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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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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.

Peggy Hull Deuell: A Conservation Internship

August 15th, 2014

As the 2014 Summer Conservation intern, I performed treatment on the University’s collection of Peggy Hull Deuell, America’s first female war correspondent. This part of the Kansas Collection is comprised of a wide variety of materials: newspaper clippings from the 19th-20th centuries, manuscripts dating from 1774, photographs, oversized items such as maps, transparent documents, and scrapbooks.

A significant portion of time was taken to wash and alkalize the very brittle and disheveled collection of newspaper clippings. During the weeks performing treatment, I became very familiar with Peggy’s style of writing; her sassy personality and strength of character were true elements in her journalism. As the only records of her reporting, these newspaper clippings are important testaments to not only her personal struggles, but also to the relationship she had with readers of the numerous newspapers she wrote for (including the El Paso Morning Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, and Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Though Ms. Hull was born in Bennington, Kansas (in 1889), she was hardly the typical Midwestern girl of the late 19th century. She was independent, intelligent, and very restless. It’s surprising then, that she never graduated high school and was intended to settle down and study pharmacy. This path did not last long; with the family’s subsequent proximity to Fort Riley and its soldier population, and Peggy’s eagerness for change, she soon discovered a new career in the form of journalism. The rest you could say, is history.

Photograph of Peggy Hull Deuell. Kansas Collection, Call number RH MS 130. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Peggy Hull [Deuell] in WWI uniform, 1917. Kansas Collection, Call Number RH MS 130. Click image to enlarge.

It was a rocky start for Peggy, who struggled to become recognized in an incredibly male-dominated field. In fact, it took Peggy about 10 years and travels all over the world to finally become an accredited war correspondent. Through her journeys across the U.S., to the Mexican border, and to Paris, London, Siberia, and Shanghai, she was teaching people about the war, current events, and even her everyday life.  It was Peggy’s determination, unrelenting optimism, and quirkiness that I found most exciting about this collection.

My favorite articles are those that interact with the reader: where you can really get a sense of Peggy, the person behind the journalist. Also quite lovely are the assortment of letters between Peggy and unknown correspondences (or rather, named yet unfamiliar). One such letter was even imprinted with what I believe to be Peggy’s lipstick! The smell was still quite intense, and I could just about imagine Peggy sealing the letter with a kiss (something I imagine she’s done for her three husbands)!

Clipping from Peggy Hull Deuell Collection. Kansas Collection, Call number RH MS 130. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Amusing piece written by Peggy Hull Deuell. Peggy Hull Deuell Collection,
Kansas Collection, Call Number RH MS 130. Click image to enlarge.

Though the process of washing, repairing, and even reading Peggy’s newspaper clippings was intensive and often very entertaining, my favorite conservation treatment with this collection was of the oversized items. The flexibility of the project allowed me to spend time performing more in-depth treatment on a small selection of posters. One of the pieces is an article Peggy wrote about news in Siberia; the document had been pasted to a canvas, which was subsequently painted on the reverse. Over time, the newsprint became very brittle and discolored from both the adhesive and acidity of the material, resulting in a badly damaged article. To treat this object, I first removed dirt from the surface of the paper and then immersed it in a tray of water. After about 5 minutes of soaking in the bath, I was able to carefully separate the newsprint from the canvas. As suspected, the newsprint was extremely fragile and had broken into many pieces over its lifetime.  The canvas backing was discarded and the article was rewashed and alkalized in a separate bath to reduce its acidity. Then, after being dried and pressed flat, I undertook the tricky process of lining the article; in other words, I adhered a thin Japanese tissue to the back of the object in order to add strength and allow for the reattachment of its many pieces. Only when the pieces were reunited could I begin the process of toning papers and filling in missing areas to the overall document. Once treatment was completed, the article could be safely handled and more easily read.

Treatment of clipping from Peggy Hull Deuell Collection. Kansas Collection, Call number RH MS 130. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.  Treatment of clipping from Peggy Hull Deuell Collection. Kansas Collection, Call number RH MS 130. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.  Treatment of clipping from Peggy Hull Deuell Collection. Kansas Collection, Call number RH MS 130. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Before, during, and after treatment of a clipping from the Peggy Hull Deuell Collection.
Kansas Collection, Call Number RH MS 130. Click images to enlarge.

Treatment of the Peggy Hull Deuell Collection was very successful, and I had a wonderful summer working between the Watson and Spencer Research Libraries. Peggy’s collection is also one of the many fantastic features that facilitates our study of war history, and in particular, helps to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. I do think that Peggy would be quite proud of her collection as well!

For further reading about Peggy and her adventures, I highly recommend The Wars of Peggy Hull by Wilda M. Smith and Eleanor A. Bogart, a book written with the consultation of this very collection!

