Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

American Women's Role as Collectors, Patrons, and Museum Founders

As collectors, patrons, and museum founders, American women have played an influential role in national and international art circles from the late nineteenth century until today. With the rise of first-wave feminism, women acquired greater financial independence and access to education and professional careers. They also gained confidence in visiting galleries and museums and participating in cultural organizations. In turn, women commissioned and acquired fine art and decorative objects directly from the artists, or through dealers and commercial galleries. Some even went on to found museums in an effort to share their collections with broader audiences.

From the 1890s to the 1920s, these female patrons were quintessential "New Women." The author Henry James popularized the term, which referred to the growing number of feminists who made their presence felt in cultural, educational, and political groups. Active in the suffragist cause, they exhibited their art collections to raise funds for the movement. In honor of the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, which celebrates the centennial of women's suffrage in the United States, this study of female collectors, patrons, and museum founders highlights the women who made a substantial impact on the cultural advancement of their generations.

One of the Smithsonian Institution’s nineteen museums owes its existence to some of the earliest women founders. In 1897, sisters Eleanor Garnier Hewitt and Sarah Cooper Hewitt opened the Museum for the Arts of Decoration (now the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) in New York. Their grandfather Peter Cooper was the industrialist and inventor who had established the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a free school for adults, in 1853. The Hewitt sisters founded their museum as part of Cooper Union and curated its collection of drawings, prints, textiles, furniture, and decorative art objects, which they had acquired in the United States and Europe. They aimed to create a "practical working laboratory," where students and artists could interact with the objects and be inspired by the designs.

A few years later, in 1903, Isabella Stewart Gardner opened her Boston mansion, Fenway Court, to the public. Isabella Stewart was married to the prominent banker and civic leader John Lowell Gardner, who shared her interest in art collecting and traveling. After his death in 1898, she carried out their plans to build a private museum in the style of a Venetian palace with an inner garden courtyard.  In her last will, she instructed that Fenway Court (now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) would be for "the education and enjoyment of the public forever."

Ultimately, Isabella Stewart Gardner amassed a collection of nearly 3,000 objects that includes fine and decorative art from America, Europe, and Asia. Its treasures span classical antiquity and the Renaissance to the modern art of her own day. Not only did she collect art, but she also supported the influential art historian Bernard Berenson, who advised her collecting practice. She was also a patron of the artists James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and Anders Zorn, who created remarkable portraits of her. Zorn's first commission from Gardner is an 1894 etching that depicts her seated in an Italian "scabello" armchair, which appears to merge in the shadow of an opulent drapery. She is dressed in a stately, long black dress and fur mantle with a plumed headpiece that echoes the coat of arms in the background.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, by Anders Leonard Zorn, 1894, etching on paper, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.91.34)

Like Isabella Stewart Gardner, Katherine Sophie Dreier was both a collector and a patron. Together with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, Dreier established the Société Anonyme in New York City. She later added the subtitle “Museum of Modern Art: 1920” to commemorate the year it was founded. With Duchamp's assistance, Dreier became the driving force behind this first "experimental museum" of contemporary art in America. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, she organized and funded an extensive schedule of programs, exhibitions, and publications that featured over seventy American and international artists. In 1941, Dreier and Duchamp promised the Société Anonyme’s collection of more than 1,000 modernist works to the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven. Although Dreier was not successful in establishing an independent museum, the Société Anonyme served in part as a model for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Around the 1930s, women patrons actively launched some of New York's leading museums: the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In 1929, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller invited her friends Lillie Plummer Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan to join her in founding the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), as a way to support contemporary artists. The three women selected A. Conger Goodyear as president of the board of trustees, and Alfred H. Barr, Jr. as the museum’s director. MoMA established a canonical modern art collection, which it augmented with a program of avant-garde exhibitions from America and abroad. As the museum grew, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller continued to play a pivotal role. In addition to donating over 2,000 works and providing acquisition funds, she acted as treasurer and trustee. Furthermore, she collected nineteenth-century folk art, which she gave to Colonial Williamsburg in 1939 and was transferred to the newly-built Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in 1957.

