An update on “Miss Carrie”

It’s difficult to even know where to begin. On July 24, I posted “A previously unknown IU pioneer,” detailing how I stumbled across an 1898 newspaper article about the first African American woman to enroll at Indiana University. As I mentioned in that article, this is history that had long ago been forgotten so for us, this was not only “new,” it was “news.” From the time I found that article, I spent the next two weeks as time allowed working to uncover anything else I could about “Miss Carrie,” as I’ve come to know her, but by the time of my blog post, I had decided I just had to put the project aside. My hopes were that someone else would come across my post in the same serendipitous manner and be able to help track down Carrie’s family so that we could obtain more information, a photograph, and to make certain they knew about her status at IU.

Well, from that little blog post came a tremendous amount of publicity, thanks to a LOT of help from my friends in IU and Library Communications. I had my first ever radio interview, several IU web sites wrote about it, and the story was even on the front page of the local newspaper, the Herald-Times (above the fold, which I’m told is a Big Deal). My call for help in finding out more about Miss Carrie had clearly been heard. I received several emails that helped point me to some resources I had not yet tried, including a database for historical African American newspapers, to which the IU Libraries has a subscription. In it, I got my first look at Carrie in a story about her high school graduation that appeared in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1897:

Drawing of Carrie Parker from Indianapolis Freeman, June 5, 1897.

Drawing of Carrie Parker from Indianapolis Freeman, June 5, 1897.

It’s not great but it was a start! Additional searches turned up more hits in the Indianapolis Recorder, a newspaper that has been in circulation for the African American community since the 19th century. In it, I found a very short article from February 1899 (after Carrie had left IU) that said, “Miss Carrie Parker has been obliged to discontinue her studies at the State University on account of nervous trouble. She hopes to resume work again at the beginning of the spring term.” The next month, they reported that Carrie and John G. Taylor had been married and that it “was quite a surprise to their many friends.”

Finding the family

These leads were enough to keep me going in my search for Carrie’s family. I won’t pain you with the all the details but I sent many emails and made many phone calls. From my previous research, I had found the census records that listed Carrie and John’s children and I had tried some half-hearted Google and Ancestry searches on them but I decided to give it another go. This time, my Google searches seemed to indicate there was some possibility that Carrie’s son Leon Parker Taylor was still alive. Surely that wasn’t right because he would be (counts on fingers) 99 years old. That had to be a mistake. But it kept turning up that Leon Parker Taylor was alive and living in southern Michigan.

So what’s an archivist to do? I called on my brothers and sisters in the information world, the public library of the little southern Michigan town. I know the librarian probably thought I was more than a little nuts as I told him my story but I gave him Leon’s information and asked if he could find out if he was indeed still living in their town of 12,000. By the end of day, my new best friend Earl had emailed me, confirming Mr. Taylor was still alive and gave me his phone number and address.

WHAT?  

I KNOW!

The next morning, I called Mr. Taylor as soon as I thought it a decent time. He was unavailable but I talked to his daughter, Carol. I told her the story about how I had just “rediscovered” her grandmother Carrie Parker and that she was the first black woman to enter IU. Carol’s response? “Oh yes, ma’am!” Apparently the family knew all along! She told me a few little tidbits about Carrie but said she wanted to save the storytelling for her father and he would call me back.

When Mr. Taylor called me, I just about fell in love. This man is incredibly sweet, incredibly sharp, and incredibly generous with his time. He talked to me about his mother a bit, said he would look for a picture of her but mainly he wanted to know, “How did you find me?!” Then he told me that because he was retired (I hope so!) and I had worked so hard to find him, he wanted to come to Bloomington to visit me. He would talk with his daughter and get back with me but he definitely wanted to come before winter.

WHAT? 

I KNOW!

Well, he wasn’t wasting any time. Last Monday he called and asked if it would be okay for him, his daughter, and two nieces to visit that Thursday. It wasn’t a long drive and they just planned to come for the day.

