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Monday, January 24, 2022

Butter and Egg Money

By Lily Stowe-Alekman

Elizabeth Bourne Robinson was born on December 3, 1892, and died on July 25, 1976.  On November 20, 1929, she married Frank A. Robinson and moved to the Robinson family farm near Brandywine in Prince George’s County, Maryland. They had three children: Mary Elizabeth, Franklin Alexander, and Robert Lee. After Frank’s father died in 1937, he bought out his siblings’ and mother’s portions of the estate to retain the property as one. In 1937, the farm consisted of "1 corn house & cow stable, 1 stable, and 1 Granary & Stable.” Elizabeth kept a record of life on the farm in her diaries beginning in 1951 through 1960. 

Elizabeth and Frank Robinson, December 25, 1957, Ferndale Farm. Gelatin silver photographic print, Robinson and Via Family Papers, Box 33, AC0475.0000342.
 Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Elizabeth’s farm diaries are housed in the Archives Center’s Robinson and Via Family Papers, AC0475. In her earliest diaries, 1951 to 1953, she writes about the farm workers, her children’s activities, what her husband does, who visits, where she goes, the weather, and anything else that seemed important to her. A large part of her entries consists of logging the work done on the farm. The family grew many things, but tobacco was a very important crop on the farm. In her diaries, Elizabeth also tracked how many eggs were collected from the chickens each day, how much money was made on eggs, and how much money was made on butter. At the end of each month and year, Elizabeth totaled the income from these items made and how many eggs were collected. In 1951, Elizabeth recorded making $151.90 on butter, $85.35 on eggs, $237.25 together, and collected 5062 eggs.  Elizabeth recorded making $161.90 on butter, $49.40 on eggs, $211.30 together and collected 2880 eggs in 1952.  In 1953, Elizabeth wrote, “took in for year from eggs and butter. $255.80.”  From looking at only these three years, one can see that Elizabeth was bringing in significant income from her egg and dairy production. Elizabeth tends not to record amounts of money from other ventures, so clearly tracking the sale of butter and eggs and her egg collection was important to her.

Scholars have written about farm women’s egg and butter production and sales. While it is uncertain how much control Elizabeth had over managing farm operations, her recording the eggs and butter shows they were important in her day-to-day notations. In "Women Who Work in the Field": The Changing Role of Farm and Nonfarm Women, Stephanie Carpenter states, “By 1940, female field labor had in many areas become obsolete. Removing women from field work downplayed their importance in field production and placed greater emphasis on their part in dairy, garden, and poultry operations.” Carpenter also notes that this changed during World War II as women went to work in the absence of men away fighting in the war, indicating that “during the last years of war, more than three million farm and nonfarm women provided labor to farmers through private employment and as members of the Women’s Land Army.”

Elizabeth Robinson (left) and Adina Mae Via (right) in a field of wheat, June 1956, gelatin silver photographic print, Robinson and Via Family Papers, Box 17, AC0475-0000341. Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

In 1953, the Women’s Bureau recorded that 730,000 women were “farmers and farm workers” as opposed to 690,000 in 1940. Elizabeth’s first diaries are firmly placed in this period. While I have not researched Elizabeth’s experience during WWII, placing her in the context of other farm women in this period is important. Following WWII, there was a push for women to resume and return to their traditional feminine roles as mothers and wives and out of the workforce. Part of this would mean a return to the jobs women were supposed to embrace instead of field work in 1940: “dairy, garden, and poultry operations.” Carpenter believes that “in their effort to embrace the feminine ideal of the postwar era, farm women described their lives as they hoped they would be.” As such, in popular farm magazines, women weighed in that they should not do field work, but also that this was not all that was realistic for them. Butter and egg production, it seems, were acceptable tasks for women to do on farms while maintaining this image of femininity. I wonder if there were other ways for Elizabeth to earn money for her work on the family farm or if egg and butter production were the only socially acceptable ways? It is difficult to tell what additional work Elizabeth herself completed on the farm, as she often writes without crediting tasks to different people; however, she often notes that her son Franklin did the milking. It seems Elizabeth spent most of her time on the farm and was thoroughly involved in its day-to-day operation. Her daily diary entries provide a very personal and detailed look into life on a mid-Atlantic family farm for a woman in the mid-20th century. 

