Category Archives: Found it in the Archives

A Swim in the Archives

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Summer has most definitely arrived.

Here in the library, it’s chilly all the time and I’m honestly sitting at my desk in a sweater with a space heater at my feet. But outside, the heat and humidity of Fredericksburg in July can make me feel like I live inside a wet sock crammed in an oven.

So for today’s post, I searched through our digital collections for some inspiration on how to beat the heat at Mary Washington. Happily, I found documentation of our friends from the past keeping cool at the various campus pools that students have enjoyed over the years. Sadly, they don’t exist any more, but that won’t stop me from living vicariously through these images.

Down in the basement of Monroe Hall, in the earliest days of the State Normal and Industrial School, you could find students having a swim in their bathing caps and full-coverage suits. It’s not quite poolside in the summertime the way we might think of it today, but it still looks like fun!

This outdoor pool among the trees looks particularly refreshing. These images are circa 1940s-50s, and I think capture a classic, summery vibe.

The chic pool below used to be part of the grounds outside of Framar House. Check out the post from University of Mary Washington: Then and Now for more information and side-by-side images of what the spot looks like today (hint: it probably will not provide this much relief when the heat index is above 100 degrees).

Our students have always been very cool (literally and figuratively).


Happy summer, everyone!

All images retrieved from the Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

July 14, 2017

UMW Presidents Collections

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Last month, UMW celebrated the inauguration of Troy Paino, our tenth president. Such a milestone in our history serves as the perfect opportunity to look back on the legacy left by our previous presidents. And here in the archives, legacies are our specialty!

The University Archives holds the administrative records and personal papers of all UMW’s past presidents. Some of these collections have been arranged and processed, and you can view the contents of those collections in their respective finding aids. The UMW Presidents Collections page contains a comprehensive list of all nine previous presidents (in chronological order) with links to the corresponding finding aids where available.

The Presidents Collections site also contains links to expanded biographies of each former president. If your memory doesn’t quite go back 109 years and you don’t remember much about our early presidents, it’s a great place to start.

Edward H. Russell (1908 - 1918)

Edward H. Russell (1908 – 1918)

Each president oversaw vital changes to the university. Edward Russell (above) became president very shortly after the school was founded and authorized construction of the very first buildings, Frances Willard Hall and Russell Hall (now known as Monroe). President Russell’s records have been fully processed and described, and you can explore those contents at the online finding aid.

Morgan L. Combs (1929-1955)

Morgan Combs served as president from 1929-1955, and in that time saw a tremendous amount of growth. Many more construction projects took place under President Combs, such as Mason and Randolph Halls, Lee Hall, Seacobeck, and the Fine Arts Center (duPont, Melchers, and Pollard Halls). Also during this time, the school consolidated with UVA and became the liberal arts women’s college. It also took a new name: Mary Washington College.

William M. Anderson, Jr. (1983-2006)

Another of our presidents with a long and notable tenure was William (Bill) Anderson. President Anderson held the position for 23 years and oversaw a great deal more expansion. More buildings sprung up at the campus in downtown Fredericksburg, and the academic offerings grew to include graduate programs that necessitated a brand new campus in Stafford. With this growth came another name change: University of Mary Washington. President Anderson’s collection also has a finding aid online if you’d like to view the contents of those records.

Visit the UMW Presidents Collection site to read about more of our past presidents and see what finding aids are available, or make an appointment to come by Special Collections to view some of our unique materials.

May 19, 2017

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.

screenshot vh

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

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

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

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

New Accession

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This post was written by Katie Ingebretsen, our Special Collections and University Archives spring semester intern. Thanks Katie!

This semester part of my internship at Special Collections and University Archives included accessioning items into the collection. Accessioning means that I document each new item that is added to the collection, noting the date the item was received, who it was donated by or bought from, where the item is now located and giving it an accession number and description. The accession number is how collection items are tracked and is made up of two parts: one number that refers to the year the piece was accessioned and one number that refers to how many pieces have been accessioned this year (if the item is the 14th piece accessioned this year, the number will be 016-014).

Special Collections and University Archives has received four items this semester. My favorite piece that I accessioned this semester is a small black ceramic piggy bank, circa 1963, with the old school seal on it and the words “Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia” surrounding the seal. The seal is very interesting because it is not the current UMW seal, but the earlier seal featuring both the torch we have on the seal now and a spinning wheel in the background. This dates to the time Mary Washington was a women’s teaching college, and the spinning wheel represents the domestic arts the students learned such as home economics and millinery.

Piggy Bank, 1963

pig 2a

Piggy Bank with early Mary Washington seal, 1963

April 6, 2016

High on Marye’s Hilltop

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Earlier this year, we were delighted when the Alumni Affairs office contacted Special Collections and University Archives to see if we would be able to digitize an old record that had been mailed to them.  They weren’t quite sure what was on the record, but it had the name of Irene Taylor and a date in 1947 written on one side of it.

Image of audio transcription disc

Image of audio transcription disc

After doing a little digging in the University Archives, we determined that Irene Taylor was a well-known alumna from the class of 1947.  A music major, Taylor, along with her friend Jean Crotty, entered an annual song competition between Mary Washington’s dormitories during their senior year.  Taylor and Crotty’s song, “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” was so well-liked that it sparked a movement by students who wanted to make the song the official alma mater of the college.  Ronald Faulkner, the school’s band director, drafted a sheet music copy of the song that was sent to all alumnae chapters.  The chapters overwhelmingly approved of the song, and “High on Marye’s Hilltop” became the official alma mater in 1952.

Irene Taylor

Irene Taylor

Once we knew the background of this mysterious record, we had to figure out how to digitize it.  After further research, we determined that the record was not an LP, but a transcription disc.  This type of media was commonly used during the mid-20th century for recording music, before being replaced by magnetic tape, cassette tape, and eventually optical disc technology. Transcription discs must be digitized with elliptical cartridges, which are made by only a few remaining companies.  After the correct cartridge was procured, the real work could begin.

This disc was in relatively good shape, so after a thorough cleaning, it was ready to be digitized.  After the initial digitization process, additional static was removed to make the song more pleasant to listen to.  The resulting digital file is a wonderful time machine back to the spring of 1947, when Irene Taylor sat down at the piano and recorded the music to “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” the song that would become the soundtrack to student life at Mary Washington.  Please visit Archives@UMW to take a listen!

October 14, 2015