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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.

Throwback Thursday: Lawrence View Edition

June 24th, 2021

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Information about KU’s past can be found in Spencer collections beyond University Archives. This week’s photo, for example, comes from our Kansas Collection.

Black-and-white photograph of two people walking up Mount Oread on a pathway. Behind them, down the hill, are houses, trees, and unpaved streets.
A view of Lawrence from KU’s North College, 1886. Note the two people, possibly students, standing on the walkway up to the building. Lawrence, Kansas, Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18, Box 8, Folder G:6. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

North College was located roughly where Corbin Hall now stands, between Tenth and Eleventh streets. The notation on this photograph states that it shows the view looking west from North College. However, a cursory exploration of maps and other photos – plus a portion of the Kansas River in the background – suggests that the view might actually be looking north from the building, likely up Louisiana Street.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

A Uniquely Lawrence Book Store

March 19th, 2021
Image of the Spinsters store sign
The Spinsters store sign. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 10, Folder 3. Click image to enlarge.

Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc., originally named Spinsters Books, was founded in 1979 in Lawrence, Kansas. The store and community center was organized by a group of Lesbians “to meet the social, educational, and informational needs of the Lesbian and women’s community.” When the store opened in March 1980, it consisted of one bookshelf in a private residence before later moving to a storefront.

Image of a Spinsters store flyer
A Spinsters store flyer. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 14, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

Besides selling printed materials, music, and jewelry and crafts on consignment, Spinsters included a free lending library, speaker’s bureau, lesbian archives, and community and resource center and hosted support groups.  

Photograph of the interior of Spinsters
Photograph of the interior of Spinsters
Photograph of the interior of Spinsters
Views of the interior of Spinsters. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 11, Folder 18. Click images to enlarge.
Photograph of a group meeting at Spinsters
A group meeting at Spinsters. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 11, Folder 18. Click image to enlarge.

The collective also worked closely with other community and KU campus groups such as Women’s Coalition and Women’s Transitional Care Services. Not only was Spinsters unique due to the nature of the store and the services it provided, but it was run largely by the organizers, a group of dedicated volunteers, and part-time employees. 

Photograph of the Spinsters Collective
The Spinsters Collective. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 11, Folder 18. Click image to enlarge.
Image of an event flyer
An event flyer. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 14, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

The Spinsters Collective also published a newsletter called the Monthly Cycle. The purpose of the newsletter, as stated in the first issue, was “for sharing skills, services, thoughts, and ideas.” 

Image of a Monthly Cycle newsletter flyer
A Monthly Cycle newsletter flyer. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 2, Folder 2. Click image to enlarge.

Any submission by or for Lesbians was accepted. The goal was to foster communication within the Lesbian community, especially in more isolated areas of Kansas and the region.

Image of a Spinsters sale notice, 1988
A Spinsters sale notice, 1988. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 14, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

In August 1988, Judy Brown, Elsie Hughes, Dana Parhm, and Paula Schumacher, members of the Spinsters Collective, made the difficult decision to sell or close Spinsters Books and Webbery. A store sale notice was published on August 18, 1988. The asking price of $7000 did not include the contents of the library, archives, and furniture, nor did it include the name. In November 1988, the store’s office supplies, fixtures, and décor were sold at auction.

The Spinsters Collective donated the archives and business records to Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the spring of 1990. Researchers interested in the Women’s and Gay Rights Movements should look at the materials in the Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. collection. It contains a verity of information on various women’s issues such as the equal rights, sexual discrimination, abortion and birth control, and domestic violence. There are also numerous Lesbian periodicals and newsletters, as well as other records regarding the LGBTQ+ movement. The newsletters and periodicals are from various local, regional, and national organizations.

Letha Johnson
Kansas Collection Curator

How the J. B. Watkins Papers Came to Spencer Research Library

February 9th, 2021

How does Spencer Research Library acquire its collections? Mostly, collections come from donors contacting the library. Occasionally, it is just luck. As for acquiring the papers of the J. B. Watkins Mortgage Company, it was luck combined with tenacity – and being just a foot in front of scrap paper balers at a junkyard during World War II.

