlin Flusser Archives and the Brazil Flusser Archives.)

Though Stacy avoided the spotlight and expressed to Flusser his disdain at networking, it’s a shame that he’s not more well-known today. It’s telling of his good nature, for instance, that Stacy never corrected Flusser, who persisted on calling him “Dan” instead of “Don” throughout their correspondence. The dynamic, playful, and curious mind of this “unknown artist” lives on in these letters.

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Woodcut by Don Stacy, printed in Main Currents in Modern Thought, 1966 (Box 1, Folder 7)

This collection is now open to researchers.

 

The Archaeological Expeditions of Elizabeth T. Miller

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This tourist map is included in one of the photo albums of the Miller papers.

“Central & Middle America are quite a way from S. Africa, but with Europe and most of the world in such a state of devastation & turmoil from the war, I can think of no place more desirable to visit at the present time.”

Thus wrote Elizabeth Turner Miller about her 1940 travels to Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Despite Miller’s acknowledgement of massive geopolitical upheaval, the documentation of her voyage is almost completely devoid of other references to politics or current events. Instead Miller seems to have embraced the literal and metaphorical distance her journey afforded her from the rest of the world. Travelling through dense jungles for weeks at a time with very limited external communication, Miller immersed herself in the natural beauty and ancient history of the Yucatan.

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Miller on horseback, in front of a Mayan stele.

Miller was twenty-nine years old, living in Baltimore, and working as a commercial artist when she was presented with what she described as “the rare privilege of going on a semi-archaeological expedition.” Her cousin, sculptor and archaeologist Benjamin Turner Kurtz, was making a tour of Mayan ruins in Guatemala and Honduras, and asked Miller to come along. In January of 1940, Miller set out for Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and from there travelled to Quirigua and Copan, where she and Kurtz photographed ancient stelae. Miller relished the three weeks she spent abroad, and leapt at the chance to return to Central America on a similar expedition, this time to Mexico in the summer of 1940.

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Miller, and a few of her friends. Afraid of poisonous snakes, the group rarely removed their tall boots.

The Elizabeth T. Miller papers (Ms. coll. 1265), part of the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness, document this trip through written accounts and hundreds of photographs later arranged into albums. Miller travelled through Mexico with Kurtz, the photographer John Henry Coon, and the acclaimed operatic singer Carolyn Long. The group visited many of the major Mayan sites in the area, including Labna, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Monte Alban.

Transportation through the tropical forests of the Yucatan was often laborious. Miller wrote that on some roads, the travellers’ Ford Model T (apparently the only vehicle suited to the terrain) ran with “one wheel over the precipice.” Regarding driving in the lowlands, Miller explained that “bracing ourselves to keep from falling out was a full time occupation except when we were busy removing strange specimens of bugs from our persons, which showered upon us every time a car brushed against the limb of a tree.” Still, not all of Miller and her companions’ interactions with nature involved “strange specimens of bugs” or the aggressive feral bulls that made their homes in the cool shade of ruined temples. It was with “amazement and delight” that one day, while driving through the forest, she and her friends realized the “patches of color in the road ahead of us about a foot square and chartreuse in hue” were actually masses of “tiny, yellow-green and white butterflies,” so plentiful when they took flight that “without exaggeration there were times when we could not see where we were going.”

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Miller, her three travelling companions, a mechanic, two guides and a translator fit all of their camping and photographic equipment into two cars.

After several weeks in the Yucatan, Miller returned to Baltimore, where she would spend the rest of her life (after marrying Svend Peuleche around 1949, she changed her name to Elizabeth M. Peuleche). It is not entirely evident why Miller chose to spend 1940 travelling through Central America. As an artist, she deeply admired the exquisite Mayan sculpture and architecture of the region, which may have served as inspiration for some of her own work. Additionally, she maintained an interest in archaeology and was well informed about local investigations. It seems most likely to me, however, that Miller undertook this voyage for its own sake, to learn about and appreciate the beauty of unfamiliar surroundings in the true spirit of exploration.

Shall We Help to Crush Tyranny? The Frederick P. Lee Collection of World War I Ephemera

The Frederick P. Lee collection of World War I ephemera includes a number of eye-catching materials in a variety of formats that depict Britain’s role in WWI. Processing the collection, I was immediately struck by these World War I recruiting posters. The first one, “We will uphold the priceless gem of liberty … shall we help to crush tyranny?” shows a soldier standing at attention, framed by two Union Jacks, and was printed in Montreal by Gazette Printing Co., Limited, sometime between 1914 and 1918, according to the Library of Congress record.

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Print Coll. 33, Drawer 55, Folder 9

The second poster, “Heroes of St. Julien and Festubert … shall we follow their example?,” shows a soldier in profile against a Union Jack and refers to the 1915 battles of St. Julien (part of the Second Battle of Ypres during which chlorine gas was used on the Allies) and Festubert (part of the Second Battle of Artois). This poster was also printed in Montreal by Gazette Printing Co., Limited, likely in 1916, according to the Library of Congress record.