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down sculptor and patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s offer to donate her collection of modern American art, she took matters into her own hands. In 1930, she founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, contributing about 700 works to its core collection. Under its first director Juliana Force, the museum became an influential center for American art. Indeed, the founder had wanted her museum to be "devoted both to assembling the best of American art past and present and to fostering the work of living artists, particularly those working in avant-garde styles." Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's long-term commitment to living artists is exemplified by this 1968 bronze cast after the 1916 original portrait bust, which she commissioned from the struggling young artist Jo Davidson.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, by Jo Davidson, 1968 cast after 1916 original, bronze sculpture, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.68.7)
A portrait commission led to the founding of another major New York City museum. The artist and collector Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen, who was from an aristocratic family in Alsace, then part of Germany, had immigrated to the United States in 1927. When she painted the businessman Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1928, the two became friends and collaborators. Rebay convinced Guggenheim to begin collecting abstract art. As his advisor, she connected him to artists in Europe and eventually helped him acquire the more than 700 works that would form the basis of his museum. In 1939, he named Rebay the first director of the new Museum of Non-Objective Painting (today the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum).

Rebay curated the museum's American and European exhibitions, and wrote about and lectured on abstract art. In 1943, Guggenheim and Rebay commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build the innovative, spiraling museum building that opened in 1959. She established the Hilla von Rebay Foundation in 1967 to "foster, promote, and encourage the interest of the public in non-objective art."  Rebay's art collection and archive became part of the Guggenheim Museum after her death that same year. A 2005 retrospective exhibition of Rebay's artwork highlighted her pivotal role in founding the Guggenheim Museum.

Solomon R. Guggenheim's niece Peggy (Marguerite) Guggenheim shared his passion for abstract art, including Cubism and Surrealism. The gallerist, collector, and patron opened the Art of This Century Gallery in New York in 1942. A combined museum and commercial gallery, Art of This Century exhibited European and American artists, and gave Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko their first solo shows. During World War II, Guggenheim went even further in her role as patron, and assisted many artists in their escape from Nazi-controlled areas of Europe to America.

By 1947, Guggenheim decided to close her New York gallery and move back to Europe. She had spent many years on the continent becoming acquainted with the work of avant-garde artists like Man Ray, who photographed her in 1925. This print came from a photo session for an article about influential foreigners residing in Paris in the Swedish weekly Bonniers Vickotidnig. Guggenheim is shown in an elegant cloth-of-gold evening dress by Paul Poiret and a headdress by Vera Stravinsky.

Peggy Guggenheim, by Man Ray, 1925, gelatin silver print, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. ©2000 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society, NY/ ADAGP, Paris (NPG.84.120)
In 1948, Peggy Guggenheim was invited to display her modern art collection in its own pavilion at the Venice Biennale. She seized the opportunity to show the American Abstract Expressionists, who had never been publicly exhibited in Europe. In 1949, she moved to Venice, where she purchased an eighteenth-century palace on the Grand Canal called the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. In forming her collection of avant-garde art, Guggenheim had consulted with the artist Marcel Duchamp and the art historian Herbert Read. In 1951, she opened the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni to the public. For her important cultural contributions, she was nominated as an Honorary Citizen of Venice in 1962. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection opened in 1980 under the management of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, to which she had bequeathed her art collection and palazzo, stipulating that the artworks remain in the Venetian residence.

Like Peggy Guggenheim, the collectors and patrons Anne Tracey Morgan and Marjorie Merriweather Post founded museums in stately residences. They also shared a common interest in French history and culture. Anne Tracey Morgan was a philanthropist who supported relief efforts for France during and after World War I and World War II. In 1929, Morgan presented a seventeenth-century palace museum to France, which became the Musée National de la Cooperation Franco-Américain du Château de Blérancourt. Its collection focuses on the historical, cultural, and artistic relations of our two nations from the seventeenth century to the present. In 1932, she became the first American woman to be appointed as a commander of the French Legion of Honor.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was a philanthropist who likewise received the French Legion of Honor for funding the construction of field hospitals in France during World War I. Post was an astute businesswoman who expanded her family's Postum Cereal Company to form the General Foods Corporation, which she directed until 1958. She purchased the 1920s Georgian-style Hillwood mansion in Washington, D.C. in 1955, and opened it as a museum in 1977. Post hoped her rare collection of eighteenth-century French and Russian imperial fine and decorative art "would inspire and educate the public." The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens includes exceptional portraits of European and American historical figures, as well as Post's own portrait commissions of herself and her family members. Alfred Cheney Johnston's photograph of young Marjorie Merriweather Post shows her great poise in a formal gown and feather headdress and veil, which she wore when received by King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace in 1929. Callot Soeurs, a woman-owned fashion design house in Paris, created her presentation at court dress.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, by Alfred Cheney Johnston, 1929, gelatin silver print, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Gift of Francis A. DiMauro (NPG.20011.92)
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C. also owes its existence to a forward-thinking woman collector and patron. In 1981, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and her husband Wallace F. Holladay incorporated NMWA. After renovating the historic Masonic Temple, they opened the museum in 1987. The couple had begun collecting women's artworks in the 1960s, when scholars and the public were beginning to recognize that women were underrepresented in major museum collections and exhibitions. Today, the collection includes over 4,500 works of fine and decorative art by American and international women artists that span the sixteenth century to the present. NMWA’s exhibitions, programs, and research library aim to advance women in the visual, literary, and performing arts. In 2006, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay received the National Medal of Arts from the United States and the Legion of Honor from France.

