The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
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As we celebrate Women’s History Month at the Smithsonian, you might ask who was the first woman to secure a paid position at the Smithsonian? Jane Wadden Turner (1818- 1896) was appointed a library clerk in 1857 after being trained by her brother. The Robert Wadden and Elizabeth Jameson Turner family immigrated from England in 1818, with three children, Susan then ten, William Wadden then seven, and Jane Wadden only three months old. The family had some resources, but their father died in 1821 and their mother died in 1828, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Despite the challenges, the close-knit family stayed together and made a remarkable life for themselves in their new home. Susan, the oldest, always stayed at home and kept house for her two siblings, giving them the freedom to pursue intellectual careers and a life devoted to books.
William Wadden Turner (1811-1859) became a noted philologist and was trained as a librarian at Columbia College in New York City. He moved to Washington, DC, in 1852 to organize the library of the Patent Office and soon became a close friend of the Smithsonian’s Assistant Secretary Spencer F. Baird. His sisters soon followed and the household now included William’s wife and a growing family. The entire Turner family spent their Sundays and holidays at the Baird’s, part of the warm network of young scholars that Spencer and Mary Churchill Baird created in their home. In 1857, Baird asked William to assume responsibility for the Smithsonian library, and William delegated the task of preparing the catalogue to his sister Jane.
Family connections were one of the ways women were able to enter professional positions in the 19th century, and Jane Turner is a great example of that pattern. She was appointed a library clerk in 1858, and after her brother's early death in 1859, was placed in charge of the library. Secretary Joseph Henry wrote of her that she "vindicates by her accuracy and efficiency the propriety of employing her sex in some of the departments of the government."
After a devasting fire in the Smithsonian Castle in 1865, Henry transferred the Smithsonian Library to the Library of Congress in 1866. Jane Turner then served as assistant to A. R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress. She also was clerk in charge of the Smithsonian’s International Exchange Service from 1866 to 1869. Turner oversaw the distribution and exchange of scientific publications with 1,744 institutions in twenty-six countries. Turner's position, however, did not entail supervising men. When the Institution recruited another person to handle the ever growing International Exchange Service in 1885, one Smithsonian administrator wrote: "I have a full appreciation of the merits, business capacity, and efficiency of women, as is shown by the fact that our present librarian is a 'female of that sex'; but the place I refer to may grow to be a controlling one, covering several extensive departments which could not well be subordinated to a woman." The glass ceiling was cleary put up early in Smithsonian history.
After Henry’s death in 1878, the Institution's library began to grow again and Ms. Turner resumed the duties of Smithsonian Librarian in 1882 until 1887 when she resigned after a reorganization of the Library by the new Secretary, Samuel P. Langley. After Turner's retirement, a woman was not appointed Chief of the Smithsonian Library until 1942, during World War II, when Leila Gay Forbes Clark was placed in charge.
- Record Unit 7098 - Biographical Information File, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- In Memoriam - Jane Wadden Turner, Open Library
- Smithsonian Institution Libraries history, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Women's History Month is meant to celebrate notable, influential women who, through their activism in their chosen field, made contributions to history and society. One woman that we here at the Archives would like to highlight is Florence Merriam Bailey, an American nature writer and ornithologist who made significant contributions to ornithology through her participation and work with the National Audubon Society, the American Ornithologists' Union, and more.
As an intern with the Digital Services Division, I worked with the Florence Merriam Bailey Papers for the past seven weeks and learned a great deal about Florence's life and work and its influence on the 19th century scientific community. I have to be honest, before embarking on this project, I had little to no knowledge about the field of ornithology and had never heard of Florence's work. After looking at her various diaries, journals, publications, and photographs, Florence's passion for studying birds became very apparent to me.
Florence was the daughter of Clinton Levi Merriam and the sister of Clinton (C.) Hart Merriam, a famous zoologist who worked for and eventually became director of the U. S. Biological Survey and was first president of the American Society of Mammalogy. C. Hart Merriam introduced Florence to her future husband, Vernon Orlando Bailey, another prominent figure in the field of natural history. Vernon and C. Hart Merriam worked together compiling their research and field work and shared their work with the Smithsonian. Vernon and Florence spent their life together as a perfect team, conducting research together and taking the scientific world by storm.
