“Not Included in the Photograph”: Staff Underrepresentation in the Archives and How We Must Combat It (Part One)

This is the first part of a two-part post by Carlina Green ‘20.

On March 8th 1955, around 900 members of the Davidson College community gathered in front of Chambers for a group picture. Yet, a notable population was missing; as archivist Jan Blodgett notes, “college staff are not included in the photograph.”

Photograph of 845 students and 63 Davidson faculty in front of Chambers in March 1955.
Photograph of 845 students and 63 Davidson faculty in March 1955.

Their absence from the photo constitutes what Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot refers to as a historical silence. Trouillot theorizes:

Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives), the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).[1]

Michel-Rolph Trouillot

In this instance, the historical silence occurred at the moment of fact creation, when the photo was taken. Silences involving staff frequently occur at the moment of fact creation, which means that they are underrepresented in portrayals of college life. A quick search of The Davidsonian reveals another example. While articles like this one discuss some staff members’ experiences as Davidson employees, very few document their life stories. Since 2016, only one “Staff Spotlight” has been published in the College newspaper—an interview with former Campus Police Chief Sigler. He is only one of over one hundred 21st century staff members whose stories should be recorded, from physical plant staff to dining services employees, from the counselors at Center for Student Health and Well-Being to the career advisors, from the registrars to the van drivers who take students to the airport. To what extent are their lives and experiences being documented in the sources that the College community creates?

My name is Carlina Green and I just graduated from Davidson while in quarantine, earning a B.A. in Latin American Studies with a history minor. While working at the Archives & Special Collections in my last semester, I had hoped to create sources documenting staff members’ lives and experiences by interviewing Vail Commons employees but was unable to do so because of COVID-19. A collection of their life stories would have been a valuable addition to the Archives, where, as JEC Project archivist Jessica Cottle stated, “we largely understand staff experiences through the lenses of their work life.” Because I was unable to create a collection of staff interviews myself during my time at Davidson, I am writing a call to action today.


[1] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, 20th anniversary edition,Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2015, 26.

Guest Blogger: Meggie Lasher, Research and Academic Engagement Librarian, “Do I Need to Wear White Gloves?: A story of a new ASCC enthusiast”

I was once entirely intimidated by working in archives and with special collections

Yes, it’s true! A lot of this anxiety came from my preconceived notions about what goes on in these spaces and collections. For example, the whole concept of special and rare. Just hearing those words made me feel I would be a burden and make a mess. When I thought of working with special collections and archival material, I dreamed up visions of pencils and white gloves, no beverages, sub zero temperatures, and perpetual shushing. Special and rare meant exclusionary and breakable. Fortunately, this apprehension has not only subsided, but has since been entirely replaced by an overwhelming enthusiasm for archives and special collections. I owe this metamorphosis entirely to Sharon Byrd and DebbieLee Landi of the Archives, Special Collections, and Community department at the Library. I’d like to share this experience to help others shed their apprehension and expand their intellectual (and often entertaining) experiences.

Mount Holyoke College Archives

My past experiences with archives began as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College, a women’s college in Western Massachusetts. Also founded in 1837, the college has an extensively documented and rich history. Underneath one of the oldest buildings on campus was this hobbit house of a space. Round windows with light, long wooden tables, and smiling people! Who knew?! I had a special introduction to working with archival materials that may be familiar to a few readers: crafternoon! The head archivist led afternoon activities with themed crafts throughout the semester. My favorite was by far creating postcards from copies of old photographs, course catalogs, and other campus publications. Participating in these crafternoons helped me feel part of the community and the history of the college.  While in graduate school at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, I met many future archivists. Often in awe of their dedication, I found their program of study to be demanding. The Archives and Records Management track was rigorous and precise. They had to follow a specific course sequence to prepare them for their field. I got to dabble in all the arts of library science. (Yes, there was a class in the art of a good book recommendation!)