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Print Coll. 33, Drawer 55, Folder 9

What do we know about Frederick P. Lee? Well, he was an insurance agent, according to census records, and was born in 1880, in England. He immigrated to the United States in 1912 and lived in Santa Monica, California, with his wife, Olive, and son, Denis. A number of materials in this collection, including pamphlets and magazines, are stamped with the phrase, “With Compliments of Frederick P. Lee, Fellow of Royal Colonial Institute.” The collection includes serials and newspapers, such as Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, pamphlets reporting on the British war effort, and postcards depicting admirals of the British navy—see the portraits below by Francis Dodd (Print Coll. 33, Box 1, Folder 5).

The admiral on the bottom right looks familiar … Michael Fassbender, is that you?!

Another fascinating item included in the collection is an issue of The Wiper’s Times, a trench newspaper published by British soldiers fighting in the Ypres Salient during World War I. The soldiers used a salvaged printing press to print the newspaper, which featured a lot of humor and wordplay. It’s a fascinating story—there was a BBC series about it if you’re interested in learning more! The Penn Libraries has a complete collection of The Wiper’s Times which can be found here.

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Print Coll. 33, Box 1, Folder 6

As most of the items in this collection were printed in England and concern England’s role in the war, one can surmise that Frederick P. Lee– while he was too old to have fought in the war, unless he volunteered– was interested in following his motherland’s work from abroad and encouraging US entry into the war. This collection is now open to researchers.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

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

 

This seventh day of February

335 years ago today, William Penn sold 500 acres of land in Pennsylvania to John Kirton.

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The date was recorded as 1681, but as the new year in England at that time began on March 25, this is actually February 1682 according to the present calendar system.  The deed recording this transaction is one of seven documents gathered in a volume some time after 1916 as examples of the signatures of four generations of the family of William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania.  The deed has William Penn’s own signature and seal.

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The volume, a recent gift from Caroline F. Schimmel, is now Ms. Codex 1809 at the Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts and Special Collections.  The signers of the other documents range from William Penn’s father in 1667 to one of his grandsons in 1787.  Along with six men of the Penn family appears Hannah Callowhill Penn, William Penn’s second wife.  At the end of William’s life, Hannah conducted his business from England and continued to manage his estate and their affairs between his death in 1718 and hers in 1726.  Her manuscript in the collection is a business letter, entirely in her hand, written to James Logan in Philadelphia in May 1718, a few months before William’s death.

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To conclude this post with her closing words, “Which is the present needfull from Thy Loving Friend H. Penn.”

Revelations of Character in the Kanji Dwarkadas Papers

Although Kanji Dwarkadas, an Indian writer, social reformer and politician is not especially well known today, his papers (Ms. Coll. 1239) offer a fascinating insight into the personal lives of some of the most important public figures in India’s twentieth century history. Dwarkadas was born in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1892 and became involved in local and national politics by his early twenties. As a member of the Indian Home Rule movement and as general secretary of the 1918 Indian National Congress, Dwarkadas was closely acquainted with Annie Besant, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and other important politicians and activists of his time. The Dwarkadas papers reveal nuances of character in these individuals through ample correspondence, notes, transcribed conversations or interviews, and diary entries, which Dwarkadas referred to as his “personal observations.”

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This publication was released by the New York branch of the India Home Rule League. From: https://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/american-roots-of-the-indian-independence-movement/?_r=0

The material in this collection that relates to public figures owes some of its insightfulness to the fact that Dwarkadas maintained close friendships with many of his peers in politics. This was certainly true of his relationship with writer and activist Annie Besant. The two seem to have been in agreement over nearly all matters of politics, and both shared (mostly in private correspondence) frustration over the actions of Mahatma Gandhi. In a letter dated February 5, 1922, Besant complained that “Gandhi always flinches at the critical moment. His bold words are mere bluff.” In an undated letter, she claimed “things are very bad here, thanks to Gandhi, who spreads disregard of law, and causes much trouble.” This somewhat unpopular opinion was one voiced by Dwarkadas as well: a brief biography of him written around 1960 notes that his “critical book” published on Gandhi was “the only one of its kind.” Indeed, Dwarkadas’ political identity and involvement seems to have been so integrated with Besant’s that after her death in 1933 he retired from politics and focused his energies on social activism and labor reform.

