Family Life in 19th Century Autograph Books

Autograph books provide a fascinating way to understand social interactions and genealogy. These objects contain signatures and messages from one’s friends and family, handwriting practice, drawings, and memorabilia. While going through the Indiana University Archives small collections, I found four of these books dating from the nineteenth century. I was immediately charmed by their Victorian aesthetic and the sincere sentiments written within. I also discovered how they provide intriguing paths into family histories of the Midwest—and of Indiana University students.

Two of the autographs books were created by a certain Jacob A. Zoll from 1881-1886, and the other from 1885-1897. The first book captured my attention because even though it dates back to the 1880s, it is full of colorful paper stickers in the form of spring flowers, cherubs, and wildlife. It reminded me of my own adolescent obsession with Lisa Frank stickers.

From Jacob A. Zoll’s autograph book (February 26, 1883), 2007/068, Indiana University Archives

It was not immediately clear to me who Zoll was, or what (if any) relationship he had with Indiana University. As an art historian-turned-training-archivist, I decided to beef up my genealogy research skills to find this out. I turned to the Ancestry Library Edition, a resource accessible through the IU Libraries, and discovered through U.S. census records that Zoll was born in Ohio in 1861. By 1880, he lived in Belle Flower, Illinois with his family. When he was older, Zoll moved to Urbana, Illinois, became a carpenter, and lived with his wife and two stepsons.

Learning about Jacob Zoll’s biography helped solve another mystery—the identity of Clara Burkett, the creator of another one of the autograph books at the IU Archives. Clara’s book was presented to her by her father on September 24, 1879. She collected her first signature four days later, in Marshall, Indiana. Her friend Mary English wrote simply, “Remember me Clara.” The book mostly contains poems and signatures from schoolmates and cousins, scattered across southern Indiana and Illinois counties. Based on my census research, I confirmed that Clara was, in fact, Jacob’s wife.

Naturally wanting to find more information about Clara, I soon discovered how difficult it can be to track genealogy for women. In order to trace her in Ancestry records, I had to search her various used names (and spellings) across her single and married life. She was born Clara Burkett in Adams County, Pennsylvania, in 1864. A minister’s daughter, her family moved around Indiana and Illinois in the late 1800s. In 1882, she married John Milton Wolfe. They had two children, Elmer and Wirskenn (known as “Winn”). According to the Danville Daily News, tragedy struck in August 1887, when John Wolfe died of typhoid fever at the age of 26. Clara raised her sons as a single mother until 1890, when she married Jacob in McLean County, Illinois.

This unveiled family history made me view Jacob’s and Clara’s autograph books in a more emotional light. Without these details, I would have overlooked the evidence of genuine affection this combined family had for one another. Elmer’s and Winn’s signatures appear all over the pages of Clara’s book. Winn wrote on December 30, 1895:

“My friend mother is a comforter and love to me.
That when you read this you remember me.
No one like a friend so clear to me,
Winnie Wolfe.”

Also touching, Elmer wrote in his stepfather’s autograph book on January 25, 1895: “When this you see/Think of me/Your boy, Elmer.” For me, this experience was a powerful example of how archival research can bring to the surface individual voices and family stories that may otherwise be lost in historical narratives.

After all of this research, I still had one mystery to solve—how these autograph books ended up in the IU Archives in the first place. The fourth autograph book was owned by “Rosa,” although her last name was not immediately evident. Her autograph book, kept 1881 through 1886, is full of the same charming paper stickers that appear in Jacob A. Zoll’s books. Rosa’s friend Charley Frankenberger attached a sticker of mallard ducks to his humorous message on February 3, 1884: “May all your days/Be spent in piece [sic] /And your old/Man dies in Greace [sic].”

From Rosa Wolfe’s autograph book (1886), 2007/068, Indiana University Archives

To identify the mysterious “Rosa,” I turned to the rosters of Indiana University graduates held in the Archives reading room, and noted relevant surnames from these autograph books. After cross-referencing the names with Ancestry records, I found one exact match: Ralph Verlon Wolfe, who graduated between 1936 and 1939. His mother’s name? Rosa Wolfe. Coincidences aside, I found it highly probable that Ralph’s mother was Rosa Wolfe, the autograph book’s original owner. Genealogy records provided evidence that Rosa lived in southern Illinois and Indiana, and had some of the same relatives as Elmer and Winn Wolfe. Thus, I made an educated connection that Ralph Wolfe (or one of his own descendants) donated this entire set of autograph books as a family collection.