During a summer seminar in London, I met future archivists from other institutions. They could barely contain their excitement during one afternoon excursion to the Metropolitan Archives of London. Yes, they hold records for the entire city and its history. Some of the special collections librarians there set up a special room of materials for us to peruse. Sitting on a folding table was the census for the city of London in 1092.  Yep, just sitting there! We could touch it! It was probably a foot high and I remember an interesting odor… This experience on a spring afternoon in London fueled those feelings of wonder and awe that can only come from those special things that once intimidated me.

Meggie Lasher with London’s Big Ben as the background

Sharon and DebbieLee have since secured my now positive associations with Archives and Special Collections. We worked as a team to seize a unique opportunity. We opened the Rare Book Room to an ANT 101 course last spring. Some students had visited before, but for many others it was their first time in the RBR as we fondly call it. We created a session that introduced anthropological research methods through the resources at the library. Then, we gave students a hands-on experience unpacking a mystery from campus history. Just like archaeologists (a branch of anthropology), they handled objects found under an old building on campus. They got to share what they examined: a toothbrush, a piece of porcelain from a doll’s face, even bones! What could have been a point and click database demonstration became an interactive, exploratory session. 

Librarians and archivists love to share what we do in the classroom. I wrote a lesson plan that outlined what we did as a submission to one of my favorite series instruction “cookbooks” from the American College and Research Libraries branch of the American Libraries Association. There was a call for “recipes” for the Teaching in Archives and Special Collections Cookbook edition. While our submission was not accepted, I still view our collaboration as successful. I’m grateful that I get to work with such inspiring and open minded colleagues. Sharon and DebbieLee demonstrate how archives and special collections are for everyone, white gloves optional.

Hensley, Merinda, et al. “Analyzing Archival Intelligence: A Collaboration Between Library Instruction and Archives.” Communications in Information Literacy, vol. 8, no. 1, July 2014, 

doi:10.15760/comminfolit.2014.8.1.155.

Mhcarchives. “‘Day in the Library Life’ Challenge image from the Archives Desk,” Instagram, 3 Nov. 2015.
                 

www.instagram.com/p/9pPYj7sxhj/

Other images is author’s own.

Guest Blogger: Dr. Annie Merrill, Thomson Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of English, “Dr. H. W. Marbourg, Botanizer”

Dr. Annie Merrill is currently writing a book on popular botany in the 19th-century United States.

In my research, I’ve studied hundreds of nineteenth-century American flower books, from tiny flower language dictionaries to lavishly illustrated folios of US flora.  Their contents have much to tell us about scientific education, natural history, and botanical popular culture at that time.  An individual book’s unique features such as inscriptions and marginalia also convey fascinating stories.

Title page, 1855 edition of Wood’s Class Book of Botany

Hezekiah Wilson Marbourg was born in 1833 in Indiana county, Pennsylvania.  He attended Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg) and received an M.D. from Jefferson Medical College in 1858 (Pennsylvania College 361).  During the Civil War, he was stationed on Roanoke Island as a surgeon for the U.S. Army (Portrait and Biographical Record 150).  As the copious marginalia and pressed specimens in his copy of Wood’s Class-Book indicate, he was also one of the many amateur botanists in the 19thcentury US.

Example of Marbourg’s marginalia: “Rhoanoke Island N.C. May 5 1865. Beautiful.”

His marginalia all appear in the Flora section – a precursor to today’s field guides – and note a date and location, occasionally with a brief comment like “beautiful” or “pretty.”  The earliest one is dated April 25, 1857: as a medical student, he likely “botanized” for recreation, recording the plants he encountered.  He didn’t go far afield to find them; locations from 1857-58 include Logan Square and Franklin Square in Philadelphia and the Cement Quarry in Johnstown, PA.

Marbourg returned to Johnstown after the war and remarried in 1872, to Esther Nippes, also an M.D.  They established a joint medical practice, and in the 1870s and 1880s Marbourg still noted a few plants in his Class-Book.  The last marginalium appears next to the entry on the Smiling Wake-Robin (Trillium erythrocarpum), which he found on May 2, 1888 at the Cambria Furnaces, part of Johnstown’s largest steel and iron works.  Marbourg died a year later in the Great Johnstown Flood of May, 1889 (Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia 142).