Women did not limit their activities to Europe and cities on the East Coast. They also created museums across the United States, in addition to funding and organizing "museums-without-walls" at fairs and international expositions, and contributing to charitable organizations. Portraits played an important role in reinforcing their status as art collectors and founders of museums. One can discover further portraits and biographies of notable women in the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP). In 1966, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery founded the CAP, a national portrait archive of historically significant subjects and artists from the colonial period to the present day. The public is welcome to access the online portrait search program of more than 100,000 records from the museum's website: Catalog of American Portraits.

Patricia H. Svoboda, Research Coordinator
Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

Portraits of Women Patrons:
Portrait of Sarah Cooper Hewitt in French Costume, by J. Carroll Beckwith, 1899, pastel crayon on paper mounted on linen, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, Bequest of Erskine Hewitt (1938-57-890).

Eleanor Garnier Hewitt, by Antonia de Bañuelos, 1888, oil on canvas, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, Bequest of Erskine Hewitt (1938-57-737).

Isabella Stewart Gardner, by John Singer Sargent, 1888, oil on canvas, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA, 1924 Bequest of Isabella Stewart Gardner (P30wI).

Self-Portrait, by Katherine S. Dreier, 1911, oil on canvas, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, Bequest of Katherine S. Dreier (1952.30.6).

Portrait of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (Abby Greene Aldrich), by Robert Brackman, 1941, oil on canvas, Private collection, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Self-Portrait at 14, by Hilla Rebay, August 1904, drawing, Hilla von Rebay Foundation Archive, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, New York, NY (M0007).

Portrait of Miss Anne Morgan, by Walter Dean Goldbeck, c. 1905-1925, oil on canvas, Musée National de la Cooperation Franco-Américain du Château de Blérancourt, FR , Donation of Mrs. Wood, the niece of the sitter (59C 24 or 53C 24).,%20walter%20dean&date=&domaine=&f=3110&images_sans=sans&nb_par_page=36&tri=Nom&sens=0

Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, by Michele Mattei, color photograph, "You Are Invited: The National Museum of Women in the Arts Celebrates 25 years," National Museum of Women in the Arts and, March 2012, p. 66, ill.

Dreier, Katherine S., Marcel Duchamp, and George H. Hamilton. Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920. New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 1950.

Friedman, B.H., and Flora Miller Irving. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978.

Guggenheim, Peggy. Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict. Foreword by Gore Vidal; Introduction by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. New York: Universe Books, 1979.

Holladay, Wilhelmina Cole. A Museum of Their Own: National Museum of Women in the Arts. With contributions by Philip Kopper. New York: Abbeville Press, 2008.

King, Catherine and Dianne Sachko Macleod. "Women as Patrons and Collectors." Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 2018:

Masinter, Margery F. Sarah and Eleanor: The Hewitt Sisters, Founders of the Nation's Design Museum. New York: Cooper Hewitt Museum, 2016.

Morgan, Anne. The American Girl: Her Education, Her Responsibility, Her Recreation, Her Future. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915.

Kert, Bernice. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House Trade Paperback, 2003.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post. New York: Villard Books, 1995.

Tharp, Louise Hall. Mrs. Jack: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1965.

