Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Langston Hughes in Lawrence, Kansas

January 30th, 2017

In honor of Langston Hughes’s birthday on February 1, we remember his time in Lawrence:

Langston Hughes spent his early boyhood in Lawrence, Kansas. In a presentation at the University of Kansas in 1965 he recalled: “The first place I remember is Lawrence, right here. And the specific street is Alabama Street. And then we moved north, we moved to New York Street shortly thereafter. The first church I remember is the A.M.E. Church on the corner of Ninth, I guess it is, and New York. That is where I went to Sunday School, where I almost became converted, which I tell about in The Big Sea, my autobiography.”


Title page of The Big Sea, by Langston Hughes (first edition, 1940).
Hughes signed this copy for the University of Kansas. Call number RH C7422.
Click image to enlarge.

Hughes lived with his maternal grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston, at 732 Alabama Street. The house does not exist today. His grandmother was the widow of one of the men killed with John Brown at Harpers Ferry (Lewis Sheridan Leary), and later married Hughes’s grandfather, the ardent abolitionist Charles Howard Langston.

Langston’s years in Lawrence with his grandmother were lonely and frugal. In 1909 he entered the second grade at Pinckney School, having started school in Topeka, KS, while living briefly with his mother. He was placed with other African American children in a separate room for his education. At various times between 1909 and 1915 Langston and his grandmother lived with friends James W. and Mary Reed at 731 New York Street. Hughes also attended New York School, and Central School, where he was reportedly a good student. Langston lived with the Reeds after his grandmother’s death in March 1915, and left Lawrence to join his mother in Illinois later in the year.

Photograph of Langston Hughes. Call number RH PH P2790.
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

As he writes in The Big Sea:

“The ideas for my first novel had been in my head for a long time. I wanted to write about a typical Negro family in the Middle West, about people like those I had known in Kansas. But mine was not a typical Negro family. My grandmother never took in washing or worked in service or went much to church. She had lived in Oberlin and spoke perfect English, without a trace of dialect. She looked like an Indian. My mother was a newspaper woman and a stenographer then. My father lived in Mexico City. My granduncle had been a congressman. And there were heroic memories of John Brown’s raid and the underground railroad in the family storehouse. But I thought maybe I had been a typical Negro boy. I grew up with the other Negro children of Lawrence, sons and daughters of family friends. I had an uncle of sorts who ran a barber shop in Kansas City. And later I had a stepfather who was a wanderer. We were poor – but different. For purposes of the novel, however, I created around myself what seemed to me a family more typical of Negro life in Kansas than my own had been. I gave myself aunts that I didn’t have, modeled after other children’s aunts whom I had known. But I put in a real cyclone that had blown my grandmother’s front porch away.”

Sheryl Williams
Curator, Kansas Collection

Adapted from the Spencer Research Library exhibit, Langston Hughes: A Voice for All People.

A Nineteenth-Century Woman’s New Year’s Resolutions

December 30th, 2015

According to Wikipedia, a New Year’s resolution is “a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice, such as opening doors for people, beginning from New Year’s Day.” In January 1864 Elizabeth Duncan wrote down her resolutions on the back pages of her new diary. Little did she know that 150 years later we would use her resolutions to gain insight into what it was like to be a women in the Midwest during her lifetime.

Photograph of Elizabeth Duncan, circa 1860-1865

Photograph of Elizabeth Duncan, circa 1860-1865.
Ladies of Lawrence Portrait Album. Call Number: RH PH 51.
Click image to enlarge.

Wesley Duncan (1814-1902) and his second wife Elizabeth (1837-1879) became residents of Lawrence, Kansas, in May 1855, when the town was less than one year old. Wesley was in the dry goods and grocery business. In 1867 the family left Lawrence and traveled to California, where they briefly settled in San Jose. Sometime around 1868 they returned to Lawrence, and Wesley opened a hardware store.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds three of Elizabeth’s diaries, covering the years 1864, 1867, and 1868. The 1864 diary, shown here, was a gift to Elizabeth from her favorite nephew. On January 1st of that year she recorded that “This morning was intens[e]ly cold but I think some warmer than yesterday I wished all the folks a happy new year. About noon Fred Eggert…presented me this book which I value very highly.” The next day she wrote, in part, “I am going to try to live a more elevated life this year than I did last.”