The luck came on a Saturday afternoon during World War II, when KU history professor James C. Malin (1893-1979) happened to notice an article printed in the local Lawrence, Kansas, newspaper. The article described how scrap paper from a local business was to be sold for the war effort. Malin was a historian known for his study on Kansas and Nebraska agricultural history and settlement from the late nineteenth century through the 1930s. His prolific writings on the subject are still referenced today.    

Article, "Watkins Records Sold for Benefit of Red Cross," Lawrence Journal-World, January 10, 1942
Fortunately, KU history professor James C. Malin noticed this article in the Lawrence Journal World on January 10, 1942. During World War II, those on the home front donated or sold metal, rubber, clothing, and paper scraps to the United States armed forces. The scraps were then made into useful material for the war effort. Click image to enlarge.

The local business, James C. Malin knew, was no ordinary business. The J. B. Watkins Mortgage Company was one of the largest farm mortgage businesses in the central United States during the last three decades of the 19th century. Headquartered in Lawrence, Kansas, it had branch offices in Dallas, New York, London, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. The data and information contained in the company’s records would be immensely useful to Malin’s work and to other researchers studying agriculture, commerce, economics, and other areas. He knew that he had to rescue the historic collection before it was lost.

James C. Malin in his office in the KU History Department, 1950
James C. Malin in his office in the KU History Department, 1950. Jane Wofford Malin Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 1444, Box 2, Folder 18. Click image to enlarge.

Without wasting any time, Malin picked up the telephone and called then-University of Kansas Chancellor Deane Malott at his home. Before becoming KU’s Chancellor, Deane Malott had himself studied agricultural issues and business administration. Coincidentally, the Chancellor’s home was the beautiful mansion of J. B. and Elizabeth Watkins, known as the “Outlook,” donated by Mrs. Watkins to KU. Malott had been living in the mansion just a little over two years when he received Malin’s phone call insisting something be done to keep the Watkins records from becoming scrap. 

Interior view of the “Outlook,” 1924
An interior view of the “Outlook,” 1924. Elizabeth Miller Watkins, J. B. Watkins’ widow, gave the mansion to the University of Kansas for use as a Chancellor’s residence. J. B. Watkins Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1, Box 238, Item 5. Click image to enlarge.

Malott eventually yielded to Malin’s insistence. Malott agreed to substitute scrap paper from the University pound for pound for the Watkins records at the junkyard. Dick Williams, the executor of the Watkins estate and possibly the person responsible for selling the paper scrap, was contacted. Malott then authorized Malin to act in the matter.

The day after Malin read the newspaper article he went to the junkyard when it opened. He spoke to the scrap supervisor “Mr. Cohen.” Cohen was cooperative but insisted that “business was business.” He agreed to swapping out the Watkins papers for KU papers, but would not halt his operation. By then, the Watkins papers had already been dropped three floors from a window at what was then city hall (which had been previously the Watkins National Bank, what is now the Watkins Museum of History), hauled to the junkyard, and mixed with other scrap paper. The junkyard had started working on the Watkins material when Malin arrived, with some of it already in a 600-pound bale ready for loading on the railroad car. Cohen permitted Malin to sort the material if he kept ahead of the baler and not interfere with the operation.

Lawrence City Hall, circa 1930-1950
Lawrence City Hall, circa 1930-1950. Elizabeth Miller Watkins donated the J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company and Watkins National Bank building to the city in 1929. It was used as city hall until 1970. J. B. Watkins Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1, Box 238, Item 4. Click image to enlarge.

Malin immediately solicited help from his colleague in the department of history at KU, Charles B. Realey, and his 16-year-old daughter Jane Malin. They worked all that Sunday pulling everything that seemed to belong to the Watkins records out of the heap of scrap paper – keeping just ahead of the baler. Malin worked by himself the next day, cutting all his classes. University trucks were sent to pick up the material – over two and a half tons – and dumped it on the ramp area of Watson Library. The collection had been saved!

The J. B. Watkins papers were acquired before there was a separate research library for special collections at KU. The collection was housed at Watson Library until Kenneth Spencer Research Library was built in the 1960s. One of the first researchers to use the collection was historian Allan Bogue (1921-2016) in 1949. He, too, was interested in the history of agriculture and economics. Malin hired Bogue to be his assistant and organize and describe the vast Watkins collection. Bogue wrote a description of Watkins’ Mortgage Company and published it in his book, Money at Interest: The Farm Mortgage on the Middle Border (1955).

