Stacy Pratt McDermott Joins the Jane Addams Papers!

stacymcdermottIt is with great pleasure that we welcome Stacy Pratt McDermott to the Jane Addams Papers team as our new Assistant Editor. Stacy comes to us with a wealth of over 20 years experience as a scholarly editor, gained at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, where she most recently served as Associate Editor and Assistant Director.

Stacy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and is the author of two books that came out of her Lincoln research: Mary Lincoln: Southern Girl, Northern Woman (2015) and The Jury in Lincoln’s America (2012). In addition, she worked on four volumes of the The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, 4 vols. (2008). She has written many articles and book reviews and given conference papers and presentations.

Stacy’s primary responsibility will be managing our work on the Selected Papers of Jane Addams, starting with Volume 1, which will cover 1901-1913, but we anticipate that she will also work on our social media outreach and other editorial tasks.

New Year’s and the Old Settlers’ Party

When I think of the holidays, I think of family and friends gathering around the fire and sharing stories and laughter with one another. Christmas time is a time for reminiscing, rejoicing, and rekindling relationships, something that Jane Addams knew very well: for her first New Year’s at Hull-House, Addams threw an “Old Settlers’ Party,” which soon became a beloved Hull-House holiday tradition. At this party, former Hull-House and neighborhood residents would return to Hull-House on New Years’ Day to share their stories, connect with old friends, and inspire current residents to create ambitious goals.

“Winter at Hull-House,” a watercolor painting by Chicago artist Jack Simmerling. One can imagine that this was what Hull-House looked like during the holidays.

“Winter at Hull-House,” a watercolor painting by Chicago artist Jack Simmerling. One can imagine that this was what Hull-House looked like during the holidays.

Many of the “old settlers,” as they were called, had climbed very high on the social ladder compared to where they started, and part of the goal of the Old Settlers’ Party was for current neighborhood residents to hear the old settlers’ stories of advancement and desire to follow in their footsteps. Many impressive old settlers attended these parties; for example, in 1902, the tenth Old Settlers’ Party had a long list of successful guests. One such guest was E. O. Gale, who had just published his book Reminiscences of Early Chicago and shared his experience of arriving in Chicago in 1835; another was Fernando Jones, who told stories of his schooldays where he was constantly reprimanded by his schoolmaster, who later became President of the United States; and yet another was “ex-chief Swenie,” who served as Chicago’s Fire Department Chief for fifty-one years, and who gave a well-received speech.

catastropheAccording to Jane Addams in Twenty Years at Hull-House, the first old settlers to attend the first few Old Settlers’ Parties did not favor “foreigners,” blaming immigrants “for a depreciation of property and a general lowering of the tone of the neighborhood.” However, these views would slowly disappear as the night of celebration went on; Addams recalled one guest realizing that the immigrants were “buffeting the waves of a new development,” and that old settlers had also once felt this way, they themselves having been new settlers once. This New Year’s celebration at Hull-House was a way of bringing people together and bridging differences, and celebrating the old and the new, all while saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming the new one. The Old Settlers’ Party, much like any New Year’s party, would always end with everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is how it brings everyone together in a spirit of celebration, and the Old Settlers’ Party was no exception to this. Jane Addams and Hull-House were truly able to celebrate the old and the new through this annual party, which, in my opinion, is the perfect way to welcome the New Year. From the Jane Addams Papers Project, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

 


For more details on the Old Settlers’ Party, see “First Days At Hull-House,” Chapter 5 in Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (New York: MacMillan, 1910): pp. 89-112; “Old Settlers’ Party,” Hull-House Bulletin, volume 5, no. 2, 1902, p. 15; Social Welfare Pioneers, 1986, p. 12.

Christmas at Hull-House

christmastree-2016

The Christmas holidays were a special time at Hull-House, where the residents and neighbors took time from their busy lives to celebrate and make the holiday a memorable one for the children. The settlement was “appropriately decorated with holly and greens and candles” and host to a number of celebrations and events.

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Eleanor Smith (Hull House Songs)

The chief celebration was the annual children’s Christmas party, which included a concert by the Hull House Music School Choir, led by Eleanor Smith. The 1903 celebration described the lighting of a thousand tiny candles burning on a huge Christmas tree that occupied almost one entire end of the public coffee room.”  After the concert, the children, their parents, and the wealthy donors of Hull-House dined and mingled. The papers reported that over 15,000 gifts were given to the children of the poor in 1903 alone, distributed at parties throughout the week leading up to Christmas.

