The Workshop Reaches Out: The Children’s Television Workshop papers

On display now in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library through the end of 2019…

One of the largest and most significant collections found in Special Collections and University Archives are the records of the Children’s Television Workshop, best known as the creator of Sesame Street.  The collection contains research studies, production notes, memos and correspondence, promotional material, viewer mail, and other material documenting the first twenty years of the Workshop and its programs.

To observe the 50th anniversary  of the first airing of Sesame Street in November 1969, we are highlighting the ways the Workshop used newsletters to communicate with educational broadcasters, school officials, health educators, and parents.

These newsletters and many others found in the records of the Children’s Television Workshop provide detailed insight into the activities and programs of the Workshop, including some of their lesser known programs.

Educational Broadcasters and School officials

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Staging the Politics and Popular Appeal of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter’s story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – the titular story of Porter’s 1939 collection – was written on the eve of World War II, but the focus of the story is the last few months of the first World War. Porter was actively involved in political discourse and social protests throughout her life – notably, Porter participated in the protests against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti – but her political positions changed. Janis Stout notes, “The scholar who seeks to construct an account of her [Porter’s] political and social views is well advised to resist the urge to find, or to impose, an undue coherence.” Despite the shifts in Porter’s political thinking, scholars like Janis Stout and Darlene Harbour Unrue argue for the importance of understanding the radical politics of Porter’s literary circle, as well as the political turbulence during her career and lifetime, in reading and engaging with her work. Stout suggests that if we read the views outlined in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” as Porter’s own “testimony” – Miranda’s critique of World War I, the senselessness of the violence of war, the manipulation of the Liberty Bond system – we can see Porter as “fresh from the scene of a powerful experience in dissent.” If we view Porter’s story, like Stout, as her testimony critiquing war and United States’ political agenda, what then might a McCarthy-era experimental off-Broadway adaptation make of this source material? How can we read Porter’s response to this particular adaptation of her story?

Porter was disappointed with F. W. Durkee’s 1956 television adaptation of her story, as outlined in the previous post in this series, but she was thrilled the following year, when the off-Broadway production of the stage adaptation premiered. Porter was aware of the difference between her own reaction to the play and that of the critics, as she wrote to David Locher:

Did I tell you that my story Pale Horse, Pale Rider, has been made into an experimental play and is now running off-Broadway, and has had not altogether counting pre-views, twenty-nine performances as of tonight. The critics didn’t like it but somebody does, because the people keep coming in, and my friends seem to love it, and I saw it twice and thought it most impressively done, and such old pros as the critic on Variety, and Tennessee Williams, and William Saroyan and my dear friend Robert Penn Warren rushed to the rescue and are being quoted in the advertisements. So it goes on, but I think it will not last very much longer, the audience for that sort of thing is limited, and nobody expected it to go as far as it has! (30 December 1957)

Unrue, Darlene Harbour, ed. Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter: Chronicles of a Modern Woman. University Press of Mississippi, 2012. pg. 259.

Porter keeps track of the reviews of the play in her correspondence, and she also created a scrapbook of various reviews and coverage of the play, including both positive and negative press.

Porter saved a clipping of Frank Aston’s December 10, 1957 review for the New York World Herald, in which he writes: “Miss Porter speaks of the futility of war, of hypocrisy bred by war, of the appeal war extends to silly women… Everyone [the actors] does all right but shouldn’t have been implicated to begin with in this unfortunate canter of enthusiasm.” Though Aston critiques the overzealous acting, he accurately assess the heart of the play’s critique of war and propaganda, of hypocrisy in wartime, in the midst of the rampant propaganda of McCarthyism.

Porter collected her share of published reviews in the scrapbook, but she also received personal testimony. A few months into the off-Broadway production’s run, Porter’s friend and later agent, Cyrilly Abels, arranged for some of her staff members at Mademoiselle magazine to see the play. Abels forwarded multiple personal notes of thanks and praise for the play to Porter, whose letter to Abels in return expresses her delight at the varied responses to the play, with particular praise for Suzanne Wile’s letter.

Suzanne Wile, an employee at Mademoiselle, notes that the stage adaptation of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” captured “popular appeal,” even as it differed from “ordinary Twentieth Century stage-presentation…” as it:

required a type of theatrical – and literary – appreciation a little different from the ordinary demands (or lack of them) of the successful plays–… for Pale Horse the ability to be absorbed in the fundamentals of life with the aid of  a high–or unfettered–imagination. It demanded a different use of the imagination than that which the theater normally requires, and evidently the critics felt that the popular audience was not up to it.


