Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Myrtle Shane: Devoted Ally of the Armenian People

April 24th, 2017

“I shall stay here and face starvation with the Armenians.” Myrtle Shane, 1920

One of the rewards of working in a place like Spencer Research Library are the unexpected discoveries you make. While working on a project involving the Shane-Thompson Collection, I came across the courageous story of one of James Shane’s daughters, Myrtle Shane. Her story is especially fitting on April 24th, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

Myrtle Shane from the Shane Thompson Photograph Collection. Kansas Collection. Call Number: RH PH 500.2.18
Photograph of Myrtle O. Shane, undated.
Shane-Thompson Collection, Kansas Collection.
Call number: RH PH 500:2.18. Click image to enlarge.

War always brings with it atrocities, and World War I was certainly no exception. One of the greatest atrocities during that time was the government-sponsored genocide and deportation of the Armenian people, which took place between 1915 and the early 1920s. The Armenian people were Christians who had made their home in the Caucasus region of Eurasia since the 6th century BC. Control of Armenia shifted between empires, eventually becoming part of the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. The Ottoman leaders and their subjects were Muslim, yet, in spite of this vast religious difference, the two groups were able to live together relatively peacefully. Still, the majority of Muslims viewed the Armenians as “infidels” and subjected them to unequal laws and unfair treatment. Toward the end of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart, and there was growing suspicion among the Muslim rulers that, if given the opportunity, the Armenians would be loyal to Christian governments such as Russia, and that they would turn on their Muslim compatriots. Consequently, in 1894 Ottoman ruler Abdul Hamid II instigated the first of several pogroms against the Armenians, ordering the razing of their villages and the massacre of the people.

In 1914, Turkey entered World War I on the side of the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and at the same time the Ottoman religious authorities declared a holy war against all Christians. The view they held of the Armenian people as infidels and potential traitors was intensified, and now it included Turkish military leaders. The genocide began on April 24, 1915, when the Turkish government started killing and deporting Armenian citizens. At the start of the war there were an estimated two million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Between 1915 and 1923 it is believed that over one and a half million of them died by execution, starvation, exhaustion, or disease. There were many non-Armenian witnesses to the genocide, in spite of government imposed restrictions and censorship of photography and reporting. Foreign diplomats and missionaries gave chilling accounts of the atrocities taking place. Among the missionaries serving in Turkey in 1915 was a woman named Myrtle Shane.

Myrtle was born in Lawrence, Kansas, on August 16, 1880, the seventh of ten children born to James and Missouri Lee Shane. Myrtle graduated from the University of Kansas in 1906 and taught school for nearly eight years. In 1913, at the age of 32, she turned her attention to the mission field and joined the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Her first assignment was to the mission in Bitlis, Turkey, where she was serving when World War I broke out and the full-scale genocide pogrom began.

Ancestry.com, Certificate of Registration of American Citizenry, Myrtle O. Shane, 1913.
Certificate of Registration of American Citizenry
for Myrtle O. Shane, 1913.
Accessed via Ancestry.com. Click image to enlarge.

By June 1915 the crisis had reached Bitlis, and the Armenian people began to seek refuge in the mission. Myrtle and a handful of other missionaries took it upon themselves to give the refugees as much protection as possible. They did this at great risk because foreigners had been forbidden to offer any help whatsoever. Not conceding to this directive, Myrtle went to the local governor to ask if he would allow the refugees – by this time about sixty women and children – to remain with her at the mission. She was told no, that there were to be no Armenians left in Bitlis. “In that case I will not give them up,” she replied. After several attempts by Myrtle, the governor finally relented and agreed to leave the refugees at the mission as long as he could.

By the middle of July conditions had worsened in Bitlis, and all missionaries were ordered by the governor to leave because he could no longer guarantee their safety, but again, Myrtle and her colleagues refused to go. Eventually Myrtle was the only missionary left to supervise the mission and the refugees. The others had died of typhus (which Myrtle also contracted during this time), been forced to leave because they were men, or been reassigned to positions in other besieged Armenian communities. Several times throughout the summer and fall attempts were made to wrest the refugees from the mission, but Myrtle always managed to negotiate a way to keep them.