Hull-House clubs often presented performances and hosted celebrations as well. One popular event was a Christmas tableaux, the early 20th century version of the “mannequin challenge,” in which scenes from history were staged in costume.

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Hull House list of inexpensive gift suggestions. (Topeka Daily Capital, Dec. 25, 1905)

Hull-House residents preached the spirit of Christmas, one of generosity, rather than excess. In 1905, they wrote, “To observe Christmas in its true spirit, you do not have to buy expensive presents to show your friends that you think of them and wish them joy,” suggesting writing greetings, recipes, and telegrams were good options. In this way they ensured that all could participate, regardless of their income.

In 1902, Hull-House women urged Chicago street car riders to pay an additional penny, six cents total, for their ride, and to put the extra penny in the stockings of the conductors, who, Laura Dainty Pelham insisted, “are underpaid and have to be out of doors all day long on the day that finds most men in their home circle and by the side of the children’s Christmas tree.”

Children playing at Hull-House, ca. 1900 (Swarthmore Peace Collection)

Children playing at Hull-House, ca. 1900 (Swarthmore Peace Collection)

In 1933, the Christmas Eve celebration saw more than 400 children, “little Czechs, Poles, Italians and Greeks,” sing carols, perform in plays, and feast on ice cream and cookies. Described in the newspapers as the children of “the humble homes of laborers, foreign born manual workers who constitute what is know as the ‘immigrant class,'” the holidays proved an apt time to show off the successes of Hull-House’s efforts to build a multicultural community. Unlike many charitable organizations of the time, the workers at Hull-House did not seek to bury cultural differences, but to highlight them in a spirit of education and acceptance. Each national group was welcome to tell their Christmas stories and traditions, play games, and perform traditional dances in native costume. Rather than divide, Hull-House sought to unify by focusing on the shared experiences of their immigrant neighbors, not on their differences.

Here at the Jane Addams Papers Project we wish you the best this holiday season and hope for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

 


For details of Hull-House Christmas celebrations, see “Exercises at Hull House,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, Dec. 26, 1898; “Give Conductors 1 Cent,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1902; “Hull House Fete for Little Ones,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, Dec. 21, 1903;  “A Universal Christmas,” Topeka Daily Capital, Dec. 25, 1905;  “Miss Pankhurst Praises Concert at Hull House,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1914; “Hull House Holiday Sale Will be Opened Today,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 1932;  “Jane Addams’ Hull House Again Host to Melting Pot,” Bakersfield Californian, Dec. 25, 1933.)

Jane Addams and Her Conflicts with Tolstoyism

Addams’ affection and admiration for Tolstoy is evident in both her correspondences and her published works. In her 1910 book Twenty Years at Hull-House, Addams recollected her visit to the Count’s residence in Russia. She embarked in search of the answer to a question: “I was most eager to know whether Tolstoy’s undertaking to do his daily share of the physical labor of the world, that labor which is ‘so disproportionate to the unnourished strength’ of those by whom it is ordinarily performed, had brought him peace?”

leon_tolstoy_barefoot

“Leo Tolstoy Barefoot” (1901) – Ilya Repin

Addams gave a lecture in 1902 in which she explained the four types of labor Tolstoy believed every person should partake in. She noted that “he would, of course, always excuse the ill, the aged, and little children” but believed that the bulk of people should perform manual and skilled labor as well as engage in literary work and social effort. According to Tolstoy, by reducing the amount of “brutal and dehumanizing” labor that one performs it gives those unaccustomed to performing that type of labor a perspective that will change the way they view their own lives and commodities. Addams spoke of skilled labor: “If we had some of this experience we would try to simplify our lives, because we would then realize, as we do not now, some of the work on which it is founded. Many people would then stop wearing many things, and having many things in their houses which are not needed.”

Many people fear meeting their favorite celebrity since it is possible it will result in embarrassment or the shattering of a previously held illusion. Addams likely experienced both upon meeting the revered author. She recounted the “distrustful” manner with which Tolstoy regarded the sleeves of her dress during their first meeting. Tolstoy, who was clad in peasant’s clothes, commented on the excessive amount of fabric on Addams’ dress and remarked that “there was enough stuff on one arm to make a frock for a little girl.”

