The Illustrated Wartime Correspondence of Hendrik Willem van Loon

One of my favorite duties as a graduate assistant is working the reference desk in the Maryland Room. Having only been a part of Special Collections and University Archives for less than a year, there are still a number of collections I haven’t seen, and helping others with their research is one way that I get to learn more about our holdings. Recently, a researcher introduced me to the illustrated letters of Hendrik Willem van Loon in the Helen Sioussat papers. I was delighted by the brightly colored, whimsical illustrations van Loon drew on the envelopes he sent Sioussat, and seeing them inspired me to learn more about the two friends, both of whom were compelling historical figures I knew little about.

Illustration of a whale on an envelope by Hendrik Willem van Loon, sent via airmail to Helen Sioussat in Nassau, Bahamas

Envelope from a letter from Hendrik Willem van Loon to Helen Sioussat, February 24, 1941

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Processing the Papers of a Maryland Environmentalist, Merilyn B. Reeves

In June 2016, Merilyn B. Reeves donated a collection of personal papers and publications to the University of Maryland’s Special Collections.  Reeves was a prominent member of the environmental movement in Maryland through her involvement in the League of Women Voters. She was Vice President of the League of Women Voters of Maryland and a member of the national board, where she was in charge of the Natural Resources Portfolio. Additionally, she was President of the American? Lung Association of Maryland and on the national-level board of the American Lung Association.  She tackled environmental issues such as the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent River and the defense of the Clean Air and Safe Water Acts before Congress, where she testified on several occasions. More locally, Reeves was a member of the West Laurel Civic Association and she acted as a tour guide for the Piscataway Wastewater Treatment and Patuxent River Water Filtration plants.

Reeves photo

Merilyn B. Reeves asking a question to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance at the League of Women Voters National Convention, May 1978

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An Unknown Pioneer Takes Her Place in the Broadcast Archives

Mary Kelly, Today Show 1952Mary Ellen Agnes Kelly (1926-2005?) was an American television researcher, talent coordinator, and associate producer with the pioneering early morning television program Today on NBC. She was also a special assignments reporter, traveling far and wide to film feature segments. Kelly crisscrossed the United States many times and covered stories from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Newspaper articles from the period compared her to Nellie Bly, the intrepid 19th-century reporter known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days. Kelly traveled around the world – on the first commercial flight over the North Pole in 1957 – in 71 hours and six minutes. Unfortunately, her remarkable career is little known today.

A remarkable collection of photographs and clippings from her career are now part of Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture. The journey of these materials to our collections is typical in how it was nearly discarded but later adopted by an appreciative collector. In the 1960s, Kelly sublet her New York City apartment to a man who subsequently discovered several boxes she left behind. He contacted her to offer to return the boxes, but she declined. However, he thought that the contents were fascinating and kept the boxes for over 50 years. When he passed away, his widow – realizing that Kelly must have been important as one of the few women working in early television – donated the material to the UMD libraries.

Early Career

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African-Americans in the Early Labor Movement

DYK that labor unions did not allow African-Americans to become members back in the day? Being a member of a union was important to be able to bargain for workers’ rights and fight against the discrimination that black workers faced. Many skilled black workers sought to join unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) between 1881 and 1915. But, white craft union members, who were primarily affiliated with the AFL, were afraid of the competition and didn’t allow African Americans to join. On the other hand, industrial unions were more accepting of black workers.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union members pose with locomotive firemen, ca. 1940. AFL-CIO Photographic Print Collection (RG96-001)

Who were early allies?

The Knights of Labor, the AFL until 1915, the United Mine Workers of America, the International Longshoreman’s Union, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Some black workers allowed to join:

The Teamsters, the Cigar Makers, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, the Carpenters, and the Printers.

Very few black workers allowed to join:

The Pressmen, the Lithographers, the Photo-Engravers, the Iron Steel and Tin Workers, the Molders, the Pattern Makers, the Glass Workers, the Boot and Shoe Workers, and the Wood Workers

For more information about the relationship of the civil rights movement and the labor movement, visit our exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” in person or online or email us at askhornbake@umd.edu.


Jen Eidson is a Special Collections Processing Archivist in the University of Maryland Libraries.

An Archive of International Gifts:  Objects from the Spiro T. Agnew Papers (A Blog Series: Part 3)

As stated in an earlier blog post, members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit at the University of Maryland libraries have been inventorying physical objects within the Spiro T. Agnew papers.  One of the interesting aspects about processing a presidential or vice presidential collection is its inclusion of gifts from foreign leaders. The Spiro T. Agnew papers, for example, includes numerous  gifts to the Vice President of the United States from Mohammad Rezā Pahlavi, who was the last Shah (or king) of Iran between 1941 and 1979.  It is difficult to say whether this relationship extended beyond what was typical of two government officials during the Cold War, but it is clear that Agnew received gifts and commemorative literature from Pahlavi on several occasions. Increased American involvement in Iran dated to at least the early 1940s, Continue reading

Letters to Mother: A Brother’s Reunion

Originally called Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, was reserved as a day of remembrance for the one-year anniversary of the end of the Great War.  Observed since 1926 and celebrated as a national holiday since 1938, now known as Veterans Day, honors all military personnel who have served the United States.  This year, America celebrated the 99th anniversary of the day that ended the “War to End All Wars.”  Accessible at the University of Maryland Special Collections, the Milton Reckord papers – which includes letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, awards, and memorabilia – affords an opportunity to compare the correspondence of two of Harford County’s very own “doughboys” from Maryland, General Milton Atchinson Reckord, and his younger brother, Colonel Leland Tell Reckord.

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The Labor Movement and Film, Part 2: “For the Union Makes Us Strong”

Let’s continue on the journey of exploring the Labor History Collections films that are featured in the “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” exhibit! In part 1 of this blog series, we looked at Leading the Way: Black Trade Unions in South Africa, Pay Equality, To Dream, and Solidarity Day. All four of these films explored various events from history that correlate to the social justice topics that are discussed in the displays. Though the topics may be different, the films help viewers understand how social justice issues and the labor movement are intertwined and how historical events resonate today.

The film Toxic Earth explores the alliance between the labor and environmental justice movements. Today, environmental topics are always in the news and are being discussed in political debates. The ability to watch this discussion transform within the context of the labor movement can help us see how we have gotten to the point of the conversation we are in today.

“Today’s environment is the one we will earn and choose by organizing and working on the issues of occupational and environmental health. By demanding “Right To Know” laws, controls on acid rain, strict regulations, and enforcement of standards. The alternative is leaving life and death decisions in the hands of polluting corporations, relaying on lax and inadequate government supervision. Our greatest strength is in working together.”

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