By November, though, Myrtle herself was finally forced by the American State Department to leave Bitlis and go to Harpoot, where it was safer for her. She fought the order as long as she could and went reluctantly. She worked in Harpoot until the summer of 1917, when diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey were severed and Americans were ordered to leave for good. Myrtle returned to the United States in October 1917. With no one left to defend them, the refugees were eventually overtaken. While back home, Myrtle went on a speaking tour and told her audiences what she had witnessed, encouraging Americans to provide support for the suffering Armenian people.

Letter from the State Department to Herbert Thompson, Myrtle’s brother-in-law. Shane Thompson Collection,Kansas Collection. Call number: RH MS 58:1.12.
Letter from the State Department to
Herbert Thompson, Myrtle’s brother-in-law, 1915.
Shane Thompson Collection, Kansas Collection.
Call number: RH MS 58:1.12. Click image to enlarge.

"Told of Cruelties to Armenian Race" article from the Lawrence Journal World, January 3, 1918.
An account of a lecture given by Myrtle Shane
about the “cruelties to [the] Armenian Race,”
Lawrence Journal-World, January 3, 1918.
Click image to enlarge.

In 1919, at the closing of World War I, Myrtle returned to Turkey, having joined the first expedition of the American Commission for Relief in the Near East, an organization formed to provide humanitarian aid in response to the Armenian Genocide. She worked as the director of an orphanage in Alexandropol, housing nearly 5,000 orphans. Ten of her assistants were women she had protected in Bitlis. The post-war Treaty of Sevres established an Armenian state, but the new Turkish regime did not recognize it and soon atrocities against the Armenian people resumed. Again, Myrtle fought to stay with her charges until the tension eased, resisting orders to leave and dedicating herself to defend the people she had come to love. She went on to serve in Turkey, as well as in Greece and Beirut, for another ten years. She retired from the Commission in 1929. Upon her return to the United States, she went to live with her sister, Ella Gilbert, in Columbus, Ohio, and resumed teaching school. On June 28, 1953, Myrtle suffered a stroke and passed away at age 72.

Sources
Armenian National Institute, Washington, DC.

Digital Library for International Research.

Hubbard, Ethel Daniels. Lone Sentinels in the Near East: War Stories of American Women in Turkey and Serbia. Boston: Woman’s Board of Missions, 1920.

Shane-Thompson Collection, RH MS 58 and RH PH 500, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

New Finding Aids Available: Part II

April 4th, 2017

Finding aids are documents created by a repository’s staff members as a point of access for an archival or manuscript collection. To understand more about how finding aids helps researchers navigate collections of manuscripts, organizational records, personal papers, letters, diaries, and photographs, check out our Finding Aids 101 blog post. Here’s a list of some of Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s newest finding aids, so see which collections interest you!

A photograph of members belonging to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at a banquet from the Dorothy McField collection of sorority and fraternity papers. African American Experience Collection, Spencer Research Library.

A photograph of members belonging to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at a banquet
from the Dorothy McField collection of sorority and fraternity papers.
African American Experience Collection. Call number: RH MS P944.3. Click image to enlarge.

The first page of a listing of titles for Éigse Eireann ["Poetry Ireland"] from the Catholic Bulletin collection. Special Collections.

The first page of a listing of titles for Éigse Eireann [“Poetry Ireland”]
from the Catholic Bulletin collection. Special Collections.
Call number: MS 329 Box 2 Folder 45. Click image to enlarge.

A photograph of two cowboys on horseback from the Wallace, Kansas photographs collection. Kansas Collection.

A photograph of two cowboys on horseback from the Wallace, Kansas photographs collection.
Kansas Collection. Call number: RH PH 60 Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

The title page from Eugène Farcot’s Literary Manuscript Un Voyage Aérien; Dans Cinquante Ans. Special Collections.

The title page from Eugène Farcot’s Literary Manuscript Un Voyage Aérien; Dans Cinquante Ans.
Special Collections. Call number: MS K32. Click image to enlarge.

May 7th and 8th from the five year Diary of Maude Egbert, note her entry on May 8, 1945 or Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Kansas Collection.

May 7th and 8th from the five year Diary of Maude Egbert, note her entry on May 8, 1945
or Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Kansas Collection.
Call number: RH MS B77. Click image to enlarge.

Other new finding aids:

Mindy Babarskis
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Education: The Mightiest Weapon

March 22nd, 2017

Spencer’s current exhibit Education: The Mightiest Weapon is free and open to the public in the Spencer Exhibit Space through May 18, 2017, during the library’s regular business hours.

