Revisiting U.S. Indian Schools with the Indian Rights Association

I’m posting this on behalf of Jenna Marrone, intern for the processing of the Indian Rights Association records.

The story of Native Americans in the United States is not an unfamiliar one.  Most of us are at least somewhat aware of the complicated and tragic relationship between the U.S. government and Indian tribes throughout the country’s history.  For contemporary audiences, well-known phrases like “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and “Kill the Indian…and save the man” sound like bad dialogue from an old Western film.

Much of what we know about Native American history is shrouded in mythology.  Certainly, that’s how I felt as I began to process the Indian Rights Association (IRA) papers with Willhem Echevarria, project archivist at HSP.  My first task was to sort through boxes of loose newspaper clippings that spanned from the 1870s to the 1980s.  As I organized the clippings, I scanned through them, noting the strange evolution of public opinion on the “Indian situation” over time.  Anytime I came across a particularly offensive headline or a quirky handwritten note, I thought hopefully, “Well, maybe they’re just being ironic.  Herbert Welsh, such a kidder!”

I suppose the Enlightenment thinkers were right, however, and seeing is believing, because it wasn’t until I found visual evidence from the U.S. Indian Schools files that I began to get a clearer picture of the so-called “Indian situation.”

“Are you serious!” I exclaimed one afternoon as I flipped through a 1918 yearbook from the Carlisle Indian School.  Willhem glanced up from his desk with an are-you-working-or-are-you-playing-with-the-documents-expression.  “Look!” I said, shoving the yearbook at him.  It was open to a picture of students dressed for a theatrical production – dressed, may I add, as conquistadors and explorers, among other famous figures from history.

 

Carlisle Students dressed for a theatrical performance, 1918


“Who would make a Native American dress like Cortez?” I asked as we shook our heads over the picture.  There are many more images like this one in the collection, scattered throughout the annual reports and yearbooks for schools like the Haskell Institute, the Hampton Industrial and Agricultural School, and the Sherman Institute.  The philosophy behind these boarding schools was simple: transform young Native Americans into “good citizens” and productive members of society.  To achieve this end, Indian schools focused on teaching industrial trades to boys, while girls learned housekeeping or nursing skills.  Some children were forcibly removed from their reservations, and many students were given new Anglo names upon arrival.  While I’m sure (or rather, hope) that there were some legitimately good intentions floating around there, underneath the positivist rhetoric remains a constant intention to Anglicize the Native American population.

Carlisle Students “Before and After” – from 1909 Annual Report

So, what was the IRA’s role in the Indian school movement?  What were their intentions in lobbying for Native American rights?  And how might we measure their success?  The Indian Rights Association records contain answers to all these questions and more.   Among the surprising headlines, the occasionally appalling images, and the revealing notes lies a new story waiting to be told.

Cox Transportation Collection in the news

Last week, Cary wrote here about the end of the PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project at HSP. While she was composing that post, two local news organs were covering one of the HSP collections that the PACSCL team processed.  The Harold E. Cox transportation collection caught reporters’ attention because of an unusual stipulation from the donor.

Harold Cox originally gave the collection to the Atwater Kent Museum (now the Philadelphia History Museum) and then approved its transfer to HSP, which as a special collections library is better able to manage and provide access to the records. In his letter approving the transfer, Dr. Cox wrote that “Anyone wishing to use the Harold E. Cox Transportation Collection shall be told of the heroic efforts of Jeffrey Ray [PHM senior curator] to save the collection from destruction and how he has been a ‘living saint’ for the last 13 years and put up with not only me, but all of the crazy idiots who have wanted to use the collection. The recitation of this glorious saga shall last no less than 20 minutes and be set to verse.”

PACSCL processors Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza wrote about this letter back in March on the PACSCL processing project blog, and offered a few verses of their own composition.

Last month, two Philadelphia news outlets picked up the story. Freelance reporter Anthony Campisi wrote about the Cox collection at PlanPhilly.com, a daily news site that focuses on the built and planned environment and is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Meanwhile, WHYY radio (an NPR affiliate) broadcast an interview with Michael and Celia about the collection. (A write-up is available at WHYY’s affiliate, NewsWorks.org.)

We’re happy for the media coverage. In case anybody is wondering, we don’t literally enforce Dr. Cox’s stipulation. But Jeffrey Ray has been a good friend to HSP for years, and we’re always happy to sing his praises.

Indian Rights Association records

Work on processing the Indian Rights Association records (Collection 1523) has begun and will continue for the next three months. This is another one of the Civic Engagement collections funded by NHPRC. Since portions of the collection had been previously processed here at HSP our work will consist of arranging the part of the collection that haven’t been touched (multiple boxes of unsorted materials), integrating it to the processed portion, and creating an updated guide to the collection. To help with all this work we have the help of a wonderful intern, Jenna Marrone that comes to HSP with previous archival experience obtained with the PACSCL/CLIR project.