Suzanne Wile to Cyrilly Abels, 13 January 1958.

Porter was very pleased with Wile’s note, writing to Abels that “If you [at the magazine] ever put in a theatre department, give it to her!” Porter’s enthusiastic approval of Wile’s reading of the play suggests that her happiness with the stage adaptation could lie in part in its ability to challenge the imagination to examine the everyday intrusion of war into life beyond the battlefield, which the story forces readers to do as it intimately reveals the consequences of militarism and critiques of propaganda. What is the disconnect between the critics’ reviews and Wile’s experience, then? How might the play’s rendering of the everyday futility of war differ from the short story’s, while still retaining a recognizable critique of the hypocrisy, the futility of war?

The different adaptations, from stage to television, suggest that there is some ineffable quality about Porter’s story – even Tennessee Williams notes in his review of the play, which was subsequently blurbed in advertisements for the production, that he was “haunted” by the performance. Part of the long-lived success of the story, the motivation for the adaptations, is its relentless questioning of the forces that characterize American political life. What is war, but a chance to sell bonds, or a blunt reminder of the capacity for violence? Porter’s critique of American politics and militarism resonates to the present day, as a recent Literary Hub article argues that contemporary readers stand to gain from Porter’s ability to describe World War I-era “fake news,” and the uncanny resonance of her critique of national propaganda in today’s current moment. But, as Suzanne Wile suggests in the note that so impressed Porter, the draw of Porter’s story is how it explores the toll of war in the everyday, as the forces of war and influenza work hand in hand to separate the story’s young lovers. Even Porter’s sister Gay was pulled to lightly underline in pencil one of the last lines of the story, from Miranda’s internal narrative after her recovery, when she learns that Adam has died:

Adam, she said, now you need not die again, but still I wish you were here; I wish you had come back, what do you think I came back for, Adam, to be deceived like this?

Gay Porter Holloway’s inscribed edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider, (1939). Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Adam did not die in battle, and the war ended without him just the same. As Porter’s collection turns eighty years old this year and the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” reaches its eighty-first anniversary, it’s worth reflecting on why this story continues to haunt us. The story has been absent in recent years from American television screens and theater stages, but it resurfaces in syllabi and essays online. It is no surprise that this story – haunting as it is – returns to us in conversation with the current political discourse, as we continue to accumulate the dust of wars and ponder how little dazed silence has transpired between each war, each everyday death that has filled these eighty years since.


Jeannette Schollaert is a graduate assistant in Special Collections and University Archives who works with the Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project. There, she assists with compiling and organizing metadata and contributing to the Project’s online exhibitions. She is pursuing a PhD in English, and her research focuses on twentieth century American writers, feminist theory, and ecocriticism.

[1] Stout, Janis. “‘Something of a Reputation as a Radical’: Katherine Anne Porter’s Shifting Politics.” South Central Review, vol. 10, no. 1, 1993, pp. 49-66.

Sounds of the Silent Majority: Digitizing the Recordings of Political Culture in the Spiro T. Agnew Papers

“In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Rhetoric like this, found scattered throughout the hundreds of speeches performed by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew illustrates the quotable, and sometimes comedic, aspects of the nation’s most vocal Vice President. As a man of controversy and alliteration, Vice President Agnew’s voice called out to the theoretical “Silent Majority” from 1968 to 1973 to speak up about their opinions opposing “corrupted” national news media and supporting President Richard Nixon’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War among other social and political topics.

The audio recordings after being returned from vendor.
Photo by Jen Piegols.

In October 2018, Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) began a twelve month project to digitize, describe, and make accessible 559 audio recordings (407 ¼” open real tapes and 152 cassette tapes) found in the Spiro T. Agnew papers . With the support of a Council on Library and Information Sources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant, SCUA has added approximately 253 hours of recorded speeches, press conferences, broadcasts, and constituent-created content to the University Libraries’ Digital Collections.

Starting in 1977, Agnew began donating his personal collection of over 500 linear feet of materials to the University of Maryland Libraries. Included in those materials, were 1,368 audiotapes spanning Agnew’s time as Governor of Maryland, the 39th Vice President of the United States, and his post-resignation career. Identified as preservation concerns and potentially high- use items, the audio recordings became a digitization priority for the University Libraries. In 2017, SCUA unit ran a pilot digitization program converting 173 of the tapes to digital recordings and making them accessible to patrons visiting the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. In 2018, curators identified an additional 559 audio recordings within the Spiro T. Agnew papers to be digitized and made accessible to researchers.

