Twenty-five years ago, Special Collections purchased a small collection of materials produced by and pertaining to the poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974). Along with nine books from Sexton’s personal library, the collection contains materials compiled by her therapist, Barbara Schwartz, during the final nine months of the poet’s life before her suicide on October 4, 1974.
Its contents include 41 typed drafts of poems (12 of which are unpublished) written by Sexton. Of particular note is “The Execution,” written in the hand of Barbara Schwartz, as it was dictated over the phone to her by Sexton following a suicide attempt, dated February 9, 1974. The collection also includes correspondence, clippings, audio cassette tapes of poetry readings, and one formerly restricted envelope marked “Barbara Schwartz’s notes on her psychotherapy sessions with Anne Sexton.”
Observing the conclusion of its restriction period, we opened the envelope for the first time last fall.
Materials within include Phone-O-Gram messages, correspondence between Schwartz and associates of Sexton, as well as Schwartz’s notes from her psychotherapy sessions with the poet.
These notes, like the one pictured right, document with poignant and sometimes unsettling detail, the intimate concerns, fears, and desires of Anne Sexton leading up to her death.
An issue at the center of Anne Sexton research since the 1990s has been the decision by therapists to provide biographers with their records. In 1991, a longtime therapist of Sexton’s provided a biographer with access to audiotapes of their sessions, sparking heated debates about the ethical treatment of patient records in psychiatric and literary circles. Interestingly, Sexton’s own daughter has always supported the dissemination of these materials, citing her mother’s confessional style of poetry as precedence for sharing details about her personal life and mental health.
We recognize that materials such as these can be difficult to work with, but it is our hope at Special Collections that they be used by students, faculty, and researchers in their study and understanding of Anne Sexton and her work.
“Talk to me about sadness. I talk about it too much in my own head but I never mind others talking about it either; I occasionally feel like I tremendously need others to talk about it as well.”
Two new Special Collections exhibits feature poetry collections, both on and off the page.
In the Library Atrium on the main level, view Object Poems by Vermont-based poet and translator, Jody Gladding. Gladding’s poems “operate in physical space,” on feathers, tongue depressors, milkweed pods, wooden logs, and eggshells, among other forms.
On the Lower level and in Special Collections (room 101), view On And Off The Page, an exhibit of fine press poetry broadsides and manuscripts by poets such as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Carlos Williams and others.
Published anonymously 200 years ago in 1818, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, has since proliferated, breeding monsters and nightmares on stage, screen, in comic books, and as Halloween costumes. Frankenstein (not a monster at all, but the name of his creator, the mad scientist Victor Frankenstein) is now common parlance, describing ambitious scientific schemes run amok.
In the two centuries since it first appeared, Frankenstein has been interpreted through many lenses: Freudian psychoanalysis; Marxism; gender, feminism, and queer studies; anti-slavery; and ecological disaster. But for Mary Shelley, its remarkable teenage author, Frankenstein was a morality tale filled with social and political commentary, isolation, and tragedy.
After the success of her novel, Mary Shelley answered a frequently asked question, “How I, then a young girl, came to think of…so very hideous an idea?”
“General views on the application of galvanism to medical purposes” by Giovanni Aldini, 1819. Image courtesy of The New York Academy of Medicine Library
On view through February 3 with the companion exhibit:
Vital Experiments: Science in 1818
a portrayal of science and experimentation at Middlebury College during the time of Frankenstein. Located on the Library Lower Level and in Special Collections.
When it comes to the time-honored form of the chapbook, the power of literacy comes in small packages.
Such power was on display in the archive last week, when we laid out an array of these bite-sized books for a visit from Karin Gottshall’s Structure of Poetry class. Students in this class compile hand-bound chapbooks of their own work for a final project, so by bringing them into Special Collections, Karin and I hoped to situate their creations in the surprisingly long and storied history of this short form.
The roots of chapbooks go back to 16th century Europe, when printing technology began to democratize. Books had long been the preserve of the wealthy, who possessed both the education and means necessary to read them. This changed, however, when the increasing accessibility of paper and printing presses made it feasible for unbound books of eight or twelve pages to be sold for a penny or less: in those days, not as negligible a price as it might seem, but still within the reach of a laborer’s wages. Itinerant peddlers called ‘chap-men’ rose to meet this demand, carrying printed matter from presses in the cities to an eager audience of the rural working classes. These early readers thrilled to tales of adventure and roguery. Even those who couldn’t read were able to participate, thanks to the chapbook’s fluid relationship with orality: many early examples came in the form of folk songs, so they were meant to be performed publicly as well as read in private. Early chapbooks also tended to be profusely illustrated, but this wasn’t always an aid to comprehension — because woodcut engravings were so cheap to reproduce, they were often recycled throughout many different texts with little regard for the subject matter.