The Indian Rights Association records (IRA) is a very rich collection featuring materials of interest for those researching the history of Native Americans, particularly the work and lobbying done on their behalf in the nation’s capital. The IRA was founded in 1882 by Hebert Welsh and Henry S. Pancoast  with a main office in Philadelphia and a field office in Washington. The organization had two chief purposes: to protect the interests and welfare of the American Indian, and, in the association’s own words, “to bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship”. Paternalistic attitudes aside, the IRA was for the first forty years of the twentieth century the major non-governmental organization offering support and protection to Native Americans. Besides its work as a lobbying group on behalf of Native Americans, the association monitored the policies and actions of the Secretary of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Board of Indian Commissioners. They also helped create or promote legislation favorable to the Indian cause, and in some cases actively supported legal cases in both state and federal court. To spread knowledge about Native American culture and the association’s work, the IRA published many pamphlets and a serial titled Indian Truth.

Documents in the collection span form 1830 to 1986 and include correspondence, organizational records, pamphlets, annual reports, draft legislation, photographs, audio-visual materials, maps, and clippings. Also in the collection we can find materials from the Council of Indian Affairs, documents about traditional Pueblo Indian dances, and legal papers about struggles faced by the Oklahoma Indians, and papers generated by Herbert Welsh.

As a sample of the contents of the collection here’s a letter by a William Phillip Knight, asking IRA for help with a freedom of religion problem while incarcerated in Ohio in 1984.

An updated finding aid for the collection will be published in the upcoming months, though you can access the current finding aid on our website here.

Morris Milgram’s early years

While processing the business records portion of the Morris Milgram Papers I found numerous references to Milgram’s expulsion from CUNY (City College, City University of New York). But that’s all I had seen so far; vague references and comments about how the event was not only revealing of his political compromise in his early years but also a crucial point of departure. After this episode he transferred to Newark University (today part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey), graduated, was recruited by the Workers Defense League, and eventually embarked in a trailblazing career as developer of integrated housing. However, once I started arranging his personal and family papers I found many documents about his activism and participation on CUNY’s Student Council. Among these we have several items he kept on the famous incident that provoked his dismissal from CUNY. I’ll let the documents tell the story.

All images are part of the Morris Milgram Papers (#2167). This collection is currently being processed and a finding aid will be available by the end of Fall 2o11. Thanks to HSP Staff member Ashley Harper for the English translation of the message to the Italian students.

The Conventional and Unconventional Values of the Jasper Yeates Papers

I’m posting this on behalf of Michael Fiorelli.  Last week he completed a summer archival internship at HSP, and we thank him for all his hard work.  Cary.

I am a History Graduate Student at Villanova University and for the past two months I have been processing the Jasper Yeates papers (Collection 740) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.   I transferred the papers to acid free folders, rehoused them in legal sized boxes, and created a new finding aid with Archivist Toolkit.   This internship was a good opportunity to get practical experience in a related field, and since my mind is usually stuck in the Civil War, processing this collection was a nice change of pace for me.  It was hard to resist reading many of the documents in depth, and I wanted to share some of my observations on the values of the collection.

Yeates (1745-1817) was a prominent lawyer in Lancaster when he married Sarah Burd in 1767. After a prestigious law career, he became a state Supreme Court Justice in 1791 until his death in 1817. The collection includes his business papers and personal correspondence, but the bulk of the collection consists of his legal papers, which include the court cases he worked on as a lawyer and later as a Supreme Court Justice.   While these documents will be most useful to researchers, the correspondence during the 1760’s to the 1790’s will probably interest the public the most.  The collection truly demonstrates the old saying that all history is local history, as Yeates was affected by the political issues of his time just as much as Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson.  He took time out of his law practice to perform many public functions during the Revolutionary War, most notably by serving as the Chairman of the Lancaster Committee of Correspondence that communicated with the second Continental Congress.   He also became Captain of the Lancaster militia under Colonel Matthias Slough, but his militia duties were interrupted the following year when the Continental Congress appointed him to a Commission of Indian Affairs to negotiate a treaty with the Delaware Indians at Fort Pitt. Some of the more interesting items concerning the Commission are a series of letters to Pennsylvania political figures Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson.  While Wilson is not as well known today, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress who would also play a vital role at the Constitutional Convention and serve as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Among the topics discussed in the letters are Yeates’ acceptance of the position and his concerns over an Indian war breaking out.

