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.
Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
“Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as ‘Women’s History Week’…Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as ‘Women’s History Month.’ These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.”
The National Women’s History Alliance designates a yearly theme for Women’s History Month. The 2023 theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”
The item I chose to highlight this week is the Constitution of the Woman Suffrage Association of New Jersey. The constitution is believed to have been released around 1898. It belongs to the Gerritsen Women’s History Collection of Aletta H. Jacobs, a diverse collection of women’s archival materials and feminist records covering fifteen languages and over 4,700 volumes. Acquired by the John Crerar Library of Chicago in 1903, the Gerritsen Collection was subsequently sold to the University of Kansas in 1954. It has been digitized and is now widely available through libraries’ database subscriptions. The Gerritsen Collection is part of the Howey Collection within Special Collections at Spencer.
According to History, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded a group called the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869. They began to fight for a universal-suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The women’s suffrage movement was a “decades-long fight to win the right to vote for women in the United States. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy: Disagreements over strategy threatened to cripple the movement more than once. But on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” Spencer Research Library houses many other items that document women’s history and their fight for liberation and equality. Items can be found through our finding aids and the KU Libraries online catalog.
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week we are highlighting KU’s participation in Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. On June 30, 1922, in the midst of the Irish Civil War, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) was destroyed by an explosion and fire at the Four Courts in Dublin. As the Beyond 2022 website explains, seven centuries’ worth of Ireland’s historical records were lost in this fire.
To overcome this harm to “Ireland’s collective memory,” Beyond 2022 is undertaking an international collaboration to digitize copies of records held across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and beyond in order to launch a “Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access, virtual reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922.” One particularly exciting aspect of the initiative is its work with Transkribus to employ HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) to automate the transcription of manuscript records.
Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. A short video about Beyond 2022, explaining the project. Video available at https://beyond2022.ie/?page_id=171#videos. Photo Credits: UCD Archives; National Archives of Ireland; Irish Architectural Archive; NoHo; Trinity College Dublin; ADAPT Centre.
To assist in this ambitious effort, Spencer Research Library is digitizing several manuscripts from its collections that Beyond 2022 has identified as pertinent to its treasury. These manuscripts bearing on Irish history include volumes containing civil and military establishments for late 17th and early 18th century Ireland (MSD88, MS B86, and MS A42), a “Galtrim Parish tithe composition book,” Co. Meath, 1825 (MS P403A), and a volume containing “Copies of informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal,” 1863-1901 (MS E109). Such manuscripts are the types of records that might have once been held in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI).
Of these, MS E109 is particularly intriguing. The manuscript volume contains copies of depositions, informations, statements, and declarations of complainants, witnesses, and occasionally defendants taken between 1863 and 1901 in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district of Co. Donegal, a county in the northwest of Ireland bordering the Atlantic ocean. Petty Sessions were “courts held by the justices of the peace to try minor criminal offences summarily—i.e. without a jury.”[i] More serious cases would also be referred to other court proceedings, such as quarter sessions and assizes. (For a brief overview of the legal system in Ireland during the 19th century, visit the “History of the Law in Ireland” page on the website of The Courts Service of Ireland.)
Manuscripts such as the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district copy book can be particularly interesting to historians and genealogists alike because they offer views of the experiences and conditions of individuals for whom other types of written evidence may not exist or survive. For example, a significant number of those providing sworn informations and depositions in the Dunfanaghy copy book are recorded as having signed with their mark—the x or symbol that individuals unable to write would use in place of their signature. Such individuals are unlikely to have left other written documentation of their lives, such as letters or diaries, so their statements (though filtered through the clerk’s transcription) may be all that survives of their voices. Of course, it is worth remembering that a volume like the copy book for the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district isn’t necessarily capturing everyday life, but the experiences of individuals—whether complainants/victims, defendants, or witnesses—as their lives intersect with the legal system and crime.
Details from the sworn “informations” of James Gallagher (Item 5) and James Lindsay (Item 6) concerning the theft of clothes hanging in their respective gardens in December of 1863. The notations in the copy book suggest that Gallagher (left) signed with his mark, whereas Lindsay (right) used a signature. “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copybook, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click here to see the full page containing the sworn information of both Gallagher and Lindsay.
