Sincerely Yours: Madeleine L’Engle and “children’s” literature

The Ava DuVernay-directed A Wrinkle in Time is the most recent example of beloved children’s book-turned-blockbuster hit. For many of us, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is more than just a “children’s book.” Many of my friends have turned to L’Engle repeatedly through life, similar to other supposed “children’s” authors like J.K. Rowling or Ursula LeGuin. L’Engle’s commitment to manifesting authentic childhood experiences is reflected in her mighty oeuvre, which often expanded the A Wrinkle in Time universe across multiple series centered on families with young protagonists. Despite this, L’Engle confirms her discomfort with the label of “children’s literature” in a 1965 letter Indiana University Writers’ Conference organizer Robert W. Mitchner. The Indiana University Writers’ Conference records at the IU Archives include letters from literary icons such as Joan Didion, William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, George R.R. Martin, and the aforementioned LeGuin. Madeleine L’Engle’s file, though, shows what a uniquely lovely correspondent she was. Continue reading “Sincerely Yours: Madeleine L’Engle and “children’s” literature”

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.