A wide range of people were amateur botanists in the nineteenth century, and most of them “never wrote anything, or made a cent from botany, or joined an institution, or subscribed to a botanically inclined periodical” (Keeney 11).  But at least one of them took the time to record his findings in his book, and that book still speaks to us today.

A close up of a newspaper

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One of the plants that Marbourg pressed in his copy of Wood’s Class-Book.

References:

Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Cambria County, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia: Union Publishing, 1896.

Keeney, Elizabeth.  The Botanizers: Amateur Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Pennsylvania College Alumni Association.  General Report Made to the Alumni Association of Pennsylvania College.  Gettysburg: H. C. Neinstedt, 1860.

Portrait and Biographical Record of the State of Colorado.  Chicago: Chapman, 1899.

Wood, Alphonso.  Class-Book of Botany.  Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1855.

Guest blogger: Alexa Torchynowycz, Systems and Cataloging Librarian, “Measured in millimeters: Miniature books at Davidson”

The other day I read an article about “micro” apartments being built in Charlotte’s South End. The square footage of these space conscious dwellings start at under 400 square feet. For some perspective, that’s only slightly larger than a double occupancy dorm room on campus. As a fan of shows like “Tiny House Hunters” and “Container Homes” I am very familiar and fascinated by this mini mode of living. However, when imagining my life in downsized digs I always have one concern: where would I put all my books? Right now bookshelves cover at least half of my walls and those shelves are at (and over) capacity. I have books stashed in cabinets, closets, and boxes. Needless to say I have a storage problem already. So what is a bibliophile with a penchant for tiny homes to do? Enter the miniature book!

Miniature books are typically defined as books that are smaller than 4 inches tall. They can have all the same elements as non-mini books such as hardback covers, illustrations, chapters, etc., just on a smaller scale. Davidson’s Library has several examples of miniature books in its collection and many more were recently added thanks to a donation from the estate of Wilbur L. Fugate (class of 1934). Titles from the donation include a mini “Merchant of Venice”, a diminutive dictionary, and a bitty biography of the composer Handel just to name a few.

From left to right: Miniature “The merchant of Venice” with a full sized copy of “The tempest” for size comparison ; “The little Webster” dictionary is less than 2 inches tall ; a biography of Handel from the Petite Library series.

There is some debate as to when the miniature book originated and for what purpose. Some say the first miniature books appeared during the Middle Ages. These were predominately Bibles, hymnals, and devotional literature used for daily religious practice. Some of these books were so small they became known as “thumb Bibles.” The smallest miniature book in the library’s collection is a Bible which barely measures 1.5 inches tall. That Bible is not from the Middle Ages, but the library’s earliest miniature book was printed in 1808. “Wisdom in miniature” describes itself as a “collection of sentences divine and moral” for young gentlemen and ladies on piety, obedience, calm behavior, and other basic tenets of early 19th century society.

Because small books could be produced en masse and easily distributed, many were used for sales and advertising purposes. “The pocket carpet bag,” much like its namesake, was inexpensive and easy to travel with. Although there are some stories, most of the pages are filled with advertisements for goods and services. And since their small size made them more travelable, mini books became popular souvenirs. Want to remember your trip to D.C.? Then grab “Washington in Miniature” and marvel at the petite pictures of the capital’s major sites.

On the left: “Washington in miniature” with drawings by artists from the Rochon Hoover Studio. On the right: “The pocket carpet bag” with full color illustration on the front cover.


So will miniature books solve all our storage problems? Probably not. But they are just so much fun to look at! To view the books mentioned in this post, or any of the other miniature books in the library’s collection, email archives@davidson.edu to make an appointment.  Let’s hope that this COVID-19 quarantine ends soon!