I reached out to my friends throughout the University and we scrambled to roll out as much of the red carpet as we could with this short notice. You all, it was amazing. The family was wonderful. And the University overwhelmed them – in a good way – with its response to this rediscovery. At lunch, Vice President Yolanda Trevino told the family IU wants to work with them to develop an appropriate way to honor Carrie with a named scholarship or award. Then Kelly Kish from the President’s Office told them they plan to commission a portrait that will become part of the University’s permanent collection. Clarence Boone from the IU Alumni Association invited them all to return as guests of the University for this year’s Homecoming, at which time the Neal-Marshall Alumni Association will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. There may or may not have been a few tears shed and shared.

Leon "Parker" Taylor holds the only photograph his family could locate of his mother, seated bottom middle surrounded by her children.  Parker is the young gentleman in the upper left corner. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

Taylor holds the only photograph the family could locate of his mother, seated bottom middle surrounded by her children. Parker is in the upper left corner. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

Leon "Parker"  Taylor, 99 year old son of Carrie Parker Taylor Eaton, the first African American to enroll at IU. She attended during the 1898 calendar year. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

Leon “Parker” Taylor, 99 year old son of Carrie Parker Taylor Eaton, the first African American woman to enroll at IU. She attended during the 1898 calendar year. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

 

So what about Carrie?

Carrie’s story is truly an epic tale.

Her father, Richard, was born a slave in 1834 in North Carolina. Upon emancipation, he retained the surname of his last master, Parker, and settled in Enfield, North Carolina. In an autobiographical sketch obtained from the family, Carrie wrote that it was her mother, who could read and “loved the idea of schooling,” who persuaded her father to move to the north so that their children would have the opportunity to attend school. Thus the move to Clinton, Indiana, when Carrie was just over a year old. Sadly, the family arrived in January 1880 and on March 13, her mother died in childbirth.  Her father wanted to move back home but his mother-in-law, who had traveled with them, convinced him to stay.

Carrie wrote,

Through his teaching and actions my father had instilled into our hearts that no one was better than we, unless he was a better Christian. With this belief in our hearts, none of us have ever been ashamed of our race and none of us could see why the so-called superior race could not see how foolish it is to believe otherwise.

Nonetheless, Carrie and her family faced discrimination — in church, in school, and in work. When Carrie finished middle school, the principal at the time had his own policy that no African American children would pass into high school. So he flunked her. Three times. She was determined to make it through or “die trying.” By the time she stood for her exams the third time, the citizens of the town were on her side and told the school not to interfere with her graduation; the school acquiesced and she finally passed on. She reported that the rest of her time at school went fairly smoothly and I’ve already reported in the previous post about the grand reception she received at her graduation.

The family did not have many details about Carrie’s time at Indiana University. She wrote that she “was not made to feel my color much while there” but as we already knew, she had to work to put her way through school. To do so, she lived with a faculty member and according to her granddaughter Carolyn, the wife heaped insane amounts of work on her and the faculty member was very generous in his interpretation of ‘other duties as assigned.’ So after a year of schoolwork, housework, and trying to keep out of the hands of the good Professor, Carrie decided she needed a break.

By this time she was engaged to John G. Taylor of Bloomington but planned to wait until she received her degree before marrying (the family thought he was also an IU student but the University has no record of such. I’ve not yet spent much time digging into his story). According to her memoir, when she took her break from school, John convinced her to marry him, promising to continue to finance her education. She later told IU folklorist Richard Dorson (more on this later!), “Every year I’d cry to go back” but she never again stepped foot on the Bloomington campus.

I still have much to learn about Carrie and her life but her family says she was a headstrong woman who said what she thought and fought for what she believed to be right. She wrote poetry, and instilled the importance of education upon her family. Her oldest son John graduated at the top of his high school class and received a scholarship to attend the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), where he studied to become an electrical engineer. The plan was that he would come out of school, get a job, and then pay for Parker to also go to school for engineering and they would go into business together. John graduated in the top third of his class but when he came out of college in the early 1930s, the country was deep in the Great Depression. Couple that with his race (according to Parker, there were only three black electrical engineers in the country at the time), and John was unable to secure an engineering position. Anywhere. Ever. So he worked for the post office and Parker had to put aside his dreams of attending school.