"Planting tobacco, standing: Norris Grose; sitting: Elizabeth Robinson; and driving: Frank Robinson, July 1955, Ferndale Farm. Gelatin silver photographic print, Robinson and Via Family Papers, Box 17, AC0475.0000340, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Works Cited

Carpenter, Stephanie A. “‘Women Who Work in the Field’: The Changing Role of Farm and Nonfarm Women on the Farm.” Agricultural History 74, no.2 (Spring 2000): 465-474,

Find a Grave. “Elizabeth Bourne Robinson.” Accessed December 1, 2021.

Robinson, Elizabeth Bourne. “Elizabeth Bourne Robinson Farm Diary Volume 1, 1951-1953.” January-December 1951. Robinson and Via Family Papers, NMAH.AC.0457, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Robinson, Elizabeth Bourne. “Elizabeth Bourne Robinson Farm Diary Volume 1, 1951-1953.” January-December 1952. Robinson and Via Family Papers, NMAH.AC.0457, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Robinson, Elizabeth Bourne. “Elizabeth Bourne Robinson Farm Diary Volume 2, 1953-1955,” January-December 1953. Robinson and Via Family Papers, NMAH.AC.0457, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Robinson, Franklin A., Jr. “Guide to the Robinson and Via Family Papers.” NMAH.AC.0475, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

U.S. Women's Bureau. Women as Workers: A Statistical Guide. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1953. In Carpenter, Stephanie. “’Women Who Work in the Field’: The Changing Role of Farm and Nonfarm Women on the Farm.” Agricultural History 74, no.2 (Spring, 2000), 465.

Living Documents and Historic Postcards of Guinea

By Haley Steinhilber

Writing? On an archival document?! Traditionally, archives are known for their dedication to preserving original photographs, documents, and visual materials in their original condition and order—but what happens if the donor invites collaboration?

When former USAID Foreign Service officer Stephen Grant donated his annotated copy of Images de Guinée (1991) to the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA) in 2020, he hoped that the book should remain open for others—specifically Guineans and those with ties to Guinea—to share in the margins their own reflections of the historic postcards.

Adding to a collection is not a rare occurrence. In fact, Grant himself has donated over 10,000 photographic postcards from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Senegal, and the Republic of Guinea in separate instances in 2001, 2018, and 2020. The EEPA also accepts new donations to the African Postcard collection (EEPA.1985-014) every year, continuously altering the make-up of the collection. One of the many things that makes Images de Guinée unique is the concept of a typically static item (a book) remaining active in a concept known as a “living” document. 

A living document is a text that is continually edited and updated, and perhaps limited by a set of frameworks.(1) This term has been applied to materials like the United States Constitution, but it can also refer to a website like Wikipedia, the digital encyclopedia that allows account holders to update articles freely.(2)  In the context of the archive, a living document can be a way for visitors to connect in a more personal way—no longer an observer, but an active participant in history making. 

In a 2020 interview with museum staff, Grant explained how postcards helped him relate to others in the countries where he lived: 

“I learned something about introducing oneself when you go abroad for the U. S. government. You can say your name, and shake hands, and that’s it. Or, soon after you meet someone, you can surprise them by pulling out of your pocket a small stack of picture postcards of the country and see how your new friend or colleague reacts. There will be astonishment that you have these items in the first place; most people throw away postcards.

"Secondly, the person will invariably make a comment comparing what the scene looked like in the past, and looks like today. Thirdly, for more impact, show the postcards simultaneously to children, young adults, and older adults, and listen to their different reactions! Picture postcards open up conversations. They provoke the beholder to compare the past with the present. They prompt unsuspectedly rich exchanges in a family setting.”

When Grant helped put together the book of postcards in 1991, he had already been collecting postcards for over 10 years. He was inspired by an exhibit at the National Library in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in 1980, which featured hundreds of old picture postcards of the country. In turn, while living in Guinea as a USAID officer, Grant inspired others with his own postcard exhibit, which took place at the Franco-Guinean Cultural Center in Conakry. The exhibit attracted around 1,700 visitors in March 1991.