Guest Blogger: Tracey Hagan on “The Ladies Missionary Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Written by Tracey Hagan, a student-athlete senior psychology major from Ridgefield, CT. Student in History 306: Women and Gender in US History from to 1870.  

Davidson College Presbyterian Church (DCPC) began as a small congregation of six women, two male elders, Robert Hall Morrison as the leader, and fifteen Davidson students in 1837.1 As the Church grew, it became more than just a place for worship. The Church developed into a social institution for its members, specifically for the women of the church.  

The Ladies Missionary Society Constitution was created in 1885. In its first year, Mrs. Dupuy was nominated president, Mrs. Knox was vice president, and Mrs. Vinson was secretary. The constitution contains a preamble and twelve articles. The articles provide the details about what was to happen at each meeting of the society. According to the constitution, they were to meet at a minimum on a monthly basis to discuss selected articles about other missionary works in America, Asia, and Europe or Africa. Generally, the meetings consisted of attendance, reading, singing, general business discussion, and the president’s appointment of the readers for the next meeting.  

First page of the constitution of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 1885. Establishes the name and officer positions of the society.
First page of the constitution of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 1885.

This three-page constitution alone shows that the white women of Davidson in 1885 had a much more hands on role in DCPC than what was expected from the Presbyterian Church norms of that era. Women’s roles in the Presbyterian Church in general were limited to leading Sunday schools, attracting new members, running women’s prayer meetings and church organizations, furnishing the church and raising her own family.2 Women were not to be active members in the church, or hold any leadership positions.3 Despite the General Assembly’s restrictions on women’s roles within the church, the Davidson women formed this society.  

They wrote the constitution and ran this entire group on their own. In this way, this society gave them a position of power outside of the traditional roles and domestic sphere to which the Church and societal traditions confined them. The society also served as a form of group education. The members were essentially given homework assignments to learn about other missionary works across the country, and across continents. In this way, this society served to empower its members. It is important to note that not all the women of the town were members. As outlined article 8 in the constitution, members were strongly encouraged to give monthly donations to the society. This monetary element of the society may have made it so only affluent white women in Davidson could be members. While this society certainly gave white women in Davidson some more power in their lives, it did not extend this opportunity to all the women of the town.  

Works Cited:

[1] Beaty, Mary D. A History of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church . Davidson College Presbyterian Church, n.d.

[2] Boyd, Lois A. “Presbyterian Ministers’ Wives—A Nineteenth-Century Portrait.” Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985) 59, no. 1 (1981): 3-17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23328155.

[3] Brackenridge, R. Douglas, and Lois A. Boyd. “United Presbyterian Policy on Women and the Church—an Historical Overview.” Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985) 59, no. 3 (1981): 383-407. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23328186.

Guest Blogger: Tommy Bohannon on “A Girl of the Seventies – Domestic Labor and Women at Davidson College in the Mid-Late 19th Century”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Tommy Bohannon is a senior Biology major and History minor at Davidson College. He is extremely excited about working on this archival research in order to better grasp an understanding of the role women have played in Davidson’s history.

In order to contextualize the history of Davidson College in the mid-19th century, it is important to recognize that the town was very small and relatively isolated from populated urban locations. The relationship between the town and the college was extremely strong, and societal traditions were largely based on family units. When visitors came into town, they stayed with the families that lived there – no hotels were available to accommodate their presence. Women in these families were expected to be gracious hosts, and extensive pressure was put upon them to entertain visitors despite a general lack of resources to do so. 

The A Girl of the Seventies article in the Davidson College archives goes into detail about how women were forced to play the role of the hospitable mother and wife in the years between 1869-1875. According to the record, “there was no market,” but rather “one or two small groceries supplied the heavier items of food,” with items like “eggs, butter, chickens, fresh beef, mutton, or pork,” coming from local individuals with strong personal ties.1 To have a grand feast was a special occasion, one that women were pressured into perfecting. In one instance, a local woman apologized to a visiting Governor, believing that her food was “too simple for such a distinguished guest.” The pressure on Davidson women to prepare extravagant feasts for visitors was extremely high, especially given the lack of options in terms of food sources.  