Obtaining funds and selecting recordings was only the beginning. In November and December 2018, the 559 open reels and cassette tapes were pulled from various boxes in the Spiro T. Agnew papers. This process included verifying metadata for the materials confirming the correct material was pulled. The reels and tapes were then packed in shipping boxes and prepared for shipment to the vendor. About 40 of the open reels were previously identified as mold risks and were packaged separately with new containers for their return. The digitization vendor baked the tapes to prevent further mold damage as part of their work. We received our newly created digital files and physical materials in April. The files were then checked by staff in our Digital Conversion and Media Reformatting Lab to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the files. At that time, issues with speed, pitch, and volume were identified.

From June through August, I listened to each of the 559 audio recordings to create an accurate and searchable title and a description that informed researchers of what kind of topics were addressed during that recording. Some of the recordings were short, while others were as long as 90 minutes. While this process was tedious, all our newly digitized recordings now have unique and searchable titles and descriptions that will allow researchers to discover these material and learn more about the political climate between 1969 and 1973.

Notes made while listening to the recordings.
Photo by Jen Piegols.

Once the metadata was complete and reviewed by our metadata librarian, the files were ingested to University Libraries’ Digital Collections and the finding aid to the collection was updated. Researchers now have access to these recordings online. Recordings with copyright protection are available for education use only on campus at the University of Maryland.

Topics of these recordings range from

  • the Vietnam War
  • urban renewal plans
  • dissent on college campuses
  • the flights of Apollo 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14
  • revenue sharing plans
  • the 1968, 1970, and 1972 campaigns
  • the SALT talks
  • foreign relations between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Soviet China
  • and many other political and social issues.

The recordings also demonstrate the support Agnew received from constituents, including homemade songs and voice recordings praising the Vice President for his integrity and candor.

The breadth of information that these recordings hold are not only valuable to Vice Presidential scholars and Agnew supporters, but for anyone interested in learning about the United States at the turn of the decade.

More information about the CLIR grant program, made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Post by Jennifer Piegols, Special Collections Services Specialist.

Jen Piegols graduated in May 2019 with her MLIS from the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives, and is assisting with the digitization of the collections’ unique audio recordings.

New Exhibit Celebrating Maryland Public Television’s 50th Anniversary Now on Display in the Maryland Room Gallery

Special Collections in Mass Media & Culture is pleased to announce the exhibit “Made Possible By Viewers Like You: Maryland Public Television Turns 50” is now on display in the Maryland Room Gallery at Hornbake Library through July 2020. It celebrates the milestone anniversary of Maryland’s only statewide TV broadcaster, and highlights the fruitful partnership between MPT and UMD Libraries. 

The exhibit includes artifacts and documents from 1969 to the present, including the very first Program Journal from 1969, an original script from the 1977 production “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, a GoPro camera smashed during a Motorweek shoot, a trophy case filled with Emmys® and other prestigious awards, and dozens of videos featuring segments from some of their best-known programs. 

Nothing in the exhibit would have survived if MPT hadn’t taken great care to preserve their rich and unique history. Unlike most other TV stations—commercial and noncommercial alike—MPT has dedicated the resources to maintain an archive both at its Owings Mills headquarters and at the University of Maryland.  After UMD Libraries established the National Public Broadcasting Archives in 1990, MPT was one of the first organizations to begin depositing print and audiovisual materials. The latter presents particular challenges because simply saving AV materials isn’t enough; due to the obsolescence of playback machines and deterioration of master copies, videotapes must be migrated to modern formats in order to ensure the content remains accessible. This is a timely and expensive process. 

Fortunately, efforts to preserve public broadcasting in the U.S. have risen dramatically, thanks in large part to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), which just announced the availability of over 50,000 historic public media programs available in the Online Reading Room (ORR). When the AAPB launched in 2013, MPT immediately answered the call to submit programs for digitization, sending over 1500 tapes during the first phase of the project. Since then, MPT and SCUA have continued to work together to digitize their AV holdings at Hornbake Library, which are comprised of Umatic, betacam, VHS, 1” and ¾” tapes and 16mm film. As of fall 2019, nearly 700 programs have been reformatted and are steadily being uploaded into Digital Collections. The newly-established Maryland Public Television Preservation Fund is designed to support this important work well into the future. 

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery and find out how MPT has become a national leader in public television and a treasured resource for the state. Hours vary by semester, check current hours online


Post by Laura Schnitker | Ethnomusicologist, Audiovisual Archivist, and Curator of Mass Media & Culture in Special Collections and University Archives at University of Maryland Libraries

“What a History”: Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider at 80

“Let me tell you what I have been doing and you will know better why I have not been writing to you when my delight is to send you letters such as they are. Just now, within this quarter hour, I have finished Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and it would be quite useless to try to tell you what a thing it has been…

Katherine Anne Porter to Glenway Wescott, 3 December 1937

So begins Katherine Anne Porter’s letter to her friend Glenway Wescott, announcing her final victory over the manuscript that she had been drafting for years. Later in the letter to Wescott, Porter writes:

“Nearly twenty thousand words, darling, laid neatly in rows on paper, at last…. But most of them were written years ago, I almost know them by heart. I began this story in Mexico, went on with it in Berlin, Basel, Paris, New York, Doylestown, and now New Orleans… what a history.”

Porter’s long journey with “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”is not unusual in her career. She was famously flexible with deadlines and signed a handful of contracts with literary publishers that she never kept, including contracts for a collection of her favorite short stories and a biography of Cotton Mather. Yet “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” inspired a “steady energy” in Porter, as she tells Wescott, one that she notes, “I have had fits of it before, and it is the best thing in the world while it lasts.”

Before Porter finished “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” in 1937, her output in magazines and reviews was steady. She published one collection of short stories, Flowering Judas, in 1930; an expanded edition, Flowering Judas and Other Stories, with four additional works, appeared in 1935. But despite this rather limited output, Porter had a solid literary reputation. With only one published collection, Porter won her first Guggenheim in 1931, well before she debuted “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – arguably her most famous story – in the Winter 1938 issue of the Southern Review. The experience from which Porter draws to craft “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” was gained decades before her literary career began in earnest, when she worked as a journalist in Denver at the Rocky Mountain News. It was in Colorado, one month into her job at the paper in October 1918, that the Spanish flu hit its peak in the United States. 

The pandemic is said to be the deadliest ever, a surprising fact to twenty-first century readers. The global death toll of the Spanish flu of 1918 is between 50 to 100 million in a time span of just fifteen months. However, this number is inherently incomplete, as there was no sustainable record system in place, but, in the United States, roughly 670,000 people died.[1] Porter experienced the flu firsthand, falling sick in October 1918. In “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter uses her fictional proxy, Miranda, to demonstrate the effects of the flu in the course of a romance with a soon-to-be-deployed World War I soldier, Adam. Though Porter knew success before 1939, she saw a different degree of popularity with the Pale Horse, Pale Rider collection. Based on its lively transmission history, the title story of Porter’s 1939 collection is by far the most culturally resonant piece of her collected works. From the 1956 adaptation for television, to the 1957 off-Broadway performance, and its feature in a recent Literary Hub online article – what is it about this story that is so appealing to so many imaginations, over a lifetime of eighty years?

In honor of the eightieth publication anniversary of the Pale Horse, Pale Rider collection, and the eighty-first publication anniversary of the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” in the Southern Review, we are featuring a range of materials tracing the story’s adaptation to television and the stage. This first blog installment will consider the story’s reception and the television adaptation, with a closer look at the stage adaptation in a future blog post installment.

Images: L: Pale Horse, Pale Rider Advertisement with KAP annotation to her older sister, Gay (circa 1939). Katherine Anne Porter Papers. R: Cover of Mary Doherty’s first edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Thomas Walsh Papers. Both: Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

After its initial publication in the Southern Review, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” was published as the last of three stories – or as Porter preferred, short novels – in the 1939 collection of the same title, Pale Horse, Pale Rider. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” rounded out the collection, following “Old Mortality” and “Noon Wine,” respectively. The collection was dedicated to Porter’s father, Harrison Boone Porter, as the first two stories draw heavily on Porter’s family life and her native state of Texas, while the third story was inspired by her time in Colorado. Porter’s sister Gay’s copy includes annotations in the margins of “Old Mortality” that identify to which family members each character corresponds, with fewer of the markings in the following two stories.

Images: L: Gay Porter Holloway’s inscribed edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider, (1939). R: The cover of Gay Porter Holloway’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Both from Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Following its publication on April 1, 1939, Pale Horse, Pale Rider was met with positive reviews, as documented in Porter’s April 9 letter to her friend, Monroe Wheeler, “The reviews have been very lively. Oh I hope they sell the book!” Later that month, she writes to husband, Albert Erskine: “PARTY QUITE WONDERFUL 100 BOOKS SOLD… MARGARET MITCHELL [author of Gone with the Wind] HAS COPY”

Image: Telegram, Katherine Anne Porter to Albert Erskine 22 April 1939. Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

In addition to her correspondence with friends and family about the success of the collection, Porter collected clippings of the book’s reviews, including this one from the New York Times that notes in the second paragraph: “The best [story] by far seems to me the title piece, which is an extraordinary account of a young woman’s sensations and emotions during a dangerous illness – a little triumph in its way.”

