A lesser-known name in the history of Westover Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, is Clarise Sears Ramsey, who owned the plantation from 1899 to 1921. The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) has a small collection of silver and photographs associated with Ramsey and Westover during that period of ownership. The collection came from Clarise’s daughter, Elisabeth Sears Harrold, who never married and who left the collection to her friend Anna Agassiz (Mrs. Gordon Chickering) Prince (1896–1973). She then passed it to her eldest son and his wife, who donated the collection to the VHS in 1991.
Clarise Sears Ramsey
Charlotte Clarise Sears Risley Harrold Ramsey (1867–1922), whose parents were Joseph Henry Risley and Mary Elizabeth Bishop, was a descendant on her mother’s side of Benjamin Bishop, who served in the American Revolution. Clarise is also said to be a Byrd descendant. According to a letter written by Elisabeth Harrold in 1932, a transcript copy of which is in the VHS collection, Clarise is descended from Mary Shippen Willing Byrd (1740–1814), the second wife of William Byrd III (1728–1777).
Clarise was married twice. She had her three children with her first husband, Elam Worthington Harrold (1839–1897). The children were John Sears Harrold (1887–1955); Bishop Sears Harrold (1888–1954), and Elisabeth Sears Harrold (1893–1965). They lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ventura County, California. After Elam’s death, the family moved to Virginia.
Moving to Westover
In 1900, after Clarise purchased Westover—when her children were twelve, eleven and six—she married her second husband, William McCreery Ramsey (b. 1868), but the marriage did not last. She is listed in the 1910 census as divorced. According to the current owners of Westover, William traveled from California to Virginia with Clarise and the children.
Clarise is credited with having Westover modernized. This process included rebuilding the east wing, which had been struck by cannon fire and burned during the Civil War, and constructing the “hyphens” that connect the main house to the previously separate dependencies, creating one long building.
Elisabeth Sears Harrold
The collection consists of several photographs by Edward Hughes and his daughter, Alice Hughes, of Elisabeth Sears Harrold (1893–1965), Clarise’s youngest daughter, and a print from a dry-point etching of Elisabeth by Arthur Garfield Learned (1872–1959) made in October 1912. Alice Mary Hughes (1857–1939) was the oldest daughter of society portrait painter, Edward Hughes (1832–1908). She opened a studio in London as the first gentlewoman professional photographer in 1891 next to her father’s studio. Clarise and Elisabeth traveled to England at least six times between 1905 and 1918, when Elisabeth was between the ages of twelve and twenty-five.
The collection has several pieces of silver that Clarise purchased in London and had engraved with her initials, “CSR,” or monogrammed “CR” or “R,” including a pair of pepper casters, salt cellars, a sugar caster, a tea caddy, and a pair of glass decanters, one of which had an engraved silver lid.
Clarise Sears Ramsey sold Westover in 1921 to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Crane. In 1922, Clarise died in London. The Cranes’s great-granddaughter and her family currently make Westover their home and care for this special historic landmark.
For information about Westover, please visit their website http://westover-plantation.com/visit.htm
My thanks go out to the Fisher and Erda families; the Charles City County Center for Local History and Westover Plantation for their assistance.
Rebecca Ansell Rose is the VHS registrar.
The VHS is proud to announce that HistoryConnects, its award-winning distance learning outreach education initiative, has passed a huge milestone—on November 15, 2013, it surpassed the 10,000 mark for students participating in its programs. This includes learners of all ages, from all over the country, who have been exposed to Virginia history through interactive video conferencing (IVC), Skype, or web conferencing since the initiative launched in January 2012.
In just the second half of November, the education staff have conducted thirty-five programs for more than 1,000 learners in Virginia, Washington, D.C., California, New York, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Indiana. These include grades K-12, senior centers, public schools, private schools, a charter school, and a correctional facility.
Additionally, the VHS education staff members have really been challenged with their latest program offering, simply entitled “Ask Us.” With the Ask Us program teachers and students contact the society with an area of history that they have an interest in learning more about, and the staff comb through VHS collections to see what can be put together for them. Initially we expected this to be something that would be used mostly toward to the end of the year when teachers were short on time while still long on history to teach, but we had requests the first week! One of the first subjects that Virginia fourth graders need to master is the geography of the Old Dominion in order to establish an understanding of where their ancestors lived. By using the impressive collection of maps at the VHS, we were able to create a program that has been popular enough to be added to our regular catalog!
Students in a middle school English class outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were reading the historical novel Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. The teacher contacted us hoping that we could help them better understand the history of slavery in New York City during the American Revolution. After giving a tentative yes (we only accept the challenge if we feel like our knowledge and collections can really enhance a topic), staff member Chris Van Tassell combed through VHS materials and found several links between Virginia and the story the class was reading, and he delivered three incredibly successful programs. “Students were engaged from start to finish,” said Kimberly Koch, eight grade English teacher at Lenape Middle School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “Students had exciting and thought-provoking questions as a result of the presentation. Their ability to visualize the real history behind the novel we are reading is much more in-depth. As an English teacher, the amount of research I would’ve needed to complete to deliver this material wouldn’t have been manageable. Using the VHS enabled me to really speak to kids about primary sources. They have a good sense of the setting of their text, they’ve linked Social Studies and English, and they see the importance of primary sources to research. I would recommend the VHS HistoryConnects programs to any educator looking to enhance classroom instruction.”
Most recently, we were asked to use our treasures to draw comparisons between the settlers who were establishing the Jamestown colony in 1607 with the Pilgrims, who a third and fourth grade class in New Albany, Indiana, had been studying. Resources like John Smith’s map of Virginia, replica artifacts from the lives of the Powhatan Indians, and a 1622 broadside, which detailed the provisions a settler would need to make it in the New World, allowed these students to make connections that surprised even their instructor, Scott Burch. “There were several interesting facts that I didn’t know about. The kids are also focusing on comparing and contrasting in their English class, so this worked beautifully as a cross-curricular program for us! We are ordering another program next month!”
The ability to continue to create new programs and highlight different aspects of Virginia history with audiences around the country is incredibly exciting, and we never know what we might be asked to look at next!
Evan Liddiard is Senior Education Specialist at the Virginia Historical Society.
On Friday, November 22, 1963, in an elementary classroom at Flint Hill Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia, the principal’s voice over the intercom alerted us to turn on our television. The president of the United States had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Those black and white TVs were the latest technology in schools. We watched space launches and broadcasts about the Cuban missile crisis to monitor news events that had profound personal effect on our lives. As we listened that afternoon, Walter Cronkite announced that John Fitzgerald Kennedy had died. The room became deathly still. As a little girl, it was my first experience with anyone I knew dying. For the Kennedys seemed like a part of our family as we watched them on television each evening. JFK’s son John John was the same age as my little brother. I fantasized that my mom, who had beautiful dark hair, was just like Jackie Kennedy. When my Dad, who worked in Washington, D.C., for the navy, returned home, he had tears in his eyes. It is the only time I remember him crying.
We spent the weekend glued to our TV. There was no CNN. Television stations signed off at midnight to the “Star Spangled Banner.” We did attend church on Sunday and promptly returned to our TV where we watched Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald. Monday was a national day of mourning. We returned to church and then to our television to watch the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. A riderless horse from Fort Myer followed the funeral cassion.
I looked at my little brother as John, Jr., saluted his father’s coffin. As the flight of fifty jet fighters and Air Force One flew over the grave, I could not only hear but also feel them fly over our house.
When I came to work at the Virginia Historical Society, we received a copy of a first edition of JFK’s book Profiles in Courage, which he inscribed to Ralph Catterall, a Richmond lawyer and member of the state corporation commission from 1949 to 1973. Catterall pasted in this book an image of Kennedy that appeared in the newspaper following his assassination and the Christmas cards he received while Kennedy served in the U.S. Senate. The book even has its original dustjacket, so we had a special box made for it, and it became part of our rare book collection.
After the death of John Kennedy, innumerable books were published about him and his legacy. The country was trying to cope with his loss and remember him both as a president and a person with both gifts and flaws. In A Torch Is Passed, Saul Pett remarks: “We write in the hope that those who come after us will find an insight and wisdom and a workable moral out of these events which so far elude us who lived them.” Many of these books have come to our collections from the Virginia donors who owned them.
