New Finding Aid Published

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As a follow-up to my previous post, I’m excited to report that we’ve successfully published a new finding aid! A Guide to the Michael Louis Altstetter Records is now available to view through the Virginia Heritage database of archival resources.

First of many new finding aids to come!

First of many new finding aids to come!

To help put this into context, I’d like to answer a few questions you may have:

What is a finding aid?

Virginia Heritage’s FAQ does a good job of answering this:

Finding aids (also called guides or descriptive inventories) are the key to locating primary source materials. The finding aid provides a comprehensive overview of a collection, explaining how it is organized, outlining a collection’s origin, contents and dates, and listing locations within a collection where relevant materials may be found. It also informs the researcher about how a collection may be accessed or copied.

Basically, a finding aid tells you what we have in our physical manuscript collections. Finding aids don’t display digital content–you’d still have to come to our reading room to view these items–but they do function as the best way to determine if our manuscript collections have what you’re looking for.

What is Virginia Heritage?

This is a centralized database that we use as a repository for our finding aids, along with many other Virginia institutions with archival collections. Various participating universities, libraries, and museums across the state upload their finding aids here as a way of consolidating resources and making those resources widely available. You can search finding aids broadly by subject or keywords, or you can narrow down your search to a specific institution.

Visit About Virginia Heritage if you’re interested in learning more about what they do, the history of the project, and the participating institutions.

How can I see what finding aids UMW has available?

Right here!

But for future reference, Special Collections and University Archives has a link to the current, full list of finding aids on our homepage, in the Resources and Services menu.

screenshot sc menu

You can also find us on the main Virginia Heritage page by selecting University of Mary Washington as the repository and clicking search.

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Does UMW have more in the archives than what’s listed here?

Absolutely! We’re working on making more of our manuscript collections searchable and available for research.

Part of the goal of processing the Altstetter collection was for me to become familiar with coding the finding aid according to established standards (Encoded Archival Description, or EAD, is generally accepted as the XML standard for encoding finding aids). Now that I’ve figured out the basics of EAD and publishing online, I’ll be focusing on producing finding aids for those manuscript collections that have higher potential research value. We want to increase our visibility and make sure that anyone interested can discover our resources.

In the meantime, feel free to visit Special Collections’ Research and Instruction page to learn about additional ways to find and access our various collections and artifacts. We’re always happy to help!

February 16, 2017

Detective Work in the Archives

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A successful reference search in the archives always makes for a good day and a good blog post!  Last semester, Senior Courtney Squires visited the University Archives looking for a photograph of a bookcase that she owns.  Her aunt had purchased the piece locally when UMW used to sell their used furniture directly to the community and gave it to her niece.

MWCBookcaseThe bookcase has a label “M. Washington College, Jul 31, 1941” glued to its back.

Bookcase Label: M. Washington College, Jul. 31, 1941

Courtney thought the bookcase may have been used in Trinkle Hall, Mary Washington’s  library from 1941-1988, and transferred to Simpson Library  when the new library opened in 1989. So she stopped by the library to see if any of our current bookcases matched her small wooden bookcase. No luck there, so I suggested she check our online Centennial Image collection which contains hundreds of historic photographs of Mary Washington, including dorm and classroom interiors. Due to its small size, I thought the bookcase may have been used in a living room or bedroom.

Bingo! It wasn’t long before Courtney emailed us back that she had located a photograph of her bookcase in our digital collections.

I researched through your Digital Collections online, and I found a picture with my bookshelf in it! I am so excited!!!! It turns out this particular piece of furniture was located in a residence hall, and this photo is dated 1950. I cannot thank you both enough for your guidance, and the wonderful collection of pictures online you have all made available to the public and to UMW students. I have attached the picture with this email. Thank you again.

Students studying in dorm room, 1950

Students studying in dorm room, 1950

Thank you Courtney for sharing the story of your research in the archives. It’s exciting to know that 75 years later this same 1941 bookcase is residing again in a UMW dorm!

All of our Special Collections and University Archives digital collections can be searched at Archives@UMW.

February 9, 2017

The Michael Louis Altstetter Records

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The University Archives contain a wealth of campus history. Among other things, you can come here to see archived copies of university publications, explore the UMW Presidents Collections, or seek out a specific department’s records from any number of organizations by browsing our Record Group Headings List.

But one place you may not know to look is in some of the collections listed in the personal manuscript collections inventory. This is a great list of some of the interesting smaller collections we have that don’t quite fit into our standard record groups, but you might not even know they’re there. One of my priorities right now is to help these little gems shine.