Despite originally feeling disconcerted, Tolstoy’s comments did not dissuade Addams from searching for the answer to her question. Addams recalled a particular instance in which she attended dinner with Tolstoy, his family, and his traveling guests in Twenty Years. She wrote:

The countess presided over the usual European dinner served by men, but the count and the daughter, who had worked all day in the fields, ate only porridge and black bread and drank only kvas, the fare of the hay-making peasants. Of course we are all accustomed to the fact that those who perform the heaviest labor eat the coarsest and simplest fare at the end of the day, but it is not often that we sit at the same table with them while we ourselves eat the more elaborate food prepared by someone else’s labor. Tolstoy ate his simple supper without remark or comment upon the food his family and guests preferred to eat, assuming that they, as well as he, had settled the matter with their own consciences.

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Immigrant Visitors Congregating in the Coffee House, 1900

Addams’ time among Tolstoy, his family, and the peasants elicited such strong feelings in her that she made a mental vow to spend two hours each morning in the bakery which had recently been added to the coffee house at Hull-House. Upon her return she realized her vision was not possible due to her overwhelming responsibilities. In Twenty Years she wrote: “The half dozen people invariably waiting to see me after breakfast, the piles of letters to be opened and answered, the demand of actual and pressing wants—were these all to be pushed aside and asked to wait while I saved my soul by two hours’ work at baking bread?”

Earlier she pointed out Tolstoy’s difficult stance:

Doubtless all of the visitors sitting in the Tolstoy garden that evening had excused themselves from laboring with their hands upon the theory that they were doing something more valuable for society in other ways. No one among our contemporaries has dissented from this point of view so violently as Tolstoy himself, and yet no man might so easily have excused himself from hard and rough work on the basis of his genius and of his intellectual contributions to the world.

While Addams admired Tolstoy, his way of life was incompatible with the life she had already established in Chicago. She wished to emulate him in some capacity, but her duties to Hull-House subsumed a great deal of her time. While writing books, giving lectures, traveling, and worrying about her own health and the health of her friends and family, Addams was always finding new ways to improve Hull-House. It is no surprise, then, that she was incapable of designating even two hours each morning to bake bread. The question remains: how might one find a compromise between Addams’ way of life and Tolstoy’s?

Hull-House later received five hundred dollars which were left over from Tolstoy’s profit from publishing his novel Resurrection. The bulk of the profit was given to the Dukhobors, a Russian religious group who had recently settled in Canada with the help of their government. When faced with the choice of what to spend the money on, Addams felt that it was only natural to use it “for the relief of the most primitive wants of food and shelter on the part of the most needy families.”

Ultimately, Addams assisted the Nineteenth Ward without spending two hours per day in the Coffee Shop baking bread. Instead, she used her talent as social reformer to improve the lives of those living in poverty around her. Although she saw the value in performing manual labor, Addams realized there was greater value, in her situation, in devoting her working hours to her role as the head figure of Hull-House.

Jane Addams and an Anonymous Bull Moose

Members of the losing party of a presidential election are met with disappointment and sadness. In the following months the party is left to recuperate and reorganize. The losing and winning party must also plan how they will function with each other in the future. In the election of 1912, the election involved a variety of political parties with some overlapping and some clashing goals. Jane Addams had an important role in the election of 1912 and its many political parties as she became the first woman to nominate a presidential nominee by seconding the nomination for Theodore Roosevelt in the Progressive Party. The backlash she received for seconding the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party, was astounding. It lead to some of the most interesting letters I have ever read throughout my time at the Jane Addams Papers Project. After the election, Addams continued to receive letters about her participation in the 1912 election.

roosevelt-and-addams-cartoon

A 1912 US cartoon, showing the “Big Four at the Two Chicago Conventions”. Front row (Progressive or “Bull Moose” party): Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Hiram Johnson, Albert Beveridge. Back row (Republican party): Boies Penrose, William Barnes, Jr., Winthrop M. Crane, Elihu Root.

While the Progressive Party was attempting to recover after a presidential loss, Addams received a letter that claimed that the party would potentially be destroyed by all of the other political parties involved in the election of 1912. An anonymous writer, referring to himself as “a Bull Moose,” wrote Addams on December 13, 1912 an at first seemingly innocent letter, praising Addams for her efforts with the suffrage movement. As “Bull Moose” continues, he wrote to Addams about an alleged “disaster” for the Progressive Party. In this alleged disaster the Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Prohibitionists had created a trap for the Progressive Party to fall into and ruin the party forever. “Bull Moose” decided to take it upon himself to create five “shamtraps” for the Progressive Party, in order to expose the traps of the other parties, but the “shamtraps” needed to be dealt with before December 15th or the plan would not work.