Newspaper article titled "A Girl of the Seventies." The article goes into detail about dinner parties and lodgings provided by women in the town of Davidson in the late 19th century.

Article written by Lucy Phillips Russell and found in the DC0157s manuscript collection in the Davidson College Archives. The content describes conditions in Davidson in the late 19th century.

Guests were treated with the utmost respect and were typically welcomed even if they appeared unannounced. In one circumstance where a woman was noted to have objected unexpected guests, she told her husband that all she had for them to eat was “some mush and milk,” to which they obliged and ate with gusto.2 Visitors were polite, likely understanding the difficulties that women encountered in trying to assemble grand dinners. These difficulties were normalized in the town of Davidson, and women were expected to fulfill the role of being gracious hosts without complaining. 

This source will be extremely useful in noting the domestic labor of women in the town of Davidson. With descriptions of the roles that women played in acquiring food products and producing them for their families and occasional visitors, this source would inform my research on the role that women played in food production in the Antebellum South. The norm of women being subjected to domestic labor was extremely ingrained in the history of Davidson College, and this source is great for recognizing the extent of that subjugation. 

Works Cited:

“A Girl of the Seventies.” DC0157s Lucy Phillips Russell Collection. Davidson College Archives.

Guest Blogger: Tindall Adams on “Trailblazing Teachers: Davidson’s First Female Teacher”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Tindall Adams is a current sophomore and prospective English major (with a History minor). She is involved with other organizations on campus such as Warner Hall and Planned Parenthood Generation Action.  

Today, a little over half of the professors at Davidson College are female; however, this hasn’t always been the case. In 1896, Eulalia Cornelius became the first female teacher at Davidson.1 Although she was not a regular, full-time faculty member, Cornelius was evidently well-regarded by the Davidson community for her musical talents and teaching.  

As a female teacher in the 1890s, Eulalia Cornelius was teaching during a unique and influential period of education history. In the late nineteenth century, society began to promote the notion that teaching functioned as an “extension of mothering”.2 Additionally, religious institutions also began to promote the idea that women were the “moral sex” in order to increase female church attendance and support of the church.3 During this period, the main function of school was to teach children moral values and women’s expected role was to raise children. Therefore, society increasingly viewed teaching as a natural and acceptable job for women.4 Specifically in North Carolina, where Eulalia Cornelius taught, southern Progressive men advocated for the higher education of women because they believed it could help spur economic progress in the post-Civil War South.5  

Program for a public recital led by Eulalia Cornelius. Features duets, solos, and instrumental performances.
Recital program from the manuscript collection, DC0324s.

The Davidson Archives currently has a program from a music recital given by Cornelius. Eulalia Cornelius not only gave private voice lessons to Davidson students, but to women who lived in the town as well. Therefore, all of her students were most likely white and were in a fairly well-off financial position if they could afford private music lessons. The program is nicely printed, and has a least ten different “pupils” performing at the recital. While there is no mention of this March 21, 1898 recital in newspapers from the time, there is mention of a Eulalia Cornelius recital in 1897 in the Statesville Record and Landmark newspaper. The paper highly praises Cornelius’ skills as a teacher.

Newspaper clipping from the Statesville Record and Landmark. Describes Eulalia Cornelius' music lessons.
Excerpt from the Statesville Record and Landmark, March 19, 1897. Courtesy of the North Carolina Collection.

There is no mention of Cornelius in any Davidson College Faculty minutes from the late nineteenth century. Therefore, this recital program, which could initially seem trivial, brings light to an important part of women’s history at Davidson. Although she was not a full-time employee, Cornelius was one of the first women to teach at Davidson. This recital sheet, supplemented by many other newspaper articles praising her skills, gives her recognition of her success as a teacher.  

Works Cited:

Cott, Nancy F. “Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850.” Signs 4, no. 2 (1978): 219-236. 