Image: Clipping, The New York Times, 30 March 1939. Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

The collection’s success solidified Porter’s already strong literary reputation, and about seventeen years after its initial publication, the story was adapted for television by F. W. Durkee, Jr. This adaptation was a disappointment to Porter and critics alike. Her annotations of her copy of the show’s script note, on the first page of the credits, that it is “a little horror of a thing.”

Image: Porter copy, F. W. Durkee, Jr. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Porter agreed with the critics’ evaluation of the television adaptation, as she writes to John Malcolm Brinnin: “I loathed the TV version of Pale Horse, Pale Rider – how how [sic] right you are that they not only missed my point, but failed to supply one of their own. For some reason I had hoped it might be good, and now I wonder on what delusion I was building…” (10 April 1956). Some of the clippings of negative reviews of the show are marked up, indicating that Porter could have been paying special attention to how the critics evaluated the show’s weaknesses.

Images: L: Clipping, R: Advertisement. Both: Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

It is interesting, however, that in the clipping featured above left, that this particular reviewer segues into the discussion of the Climax! adaptation of Porter’s story following a discussion of one entry in “the usual run of TV’s anti-Communist dramas.” How intentional is this placement of Porter’s “story of love and loss in World War I,” after a discussion of an anti-Communist drama? By the time the adaptation aired and the reviews were written in March 1956, Porter had engaged with and examined radical politics and Communism in the U.S. for three decades. Many of her friends – and many of those in Porter’s literary circles in general – were connected to the Communist party, including her once-close friend and fellow author Josephine Herbst. Porter wrote to Herbst about her perspectives regarding Communism in America throughout their friendship, but this moment from a July 20, 1947 letter provides insight into Porter’s political affinities:

When I read about the Communist-hunt in Washington, I remember that you were one of the early victims. You know I don’t like Communists, the american brand. But I hate to my bootsoles the Fascists who are doing so successfully just what Hitler did: using the popular fear of Communism to cover the trail of his intentions, giving the people an enemy to distract their minds from the worse and real enemy in their own country…

It’s useful to remember that the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – itself a flashback to the tail end of World War I – debuted on the eve of the World War II. Likewise, the television adaptation of the story debuted two years after Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy – known today for his role in the anti-Communist Red Scare, the man from which “McCarthyism” takes its name – was condemned by the Senate for “conduct… unbecoming of a Member of the United States Senate.”  What did the television adaptation of Porter’s story – one of war, of epidemic, of lost love – offer American audiences in the 1950s? We’ll continue to follow this question as we consider the 1957 stage adaptation of Porter’s story, an adaptation that, unlike the television show, Porter enjoyed.


Jeannette Schollaert is a graduate assistant in Special Collections and University Archives who works with the Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project. There, she assists with compiling and organizing metadata and contributing to the Project’s online exhibitions. She is pursuing a PhD in English, and her research focuses on twentieth century American writers and ecofeminism.


[1] Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

Making the case with Case Maker

Studying primary sources allows us to discover information about the past. A primary source might be anything from correspondence to photographs to newspapers and diaries. Primary sources are extremely useful not just for projects, but provide us a way to understand the history more deeply and personally from those that came before us.

Casemaker website homepageWhen visitors come into the Maryland Room, they use primary sources to help with their research projects.  Researchers pour over material, thinking critically about what the material is and what answers it can provide. Critical thinking and inquiry are crucial tools when conducting a research project that involves archival material and primary sources.

These sophisticated research skills are being introduced to children earlier than ever. Case Maker is one of the tools educators can use to help middle school students begin to develop their critical thinking skills. Continue reading

Student Art History Projects

Have you ever wondered what life was like on UMD’s campus during the Vietnam War?  Or how our university handled sexual assault cases throughout the decades?  How did the Civil Rights Movement impact our campus?

Well, look no further because these five fabulous art history projects have all that information and more!

In the fall of 2018, the students in ARTH260 produced a variety of projects about activism, sexual assault gender inequalities and other important topics using research found in Special Collections.  Among these creations were four websites and a video.

Each group project was accompanied by a mixture of art, whether it was paintings, photographs or decorative flyers plucked from our very own archives, and extensive information each group researched for their topics.

umd-in-context

The homepage of “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” discusses the double-standards that women experience during their education and in the workforce.  Using yearbook photos from our archives and speaking with students, the website highlights sexist standards women are given — particularly in the mathematics and scientific fields — while men are provided with different guidelines to follow. Continue reading