Curator’s Choice: Favorite Item in the Labor History Exhibit

Asking an archivist to pick their favorite item in their exhibit may be the most challenging question you could ever ask them. After spending the past year assisting in all aspects of the exhibit For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America, I noticed that one of the most popular items I selected for the exhibit was the United Farm Workers flag. The flag, signed by famous figures Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, commemorates the historic Delano grape strike. The five-year strike started on September 8, 1965 and changed the face of the American labor movement and its attitude towards immigrant workers.


Jen Wachtel with the United Farm Workers flag commemorating the Delano grape strike.

Starting in Delano Valley, California, immigrant workers of Filipino and Mexican descent waged a massive strike that transformed working conditions for farm workers. Using nonviolent tactics, the five-year struggle spread from the grape fields of California to boycotts of non-union farm produce in major American urban centers such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington, DC. Under the leadership of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, the strikers appealed to students, religious leaders, and urban union members and generated national support for farm workers. The Delano grape strike also opened the national labor movement’s eyes to the power of immigrant labor in the United States because of the magnitude and power of the nonviolent strikes the UFW was able to organize.

I chose this commemorative flag not only because of its bold red coloring and distinctive signatures, but also because I particularly enjoyed telling this story of this crucial moment for immigrant workers in the United States.


United Farm Workers Flag signed by Delano grape strike leaders on the 25th anniversary of the strike. 1987. AFL-CIO Artifact Collection

One of the most recognizable signatures on the upper-left corner of the flag is that of Cesar Chavez. As leader of the National Farm Workers Association and later the UFW, Chavez was a leading figure in the Delano grape strike. Filipino members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee started the strike by walking out of vineyards in Delano valley, and Cesar Chavez led the Mexican members of the National Farm Workers Association (a precursor of the UFW) in joining the strike. Chavez had spent years persuading Mexicans to join his union, and now he asked them to join a larger movement demanding fair wages and improved working conditions. Following in Chavez’s lead, farm laborers sacrificed their livelihoods for the greater union cause. During the five-year strike, Chavez rose from near anonymity to national prominence and led a nationwide crusade for recognizing the value of migrant labor.

Huerta and Chavez - Grape Strike

Dedication of the United Farm Workers Headquarters in Delano, California featuring Cesar Chavez, third from the left and Dolores Huerta, second from the right.  September 27, 1969. AFL-CIO Photographic Print Collection

Another signature  on the left side of the flag is that of civil rights icon and influential labor activist Dolores Huerta. Often overshadowed by her National Farm Workers Association co-founder Cesar Chavez, she was a leading organizer of the Delano grape strike and served as the UFW’s first vice president. During the Delano grape strike, she confronted violence from grape growers and overcame sexism within her own organization. Huerta was the lead negotiator in the successful contract negotiations that followed the Delano grape strike, which won safer working conditions, unemployment benefits, and better healthcare benefits for agricultural workers.[1]

The AFL-CIO collection holds a number of items documenting the historic Delano grape strike beyond the commemorative flag. For example, a 1969 editorial and cartoon in the AFL-CIO News  demonstrates how the Delano grape strike transformed unions’ attitudes towards immigrant labor. “Viva La Causa!” (“Long Live the Cause!”), refers to the cause adopted by thousands of people across the United States to end exploitation of farm workers.


 “An Epic Struggle” editorial backing the United Farm Workers featuring “Viva La Causa” cartoon in support of the Delano grape strike. AFL-CIO News. September 27, 1969. AFL-CIO Information Department, AFL-CIO News.  The AFL-CIO News is also digitized online.

To learn more about the Delano grape strike, visit the exhibit For Liberty: Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America in person at Hornbake Library or online, and be sure to explore the section on Immigrants’ Rights!  For general information about the Labor History Archives, check out our labor history subject guide! This post is one of a series of Curator’s Choices, so be on the lookout for posts by other members of the Labor History Archives team at Special Collections and University Archives.

[1] “Dolores Huerta.” National Women’s History Museum. (accessed 25 October 2017).

Jen Wachtel is a graduate student at the University of Maryland pursuing an M.A. in History (Modern Europe), a Master of Library and Information Science (Archives and Digital Curation), and a graduate certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture. She is a Coordinator for Labor History Collections and Mass Media and Culture Processing Archivist at Special Collections and University Archives. Jen expects to graduate in December 2018 to pursue a career in museum archives.


Happy Holidays from Special Collections

A new exhibit is on display in the Maryland Room will get you in the holiday spirit! We’ve selected the jolliest holiday cards and ephemera from our literary and historical several collections, including the Theodore R. McKeldin Paper, Gordon W. Prange Papers, Djuna Barnes Papers, Robert Frost Book Collection, and Spiro T. Agnew Papers, and  William Addison Dwiggins Collection.

Items from our literary collection include a selection of holiday chapbooks printed by the Spiral Press with the poetry of Robert Frost.  Colorful holiday cards from author T.S. Eliot and socialite Peggy Guggenheim to writer/artist Djuna Barnes are also featured. An impressive oversized edition of A Christmas Carol on display was designed and illustrated by W.A. Dwiggins, and was bound in festive green leather and marbled paper design.