Field Archivist and Curator Deborah Dandridge with
her student assistant Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

“While white folks have been wrangling as to whether colored children should be admitted into the public schools,” reported the Evening Dispatch newspaper in 1859, “Mrs. Burnham, a colored woman, has been teaching a school for Negro children on the corner of Potawatomie and Third streets,” in Leavenworth, Kansas. Like Mrs. Burnham, African American settlers in Kansas found a variety of ways to pursue their cultural tradition of placing a high value on formal education, despite laws and practices that denied them equal access to all public schools.

Education: The Mightiest Weapon highlights the public school experiences of African Americans governed by the 1879 Kansas law allowing public school boards in cities of 10,000 or more to decide whether to establish racially segregated grade schools. Except for special legislation passed in 1905 for Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas law prohibited racially segregated public high schools. It features schools in Kansas’ urban and rural areas, African American state supported schools, and the 1951 U.S. District Court case in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Setting up the Education exhibit

Setting up for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Zachary Lassiter and Arielle Swopes

Zachary Lassiter, a Public Services student at Spencer Library
majoring in history, with Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

Statement from student assistant Arielle Swopes

In 2014 I started at KU as a Behavioral Neuroscience major, and began working as a student assistant in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Working on the current exhibit, Education: The Mightiest Weapon, has given me even greater insight about how enduring and adaptable African Americans have been. For this exhibit I’ve had access to hundreds of pictures and been able to read letters, petitions, newspapers, and posters that all show the daily life and struggles of African Americans from the 1890s to the 1970s. From all of these materials it is easy to see the determination that these people had to always find a way to persevere.

Photograph of the Sumner High School Second Orchestra, 1918

Sumner High School Second Orchestra,
Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Sumner High School Collection.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1137. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the first page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942 Photograph of the second page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942

A letter from the city’s African American community to the
Lawrence, Kansas, School Board opposing the Board’s
suggested plan to place all African American elementary students
in Lincoln School in North Lawrence, November 12, 1942.
USD 497 (Lawrence School District) Collection.
Call Number: RH MS 1255. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the Monroe School eighth grade class, 1932

Eighth grade graduating class of Monroe School, Topeka, Kansas, 1932.
Cooper-Sheppard-Cox Family Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 576.
Click image to enlarge.

Arielle Swopes
Spencer Research Library Student Assistant
African American Experience Collections

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator
African American Experience Collections

Louie Chester Walbridge Photograph Collection

March 8th, 2017

“I’m off Friday noon, destination Russell, Kansas…Direct all letters to Russell, Russell Co., Kansas, until you hear from me to the contrary”

Letter from Louie C. Walbridge, September 27, 1882

Louie C. Walbridge was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1859, the youngest of six children. In 1878, after finishing his education at the Riverview Military School in Poughkeepsie, he headed west to take a clerical job in St. Louis, Missouri. He left that job in the summer of 1879 to join his brother in Sioux City, Iowa, where together they worked for the government, surveying the Missouri River. Next, Louie went to Chicago and worked in a hardware store for a couple of years. Sometime after his 23rd birthday, he made the decision to move to Russell County, Kansas, and on October 24, 1882, Louie signed papers to form a partnership in a plot of land that would eventually grow to 3,000 acres and a herd of over 1,000 sheep. This would be the start of his life-long career as a sheep rancher and farmer.

Photograph of Louie C. Walbridge on porch of his home, 1884

Louie C. Walbridge on porch of his home,
Profile Ranch, Russell County, Kansas, 1884.
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21.
Click image to enlarge.

About two years later, Louis bought out his partner and proceeded in business alone. He named the property Profile Ranch. He wrote, “I have made this purchase basing all my calculations on the future prosperity of the country.” And just to remove all doubt as to who owned the property, he painted “WALBRIDGE” on the roof of his most visible barn.

Photograph of wool wagons on Profile Ranch, circa 1885

Wool wagons on Profile Ranch, circa 1885. Walbridge Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of sheep on Profile Ranch, circa 1885

Sheep on Profile Ranch, circa 1885. Walbridge Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

On January 21, 1892, Louie married Louise Rachel Castle (1861-1947). They had six children: Margaret (1893-1974), Louise (1895-1966), Caroline (1898-1989), Anne (1900-1971), Chester (1903-1984), and Henry (1905-1949).

Photograph of tive of the Walbridge children, undated

Five of the Walbridge children: Caroline, Margaret,
Louise, Anne, and Chester, undated (circa 1904).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21.
Click image to enlarge.

One of Louie’s hobbies was photography. He owned his own equipment and set up a darkroom in his family’s home. He photographed his property and his herd, but his favorite subject was his family. What sets Louie’s family photographs apart from those of other amateur photographers of his time is the intimate and candid way in which he captured their images. Many of his photos show his children relaxed and smiling, often leaning on or touching one another, looking at each other and not at the camera. In one image, their faces, hands, and clothes are dirty, as though they had just come in from playing outside, and their attention is on a cat they are holding, seemingly unaware of the camera. It is as though Louie wanted to portray his family as they really were, and he did not try to get the “perfect” photo of “perfect” children. In this way his photographs are quite endearing.

Photograph of Louie C. Walbridge with Louise, Caroline, and Margaret, undated

Louie C. Walbridge with Louise, Caroline, and Margaret, undated (circa 1899).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Louise Walbridge with Margaret, Caroline, and Louise, undated

Louise Walbridge with her children Margaret, Caroline, and Louise, undated (circa 1899).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

Margaret, Caroline, and Louise Walbridge holding a cat, undated (circa 1900).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

The Walbridge family enjoyed many years of overall success in ranching, and later in farming, but the Depression hit Louie and Louise hard, and their business suffered greatly. Poor economic conditions were made worse by dust storms, drought, crop failures, and Louie’s declining health. He was eventually forced to sell the ranch, and Louie and Louise moved to town. Perhaps the words he wrote years earlier gave him comfort: “There is one prominent feature of the Walbridges that I hope will descend to the coming generations, i.e., enduring with good grace what cannot be helped.” On February 1, 1939, just two months after moving to town, Louie passed away at the age of eighty. Louise would follow him in death eight years later.

Sources

“Louie Walbridge, Renaissance Man,” Kansas State Agriculturist, March 1981.

Walbridge, Caroline K. Ranchorama and Louie C. Walbridge: An Illustrated Story of Profile Ranch and the Owner, 1859-1939. Russell, Kansas: The Russell Record, 1966. Call Number RH D787.

Walbridge, Caroline Knickerbacker. Gallant Lady 1861-1947. Topeka, Kansas: Clyde E. Gilbert, printer, 1968. Call Number RH D3896.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Exhibition Snapshot: Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

February 27th, 2017

Spencer Research Library’s current exhibition, Education: The Mightiest Weapon,” highlights African American school experiences in the state of Kansas, focusing primarily on the period before 1955.  In the coming days we’ll feature a longer post on the exhibition, but today we share an image and a label to whet your appetite. “Education: The Mightiest Weapon” is on display in Spencer Library’s gallery space through May 18th, 2017.

Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

Sumner is a child not of our own volition but rather an offspring of the race antipathy of a bygone period. It was a veritable blessing in disguise—a flower of which we may proudly say, “The bud had a bitter taste, but sweet indeed is the flower”

Photograph of Students in Chemistry Classroom, 1930s, Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

Chemistry Classroom, 1930s, Sumner High School.  Sumner High School Collection. Call #: RH MS-P 1137.
Click image to enlarge.

In 1905, the Kansas State Legislature passed a law exempting Kansas City, Kansas from the state law prohibiting racially segregated public high schools. Reluctantly, the Governor of Kansas E. W. Hoch signed the bill, but persuaded the majority of Kansas City, Kansas voters to construct a new high school building for African Americans at no less than $40,000 and to be as well-equipped as the existing Kansas City, Kansas High School. Determined to overcome the inequities of racial segregation, the teachers, students and community members of Sumner High School strove to develop a tradition of academic excellence. They countered the local school board’s proposals for an emphasis on manual training courses by implementing a curriculum that emphasized college preparatory classes at Sumner.  By 1914, Sumner was a member of the prestigious North Central Association of Secondary Schools. Until the 1970s, the majority of African American students attending the University of Kansas were graduates of Sumner High School.

Sumner closed in 1978 under a federally mandated plan for racial integration of schools in Kansas City, Kansas.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator, African American Experience Collections