Amber Van Wychen
2014 Summer Conservation Intern, Stannard Conservation Lab

William S. Burroughs’ Last Journals Come to KU Libraries

February 7th, 2014

It’s been an exciting week or two in Lawrence for scholars and fans of William S. Burroughs.  Wednesday, February 5 was the centenary of the writer’s birth, and around town events and exhibitions have been exploring his writing, art, and deep ties to Lawrence.  Burroughs made Lawrence his home during the last fifteen years of his life, and now, thanks to a gift from James Grauerholz, executor of the Burroughs estate and a KU alumnus, the influential author’s last journals will join the collections of KU Libraries.

Burroughs helped revolutionize the post-WWII literary landscape with novels like Naked Lunch and Nova Express, the latter a part of his cut-up trilogy.  To celebrate the gift, five of the ten journals will be on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s lobby through February.  These notebooks, which span from November 1996 to Burroughs’ death in August of 1997, were the basis for Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs, a volume edited by Grauerholz and published in 2000.  In their pages we see literature, politics, art, and philosophy collide with everyday life.  A reference to speaking with an ailing friend, poet Allen Ginsberg  (“His voice over the phone from Beth Israel Hospital in NYC sounded very weak”), appears alongside a reminder to buy disposable razors.  The final entry (see below) offers a meditation on conflict and love.  To the left Burroughs has written:  “Love? What is it? / Most natural pain / killer what there is. / L O V E.”

Image of William Burroughs' last entry in one of his final journals.

William S. Burroughs’ final journal. Image courtesy of Chuck France / KU Office of Public Affairs. Click here for a larger version.

Image of display case containing five of Burroughs' last journals  Image of display case containing five of William S. Burroughs' last journals, as seen from above.

On display through February in Spencer Research Library’s lobby: five of the ten journals donated by the Burroughs estate.

In addition to the journals, the gift also includes typescripts and draft materials for the edition Grauerholz produced. Once cataloged, these “last words” of William S. Burroughs will be available for researchers and the public to consult at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Elspeth Healey,
Special Collections Librarian

Dear Mother, Dear Sister, Dear Diary: Women’s Stories from the Kansas Frontier

October 22nd, 2013

Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854, and women accompanied or joined their husbands and families and helped build new communities. These women’s stories survive through the letters and diaries they left behind, some of which have been preserved – and can be discovered – in Spencer’s Kansas Collection.

Image of "Friendship" needlepoint bookmark

“Friendship” needlepoint fabric bookmark, originally between blank unnumbered leaves 218-219,
Thankful Sophia Mayo Journal, Call Number: RH MS P875. Click image to enlarge.

In November 1854, Elizabeth Mallory and her sister Jennie Crittenden left Wethersfield, Connecticut, and headed west to Kansas. They came as part of the sixth contingent of the Emigrant Aid Company, an organization dedicated to sending citizens with anti-slavery sentiments to the new Kansas Territory to ensure that it would not be admitted as a slave state. Elizabeth’s husband Anson H. Mallory had left with the first Company party in July and was waiting for the sisters in Lawrence.

Elizabeth and Jennie wrote to their mother and siblings from 1859 to the mid-1860s, and these letters give us a glimpse into their lives during Kansas’ earliest years. For example, the excerpt below is from a letter Elizabeth wrote to her mother on June 28, 1863, reassuring her that all was well. Abandoned by her husband Anson, Elizabeth had recently been granted a divorce. She resumed using her maiden name and signed her letters “ESC.” In 1857, sister Jennie had married George F. Earl, who came to Lawrence as a member of the Emigrant Aid Company and served as a Captain in Kansas Company A during the Civil War.

Image of the second page of a letter, Elizabeth Crittenden to her mother, June 28, 1863

Second page of a letter, Elizabeth Crittenden to her mother, June 28, 1863,
Jennie Earl and Elizabeth S. C. Correspondence,
Call Number: RH MS P285. Click image to enlarge.

My health is good and I am enjoying life and health better than I have for many months and I can say years that have past, I have all the dressmaking that I can do, and am getting alonge as regards the worlds goods better then thousands [illegible] me, I have a good family in my House and I am boarding with them which makes it very pleasant for me. I was with Jennie when she was sick [giving birth] she has a nice large Girl. It weighed 12 pounds when it was born she had not named it when I saw her last which was a week ago, she has gone down to Paolia where her Husband is stationed.

Elizabeth survived Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863, and wrote to her brother about her experiences the next month.