Florence was born on August 8, 1863 in Locust Grove, New York during the Civil War. At the age of eleven, she wrote a diary detailing her daily thoughts and activities in Washington, DC, where she was living at the time. In her early entries, she speaks of taking walks, attending Sunday school, and learning Latin. She was very literate and well-written by the age of eleven and cared about her studies. "I have finished all of my Sunday School lesson, but of course I will have to look it over every day." She even displayed a hint of adolescent humor in her entries, as on January 6 she states, "I have not done anything today that is worth writing down so I guess I won't say anything." I found this first diary interesting not only because I was able to read about young Florence's life but also because it was really interesting to study the physical differences in the diaries themselves from those of today. Florence also kept other diaries of her life in Washington, and journals from trips to South Carolina, Maine, California, etc. In her California journal in particular, I found that her curly, cursive writing was sometimes hard to decipher and I had to look up the places she was describing. However after working with her collection for the past several weeks, I started to become familiar with her handwriting.
This collection also includes a vast collection of field notes and photographs from her expeditions. One trip in particular caught my eye. Florence's 1898 trip to Mount Hood in Oregon was interesting to work with because it included both field notes as well as photographs. This made it easy to visualize the places and species she wrote about. She also took photos of the mountain itself as well as of the bird habitats in the area, including trees and bushes.
One of my favorite groups of photographs and documents are those from "Homewood." Homewood was Florence's name for the family property in Locust Grove, New York. She documents the house and land via black-and-white photographs. I particularly enjoyed the pictures of "Brownie," a squirrel that was often present in Homewood. Florence seemed to enjoy taking pictures of him, as there are several within her collection of him in a variety of amusing poses.
I enjoyed this collection for its variety of field documents and photographs, both in the field as well as personal ones. Through interacting with Florence's diaries, field books, and photographs I was able to connect at a personal level with this inspiring woman of the scientific community. Florence was not only a researcher of birds, but a promoter of their preservation too. She became involved with the Committee on Bird Protection of the American Ornithologists' Union, and as a result of her efforts and others, the Lacey Act of 1900 was instituted. This act prohibited interstate trade in wildlife that had been illegally taken, transported or sold. Florence Merriam Bailey was a prominent historical figure in the field of ornithology and an inspiring woman.
- Record Unit 7417 - Florence Merriam Bailey Papers, 1865-1942, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7267 - Vernon Orlando Bailey Papers, 1889-1941 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Comparing Observations: Vernon and Florence Merriam Bailey, Smithsonian Collections blog
- A Beaver Corral, Fried Owl, and Pueblos: Adventures with Vernon Orlando Bailey, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Think the org chart is complex at your company/organization? Check out this org chart for the New York & Erie Railroad from 1855. [via Wired Design]
- Mach 6.7 . . . Now that's pretty fast! Get to know the X-15 in the National Air and Space Museum's Milestones of Flight gallery. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- Look in the collections of most archives and you'll find paper, lots of it. In honor of ubiquitous paper, take a look at the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory in Bhutan. [via Core77]
- That darn dust! All hands on deck at the National Museum of Natural History to help clean the cases and specimens in the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals. [via Unearthed, NMNH]
- Come April 10-11, if you happen to find yourself in Indianapolis, Indiana, be sure to check out Personal Digital Archiving 2014 at the Indiana State Library. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- You've transcribed journals, diaries, and botanical specimens, now its time to transcribe currency proof sheets from the National Numismatics Collection at the National Museum of American History. [via O say can you see?, NMAH
- Anzu wyliei - one scary chicken and newly discovered bird-like dinosaur. [via Smithsonian Science]
- Whoa . . . that is pretty mesmerizing! Check out these animated gifs by Hungarian/German graphic designer David Szakaly. [via Colossal]
Women are hiding in archives across the country. While some women's papers make it into archival collections in their own right, many others are swept up with their husbands' papers.
One woman hiding in the Archives is Mary Foote Henderson. Born in 1842, in Seneca Falls, New York, the daughter of a prominent judge, she was educated at Grove Ladies Seminary (now Skidmore College) and Washington University.
She married Missouri Senator John B. Henderson, sponsor of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. It was not as a senator, but as an expert on West Indian mollusks and a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents that Henderson is represented in Record Unit 7075 - The Henderson Family Papers, 1868-1923.
The pieces of ephemera Mary Henderson left among her husband's papers give a glimpse at the interests of a remarkable woman.
In 1889, after accumulating a fortune, the Hendersons moved back to Washington, D.C., where they built a castle-like mansion on 16th Street called "Boundary Castle" or "Henderson's Castle." Mrs. Henderson bought blocks of land in the Meridian Hill area where she constructed elaborate residences that were sold as embassies. Mary Henderson's interest in the neighborhood led to her unsuccessful campaign to have a new White House constructed there. She was, however, successful in lobbying Congress to support the acquisition of the land and its development as Meridian Hill Park.
- City Beautiful movement, University of Virginia
- Record Unit 7075 - The Henderson Family Papers, 1868-1923, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Whenever March 24th rolls around, I stop to fondly recall Frank A. Taylor, the founding director of the National Museum of American History. Long after his retirement, his Smithsonian family would throw an annual birthday party for him, from the time he turned 90 until his death at 104! His 100th birthday party was especially memorable with former colleagues traveling to Chevy Chase, Maryland, from around the world. And for the next two years after he passed away in 2007, we continued to gather and offer a toast to Frank.
A tall, distinguished-looking man with a very deep voice, Taylor commanded respect and affection. I was privileged to conduct a series of oral history interviews with him and began to understand his exceptional management skills. Frank Taylor was a great listener, who could hear both sides of an argument, even when he passionately held an opposite point of view. With that respectful understanding of each person’s point of view, he was able to negotiate compromise and find solutions to thorny disputes.
Nicknamed “Mr. Museum,” Taylor did not start out interested in the Smithsonian. During his youth in Washington, DC, he would ride his bike right past the imposing museum buildings on the Mall, down to the Tidal Basin to fish or while away a summer’s day. He never visited the Smithsonian until he received a call about a job opening after he had graduated from high school.
Having passed the Civil Service draftsman exam, in 1922 he was appointed a Laboratory Apprentice in the Division of Mechanical Technology in the Arts and Industries Building and the rest was . . . history. He pursued advanced degrees, including a law degree, and when he retired in 1971, he held the title of Director-General of Museums. Lost without his steady guidance, Secretary S. Dillon Ripley convinced him to come back to work as a consultant for another twelve years.
Of his many achievements, Taylor is most known for building the National Museum of American History (first known as the Museum of History and Technology) to replace the crowded collections in corners of the Arts and Industries and Natural History Buildings. Taylor served in Europe during World War II, and when he returned he found the Smithsonian’s National Museum looking very shabby. He created an “Exhibits Modernization Committee” and that group oversaw a systematic renovation of all the exhibits in the museums. Festive exhibit openings for Capitol Hill staffers and Washington elite convinced these funders that the Smithsonian could effectively use money for a new building. And in January of 1964, Taylor’s lifetime dream came true when the first architecturally modern building on the National Mall opened to house the nation’s history collections.
Audio Clips from the Frank A. Taylor Oral History Interviews:
Interview 6, March 27, 1974, in which he describes the opening held for staff the day before the formal opening of the museum – “one of the happiest evenings of my life.” Record Unit 9512 - Oral history interviews with Frank A. Taylor, 1974, 1979-1980, 1982, 2005, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Interview 14, November 26, 1980, where he talks about staff excitement when he was invited to visit European museums – very unusual for a Smithsonian historian! Record Unit 9512 - Oral history interviews with Frank A. Taylor, 1974, 1979-1980, 1982, 2005, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
From 1922 to 1984, Taylor devoted 62 years to the Institution he had so come to love. His dry humor and steady temperament defused many a contentious meeting. He shared his long experience and wisdom with generations of younger colleagues, serving as a role model and setting standards for all who followed him.
- Record Unit 9512 - Oral history interviews with Frank A. Taylor, 1974, 1979-1980, 1982, 2005, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Frank A. Taylor Oral History Interviews, Capitol Hill Historical Society