We also pulled interesting holiday-themed items from our historical collection, including a set of beautiful Japanese inspired holiday cards received by UMD professor and historian Gordon W. Prange. A variety of presidential holiday cards given to Governor of Maryland Theodore McKeldin include holiday greetings from US Presidents Nixon, Eisenhower, Johnson, as well as the President of Israel Zalman Sazar. A political cartoon with Santa from the AFL-CIO archives and speech given by Vice President Agnew at a tree lighting ceremony on Washington DC also add to the historical holiday fun.

Visit the Maryland Room to explore the holiday fun! You can also pick up a free holiday card featuring images from our Baltimore News American Photograph Collection!


Special Collections Opens Their Doors

This semester we hosted an Open House for University staff and displayed some of the interesting material found within our collection.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Three of these items came from our literary collection and included an early edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an inscribed copy of Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old, and a 1794 edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. These early editions provided insights into the times in which they were produced through their format, inscriptions or by the significance of their ownership. Much can be learned by looking at original copies of common works.

students_400If you would like to talk to us about using our collections for your own research or to support your instruction, please let us know. We often work with faculty and look forward to the opportunity to get to know you and your students.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Women

A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old

Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old

Versions of a book from manuscript through various publications

Versions of a book from manuscript through various publications



Presidential Campaigns – Through the Candidates’ Eyes

Think the current presidential election campaign has been unusual?  The new exhibit in the Maryland Room of Hornbake Library explores some of the strange techniques that presidential candidates have used to appeal to voters across much of American history. Candidates (or their spokespeople) have spread serious ideas and spurious notions; built interest from specific demographics of people; sought the support of parties and coalitions of parties; and deployed advertising to increase public visibility and name recognition.

The documents and artifacts in this exhibit date from the 1830s to the 1980s, and are drawn from a variety of collections available for research in the Maryland Room. These include the Spiro T. Agnew papers, the James Bruce papers, the Joseph Tydings papers, the archives of the National Organization for Women (Maryland Chapter), the Rare Books collection, and the Marylandia collection.

Items of particular interest, perhaps, are the autograph letter signed by Senator John F. Kennedy after his nomination by the Democratic Party in 1960, and two official White House photographs, which separately depict Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Ronald Reagan. But, then again, there’s the 1932 poster for Franklin D. Roosevelt which promoted “Beer Instead of Taxes.”

Visit these and more in the Maryland Room through the end of October.

Underground Media Collections on Display in the Performing Arts Library

In honor of the exhibit “Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The 30-Year Journey of a Cult Film Sensation”, now on display in the Gallery of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, Special Collections is highlighting the expansion of our materials related to local, DIY and underground media. In the latter half of the 20th century, the Maryland/D.C. area gave rise to a number of unique radio, film and music scenes that were largely documented through the DIY efforts of their participants, and the University of Maryland is playing an important role in preserving their histories. The photos, flyers, articles, fanzines, and sound and video recordings that survive in these collections show how local arts communities thrived through the creativity of the people they inspired.

Located across from the circulation desk in the Performing Arts Library, two large display cases showcase items from Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) and Special Collections in the Performing Arts (SCPA). The SCUA case includes highlights from the WMUC Collection, and the recently acquired Jeff Krulik Collection, and the SCPA case includes highlights from the John Davis Photograph and Poster Collection, the D.C. Punk and Fanzine Collection, the Sharon Cheslow Punk Flyers Collection and the Jason Farrell Collection.


Frederick Douglass Exhibit Coming Soon to Hornbake Library

The new exhibit Frederick Douglass & Wye House: Archaeology and African American Culture in Maryland will be opening soon in the Maryland Room exhibit gallery in Hornbake Library.

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Thousands of African and African American families were enslaved in Maryland for almost 250 years. Little evidence of their daily lives was preserved which leaves many questions about how they created a vital and distinct culture.

The University of Maryland seeks to answer questions about the origins of the nation including the contributions of African Americans. In the Department of Anthropology, archaeologists investigate Maryland’s landscapes to collect historical evidence and reveal new knowledge about the African American experience. At Wye House plantation, researchers utilized the words and work of Frederick Douglass to help answer the questions of today’s descendants of enslaved people.

By understanding past relationships to the natural environment and religions, University of Maryland archaeologists are discovering how African and European traditions creatively merged over four centuries to form a unique Maryland culture.

Visit Hornbake Library September 2016-July 2017 to explore this fascinating exhibit and learn more about the life and times of Frederick Douglass.

Farewell Alice, Welcome Frederick Douglass!

Our exhibit Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz has officially closed in Hornbake Library. As we say goodbye to Alice, we look ahead to the next exhibit, Frederick Douglass & Wye House: Archaeology and African American Culture in Maryland. The exhibit will run from September 2016-July 2016. It explores the site of Frederick Douglass’ birthplace on the Eastern Shore, showcasing materials discovered during excavations, along with the testimony of descendants of former slaves at Wye House, providing insights into one of the greatest leaders and spokesman for human equality, Frederick Douglass.

Thank you to August and Clare Imholtz for the privilege of  exhibiting their fascinating collection of Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland items. And thanks to all the folks who visited the Alice exhibit in Hornbake Library and took part in our events and social media celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland. If you are still curious to explore all things Lewis Carroll, be sure to visit the Alice 150 Years and Counting online exhibit.

Follow us for more updates on upcoming exhibits and events in Special Collections and University Archives. View the gallery below for a glimpse into the process of packing away the Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit.