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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

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.

KU ScholarWorks and Spencer Research Library Resources: An Introduction

April 20th, 2022

On the Find Collections page of the Spencer Research Library website, you will find a variety of resources for the collections housed at Spencer. These resources not only provide information about the collections but also suggestions for locating materials. Additionally, the page provides access to the library’s Digital Collections, where researchers have free, public access to digitized items from the collections.

Tucked into the plethora of featured Digital Collections resources is KU ScholarWorks: Archives Online, part of the university’s digital repository. What exactly is this digital repository and what all does it entail? Read on to learn more about this valuable resource!

What is KU ScholarWorks?

KU ScholarWorks is a digital repository of scholarship and other scholarly works all by faculty, staff, and students at the University of Kansas. The repository also includes digitized records and materials from University Archives. KU ScholarWorks is part of the numerous Open Access initiatives at the university. The primary goal of KU ScholarWorks is to provide access to research and historical items while helping with the long-term preservation of the materials for generations to come.

Graphic that says "KU ScholarWorks" in blue letters with the open access symbol.
KU ScholarWorks logo. Click image to enlarge.

What Spencer resources are included in KU ScholarWorks?

To go directly to the items in KU ScholarWorks related to the collections at Spencer, use the link on the Find Collections page mentioned above. On the Archives Online page, the departments and collections – referred to as sub-communities – are listed for browsing. University Archives materials are featured prominently and include resources about different university departments such as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, collections related to Kansas Athletics, and information about student organizations.

While many of these sub-communities are related to the materials in University Archives, there are also resources available for Special Collections and the Kansas Collection as well! Some examples of what is available are publications related to exhibits such as 50 for 50: Celebrating Fifty Years of Kenneth Spencer Research Library; information about specific collections such as African American Experience Collections by Deborah Dandridge; and resources about certain topics or types of materials such as All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes by Sally Haines.

Black-and-white document with the title in the middle and woodblock images of plants in the four corners.
The front cover of All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes, 1983. Click image to enlarge.

What are some ways to find resources in KU ScholarWorks?

Not sure where to find information related to a specific topic? No worries – there are a variety of search features and filters to help locate relevant items in KU ScholarWorks! Researchers can utilize the Search feature to look for items that include keywords related to their topics. It is also possible to browse and search within specific communities such as the Archives Online community. Researchers also have the option to explore available materials by Author, Subject, and Date Issued – all features available on the KU ScholarWorks homepage as well as on individual community pages.

Happy researching!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Bloom and Grow: Color Our Collections – Round 5!

February 8th, 2022

What in carnation?! It’s the sixth-annual Color Our Collections week! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring fun where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share coloring pages that feature their collection materials.

All of us at KU Libraries are head clover heels for our newest submission! This year’s coloring book celebrates plants with a selection of woodcut prints from Herbarius Latinus, a fifteenth-century herbal housed at Spencer Research Library. You can download and print the book via the Color Our Collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our colleagues at other institutions (as if you need any encourage-mint)!

As a preview, here are three pages from the book. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Are you a fan of the collections at Spencer? Do you be-leaf you’ve come across an image in our materials that would make a great coloring page? Take the thyme to tell us about it in the comments or email us at

Here’s wishing you all some peas and quiet and time to relax with our newest coloring creation! Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Far Above: Women at KU in Academic Administration

November 24th, 2021

KU has welcomed women since its founding; female students were admitted from the very beginning. From then on, many women have found KU to be a place of support and growth, and the university has been shaped immeasurably by the women who have made it home, particularly within the ranks of its faculty and administration.

Featured here are just a few of the incredible women who blazed a trail in higher education at KU and beyond – and all have collections here at Spencer Research Library!

Martha Peterson, Dean of Women

Black-and-white photograph of a young woman sitting at a table and writing. There is a Jayhawk figurine next to her right elbow.
Martha Peterson, undated photograph. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Peterson, Martha (Photos). Select image to enlarge.

Martha Peterson began her career at KU in 1942 as an instructor in the Department of Mathematics. While she pursued her Ph.D. in educational psychology, she was appointed as the Assistant Dean of Women – a position she held from 1947 to 1952. In 1952, she was named the next Dean of Women at the university. In her four years as Dean of Women, Peterson led the installation of the dormitory system for freshman women at KU. Peterson went on to serve as the Dean of Women and University Dean of Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the President of Barnard College in New York before becoming the first woman President at Beloit College in Wisconsin – a position she held until her retirement in 1981.

Learn more by exploring Martha Peterson’s papers (Call Number: RH MS 953) and the records of the Dean of Women (Call Number: RG 53).

Emily Taylor, Dean of Women

Black-and-white photograph of an older woman sitting at an angle. Her left elbow rests on a desk next to a black rotary phone, a lamp, and stacks of papers.
Emily Taylor, undated photograph. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Taylor, Emily (Photos). Select image to enlarge.

Emily Taylor was appointed Dean of Women at KU in 1956. During her almost two decades in that position, Taylor established the first university commission on the status of women, hosted the radio show “The Feminist Perspective,” and worked to establish the Women’s Resource and Career Planning Center – now the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity. In addition to these initiatives, Taylor also was instrumental in the establishment of the Nunemaker Center for honors students and Hashinger Hall for fine arts students. In 1974, Taylor left her position at KU to become the Director of the Office of Women in Higher Education of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. – a position she held until her retirement in 1981.

Learn more by exploring Emily Taylor’s personal papers (Call Number: PP 546) and the records of the Dean of Women (Call Number: RG 53).

Frances Degen Horowitz, Vice Chancellor for Research, Graduate Studies, and Public Service and Dean of the Graduate School

Black-and-white photograph of a woman in a patterned dress standing behind, with her hands on top of, a railing.
Frances Degen Horowitz, undated photograph. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Horowitz, Frances Degen (Photos). Select image to enlarge.

Frances Degen Horowitz joined the KU faculty in 1961 as a professor of home economics (child development). She also conducted research in the Department of Human Development and Family Life and was the department’s founding Chair. Horowitz later became the Assistant Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences before being appointed as the Vice Chancellor for Research, Graduate Studies, and Public Service and Dean of the Graduate School in 1978. During her time as Vice Chancellor, Horowitz worked to establish new research centers at KU, elevating the university’s status as a nationally recognized research institution. She served in this position until 1991 when she left KU to become the President of The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York (CUNY) – a position she held until her retirement in 2005.

Learn more by exploring the records of KU’s Vice Chancellor for Research, Graduate Studies and Public Service (Call Number: RG 11).

Kala M. Stroup, Dean of Women

Black-and-white headshot photograph of a smiling woman.
Kala M. Stroup, undated photograph. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Stroup, Kala M. (Photos). Select image to enlarge.

Kala M. Stroup began her career at KU as a Residence Hall Assistant Director for Corbin Hall in 1959. During the 1950s and 1960s, she was heavily involved in the efforts to do away with parental restrictions on female students which included curfews and travel restrictions. Stroup held positions in the Dean of Women’s office and the residential halls system before being named the last Dean of Women for KU in 1975. In 1979 she became the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Emporia State University. Stroup went on to serve as the first woman President of Murray State in University in Kentucky and the first woman President of Southeast Missouri State University before becoming the President and CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance in 2002. After her retirement in 2010, Stroup returned to KU as a Dean Emerita and faculty member in the KU Honors Program.

Learn more by exploring Kala Stroup’s personal papers (Call Number: PP 613) and the records of the Dean of Women (Call Number: RG 53).

Deanell Reece Tacha – Associate Dean of the School of Law and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Black-and-white photograph of a woman sitting in front of bookshelves lined with binder spines.
Deanell Reece Tacha, undated photograph. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Tacha, Deanell Reece (Photos). Select image to enlarge.

Deanell Reece Tacha joined the KU School of Law faculty in 1974 after being named a White House Fellow in 1971 and working as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and Kansas. She became the Associate Dean of the KU School of Law in 1977. In 1981, she was named the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at KU. Tacha left KU in 1985 after being appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by President Ronald Reagan. She became the Chief Judge of the Tenth Circuit in 2001. After retiring from the bench, Tacha became the Dean of Pepperdine University School of Law in 2011. Tacha also served as the national President of the Kansas University Alumni Association and the Chair of KU Endowment’s Board of Trustees.

Learn more by exploring Deanell Reece Tacha’s papers (Call Number: RH MS 1370) and the records of the KU Office of Academic Affairs (Call Number: RG 10).

Emily Beran
Public Services

My Life with Lillian: The Year (And Then Some) I Spent Transcribing MS B173

July 14th, 2021

Last July, I mentioned in our ‘Spencer Public Services Working from Home’ blog post that one of my work from home projects was creating transcriptions of some of our handwritten collection materials. Well readers, a year later here is the follow-up on one of those transcriptions – the Lillian North diary – and a bit of the story of how a New York suffragist helped me through the pandemic.

Photograph of the first page of Lillian North’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915.
The first page of Lillian’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Who was Lillian North?

Lillian was born on August 17, 1881, in Stafford, New York, to parents George and Mary Thomas Radley. On September 26, 1906, Lillian married Frank North, a farmer. They were married for fifty-seven years before Frank’s death in October 1963.

Lillian’s diary entries span from January 1, 1915, to May 14, 1917, and detail her day-to-day life as a homemaker and farm wife. Her days were full of activity: cleaning and improving the house, washing and mending clothes, baking bread and pies, canning pickles and strawberries, and churning her prize-winning butter. I can confirm that I was motivated to clean on more than one occasion after working on this transcription; you would be, too, after reading about Lillian cleaning daily while your dishes stared at you from the kitchen sink.

Photograph of the entries in Lillian North's diary from September 21 and 22, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from September 21 and 22, 1916. She mentions spending the day at the suffrage tent at the fair and her butter being named first premium. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Outside of her work managing the home and helping on the farm, Lillian attended social engagements and community events almost every week. In her diary she recounts automobile rides and dinners with friends, visiting with her mother and sisters, weekly church, and listening to various speakers and concerts in the area. She frequently attended meetings for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Ladies Aid Society, and The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well – attending meetings and talks and even campaigning for the cause. It was her work as a suffragist that initially introduced me to her diary while I was conducting research for other projects related to the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Lillian’s entry from October 13, 1915, highlights a suffrage lecture given by Mrs. Phillip Snowden of London and Mrs. Keating from Colorado. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click images to enlarge.

Where did this project take me?

Working on this transcription took me on a bit of a journey; I found myself embroiled in some side research projects I was not expecting to do when I started. While the diary provides extensive details about Lillian’s day-to-day life for over two years, there was so much more I wanted to know about her and her family beyond 1917 when the diary ends. I began researching, trying to find whatever I could find based on the information in the diary, our published finding aid, and our records from when the diary was acquired. Eventually, I tracked down obituaries for Lillian, Frank, and Lillian’s mother Mary Radley via

In addition to wanting to know more about Lillian, my curiosity was piqued about some of the acronyms and abbreviations in the diary. What did all of them mean? Several of them I deciphered fairly quickly with the help of some online resources. Others were not so easy to interpret or did not seem to be related to any organizations I could find. By taking clues from the context in which these acronyms appeared and some additional research, I was able to make some guesses about possible meanings, but questions still abound.

All of these side projects did lead somewhere beyond satisfying my own curiosity: The additional information gleaned from the obituaries allowed us to update the biographical information in our online finding aid – providing a more accurate picture of Lillian’s life and family. We also added the list of possible meanings for the acronyms and abbreviations in hopes that this would help future researchers who are interested in the diary and Lillian’s many activities and organizations.

Photograph of Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963.
Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963. Courtesy Click image to enlarge.

Why did it take over a year to transcribe one item?

Now, I know many of you are probably wondering how I am just now finishing the transcription of Lillian’s diary – a full year after that initial blog post. After all, this is not the first item I have transcribed so this should be a faster process, right? Well, here are a few details to consider:

It’s a long story: Lillian’s diary is not quite like the other items the staff at Spencer have transcribed. We typically focus on transcribing shorter documents, primarily letters. Lillian wrote daily in her diary for over two years; there are over 700 entries and roughly 200 pages to transcribe. It was only because of the pandemic and working from home that I even had time to take on a transcription project of this scope. No matter how fast I worked, this was going to be a long project.

