Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Dear Soldier

October 15th, 2021

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.

Photograph of a uniformed soldier standing at a desk. The students are sitting in chairs facing him.
Sergeant Bill Leggett talking with students at Oil Hill Elementary School, 2008. Photo taken and provided by Kathy Lafferty. Click image to enlarge.

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-70, 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.

Black-and-white scan of a handwritten letter. The border of the paper has pencils and schoolhouses.
Letter from fifth grader Megan D. to Bill Leggett, October 2007. Sergeant William J. Leggett Correspondence with Students of Oil Hill Elementary School. Call Number: RH MS 1525. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white scan of a handwritten letter. The paper's background is an American flag.
Letter from Bill Leggett to fifth grader Megan D., January 2008. Sergeant William J. Leggett Correspondence with Students of Oil Hill Elementary School. Call Number: RH MS 1525. Click image to enlarge.

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.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

“Dear Mr. Scott”

April 13th, 2021

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.

A drawing on the back of Jerlita’s letter to Charles S. Scott shows two girls jumping rope.
A drawing on the back of Jerlita’s letter to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.

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 S. Scott in an undated photograph
Charles S. Scott in an undated photograph. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1145, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

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.

A letter from Justin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from student Justin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Erin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from second-grader Erin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Jennifer W. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from third-grader Jennifer W. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Melissa, Blake, and Jennifer to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from students Melissa, Blake, and Jennifer to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Rachel to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from third-grader Rachel to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Roberta to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from second-grader Roberta to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A drawing on the back of a letter from Jennifer D. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A drawing on the back of a letter from student Jennifer D. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

My Human and Me: Pennell Portraits that Include Dogs

December 8th, 2020

Dog owners love their dogs. This was as true one hundred years ago as it is today. Below are some portraits from the Joseph J. Pennell Collection that feature human subjects who have chosen to include their dog – or dogs – in their photo portrait. If you pay close attention to things like body positions and facial expressions, you will see how these human subjects feel about their pets. 

From the 1890s to the 1920s, Joseph J. Pennell photographed life in Junction City, Kansas, and the nearby Army base, Fort Riley. The strength of the collection, in my opinion, is that Pennell wasn’t content to just stay in his studio, taking portrait photography. He went out into the community to photograph its people, businesses, activities, groups, and families. And Pennell was inclusive of community members from diverse groups, revealing a fuller and richer story of Junction City. Because of his work, we are provided with a comprehensive view of life in a moderately-sized Midwestern army-post town on the Great Plains from the 1890s to the early 1920s.

Please enjoy this sample from the collection, and visit Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s website to see more.

A double portrait of Ellen Marks holding a dog, 1899
A double portrait of Ellen Marks, 1899. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 466.3, Box 13. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Portrait of Fred Durand with a dog, 1901
A portrait of Fred Durand, 1901. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 700, Box 19. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Portrait of Sgt. Blake (Fourth Cavalry Band) with a dog, 1901
A portrait of Sgt. Blake (Fourth Cavalry Band), 1901. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 785, Box 20. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
The Newman siblings with a dog, 1905
A portrait of the Newman siblings, 1905. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 1539, Box 35. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Portrait of Lieut. G. L. Morrison's child with a dog, 1908
A portrait of Lieut. G. L. Morrison’s child, 1908. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 1951, Box 43. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Portrait of Robert Carr and a dog, 1919
A portrait of Robert Carr, 1919. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 3039, Box 68. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Lucy McLinden: KU Student Nurse During the 1918 Flu Pandemic

October 20th, 2020

In the fall of 1918, the University of Kansas was swept up in the flu pandemic that was raging across the country and world. Out of a student population of approximately 3,000, it is estimated that there were as many as 1,000 cases of flu on campus, with up to 750 of those being ill at the same time. In addition to the main campus hospital, make-shift infirmaries were set up on campus to handle the vast number of servicemen and students who were getting sick. Doctors, nurses and volunteers worked tirelessly to care for them. One of the volunteers was Lucy McLinden. From my research, I estimate that thirty-two deaths actually occurred on campus, all of those male except for one, that being Lucy.

Photograph of Lucy McLinden, circa 1918
A photograph of Lucy McLinden in World War Roll of Honor, 1917-1920: Marion County, Kansas (page 216). Call Number: RH D448. The full text of this book can be accessed online via HathiTrust. Photo accessed via the Find A Grave website. Click image to enlarge.

Lucy was born on July 6, 1897, and lived in Cedar Point, Kansas. In the fall of 1918, she was a sophomore at KU. She was working her way through school as a librarian in the Physiology Library. When volunteers were needed, she was among the first to sign up. She worked in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) hospital almost as soon as the epidemic started. She continued to nurse the sick even after she began to develop flu symptoms herself. When she finally succumbed to the illness, her mother and father came to care for her. Sadly, Lucy developed pneumonia and died on Saturday, November 9, 1918. She was twenty-one years old.

"Death of Volunteer Nurse," (Lawrence, Kansas) Daily Gazette, November 9, 1918
An obituary for Lucy McLinden in the (Lawrence, Kansas) Daily Gazette, November 9, 1918. Article accessed via Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Want to learn more about this topic? Explore our online exhibition, “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic at KU.”

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Spencer Public Services Working from Home

July 14th, 2020

Spencer Research Library has been closed since March due to the coronavirus, with in-person services unavailable and staff members working from home with little or no access to physical collection materials. So, what do librarians in a unit with “public” in it’s title do when the building is closed to the public? The answer is to continue serving patrons remotely as best as we can while working on myriad behind-the-scenes projects that will hopefully benefit users long after the current pandemic.

Even though we have not been able to interact with our library patrons face-to-face for several months, our underlying purpose remains the same: providing high-quality services that encourage and welcome users to engage with Spencer librarians and collections in ways they find interesting, exciting, thought-provoking, and meaningful.

Read on to see what each member of the Public Services team has been working on from home.

Caitlin Donnelly Klepper, Head of Public Services

What have you been working on?

Since March, I have taken over the daily monitoring of Spencer’s reference email account (ksrlref@ku.edu), answering some research queries and forwarding others to colleagues. Like my coworkers, I’ve also attended a good number of KU, KU Libraries, and Spencer Research Library meetings, town halls, and virtual updates. While some are new since covid-19, most others are Zoom and phone versions of the in-person meetings I would normally attend.

My other projects have included cleaning up statistics and corresponding reports, updating the Spencer website, catching up on a backlog of professional reading, and clearing out my email inbox. I’ve also attended many webinars and other online professional development opportunities. This month, much of my focus has shifted toward working with colleagues to develop plans for reopening Spencer’s Reading Room and providing instruction this fall.

Why is this work important to the library?

Much of my work at home has directly or indirectly helped maintain some of Spencer’s core operations; other projects have contributed to new initiatives at the Libraries and improved my personal ability to better serve our users.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

My husband and I purchased our first home in early March, and despite the current circumstances I’ve appreciated getting to spend so much time enjoying our new space. I’ll miss things being able to do things like eating at my desk and taking periodic breaks throughout the day to tackle some housework or walk on the treadmill.

Photograph of the view from Caitlin's home workspace
The view from Caitlin’s home workspace. Click image to enlarge.

Meredith Phares, Spencer Research Library Operations Manager

What have you been working on?

I have been working on a legacy project of our individual photo collections in the Kansas Collection. There are roughly 2,500 images that do not have a finding aid or catalog record. Patrons can only access these photos by reviewing a three-inch three-ring binder full of dividers and charts that is located in our Reading Room. I’ve been entering the details about these images into our ArchivesSpace database; from there, Manuscripts Coordinator Marcella Huggard and her team can take the information and create finding aids and catalog records. 

When I have had enough of data entry, I have been working on a training manual for our Public Services student assistants, along with data cleanup in our Aeon system, which tracks the circulation of Spencer materials. 