Combing through genealogy and I.U.-specific records to map these autograph books was a real archival journey for me. The autograph books provide an intimate, and even touching glimpse into historical family dynamics. To view these special objects yourself, contact the Indiana University Archives.

2007/068, Indiana University Archives

Behind the Curtain: Laura Bell, Processor and Assistant to the Curator of Photographs

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Processor and Assistant to the Curator of Photographs

Educational Background: B.A. in English with a minor in Educational Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland; Current MLS graduate student with a specialization in Archives and Records Management.

How she got here: During Laura’s last semester as an undergrad, she worked as a student assistant at the college library.  After graduating, she knew she wanted to pursue Library Science but was unsure what specialization to choose. Laura also wanted to be sure she was picking a path that she would enjoy so she decided to work and gain more experience.

Laura began working full time in the Access Services Department at the main academic library at West Virginia University. The people in that department were amazing and they provided great opportunities to learn skills that led to her current interests. She worked to improve her customer service skills with patrons, and she learned more about library school in general by talking with her supervisor at the time, and IU alum, Hilary Fredette.

After 6 months in Access Services, she began working in the special collections department/archive at WVU.  At the West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC), she managed the historic photographs collection including selecting images to go online in the database, managing student workers, handling image requests and reproductions, and working to help with other projects.  Laura’s position at the WVRHC led her to decide on the archives specialization.  She had supportive mentors who encouraged her when she started applying to schools and making decisions. Their enthusiasm and knowledge showed her how many things archivists get to do and how they can make materials more accessible to patrons. Another alum from the program, Danielle Emerling who works at the WVRHC, coordinated with Carrie Schwier of the IU Archives to set up a time for Laura to visit the Archives when she visited the campus that spring.  After seeing everything that IU and the MLS program had to offer, she decided this would be a good place to gain the experience and knowledge she needed to become an archivist. Now, she gets to work here and she loves it.

Example of a dance card in the IU Archives Collection

Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: The IU Dance Cards Collection. It was one of the first collections that she processed.  Each dance card is unique and it was really interesting to see how many events there were on campus throughout the 1920s-1950s.

Current Project: She is currently processing the Claire Robertson papers and working on other small projects as they come up.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Hard to pick one! She enjoys processing collections the most, but she really enjoyed researching materials and finding images for East Meets Midwest: A History of Chinese Students at Indiana University, an exhibit that was displayed in the Wells Library in March 2017.

What she’s learned from working here: Since Laura is from Maryland, the rivalry between IU and Purdue was news to her!  She also just enjoys getting to learn the general history of the university and what it was like when it first began.

A Sword in the Archives: New Additions to the John D. Alexander papers

John D. Alexander was the oldest living IU graduate from 1929 until his death in 1931

In a Sincerely, Yours post from July 2016, we introduced you to John D. Alexander, an IU alum who rose through the ranks of the 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers to ultimately become Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade of the Union Army. His collection was donated to the Archives in 2015 and contains dramatic letters written to his parents as he marched with Sherman’s army to the sea. In a letter from Camp Anderson, Georgia on December 18, 1864, he writes, “My Dear Parents, I am still alive, for which, I can thank the Good Lord.” Not only did Alexander survive the Civil War, he lived long enough to become the oldest living graduate of Indiana University from 1929 until his death on February 27, 1931.

Since the collection was first opened to researchers last spring, the collection has been popular with faculty and students for use in history and folklore classes. The collection provides a great local context to a larger national event, the Civil War.

With the rich research value of the collection, you can only imagine how excited we were to learn that the Archives would be acquiring additional materials to add to the collection. Because Alexander and his wife did not have any children to pass along their belongings to, their materials were separated among close family friends and more distant relatives.

In April 2017, the Archives learned that we would be receiving a scrapbook, a pair of Chevalier Paris binoculars, Alexander’s Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia, and his Captain’s sword.

A pair of Paris Chevalier binoculars owned by Alexander with case
John D. Alexander’s Union Army Captain’s sword
Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia (post-Civil War regalia)

These new additions provide researchers with a deeper connection to the man behind the Civil War letters. In his post-Civil War life, Alexander served as a prosecuting attorney in Greene, Owen, and Morgan counties in Indiana and was the representative of Greene County in the Indiana General Assembly of 1887. He was also highly active in the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Union Army veterans, and attended nationally encampments in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Toledo, Columbus, Boston, Buffalo, and Atlantic City. He served as State Commander of the Indiana G. A. R. from May 1908 to May 1909.

Alexander’s interest in the G.A.R. and veterans’ issues are reflected in the scrapbook he filled with newspaper clippings about Civil War monuments, G.A.R. encampments, patriotism, and Indiana G.A.R. activities starting in 1907 until the late 1920s. Papers found tucked within the scrapbook also offer a distinct look into Alexander’s life. These pages include correspondence to distant relatives who named their son “John Alexander,” a page from a family Bible detailing birth and death dates, and even Alexander’s personal research regarding George Washington’s potential affairs.

We’ve enjoyed learning more about one of IU’s most distinctive alumni and hope that you will consider a visit to the Archives to see these new additions. The collection is partially digitized and can be viewed here. Please contact the IU Archives if you would like to learn more about the life of John D. Alexander.

Love Is in the Air at the Archives!

Over the past few weeks, I looked for love in all the right places, namely, within the University Archives! On February 1, the Archives sponsored a Pop-Up! exhibit, “Love and Friendship in the Archives.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, the exhibit examined love and friendship contained in the Archives’ collections. I worked on the exhibit, which allowed me to discover part of the long history of love at IU.

On one hand, I learned about IU traditions and campus spots associated with love. For instance, there was the Board Walk, a path that crisscrossed the Old Crescent, stretching from Indiana Avenue to Forest Place (now home to Ballantine) and was known in the early decades of the twentieth century as the “lover’s lane” of campus. There is also the “Spooning Wall” or the “Lovers’ Wall,” which still stretches along Third Street. Hoagy Carmichael is said to have found his inspiration for “Stardust” while sitting on the Lovers’ Wall.

Page from the scrapbook of Joan Richards Neff, class of 1949. IU Archives Collection C597.
Page from the scrapbook of Joan Richards Neff, class of 1949. IU Archives Collection C597.

But more important were the personal glimpses that I got into the lives of IU students and faculty. The Archives contains many scrapbooks from students who documented the love and friendship they found here. One set of scrapbooks belonged to Doris Joan Richards Neff, who attended IU from 1945 to 1949. She put together a scrapbook for each year she was at IU, filled with mementos from dances, parties, and even impromptu taco dinners with friends. While a student, Joan met Franklin Neff, and the two married after graduation. Joan kept all kinds of things related to her romance with Frank, including parts of the gifts he gave her, dried roses she received for their anniversaries, and Valentines from Frank and his mother.

Valentine from Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, IU Archives Collection C413.
Valentine from Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, IU Archives Collection C413.

Believe it or not, students weren’t the only ones expressing their love at IU – apparently, faculty sometimes find love too! Perhaps my favorite examples are in the Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers and the Avis Tarrant Burke papers. All three Hennel sisters – Cecilia, Cora, and Edith – were students at IU in the 1900s, and all three taught on the faculty at various times. In 1913, Cecilia resigned as an instructor in the English Department in order to marry John Hendricks, and the two moved to Wyoming to run a bee farm. Being so far away didn’t stop Cecilia from keeping close ties with the rest of her family. The Hendricks family kept up a lively correspondence, and in a letter of February 17, 1914, Cecilia wrote that in one day, she received 11 letters, one card, and a package in the mail! The family papers are full of Valentines from daughter to mother, daughter to father, and from the whole family to their grandfather. In later life, when Cecilia returned to IU to teach in the English Department, she was so beloved by her students that some of them sent her Valentine cards and even flowers.

For sheer romance, though, you almost can’t beat the tenderness that existed between Avis Tarrant Burke and her husband, Robert E. Burke. Avis Tarrant married her old friend Robert in 1916 and moved to Bloomington to be with him. Robert was an assistant professor of Fine Arts, and Avis taught at the McCalla school and eventually worked at the University Extension Division. The two traveled together extensively, including to Europe, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest. Avis kept travel diaries that documented their adventures together, as well as personal diaries that documented less sensational “adventures.” For February 14, 1942, she wrote in her diary about two “events” for the day: Robert gave her a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day and that she spent the morning cleaning out the closets!

Whenever the two were apart, they wrote very touching letters and poems to each other. One letter that Robert wrote to Avis reads, “Darling One: Perhaps this is silly to write to you when you are right downstairs now – but I want you to have this line from me just as soon as you get to Winsted [Connecticut] – all it says is that I love you more all the time and shall miss you very much. However, we’ll both keep very busy & so try to make the times pass quickly. xxxxxx Robert.” Avis wrote poems expressing how lonely she was walking down the streets of Chicago without Robert, as well as poems such as “To My Valentine of Twenty Years.” It seems like the love and affection that Avis and Robert had for each other never faded.

Robert Burke to wife Avis. IU Archives Collection C96.
Robert Burke to wife Avis. IU Archives Collection C96.

But perhaps the most touching example of unfading love that I saw was the drafts of a poem by Philip Appleman, a prolific writer and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English. His papers include drafts of a poem he wrote for his wife Marjorie. Originally entitled “A Poem for Beautiful Breasts,” in later drafts the title of the poem changed to “Mastectomy.” Appleman seems to have written the poem while his wife was undergoing surgery. He imagines the procedure to himself, and then concludes the poem with the powerful lines, “I will love her more / than yesterday.”

Part of the beauty of a place like the IU Archives is that love never dies.

Come find love at the IU Archives!

“Reflections on Diversity:” Highlights from the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers

“I began thinking about diversity in an almost visceral way.  It puzzled me why people forget their diverse origins time and time again…”

-Eugene Eoyang, The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One

Eugene Chen Eoyang is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Cultures and was a part of Indiana University for more than twenty years, teaching in both the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One, 1995

Born on February 8, 1939, in Hong Kong, Dr. Eoyang came to America at a young age with his family and attended school in New York.  He received his B.A. in English Literature from Harvard University in 1959, his M.A. with high distinction in English Literature from Columbia University in 1960, and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1971.

Dr. Eoyang worked as an editor at Doubleday & Company before coming to Indiana University in 1969, eventually becoming a Professor of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Cultures, as well as chair of the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department.  In 1985, he founded the East Asian Summer Language Institute at Indiana University, which he was director of for five years.  In addition, Dr. Eoyang is a former board member and chair of the Kinsey Institute, as well as Associate Dean for the Office of Research and Graduate Development at Indiana University.

Newspaper highlighting the publication of The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One, January 29, 1995

This Indiana University Archives exhibition, open through February 14, 2018, hosted by the Office of the Bicentennial, examines both the institutional teaching and personal research of Dr. Eoyang, highly focused on the areas of translation theory and practice, Chinese literature, Chinese-Western literary relations, globalization, cross-cultural studies, and literary theory.

Some of the items featured in this exhibit include photographs, presentation notecards, conference booklets, correspondence, conference papers, and book publications.  These materials will provide the viewer with an inside look into the diverse work and outreach of an internationally renowned scholar in the field of comparative literature and translations.

“If the rainbow has been part of American’s neglected past, and if it is the unrecognized backdrop for America’s present, it will also be a critical part of America’s future…The multicultural rainbow is in America’s past, present, and future.  The rainbow is no sentimental symbol: it is the American reality.”

-Eugene Eoyang, The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One

East Asian Summer Institute, Earlham College, undated; Pictured: Eugene Eoyang, third row from top, fifth from left

The entirety of the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers has been processed and can be viewed in person by appointment by contacting the IU Archives!  To learn more about this exhibition, refer to the brochure or view the exhibition in person at:

The Office of the Bicentennial

Franklin Hall 200

Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; weekdays

601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405