German Ambassador to Guinea, Dr. Hubert Beemelmans, was so taken with the exhibit that he approached Grant about turning it into a book. They could repair and use a printing press at the Catholic Mission in Conakry—they only needed the staff and supplies.(3) Beemelmans requested money from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn, Germany to buy paper, ink, materials for binding, and to train additional local staff on the printing press. Postcard collectors from France, Bernard Sivan and Pierre Dürr, also provided images from their large collections. The resulting publication became the first book published in Guinea in the private sector. All previous publications had been printed by the Patrice Lumumba National Printing Office, according to Seydouba Cissé, the Assistant Director of National Archives in Conakry.

Stephen Grant (left) speaking with German Ambassador to Guinea, Dr. Hubert Beemelmans, at the postcard exhibit, 15 March 1991, Conakry, Guinea. 

From the beginning, the book was grounded in remembering Guinea’s past. As Dr. Beemelmans writes in the preface (translated from French): 

"The past is the foundation of the present and future. Humankind and nations that ignore their past do not know each other and do not know where they are going. One can criticize the past, but at the end of the day one must accept it or at least come to terms with it...This book is the memory and the messenger from the past...This book is intended to appeal to those Guineans and foreigners who love Guinea and want to know its past in order to better understand its present and be able to accompany its future."

At first, only Grant’s fellow contributors wrote in the book: the collectors Sivan and Dürr, printer Augusto Bindelli, and Seydouba Cissé, Assistant Director of the National Archives in Conakry. But soon, Grant began inviting others to leave inscriptions before he departed for his next assignment in Indonesia. 

What resulted was an assortment of experiences, from fellow USAID officers to local politicians and educators to a descendant of one railroad family in Conakry. The inscriptions date from 1991 to 2020, when Grant invited the current Ambassador from Guinea to add his own recollection to the book. 

Stephen Grant’s leather-bound annotated copy of Images de Guinée, 1991.
The cover was designed by Annick Grant.

From the Pages of History

Education For All 

Une école primaire indigène en Guinée Française - F.N. [An indigenous primary school in French Guinea], Ag. Ec. De l’A. O. F., c. 1910, Postcard, collotype, EEPA 2001-001-0940, Stephen H. Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Page 119 of Images de Guinée, featuring postcard and text from inscription by Aïcha Bah Diallo, 2. Une école primaire indigène en Guinée Française - F.N. [An indigenous primary school in French Guinea], Ag. Ec. De l’A. O. F., c. 1910, Postcard, collotype, EEPA 2001-001-0940, Stephen H. Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

"Mr. Grant, thank you for asking me to write something about this photo. You recognize my role as mother and responsible for education. I love school and aim to do something significant for this sector with which I have been entrusted.

"Which school is this? I’ve asked a lot of people. Not one could tell me. Nevertheless, I am leaning toward the region of Mamou because of the Moslem leader (almamy) holding a child. 

"Thank you, Mr. Grant. You have led me to relive the olden days thanks to your photos. We realize how much we have lost by not saving mementos (photos, postcards). With your cards, how many memories come back, and with what emotion! It is the history and the culture of our country that we relive. This is what explains the triumph of your exhibit. Thank you for that. I wish you good luck." 

--Aïcha Bah Diallo, President of the Network for Education for All in Africa, and former Minister of Education of Guinea. Original French:

"Mr. Grant, Merci de m'avoir demandé d'écrire quelquechose devant cette photo. Vous me reconnaissez mon rôle de mère et de responsable de l'Education. J'aime l'école et je souhaite faire quelquechose pour ce secteur qui m'est confié depuis Juin 1989.

"Quelle école est-ce? Je l'ai demandé à beaucoup de monde. Personne n'a pu me le dire. Cependant on peut dire que cette école doit être dans les environs de Mamou à cause de l'Almamy tenant un enfant.  Merci Mr. Grant. Vous nous avez fait revivre les temps anciens grâce à vos photos.

"Nous avons realisé combien nous avons perdu en ne gardant pas les souvenirs (photos, cartes postales). C'est une leçon que vous nous avez donnée. Avec vos cartes combien de souvenirs nous remontent et quelle émotion! C'est l'histoire et la culture de notre pays que nous vivons. C'est ce qui explique le succès de votre exposition. Merci pour tout cela. Je vous souhaite beaucoup de succès.

Diallo braids several themes into her inscription—her role as a mother, a friend to Grant, and an elected local official entrusted with the education of the community. She writes about connecting with others around her and asking about the history of the school, which further highlights Grant’s observation that the postcards inspire conversation. 