Vail, Karole P.B., ed. The Museum of Non-Objective Painting: Hilla Rebay and the Origins of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. With contributions by Bashkoff, Tracey Bashkoff,  John G. Hanhardt, and Don Quaintance. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2009. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pioneering Women Photographers in Africa: Constance Stuart Larrabee

Constance Stuart with Ndebele men, South Africa, circa 1936-1945,
EEPA 1998-060866

The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA) is pleased to share the Constance Stuart Larrabee collection.  One of the most researched photographers at the EEPA, Larrabee’s photographic collection depicting Africa will soon be available online.  This large collection, dating from 1935 to 1988, includes over 9,000 negatives, 3,000 silver gelatin photographic prints, two of Larrabee's cameras, numerous scrapbooks, and manuscript materials, including correspondence, articles, and more! 

As part of the Pioneering Women Photographers in Africa project (an article about the project, published on the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative website, is here), the EEPA staff recently digitized over 5,700 large format black and white negatives shot by Larrabee in South Africa, previously uncatalogued and inaccessible to the public.  

Plans are underway to process Larrabee’s remaining manuscripts and her extensive office files, which will provide insights into her photographic practice after leaving South Africa and her extensive work with exhibitions and publications in the United States.

Ndebele mother and child, South Africa,  1947, EEPA 1998-060403
Born in 1914, Larrabee has played an indelible role in advancing the professionalization of women photographers, especially in Africa.  The majority of her photographs document South Africa, where she was raised.  Her socially conscious photography informed the wider world about the state of education, housing, government, religion and employment in Africa.  But mostly she conveyed the spirit and beauty of Africa; her work is clearly devoted to this great continent and the people who live there.    

Three boys in Basuto (Lesotho), 1941, EEPA 1998-062667

Educated at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Photography in London (1933-1935) and at the Bavarian State Institute for Photography in Munich (1935-1936), Larrabee developed solid technical skills and a style that was influenced by the avant-garde work of the Bauhaus artists. Her camera of choice was the Rolleiflex, which she used throughout her career.   

Ndebele child, circa 1936-1949, EEPA 1998-060445
Upon returning to South Africa in 1936, Larrabee set up her own studio, the Constance Stuart Portrait Studio, in Pretoria.  There she photographed many leading cultural and political figures of the period.  In the late 1930s, Larrabee began photographing the peoples of South Africa, but soon left her homeland to serve as South Africa’s first woman war correspondent in World War II.  She worked with the South African Sixth Division in the Italian Appenines, and with the American 7thArmy in France, writing articles and sending images for publication in the magazine Libertas.  

Recently donated by the Corcoran Gallery of Art to the EEPA, many of Larrabee’s World War II photographs are now available for research.  These images provide insight into Larrabee’s experiences during this period and reveal an evolution of style; a maturity that would inform her photography for the rest of her life.  

Following the war, Larrabee returned to South Africa and increasingly photographed the peoples of the country.  She traveled to such locations as Basutoland (now Lesotho), Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Johannesburg, Natal province, Soweto, Swaziland, Transkei, eastern Transvaal, the Umzimkulu Valley and Zululand.  She documented Afrikaners, Ndebele, Sotho, Xhosa, and others.  Her photographs convey a particular fascination with humanity, but also explore architecture, landscapes, and communities.    

Alan Paton teaching children, Natal, February 1949, EEPA 1998-060154

Larrabee published extensively, including a portfolio produced for the book, Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1948).

EEPA 1998-062832
Larrabee photographed the royal visit of King George VI (in the white uniform) and Queen Elizabeth to Lesotho in 1947.  Princess Elizabeth is also visible in the background.  

In 1949 Larrabee married Colonel Sterling Larrabee and moved to Chestertown, Maryland, where she focused on photographing the coastal regions of New England and supporting the arts program of Washington College, ultimately establishing the Constance Stuart Larrabee Arts Center.  Her work was shown in major exhibitions including "The Family of Man" at the Museum of Modern Art, 1955; "Tribal Photographs" at the Corcoran Art Gallery, 1984; and "Go Well, My Child" at the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), 1986.  

Larrabee passed away in 2000, leaving her photographic collection to the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives.  We hope that you enjoy her photographs as more are posted online.  You can view the collection's finding aid and explore her photographs here

Ndebele woman with hand over mouth, South Africa, circa 1936-1949, EEPA 1998-060339

Funding for the processing and digitization of Larrabee’s photographic collection has been provided by the Constance Stuart Larrabee Endowment, National Museum of African Art.