J. B. Watkins (1845-1921) as a young man, undated
Jabez Bunting “J. B.” Watkins (1845-1921) as a young man, undated. J. B. Watkins Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1, Box 238, Item 68. Click image to enlarge.

Through the years, additions to the Watkins papers have been donated by Dick Williams and the Watkins Museum of History. The Watkins Museum of History, operated by the Douglas County Historical Society, is housed in the beautifully iconic 1888 Watkins Land Mortgage and National Bank building in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. Visitors at the museum can view the grandeur and intricate details that J. B. Watkins chose for his business and some of his original effects as well as an interesting history of Lawrence and Douglas County. 

An iron framed railing of the staircase in the Watkins Museum
The iron framed railings of the staircase in the Watkins Museum of History are inlaid with J. B. Watkins’s initials in copper shields. Photo by the author during a recent visit. Click image to enlarge.

While it was by luck and tenacity that James C. Malin procured the historically valuable collection of J. B. Watkins for KU Libraries, we are proud that this collection is just one of the ways we connect scholars in varied disciplines with the information that is critical to their research. The J. B. Watkins papers at Spencer Research Library comprise over 627 linear feet of correspondence and business records and are available for research. The finding aid for the J. B. Watkins papers has recently been updated so that it is easier for researchers to discover pertinent material. Papers describing Malin’s heroic salvage of the collection are in the Watkins accession file

During COVID-19, the Reading Room at Spencer Research Library is open by appointment only. Please see our website for more information on hours and new procedures. In addition, since most of the Watkins papers are housed off-site, please plan at least three days of retrieval time for research. 

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist

2019 Ringle Internship: Preserving Local Television History

August 28th, 2019

This summer I had the opportunity to be the first Ringle conservation intern in the Audiovisual Preservation Unit at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. I worked with videotapes from the Channel 6 program, As Time Goes By, which was a public-access program created by and for senior citizens in Douglas County that aired from 1992 to 2000. Sherry Williams, the recently retired Kansas Collection Curator at Spencer, chose the show to be the pilot for this project because of its historic and cultural value. In the eight weeks of the internship, I gathered descriptive metadata on and housed 213 tapes and digitized 30 of these tapes. By the end of my time there, I really had a feel for Lawrence’s senior citizen community in the 1990’s!

As a first timer in Kansas, I came into the project most excited to work with a large local access program that would surely teach me so much about the history and culture of Lawrence. I wasn’t disappointed. Some of my favorite episodes included a conversation with a Holocaust survivor who settled in Lawrence, a conversation with Indigenous seniors who attended the Haskell boarding school in the 1920s, and last but not least, an episode about the  “unusual” tombstones in Douglas County and in America’s Heartland.

Still frame image from an episode of As Time Goes By, a production of Channel 6 in Lawrence, Kansas.
A still from episode 186 of As Time Goes By entitled “Commemorating Our Mortality.” The episode featured Jean Snedeger and John Gary Brown, two authors who wrote books about tombstones in Douglas County and America’s heartland, respectively. Click image to enlarge.

In 2017, after its 45 year run, Channel 6 was sold to Midco Communications and the question of if and how their videotapes would be preserved was posed to the Lawrence community. Sherry felt that Spencer would be an appropriate repository to store the collection in perpetuity. On the day Channel 6 was moving out of their building, Spencer staff gathered box after box of the nearly one thousand videotapes from the station and loaded them up in a van to be sent to their new permanent home at Spencer. I am amazed and inspired by their commitment to preserving the cultural heritage of Douglas County.

Boxes containing video tapes and other material from the Channel 6 collection acquired by Spencer Research Library in 2018.
Boxes at Spencer Research Library containing materials from the former Channel 6 News station. Click image to enlarge.

Public-access programming can serve as a glimpse into communities during a certain point in time. In my time observing Lawrence in the 1990’s, through As Time Goes By, I learned about topics such as the history, buildings, fashion, public school system, museums, law enforcement, food, festivals, under-represented communities, and much more about Douglas County. It’s my hope that As Time Goes By will become highly accessible to members of the community in the near future.