Nostalgia of the Railroad

"During the 1930s when the Conakry-Niger Railway was a real railroad, you could count more than ten trains per day from Conakry to Kankan and back. My father was a station master at Kolenté where I was born. My father trained five other members of our family as station masters. Of the thirty or so stations in the Conakry Niger, my parents occupied half a dozen."

Image Caption: 682. C.F.C.N. (Guinée Française) - Station de Siffray [ C.F.C.N. Chemin de fer, Conakry, French Guinea - Siffray Station, Collection de la Guinée Francaise, A. James, Postcard, collotype, c.1907, EEPA 2001-001-1032, Stephen H. Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 

"I spent several vacations at Siffray station (Dagomet) where my father's last little brother served as a station master for a long time. In short, I experience a great admiration for this beautiful collection characterized by discipline and perseverance exceptionally moving for connoisseurs.

"I like the rails, I like the train, I like the stations, I like everything related to the railroad because I belong to the family of railway workers. Thank you, Mr. Grant, for this beautiful work which makes me very nostalgic. Thank you for your warm friendship."

[El Hadj] Tafsir H. Thiam, 6/30/92, Deputy Director of Peace Corps in Conakry and child of prominent railroad family in Guinea

Guinée - Une Station de chemin de fer. [A railway station.], unknown photographer, c. 1910, Postcard, collotype, EEPA 2001-001-1057, Stephen H. Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 

"Pendant les années 30 lorsque le Chemin de fer Conakry-Niger était un vrai chemin de fer, lorsqu'on pouvait compter plus d'une dizaine de trains par jour de Conakry à Kankan et retour. Mon père était chef de gare à la Kolenté où je suis né. Mon père a formé cinq autres membres de notre famille comme chef de gare. Sur la trentaine de gares que comptait le Conakry Niger, mes parents en occupaient une demi douzaine.

"J'ai passé plusieurs vacances à la gare de Siffrey (Dagomet) où le dernier petit frère de mon père a servi pendant longtemps comme Chef de gare. En bref, j’éprouve une grande admiration devant cette belle collection caracterisée par une discipline et une perseverance exceptionellement émouvantes pour les connaisseurs.

"J'aime les rails, J'aime le train, j'aime les gares, j’aime tout ce qui est lié au chemin de fer car j'appartiens à la famille de cheminots. Merci Mr. Grant pour cette belle d’oeuvre qui me rend très nostalgique. Merci pour votre chaude amitié."

In this recollection, nostalgia infuses every word Thaim writes. From the Siffrey station where he spent several vacations with his uncle, to the crowded platform that reflects a typical day on the railroad. The impact of these two postcards of the railroad draws memories of his family history that may not have been written down elsewhere.

The Familiar Crocodile 

Colonies Françaises-- Guinée - Le Niger à Kouroussa [French Colony – Guinea - Niger river at Kouroussa], unknown photographer, c. 1910, Postcard, Collotype, EEPA 2001-001-1135, Stephen H. Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Boda Kudu: "A little downstream, there was a familiar crocodile, guardian of all the children of Kouroussa. He hunted any foreign crocodile, but alas! also munched on the foreign children who ventured into his domain.

Page 89 of Images de Guinée, featuring postcard and text from story by Yvonne Condé, Colonies Françaises- Guinée - Le Niger à Kouroussa [French Colony – Guinea -- Niger river at Kouroussa],  EEPA 2001-001-1135, Postcard, Collotypes, Stephen H. Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

"We would hang onto his back; we would dive with him ... My God, time stood still. By Grant‘s magic! For this emotion that you created by your photos, for these tears shed on the fled treasures of my childhood, for the happiness of seeing again in photos all the places that I knew and loved in my childhood, those places whose destruction has been an amputation in my soul, for all that and for the delicacy of the gesture, you are blessed." - Yvonne Condé - Key member of the Comité transitoire de redressement national (CTRN). She is also responsible for the writing of Loi fondamentale in 1990.

Boda Kudu: "Un peu en aval, il y avait un crocodile familier, tuteur de tous les enfants de Kouroussa. Il chassait tout crocodile étranger, mais hélas! croquait aussi les enfants étrangers qui s’avanturaient dans son domaine." 

"On s'accrochait à son dos, on plongeait avec lui... Mon dieu, le temps s'est arrêté; Par la magic de Grant! Pour cet émoi que tu as créé par tes photos, pour ces larmes versées sur les trésors enfuis de mon enfance, pour ce bonheur de revoir en photo tant de lieux que j'ai connus et aimés dans mon enfance, ces lieux dont la destruction a été une amputation dans mon âme, pour tout cela et pour la délicatesse du geste, sois béni. - Yvonne Condé

This entry is particularly interesting in the context of Guinean politics. Condé, a key member of the Comité transitoire de redressement national (CTRN), shares a story almost like a fairy tale--about a place that may not exist anymore, or perhaps she is far from home. As a member of the organization trying to establish democracy in Guinea, Condé describes this allegory of a territorial crocodile.

Into the Future, As We Look Towards the Past

Although these are just a few examples, each of these inscriptions marks a separate significance to the postcards. The work for improving education, steady livelihood through a stable career on the railroad, or the treasures of childhood and reflecting on change in Guinea. How many other countless memories of the past could be provoked by these images?

Advances in technology and digitizing collections provide more options for archives to connect with the communities they serve, to preserve history, and invite collaboration. Over the last few years, EEPA has worked to digitize and catalog postcards from Grant’s postcard donations in 2001 and 2019. In the future, the EEPA will provide access to the full collection of historic postcards from Guinea and other African countries for folks to inscribe. Soon, anyone with access to the Internet (and a device) can view the historic postcards.

If you are interested in sharing your own memories of Images de Guinée or sending a message to the EEPA about the postcards below, please send an email to with the subject line “Images of Guinea.”

Due to Covid-19, the EEPA is currently closed to the public. In accordance with Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, it will reopen to visitors and researchers projected January 2022. Please email the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives to set up a visit to view the physical Images de Guinee. 


 1. Shanahan, D.R. A living document: reincarnating the research article. Trials 16, 151 (2015).

  2. Marshall, Thurgood. "The Constitution: A living document." Howard LJ 30 (1987): 915. Kitchin, Heather A. "The Tri-Council Policy Statement and research in cyberspace: Research ethics, the Internet, and revising a ‘living document’." Journal of Academic Ethics 1, no. 4 (2003): 397-418.

  3. Phone call with Stephen Grant, October 2021. 

Haley Steinhilber, Photo Archivist

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art

More from the Stephen Grant Postcard Collection

Collection de la Guinée - A. James, Conkary. 82 – Conakry (Guinée Française). Le Ramadam: Le Salam (4e phase). [Guinea Collection – A. James, Conakry. 82- Conakry (French Guinea) Ramadan: Salam (4th phase).] Photograph by A. James, c. 1932. Postcard, Collotype, EEPA 2001-001-0917. Stephen Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

549. Guinée Française - Konakry [French Guinea, Conakry], Collection Fortier Dakar, c. 1906, Postcard, Collotype, EEPA 2001-001-0972, Stephen Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

"Jeune négresse et petit Européen," French Guinea, unknown photographer, c. 1910, Postcard, Collotype, EEPA 2001-001-0981, Stephen Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

Afrique occidentale - Guinée[,] 1042. Femme Foulah [West Africa, Guinea, 1042. Foulah Woman]

Collection Générale Fortier, Dakar, c. 1911, Postcard, Collotype, EEPA 2001-001-1176, Stephen Grant Postcard Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution




Friday, November 12, 2021

Hidden History: Lillian Evanti's Lobbying Contributes to the Creation of the Kennedy Center

 By Jennifer Sieck

This post is being published on November 12, the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the National Negro Opera Company in 1941.

At the same time, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021. It opened twelve years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed bipartisan legislation creating a national cultural center in 1958. However, the Evans-Tibbs Collection at the Anacostia Community Museum includes even earlier bills. House Resolutions (H.R.) 5397 and 8047 testify to the advocacy of Madam Lillian Evanti (1890-1967) in the early 1950s (see below). The international opera star lobbied for a national performing arts center in her native city of Washington, DC.

A graduate of Armstrong High School, Miner Teacher’s College, and Howard University, Evanti sang the role of Violetta in the National Negro Opera Company’s staging of La Traviata on the Water Gate barge, anchored just downstream from the Kennedy Center’s future location on the Potomac River. An August 28, 1943 performance drew an audience estimated at 12,000, and rave reviews inspired an encore show the following night. The Water Gate provided a rare, racially-integrated venue as segregation barred African Americans from many performance spaces, especially for large-scale productions like operas. This discrimination contributed to Evanti’s desire for a national arts center open to all.

Evanti’s handwriting on H.R. 5397 references H.R. 9111, the “most recent” bill as of May 1954. Stamps on the bills read “From Congressman Charles R. Howell,” who represented New Jersey’s 4th District and introduced H.R. 5397 on the House floor in May 1953. Representative John “Jack” Shelley of California introduced H.R. 8047 in February 1954. Both bills were referred to the Committee on Education and Labor. Groundbreaking for the Kennedy Center took place in 1964, three years before Evanti’s passing. 

Visit the Museum’s Collections page to see Madame Evanti’s custom-built piano, handheld fan, and opera glasses

Above: Reproduction of an article by Grace W. Tompkins and photos of La Traviata staged at the Water Gate in 1943 in A Pictorial History and Listing of Achievements of the National Negro Opera Company and National Negro Opera Company Foundation, 1959, p. 32-33. Co-stars William Coleman as Germont and Lillian Evanti as Violetta are pictured in the top right. All images from Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Jennifer Sieck

Collections Researcher

Anacostia Community Museum

Monday, October 18, 2021


By David Haberstich

October is American Archives Month! I’m celebrating it with this backstory and update to an SI Collections Blog post by former Smith College intern Kira Leinwand, published in late 2019. Kira’s insightful post, emphasizing the cultural dimensions of circus traditions, enthusiastically described some of the fascinating photographs in the NMAH Archives Center’s Dawn V. Rogala Circus Photographs and Papers, also the subject of a book entitled When the Circus Came to Town! An American Tradition in Photographs (Photographs by Dawn V. Rogala; Essays by Dawn V. Rogala,  David E. Haberstich, and Shannon T. Perich). Dr. Rogala, now a paintings conservator at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), was an amateur photojournalist during the years of her self-assigned circus project. See Kira’s article, "The Traditional, International American Circus."

On October 24 this book was awarded the 2021 Stuart Thayer Prize by the Circus Historical Society, so this is a fitting stimulus to update the story of the collection and the book. Don Covington, president of the society, wrote in an email announcing the award, “The award is presented annually by the Circus Historical Society in recognition of superior documentation of circus history. Your book, ‘When the Circus Came to Town,’ was deemed by the selection committee to be the top entry in a crowded field of competitors.”

Early on, Ginger Minkiewicz of the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press expressed interest in publishing a book on Dr. Rogala’s circus photographs. At the same time Dawn was concerned about preserving her photographs from this multi-year project in a suitable repository, and engaged in discussions with Shannon Perich of the NMAH Photographic History in the Division of Work and Industry and myself in the NMAH Archives Center. We both wanted Dawn’s photographs! We easily reached an appropriate compromise. Dawn donated her original negatives, work prints, and related papers from her circus project to the Archives Center, but also prepared a new portfolio of 16” x 20” exhibition-quality prints as a gift to the Photographic History Collection, giving new life to the documentary photographs she had created decades earlier.

Dawn was available to consult on the arrangement of her archive, although it was already in a logical, meaningful order when she delivered it to the Archives Center. I emphasize her role as a congenial consultant, as I know archivists and curators with cautionary tales about allowing donors to “curate” their own collections! Dawn worked with me and Kira Leinwand, answering questions, offering suggestions, and explaining how her working methods as a photographer had informed her decisions about arrangement. Processing was completed by Alison Oswald.

Dawn, Shannon, and I simultaneously embarked on a related collaboration, the creation of the lavishly illustrated scholarly book mentioned above, for which we all wrote essays. Dawn recounted her fascinating experiences in photographing a dozen small traveling circuses over a seven-year period, “embedded” with her subjects in much the same sense that war photographers are said to be embedded with the troops they follow and photograph. Shannon wrote about Dawn’s photographs within the historical context of circus, carnival, and entertainment photographs. As Dawn’s images concentrated on circus people and their behind-the-scenes work and relationships, rather than the spectacle of circus performances as entertainment, I chose to write about her images within the context of “work” photography and its history. Her pictures vividly depict the muscle work of practice and rehearsals, of erecting and dismantling tents, training animals, and the myriad efforts of performers and other workers to create a spectacle for audiences. I also contributed a preliminary finding for the archival collection and other reference material to an appendix in the book. All three of us reviewed each other’s texts, trying to meld them into a cohesive, informative, and entertaining volume. To me, our most rewarding collaboration was the selection, sequencing, and layout of the photographs to be reproduced in the book, conducted by all three of us in several long sessions in conference rooms with large tables. We seemed to be of a single mind, with no significant disagreements.

"Kiss, Carson & Barnes Circus, 1995," by Dawn V. Rogala. Copyright © Dawn V. Rogala. Reproduced with permission. Gelatin silver print, Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History. 

Ephemera from the Archives Center's Rogala Collection: Route Cards for Kelly Miller Circus and Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, 1995.

This archival collection contains a rich trove of information beyond the pictorial documentation, including interviews with circus performers and personnel, memorabilia and colorful ephemera, rare publications, travel itineraries, and related documents. One senses the end of an era, as most of the circuses which Dawn lovingly photographed no longer exist, literally having folded up their tents for the last time.

Our book serves as an extension of Dawn’s circus archive, as it contains her biographical commentary, observations, and fond reminiscences of her travels with the circuses. As a paintings conservator at the Smithsonian’s MCI, she employs the keen analytical eyes she developed as a documentary photographer. She also has to her credit a number of scholarly and scientific books and other publications in her field.

Now here’s the shameless plug: our book, When the Circus Came to Town! An American Tradition in Photographs / Photographs by Dawn V. Rogala, Essays by Dawn V. Rogala, David E. Haberstich, and Shannon T. Perich, is available from the usual sources, and would make a great Christmas/holiday gift!   

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Monday, October 4, 2021

Gardens: The Universal Language

By Taylor Elyea

In January 1937, one hundred forty-seven members of The Garden Club of America ventured on a nineteen-day trip to numerous sites in Mexico. Extensive documentation of that journey, now part of The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens, makes it clear that the members covered a vast array of Mexican landscapes, gardens, and sites. The group trekked to landscapes in Guaymas, Mazatlán, the Barrancas, Guadalajara, Uruapan, Pátzcuaro, Morelia, Mexico City, Taxco, Cuernavaca, and many other cities. One of the sites visited by the group was the former home of Zelia Nuttall (1857-1933), an aficionado of Mexican gardens and botany and notable American archaeologist.

Zelia Nuttall (1857-1933)

Born in San Francisco to a Mexican-American mother and Irish father, Zelia Nuttall’s love for the Mexican landscape ultimately culminated in her purchase of Casa Alvarado, a 16th-century mansion in Mexico City. Here she explored her newfound interest in Mexican gardens and botany by studying garden and landscape art as well as medicinal herbs. She authored the monograph, The Gardens of Ancient Mexico, which was reprinted in the Smithsonian’s Annual Report for 1923, and shared her love for Mexican landscapes by hosting many visitors in the gardens at her home.

GCA members at lunch in the gardens at Casa Alvarado, former home of scholar Zelia Nuttall. 

It was in these gardens that members of The Garden Club of America enjoyed a luncheon as guests of William Richardson, manager of the National City Bank’s Mexican branch. A copy of Nuttall’s article was provided to each GCA member, courtesy of the Garden Club of Mexico. 

Walled garden, the Churubusco Monastery. Both sites in Mexico City were just two of many visited by the GCA in January, 1937.

During their 1937 trip, GCA members met with their counterparts from a number of different garden clubs throughout Mexico.  A few lines from a detailed travelogue of the trip published in the March, 1937 Bulletin of The Garden Club of America sums up the universal tie that a shared love of gardens brings: “…we have left them with our hearts and our gratitude, eternally…we said goodbye to them with real affection and regret.”

Taylor Elyea
2021 Virtual Summer Intern 
Archives of American Gardens 

Monday, June 28, 2021

From March to Marketing: The Changing Face of Pride

By Franklin A. Robinson, Jr.

The Stonewall uprising of 1969 was triggered by a New York Police Department (NYPD) raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  Although a common NYPD practice at the time, on this particular occasion patrons rebelled and fought back, igniting the spark leading to the modern gay rights movements. The Archives Center at NMAH has been actively collecting documents, ephemera, and Pride-related materials since the early 2000s.