Since late April, I have been able to work in Spencer a couple of hours each week. I have kept up on my temperature and relative humidity monitoring of the stacks and have been able to get some stacks projects accomplished.

Why is this work important to the library?

Entering our individual photo collections into ArchivesSpace gets us a step closer to having our photograph collections more accessible. Data cleanup in Aeon allows me to be sure everything has been re-shelved correctly after it’s been used by researchers and staff members. Regular monitoring of our stacks environment is essential for the safety and preservation of our collections.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I commute from Topeka, so I will miss the quick commute to my living room, the flexible work schedule, and spending time with my newly-adopted dog Edgar. He has been my companion and entertainment since March. 

Photograph of Meredith with her dog Edgar
Meredith with her dog Edgar. Click image to enlarge.

Emily Beran, Library Assistant

What have you been working on?

While Spencer Research Library has been closed, I have had the opportunity to work on projects that I normally would not have time to do. One of the most notable ones has been creating transcriptions for some materials in our manuscript collections. Transcriptions are typed copies of handwritten documents. Currently, my favorite transcription I am working on is for the diary of New York suffragist Lillian North. The diary covers her daily life from 1915 into 1917; it not only provides great insight into her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement but also gives readers such a fun look at her life and what she considered important.

Why is this work important to the library?

While our manuscript collections are invaluable sources of information, some of them can be hard for researchers to read and work with because the documents are handwritten. Transcriptions provide a more readable version of these handwritten documents, making the information more accessible for researchers. Additionally, by having transcriptions, we can utilize these documents for more activities (classes, tours, etc.) where being able to read something quickly is necessary because time is limited.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I am not a morning person so the ability to sleep in and start working later in the day has been great for me. Also, the schedule flexibility really has allowed me to work on projects when I can be the most productive and focused – evenings, weekends, when I can’t sleep, etc. So while I am excited to be back in Spencer, I will miss the extra sleep and that scheduling freedom!

A portion of Emily's transcription project
A portion of Emily’s transcription project. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty, Copy Services Manager

What have you been working on?

Since Spencer closed in March, I’ve processed fifty-six copy requests submitted by patron and fourteen inter-library loan requests by going in to the library building once, and sometimes twice, each week.

Additionally, I created an online version of “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic at KU,” which began as a temporary exhibit in Spencer’s North Gallery. I was able to add a lot more information because I had more space and time to do extensive online research. I have also written two blog posts, one for Mother’s Day and another for Father’s Day. For the Father’s Day blog, I used photographs from the Joseph Pennell Collection that are available online and did some online research to find out more information about the subjects in the photographs.

Up next is completing a new online version of the Library’s twenty-fifth anniversary exhibit catalog.

Why is this work important to the library?

The Libraries are trying hard to minimize obstructions to research support and provide access to library materials during the pandemic shutdown. By working from home and going in when I can, I am doing my part to contribute to that effort.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I will miss my cat, Knick, snuggling next to me while I work. I will also miss eating at my desk and setting my own schedule. I will miss working from home, but it will be good to be back in the library full-time.

Photograph of Kathy and her cat Buzz
Kathy and her cat Buzz. Click image to enlarge.

Shelby Schellenger, Reference Coordinator

What have you been working on?

I’ve been working on all sorts of things…which is largely part of my job in any case. I’ve been working with digital reference, reviewing training documents, watching professional development webinars, and more. One of the things I do now that I don’t enjoy is telling people that we’ll be later than usual in getting their research questions answered due to decreased access to the physical collections. 

Why is this work important to the library? 

This work is important to the library because serving the research and reference needs of students, faculty, and the public is an integral part of library operations. What I’m doing from home is that reference or working to improve our ability to do that reference. 

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I think I will miss being able to do my daily work with music playing. I like being able to play music to match my mood/activities and that isn’t practical in the quiet Reading Room environment! 

Photograph of Shelby's at-home coworkers Nikolai and Wallace
Shelby’s at-home coworkers Nikolai and Wallace. Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services