My goal is to help make these and others much more accessible and searchable for anyone who might have some interest in exploring our manuscript records. I’m working on arranging, describing, and processing them now, while also thinking of strategies to improve this process in the future and make collections (especially those with high research potential) available in a quick and organized way. Simultaneously, we’re working on developing new finding aids so researchers from anywhere can better understand the content of some of our manuscript collections. Our digital collections are excellent and only getting better, but there are still items of intrigue to be found among the papers.

My first task in this project has been processing the Michael Louis Altstetter Records, and I’d like to share a little about what I’ve found.

Dr. Altstetter was the Dean of Instruction and Registrar from 1929-1934, beginning shortly after President Combs officially took office. Despite being one of Combs’ earliest appointments, a rift developed between Altstetter and Combs within a few years. Altstetter’s position was eliminated, the administration publicly citing an “administrative reorganization” (Alvey 180). The Dean was encouraged to submit his resignation and he parted ways with the college in 1934. Combs never provided any further details.

The Altstetter records themselves consist of entirely correspondence. Personally, I love reading letters from the past. Even though much of what’s available here is administrative and business correspondence, they serve as an excellent insight into the letter-writer’s personality and what his priorities were. You can see how an upper lever administrator interacted with students, parents, faculty, and other administrators. There’s a lot to learn about academics and college life at that time.

About a third of the collection contains correspondence pertaining specifically to academic deficiencies and discipline and features exchanges between Dean Altstetter and the parents of struggling students. In such a letter from December 15, 1931, he expresses concerns to a girl’s father over her lack of confidence:

"I cannot believe that she is hopeless..."

“I cannot believe that she is hopeless…”

Parents were routinely notified by letter from the Dean if their daughter’s performance was lacking, and in some cases, whether or not they should continue at the college. Through his letters, Altstetter exhibits a degree of personal involvement in his students’ lives that speaks to a long tradition of individualized attention here at UMW.

The correspondence is also helpful in understanding some of the educational standards of the time, and how business was conducted with the state. Another part of the collection is correspondence between Dean Altstetter and the State Board of Education, chiefly concerning teacher certifications and whether the ladies of Fredericksburg had met the appropriate state-level standards. There’s numerous back and forth about credits and criteria, and each letter often concerns a single student’s history.

The rest of the collection is grouped as “general correspondence” and covers a range of topics. Living as we do in the digital age, I find it fascinating to look at the number of tasks that were once only accomplished by writing letters, like reserving a room at a hotel or ordering a book, that I can now do in seconds. Writing a letter was also the best way to obtain desired information about the college, such as whether or not boys are allowed.

"Absolutely no men..."

“Absolutely no men…”

More about boys in a later update.

I hope to have a completed finding aid for this collection (and others) soon!


Sources cited:

Michael Louis Altstetter Records, Special Collections and University Archives, Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington.

Alvey, Edward, Jr. History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972. University of Virginia Press, 1974.


January 30, 2017

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year and welcome back to campus! In the spirit of the New Year, I mined our student newspaper archives for New Year’s resolutions from students back in the day and found some fun and informative annual goals to share.

The Bullet in 1947 – when UMW was Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia – saw students hoping to break the tradition of the junior class benefit always being a beauty pageant. “Traditions are a wonderful thing as we students have made them, and we only can change them when a change is in order.”

The following decade, the Bullet staff were encouraging students to stay on the sidewalks in the New Year and “be on guard against trodding down the grass!”

The late sixties brought a lighter New Year’s touch with such humorous goals as:  “The administration has resolved to abolish all grades and dress regulations. As an added attraction for all the campus heads, Chancellor Simpson has resolved to emulate the chancellor at Berkeley and grow exotic plants in his garden. The Bullet has decided to assume a name more reflective of its attitudes, perhaps the Dove? In sympathy with this move, the Battlefield is renaming itself the Flower Garden.”

The seventies saw resolutions focusing more on personal improvement with a sample below from the Mary Wash Wonders column:

“I resolve to make less use of the ABC store.

I resolve to loose thirty pounds by next week (or, for that matter, any week) – no more “big stuffs!”

I resolve to study harder during T.V. commercials.

I resolve not to sing in the shower anymore while other patronizers of the lavoratory are utilizing its facilities.

I resolve not to make any more than 8 stops at the P.O. during my normal working hours. Finally, I resolve to break all these stupid resolutions!!   Welcome back and good luck!!!”

Mary Wash Millennials had their own take on New Year’s resolutions.  The Bullet reported in 2004 that, “This year, Mary Washington College students are making New Year’s resolutions of all kinds in hopes to improve their own lives or someone else’s.” Exercising, giving up chocolate, getting organized, living in the moment, not procrastinating, reading more books, tuning out Hollywood gossip, and being more assertive all made the list. But my favorite was junior Miguel Laygo’s goal “to make at least one person smile every day.”

I’d add to that a resolution to come visit Special Collections and University Archives in 2017 if you have yet to use our wonderful collections. Come for research or stop by for a quick tour. You’ve got 12 months to complete your goal!



January 18, 2017

A Feast from the Archives

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Seacobeck Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is absolutely one of my top holidays. The principal objective of the day is to eat all of the foods, and I am only too happy to participate. This is the one delightful day where there’s no judgment if you go back for a third helping of mashed potatoes; overindulgence is encouraged! So let’s all have another slice of pie and dig into some archival memories of mealtimes at Mary Washington.

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Student eating hot dog. 1956.

As I was researching something to highlight for this holiday’s celebration of all things culinary, I started discovering a few things about the history of dining here. We all know the UC, and many of us have fond memories of Seacobeck, but how many of us know that the dining hall used to be on the first floor of Willard?

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Buck Studio. Willard Hall dining room. 1915.

Back in the early days — the Fredericksburg Teacher’s College days — there were stringent dining hall regulations that the young women were expected to follow (there were stringent regulations for most things, as you might expect for a women’s college in Virginia in the early 20th century, but we’ll save that for another time). Dean Edward Alvey’s book, History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972, gives an impression of what dinnertime looked like around 1928:

“Students were seated at tables of eight. Each table included some members of each of the four classes, with a junior or senior presiding. All meals were served family style, with student waitresses carrying the heavy trays to and from the kitchen. Students were expected to dress neatly for meals. Anything like slacks or hair curlers would be unheard of” (143).

No pants at dinner, ladies.

Alvey also mentions the student waitresses. From the earliest years of the school, waitressing was one of several positions students could work to earn financial assistance. Seacobeck opened as the new dining hall in May of 1931, and as the student body grew, more students sought employment here.

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Student Waitresses. 1952-55.

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Students sit around tables while waitresses take their orders.

Before the college moved to buffet-style service, waitresses provided table service during mealtimes. They were affectionately known as “slop girls”, and the work was not easy. Alvey describes the position as it would have been sometime in the early 1950s:

“The most numerous and the most remunerative were the positions of waitresses in the dining hall and college tea room. […] Hours for waitresses in the dining hall were long, and their duties were demanding. Waitresses ate before or after the rest of the student body. Heavy trays of food and dishes had to be carried for the table service, which was provided before the later change to a cafeteria form of operation. Waitresses worked seven days a week, with one weekend a month free when a substitute took over for them. They earned approximately sixty-five cents an hour” (335).

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Students dine in Seacobeck. 1964.

However, by 1971, Seacobeck had been transformed into a largely self-service operation, and the slop girls were on to new things.

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Students at Seacobeck Dining Hall.

And as I’m sure we all know (and appreciate), the “all-you-care-to-eat” buffet model carried over to the excellent new dining facilities at the University Center after      Seacobeck ended its 84 year run in 2015.

Make more memories (and eat more stuffing), Mary Washington friends! Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2016

Passion and Political Know-How: Elections at UMW

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This post was written by Maddie Quick, our fall semester Exhibits Intern. Thanks Maddie!

Today is Election Day, and the opening of the exhibit, Passion and Political Know-How: Elections at UMW. As this semester’s Exhibits intern for Special Collections and University Archives, I have been researching and designing this exhibit, highlighting the important Presidential and Congressional elections that sparked political rallies and the participation of student clubs at UMW. Through the years many political figures have visited the University, and several professors have served as both educator and politician, imparting the importance of politics. My exhibit explores student participation in politics and demonstrates that UMW has a strong history as steward to a body of politically-savvy students and politically-passionate professors.

As I created the exhibit, I enjoyed comparing the past and the present effect of elections on UMW. It’s intriguing to see how the student body has changed over the last 100 years while student involvement during election years has always remained high.

Here are a few of my favorite images used in the exhibit from the University Archives.

Students attend a political rally in the Lee Hall Ballroom for the 1964 Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon Johnson election.

Students attend a political rally in the Lee Hall Ballroom for the 1964 Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon Johnson election.

Election posters image from the Young Republicans Scrapbook, 1968-1969. Special Collections & University Archives

Election posters on campus from the Young Republicans Scrapbook, 1968-69. Special Collections and University Archives

The exhibit will be on display through January 31, second floor, Simpson Library – stop by and visit!








November 8, 2016

Happy Halloween!