While the uprising may have been the spark, the marches commemorating the uprising the following year were the fire. The first celebrations, termed “Gay Liberation Day” or “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” later to be known as Pride, were held on June 27 and 28, 1970 in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, and San Francisco. Many LGBTQ organizations, including the Daughters of Bilitis, Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Liberation Front, the Mattachine Society, and others converged on these major cities to, in the words of one New York City marcher, “serve notice on every politician in the state and nation that homosexuals are not going to hide any more.” Even though the number of national and international Pride celebrations continues to grow annually, the road to universal celebration has not been smooth, with local LGBTQ organizations often encountering social and legal roadblocks before being allowed to celebrate. * 

Program for the Christopher Street Pride Celebration in Los Angeles, California, July 1976.

Central Intelligence Agency poster collected at Washington, DC Pride in 2019.

As the LGBTQ community has gained broader acceptance, one aspect of Pride that has changed radically is the corporate and community presence at Pride street fairs. During early Pride celebrations recognizable corporate logos, participating community organizations, churches, educational institutions, and locally based businesses were few or non-existent. During present-day celebrations more and more groups, businesses, and entities look to celebrate the event and compete to be a Pride sponsor. Multi-national corporations such as Comcast, Lockheed Martin, and Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP, actively promote their companies at Pride. Government agencies, among them, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Park Service, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) showcase their internal LGBTQ affinity groups as well as highlight employment opportunities. Colleges, universities, local businesses, and community organizations all vie for prime table space at Pride street fairs.

Modern day Pride has become an opportunity for not only celebration and commemoration but also for product and service advertising, educational and community organizations to dispense information, businesses to target potential customers, all the while remaining a diverse platform for performers, activists, and community leaders. The progression of Pride will be the subject of an upcoming NMAH Tuesday Colloquium on August 10, illustrated with items from the Archives Center's collections.

* Sources:

“Thousands of Homosexuals Hold a Protest Rally in Central Park,” Fosburgh, Lacey, New York Times, June 29, 1970, page 1.

“15 to 20,000 Join Homosexual March.” Battenfeld, John for United Press International. The Atlanta Constitution, June 29, 1970, page 2A.

“Homosexuals Get ACLU Aid in Fight for Parade Permit.” Houston, Paul, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1970, page A1.

“Homosexuals Stage Hollywood Parade,” Houston, Paul. Los Angeles Times, June 29, page 3.

“Gay Liberation Stages March to Civic Center,” Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1970, page A3.

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., Archivist, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

If you wish to attend Franklin Robinson's August 10 colloquium on Zoom, which will feature Archives Center collection items, contact David Haberstich at

Seeking Pride in Our Collections

By Hannah Byrne 

Like so many employees across the Smithsonian (and at museums, libraries, archives, and cultural heritage institutions around the world), at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives we are anxious to get back into collections to pick up research projects we put down at the start of the pandemic.  At the Archives, we help collect, preserve, and tell the stories of Smithsonian employees and community members. One research project that was halted by our departure, was looking more closely at our collections to understand the history and experience of LGBTQ+ employees at the Institution. 

As we celebrate Pride this year, we’re looking back at one of the founding documents of the Smithsonian Lesbian and Gay Issues Committee. In this memo, Smithsonian employees Leonard Hirsch and Eric Keller, as representatives of the committee, sought formal recognition from Smithsonian administration for the group to operate and advocate effectively for LGBTQ+ employees across the Institution. The memo--luckily for us was already digitized--accompanied the group’s founding guidelines. We learn so much from this document: the group’s origin and connection to National Coming Out Day, the invisibility of LGBTQ+ employees at the Smithsonian, and the work they hope to accomplish as an advocacy group. When we return to the archives, we hope to explore more collections related to this topic to learn more about this group, more about the diversity of their members, more about their initiatives, and more about their successes and challenges to advocate for LGBTQ+ employees at the Institution. 

Memorandum from Leonard P. Hirsch to James Early, June 3, 1991, page 1, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 15-218, Image no. SIA2017-045374a.

Memorandum from Leonard P. Hirsch to James Early, June 3, 1991, page 2, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 15-218, Image no. SIA2017-045374b.

Hannah Byrne, Program Assistant, Institutional History Division,