Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Letters Home: Correspondence during World War I

May 15th, 2017

In December 1917, the University of Kansas Alumni Association’s Graduate Magazine began publishing letters from Jayhawks serving in various capacities overseas. The letters became a regular part of the publication in 1918 and 1919. While some of the letters were from former students to faculty at KU or to The Graduate Magazine itself, most were sent to their families and later shared with the Alumni Association’s publication – giving those back home a glimpse into the lives of brave Jayhawks overseas.

For example, Herbert Laslett was a psychology major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who graduated from KU in 1918. During his final year at KU, he was a student officer in the KU Cadet Regiment. While in Europe as a member of the 353rd Infantry, A.E.F., Laslett wrote to one of his former instructors describing his experience and sharing some news of other former students as well. His letter appeared in the December 1918 issue of The Graduate Magazine.

Photograph of the KU Cadet Regiment, 1918

The KU Cadet Regiment in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1918.
Herbert Laslett is in the back row on the far left.
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1918.
Click image to enlarge.

Herbert Laslett, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, December 1918 Herbert Laslett, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, December 1918

Herbert Laslett’s letters in The Graduate Magazine, December 1918.
University Archives. Call Number: LH 1 .K3 G73 1918. Click images to enlarge.

Evadne Laptad was a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Science who graduated from KU in 1908. Evadne worked as a hospital searcher with the American Red Cross’s Hospital and Home Communication Service during the war. A new initiative during World War I, the Hospital and Home Communication Service sent American women to military hospitals in Europe during and after the war. These women relayed information about injured soldiers to their family and friends back home. Her letter appeared in the April 1919 issue of The Graduate Magazine alongside letters from two other female graduates who were serving the war effort overseas.

Photograph of Evadne Laptad in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1908

Evadne Laptad’s senior picture in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1908.
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1908.

Evadne Laptad, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, April 1919 Evadne Laptad, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, April 1919

Evadne Laptad’s letters in The Graduate Magazine, April 1919.
University Archives. Call Number: LH 1 .K3 G73 1918. Click images to enlarge.

Emily Beran
Public Services

The Quandary of Young Francis Snow

January 20th, 2016

On Sunday, PBS aired the first of a six-part miniseries called Mercy Street, set at a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War. This is the first of two blog posts that will explore a Spencer connection to that program. Both have been guest written by Spencer researcher Charles Joyce. Mr. Joyce is a labor attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and also a long-time collector and dealer of Civil War photography.

Any connection between the University of Kansas and the PBS series Mercy Street would probably be considered unlikely at best. However, a fascinating historical link does exist in the form of Francis Huntington Snow (1840-1908), who, after the Civil War, became a prominent scientist and served as KU’s fifth chancellor.

Photograph of Francis Snow, undated

An undated photograph of Francis Snow taken in Lawrence.
Snow arrived at KU in 1866; he taught mathematics and
natural sciences and was one of the school’s first three faculty members.
Snow served as KU’s chancellor from 1890 to 1901.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 2/6 Undated Prints:
Chancellors: Francis Snow (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

In July 1863, Snow was a young Massachusetts divinity student facing a knotty ethical dilemma. The son of ardent abolitionists, Snow shared in his parents’ zeal to see the war transform into a crusade for the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. However, he believed his religious conviction and pacifist views prohibited him from actually taking up arms for the cause. Snow was drafted on July 18, 1863, and he recorded his thoughts on the matter in his diary, held at Spencer Research Library.

Could I be sure of a place where no fighting would be required, no amount of danger would deter me from going…[as] I might be of some service to the wounded on the battlefield or in the hospital. But a drafted man has no choice of position, and I, too, should be liable to be called to musket duty. So I can’t go.

Snow weighed his options for opting out of service, as allowed by the draft law. Believing that “[g]etting a substitute would be worse in my opinion than going myself,” Snow decided to pay the commutation fee of $300.

One year later, as soon as he finished his final exams at the Andover Theological Seminary, Snow hit upon a way to serve the Union cause and stay true to his moral precepts. He volunteered as a delegate with the U.S. Christian Commission, established by the YMCA, then just ten years old. The organization’s purpose was to promote the spiritual and physical welfare of Union soldiers and sailors. Francis Snow was posted at Alexandria, Virginia, for six weeks (August-September 1864) and tasked with caring for sick and wounded men at several of the military hospitals there. (He later served another five weeks with the Commission, March-May 1865.)

Image of Francis Snow's journal, "Duties of Delegates," August 1-September 14, 1864

“Duties of Delegates” of the U.S. Christian Commission. Francis Snow journal, August 1-September 14, 1864.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Francis Snow's journal, "Delegates to the Hospitals," August 1-September 14, 1864

Instructions for Commission delegates serving in hospitals,
from Francis Snow’s 1864 journal. Other Commission delegates
served with regiments in camps and on battlefields.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Snow was unpaid, except for expenses, and he was required to keep a journal detailing his service on behalf of the Commission. In this, he recorded that during his stay in Alexandria, he visited with over 2700 hundred wounded soldiers, wrote 128 letters for them, read scripture, sang hymns, and led them in prayer many hundred times more.

Image of Francis Snow journal, cover, March 25-May 1, 1865

The cover of one of Francis Snow’s two Commission journals.
Included is Snow’s account of being at Appomattox Court House,
Virginia, on April 9, 1865, when General Lee surrendered to General Grant.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a travel pass included in Francis Snow's journal, 1864

A travel pass glued in to Francis Snow’s 1864 journal, instructing
“guards [to] pass F. H. Snow to and from the Hospital at will until further orders.”
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a list of soldiers in Francis Snow's journal, 1864

Snow’s 1864 journal included a ten-page list of soldiers with whom he interacted.
Here he noted information about each man, especially the nature of his injury and his religious affiliation.
Many of the men listed on this page were African American soldiers; their regiment was listed as “USCT,”
or U.S. Colored Troops. University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

One of Snow’s assignments in Alexandria took him to L’Ouverture Hospital, specially constructed to care for sick and wounded African American soldiers, who were kept segregated from their white comrades. Here he befriended the Hospital’s Chaplain, the Reverend Chauncey Leonard, who signed his journal on a page he apparently maintained for “autographs.”

Image of the first page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864

Image of the second page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864 Image of the third page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864 

Image of the fourth page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864

A letter from Francis Snow to his sister describing
his hospital experiences in Alexandria, August 8, 1864.
“There are now only 9 delegates here to thus attend to the 5000 sufferers,”
he wrote, “and I can assure you we find our time fully occupied.
O Mattie you can form no conception of the amount and intensity
of the suffering among these poor fellows.”
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Snow’s interest in and empathy with the black population of Alexandria, which had swelled during the war years, was also manifest in other, less official duties, like teaching a Sunday School class of black children. Indeed, when his tour with the Commission ended in early September, Snow “found it hard to get away” from those men, women, and children. He gave the Reverend Leonard $20 to “lay out for the boys” at L’Ouverture.

Photograph of African American soldiers from L'Overture Hospital

African American soldiers from L’Ouverture Hospital, circa 1864.
Photograph in the private collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission.
Click image to enlarge.

Sometime thereafter, probably toward the end of 1864, an unknown artist took a photograph of Leonard with a group of black soldiers who were convalescing from war wounds and sickness at L’Ouverture. Someone sent a copy of the image to Francis Snow; he carefully wrote down each man’s name in the margins of the image and kept it all of his life. The photograph was found in a box in Snow’s personal library some 145 years later, and I purchased it in an online auction. More research on the soldiers in the photograph led to the holdings of the Spencer Library, including Snow’s original diary and Christian Commission journals. More on that in the next entry…

Charles Joyce
Guest Blogger and Spencer Researcher
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Happy Birthday, Amelia Earhart!

July 22nd, 2015

Friday marks the 118th birthday of the famous aviatrix and Kansas native, so this week we’re highlighting a letter in the Kansas Collection that Earhart (1897-1937) wrote to a young girl, encouraging her to pursue her interest in flying.

The recipient of the letter was sixteen-year-old Helen Edna Mason of Greenfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts. Helen was the oldest sister of Alexandra (Sandy) Mason, a longtime and distinguished librarian at Spencer Research Library. Preliminary research indicates that Helen (1911-2000) was a lifelong resident of Franklin County, located in the northwest part of the state. She married Lawrence H. Wheeler in the late 1930s and had at least three children. It’s unknown whether she studied aviation, worked in the industry, or became a pilot.

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 1, 1927

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 2, 1927

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 3, 1927

Amelia Earhart’s letter to Helen Mason, September 12, 1927.
Earhart flew on the first official flight out of Dennison Airport
nine days earlier; she had also helped finance its construction.
Charles Lindbergh had completed his solo nonstop flight
across the Atlantic earlier that year, May 20–21, 1927.
Helen E. Mason Correspondence and Memorabilia.
Call Number: RH MS P23. Click on images to enlarge.

September 12, 1927.

My dear Miss Mason,

Your letter contained so little about yourself that I do not feel I can advise you adequately about aviation possibilities. I do not know whether you must earn your own living or just wish to. Nor do I know whether you are willing to leave your family.

Presuming that you are “foot-loose” I should think application at one of the large airplane factories would be the best move. Ofcourse you could not get the “job” you wish, but even if you entered as a stenographer or a factory worker, you would be on the staff and could use the knowledge gained in one department to help you in another.

Frankly, I fell into aeronautics. I took my first “job” to pay for flying instruction. I am not in on much of an earning basis yet, as I have divided my time between social work, teaching and various other occupations.

I have given your name, and the substance of your letter, to Mr. Kurt, the general manager of the Dennison Company. There are several women students and I asked him to tell you of them and give you any advice he could.

I quite agree with you that everyone should as far as possible do what he or she really wishes. If an inclination is very strong, not conforming to it means unhappiness.

I wish you luck in your inclination.

Very truly yours,
Amelia M Earhart

Interested in learning more about Amelia Earhart? Collections of her papers can be found at Purdue University and the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, Harvard University. See also the Wikipedia article about Earhart, which provides links to various other paper and online primary and secondary sources.

Spencer Research Library also houses materials about other female pilots. See, for example, the records of the Northeast Kansas Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots that elected Amelia Earhart its first president in 1931, and the reminiscences of member Dorothy Maloney.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

“Hope to See You Before Father’s Day Again”

June 19th, 2015

Many archival collections at Spencer Research Library contain letters exchanged between fathers and their children. In honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, we’re sharing several items from our collection of Leo W. Zahner, Jr.’s World War II letters, housed in the Kansas Collection.

Photograph of Leo W. Zahner, Jr. and other sailors, 1946

Leo W. Zahner, Jr. and other sailors at the College Inn, San Diego, California,
January 1946. Leo is the second from the right, seated in the front row.
Leo Zahner, Jr. World War II Letters. Call Number: RH MS-P 1079.
Click image to enlarge.

Zahner (1925-2007) was a lifelong resident of Kansas City, Missouri. He joined the Navy during World War II, receiving training from August to November 1943 at the U.S. Naval Training Station at Farragut, Idaho. In late November, he was transferred to the Navy’s metalsmith school at Great Lakes, Illinois, where he was hospitalized with scarlet fever in December 1943. In the summer of 1944, he shipped overseas, where he served on a tank landing ship at U.S. combat zones in New Guinea and the Philippines. He returned to the U.S. mainland in December 1945 and was discharged from service in March 1946.

The Zahner collection contains three items specifically related to Father’s Day. One is a letter he wrote to his father to celebrate the holiday in 1945; the other two items (a card and a souvenir handkerchief) are undated, and a cursory examination of the collection didn’t reveal when Leo sent them to his father.

Image of a Father's Day card, circa 1940-1946

Image of a Father's Day card, circa 1940-1946

Father’s Day card, circa 1940-1946. Leo Zahner, Jr. World War II Letters.
Call Number: RH MS 1079. Click images to enlarge.

Image of a painted souvenir handkerchief from the South Pacific, circa 1944-1945

Painted souvenir handkerchief from the South Pacific, circa 1944-1945.
Leo Zahner, Jr. World War II Letters. Call Number: RH MS Q270. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a letter, Leo W. Zahner, Jr. to his father, June 17, 1945Image of a letter, Leo W. Zahner, Jr. to his father, June 17, 1945

Letter, Leo W. Zahner, Jr. to his father, June 17, 1945. Leo Zahner, Jr. World War II Letters.
Call Number: RH MS 1079. Click images to enlarge. Transcription below.

June 17, 1945
Fathers Day.

Dear Dad;
Well its Fathers Day again and I’m still over here. Hope every thing is going fine with you.

The war looks like it’s going pretty good in general and looks better at [our?] end too.

I wish you could get a letter off to me. its been a long time and you ought [owe] me a couple.

Mother keeps me pretty well up on the shop [the family business in Kansas City, A. Zahner Sheet Metal Company] lately. I hear Russell White is working for you Hows his friend Billy. There ought to be a lot of the old men come back

The 1st Lieutenant just call me up I’ve got to [go?] he wants me to fill out requestion for our supplies here in the C & R. He’s our offer of Deck [officer on deck?]. were under [illegible]. I’ve got them all made out now so I can finish this letter to you. I take care of every thing we need down here. Its a pretty good job thank goodness it don’t happen very often. He try to get me [illegible] but [i]s having lots of trouble. If I get 3/r [3rd?] in at most couple of months I have a good chance of getting 2/nd, but I settle for third. ha. ha. before going home. It would make a lot of difference after I get off this tub.

I’ve got all the gear to gather for Mellott to run off a batch of icecream. We had a pretty good snack last night Red and Ed did a little [illegible] for batch. So I had [break and the fire?] pot. The hot plates busted. I do the biggest part of the cooking.

We got turkey for chow today it was pretty good except the hide was about 1/2 thick with pen [illegible] like welding rod.

This is the first holiday weve had in three weeks. I sleep till noon. There was no church. It was felt good to sleep that late.

I’ve got a pretty nice job tomorrow a making a couple of brass covers for front of some big lights. [diagram] I like that kind of work.

Well Dad hope you had a happy fathers Day. Well write me soon now so Ill have something write back about.

Hope to see you before fathers Day again. About the end of this year. I hope I’ve counted my chickens right before the hatch.

Your Son

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

February 11th, 2015

Tomorrow, February 12, marks Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday. To mark this anniversary, we’re sharing a letter that Darwin wrote to James E. Todd in April 1882. At the time, Todd was a professor of natural science at Tabor College, a Christian college in Tabor, Iowa, that operated from 1853 to 1927. He went on to teach geology at KU from 1907 until his death in 1922.

Image of the first page of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Image of the second and third pages of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Image of the fourth page of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882.
Call Number: MS C78. Click images to enlarge.

An article about this letter in Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (Vol. 48, No. 3, December 1945) describes the circumstances in which it was written, although the author’s speculation that the document was “Darwin’s last letter” appears to be erroneous.

In April 1882, James E. Todd…published in the American Naturalist (volume 16, pages 281-287) a paper, “On the Flowers of Solanum Rostratum and Cassia Chamaecrista.” The paper soon came to the attention of Charles Darwin, then in his seventy-fourth year. Almost immediately Darwin wrote the letter to Professor Todd [shown here]…

The most extraordinary feature of the letter is its date, written nine days before Darwin’s death on April 19, 1882. Darwin had been in poor health for some time and beginning in December 1881 underwent a series of heart attacks. He rallied from these attacks and, as the letter indicates, by April was still mentally active and planning work for the future. Five days after writing the letter his final illness began…

Dr. Fritz Müller, referred to by Darwin in the letter [above], carried on an extensive correspondence with Darwin for many years, although the two naturalists never met (317).

Charles Darwin spent decades gathering evidence for evolution before publishing his groundbreaking book, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859. As demonstrated by his letter to Professor Todd, he remained active in scientific research until the end of his life.

Want to learn more about Charles Darwin? Spencer Research Library holds copies of many of his published writings, including a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species. You can find these sources by searching the KU Libraries online catalog. Spencer’s collections also contain two additional letters from Darwin; transcriptions of both documents are available online (letter to Emma Gärtner and Charles Lyell). As always, however, anyone interested in seeing these materials in their original physical form are welcome to do so at Spencer!

Digital copies of many sources by and about Darwin are also available; see the Darwin Correspondence Project and Darwin Online.

A transcription of Darwin’s letter to Professor Todd, also from the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science article quoted above, follows.

April 10 1882.

Beckenham, Kent.
Railway Station
Orpington. S. E. R.

Dear Sir

I hope that you will excuse the liberty which as a stranger I take in begging a favor of you. I have read with unusual interest your very interesting paper in the American Naturalist on the structure of the flowers of Solanum rostratum, & I shd. [should] be grateful if you would send me some seed in a small box (telling me whether to plant in as annual, so that I may know when to sow the seeds), in order that I may have the pleasure of seeing the flowers & experimenting on them. But if you intend to experiment on them, of course you will not send me the seeds, as I shd. be very unwilling to interfere in any way with your work. I shd. also rather like to look at the flowers of Cassia chamaecrista.

Many years ago I tried some experiments in a remotely analogous case & this year am trying others. I described what I was doing to Dr. Fritz Müller (Blumenau, St. Catharina, Brazil) & he has told me that he believes that in certain plants producing 2 sets of anthers of a different colour, the bees collect the pollen from one of the sets alone. He wd. [would] therefore be much interested in your paper, if you have a spare copy that you could send him. I think, but my memory now often fails me, that he has published on the subject in Kosmos.

Hoping that you will excuse me, I remain, Dear Sir
Yours faithfully
Ch. Darwin

P. S. In my little book on the Fertilization of Orchids, you will find under Mormodes ignea, an account of a flower laterally asymmetrical, & what I think that I called right-handed or left-handed flowers.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services