Image of the first page of a letter, Elizabeth Crittenden to her brother, September 22, 1863

Image of the second page of a letter, Elizabeth Crittenden to her brother, September 22, 1863

Image of the third page of a letter, Elizabeth Crittenden to her brother, September 22, 1863

Letter, Elizabeth Crittenden to her brother, September 22, 1863,
Jennie Earl and Elizabeth S. C. Correspondence,
Call Number: RH MS P285. Click image to enlarge.

My dear Brother you know nothing of the Horrors of this war, nor neather did I, untill the 21st day of August, our town was surprised about day light, by 300 men headed by Quandrel who murdered every man that came in their way, most of our people were in bed, and the Rebels would knock at the door and when the men opened the door, they would shoot them down, and then rush in, and set fire to the house, threatening death to the women, if they stird, and by that way the House would get to burning so fast, that it would be impossable to get the bodys of their Husbands out, so that they would have to burn up.

Elizabeth also described the raid in a letter to her mother; this document is included in Spencer’s current exhibit about Quantrill’s Raid and can be accessed with a transcription as part of our accompanying online exhibit (see

Another early Kansas woman, Sarah Goss Clark, left Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and moved to Kansas with her husband Lymon (Timothy Limon Clark) in 1864. Sarah’s brother Nathaniel was a noted ornithologist who helped found Neosho Falls in 1857. As is often the case regarding migrations, other family members eventually joined him in Kansas. The Sarah Goss Clark papers include her diaries from 1864 to 1874, correspondence with her mother and siblings, and other miscellaneous items. In her earliest diary, Sarah discusses many of her family members and the trials she faced during her first year in Kansas.

Image of entries in Sarah Goss Clark's diary, July-December 1864

Entries in Sarah Goss Clark’s diary, July-December 1864, Sarah Goss Clark Papers,
Call Number: RH MS 839. Click image to enlarge.

Image of entries in Sarah Goss Clark's diary, January 1865

Entries in Sarah Goss Clark’s diary, January 1865, Sarah Goss Clark Papers,
Call Number: RH MS 839. Click image to enlarge.

July 4. 1864. First spent in Kansas. Joseph & Alex. went to Leroy on horsback for the fourth. Doing my work with Little Lucy’s help.
Nov.24th Thanksgiving day. We are paying no attention to the day Lyman & Stickney
[her husband and brother] gone to find and purchase some oxen.
Sunday. Christmas. Feel lonley today. I feel that many changes have taken place in our situation & family since last Christmas. It is just four monthes to day since our dear little Freddie died. The thoughts of it fills me with sadness.
Jan. 7th my birthday forty seven to-day. Why have I been spared so many years, when so many promising young lives have been taken.

When we read these women’s original letters to their “Dear Mothers” and the diary entries they wrote, we can feel their joys and sorrows and gain a deeper understanding of the everyday challenges faced by Kansas’ earliest settlers.

Tina Nolan Shepperd
Student Technician, Conservation Services

River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence

May 17th, 2013

In this week’s post, Museum Studies graduate students Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu reflect on the experience of curating and mounting the exhibition “River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence,” which is currently on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s exhibition gallery.

On Thursday, May 9th, we celebrated the opening of our new exhibit with a reception. This event marked the completion of the semester-long project in which four museum studies graduate student collaborated with Elspeth Healey, Whitney Baker, and other KU Libraries staff to create an interactive exhibit that compellingly tells the story of Lawrence’s River City Reunion and introduces visitors to some of its more notable characters, including writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Diane Di Prima.

Image of students installing the exhibit Photograph of Museum Studies student Bre Wasinger in front of the case she developed on Allen Ginsberg.

Left: Museum Studies students Anna Paradis, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu install materials in an
exhibition case for the River City Rebels exhibition. Right: Museum Studies student Bre Wasinger
in front of the case she developed on Allen Ginsberg. Click images to enlarge.

Student curator Bre Wasinger remarked she is particularly proud of the “interactives” (or interactive features of the exhibition) – “the listening lounge and poetry wall bring an air of creative sharing and activity to the space that emulates the creative process so central to the Beat community. I hope that people who experience this exhibit find themselves feeling more connected to and curious about Lawrence’s past. Knowing that these rebellious writers were so drawn to Lawrence (a town historically known for its own rebellious attitude) makes me proud to be here, and I hope we can impart this feeling onto others who visit the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.” Fellow students, Anna Paradis, Karrah Whitlock and Melody Yu, learned a lot about the individual poets and the town, as well as the many processes central to planning and executing exhibits through their MUSE 703: Introduction to Exhibits course taught by Bruce Scherting, the Exhibits Director at the Biodiversity Institute.

Photograph of exhbiition visitor at the magnetic poetry wall. Photograph of visitors at the River City Rebels exhibition opening

Left: Exhibition visitor at the Beat-themed magnetic poetry wall.
Right: Visitors at the River City Rebels exhibition opening. Click images to enlarge.