Chapbooks’ wide accessibility also made them a political force to be reckoned with. Literacy rates burgeoned among the European public in the late 17th century, abetted by the institution of charity schools for educating the poor, but also likely owing to the simple fact that written materials were cheaper and more plentiful than ever before. In any case, whether they merely responded to the demands of an increasingly literate public, or played a part in producing it, the rise of chapbooks accompanied an unprecedented state of affairs: reading was no longer the sole domain of the upper classes.
This might not have been so disruptive if the form were restricted to folk tales and ballads, but by the 18th century, some chapbooks began to reflect the Enlightenment mores that were taking society by storm. Examples include Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, which was copiously reprinted in chapbook form for years after its publication in 1791. The insurrectionary potential of pamphlets like Paine’s, and other radical thinkers, inspired a backlash. While chapbooks had originally sprung up to appeal to their audience’s unstudied interests, relating their stories in an amoral and non-didactic tone, publishers in the 19th century began to prescribe certain interests to their readers for their own good. This led to a proliferation of religious chapbooks, often called ‘Sunday schools’ or ‘godlinesses’, which aimed to bolster the moral fiber of the plebeian masses whom the racier strand of chapbooks had previously entertained.
This sanctimonious turn ushered in a long period of dormancy. Along the way, chapbooks lost their monopoly on the dissemination of cheap print: industrialization reduced the costs of printing once again, allowing lower class readers to lift their sights from the compact octavo or duodecimo bindings of the traditional chapbook towards the sprawling forms of newspapers and novels. By the time the chapbook returned, in the early 20th century, it was to bear the evidence of these radical changes.
By the time of its resurgence, ‘chapbook’ may have been a conscious archaism hearkening back to a preindustrial past. The printing press enjoyed a rush of renewed interest beginning in the late 19th century, thanks to the Arts and Crafts movement — a group of artists and designers who reacted to what they saw as the garish aesthetic standards of the day by advocating a return to traditional methods of handicraft. Chapbooks, which began their history spurred by the early forerunners of industrial technologies, now arose in protest to the alienation thought to be inherent in mass production. Along with this stylistic shift came a major reorientation in genre: where the chapbooks of yore focused on the episodic and the epic, tales of daring and debauchery, the new artisanal chapbook adopted a lyric mode. Its primary genre was poetry.
At first this meant the poetry of the early Modernists — writers like Ezra Pound, H.D., T.S. Eliot, and Djuna Barnes — who published short-form leaflets of their work, as well as placing it in collections and literary magazines. It also saw currency with Dadaists in Europe, and in the tracts of the Russian avant-garde. But the chapbook continued to have an ambivalent relationship with the aesthetics and distribution methods of high and low culture. Soon the 20th century brought its own technological changes, in the form of typewriters and mimeograph machines that put the power of textual reproduction more directly in the hands of writers than ever before. These tools were eagerly seized upon by Beat poets of the 1950s. The utilitarian manuscripts they hacked out of their typewriters may seem like a far cry from the nostalgic designs of Arts and Crafts printers like William Morris, but there is some political coherence to this unlikely pedigree. The creators of chapbooks have always been concerned with circumventing the official channels by which writing is allowed to make itself available to a public. Over the course of the 20th century, this labor was to unite authors as disparate as feminist consciousness raising groups and Star Trek fans, as the chapbook morphed into the zine.
But some chapbooks stayed chapbooks, particularly within the domain of small press publishing. Short, artfully designed books remained an appealing form for poets and writers who wanted to reach niche audiences and sidestep corporate publishers. This is the crop of chapbook most abundant in our archive, and it made up the bulk of what Karin’s students saw last week.
Of course, you don’t have to have a press to make a chapbook. The students in CRWR 175 will approach the task armed with nothing more than a word processor and some sewing expertise (and let’s be clear, there’s also no shame in staples). We hope that some of their creations might find their way into our archive to rest alongside their fellows. If you have a little book of your own that’s been hanging out in a drawer for months or years, consider re-homing it in Special Collections!