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, front cover

The front cover of Elizabeth’s 1864 diary. Elizabeth Duncan Collection.
Call Number: RH MS A26. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, inscription

The inscription on the inside cover of Elizabeth’s diary reads
“From Fred to his Aunt Bettie as a New Years Present Jan 1st 1864.”
Elizabeth Duncan Collection. Call Number: RH MS A26.
Click image to enlarge.

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, title page

The title page of Elizabeth’s diary. Elizabeth Duncan Collection.
Call Number: RH MS A26. Click image to enlarge.

Elizabeth began writing in this diary four months after Quantrill’s Raid, an event that took place in the turbulent years of strife between Kansas and Missouri during the American Civil War. Writing in her diary faithfully throughout 1864, Elizabeth primarily spoke of her family, daily life, and the people she knew. She only occasionally mentioned incidents and issues concerning the war and politics of the time.

In January 1864, Elizabeth (age 26) and her husband Wesley (age 50) had been married for almost ten years. Their household included two daughters, two-year-old Katie and one-year-old Cettie; seventeen-year-old William (“Willie”), Wesley’s son from his first marriage; and Ella Jackson, a nineteen-year-old domestic helper.

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, New Year's resolutions

Elizabeth’s resolutions for 1864. Elizabeth Duncan Collection.
Call Number: RH MS A26. Click image to enlarge.

Elizabeth wrote her New Year’s resolutions on the volume’s back pages, dating them January 21, 1864. They are transcribed here.

Jan 21st 1864

Today I have determined more fully to live an humble and devoted Christian and so [illegible] that I may make more steady progress in the good way I have determined to pass the following 1st resolutions which are as follows.

Resolved that I will let no day pass without reading two or more chapters in the Bible or Testament.

2nd Resolved that I have stated times and place for secret prayer and if I am hindered in any way so as I am not possible attend to it just at the stated time I will improve the very first opportunity after.

3rd Resolved that I will be more firm with the children and not let my temper get control of me.

It appears that Elizabeth added another resolution later that year.

4 Resolved that by the grace of God assisting me I will do all in my power to make those around me happy especially our own family. July 22nd, 1864

To learn more about Elizabeth, her diary, and her life in 1864, check out Katie H. Armitage’s article in Kansas History; see also Armitage’s article about Duncan’s 1867-1868 diaries.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Native American Heritage Month: Haskell Indian Nations University

November 23rd, 2015

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, I’m highlighting items from our Kansas Collection that feature events and people from Haskell Indian Nations University, which has been educating First Nations students since 1884 in Lawrence, KS.

Did you know that Haskell offered the first touch-typing class in Kansas? The commercial department, now known as the business department, opened in 1895 with five typewriters. To find this information and other interesting facts about Haskell, check out their school history webpage.

Vivian McAllister and students typing in class.

Vivian McAllister with students typing in class at Haskell.
Miscellaneous photographs and negatives, ca. 1970.
Wallace Galluzzi Papers. Call Number: RH MS 807. Click Image to Enlarge.

This picture was taken in the 1930s by the well-known local photographer, Duke D’ambra. It illustrates Haskell’s long history as a diverse intertribal educational institution. Haskell continues to celebrate its cultural diversity with the annual Haskell Indian Art Market.

Unknown Haskell students. Photograph of Haskell Activities, 1930s.

Unknown Haskell students. Photograph of Haskell Activities, 1930s.
Duke D’ambra photograph collection. Call Number: RH PH 69.542.6. Click Image to Enlarge.

Haskell has a long tradition of producing exceptional athletes. Below are a couple of examples from Haskell’s rich athletic history.

John Levi played football at Haskell from 1921-1924 and then came back to coach the team from 1926-1936. He has been inducted into 3 sports hall of fames, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Athletic Hall of Fame, and the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. Check out Haskell Athletics’ Flashback Friday post on John Levi to learn more.

Photograph of Haskell football player John Levi and accompanying document describing his actions in a game against the Quantico Marines.Photograph of Haskell football player John Levi and accompanying document describing his actions in a game against the Quantico Marines.

