The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
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After successfully completing his 1925 European business trip, 29-year-old Watson Davis headed home on the S.S. Republic, boarding at Cherbourg, France, on October 2. The science journalist had covered the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and discussed with Sir Richard Gregory (Editor of the journal Nature) the plausibility of establishing a “British Science Service” modeled on the American venture. Davis had met with scientists in Berlin and Geneva and arrived in Paris on September 22. Along the way, he gathered science news, solidified valuable contacts for future news, and hired new correspondents. He even found time to fire the current British stringer for Science Service because he was “full of whisky most of the time and ... not at all in favor with the scientists.”
In September 2015, the Archives invited readers of The Bigger Picture to help in identifying newly digitized photographs that Davis took during his 1925 European travels. Like many a tourist before and since, Davis also kept a few paper mementos to supplement his snapshots.
Davis's table partners for the special Captain's Dinner on Saturday, October 10, 1925, included Detroit businessman Jefferson T. Wing, and two sisters from Webster Grove, Missouri, Dorothy and Bessie Young. The menu was sprinkled with cultural references (“Canapé, Fin-de-siècle,” “Braised Duckling à la Marc Twain,” and “Washington Tart”) and what may have been celebrations of popular crew members or passengers (“Potage à la Liliencron” and “Salad Emma”).
It was the evening’s entertainment, however, that capped the voyage. Two amateur acts were cancelled because of exceptionally rough seas. The Swiss accordionist bowed out, and ten-year-old Eleanor Katherine Roosevelt, a relative of Franklin’s, did not perform her “Baby Pavlova” dance. Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed two special treats by professional entertainers returning home to the United States. The Lorraine Sisters (Edna and Della) had just kicked, shimmied, twisted, and twirled in the “Piccadilly Revels” at the Kit Kat Club in London. Vaudeville actors Leon Kimberly and his wife Helen Page had completed a successful European tour.
Davis wrote a typically pleonastic account of the evening, which he titled “ON THE BOARDS ABOARD, or BARNSTORMING DURING A STORM” (Record Unit 7091: Science Service, Records, c. 1910-1963, Box 78, Folder 2):
The place was the social hall of the United States Lines S.S. Republic at sea some 600 miles from New York. The time was Saturday evening, Oct. 10. The occasion was the grand concert of the Republic’s voyage from Europe to America held for the entertainment of the passengers and the benefit of seaman’s charities at the ports of call of the vessel and the Actors Fund of the United States.
Outside the night was dark and stormy and a gale raged seemingly determined to keep the ship at sea. Inside the salon gales of laughter and applause raged determined to prolong the performance. ...
Headlining the bill were two teams well-known to vaudeville on both sides of the Atlantic: Leon Kimberly and Helen Page, and the Lorraine Sisters. These artists were returning to America for the winter season after playing Great Britain and Ireland and spending some holiday weeks on the Continent.
When Edna and Della Lorraine flashed on the dance floor surrounded by eager and lucky first row seat holders and tickled noses with toes and willowy plume fans, even the sea seemed for a time to bring itself into the rhythm of their dance. Hero medals of the first class have been awarded to both of them for endangering life and limb in providing entertainment at sea, for acrobatic dancing on a ship riding a severe gale is not a performance without risks. Yet the sea seemed to appreciate their efforts and applause showed plainly that the passengers of the Republic were fully as enthusiastic as dry land audiences can be. Two numbers, ‘The Fan Dance’ and ‘The Charleston,’ in spite of difficulties caused by the sea, were danced with complete success and approval.
Kimberly and Page, accompanied by the ship’s orchestra, performed one of their most popular skits, “The Heart Broker,” a satire about letters to the lovelorn.
Helen Page ... played opposite her husband in a portion of the sketch that has entertained both the American and British public in the last few months. They literally glided through their act, due to the motion of the ship, and the waves often reinforced Helen’s comedy punches. Leon’s songs and lovesickness for his wife and team-mate cured numerous cases of seasickness; in fact, after the concert the chief surgeon took his first breathing spell since the beginning of the storm two days before. Leon chose this occasion for the debut of a new song that he will introduce to the public in his coming tour in America. Under the influence of the sentiment of the concluding ‘I Love You’ of the song, it is understood that several couples on board will announce their engagement as soon as the ship lands in New York.
- The Lorraine Sisters, Jazz Age Club
- Information about the S.S. Republic
- On the Water - Ocean Crossings, online exhibition, National Museum of American History
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
When I began doing oral history interviews at the Smithsonian in 1974, I went to see Louise Daniel Hutchinson (1928-2014) of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, now the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM). She was a pioneer in community oral history and experimented with new media, such as video, that captured settings and body language. She maintained the highest standards of scholarship at the same time that she welcomed the inexperienced, those outside the ivy-covered walls of academe. Her dedication to African American history was infectious, and she had a major effect on the development of the Anacostia Museum.
Born in 1928 in Ridge, Maryland, Hutchinson’s parents were teachers and civil rights activists in the District of Columbia. As a college student, she sat-in at lunch counters and attended the arguments for Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. She received her B.A. from Howard University in 1951 and pursued graduate studies in sociology. She married Ellsworth W. Hutchinson, Jr., and worked as a substitute teacher as they raised six children. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hutchinson reassessed her life and decided she had to make more major contributions to improve the world for her children. As she was looking for an outlet, she was asked to take on an education project at the National Portrait Gallery that would focus on working with the District of Columbia public schools. So in 1971 she became a researcher at the Portrait Gallery, working on the African American portraiture of William Harmon and Winold Reiss, with a goal of linking to the local community. She also contributed to the exhibit The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution while creating a solid program of educational activities.
By that time, the Smithsonian was beginning to change a bit. Secretary S. Dillon Ripley had created the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in 1967 to reach out to the local African American communities that rarely visited the Mall museums. Community activist John Kinard was named director, and he brought Hutchinson to the Museum in 1974 to direct its Research Center. She quickly began a series of dynamic programs that engaged the community. The museum was housed in an old movie theater which a cadre of volunteers helped convert to a museum. The Anacostia Historical Society grew under her watchful eye, and she created a research center where locals brought their treasured bibles and photographs for preservation.
Hutchinson curated several ground-breaking exhibits, such as The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930, Out of Africa: From West African Kingdoms to Colonization, and Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds. Meticulously researched, they were accompanied by books that made this history available to a broader audience. Smithsonian administrators had viewed the Anacostia site as a temporary exhibit venue to attract visitors to the Mall, not an actual museum. Hutchinson worked hard to redefine the museum's mission and eventually succeeded "against the odds" in making it a full scale museum. But she and her colleagues had to overcome significant inertia and even opposition on the Mall. The museum's Research Center collected a wealth of materials on African American history, including interviews of community members. She ensured that the contributions of the Anacostia and wider African American community were recognized in the historical record, and then shared that information with K-12 teachers and their students, community members, scholars and college students alike. She also rewrote Smithsonian history with her book, Kind Regards of S. G. Brown, on Professor Solomon Brown, the first African American employee at the Smithsonian who spent 54 years at the Institution.
Hutchinson was always busy, but never too busy to mentor younger folks who needed guidance. Always generous with her time and expertise, Hutchinson placed the Anacostia Community Museum on a firm foundation and developed a cadre of young people to carry her work forward.
Please listen to the following audio clips from the oral history interviews with Louise Daniel Hutchinson:
- Louise Hutchinson on the impact of the Martin Luther King , Jr. assassination on her work.
- Louise Hutchinson on working against all odds.
- Solomon Brown: First African American Employee at the Smithsonian Institution, online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Eminent scholar leaves lasting legacy, East of the River DC News
- Record Unit 9588: Oral history interviews with Louise Daniel Hutchinson, 1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- A wonderful graphic of the history of the National Mall using its museums, memorials, and significant events. [via Washington Post]
- This past week was #AskACurator day and the folks at the National Museum of American History shared some of their favorite questions they received. [O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- As part of it celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month, the Library of Congress launched an online selection from its Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. [via InfoDocket]
- Connections between Herman Melville and the Smithsonian's first Secretary, Joseph Henry, found! [via Unbound blog, Smithsonian Libraries]
- A look at the steps involved in putting on an Archives of American Art exhibition. [via Archives of American Art blog]
- The National Archives and Records Administration recently released new guidance for metadata requirements for transferring electronic records. [via InfoDocket]
- Congrats to the Biodiversity Heritage Library for making Wired's list of 103 Must-Follow Feeds in Science, Culture, Design, and More. [via Wired]
As summer ends, you may be sorting (and labeling) hundreds of digital images from your holiday travels. Or perhaps you used the quiet time to organize family photos, especially those little black and white prints you inherited years ago and squirreled away in a box. Who were these people? Where were they standing? Is that Aunt Mabel? Is that the Grand Canyon in the background?
Archivists face similar problems when they encounter caches of unlabeled family or travel photographs amongst some scientist’s professional correspondence files.
Here is an example of how you might help in identifying one such set.
On August 13, 1925, Science Service managing director Watson Davis sailed to Europe on his first trip abroad. After debarking at Plymouth, England, on August 22, Davis headed to Southampton, where he attended the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He then traveled to France (where he had an introduction to Marie Curie but did not apparently gain an audience) and to Germany (where he had a brief meeting with Albert Einstein). He returned to the United States on October 10 via the S.S. Republic.
Like tourists today, Davis snapped photographs of the countryside, famous cathedrals, and other sites. He most likely used the same German-made ICA Victrix folding camera he had purchased in May and had used during his western train trip in June and at the Scopes anti-evolution trial in July.
Among dozens of unlabeled photographs in Box 404 of Record Unit 7091 (the same box in which the Scopes photographs were found) are fourteen prints once inside a crumbling brown envelope labeled “England Miscellaneous Views Sept. 1925 W.D.”
We know the photographer and the date. Some of the subjects (e.g., the white cliffs of Dover) seem familiar; others are not so easily recognized.
Can you help the Smithsonian Institution Archives with definitive identification of the sights that Watson photographed in 1925?
- Science Service, Up Close blog post series, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
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