Soon after the founding of Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) at Middlebury College, Delta Tau Delta, a national fraternity already in existence, sent a representative to the College to attempt to absorb KDR into that organization. Reflecting upon this crucial moment in KDR history, founding member George E. Kimball, Class of 1906, famously said that KDR “decided to paddle [its] own canoe and took no further action in the matter.” This early commitment to striking out independently, unfettered by affiliation, characterized the history of the fraternity (and later social house) at the College until its official termination in 2015.
KDR was founded by ten male students in May, 1905, in 14 Painter Hall (a commemorative plaque was installed on the building in 1956). That spring, the founders of KDR were members of Middlebury’s Commons Club, united by their dissatisfaction with its lack of exclusivity (membership was open to all who wished to join).
Painter Hall in 1906, one year after the founding of Kappa Delta Rho. Photo available via the Internet Archive.
Competing with previously established national fraternities on campus was difficult for KDR during its first years in existence (for example: Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Delta Upsilon). Of the new fraternity’s ability to entice students to join, one faculty member remarked that it would have “a hard row to hoe,” a phrase which members fondly recount when discussing the success of KDR in the face of adversity. In fact, KDR remained exclusive to Middlebury College only until 1913, when its “beta” chapter was established at Cornell University. Today, there are 41 active KDR chapters, and the fraternity has initiated more than 25,000 members since its inception in 1905.
The founders selected official colors (Middlebury blue and Princeton orange) as well as an official flower (the red rose), designed a coat of arms, drew up a constitution, and adopted a motto: Honor Super Omnia (“Honor above all”).
Middlebury College students on a Kappa Delta Rho-sponsored hayride, 1942. Photo available via the Internet Archive.
Early traditions adopted by the Middlebury chapter of KDR include the “Frat Ride,” a post-exam event during which brothers, including KDR alumni, and their dates went to Silver Lake for the day and returned to campus by train, at which time they reportedly danced in the frat rooms until midnight. Other traditions include the annual initiation banquet held at the Brandon Inn. KDR adopted 48 South Street as its physical residence in the 1920s and the chapter remained based in the house until 2015.
The College Archives recently acquired KDR member photo composites from Jonathan Hanlon ’93. The faces on these boards throughout the years are representative of an increasingly diverse student body, as well as KDR’s tendency to reflect that diversity through its membership.
1959 Kappa Delta Rho photo composite. Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives.
Extending the paddle
Although the Middlebury chapter was technically an all-male fraternity, it began including women as “social members” in the late 1970s. According to Chris McInerney ’80, social members ate dinner at the house once a week, were allowed to vote in the election of officers, and were considered by KDR brothers to be members of the chapter.
When in 1990, Middlebury required that all fraternities on campus become coeducational or be terminated, KDR chose again to “paddle [its] own canoe” and officially invite women to pledge. In doing so, it lost the recognition of the national organization for more than a decade, despite its status as founding “alpha” chapter.
1978 Kappa Delta Rho photo composite. Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives.
Despite the loss of its status as a nationally-recognized fraternity, KDR persisted at Middlebury: in 1991, when the College abolished fraternities, KDR emerged as a coeducational “social house,” on a campus no longer host to Greek life.
The National Fraternity of Kappa Delta Rho recognized the Middlebury chapter as its “alpha” again in 2000, but this time as its only “society,” rather than as a fraternity, to reflect the presence of women in the chapter.
2015 Kappa Delta Rho photo composite displaying the social house’s final membership at Middlebury. Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives.
Middlebury terminates KDR in 2015
On June 25, 2015, Middlebury College Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College, Katy Smith Abbott, informed KDR that due to violations of hazing and conduct policies, it could no longer operate as a social house on or off campus. Citing these infractions, Abbott explained, “The activities of KDR constitute extraordinary and repeated violations of Middlebury’s policies. Regrettably, we no longer believe that it is possible for KDR to successfully reform and to create a positive impact on our community.”
The KDR house at 48 South Main Street was converted to general student housing beginning in the fall of 2015 and currently serves as housing for upperclassmen.
Kappa Delta Rho members at KDR house, circa 1980s. Available via the Internet Archive.
Vermont Life was a quarterly magazine, published by the State of Vermont, covering Vermont’s “people, places and culture.” The state-owned magazine was founded in 1946 and ceased publication in the summer of 2018.
The digitization of Vermont Life was undertaken to support the Middlebury College fall 2018 class: “Vermont Life’s Vermont,” taught by Professors Kathy Morse and Michael Newbury.