Davidson Archives. “Active and Benevolent Ladies: A Short History of Women at Davidson College.” Davidson College Library. Accessed November 8, 2019. http://library.davidson.edu/archives/women/#staff

Hoffman, Nancy. “‘Inquiring after the Schoolmarm’: Problems of Historical Research on Female Teachers.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 22, no. 1/2 (1994): 104–18. 

Laud, Leslie E. “Moral Education In America: 1600s-1800s.” The Journal of Education 179, no. 2 (1997): 1-10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42741719

McCandless, Amy Thompson. “Progressivism and the Higher Education of Southern Women.” The North Carolina Historical Review 70, no. 3 (1993): 302–25. 

Guest Blogger: Stefan Moskowitz on “Music Education in the Town of Davidson”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

My name is Stefan Moskowitz, a senior at Davidson who is majoring in Latin American Studies and minoring in Gender & Sexuality Studies. Some of my other academic interests include US history and the factors that influence the culture of different regions of the country. 

Music education became an important part of the cultural fabric of the town of Davidson and other nearby towns such as Statesville, during the latter part of the 19th century, particularly among the upper classes. Aside from being used as a class marker to separate the upper classes from everyone else, music education also provided a source of entertainment on weekends to several residents of the area. This type of education became prevalent in the public’s consciousness to the extent that local media outlets were actively providing coverage of recitals featuring the performances of college-aged students and residents. 

Excerpt from the Statesville Record and Landmark dated March 19, 1897. The text describes the coeducational music program led by Miss Eulalia Cornelius.
Excerpt from the Statesville Record and Landmark, March 19, 1897. Courtesy of the North Carolina Collection.

The content in the image above focuses on a coeducational music program run by Miss Eulalia Cornelius, a resident of Statesville at the time the article was published in March of 1897. Some time after graduating from the conservatories of Boston and Berlin, she taught music classes in several towns of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, including in the town of Davidson. A local correspondent of the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper reported on one of the live performances that took place on a Saturday night at the residence of Mr. Stirewalt, presumably a wealthy figure in the area. The report attributed the positive reception of the performance to Ms. Cornelius’s skills as a teacher in addition to her success during her studies at the Boston and Berlin conservatories. 

Ms. Cornelius’s program was available to both Davidson students (which at the time of the publication were entirely white and male) and to young women of the village, which was rather progressive for the time these events took place. However, it is likely that young women’s participation in the program helped form the intersection between their gender identity and class position, which was only true regarding the latter in the case of men. One reason for why the study of music was associated with femininity at the time is because it was not seen as a practical means to a career path. This was intensified by the fact that most professional musicians at the time were men, given that conservatories were prejudicial to admitting women into their programs. 

Works Cited:

“Miss Cornelius Music School at Davidson.” Statesville Record and Landmark Statesville, North Carolina (March 19, 1987) p. 3 (Downloaded on October 1, 2019). 

Guest Blogger: Sadie Harden on “Women’s Work?”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Despite popular belief, the first Davidson women did not suddenly appear on campus the day the college became co-educational. Women have always played an important part in the town formerly known as Davidson College, long before the trustees voted to allow women to enroll as degree-seeking students in 1972. The involvement of women in community life is most obviously seen in their contributions to and leadership within Davidson College Presbyterian Church, a cornerstone of campus and community social life particularly in the nineteenth century. 

Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, February 27, 1880. Members discuss meeting a Mrs. Helper's house and officer appointments.
Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, February 27, 1880. Found in manuscript collection DC023: Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Women of the Church.