I have updated the Box with the autobiography the family gave me of Carrie as well as another amazing find! Karen Land of IU Communications found in Google Books that IU folklorist Richard Dorson had talked to Carrie and her sister Lulu in the 1950s when he was in Michigan doing fieldwork for his book Negro Folktales in Michigan. What’s more, IU’s Lilly Library holds Dorson’s papers, which includes all of his notes from this trip. Lulu and Carrie primarily told Dorson slave tales passed on from their father but there is also an amazing short life history Dorson collected from Carrie.

Me, loving my job. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

Me, loving my job. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

I know I will see the family again (and perhaps meet more) when they return in October, so this story is far from over. But let me share just a few more thoughts with you.

At the Society of American Archivists meeting this year, the Society released a new marketing campaign: Archives Change Lives. I long ago drank the water and believed this. But this. This has proven to me that even an institutional archives can play a part.

#archiveschangelives

 

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Dispatches from a remote wedding table

A few years ago, I was sitting at a wedding reception table that felt like it was a quarter mile from the bride and groom. Most receptions seem to have a few tables like this: co-workers, college roommates, and longtime babysitters who are special enough to have warranted an invitation, but who are probably seated too far away to tell whether the best man is having chicken or steak. The people at these tables often don’t know one another, making the conditions ideal for small talk. This was our case.

The guy next to me said he was an engineer. Dutifully, the rest of us asked about the details of his work. I forget what they were. What I remember, however, is this: When I later said I was a folklorist, the engineer went into hysterics. For a moment, I thought to be offended. Then I realized he was laughing because he had legitimately never heard the word before. He probably thought I was making it up. So I swallowed this particular grain of salt and ruminated for the umpteenth time on the smallness and relative obscurity of the discipline of folklore studies. (For the record, the word “engineer” isn’t exactly a model of linguistic normalcy. It’s pretty close to “mouseketeer,” as far as I’m concerned.)

The Brothers Grimm (Wilhelm, left, and Jacob)

The Brothers Grimm (Wilhelm, left, and Jacob)

If I had the engineer in front of me today, I would tell him that he probably knows the names of two famous folklorists, and that he has probably known them since childhood. “Who?” he would ask incredulously. And with particularly Germanic aplomb, I would answer: “Have you ever heard of Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm?” The conversation would proceed from there, as I explain that the Brothers Grimm provided a template for the sort of work that many folklorists still do today. They identified traditional art in their own culture, sought out its experts, and collected material directly from them.

The point of this anecdote is to highlight a new resource for explaining the history of folklore studies in the United States and Germany.  IU’s University Archives and Records Management now makes available the archive of the German American Conference, which is shorthand for Folklore and Social Transformation: A Dialogue of German and American Folklorists, held November 1-3, 1988, at Indiana University. Organized by the Folklore Institute, the conference was an attempt to build a connection between scholars in the United States, where academic folklore studies are comparatively young, and scholars from Germany, where the discipline’s roots are deeper.

The conference accomplished two things. First, as any academic meeting does, it gave scholars a chance to present new research. Second, and more importantly in this case, it provided a venue to discuss the international folklore studies community. When scholars from different countries come together to discuss what they’re up to every day, the vibrancy and visibility of a given discipline are likely to increase. A practical result of this sort of collaboration is a more globally conscious academic. When armed with an international perspective, scholars get better at explaining their work within the academy–to colleagues in other disciplines, for example–and outside of it–say, to engineers who think the word “folklorist” is the neologism of the year.

The archive of the German American Conference is a direct line into what German and U.S. folklorists thought of their discipline in the late 1980s. Their presentations addressed the nature of folklore studies in a variety of social contexts. Anthropologist and folklorist Christoph Daxelmüller traced the history of German-Jewish folklore studies in the decades leading to the rise of the Third Reich. Folklorist Marta Weigle explained the role of folklore in creating and marketing images of the Southwestern United States during the years of westward expansion. Folklorist Elliott Oring examined the implication of folk expression in journalism, where objectivity, not creativity, is the common standard of success.