The types of offenses recorded in the copy book include fights, theft (of clothes, of oats, of horses, sheep, and cattle, etc.), unlicensed guns, misappropriation of letters, threats of violence, and resisting the bailiff’s confiscation of a horse, to name a few. Occasionally the volume also contains accounts of more serious and violent crimes, such as assault and battery, murder, and rape. The witness and complainant statements for these matters can be quite harrowing to read. These cases would be referred to the assizes, the courts where the most serious offences (felonies) were addressed.
Several sworn statements offer glimpses into some of the difficult conditions of the lives of women. One example involves the case of Mary McBride, who in the spring of 1871 is accused of the concealment of the birth of a child. The sworn informations associated her case can be challenging to read, not only because of the difficult subject matter, but also because they make reference to no fewer than three Mary McBrides: 1) the woman who gave birth (sometimes referred to as Mary McBride junior); 2) that woman’s mother (Mary McBride senior); and 3) Mary McBride junior’s sister-in-law (Mary McBride, wife to Michael McBride). However, it is worth pushing through the confusion that the shared names might pose since the content of the statements is likely to hold much interest for researchers in the field of women’s history; women, gender, and sexuality studies; and the law.
Though most of the cases are non-political, a few have a larger political valence. One notable instance relates to William Harkin of Creeslough, who is accused of inciting a meeting (which some witnesses referred to as a Land League meeting) to violence. The Land League was political agrarian organization that campaigned against landlordism and its more predatory practices, seeking rights for farmer tenants, such as fair rents, rights to sale of occupancy, and security of tenure. The date of the incident recorded in the Dunfanaghy copy book, July 11, 1881, falls during a period of heightened agrarian agitation referred to as the Land War, and indeed, later that year, the Land League would be suppressed and several of its national leaders, including Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, jailed. The Dunfanaghy copy book contains witness statements of three members of the Royal Irish Constabulary against Harkin. Constable Joseph Lougheed’s brief deposition reports, “In [Harkin’s] address or in the concluding words of it, he said ‘have no mercy on Landlords. Kill them, send them out of the country into Boersland.[’],” although he also notes, “When the word kill was used some voices in the meeting said, ‘no-no.’” News of the charges against Harkin reached as far as New South Wales, where Sydney’s TheFreeman’s Journal reported on it a month and a half later as part of a section on the Land War, under the heading “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder.”[ii] The depositions surrounding Harkin’s case may appeal to students and scholars studying Irish nationalism, reform movements, and agricultural history alike.
In the coming months, the five selected manuscripts will be made available online through Beyond 2022’s Treasury and in KU Libraries’ own digital collections, enabling researchers around the world to make new investigations into Irish history. On this St. Patrick’s Day, following a full year during which so many of our activities have migrated online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s exciting to think that students, scholars, and members of the public will soon be able to read (and make discoveries with) several of Spencer’s Irish manuscripts from wherever they can access a computer.
When we talk about the history of the women’s suffrage movement, the narrative is often quite serious in terms of focus and tone. We read the rhetoric and arguments for and against suffrage; we learn about the struggles faced – mockery, ostracism, even imprisonment. But in the midst of all this seriousness existed publications and ephemera full of sass, humor, and wit!
Featured in our new online exhibit, Women’s Suffrage: The Lighter Side, is a selection of items from our collections that show the lighter side of the women’s suffrage movement. Published several years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, these items include satirical essays and poems, popular song parodies, and nursery rhyme re-imaginings.
Published in 1915, Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times features satirical poems and other humorous writings by Alice Duer Miller to promote the women’s suffrage movement. Many of the poems were originally published individually in The New York Tribune before their publication together in this book. The material in the book is divided into five categories: Treacherous Texts, Campaign Material (For Both Sides), Women’s Sphere, A Masque of Teachers: The Ideal Candidates, and The Unconscious Suffragists.
Another Kansas publication, The Gee-Gee’s Mother Goose by Lilla Day Monroe, is a collection of common nursery rhymes but re-written to incorporate pro-suffrage messages and ideas. For added interest in this 1912 publication, the rhymes are accompanied by related illustrations including scenes from “Three Blind Mice” and “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater.”