Jasper Yeates to Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson (page 1 above, pages 2 and 3 below), Collection 740, Box 7

But for the rest of this blog post I would like to focus on the quirks of the collection that will not find their way to the finding aid.  If there is one thing historians have a knack for, it is recognizing value in the mundane.  In a letter dated November 26, 1765, Richard Peters Jr., a future delegate to the Continental Congress, recounted a conversation with other friends about the local reaction to the controversial Stamp Act.  One of my personal favorite tidbits was Peters’ lamentation that his debate did not amount to much because a participant identified as Mr. Ross was too drunk to contribute to the discussion and a Mr. Galloway vehemently disagreed with the protests against the controversial act.[1]  The image of people getting drunk at such a time does not quite jive with our impressions of the Revolutionary War era!  My best discovery, however, was when I found drawings of faces on court case documents.  We all have some guilty memories of doodling in our notebooks when we should have been doing something important, and apparently people in the eighteenth century were not immune to this impulse either!

Two examples (above, below) from Jasper Yeates court notes, Collection 740, Box 49

These seemingly insignificant details in the letters can tell us about the people who wrote them and how much we have in common with the past.  Given the polarized political atmosphere and the difficult economic times we are in, a random letter by Edward Burd to his sister Sarah struck a chord with me, because he lamented the “tenpenny cuts” to the postal service by that “worthless politician” Benjamin Franklin.[2]  Ben Franklin a “worthless politician?”  I wonder if Burd would retract that statement if he were alive today!

While the general sentiment toward politicians and the post office have not changed much since the eighteenth century, we are obviously different in many ways.  For one thing, if the founders saw my penmanship they would think I had the mental capacity of a three year old, but people in the eighteenth century also seemed to be more openly affectionate in their letters than we are today.  The correspondence contains many letters from Jasper Yeates to Sarah, but I would like to quote a letter from Richard Peters in which he wrote:  “I beg your pardon for not answering your letter… don’t think, however, that because I am lazy in answering I am not fond of receiving your letters.”[3]   Just imagine a man in this day and age telling his best friend:  “don’t think that just because I don’t always respond to your texts that I am not fond of receiving them.”  Perhaps the age of instant communication has eliminated the need for such reminders (clicking the “like” button on facebook does not seem to compare).

I hope future researchers find as much value in the Jasper Yeates collection as I did.  I’ve enjoyed my experiences at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  The HSP unites people of diverse backgrounds in a common mission, and there is much that one can learn from the staff.  I would like to thank them for making this a great experience.


[1] Richard Peters Jr. to Jasper Yeates Nov. 26, 1765, Collection 740, Box 7, Folder 2.

[2] Edward Burd to Sarah Yeates March 7, 1765 Collection 740, Box 7, Folder 2

[3] Richard Peters Jr. to Jasper Yeates, May 7, 1765, Collection 740, Box 7, Folder 2.

Morris Milgram and his (expected and unexpected) connections

As part of the NHPRC Civic Engagement Project we’ve begun arranging the papers of Morris Milgram. This collection features portions of materials that are nicely organized as well as boxes of loose papers waiting to be sorted; it is a treasure trove of office records and personal documents offering a detailed account of the ins-and-outs of the fair housing movement and a panoramic picture of the 60’s milieu.

Morris Milgram was born in 1916 in New York City to Russian immigrants parents. After growing up in Brooklyn he became a college student at City College of the City University of New York from where he was expelled after leading a protest against visiting students representing Mussolini’s Italy. He then enrolled and graduated from Dana College (later Newark University, today part of the Rutgers University system) and found employment with the Workers Defense League. At this agency he started as executive secretary and eventually became national secretary, a position he held until 1947. Right after this Milgram joined Smelo, Inc., a construction company owned by his father-in-law where he learned the basics of the building business and familiarized himself with zoning laws and tax codes. Five years after joining the company he became principal partner and decided to put his knowledge and skills in the service of building integrated housing communities.

Milgram’s companies developed many projects of open housing among them Concord Park, Greenbelt Knolt, and Brookside in Pennsylvania. He also build communities in other states but after losing a legal battle against a neighborhood association in Deerfield, Illinois, he switched strategies opting to purchase already built apartment developments to change their rental policies in favor of a more integrated approach.

Samples of letters in draft form written by Jackie Robinson for Modern Community Developers, one of Milgram's companies.