One such example of women influencing and participating in communal religious life in Davidson is the Ladies Benevolent Society. Officially founded on February 27th, 1880 by a group of local church women (primarily wives of college faculty or local businessmen), the organization aimed to serve the community, largely through sewing and donating clothes.1 As recorded in the February 1880 minutes, the group would usually meet at a member’s house where attendance would be taken, the minutes of the previous meeting would be read, the sewing work would be distributed, and the next meeting time would be agreed upon.2 Most notably, those women in the society who did not receive any sewing work for the week and who were able would pay five cents to this society instead.3 

This relatively concise primary source contains clues about how women organized and wielded power within their social sphere. Within this collection of recorded meeting minutes spanning from February of 1880 to August of 1881, the women discuss finances, organizational questions, and the appointment of various women to various roles within the society. At a time where women would have been expected to remain within their separate sphere of the home while it would have been socially acceptable for men to engage in conducting business and managing finances, the women of this society were able to exercise power through organizing independently of their husbands for religious purposes.  

Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, May 7, 1880. ecretary Minnie Helper writes on May 7th, 1880, “Those who are willing will pay .05 or more if so disposed for the month of June instead of doing the work."
Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, May 7, 1880. Found in manuscript collection DC023: Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Women of the Church.

When decisions about personal finances are recorded in the Ladies Benevolent Society minutes, it is only in reference to the particular woman who is a member of the society, not mentioning husbands as a consideration. For example, Secretary Minnie Helper writes on May 7th, 1880, “Those who are willing will pay .05 or more if so disposed for the month of June instead of doing the work…”4 Though to what extent is unclear, the women of this society had influence over how money in their family was spent, and it appears they were confident enough in that influence to write it into the regulations of the Society. Additionally, this addendum points to the value of these women’s unpaid labor. The five cent donation was seen as equivalent to the sewing and garment work other women were performing for the Society, demonstrating one way the work of women functioned within the small-town economy. 

The Ladies Benevolent Society serves as an example of how women in nineteenth-century Davidson broke the mold that dictated the spheres that women of their time were expected to operate within. 

Guest Blogger: Michael McClelland on “Slavery was Present at Davidson”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Michael is a history major at Davidson College who is taking a class entitled Women & Gender in US to 1870. He has taken an interest in slavery in the region especially with how enslaved women experienced the institution.

As much as we may want to deny it, the institution of slavery existed here at Davidson and the surrounding areas. North Carolina sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War, so it should not be the biggest surprise that slavery existed in the area. While the college itself did not own slaves, many plantations in the immediate area, as well as college presidents and trustees, owned slaves.  

In digging through the archives here at Davidson College, I stumbled across a rather interesting document from the Brevard Plantation which was only a few miles from the college. A man named Franklin Brevard McDowell, a local plantation owner, wrote a biography of some of his slaves which was unique. After reading through his biographies, an enslaved woman named Cynthia stood out to me more than anyone else because McDowell referred to her as his ‘nurse’ when he was young. While we may understand ‘nurse’ as a caretaker, Cynthia was most likely McDowell’s wet nurse.  

Typescript of a letter written by Franklin Brevard McDowell describing enslaved people on his family plantation. The contents is described in the paragraph, above.
Typescript of a letter written by Franklin Brevard McDowell found in the Brevard Plantation file from manuscript collection DC058: Chalmers Davidson Plantation Files.

In a reading for our Women & Gender in US to 1870, we discussed how plantation owners exploited enslaved women for both their reproductive capabilities and their manual labor abilities.1 Wet nursing for historians proves difficult to find and identify because rarely plantations used the term ‘wet nurse’.2 Most of the time, ‘nurse’ referred to those who wet nursed. Since Davidson is in the South and was surrounded by many rather large plantations, it is conceivable that wet nursing occurred in the area. I only came across one instance of a ‘nurse,’ however, wet nursing could have been common in the Antebellum South. Since wet nursing was probably not the most talked about issue during the time period, we do not have much tangible proof of the institution. I stumbled across mine in a biography about a prominent slave owner in the region, but most historians see proof of wet nursing only in literate women’s diaries and letters.3  

Bibliography:

West, Emily and Knigh, R.J.. “Mothers’ Milk: Slavery, Wet-Nursing, and Black and White Women in the Antebellum South.” The Journal of Southern History, (2017): 37-68.