This was not even the strangest part of the letter. “Bull Moose” then goes on to say that Addams can tell no one else about the letter except Theodore Roosevelt, who he refers to as “our future President,” despite the fact that Roosevelt has already lost the 1912 election. “Bull Moose” must have been hoping for a 1916 victory for Roosevelt. Unfortunately for “Bull Moose,” Roosevelt would not enter the 1916 election. “Bull Moose” proceeded to give Addams a list of instructions that will prevent the other political parties from trapping the Progressive Party. The first few seem pretty reasonable – instructions such as “not to side with either Drys nor Wetts,” which makes sense since the Prohibition Party is allegedly involved in this “shamtrap” plot. Instructions six and seven are the strangest. In rule number six, “Bull Moose” instructed Addams that he would come to her as a “polish tramp to wash windows, with a raincoat on” and told her all of the horrible ways to treat him. Rule number seven instructed Addams to treat a hobo the same way, perhaps worse, if “Bull Moose” should have sent a hobo in his place.

Addams was instructed by “Bull Moose” not to share the contents of this letter with anyone besides Theodore Roosevelt until 1917. So far there has been no indication that Addams ever shared the contents of the letter with anyone, including Theodore Roosevelt. The Jane Addams Papers Project works chronologically so we have not yet read and transcribed the letters from 1917. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for any letters about “Bull Moose” once we get there.

political-humor-1912

This political cartoon follows the 1912 Presidential Election in which Woodrow Wilson (D) won in a landslide defeat over Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive/Bull Moose Party), William Taft (R), and Eugene Debs (Socialist Party). (From the November 8, 1912 issue of the Sandusky Register.)

“Bull Moose” was not entirely off the mark when he said that the other political parties were planning to destroy the Progressive Party. The Progressive Party ultimately did fall because of other parties, mainly the Republicans. The Progressive Party essentially merged back together with the Republican Party, especially after Roosevelt refused to accept the Progressive presidential nomination in 1916 and chose to campaign for the Republican Party. Maybe the Progressive Party would have lasted longer if Addams had followed “Bull Moose’s” instructions!

This document can be located on the Jane Addams Papers microfilm on Reel 7, frame 542. It will soon be freely available to read and view in digital form on our database website, which can be found by clicking the link to the right of this post.

 

Elections: Then and Now

As the final homestretch of the 2016 election approaches and peoples’ passionate responses to the candidates hits an all-time high, we at the Project are reading up on the 1912 election where Jane Addams is knee-deep in the political consequences of supporting the Progressive Party. Moving forward and making “progress” is the aim of both the Progressive Party of 1912 and the 2016 Democratic Party, who call to their 2016 Party platform as the most progressive ever. What was progressive in 1912 is not necessarily progressive now, especially with a hundred year gap. Such as a reform close to Jane Addams’ heart, woman’s suffrage. In 2016, progressive voting reform stands against voter discrimination and intimidation. The Progressive Party, as a third party, was a counter to the Democratic Party of 1912, led by Woodrow Wilson, and the Republican Party of 1912, led by William Taft and stood out as the first party to support universal suffrage. It was also the last third party to come so close to the Presidency, though ultimately the split in the Republican Party left the Democrats in control of the White House. Though by our standards the Progressive Party of 1912 is quite conservative, for the time it was remarkably radical.

The Democrats were still the “white man’s party” that they had been during the Civil War era but they were also very focused on wasteful spending and commercial concerns. Republicans were also concerned about money and the protection of American rights at home and abroad.  Progressivism focused primarily on improving the practical conditions of workers. The Progressive Party supported a minimum, living wage, as well as legal, comprehensive safety measures for workers, full and public disclosure about the wages and labor conditions.  In 1912, the Progressives called for a minimum wage and limited work hours specifically for women and “young people” and not for all workers. In 2016 the Democratic platform calls for a minimum wage of $15 for everyone, regardless of race, age, or gender. Both the 1912 Progressives and the 2016 Democrats support of the right of individuals to organize to protect their rights as workers.