Photograph of Haskell football player John Levi and accompanying document chronicling
his actions in a game against the Quantico Marines. Duke D’ambra photograph collection.
Call Number: RH PH 69.583.3. Click Image to Enlarge.

Billy Mills was a graduate of both Haskell and KU. He is most remembered for his surprise win of the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. To learn more about Billy Mills and his incredible life story check out this interview with Mills from Haskell Athletics’ Flashback Friday post and “Mill’s Moment” on KUHistory.com written by Mark D. Hersey.

“Billy Mills is inducted in Sports Hall of Fame.” The Indian Leader, November 27, 1964.

“Billy Mills is inducted in Sports Hall of Fame.” The Indian Leader,
November 27, 1964.William Galluzzi Papers. Call Number: RH MS 807.
Click Image to Enlarge.

Mindy Babarskis
Library Assistant and Supply Coordinator

Throwback Thursday: Game Day Travel Edition

November 12th, 2015

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 10,100 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of KU fans taking a carriage to a football game, 1895

KU fans taking a carriage to a football game, 1895. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/66/14 1895: Student Activities: Sports: Football (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The caption on the back of the photograph states that it shows members of “Kappa Alpha Theta going to a football game in the ‘Jim Donnelley Talley Ho’. black and gold trimmings on the horse.”

James Donnelly (1842-1918) was born in Ireland and arrived in Lawrence with his siblings in 1857. A 1909 article in the Lawrence Daily Journal described him as a “fixture in this town [who] has always been one of our best citizens.” James, partnered with his brother Neill, managed a livery stable – where horses and vehicles are cared for or rented out for pay – under the name Donnelly Brothers. The 1909 article, which reported the sale of the business due to James’s poor health, stated that the “livery stable has a reputation all over the state. It has always been a favorite with the students. The firm always kept high grade rigs and accommodated the public.” The livery stable was located on New Hampshire Street at Winthrop (now 7th Street).

Caitlin Donnelly (no known relation to James)
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt, Megan Sims, and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants

Throwback Thursday: Alexander Gardner Edition

October 15th, 2015

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 8,200 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

This week’s images are among the earliest we have of the KU campus, showing the new university within its first two years. The stereoviews were taken by renowned Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner in 1867 and 1868 for his series Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division. Gardner’s 194th birthday is this Saturday, October 17th. These photographs form part of the George Allen Photograph Collection in Spencer’s Kansas Collection.

View of North College, 1867

“State University, Lawrence, Kansas,” 1867-1868. Shown is North College,
the first building at KU and its only structure until 1872. Located on forty acres
donated by former Kansas governor Charles Robinson and his wife Sara,
the site was located where Corbin and Gertrude Sellards Pearson Halls currently stand.
Alexander Gardner, Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division.
George Allen Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 137. Click image to enlarge.

View of Lawrence from fort with KU on left, 1867

“Lawrence, Kansas from Fort. State University, on the Left,” 1867-1868.
Alexander Gardner, Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division.
George Allen Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 137. Click image to enlarge.

View of Lawrence from Mount Oread, 1867

Back of stereograph card, 1867

Front and back of the stereoview card, “Lawrence, Kansas, from
Mount Oriad [sic], Kansas,” 1867-1868. Alexander Gardner,
Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division.
George Allen Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 137. Click image to enlarge.

Author John Charlton provides some context for these images in his article “Westward, The Course of Empire Takes Its Way” (Kansas History, Summer 1997).

[Gardner’s] series of stereographic images begins at the Union Pacific Railway, ED, company offices and depot in St. Louis, Missouri, and follows the railroad’s construction progress westward between Kansas City, Missouri, to just past Fort Hays, on the High Plains…

Gardner’s photographs in Kansas, and his photographs along the survey for the railway company’s planned future route, were made in the late summer of 1867 through the winter of 1868 between St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, California. He was commissioned by Union Pacific officials to make this photographic series to illustrate the company’s report of its survey of a southern railroad route across the continent with the goal of gaining congressional approval of federal funding for construction. The Union Pacific Railway, ED, line was in close competition with the Omaha-based Union Pacific Railroad to build the first transcontinental railroad (118).

You can further explore KU’s early years by visiting Spencer’s current exhibit, “Achievement of a Dream: The Birth of the University of Kansas.”

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt, Megan Sims, and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants