Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.
Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
This week we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s upcoming 214th birthday. In 1861, Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States. Born on February 12, 1809, Lincoln knew a life of struggle before making it into the Illinois legislature. After gaining a national reputation, Lincoln became the Republican nominee in the 1860 presidential race. In 1863 he signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all enslaved individuals in the Confederacy. Lincoln won re-election in 1864, but was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington on April 14, 1864.
This week in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 214th birthday on February 12, I am sharing an original document with Lincoln’s signature. The letter is written to George Hoge and is dated October 11, 1860. The contents of the letter were written by Lincoln’s secretary, but the signature is his own. The library houses many books and manuscripts written about Lincoln along with letters addressed to him, all of which can be found in our finding aids and the KU Libraries online catalog.
The letter reads as follows:
Springfield, Ill, Oct 11th 1860.
Geo. Hoge Esq
Dear Sir – Your letter of the 5th inviting me to your grand rally at Paris on the 12th is duly received. Accept my thanks for the invitation, and my regrets at my inability to be with you.
In the fall of 2007, Air National Guard Sergeant William Leggett was doing his laundry. He was serving a third tour of duty in the Middle East, this time in Iraq. As he walked past a trash bin, he glanced into it and saw a large envelope addressed “To Any Soldier.” Never one to resist a possible trash treasure, he opened the envelope to find a packet of “Dear Soldier” letters, written by fifth- and sixth-grade students from Oil Hill Elementary School in El Dorado, Kansas.
Sergeant Leggett was my brother, five years younger than me. From this point on I will call him Bill. Growing up together in Pennsylvania, he was the typical little brother. He chased me with Cicada shells from his bug collection, ditched me when we had chores, and announced on the school bus that I wore flowered underwear. On long car rides, he annoyed me by looking out of my window or breathing on me.
Nevertheless, we were close, despite our age difference. We made bike ramps out of old scrap wood our Dad had in his workshop, and we rode our bikes up and down our long driveway, trying to best each other’s jumps. I taught him how to make a bridge for his Tonka toys out of books and a rug, but he sometimes forgot the “trick” for getting the books to stay in place, so he asked me to show him again…and again…and again. We played baseball, taking turns pitching. On some of those long car rides, if I was feeling a little motherly and he didn’t smell too badly, I let him put his head on my lap to sleep (this was before seatbelts laws). He shared a bunk bed with our youngest brother, and many nights, after he had gone to bed, I heard him crying over something. We talked it out until he felt better, while I stood on tip toes on the bottom bunk. After I moved away, we wrote letters to each other throughout the rest of his childhood. I still have them.
Bill lived in Pennsylvania, with his family. He had been to Kansas to visit me a few times, and I saw him whenever I went to Pennsylvania. But we didn’t see each other, or have opportunities to talk, very often. He called me on my birthday and sang to me, badly on purpose. I wish I would have kept at least one of those voicemails. While he was in Iraq, we emailed each other almost every day. It was wonderful to talk again. He told me about the packet of letters he had found. I was excited to learn that the school was in Kansas, just off I-35, only two hours from my house.
He told me that he planned to hand-write letters to each student, individually. While I found it rather over the top that he would actually take the time to respond to each child, rather than just writing to the class as a whole or using email, I wasn’t surprised that he would do that. He told me that he felt the students deserved individual letters because THEY were the ones who had written individual letters in the first place, and it would be a shame if they each didn’t get a response. Besides, it gave him a project to pass the time.
So, for the rest of his tour of duty, he wrote to them, and they wrote back. He asked them to call him Bill. The students wrote of family members, pets, favorite sports, and things of childhood and school. They sent him artwork. They asked Bill questions about his life, what it was like to be in the military, and what his favorite things were. They closed by asking him to please write back. Bill wrote about his boys, Peanut Jelly the cat, and NASCAR. He described Iraq, its people, and the places he had been. He talked about life in the military, his job, and things like what food the soldiers ate. He wrote of what he missed back home. In each letter, he made sure to include encouragement. He reminded the students to do their best, to study hard, and to pursue their dreams. And he often included a smiley face when he signed off.
As the time to come back to the States got closer, Bill and I started talking about a visit to Kansas and the school. I contacted the teacher who had given the letter writing assignment about the possibility, and she took it from there. All we had to do was get him there. The visit was a surprise for the students, and it went beautifully. He hand-delivered his last letters, gave out some gifts he brought back from Iraq, held a question/answer session, played basketball with them at recess, and ate lunch with them. Students had their picture taken with him. He was presented with a school t-shirt and a flag that had been signed by the students and teachers. Bill was treated like royalty. When he left, there were hugs and tears, and promises to keep writing.