To obtain high-resolution images and permission for publication or exhibition, please contact the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art.

Eden Orelove, Photo Archivist
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Farewell to American Archives Month 2018

As the American Archives Month blog-a-thon comes to end on this Halloween Day, we want to send a thank you to everyone who participated. We hope you enjoyed learning about the work we do as archivists, librarians, and museum professionals and about the Smithsonian’s vast collections and online resources. This year we explored stories highlighting voting rights, the Spanish Flu, pioneering women photographers, a princess and so much more! To read all the stories from this year’s blog-a-thon, click on the 2018 Archives Month tag.

Stay tuned to this blog as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Representing and Misrepresenting Native Americans in Archival Collections

The bulk of historical materials contained in Native American archival collections were not created by Native peoples. Perhaps this is obvious. Historic photographs, anthropological field-notes, ethnological films – these materials were by and large created by non-Native Americans, and thus preserve a non-Native rather than a Native voice. While not necessarily nefarious or ill-intentioned on the part of the creator(s), such representations or misrepresentations prove themselves to be not only inaccurate but also ever-present in the historical record.

Indianer, German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_001_005

Indianer, German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_001_005

These representations include stereotypes of the “noble savage” or “vanishing Indian” variety, which romanticize a fictionalized portrayal of Native American cultures. What these images reveal are how non-Native peoples chose to represent or misrepresent the lives, cultures, and histories of the Native peoples of the Americas. In other words, these nineteenth- and twentieth-century portrayals reveal not only how non-Native communities viewed indigenous peoples, but also how non-Native peoples viewed themselves and their colonial past.

Straight Arrow “Injun-uity” Manual, Douglas E. Evelyn photograph and ephemera collection, NMAI.AC.226, 226_pht_001_001

This argument about how non-Indians have imagined, represented, and appropriated Indian identity is hardly new. Native and non-Native scholars have written about the subject for years, with a few of the better known works including Robert Berkhofer’s The White Man’s Indian, Philip Deloria’s Playing Indian, and Shari Huhndorf’s Going Native. In fact, the recent AMERICANS exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) delves into similar ground of American Indian identity and its pervasiveness within the context of broader American pop culture and history.

Straight Arrow “Injun-uity” Index,
Douglas E. Evelyn photograph and ephemera collection, NMAI.AC.226, 226_pht_001_002

Among the NMAI Archive Center collections, a few more recent acquisitions which portray these romanticized images are the Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, the Douglas E. Evelyn photograph and ephemera collection, and the German Advertising Trade Cards collection. A shared theme in these collections is the use of romanticized portrayals of Native Americans in order to sell products as diverse as NABISCO Shredded Wheat throughout the United States, or to market condensed milk, chocolate, and pralines in Germany and across Europe.

Kriegführung Bei Wilden Völkern,
German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_002_001

Kriegführung Bei Wilden Völkern (verso),
German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_002_001v

Reshaping the image of Native Americans was not relegated solely to anthropologists or marketing firms, however. Along similar lines are also representations of Native American school children required to attend government boarding schools. Through coerced assimilation and forced abandonment of Native cultures and languages, the U.S. federal government attempted to reshape the appearance and mind-set of American Indian children. Such images and misrepresentations, while problematic to say the least, are also important in showing how non-Native peoples romanticized, mythologized, and attempted to reshape Native peoples.
Entrance to Indian Training School, Chemawa, near Salem, Oregon, Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, NMAI.AC.069, 069_pht_001_002

Girl Basket-Ball Squad, U.S. Indian School, Chilocco, Oklahoma. Seven tribes represented, Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, NMAI.AC.069, 069_pht_002_005

Indian School, Parade Grounds and Buildings, Carlisle, PA, Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, NMAI.AC.069, 069_pht_001_003

Fortunately, since becoming part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1989, the NMAI Archive Center has actively sought to acquire, preserve, and make accessible archival materials created by Native peoples which represent contemporary Native voices. With the addition of records documenting the lives and works of Native American artists, writers, activists, and organizations, the NMAI is seeking to both complement and balance these earlier representations and misrepresentations of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Nathan Sowry, Reference Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center