The Progressive Party also had strong views on suffrage. While they did support women’s suffrage, the Party in general and Teddy Roosevelt in particular, were less kind to black people. Despite the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, giving the right to vote to any man, regardless of race, some members of the leadership thought it should be taken away from them. This debate is not shared by the modern Democratic Party, who is firmly behind the right of all people to vote, and more importantly, to vote without intimidation. 2016 Democrats believe in making voting easier by making the voting booth more accessible, particularly for seniors and disabled Americans, an idea that follows the Progressive ideal of granting more rule to the people. Although not so easy that you can text it in quite yet! Maybe one day we will vote from the comfort of our homes, but for now everyone still has to vote by absentee ballot or at the polls. Prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, US senators were appointed by the state legislature. The Progressive Party strongly opposed this practice, claiming that the people should have a right to elect their representatives more directly, yet another reform that made modern democracy possible

A progressive platform in 2016 goes far beyond the imaginations of Jane Addams and her fellow Progressive 100 years ago. Where they supported women’s suffrage, and Addams was criticized for taking an active role in traditional politics, the Democratic Party of 2016 has nominated a woman to fill the highest office in the country. The rights of minorities, including people of color and those in the LGBT community have taken center stage in 2016 in a way they never did in 1912. The world, including the United States, has changed dramatically since 1912.

And still, the roots of the same types of concerns that were discussed in 1912 are still discussed today. Things like women’s rights, workers’ rights, discrimination, Big Business, healthcare, and voting were hot topics then just as much as they are today. Legal protections for women do not necessarily extend to their paychecks, despite the Equal Pay Act. Class differences are still stark and spark protests, like Occupy Wall Street. Workers rights are still being trampled on, especially for people who are here illegally or are impoverished. There is still work to be done and voting is one way to help make your voice heard.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow, Tuesday, November 8th!

Quit Clowning Around

Charles Cramer, alias Conway, the clown with a wooden leg, in a postcard photo with his wife, circa 1911 (Mysterious Chicago)

Charles Cramer, alias Conway, the clown
with a wooden leg, in a postcard photo with his
wife, circa 1911 (Mysterious Chicago)

“Clowns Gathering in the Woods,” blares CNN. “Creepy Clowns: Serious Matter or Sick Joke,” asks The Guardian. It all started in South Carolina, where groups of children swore that clowns, lurking in the shadowy woods, and attempted to lure them to an abandoned house deep within the forest. Police could not find any clown paraphernalia at the scene, but that did not stop another group of children from seeing a shady clown just one week later on the other side of town. Once again, police could not find any hard evidence of red noses, water-squirting flowers, or tiny cars that can somehow fit ten people inside.

Americans chuckled to themselves, “Oh those South Carolinians are too much!” Then the clowns went national. They started showing up all along the East coast, from Florida to Maine. Then, in some sort of clown-manifest-destiny, the clowns traveled West to Texas, Colorado, Utah, and eventually were found scaring fish and surfers in California. It is not known if any clowns have swam across the Pacific to haunt Hawaii.

Scary clowns are not unique to the fall of 2016. Oh no. As I was reading through old newspapers from 1912 Chicago in an attempt to find out more information about a specific correspondent, I stumbled across an incredible byline on the adjacent page. It was about a murderous clown, living in Chicago not far from Hull-House, where Jane Addams was busy toiling away, and his vaudeville singer wife who plotted the downfall of their wealthy roommate.

In early October, 1912, a Baltimore heiress named Sophie Singer came to Chicago with her fiance, Will Worthen. They were met at the station by a “Mrs. Conway” who suggested that they all get a flat together instead of a hotel. “Mrs. Conway” was really Mrs. Louisa Cramer, wife of Charles N. Cramer (alias Charles Kramer, alias Charles Conway). The couple was part of a traveling circus, he as a human cannonball and a clown, and she as a singer and a lion tamer. Oh, and he had a wooden leg, too.

The three moved in together, and were shortly joined by Mr. Cramer. The Cramers, under the alias of the Conways, were dirt poor and only lived off the wealth of their heiress roommate and her well-to-do fiance. All was well until Ms. Singer decided that she would move back to Baltimore, leaving the Conways with no well of money to draw from. This did not sit well with the carny couple, and one night while Mr. Worthen was away gambling, the one legged clown made his move.

Worthen came back to find the key-hole stuffed. Breaking down the door, he found Sophie’s tangled legs sticking out from under their bed. She had clearly been strangled to death; her hands were tied with thin wire and Cramer’s handkerchief was shoved so deep into her throat that police needed pincers to remove it. Her jewelry had been stolen.

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A sketch of Sophie Singer, Beatrice Conway, and Charles Conway (1912)

Several months later the Cramers were caught in Lima, Ohio. Mrs. Cramer quickly confessed and threw her husband under the bus as well. Charles would eventually confess as well, though he insisted that his wife had nothing to do with the murder.