The students are in their mid-twenties today. They probably don’t know that Bill has passed. He died in 2020, in a work-related accident, just fifty-five years old. I hope they know, or someday know, that their letters are now the “Sergeant William J. Leggett Correspondence with Students of Oil Hill Elementary School, El Dorado, Kansas” collection, in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. When I asked Bill if I could make copies of the letters and donate them, he asked me why anyone would be interested in them. I explained that the best parts of the collections in Spencer are the personal stories that put history in context and make it real. He wasn’t convinced, but he let me do it anyway. He kept the originals because he wasn’t ready to part with them yet. I believe the letters meant as much to him as they did to the students.
This week we’re honoring the one-hundredth birthday of Charles Sheldon Scott, a native of Topeka, Kansas, and a prominent lawyer who focused on civil rights. The most famous case he argued was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. Scott, then only thirty-three years old, was one of the attorneys arguing for the plaintiffs. In this landmark case, argued before the United States Supreme Court, the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The case became a foundation of the civil rights movement and set the precedent that the doctrine of “separate-but-equal” in education, and other such services, was discriminatory and not equal at all.
In May 1984, thirty years after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Charles Scott visited McCarter Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. He spoke to the second- and third-grade classes about the case. These letters illustrate the importance of passing on the significance of that decision to future generations. What follows are a few of the thank you letters he received from the students. Private information has been redacted.
Charles Scott was born in Topeka, Kansas, on April 15, 1921. His father was attorney Elisha Scott, who argued several prominent civil rights cases throughout his career. Charles attended Topeka public schools and graduated from Topeka High School. During World War II, he served with the 2nd Cavalry Division and the Red Ball Express Transportation Unit of the United States Army. After his war service, he returned to Kansas and earned his Bachelor of Law degree in 1948, and then later his Juris Doctorate in 1970, both from Washburn University in Topeka. Charles joined his brother, John, in their father’s law firm Scott, Scott, Scott, and Jackson. During his law career, Charles Scott worked for the integration of schools in Johnson County, Kansas, and equal access to theaters, restaurants, and pools in Topeka. Throughout his law career Scott volunteered his legal services to the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, and in this work he traveled to Mississippi to assist the civil rights workers. He provided legal services to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He served as a staff attorney and hearing examiner for the Kansas Civil Rights Commission. In addition to his law practice, Charles was a part-time instructor for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and served as chair of the Topeka Branch’s Legal Redress Committee. Charles was married to Louise Crawford, and together they had two children. Charles died on March 3, 1989.
Picture it: You’ve met someone interesting, funny, exciting, attractive – someone who could be something really special. Then, POOF! Social distancing happens and you have no option for in-person contact with your romantic prospect for who knows how long.
How do you continue getting to know each other and keep that initial connection flourishing? Texting? Emails? Video calls? While all are great options, why not take this opportunity to try another choice? Everyone, it is time to break out those pens and paper and start writing love letters again!
Now you may ask, “Why write letters when we have phones and computers at our disposal?” The logic is three-fold:
1) Tangibility: Since you can’t embrace the one you fancy, why not create something physical for one another to have and hold during this time of distance?
2) Permanence: Typically, text messages are deleted automatically after a certain period of time. Phone calls and video chats exist only at the time they are happening (unless you record them). Letters, on the other hand, will last – as long as they are cared for properly.
3) Hobby option: Social distancing has prompted many people to explore new hobbies – particularly creative ones. While people learn to bake from scratch, sew masks, and try their hands at knitting, writing letters or keeping a journal is another creative outlet to explore!
Personally, I do not do much letter writing (let alone ones of an amorous nature) and I know that most of my friends, family, and colleagues do not either. Thankfully, I found a great source of advice: How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun (1927), one of the Little Blue Books in Spencer’s Kansas Collection.
Using the long-distance love story of Clementine and Thomas (a traveling salesman), this quaint publication gives examples of love letters appropriate to various levels of relationships – Better Acquaintance, Avowed Tenderness, Betrothed, and Married – and for a variety of situations within those relationships. In the midst of the letters, Markun also provides advice so that the reader may maintain the appropriate level of formality with regard to language, expectations, and even writing materials to use. For example, Markun writes that “amorous correspondence should be written in black or blue-black ink, and gentlemen usually write on white paper, although various light tints are occasionally in fashion” (10-11).
