Exploring the Scrapbooks in Special Collections

Written by Special Collections & University Archive’s Intern, Sarah Sklar, ’23

As an intern in UMW’s Special Collections and University Archives, my main task this semester was to inventory the collection’s large number of scrapbooks. The scrapbooks range in creation date from the early 1910s to the 2010s, so an entire century of campus history is preserved within these scrapbooks. The scrapbooks vary greatly in size, appearance, and content, and no two scrapbooks are alike. The older scrapbooks mostly contain photographs, but a few of the scrapbooks from the 1920s are more of a “classic” scrapbook and include a diverse mixture of content such as napkins from dinners or balls, newspaper clippings, locks of hair, preserved flowers, greeting cards, and letters. Other scrapbooks, like a few created in the 1950s, are full of newspaper clippings from publications like the local Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star and others from Northern Virginia and Richmond.

The scrapbooks also vary greatly in content. Some of the scrapbooks in the collection are personal mementos of one person’s experience here at Mary Washington, while others document the experiences and history of a club or group on campus, such as the Home Economics Club that was popular in the mid-20th century. Mildred Lenore Burke, who was a student at Mary Washington College for about a year and a half before she left to become a nurse in the early 1940s, created a scrapbook that consists entirely of photographs. The photographs in her scrapbook reflect many fun days spent with friends on campus, in downtown Fredericksburg, and even in Colonial Beach, Virginia. The unofficial, unregulated student point of view displayed in the scrapbooks separates them from other materials in Special Collections, since many of the materials in Special Collections are official documents produced by the University as an institution.

Mildred Lenore Burke sits in front of a WPA construction sign on Ball Circle.

Mildred Lenore Burke sits in front of a WPA construction sign on Ball Circle.

As a historic preservation major, one of the most interesting aspects of the scrapbooks and their content is the ability to view campus through the lens of students over a century-long period, specifically the construction of campus. Mildred Lenore Burke’s scrapbook is a great example of this, since her scrapbook contains a photograph of her standing on what is now Campus Walk in front of George Washington Hall. Washington Hall is on the left, and to the right is the future location of Mason, Randolph, and Farmer Halls, but in the photograph the location is still heavily forested. Upon first glance, it was hard to tell exactly where on campus the photograph was taken, but the Tri-Unit in the background helped me to identify its location. These photographs of campus and its buildings tell the story of the order in which all of our campus buildings were constructed and are a valuable resource for anyone studying the physical landscape of UMW.

Mildred Lenore Burke stands in front of George Washington Hall (to the left).

Mildred Lenore Burke stands in front of George Washington Hall (left).

During the inventorying process, I took note of many different aspects of the particular scrapbook I was looking at. Some of these characteristics included physical size, binding type, the materials it was constructed with, the materials it contained, the provenance, the creation date, the creator, the title, and whether it was boxed, labeled, or digitized. Scrapbooks, including the ones in our collection, present unique challenges when it comes to preservation, storage, and digitization. Although I did not get the chance to digitize any of the scrapbooks in the collection, I learned a lot about the various materials scrapbooks can be constructed with such as black construction paper, newspaper, glue, and tape, and the various ways that they interact with each other over time. During my time as an intern, I also learned about the different constructions of scrapbooks, such as their various types of bindings, which is helpful to know when handling a fragile scrapbook. In addition to being useful information in an archival sense, learning about the construction of scrapbooks and the way they deteriorate over time will help me to someday construct my own long-lasting scrapbook full of memories from my days as a Mary Washington student.

December 15, 2021