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A Day in the Life of Archives & Special Collections: Found in the Fireplace!

Apr 30, 2012 by Leslie Fields

Where does Mount Holyoke College historical material come from, and how does it get to Archives & Special Collections? Well, sometimes it comes out of the walls! 

Last week two facilities staff members, Mike Hurley and Jerry Blain, were repairing a fireplace mantel in the Brigham dormitory when they discovered a small cache of old papers in the brickwork. The two gentlemen immediately recognized that these materials may have historical value to the college and Mr. Blain delivered them to the Archives. 

How very lucky for us that they discovered these papers, saved them, and brought them over!

Here's what we have...

Photo of items found behind mantlepiece!

There are two calling cards (one for a Miss Kennedy; another for a Mrs. Mead); an undated picture postcard from Mt. Lowe, CA; a student note replying to a faculty invitation to a dinner party, circa 1912; a February 1913 calendar page; and, finally, a letter tucked neatly inside an envelope postmarked from Crete in April 1912.  

It's this last item, the handwritten letter written almost exactly 100 years ago, that is the most interesting of the bunch to me. With the signature of the letter writer ("Eleanor"),

 Signature at end of letter.

the name of the addressee ("Miss Amy Hewes"),

Envelope addressed to Amy Hewes.

and a bit of digging into 100-year-old Mount Holyoke course catalogs I was able to learn more about it. 

The letter was written by Eleanor Rowland, an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, to her colleague Amy Hewes, Professor of Economics and Sociology. Rowland, who was about 22 years old at the time, was traveling in Greece and reporting back on her activities and adventures. She is a wonderful letter writer and fills her six pages of paper with details.

Eleanor Rowland letter, page one. 

Professor Rowland seems to have been accompanying other travelers who were part of an anthropology dig and mentions seeing "graceful little pots" and "a tiny alabaster pig come out of their retiring place after 4000 years in hiding." Her letter has only been hiding at Mount Holyoke for 100 years, but we are delighted to have it!

How did this letter and the other papers find themselves behind a Brigham fireplace? We may never know for certain, but we do know that Amy Hewes lived in Brigham along with other faculty members in 1912. I imagine Professor Hewes placing that letter and decorative ephemera on top of the mantel only to have the items slip down between the wall and the mantel and disappear. 

Come and visit these treasures in the Archives reading room, Monday through Friday, 9:30 to noon and 1 to 4:30pm -- they've been waiting 100 years to meet you!




This is such a great find! Go LITS!

Posted by Sarah Watkins on April 30, 2012 at 08:11 AM EDT #

Discoveries like this must really perk up the work day. Also, I would love to visit both Greece and Mount Holyoke a century ago!

Posted by Stephen Dodson on April 30, 2012 at 08:15 AM EDT #

Nice piece, Leslie! Being able to make the links between the letters and the course catalog is a boon. Here's looking forward to more postings from Archives & Special Collections on the LITS blog!

Posted by Nanci Young on April 30, 2012 at 09:02 AM EDT #

Kudos to the facilities staff members for their efforts.

Posted by Kit Robertson on April 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM EDT #

An astonishing find! Its great that they've managed to preserve these artifacts for us, future generations, to see!

Posted by Carl on May 09, 2012 at 03:54 AM EDT #

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