During the arrest and subsequent trial Cramer the Clown decided to lighten things up with a couple jokes. “Say, Captain?” he asked during the trial. “Do you know that in this case you can’t hang a man with a wooden leg?” When the Captain said he’d never heard of a law like that, Cramer said “You have to use a rope!” Ba Dum Cha!

Charles was sentenced to life in prison, and only narrowly avoided the gallows. As he was led away, he vowed that he would “get out of this,” and twelve years later he made good on his promise. In 1925, despite his assumed lack of running ability owed to that wooden stump on his left side, Cramer ran away from a work farm in Joliet, Illinois. He was never seen or heard from again.

The next time you hear about a clown sighting in your neighborhood, you may want to exercise extra caution. Who knows? Maybe its Conway the Clown, 100 years old and still chasing people with his stump leg.

Join our Editorial Team!

Swarthmore-JAThe Jane Addams Papers Project is seeking a part-time Assistant Editor to help work on the preparation of Volume 4 of the Selected Papers of Jane Addams. The position is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is renewable year-by-year dependent on funding.

The Selected Papers of Jane Addams is a six-volume, selected edition. Volume 1-3, prepared by Mary Lynn Bryan and her staff covers the years 1860-1900. Volume 4, prepared by Cathy Moran Hajo and the staff at Ramapo College of New Jersey, will cover 1901-1913. The volume will be published by the University of Illinois Press.

The assistant editor will work 25 hours per week, some portion of which may be done by telecommuting. Earliest start date is October 15. The successful candidate will help select documents for inclusion in Volume 4, prepare the manuscript, help identify and organize the annotation research process, conduct research, and assist with proofreading. Duties may also include proofreading transcriptions and identifications for the digital edition, writing blog posts, and supervising student workers.

Required: M.A. in American history or a related field or current enrollment in a graduate program. Meticulous attention to detail and familiarity with computers, including database use, is essential. Preferred: Subject specialization in the Progressive Era with emphasis on Jane Addams, the suffrage and settlement house movements; or experience in scholarly editing or the publication of scholarly materials.  AA/EOE. For more information, and to apply for the position, see job 223009 at Ramapo College’s website.

2016 Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents

Official Editing Institute Class of 20162016’s Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents was held New Orleans, LA, in a hotel on the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal Street.  Its courses promised to educate those new to the field of documentary editing, as well as a chance to ask questions about our own projects.  Just after classes ended, the Association for Documentary Editing held their annual meeting in the same hotel.  And, with a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Institute offered a stipend for accepted students.

My very first question was – Where can I sign up?

After an application process and multiple emails with the Institute’s Education Director, the excitement of acceptance to the program gave way to agonizing anticipation.  Finally, after months of biding my time and waiting until the night before my flight to pack, I was stepping off the plane into the hot and humid air of Louisiana.

The next day, we began promptly at 8am with breakfast, and at 8:30 transitioned straight into class time.  I was one of 22 classmates, and initial introductions showed just how varied our backgrounds were: There were some, like me, working on a traditional project with a print edition of selected letters, as well as a digital edition on a website.  But there were some working on solo projects, with many questions on how best an institute could help their projects.  There were librarians who had enough of helping with research, and had decided to delve into their own projects.  And there were some still in school as Ph.D. candidates who had become swept up in the world of editing historical documents.

Classes were taught by experts in their fields, and those experts were Amanda Gailey (Scholarly Editing), Cathy Moran Hajo (Jane Addams Papers), and Jennifer Stertzer (Washington Papers).  We were educated in a range of topics, from encoding text to better represent a transcription on the web, to preparing to fund your project through your home institution and private donors.  There were classes on publishing digitally vs. publishing in print, as well as the best method for indexing and annotating those published documents.  And the week of classes wrapped up with a thought on the future of documentary editing.

But there were things we couldn’t learn from our “experts”, and could only discover by talking to the other Institute participants.  Each one had their own obstacles to overcome, such as funding and staffing, and their own experiences with editing documents.  But with each hurdle, they had their own slightly unique solution, and those collective exchanges definitely helped facilitate discussions for the keys to solving unanswered questions.

ADE-2016At the end of our stay, many of us knew how to get to Café Du Monde by heart, and some had walked the length of Bourbon Street multiple times.  But each of us who attended the Institute found ourselves no longer identifying as a singular project, but rather as one documentary editor with a network of peers, never truly alone in our shared quest to preserve and interpret history.