One of the criticisms frequently brandished against Milgram relates to the methods he used in order to achieve a racial balance in his projects. Milgram used a quota system where, for instance, a particular building would have its tenants divided as 45% black and 55% white. His critics argued that this was a form of discrimination. But Milgram also faced other more pressing challenges. A surplus of black applicants combined with not enough white tenants willing to stay in or move to a particular community made it very difficult to achieve a truly integrated balance. Milgram himself complained about setting up for integration and ending up with more ghettos. He also found that banks weren’t willing to loan money to back up his projects. Milgram ended up creating mortgages companies (and doing a lot of fund raising to keep them afloat) to help home buyers financially. It seems that all this work was not particularly successful from an economic standpoint but nevertheless Milgram insisted throughout his life on its moral and social merits.

First three standing from left to rigth: Morris Milgram, Jackie Robinson, and Adlai Stevenson

Since the beginning of his open housing efforts, Milgram connected his social project with the civil rights movement’s philosophy. Milgram’s principal partner on his projects was James Farmer, one of the “Big Four” of the Civil Rights Movement and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Clinton in 1998. In 1975 Milgram and Farmer established Fund for an Open Society (OPEN), a non-profit organization promoting integration in all aspects of society. Milgram also attributed his becoming an advocate of fair housing to a poem written by Pauli Murray, civil rights activist, lawyer, and the first African-American women to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Papers related to Farmer and Murray can be found among the many documents in the Morris Milgram Papers (Collection 2176). This collection also features a great deal of surprises; Milgram was connected to a considerable number of important figures and his records are full of letters and other documents reflecting this. Franco Modigliani, a Nobel Prize winning economist (more information here and here); Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and social theorist of the Frankfurt School (more here and here); and Jackie Robinson, baseball star widely known as the player that broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues.

Letter from Erich Fromm respondeing to one of Milgram's invvestment solicitations.

Documents about an OPEN-sponsored event for economist Franco Modigliani.

Further thoughts on processing and the Greenfield papers

Arranging work on the Albert M. Greenfield papers is almost done but we have lots of work to do to complete the finding aid. This collection is very large, so it’s taking us a lot of time to input the collection’s data into Archivists’ Toolkit, the software we’re using here to create EAD finding aids.

Originally the collection consisted of 547 boxes, most of which were cartons holding between 35 and 50 folders, depending on their size. Since these cartons were too heavy, we needed to transfer everything to letter size boxes sorting first through documents that did not fit into the new boxes in order to house them separately. These are now in legal tall boxes or in custom boxes and enclosures made by Leah Mackin, from HSP’s Preservation Lab staff. The remaining folders, once rehoused, were given new numbers according to their sequence in the new boxes. We now have approximately 1,148 boxes and an estimated total of 18,000 folders. All these folders have individual titles and, one by one they need to go into our database. It’s a pretty straight forward but time consuming task.

This work has brought a thought I’ve been struggling with for the last month: how do I achieve a balance between the ideal way in which a collection should be processed (and here I’m thinking not only about archival standards but also about the pride one takes when finishing a good product) and the need for researchers to access a collection right now?  After all, as archivists and librarians our main goal is to provide access to collections. You could argue that if that is not done – no matter the reasons, arguments, and excuses to “justify” that a collection is not available – then you are straying from the ultimate goal of what information providers are supposed to do.

Time is one of the main reasons we can’t have all collections beautifully arranged. (Of course there are also monetary reasons. Budgetary constraints, especially these days, sometimes put limits on what we would like to accomplish. Additionally, the time issue is directly affected by money, as any archivist can attest to.) Philosophical arguments against processing collections in detail are also part of the equation. However, I am of the opinion that in some cases where collections are processed using the “More Product Less Process” approach, access to the collections is improved even though some may argue that MPLP is far from the ideal way to process a collection.

If we put aside time, budget, and MPLP, how do we achieve a balance between what we think needs to be done and the pressure from researchers to have immediate access to materials not available anywhere else? (Let’s not forget that one of the main differences between an archive and a library is that, in theory, the former holds unique materials – in most cases manuscripts – and the latter features printed items published in high quantities that may be available either in other libraries, in bookstores, or through interlibrary loan services). I do think and work under the assumption that everything we do has to have the researcher as the crucial element when making decisions regarding the collection. This is also the reasoning behind my opinion on how extensive and deep our narratives about the collection should be. Is it our job to interpret or just to describe? What happens when describing entails interpretation? But this is for another post.

The problem in achieving balance arises when you have to make decisions in order to provide access knowing the physical and/or intellectual state of the collection is far from ideal. Fortunately, my experience in the humanities side of academia have taught me researchers interested in a subject will not care if collections are not ideally arranged as long as they have access to them. This fact should ameliorate the problem at least a bit. I do not pretend to oversimplify a situation that encompasses far more circumstances than the ones I’ve mentioned, but I have a feeling that archivist’s reputations are not going to suffer if we put access before the desirable organization of the materials. At least until we have the time and money to do both on a consistent basis.