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This 1921 poster advertises a meeting of Gandhi’s Noncooperation movement, which both Besant and Dwarkadas disapproved of. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Noncooperation_khilafat1921.gif

Besant and Dwarkadas’ relationship, however, extended considerably beyond matters of politics. Dwarkadas considered Besant his adoptive mother, and she in turn treated him and his brother, Jamnadas, as sons. In her letters to Kanji, Besant addresses him as “my dear son” and usually signs off, “with love, Mother.” Though they contain a good deal of business information, Besant’s letters to Dwarkadas are supportive and thoughtful. So much so, perhaps, that in a letter to Kanji and Jamnadas written in 1919, Besant exclaimed, “I fear that I pour out on you all a great deal too much affection!”

This photograph of Annie Besant was taken in 1922, at which time she was working with Kanji Dwarkadas.

This photograph of Annie Besant was taken in 1922, at which time she was working with Kanji Dwarkadas. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant#/media/File:Annie_Besant.001.jpg

It may have simply been Besant’s nature to take on a somewhat maternal role towards her younger friends and acquaintances. Around 1910, Besant, a devout theosophist, adopted Jiddu Krishnamurti, a teenager whom she and others believed to be the new World Teacher of the religion (Krishnamurti renounced this role two decades later). Besant’s impulse to care for others, even near strangers, is illustrated in a letter she sent to Dwarkadas in 1929. In this note, she asks Dwarkadas to secure a ticket on a steamer from Bombay to Trieste “for a young Hungarian who has been wandering about India.” She explains that she would do so herself, but for the fact that “he is a fruitarian and only seems to eat cocoanuts, almonds and bananas” and she would be unable to “supply him with fruit enough for such a journey” from her current location in Chennai.

This kind and generous quality of Besant’s is interesting in its own right, but especially so in light of events earlier in her life. Married to Frank Besant in 1867 when she was twenty years old, Annie had two children, but was unhappy in her marriage and legally separated from her husband in 1873. She was able to maintain custody over her daughter for some time, but had to give up the right to see her children after she was prosecuted in 1877 for publishing a book on birth control. One may wonder, then, if Besant’s motherly attitude towards Dwarkadas and others was influenced by her separation from her biological children decades prior.

A confluence of factors makes the Dwarkadas papers particularly revealing of the personalities of the individuals mentioned therein. On the one hand, Dwarkadas was amicable with most of his colleagues in the government, and very close with a handful; his letters strike a tone of friendship more than professional collaboration. In addition, the very nature of the types of materials present –private correspondence, journal entries, confidential reports- is more intimate than, for example, a newspaper profile. As a result, these documents provide a perspective on some Indian political figures of the last century, which is different from that found in their published works or public speeches.

Text Me Back! The Cunnington and Lee Family Papers

Have you ever texted someone and then waited … waited … waited for a response? Navigating relationships in the age of texting can cause a lot of uncertainty, impatience, and disappointment. How dare your romantic interest like that photo on Instagram or comment on that Facebook post without having responded to that meme you just sent?! I was reminded that the frustration of communication between romantic partners is not new when I recently processed the Cunnington and Lee family papers, 1813-1866.

William P. Cunnington (1804-1871) led the orchestra at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and traveled with orchestras in Baltimore and New York. While on an extended business trip to Baltimore, he wrote to his wife, Jane Cook Cunnington (1808-1872), and very freely described his displeasure at the infrequency of her letters (and of the topics on which she wrote).

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Ms. Coll. 1258, Box 1, Folder 3

Baltimore
Nov 25, 1846

My dear Jane—

I scarcely know whether to feel more distressed or incensed at your conduct. I have been here nearly two weeks & not one word from you. I wrote to you last Friday night & sent the letter by Rink on Saturday morning. I wrote as much as it was possible for me to do situated as I was. I begged of you to sit down on Sunday & write to me & I felt as certain of having a letter on Monday as I did of seeing the daylight. I counted the hours for the office to open but I only experienced the bitter disappointment. I have been to the office every day…. I could scarcely believe my own senses when told again this morning & again this afternoon that there was no letter.

Wow—tell us how you really feel, Willy! William and Jane did have three children—William H., Oldine, and Francis—so it’s possible that Jane’s infrequent missives were a result of taking care of the children and not because she was trying to “distress” or “incense” her rather impatient husband.

Another highlight of this collection is an example of a crossed letter. A crossed, or cross-hatched, letter contains two sets of writing on top of each other at right angles. This practice was done in the nineteenth century to save paper, as well as postal charges. (Even after paper became more readily available, some people practiced crossed writing as a show of thrift.) As you can see from the example, it’s a challenge to read such crossed letters!

cunnington-crosshatch

Ms. Coll. 1258, Drawer 55

The Cunnington and Lee family papers also contain the papers of antiquarian William H. Cunnington (1754-1810) of Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England. In addition to the family letters—which are concerned with issues such issues of daily life as health, the settling of estates, and travel—the collection contains poems written by, and apparently copied by, the families. The poems are primarily concerned with love and death (is there anything else?).

This collection is now open for researchers. After perusing the collection, perhaps you will be moved to show more patience toward your paramours than William showed poor Jane.