Julia Davila Coppedge
2019 Ringle Intern, Conservation Services

Remembering the Lawrence Tornado of April 12, 1911

April 9th, 2019

On April 12, 1911, the weather in Lawrence had already been unseasonably humid for two days. All through the day, it was obvious that a powerful storm was brewing. Wind speeds had steadily increased, reaching forty miles per hour at noon. By that evening, a full-blown thunderstorm was underway.

Seasoned Kansans knew that weather conditions such as these could foreshadow a coming tornado, and this was no exception. Five minutes before seven o’clock, in a surge of rain, the tornado dropped down. For twenty-five minutes, it passed through the city in a northeastern direction. In its path, it destroyed businesses along Massachusetts Street and homes in West and North Lawrence. Reporting on the event the next day, the Lawrence Daily Journal-World described the massive loss of property, estimated to be $200,000. The paper also estimated that repairs would cost $133,950.00, which would be over $3.5 million in today’s dollars. The extensive damage can be seen in the photographs included in this post, which were taken the day after the tornado.

Photograph of Massachusetts Street looking northeast after the tornado, April 13, 1911

Massachusetts Street looking northeast after the tornado, April 13, 1911. Lawrence
Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:2. Click image to enlarge.

Coverage of the tornado by the Journal-World contained reports of the dead and injured. Miraculously, only two Lawrence residents perished.

Image of the tornado casualty list, Lawrence Daily Journal-World, April 13, 1911

The tornado casualty list from the Lawrence Daily Journal-World,
April 13, 1911. Image via Click image to enlarge.

Included in the newspaper’s reports were details about the death of Margaret Sullivan, who was seventy-one years old.

When the full violence of the storm became apparent to the inmates of the Sullivan [home], George, a crippled son called to his mother to take refuge in the cellar. Mrs. Sullivan remembered an open transom, and fearing that the rain which was falling in torrents would stain her carpet, paused to lower the sash. Before she could join her son, the house was swept from its foundation and both inmates buried beneath a pile of wreckage.

Photograph of 636 Illinois Street, home of Mrs. Joe Sullivan, April 13, 1911

636 Illinois Street, the home of Mrs. Joe Sullivan, after the tornado, April 13, 1911.
Lawrence Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:21. Click image to enlarge.

The Journal-World also provided detailed information about the death of Ethel Wheeler, who worked as a “domestic” on the Doubleday farm southwest of town.

The Doubleday farm was in the very vortex of the tornado. [Mrs. Wheeler] lived with her husband in a small annex to the chicken house not fifty feet from the Doubleday home. Just as the woman left the house to go to this small room in which she and her husband lodged, the Doubleday’s heard a terrific crash as the Sibley barn was blown against the farmer’s house a quarter of a mile away. An instant later, their own home was bombarded with flying wreckage, and looking towards the window they saw two faces pressed close against the glass. The faces were those of Phil Olmstead and Joe Badsky, who had been blown from, they did not know where. They were admitted to the Doubleday home, and with the passage of the tornado a few minutes later, they began searching for two Wheelers.

The little room the latter had occupied was merely a heap of heavy timber. Searching in its vicinity with an electric flash light, Floyd Doubleday heard a faint moan coming from beneath the tangled mass of wreckage. With the aid of the two lads, this was lifted up and Dave Wheeler released. He could only moan pitifully and ask brokenly for his wife. His injuries consisted of a compound fracture of the arm, serious internal hurts, and severe scalp wounds.

Securing lanterns the little searching part began looking for Mrs. Wheeler, the woman who had rushed into the very arms of the storm. In the center of a field a long distance from the house, Olmstead suddenly stepped on something yielding. Leaping hastily to one side he stooped over the cold corpse of the negro woman…

[Dave and Ethel Wheeler] were married last October and came to Lawrence only three weeks ago.

Photograph of Massachusetts Street looking south after the tornado, April 13, 1911

Massachusetts Street looking south after the tornado, April 13, 1911. The Thompson
photography studio
was at 615 Massachusetts, where Quinton’s Bar and Deli is located now.
Lawrence Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:3. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the ruins of an unidentified home after the tornado, April 13, 1911

The ruins of an unidentified Lawrence home after the tornado, April 13, 1911.
Lawrence Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:19. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services