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.

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.

“Benjamin West, the subject of the following Memoirs,. . .


Undated engraving of Benjamin West (Vol. 1, page 23)


Undated partial engraving of John Galt (Vol. 1, page 7)

. . . was the youngest son of John West and Sarah Pearson and was born near Springfield, in Chester [now Delaware] County, in the State of Pennsylvania, on the 10th of October, 1738.”

So begins Scottish writer John Galt’s The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq., a 2-volume work published in 1816 (volume 1)  and 1820 (volume 2).  Benjamin West (1738-1820) was an influential early American artist.  He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but studied art in Italy and England.  West moved to London, England, in 1763 and it became his permanent residence.   He co-founded London’s Royal Academy of Art in 1768 and was appointed a painter to King George III in 1772.  Among his most famous works are The Death of General Wolfe (1771),  William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1772), Death on a Pale Horse (1802), and Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple (1817), which is now in the collections of Pennsylvania Hospital.

Earlier this year a patron adopted HSP’s collection of Benjamin West drawings (#3149).  Having processed that collection, I was more than happy to begin work on the Galt collection, which was also adopted.  Now when it came to this collection, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  In our collections database, the material is briefly described as “a collection [that] contains materials pertaining to the life and works of Benjamin West by author John Galt.”  Based on this, I thought I’d find either published or handwritten pages of a biography along with items that Galt may have collected for research, such as letters and documents by West, prints of his artwork, and papers on Philadelphia’s history and the history of the Royal Academy of Art.  Interesting stuff maybe, but I didn’t think I’d find much of anything with a “wow” factor.

So, I started processing and, well . . . wow.

Turns out this collection is actually made up of a series of seven disbound extra-illustrated volumes.  An “extra-illustrated” book contains pages from a published book that are inlaid or mounted in a bound volume along with engravings, prints, and original manuscripts, somewhat like an elaborate scrapbook.  While it sounds haphazard, it’s actually not and the creator of the volume(s) usually takes great care to match up documents with people and places mentioned on particular pages.  For example (below), on page 136, Galt mentioned Isaac Newton and the artist Titian.  Among the pages following it are images related to Newton and Titian.  (There are also pictures of Bellini and Giorgioni, who are also mentioned, but not included here.)

"The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq.," by John Galt (Page 136/Vol. 5, page 27)

"The Curious Monument in Westminster Abbey Erected to the Meory of Sir Isaac Newton," undated (Vol. 5, page 28)

Undated lithograph of Titian (Vol. 5, page 32)

Since the pages were cut out and removed from the volumes, what we are left with are four boxes and several flat files of published pages from John Galt’s biography on Benjamin West; many original letters to and from West; numerous prints and engravings of West, other artists, lots of unrelated folks such as William Penn and Plutarch, and locations and landmarks like scenes from Italy and Windsor Castle; various miscellaneous documents including deeds and accounts; and some original sketches and drawings by West himself…exciting, no!  Alright, maybe I’m the only one who’s excited about that last point, but I truly didn’t expect to find original works by West–and such nice hidden gems they are! These works continue in the vein of West’s religious and classical themes (and there are others besides these three).

"David," undated (Vol. 2, page 26)

"The Tragic Muse," 1776 (Vol. 5, page 50)

Untitled, undated (Vol. 1, page 90)

So far, processing has been a blast because each page brings a little something new and different.  I’ve gotten through the smaller pages and images that were boxed; there are still several flat files of oversized pages in storage that will surely bring new surprises.

And on that note, I leave you with two last bits of intrigue.  Notice that the letters below all have tears running their lengths.  In fact, almost all the original letters to and from West in this collection were, at some point in the past, each torn in several pieces and subsequently repaired.  Though I’m happy to see that they were repaired, I still wonder why they were damaged in the first place…?

Benjamin West letter to Henry Drinker, page 1 (above) and page 2 (below), August 1797 (Vol. 1, page 117)

Benjamin West letter to Lady Jane Seymour, 6 October 1814 (Vol. 5, page 7)

And finally, anybody out there read Russian?

 

Letter dated 1787, page 1 (above) and page 2 (below) (Vol. 6, page 58)

The processing of John Galt’s The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq., is still underway and the finding aid will go online in the next couple months.  A link will be provided once it’s posted.

HSP Civic Engagement Collections: A new NHPRC-funded project

This month HSP begins a new 26-month project to process and conserve fourteen collections related to civic engagement in Philadelphia and beyond. Willhem Echevarría has already started work as project archivist, and in December he will be joined by Leah Mackin as project preservation technician. Previously, both Willhem and Leah worked on our Chew papers project and Digital Center for Americana pilot project, and we’re fortunate that they’ll be continuing on with this new initiative.

In this blog post I’d like to talk about some of the reasons I’m excited about the Civic Engagement Collections project and efforts surrounding it.

Citizens' Permanent Relief Committee flyers

Flyers from Citizens' Permanent Relief Committee records, ca. 1890s


Working with great collections
The project deals with collections documenting a wonderful variety of people and organizations. These range from Albert Greenfield (real estate broker turned banker, politician, and philanthropist) to Morris Milgram (socialist activist turned integrated housing pioneer and developer of planned communities). From Anthony Biddle, Jr. (elite-born diplomat and military officer) to Max Weiner (who helped launch a grassroots consumer protection movement in the 1960s). The project includes the papers of reformers across three generations: Herbert Welsh, who from the 1870s to the 1930s tackled everything from imperialism to forestry to civil service rules; Richardson Dilworth and Natalie Saxe Randall, who helped lead Philadelphia’s political reform movement after World War II; and John Fryer, psychiatrist and gay rights activist, who in 1972 helped persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Organizational collections in the project include the records of the Citizens’ Permanent Relief Committee, a late 19th century philanthropic group that aided people harmed by natural disasters, famine, war, or political repression; and the Indian Rights Association, which played a key lobbying role from the 1880s to the 1930s around its paternalistic aim to “bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship.” There are also six decades of records of the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia, which promoted women’s political participation and took stands on issues ranging from child care and public education to the United Nations and the Marshall Plan.

I’m especially pleased that this project will enable us to digitize 160 hours of phonograph recordings from the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission, a pioneering civil rights coalition formed in 1941. To help promote its multi-cultural ideals, in the 1940s and 50s the commission sponsored a series of radio plays, stories, and interviews with people of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. The Civic Engagement project will make these recordings publicly accessible for the first time since they were broadcast.

Highlighting our 20th-century holdings
While HSP is rightly famous for our pre-20th century collections, the fact that we also have rich collections up through the late 20th century receives much less attention. For example, most of the applications to our research fellowship program (a collaboration with the Library Company of Philadelphia) focus on our pre-20th century collections. The Civic Engagement project – which primarily deals with 20th century collections — is part of our plan to change all that.

A related effort is our recently launched Greenfield Project, funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation. This will endow a research fellowship in 20th-century history and create a web portal focusing on 20th-century collections and featuring related interpretive material. The Greenfield Project funding also covers archival processing work on the Greenfield Papers, which is part of the Civic Engagement project.

Max Weiner collection flyers

Flyers from Max Weiner collection on Consumer Education and Protective Association, ca. 1970s-1980s


Implementing “More Product, Less Process” (MPLP)
The Civic Engagement project is funded primarily by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grant-giving arm of the National Archives and Records Administration. The NHPRC has gone farther than any other major archives funder in embracing MPLP principles. To get NHPRC funding for a “detailed” processing project, including any descriptive work below the collection level, a repository has to ensure that virtually all of its collections are or will soon be open for research and locatable online. This embodies one of MPLP’s key tenets, that repositories should provide a basic, minimum level of access to all their collections before giving intensive attention to a select few. HSP’s Archives Department wholeheartedly endorses this approach. For the first time ever, we will soon provide online collection-level descriptions for all our archival holdings, through a new online guide that will launch later this year.

Processing work on the Civic Engagement collections will be based on MPLP principles as well. This means that some practices will be streamlined to speed up processing and make more collections accessible more quickly. For example, collections may receive only rough arrangement below the sub-series level. Non-archival folders will be replaced only if they are damaged or do not fit in an archival box. And, yes, metal fasteners will be removed only if they are rusty or pose a hazard to users. Staff time for this project has been allocated based on an average of 2.6 hours per linear foot for processing work and 1.25 hours per linear foot for conservation work. HSP has five different processing levels that we use depending on the specific collection, and guidelines for this project are based on our Level 3 protocol, in the middle of the range.

Contributing to a regional effort
The Civic Engagement project is interconnected with a consortial processing project that HSP is participating in. The PACSCL Hidden Collections project, funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, is processing collections at 24 institutions, including HSP. (PACSCL stands for Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries.) The two projects share the same processing methodology and were developed in close coordination with each other. HSP staff helped design the PACSCL project, establish its standards, and write its manual. PACSCL project staff, in turn, has helped to train HSP staff in the use of MPLP principles and Archivists’ Toolkit. Two collections in the Civic Engagement project (League of Women Voters of Philadelphia and the World War II collection) will be processed by PACSCL project staff at HSP, working alongside HSP staff. This type of interchange enriches our work and helps us see our tasks as part of a regional effort.

Robert Proud: Quaker, Classicist, Historian, and Loyalist

I never thought that when working as an Archives Intern at HSP I would come across a collection that had some personal resonance.  But when handed the Robert Proud collection to process, I learned that history can connect to one’s life in bizarre ways.

Portrait of Robert Proud, print of phototype by Gutekunst (undated)

Robert Proud was born in Yorkshire, England in 1728.  He attended a Quaker boarding school, where he was formally trained in classical studies.  He tutored for prominent London families after his studies, and in 1759, decided to move to Philadelphia to see what prospects lay for him there.

While he attempted to start his own Latin school for boys, it closed after only two years.  He then began one of two teaching positions at The Friends School (also known as the “Friends Academy” and “The Public School”) in the 1760s.  After trying to learn more about Proud’s time at The Friends School, I learned that it is now Friends Select School (FSS), which I attended for my final two years of high school.  It is at FSS where I was inspired to study classical studies in undergraduate school, and I believe that Robert Proud tried to instill this in his students almost 250 years ago.

"The Public School, or 'Friends' Academy,' Fourth Street, Below Chestnut. Built A.D. 1697." newspaper clipping (undated)

His views on education can be found in one of his many memoranda/notebooks that are part of this collection, and it is clear that his views on Quakerism were a strong part of his teaching philosophy:

“To render the Minds of youth attentive to Instruction & to habituate them to a decent & agreeable Deportment, in improved Society, are great Points in Education; but too little attended to by many, with so much Propriety & Utility, as the human Mind’s capable even in juvenile years: –For, in the best & most proper Sense, the Education of youth ought to be considered, as it really is, a Religious Duty & Concern, as being introductory to the great Interests of Virtue & Happiness; while at the same Time, it also embraces the Qualifications for the necessary Employments & other active Concerns of human Life.”

Robert Proud, “Some short Notes & Memoranda by R.P. Philadelphia, Respecting the Scholastic Education of youth among Friends”, 1788 (emphasis original).

His teaching at The Friends School was short-lived and interrupted.  From 1775 to 1780, Robert Proud “retired” and went into seclusion.  His reasoning was very clear—as a Loyalist, he was in a severe minority in Philadelphia, and he was worried that Patriot committees in the city would arrest him.  He felt so persecuted as a Quaker that he petitioned the Pennsylvania Congress representatives, including John Dickinson and others, to ask for assistance in ending religious persecution, comparing the Patriotic “uprisings” and his worries of physical safety to that of Elijah, the ninth-century B.C.E. prophet in Israel (1775).

While in seclusion, he was a prolific writer and authored his only published work, The History of Pennsylvania in North America.  However, his extensive translations of Latin poetry, and his own poetry seemed to keep him occupied as well.  In one poem, he extols his beliefs on what “American Liberty” had become in the colonies during the Revolution:

“Behold!  O land of boasted Liberty,

The State to which thy Sons have hurried thee?

My Patriots banished, & thy Charters torn,

Thy Cities languish, & thy Sages mourn!

By thy own Hands, thy Misery is brought,

By they own Hands all thy Evils wrought!”

(“American Liberty explained, as it is now understood, in the Spring of the year 1776”)

While I certainly am a 21st-century American, and still strongly believe in Quaker practices, I can understand why Robert Proud felt that his Quaker beliefs were put into question during a time of war against what he considered his true homeland, England.  While it’s only speculation on my part, Robert Proud, during his long life (he died in 1813), probably questioned his decision to ever move to Philadelphia, to a place that underwent a dramatic change during the potential “height” of his academic career.

The finding aid for this collection is available online.