For three days in 1988, folklorists from two nations gathered to discuss these ideas. Conference organizers, mindful that the event should be collaborative, organized cross-cultural respondents for each paper. U.S. presenters got respondents from Germany, and German presenters got respondents from the U.S. This was an ultimately successful bid to ensure that international discourse would drive the meeting. As IU folklorist Richard Bauman summed up in a later piece of correspondence, everyone involved had “done gut.”

In fairness to the engineer from the wedding reception, a single conference held at Indiana University in 1988 does not change the visibility of folklore studies in any way that he or most people can see. But events like this go a long way in developing academic community. And when communities crystallize, inter-community connections become easier to develop. In other words, before we attempt to explain ourselves to others, we must first take steps to understand ourselves alone. Who are we? Where do we fit? What histories do we inhabit? These are heady questions, but perhaps they’re necessary for the group that wishes to establish a sense of identity, either locally or internationally.

The finding aid can be found in Archives Online. To view the archive of the German American Conference, email or call us at (812) 855-1127. We would be happy to assist!

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The Date, 1946-1947, A Student Publication

The Date001

The cover of the April 1947 Moonlight Issue

A male student clutching a jug of alcohol, the bare backsides of young men spreading a page, and the long, lovely legs attached to five beautiful “coeds” competing for the “Miss Legs” title all make up the 1946-1947 publications of what was a new magazine on campus, The Date. First starting out, and without a designated space to write and publish, Don Goins and the rest of The Date staff completed their work on the basement floor hallway of the Science Hall. Knowing what they published, it seems like an appropriate space to gather and gossip about the goings-on around campus. A typical monthly publication would be filled with all things related to student life: pictures of those recently “pinned,” stories of popular (or not-so-popular) professors, tongue-in-cheek cartoons, funny short stories, and advertisements for shops and restaurants around Bloomington.

For those interested in studying campus culture after World War II, this publication would be the perfect starting point. Picking up the magazine today feels like picking up a modern publication (apart from the fashion, of course).  The publication provides an intimate glimpse into the personal lives of students: their love interests, after-hour excursions, and attentiveness to campus events all add to the richness of I.U. history. From a current student’s point of view, the time period becomes more familiar with each magazine I read. I can see myself kissing my date in the Well House at midnight, having a drink at a local bar, and studying in the library with my peers.  There’s a sense of eagerness and excitement that is often associated with the young reflected in the eyes of the young men and women pictured. I wonder what became of these students, if they ever came back to Indiana University after graduation, and what they would think of this generation of college students if they could see them today.  Who knows? But what we do know is that their memories are forever preserved in the pages of The Date and students of today and the future can share their experiences and reflect upon the differences – or similarities – of their own IU experience.

Other images:

The Date004 The Date006 The Date005 The Date007 The Date008 The Date011

 

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Life and Death and the Population Institute for Research and Training

The Population Institute for Research and Training (PIRT) was founded in 1986 on Indiana University’s campus to promote and facilitate the study of demography.  As such, PIRT’s research focused on major milestone events in life, none of which are more important than birth and death.  These two essential factors of population created two of the largest research areas for PIRT’s working papers series.

PIRT hosted a “Cause of Death” conference in 1993, which brought together scholars and researchers discussing the practical and social issues of mortality.  The conference and the papers associated with it inspired the coordination of a special Cause of Death issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, published in 1999. Articles addressed the causes of death across a variety of times and places; titles included:

JHMAS Cover

The Development of Reporting Systems for Causes of Death in Denmark, HANS CHRISTIAN JOHANSEN
 
National Statistics on the Causes of Death in Nineteenth-Century Bavaria, MICHAEL STOLBERG
 
Premises, Premises: Comments on the Comparability of Classifications, STEPHEN J. KUNITZ
 
Medical Causes of Death in Preindustrial Europe: Some Historiographical Considerations, JON ARRIZABALAGA
 
Nosology, Mortality, and Disease Theory in the Eighteenth Century, MARGARET DELACY
 
The full text of the journal is available at oxfordjournals.org.
 