Friday, October 26, 2018

Voting Rights and Archives Center Collections

The fraught history of Southern states denying African Americans the right to vote, a right guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, was a practice that extended through the first half of the 20th century. Southern states, through the passage of Jim Crow laws, legalized various forms of voter discrimination. A poll tax, a literacy test, and, ironically, moral character tests served as examples. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 were the first laws that promoted the rights of African-Americans since the end of Reconstruction. While the former expanded the Justice Department by creating the Civil Rights Division and the Commission on Civil Rights, the latter protected African Americans from voter disenfranchisement in local municipalities and included a congressional provision that authorized the federal courts to appoint “referees” in areas where discrimination took place. However, voter turnout showed little to no variance during this time and demonstrated the power of local election officials to discriminate against minority voters.

The work that went into the fight against the forces of voter suppression is well documented in several Archives Center collections. The Afro Americana series of the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana includes extensive materials from the years 1961-1964. The work behind Freedom Summer, otherwise known as the Mississippi Summer Project (MSP), began in late spring of ‘64. The objectives of MSP involved galvanizing local support by lobbying the state government to ensure full voting rights for African Americans. The project put forth plans spearheaded by the Council of Federated Organizations and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.) Such materials include “The Battle for Civil Rights Negro Representation Now,” a magazine distributed by the American Labor Party headquarters, along with copies of the “Student Voice,” which showcased the moment college students from elite universities bused themselves to Mississippi to staff educational programs at places that became known as Freedom Schools.

This is not the only collection that illuminates the struggles of African-Americans in the 20th Century. The portfolio Photographs of Stephen Somerstein / 1965 Selma to Montgomery March documented the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the spring of 1965. The collection includes photographs that document everyone from Martin Luther King to John Lewis, the head of SNCC. Some photographs show the eclectic mix of marchers walking side by side while other snapshots depict families sitting on their porch watching the passersby. The collection features a rare photograph of Martin Luther King addressing twenty-five thousand marchers before the Alabama State Capitol building in Montgomery.

Stephen Somerstein, photographer. "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking behind a sea of microphones... March 25, 2965." Silver gelatin print." Gift of the artist.
NMAH Archives Center, AC1300-0000001.

Lastly, the work of photographer Bob Adelman, as it appears in the Bob Adelman Civil Rights Photographs, are works that span the entirety of the civil rights movement. Some of his most powerful pictures include a boy in school while a portrait of Lincoln hangs above. While the symbolism might speak for itself, it shows how Lincoln’s legacy looms large, casting a shadow over ongoing battles. Another shows a black man leaving a “Whites Only” restroom, suggesting that, for some, the best way to protest segregation is through personal integration, illuminating the strides made by individuals to combat state-sanctioned discrimination. Perhaps the most striking photograph of the group depicts a black man filling out a ballot card in the spring of 1966, just a year after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. In it, his hand is vividly exposed as he draws an ‘x’ next to each of his chosen candidates.

Bob Adelman, photographer. Silver gelatin print, untitled, 1960s.
Gift of Jae Brown. NMAH Archives Center, AC1438-0000015-2.

Bob Adelman, photographer. Silver gelatin print, untitled, 1960s.
Gift of Jae Brown. NMAH Archives Center, AC1438-0000013.
All three of these collections teach us how the African-American right to vote was contested, not a given. The way this right was earned and how the struggles are remembered now have renewed relevance. Recent threats to the voting rights act challenge us to reacquaint ourselves with the past in order to better confront the present.

Isaac Simon, Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Flashback Friday: Behind the Scenes at the Cultural Resources Center

Smithsonian Institution Archives, image number 2003-37857. 
Family Day at the National Museum of the American Indian, Cultural Resources Center, October 25, 2003. Visitors tour the center and view the collection storage area for baskets and other artifacts. The Cultural Resources Center is designed to house the museum's collections in a manner that is sensitive to both tribal and museum requirements for access and preservation. It also serves as a vital resource center for new approaches to the study and presentation of the history and culture of Native peoples. 

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Adventures in Description and Discovery: Who was Miss Mix?

Smithsonian Libraries was digitizing a book to make available online. While reviewing the book’s description (the MARC encoded catalog record) to check for any errors, a question came up about the author. The mystery related to her authorship of the natural sciences text, when everything else by the same author seemed to relate to music. Was it the same Miss Mix?
Image of Jennie Irene Mix from page 343 of Broadcast Radio, volume 7. Source: Internet Archive
The book in question was Mighty animals; being short talks about some of the animals which lived on this earth before man appeared. It primarily discusses dinosaurs and uses colorful language, photographs and illustrations to appeal to young readers. The illustrations, as seen below, are dramatic. According to the author’s obituary in Radio Broadcast, the text was also used as a supplementary reader in public and private schools. The Director of the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Frederic Lucas, wrote the introduction.  He commented:
…It is a very interesting history, “for there were giants in those days of old” and Miss Mix tells us how they swam through the seas, splashed through the marshes, and tramped over the hills of the ancient world. More than this, Miss Mix shows us how they looked, these strange beasts that lived in a time when there was no human being to look at them.
He ended the introduction with a warning to save the few animals we have now, for “there may be no Miss Mix to tell about them” in the future. But who was Miss Mix?

Her writing is easy to find, but her biographical details are not. It required more research that usual to discover Miss Mix’s basic information. I went down a rabbit hole, deciding that Miss Mix was giving me an opportunity. She did not have a name authority record in several of the emerging and existing systems we work with at the Smithsonian. I decided to complete my research and create records in some of the systems.
“How a dinosaur was buried in the rock” [page 31 and page 43] from Might Animals. Source: Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Researching Miss Mix
I began my research with a Google search, and learned that Miss Mix was involved in numerous areas of mass media, including radio in the 1920s. She was a trained classical pianist, worked as a music critic for the Toledo Times and Pittsburgh Post, was an editor of the Radio Broadcast (Magazine), and a radio critic. She also penned a novel, At Fame's Gateway; the Romance of a Pianiste. She has been quoted in some more recent publications, relating to women in journalism and early radio broadcasting. They are clues to a fascinating life. Beyond these professional details, her personal history is surprisingly hard to track down.

For someone so visible professionally, why was there so little personally? No Wikipedia page? It felt like there was a story to reveal. I next learned that she was likely born during the Civil War, worked at the dawn of radio until her death at age 63. In order to confirm basic details like birth and death information, I searched Ancestry Library Edition and found seemingly confusing results: a Jennie Irene Mix born circa 1862, 1872, and 1882. It appears at some point she decided not to age past 40; in the 1910 and 1920 census, she listed her occupations as journalist and music critic but listed “40 years old” as her age, decades apart. Through Find a Grave, an online database of cemetery records, I confirmed birth and death years for her, 1862 – 1925. Additional online searching uncovered she was born in Cleveland, Ohio. One year after becoming editor of the Radio Broadcast (Magazine), she passed away in 1925. It appears she never married.
Cover of Broadcast Radio, volume 7. Source: Internet Archive.

Creating records for Miss Mix
First, I created a Library of Congress Name Authority record for her; each piece of information in the record must be cited. This made it very easy to re-purpose the information to create records for her in other platforms like…

Smithsonian units have been involved in Wikipedia for several years now, hosting Wikipediathons to improve the quality of information in the online source. Miss Mix did not have a page, so I learned how create a stub biographical page.

Though Wikidata has only been around six years, it has been working quickly to develop relationships with institutions like the Smithsonian, to test out and strengthen its data and organization. Institutions are studying its structure as they look at ways to manage collection description as Linked Data. I created a Wikidata record for Miss Mix.

VIAF is a project managed by Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) which aggregates name authority records from institutions around the world, including Library of Congress. VIAF is particularly appealing because it creates a “name cluster” with multiple variations of a name, assigned to an Identifier. Records from institution contributors are ingested weekly, but the process of ingesting and quality control with existing records can take varying amounts of time. Through Miss Mix, I began to understand how long this process could take.

Smithsonian is one of several institutions that are involved in the formation of a new archival name authority called the Social Networks and Archival Context. I edited an existing record for her in SNAC.

According to Miss Mix’s obituary in Radio Broadcast:
A woman of striking personality, Miss Mix had a peculiar talent for transferring her personal charm to her work, which was one reason for her great popularity with the readers of RADIO BROADCAST. It is interesting. To note, also that, in the newspapers, her writings were almost as widely quoted as those of Professor Morecroft in 'the March of Radio.'
I look forward to seeing who else might be intrigued and document more about Miss Mix.

Interested in Learning More? 
Here are some resources:

Lesley Parilla, Cataloging and Bibliographic Access Librarian