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

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

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

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

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

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

Telegram

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

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

Who wants to see the photos from my trip?

Muffle that groan! The Penn Libraries acquired several dozen photograph albums, many of which I had the luck to process, and am happy to say beat hands down many of the slideshows I have been subjected to. The common thread in these albums is India from the late 1800’s to the second World War, most often created by military servicemen and women from Great Britain or the United States, but also by some missionaries and other travelers.

Each album gave a window into the specific experiences of ordinary individuals in a foreign and exotic country. It was amusing to see how well-chronicled tourist attractions were. Almost every album contained the obligatory shot of the Taj Mahal and other local sights. More adventurous albums contained photos of religious rituals like the cremation of human remains on ghats, or the everyday hard work of earning a living as best as possible. Only a few of these visitors were compelled to capture the extreme poverty and afflictions of the poorest Indians.

Some albums solely focused on the military installation or company around that individual and others were clearly photos taken on leave, enjoying vacation trips to Bombay or the mountains. The sporting activities, from polo in private clubs to military “Tug-of-War” teams to hunting expeditions, also appear regularly.

While no one album stood out particularly to me, the story that the collective body of these albums told was a wonderful opportunity to glimpse life in colonial India spanning decades before the Partition, as told by men and women, poor and rich, religious or not, military and civilian.

India tug of war

The “Tug of War” team from the 2nd highlanders Light Infantry album (1896), Ms. Coll. 1160

I couldn’t help but wonder how it would compare to a trip I would take today. Has photography changed? Has social media impacted what we photograph? #tajmahal has over 580,000 posts on Instagram – and of course includes selfies, something not found anywhere in the albums. You can’t count the number of hashtags on Facebook, but there seems to be an endless supply of Taj Mahal photos there too. I’m sure I’d be guilty of adding mine…