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As the newest staff member in Special Collections and University Archives, I’ve spent my first few days here doing some exploring and getting better acquainted with some of our terrific digital collections. With Halloween just days away, I started searching in that direction and I was not disappointed. I pulled together a few things I think you’ll like, and I’m pleased to share a festive insight to past Halloweens here at Mary Washington.

If you don’t have your costume yet, look no further than our fashionable alumni for some inspiration! A search for “Halloween” in our Centennial Image Collection turns up about a dozen excellent hits, but take a look at some of my favorites:

Students pose for their photograph in their Halloween costumes on the front porch of Willard Hall.
Halloween, 1938. Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

Two people dressed up as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy pose for a picture at the very popular
Halloweens party in Goolrick, 1982.
Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

Smiling students in costume pose for a group photograph, dressed as a Pabst Blue Ribbon six-pack, 1983.
Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

(Since I know I’ve piqued your interest with these classic ensembles, go ahead and dig deeper in the Centennial Image Collection. It’s visual documentation that Mary Washington has been awesome for more than 100 years.)

Perhaps you’re more the type who prefers to stay in on Halloween? The UMW
archives has something for that too. Grab that big bowl of candy and prepare to
reminisce. The Theatre Poster Collection displays posters created for plays and
musicals dating back as far as 1958 produced by UMW’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Maybe some of our spookier offerings will spur you towards watching that scary movie.

Dracula. 1984. Theatre Poster Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

Sweeney Todd. 1998. Theatre Poster Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

And if you’re looking for something completely different, check out this article from the Nov. 5, 1973 issue of The Bullet about a former car salesman-turned-pumpkin and his journey back to humanity. You can zoom in on the article and page through the
entire issue.

October 28, 2016

Welcome Back Students!

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This week, UMW welcomed both new and returning students to Fredericksburg.  As classes begin and the University community settles in for another semester, we thought we would share some throwback photos of students returning to campus from previous years.  We wish everyone, especially the new freshmen, a wonderful year!


A student and his mother carry belongings into a residence hall during Move-In Day, 1990s


Students decorate their dormitory room with pictures and pennants, 1960s


A staff member shows two new students how to open their mailboxes, 1960s

These photos and many more of life at Mary Washington during the past can be found in the Centennial Image Collection in Archives@UMW!

August 31, 2016

Mary Washington’s Will

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Working in Special Collections and University Archives, we frequently encounter many fascinating objects.  This summer, we got to see a truly unique item that was quite personal for us — the last will and testament of Mary Ball Washington!

Mary Washington's Will

Mary Washington’s will, 1789 [image used courtesy of Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives]

Working in collaboration with the Washington Heritage Museums and the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives (which owns the document), our staff was able to digitize the will in the Digital Archiving Lab using our Cobra overhead scanner.

Mary Washington's will on the Cobra scanner

Mary Washington’s will on the Cobra scanner

The Cobra allows for high-resolution scanning of fragile bound books and documents, such as this will.  Now that staff at both the Washington Heritage Museums and the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives have access to high-quality digital images of the will, they can reproduce it in exhibits and printed materials without having to repeatedly handle the original document.

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Chase zooms in on Mary Washington's signature

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Chase zooms in on Mary Washington’s signature

Partnering with local cultural heritage institutions to digitize their treasures is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work in Special Collections, and we hope that by digitizing this piece of history, more people will come to know and appreciate Mary Washington the way we do at UMW!

August 15, 2016

Fourth of July, 1944

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How are you planning to celebrate July 4? In 1944 the Mary Washington student body spent their 4th participating in a patriotic War Bond Auction sponsored by the cavalry troop to raise funds for the country’s defense.

Cavalry troop

Cavalry troop

Russell Walther, the riding instructor, was the auctioneer for the event, and the cavalry students were the runners for the auction held in the amphitheatre.

Auctioneer, Russell Walther

Auctioneer, Russell Walther

Items for sale ranged from pillows and pennants to dinners in the homes of professors and movie dates. The highest bid of the event was for a $1,000 war bond purchased by Isabel LeCompte. The “purchase” secured her and her roommate dinner at Dean Edward Alvey’s house.

Dean of Women, Mrs. Nina Bushnell (left) and Dean Edward Alvey (right) view the highest bids with student winner, Isabel LeCompte.

Dean of Women, Mrs. Nina Bushnell (left) and Dean Edward Alvey (right) view the highest bids with student winner, Isabel LeCompte.

The auction netted $3,500.00 to support the war effort. Photographs and information about the auction are from the Victory scrapbook in University Archives.

Victory Scrapbook, 1942-45

Victory Scrapbook, 1942-45

Happy Fourth of July!


June 30, 2016