I decided to focus my attention on the advice and examples for the first two levels of relationships: Better Acquaintances and Avowed Tenderness. After reading through the highly entertaining letters and advice featured, here are the five tidbits that I think will be most useful for those attempting to write a love letter in the 21st-century:
1) Respect the other’s wishes. Before courtship by mail can even begin, make sure that both of you are on the same page regarding your interest in each other. If one party isn’t interested in corresponding and has communicated their wishes, the other should not be angry when further letters are left unanswered.
2) Dates, dates, dates. Always include the full date on every letter. This will help avoid confusion and potential misunderstandings because it helps the recipient keep track of when the letter was written.
3) Think before you ink. You want to be clear about your intentions and not say things you do not mean. As Leo Markun wrote in the Introductory Note of How to Write Love Letters, “it is very unsafe to put into a love letter any matter which may not be proclaimed to the whole universe” (6). Saying “I love you” in person is fleeting; saying “I love you” in ink is forever. In addition to considering the permanence of what you write, know that it is possible that your letter may be read by someone other than the intended recipient. As Markun advises, “before sending off a letter, then, it is well to consider if it is one that may safely be read in a court room” (7).
4) Be yourself. Your letter should have personality! Show off your humor, share your thoughts, give your writing your style and voice. Because this is so vital, remember that merely copying a letter and changing the names is not going to give you the desired results.
5) Grammar is sexy. Personality does not come at the expense of proper grammar. Per Markun, “there is less excuse for slipshod grammar in a letter than there is in talking… If necessary it may be rewritten” (14).
And with this advice in hand, it’s time to start writing! So let’s break out the stationary, spread the love (without spreading the germs), and help keep the postal service afloat.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment (which prohibits states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to U.S. citizens on the basis of sex), the Public Services staff at Kenneth Spencer Research Library are exploring the collections to create a list of materials in our holdings related to this historic event.
This summer, I served as a temporary Reference Specialist in Public Services. One of my primary projects in this role was to seek out women’s suffrage-related materials specifically within the University Archives division of the Library, which documents the history of the University of Kansas and its people.
This project required a good deal of patience and persistence, as it is not always clear whether a collection contains suffrage materials based solely on its title or even on its digital finding aid. As a result, often the best way to be certain of a potentially-promising collection’s contents was to go through them folder by folder, item by item.
Stephens, a Professor of Greek at KU in the late 1870s and 1880s, was the first woman to serve as the Chair of a department at the university. Stephens was asked to resign from her position in 1885, a decision she appears to have attributed to her gender, her lack of religious affiliation, or possibly the recent death of her father, a prominent lawyer and judge. However, Stephens went on to become a prolific writer, editor, and proponent of women’s equality in higher education.
Box 2 of Stephens’ collection contains correspondence, though further details (such as dates or senders of this correspondence) were not previously provided in the collection’s finding aid. As such, I was surprised and thrilled to find the box contained letters from Susan B. Anthony.
Written on letterhead for the “National Woman Suffrage Association” and dated between 1884 and 1888, the letters build on an existing relationship between the two women that appears to have begun years earlier when Stephens served as a translator for Anthony’s lectures in Berlin, Germany. In some instances, Anthony’s writing is social, such discussions regarding shared acquaintances or regarding Anthony’s niece, who she hoped to persuade to attend KU.
In other instances, the contents of Anthony’s letters relate directly to the fight for women’s right to vote. For instance, Anthony asks Stephens to write a chapter in the forthcoming third volume of History of Woman Suffrage (a task Stephens attempted but was not able to complete) and to help organize a Women’s Suffrage Convention in Lawrence (which was held on November 1-2, 1886).
Anthony’s letters also demonstrate her interest in Stephens’ career, expressing congratulations when Stephens becomes a full professor and speculating on the motivations for Stephens later being asked to resign. As to this last event, Anthony wrote to Stephens on June 28, 1887:
The wonder is that a woman was ever appointed & that she remained in that honored & […] office so long as she did – not that when your noble & politically powerful father was gone the woman was dropped – I have no doubt – no matter how many other pretexts were devised – that at the bottom & most pottent of all influences – was the disabling facts – that the woman was not a voter and hence had no political power […]
As these letters from Anthony to Stephens were undocumented in the collection’s finding aid, there was previously no definitive way to learn of their existence. Their re-discovery has been noteworthy, not only for the commemoration of women’s suffrage, but also for prompting a revision of the collection’s cataloguing to help ensure future researchers can find and access them in years to come.
Sarah E. Polo Reference Specialist Public Services