PIRT also coordinated the efforts of a Fertility Working Group, which researched birth in a variety of populations.  The group produced thirteen papers in conjunction with the Fertility Working Group Project, which was completed in 1984.  These papers examined several social factors to find their correlation with fertility.  A few of them include:

Female Employment and Fertility in Developed Countries, JAN F. BRAZZELL
 
Origin-Destination Comparisons of Migrant and Stayer Fertility Differentials: The Case of Brazil, HUGO M. HERVITZ
 
Urbanization and Rural-to-Urban Migration in Relation to Less Developed Country Fertility, GEORGE J. STOLNITZ
 
Nuptiality and Fertility in Less Developed Countries, ELYCE ROTELLA
 
Old Age Security and Fertility, DAVID WILDASIN
 

These papers and the entire working papers series produced by the Population Institute of Research and Training are now available for research in the University Archives along with other administrative records of the Institute. Contact the Archives for further information!

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This is about to get personal

The archive of a long-term ethnographic study of Hungarian ethnic identity is now available for perusal at University Archives and Records Management. The study, facilitated by Indiana University’s Folklore Institute in the early 1980s, examined the ways that Hungarians in both Hungary and the American Midwest maintained senses of community through everyday customs. This project led to an academic conference, a special issue of the Journal of Folklore Research, and a rich collection of photographs and fieldwork reports. And that’s where the official story starts to get personal, at least for me.

Sorting through the papers of the Hungarian-American project over the past couple of weeks was an exercise in self-reflection. As the research team documented ethnic foodways and days of religious observance among Hungarian culture groups, I recalled my own encounters with similar sorts of traditions during my childhood. My mother’s side of the family has always held on to certain pieces of its Slovak heritage, from the practice of Roman Catholicism to the hearty peasant food that characterizes our communal meals. Sauerkraut, sausage, and the sign of the cross are comfortable bedfellows in my mind.

In fairness to the academic persona that I’ve spent the past five years cultivating, this kind of musing makes me recoil a bit. Though they are neighbors, Hungary and Slovakia are distinct nations with distinct cultures. From a scholarly standpoint, it does not do to lump them together so indiscriminately. On the other hand, the human in me gravitates toward what I recognize as a resounding articulation of home. The people I grew up with behaved like the people whose lives are documented in the Hungarian-American project archive. It was impossible for me, while browsing these papers, not to be reminded of grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Mary Slota

Mary Slota

Here’s a case in point: My great-grandmother, Mary Slota, left Slovakia for northeast Ohio in the early twentieth century. One of my favorite family photos shows her in her kitchen, proudly displaying a ring of homemade hurka, or blood sausage, probably harvested from a hog that was raised on the small farm where she lived with my great-grandfather. One of the hundreds of photos in the Hungarian-American project archive shows a widow in the Hungarian village of Cserépfalu. Babushka tied around her head, she leans over a bowl while plucking a chicken, presumably in preparation for a meal. Captured in the photographic frame, both women illustrate the cultural moment they inhabit. They wear floral patterned aprons and work with ingredients that exemplify a farm-to-table attitude long before that phrase became trendy among the culinary elite. And while Mary Slota and the villager from Cserépfalu spoke different languages and lived in different places, their everyday lives were more like than unlike.

Cserépfalu villager

Villager from Cserépfalu, Hungary – from the Hungarian-American project archive

That the archival material of the Hungarian-American project speaks so insistently to my own experience is, in my opinion, an indication of its success. Project researchers mindfully collected images and words to produce a body of data that is greater than the sum of its parts. While the project’s focus was Hungarian ethnic identity, the amassed data recalls the larger experience of eastern and central Europeans in the twentieth century. One can come to this conclusion on a personal level, as I did with my photo comparison, but it is also possible to approach the issue conceptually. Apart from the photos, the Hungarian-American project archive contains many documents that attempt to analyze the immigrant experience. Here are some of the questions they pose: What does it mean to be “ethnic,” anyway? Are Hungarians only ethnic once they have left Hungary? Is culture something people inherit or something they create? What about tradition? Does it have to stay the same, or are we allowed to change it?

There isn’t enough space to describe the researchers’ conclusions here, but the good news is that six boxes of documents await anyone who wants to know more. To gain access, or to view the finding aid that indexes the Hungarian-American project archive, visit our website at http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.

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