During a recent visit to the archives by Professor Ellie Gebarowski-Shafer’s Religion 130 class, The Christian Tradition, students plowed through 214 years of Middlebury College missionary history with College Archivist Danielle Rougeau. Amid the pages of 19th century cursive was this diary entry by Mary Martin, wife of a missionary to China and grandmother of Mabel Martin (later Mary Buttolph), Class of 1911. (Mary Martin is pictured below, circa 1865.)
After the death of her husband and a young son in China, Mary returned to Vermont by way of San Francisco. After 69 days at sea, she writes her last diary entry on May 21, 1965:
We were greatly shocked with the news we heard on our arrival this morning of the assassination of president Lincoln but very glad to learn that the war is over and that slavery is abolished.
Postscript: Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865. News traveled slowly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Her mention of this news falls smack in the middle of the page below. To learn more about Middlebury missionaries, Mary Martin, or to cut your teeth on some 19th century cursive, visit Special Collections.
Well, to be specific, medieval paper was actually parchment, made from animal hides, rather than trees and literally all of our knowledge of the Middle Ages was preserved on skins made from calves, sheep, or goats. To better understand the chemistry, art, and labor of parchment, Middlebury College’s Special Collections & Archives, together with Professor Eliza Garrison’s Medieval Manuscripts seminar, hosted Jesse Meyer from Pergamena. Watch us scud a goatskin (remove stubborn hair from the skin) and wield a lunarium (a crescent-shaped blade) to remove the fat and flesh. Follow this link to read a longer article about our adventure in medieval life.
Our own Professor of Psychology at Middlebury College Barbara Hofer writes about the modern day iConnected Parent, constantly in contact with their College-bound kids through cell phones and Skype…well, the archives recently exposed something of a connected parent, but from over 80 years ago.
Here’s a letter from October 18, 1932. The mother of Charles Edward Stevenson, Jr., Class of 1936, writes to the Director of Admissions (scroll down for the full transcription):
I am writing you to find out if Charlie Stevenson is alright and if he is I want to know why he does not write his mother it will be to [sic] weeks Friday since I had any word from him I sent him his laundry and a little pocket money post office money order I am trailing that now to see if he cashed it. I know that boys are dilatory about writing sometimes but I never knew Charley Stevenson to do that before that is why I am worried about him if I do not get a letter from you I am going up there to find out what is going on.
Please answer write away
Very truly yours
Mrs C.E. Stevenson
One day later, Mrs. Stevenson received a typescript reply (again, transcribed below to help with the faded ink):
Dear Mrs. Stevenson,
Your letter of October 18th is at hand and I have seen your son this morning and sent you the following telegram: “Your son is well and says has written you today”. I trust that you received the wire promptly so that you have not had to worry longer as to your son’s welfare. He seemed to be in perfect health when I saw him this morning but said that he had been very busy for the last few days. As you know, the fraternity rushing has been going on for the last two weeks and the boys have little spare time, as a rule, during that period. I presume that your son had not realized how long a time has elapsed since he wrote you, but you will doubtless receive his letter right away, if it has not already reached you.
In the same year that Captain Cook sailed to Hawaii and Great Britain declared war on France, Helen Weldon started her recipe book in Bath, England on January 29, 1778. In addition to keeping mites off your cheese, she includes recipes for Mock Turtle (Calves head) soup, Onion Soop [sic] and raspberry vinegar “for those who want a pleasant cooler” in the summer. Remedies like Teeth Water, Poison for Rats & Mice, and Diuretic Balls for Horses are included too. Her handwritten notebook was acquired by Special Collections this summer. Learn more in our online catalog or by visiting Special Collections.
Luckily, 16 mm film, common from the 1920s through the 1960s, is relatively durable stuff. This particular reel of film, which sat in the Middlebury College archives for over forty years, depicts Robert Frost for two glorious, full color minutes. For the first time in nearly half a century (thanks to a film preservation lab in Philadelphia), watch as Frost harvests vegetables from his garden at his Ripton, Vermont cabin (down the road from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference), frolics with his dog Gillie, and walks his mare Steeplebush and her colt Shadbush. Frost and Kay Morrison pop fresh berries into their mouths. Summer time on the mountain!