Handwritten = hard: Reading someone’s handwriting can be a challenge (how many of us frequently wonder if our doctors are writing actual words on those prescription pads?). Add in factors like age, access, and series of acronyms and abbreviations and, suddenly, handwriting can become practically indecipherable. You have to learn to look for patterns in how someone shapes their letters and rely on context clues frequently – a process that takes time to do.

Photograph of entries in Lillian North's diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916. These more crowded pages show some of the reading difficulties associated with this transcription, including Lillian’s use of abbreviations. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

There is only one of me: Working on transcriptions was only one of my work from home projects during the pandemic. I was also revising training documents, updating instruction plans, participating in professional development opportunities, and conducting research and creating content for other projects, most notably other blog posts and an online exhibit – to name a few things. Some of these activities had scheduled times and due dates; creating a transcription for general use did not so it was the project to fill hours and provide breaks instead of the top priority.

Opening up: Spencer Research Library re-opened at the beginning of the school year in August! With the re-opening came an end to my full-time work from home status. I was back in the building several days a week and helping with paging, shelving, reference, and instruction. Even though I was still working from home some days, my focus shifted to other projects that supported what was happening onsite. Again, a transcription without any specific deadline was moved to the back burner more often than not.

Saying good-bye: The world turned upside down in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unimaginable stress, trauma, and heartbreak to so many. In the last year and half many lost their lives, their livelihood, and their loved ones. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate that I was able to continue working and that my family and friends were largely spared from any serious health issues related to COVID-19. However, that does not mean 2020 was without difficulties for me – particularly related to mental and emotional health.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, I am quite the homebody and pretty introverted so prolonged periods of time in my own space and on my own are welcome. But despite my introverted tendencies, I also have people I enjoy seeing and spending time with regularly – family, friends, colleagues. And then poof! I really could not see anyone, especially not frequently, for quite some time. That gets lonely after a while and I could feel the effects. All of this was on top of the anxiety I was feeling about work and school and life in general during the pandemic.

During that time Lillian’s diary became a distraction from the uncertainty and isolation I was experiencing. After reading increasingly grim outlooks on public health, I could turn to this diary and read about Lillian taking the family horse to get re-shoed or working on a sewing project with a friend. Reading and transcribing Lillian’s diary was like talking with one of my friends about their week when our lives were not consumed by COVID-19; it was a welcome break. As time went on and I became more invested in Lillian’s life, I began to procrastinate on this project – prolonging the point when I would finish the transcription and lose this source of comfort at a time when I really needed it.

Photograph of the last page of Lillian North’s diary, 1917.
The last page of Lillian’s diary, written on the inside of the back cover. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of Lillian’s diary, she ran out of pages and began writing on the inside of the cover. Why? The reason is likely pretty practical – to save money, to use up all the available space, etc. – but the appearance gives the sense that she was trying to put off saying good-bye to this little book for as long as possible. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with as I reach the end of this project and, more importantly, my life with Lillian.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Fields of Gold

June 15th, 2021

Summer has arrived and with it one of the busiest times of the year for Kansas farmers: wheat harvest!

Kansas is the leading state in the nation for winter wheat – wheat planted in the fall and harvested in the summer – with seven to eight million acres planted and hundreds of millions of bushels produced each year.

With the start of harvest fast approaching, please enjoy these photos of the wheat harvests of the past!

Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1913. Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH P2603. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1914. Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. The back of the postcard says this: “Much wheat is harvested in Kansas, with a header cutting 10 or 12 feet. The header is pushed into the grain by six or eight horses, a sickle clipping the heads and a rolling canvas elevating them into a headerbarge drawn alongside, and in it conveyed to stacks in convenient places, to be threshed later.” Call Number: RH PH P2606. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Thomas County, Kansas, 1907-1910. Call Number: RH PH P1130.2. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Emily Beran
Public Services