A while back we purchased an 1886 “Bird’s Eye View” of Middlebury from a local antique shop. The colorized reprints of this image from the 1990s are pretty common, but the original print is quite rare. Unfortunately the print was torn and stained, so we sent it off to conservator MJ Davis, who did a beautiful job of mending and washing it. Yes, that’s right, if you know what you’re doing, it’s possible to wash paper! Below see the “before and after”.
Special Collections’ summer exhibition, In the Footprints of the First German Printers: 1450-1500, retraces the expansion of printing in Europe. The exhibit follows the German pioneers who initiated and spread the art of bookprinting and developed a tradition that transformed the world of learning.
All but one of the books featured were donated by Helen and Arthur Tasheira, Californian benefactors of Middlebury who summered in Vermont. In 1946, they generously gifted forty-three printed books from the infancy of print, primarily from Italy and Germany. (The other book on display was a gift of Middlebury alumna Ruth Hesselgrave, class of 1918.)
Each book contains the history of the early evolution of printing. By studying the materials of the covers, pages, inks, the page layout implemented, the hand-painted additions to the printed text, we learn about how the first printers’ processes developed and how readers’ interpretation of texts evolved. (And that’s without even reading them!)
In the Footprints of the First German Printers: 1450-1500 was curated by Marie Théberge (P ’10) and designed by Mikaela Taylor (’15) with additional support by Danielle Rougeau and Rebekah Irwin. It will be on display in Davis Family Library atrium (main level) and Harman Periodicals Reading Area (lower level) from June 14th through September 30th.
On Tuesday February 13th from 3-5pm, join us in Library 145 to make Valentines with inspiration from our collection of vintage postcards, poems from the Abernethy Collection of American Literature, and vintage topographic maps. Otter Creek Bakery cookies will be provided!
New this year: dazzle your Valentine by making your card pop! Learn the Turkish Map Fold to showcase a love poem, original collage, or map to your heart.
Plus, we’ll have information on upcoming book arts workshops this semester. Be sure to join our email list!
Special Collections visitors often ask how the rare books in our collection make their way onto our shelves, and indeed, the question of provenance is one of great importance in the world of antiquarian items. For the materials in Special Collections & Archives, the trajectories of their journeys range from rare books and maps donated by Middlebury alumni acquired during their travels, to books purchased for specific classes at Middlebury to enhance students’ learning experiences.
One recently acquired item, an Italian Renaissance copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, had a particularly turbulent voyage from Italy to Vermont – but not in the way you might think. Our journey does not begin in 1521, the year of the book’s printing, but on Tuesday, September 13th, 2016, when Senior Acquisitions Associate Michele McHugh placed the order through AbeBooks.com to purchase the volume from an Italian bookseller based in Riva del Garda. A relatively standard request, we expected the book to arrive a few weeks later, but Mario, the owner of the bookshop, suspected we might have a bit longer to wait. In true Italian fashion, he anticipated bureaucratic delays and gave an estimate of 40-60 days before the book would reach us. He submitted the necessary government forms in late September, but in late October Mario reached out to let us know that even more documentation was required. By early November Mario reported that his paperwork had been accepted and the book would arrive soon.
This was only the beginning of the battle to obtain the book. On November 17th, Michele received a phone call from Karen at FedEx. She relayed that they were holding the package until its contents, origin, and sender could be identified and until we could provide an Importer ID number along with a form from the Office of Homeland Security. Michele responded that Middlebury College has been purchasing high priced books for many years without an Importer ID number but would forward the form to Accounts Payable in the hopes that they might know how to proceed.
Tuesday November 22nd, Karen at FedEx requested more information – this time, Mario’s Italian tax number. Without this, she said, the package would be returned to him, and he would be forced to find another shipping service. She revised her previous request, saying Middlebury would not need an Importer ID number, only Mario’s information. As asked, Michele forwarded Mario’s paperwork, but Karen’s only response was that another FedEx employee, Alexander, was now handling the case.
And so, Michele forwarded everything to Alexander, who replied on Monday November 28th saying she had been misinformed – FedEx would not require Mario’s tax information. Instead, Middlebury College would have to be added to their official list of American Importers in order to receive the parcel. (He also asked Michele what exactly was in the box, a small detail that had been lost in the administrative shuffle.) Middlebury’s Accounts Payable office quickly filled out the Homeland Security form, which Michele forwarded to Alexander at FedEx, and Thursday December 1st – 79 days after the order was placed – the book finally arrived.
Curious to see the book that caused such a stir? Come to Special Collections to see for yourself. Ask for RRBMS Oversize PA6519 .M2 1521.