River City Rebels showcases the diverse and interesting holdings at Spencer Research Library for Beat poetry. Karrah Whitlock described the challenges the group experienced when choosing objects for the exhibition, as there were so many unique and visually interesting pieces. Many non-traditional items such as t-shirts, event flyers, handwritten journals, and personal photographs are featured in the collections. It was also important to the student curators to illustrate the strong link of several of the iconic Beat figures to Lawrence. At the exhibit opening several local Lawrencians had personal stories of interactions and experiences with William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as memories of the River City Reunionwhich took place in Lawrence in 1987.

Exhibition case featuring materials from the 1987 River City Reunion in Lawrence, KS. Exhibition case featuring William S. Burroughs materials

Left: Exhibition case featuring materials from the 1987 River City Reunion in Lawrence, KS.
Right: Exhibition case featuring William S. Burroughs materials. Click images to enlarge.

This was a true team effort and the student curators are indebted to librarian Elspeth Healey and KU Libraries Conservator Whitney Baker. Both of these staffers worked closely with the exhibit team and assisted in so many ways. The experience has strengthened our knowledge as well as our real-world abilities to create and share an enriching experience – none of which would have been possible without the support of each other and our collaborators.

Photograph of River City Rebels student curators

Graduate student curators (left to right) Karrah Whitlock, Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, and Melody Yu
in front of the River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence exhibition title wall

It should also be noted that there are two other student-curated exhibits currently taking place through the museum studies program: Continued Dedication, a special exhibit honoring Senator Dole’s service at the Dole Institute, and Occasional Mayhem: Exploring Crime and Punishment in Lawrence at the Watkins Museum (which coincidentally also features William Burroughs).

Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu,
Museum Studies graduate students in MUSE 703: Introductions to Exhibits (Instructor: Bruce Scherting)

Celebrating Ronald Johnson and Poetry In Kansas

April 12th, 2013

April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of this KU Libraries will host an event celebrating Ronald Johnson and poetry in Kansas at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library on Tuesday, April 16.

Revered as a poet’s poet, Ronald Johnson (1935-1998) was born and raised in Ashland, Kansas. Though he spent much of his literary career away from Kansas, first on the East Coast and then in San Francisco (where he lived for over two decades), his literary papers have long acted as a physical tie to his birth state.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library acquired its first cache of the poet’s papers in April of 1969. By this time, Johnson had already published his early collections A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees (1964) and The Book of the Green Man (1967), but was still building his reputation as a poet. Subsequent major installments followed in 1971 and 1987, culminating with a final acquisition of papers from Johnson’s literary estate in March of this year (2013).

Photograph of a selection of book and manuscript holdings for Ronald Johnson

The papers are a magnificent record of Johnson’s life and literary endeavors. They include,

  • multiple drafts of his poetic works, such as his erasure poem Radi os (a re-writing of sections of Milton’s Paradise Lost by excision), and ARK, a long poem composed over twenty years (which will be republished by Flood Editions later this year)
  • drafts and prototypes for his concrete poetry (poetry which emphasizes and plays upon the visual element)
  • correspondence with friends, loved ones, and literary peers, such as writer Guy Davenport, a great champion and admirer of Johnson’s writing; Jonathan Williams, Jargon Society publisher, poet, and former love; and fellow poets such as Ian Hamilton Finlay, Louis Zukofsky, Mary Ellen Solt, and Robert Creeley.
  • materials documenting Johnson’s “other” career as a chef, caterer, and cookbook writer, including drafts of his popular cookbooks, such as The American Table and The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking, and (in the most recent accession) correspondence with food writer M. F. K. Fisher
  • research notes and writing journals
  • photographs and audio recordings of Johnson

One of the highlights of the new acquisition are drafts of Johnson’s The Shrubberies, poems which he composed upon returning to Kansas from San Francisco.  These were collected, edited, and posthumously published by his friend and literary executor, poet Peter O’Leary.  The poems were inspired in part by Ward-Meade Park in Topeka, where Johnson had worked before succumbing to brain cancer and where a plaque now stands in his honor.

Though the materials that arrived in March are not yet cataloged, an online guide exists for the twenty-nine boxes of Johnson’s earlier papers.  The library also houses a large number of Johnson’s published works, many of which exist in scarce and limited editions. These materials complement Spencer’s New American Poetry holdings and its wealth of materials for Kansas writers.

The celebration on April 16 will feature three Kansas poets renowned in their own right: Joseph Harrington and Kenneth Irby, Professors in KU’s Department of English, and Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate, 2007-2009.  These speakers will fête Johnson by reading favorite passages from his works alongside poems of their own.  A selection of materials from the library’s Ronald Johnson holdings will be on display during the event.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian