Special Collections Spotlight: Carolyn Davis collection of Louisa May Alcott

The Carolyn Davis Collection consists of more than 300 books by and about Louisa May Alcott. This collection contains examples of almost all of Alcott’s most popular works as well as a number of her lesser-known writings. Among these titles are her first book Flower Fables, early to modern printings of Little Women, and a number of other works such as Little Men, Jo’s Boys, and Under the Lilacs. The collection also encompasses some biographies of Alcott, books about Concord, Massachusetts, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and ephemera.

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is widely known as author of Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to the transcendental philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May, Louisa grew up in Concord, Massachusetts with her three sisters. The family often experienced severe poverty and Louisa’s income became pivotal to the family’s survival. She worked as a nurse, seamstress and domestic servant until the publication of her first book, Flower Fables, in 1855 which netted the author thirty-two dollars.

With the publication of Little Women in 1868, Alcott achieved critical and financial success. The characters of the novel were drawn from those of Alcott’s sisters, and many of its episodes from those she and her family had experienced. Alcott’s masterpiece was followed by a succession of wholesome domestic narratives, the so-called Little Women series.

Since Alcott’s death her reputation has been reappraised as a result of the discovery of a large number of sensational “pot-boilers,” written in secret and published anonymously or under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These tales, written prior to the publication of Little Women, earned her between $25 and $100 each from periodical story papers. Beginning in 1975, republication of Alcott’s sensational stories spurred interest in her long out-of-print novels. The discovery of these stories has led to a recognition of Alcott as a far more complex and prolific writer than was originally thought. 

Explore the Carolyn Davis collection of Louisa May Alcott finding aid.

To view any of Louisa May Alcott’s works in the collection visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library or if you have any questions, please contact us


What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

Special Collections Spotlight: Thom Gunn papers

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) was a British poet, whose residence was primarily in the United States beginning in the 1950s. He published over thirty books of poetry, a collection of essays, and four edited collections. Gunn combined an interest in traditional poetics with less traditional subjects, such as Hell’s Angels, LSD, and homosexuality. The collection includes drafts, notebooks, publications, correspondence, and photographs. The bulk of the collection includes materials from his books Positives (1966) and Touch (1967), including many drafts and notes from Gunn’s most ambitious poem, “Misanthropos.”

The papers of Thom Gunn span the period from 1951 to 1983. The collection also contains copies of Gunn’s publications and some correspondence, most notably two letters to Donald Davie. Additional works by Thom Gunn can be found in our rare books collection.

View our Online Exhibit ‘Thom Gunn and “Misanthropos”‘.

Explore the Thom Gunn papers finding aid.

To view any items in the collection visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library or if you have any questions, please contact us


What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: E is for…

E. Barrett Prettyman!

Elijah Barrett Prettyman Jr. (1925-2016) is best known for his work in public service and with the U.S. Supreme Court. He clerked for three justices and argued 19 cases before the court, supporting first amendment rights and opposing the death penalty. He also served as counsel for the House of Representatives Ethics Committee. 

In private practice, Prettyman had a roster of celebrity clients, including Katherine Anne Porter. Prettyman was a keen reader and an author in his own right, having started in journalism before pursing a law degree and authoring the book Death and the Supreme Court, which won an Edgar Allen Poe Award. Prettyman first connected to Porter when he wrote her requesting an autograph after reading Ship of Fools. They exchanged a couple of letters and Porter eventually reached out to Prettyman for help writing her will. 

Porter was infatuated with Prettyman and would write him letters full of compliments and signed with love. She invited him to every party she threw or over for meals where they would simply sit and chat. Prettyman played along, genuinely enjoying their get togethers, but never taking her declarations of love too seriously. Their shared literary interests and mutual professional respect formed the base of a close friendship that lasted until Porter’s death.

You can explore digitized letters by Katherine Anne Porter’s online in the online exhibit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977.

Browse the finding aids to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and the E. Barrett Prettyman Papers.

Contact us to learn more!


Mattie Lewis is a student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program and Graduate Assistant with the Katherine Anne Porter Collection at UMD.

Special Collections Spotlight: William Addison Dwiggins Collection

William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956) was an American type designer, book designer, calligrapher, illustrator, and writer. He also carved and wrote plays for his marionettes, and had occasional excursions into architecture, furniture design, mural painting, kite flying, weathervane-making, and making his own tools. After studying illustration under Frederic Goudy, Dwiggins moved to Hingham, Massachusetts in the early 1900s to work with Goudy and his Village Press. Most of Dwiggins work in the first two decades of the 20th century was in the advertising field.

It was not until the mid-twenties that Dwiggins emerged as a book designer, following the publication of his 1919 essay “Extracts from an Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books as They Are At Present Published”. Published by The Society of Calligraphers, a fictitious group created by Dwiggins, with the “help” of Hermann Püterschein (Dwiggins’ alter-ego) the essay aimed to shake up publishing industry by criticizing the lack of attention to careful design and typography. It helped to establish Dwiggins as a designer opposed to what he considered shoddy workmanship of the 20th century.

In 1926, Dwiggins designed and illustrated both the limited and trade editions of Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy for the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. He went on to have a long and fruitful career designing many more trade and limited editions for Knopf, as well as limited editions for other organizations, including George Macy’s Limited Editions Club.

Dwiggins is known for his used of ornamentation done with stencils and hand lettering on the spines of his books. The collection includes over 130 volumes and over 30 pieces of ephemera documenting Dwiggins’s design career, as well as works written about him.

Explore the William Addison Dwiggins collection finding aid.

To view any of W. A. Dwiggins’ works in the collection visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library or if you have any questions, please contact us


What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

New Resource: LibGuide on Gothic Literature in Special Collections

With the start of October we are officially entering spooky season! If you’re in the mood for omnious reading, check out the new subject guide, Gothic Literature in Special Collections! This guide highlights many of the titles influential to the Gothic genre that are available in Literature & Rare Books in Special Collections & University Archives  in Hornbake Library.

Gothic literature is an extensive literary genre. These works often include themes of romance, horror, and a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror. The term Gothic is a reference to the architecture of medieval buildings and ruins, which served as inspiration and backdrop in gothic novels with omnious castles/manors surrounded by eerie landscapes outside and subterranean passages, hidden panels, and trapdoors on the inside. The golden age of Gothic literature is roughly defined as beginning in the late 18th century up to the end of the 19th century, although its imprint can clearly be seen long past this timeframe leading into the modern horror genre in film, literature, comics, and more.

Authors highlighted in the new subject guide include grandfather of Gothic literature, Horace Walpole whose 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto is widely considered to be the first Gothic novel. Additional highlighted authors are the prolific Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and John William Polidori, whose 1819 novel, The Vampyre,  is considered the one of the first modern novels of the vampire genre in fiction. The Literature and Rare Books collection holds two first editions of The Vampyre. Illustrated editions of Frankenstein and works by Edgar Allan Poe are also prominent in the collections. Also included are notable Southern Gothic writers William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor and works that branch out beyond traditional Gothic genre.

Contact us for more information about these titles or other materials located from Literature & Rare Books in Special Collections & University Archives!


Victoria Vera is a graduate student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program at UMD and a student assistant in the Literature and Rare Books Collections, Special Collections and University Archives.

Special Collections Spotlight: First Appearances collection

The First Appearances Collection consists of over 1,300 periodicals containing the “first appearance,” or first public dissemination, of literary works and other excerpts of novels, poems, and essays written by notable 20th century authors. The publications range from literary magazines, such as Little Review, Texas Quarterly, and Partisan Review to popular titles such as Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Spanning 1915 to 1977, the First Appearances Collection contains pieces such as “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway, “Ulysses” by James Joyce, and “Ship of Fools” by Katherine Anne Porter. The collection is also notable for its early editions of publications such as Time Magazine, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly, as well as more specialized publications such as the Yale Quarterly Review.

Authors represented in this collection include Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Thom Gunn, William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, Gertrude Stein, Amiri Baraka, Ezra Pound, and more.

Explore the First Appearances collection finding aid.

To view any items in the collection visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library or if you have any questions, please contact us


What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

Featured Collection: Frontlash records

Frontlash was an activist group, led by young adults, instrumental in increasing voting and political engagement among American youth and minorities. Frontlash also served as a training ground for future personnel in the labor movement. It was created as a nonpartisan organization to challenge political and electoral apathy among youth in the 1960s.

Frontlash staffer handing out registration material

Frontlash stepped up their voter education efforts for young people when the 26th Amendment was passed in 1971. The organization sent members door-to-door, created poster displays, and set up public stands on sidewalks and college campuses to encourage wider political education and to register young voters. Later, they expanded their activities beyond voting rights to include international democracy and fair labor practices, such as child labor, apartheid, minimum wage, and workers rights.

This collection has extensive material related to instruction in labor organizing and union support, as well as significant material relating to Frontlash’s political activity. Types of records include organizational records, financial records, minutes, mission statements, reports, and photographs.

Continue reading

New Resource: Subject Guide for The Eugene Istomin Collection

Special Collections and University Archives is highlighting items from the Eugene Istomin collection within the Literature and Rare Books collections with a new subject guide, The Eugene Istomin Collection!

Eugene Istomin was a great American pianist, renowned for his artistry in recitals, chamber music and orchestral solos. Among his many accolades, Istomin was the Director of the University of Maryland piano festival, and beginning with President Eisenhower’s administration through the 1980s, Eugene Istomin served as a cultural ambassador, performing on three occasions at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In addition to his music, Eugene Istomin had many other interests, including visual arts, literature, history, and sports.

Continue reading

New Exhibit: Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre

Fall is coming to campus! Leaves will be changing color, there will be a crisp cool breeze and longer nights, and Halloween is right around the corner! To help you get into the mood for the spooky season visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to explore our latest exhibit in Special Collections and University Archives titled Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre.

Mysteries, monsters and the macabre have plagued our minds for millennia. Medieval creatures lurking in the depths of the sea. Ghastly gothic tales of murderous guilt. An unexplainable 15th century code rumored to provide the key to immortality. Memorializing the dead with plaster casts. A curious purple vampire with a compulsive urge to count all he sees. These are a few of the intriguing stories you’ll uncover when literature, folklore, and history converge in the Special Collections exhibit Mysteries, Monsters, and the Macabre.

Continue reading

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: A is for…

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) is a celebrated Modernist writer who has a big presence in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland. Today we’re kicking off a new series of blog posts that will introduce you to Porter’s life and works using the ABCs.

A new letter will be posted each week, so stay tuned!

A is for Abels!

Cyrilly Abels (1903-1975) was a long time friend and agent of Katherine Anne Porter. The pair met when Porter wrote a story for Mademoiselle magazine, where Abels was the managing editor for more than a decade. Porter enjoyed writing the for the magazine because Abels wasn’t rigid in her requests. Porter had creative freedom to write fiction or nonfiction on any subject she liked and deadlines weren’t an issue. Abels gladly accepted a piece when it was completed and paid Porter well for her contributions. 

Porter highly distrusted agents, editors, and businessmen in the literary world. However, in 1962 when Abels set out on her own as a literary agent, Porter immediately became a client. Abels understood Porter’s writing habits and artistic temperament better than most. As an agent, Abels helped coordinate appearances, manage contracts, and act as a filter between for Porter and the publishing industry. She strongly advocated for Porter’s work to receive the recognition and remuneration it deserved. 

Abels acted as confidant as well, giving pep-talks to boost Porter’s morale. It wasn’t uncommon for the pair to go long stretches without seeing one another. So, their friendship was built through correspondence, talking about all manner of things, but especially gardening and fashion. Abels would send baskets of flowers to let Porter know she was thinking about her or even gift Porter money when she was in need. Paul Porter recalled his aunt’s relationship with her agent, writing “Cyrilly Abels was [one of] two people in her long life KAP never said an unkind word about, or tolerated one.”

You can explore digitized letters written by Katherine Anne Porter in the online exhibit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977.

Browse the finding aid to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and the Cyrilly Abels papers to learn more about their relationship! Schedule an appointment to visit the reading room in Hornbake Library to explore the collections in person.


Mattie Lewis is a student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program and Graduate Assistant with the Katherine Anne Porter Collection at UMD.