And donors have been generous in sharing other Kennedy keepsakes as well. Memoirs, correspondence, typewritten accounts of the assassination, oral histories, programs, postcards, political buttons, front page headlines, inauguration tickets, photographs and funeral fans with the images of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The latest donation is a copy of Larry Sabato’s new book, The Kennedy Half Century, that he inscribed to the Virginia Historical Society. The study of the presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is still not complete as his influence as a president continues into the twenty-first century.
Paulette Schwarting is Director of Technical Services at the Virginia Historical Society.
When the Virginia Historical Society publications department was putting together the last issue of History Notes, I got a phone call informing me that there was a typo in the title of our November Behind the Scenes Tour “MoVember: A History of Facial Hair.” That’s not a typo, I said, “It’s an actual thing!”
Since it started a decade ago in Melbourne, Australia, Movember has “grown” into a global movement. According to their website, there are now more than 3 Million “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” participating in twenty-one countries. Men can join the movement by growing a Mo (slang for mustache) for the 30-days of November and asking friends and family to donate to their effort to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Last year over 1.1 million people (209,000 in the United States) raised $147 million.
The variety of facial hair styles across the United States seems to be at its highest since the American Civil War. In addition to growing it today, there’s also an interest who grew it in the past. Yesterday I found myself playing a card game in which players needed to identify famous people based on a silhouettes of their facial hair. Although we may take it for granted, it’s important to remember that growing, or not growing, facial hair is a visual symbol of a man’s identity within a particular community. The circle beard popular when John Smith arrived at Jamestown was unfashionable in 1700. The smooth shave of the 1950s gave way to the handlebar mustaches of the 1970s. As for me, I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with facial hair.
If you’re interested in learning more about the long (and occasionally short) story of facial hair in Virginia and seeing what kind of facial hair I decide to wear, join me on our “MoVember” Behind the Scenes Tour on Saturday, November 30, at 10:30 a.m. No beards required.
Andrew Talkov is head of program development and coordinator for Virginia’s Civil War at the Virginia Historical Society.
Defined as no more than three inches in height or width, miniature books were first produced with convenience in mind. Early miniature books mainly consisted of moral texts with simple bindings, such as Bibles or books of common prayer, hymnals, and books on etiquette, that could be carried in coat pockets or small purses.
One example from the Virginia Historical Society’s collection is a canary-yellow Book of Common Prayer published around 1890 in England. The 688 pages inside the five-and-a-half-centimeter-tall book contain the entire Book of Psalms, a calendar of holy days, and prayers for a multitude of religious services.
The Diamond Songster, a collection of Irish ballads published in 1812, is an even older work that appears to have gotten a lot of use throughout its life. Though not technically a hymnal, the two-and-a-half-inch work is a good example of a nineteenth-century miniature songbook simply bound with unadorned pages for purely utilitarian purposes.
As books became more affordable and common by the twentieth century, subject matter as well as the purposes of miniature books expanded. They were used to conceal controversial literature, extremely small works could be slipped into packages as advertisements, and children’s stories were printed in miniature for their convenience. Books also began to be printed in miniature to showcase the skills of a particular printer or printing press.
Robert Archer’s The Night after Christmas, printed at Attic Press in Richmond, Virginia, is a cautionary tale for children about overindulging during the holidays. Although a children’s story, the marbled covering on the two-and-a-half-inch binding, hand-painted illustrations, and decorative text are clearly intended to display the talent of the artists who assembled the work.
A more recent acquisition is Mary Ann Brandt’s Miniature Finger Paintings, printed at another Richmond press, Cyclone Books. Creating a three-inch miniature book with full-size reproductions of the artist’s miniature paintings perfectly captures the spirit of paintings while showing the artistic talent of the press.
Today, miniature books are more popular than ever and even have their own society. The books cover a wide variety of topics and can be utilitarian, works of art, or a combination of both. The VHS itself has twenty-five unique miniature books ranging from the Bible to famous speeches to literary works, with the smallest tome, Addresses of Abraham Lincoln, measuring in at just two centimeters tall.
Although it may be necessary to bring a magnifying glass, these works can be freely viewed in the society’s reading room.
Amber Jones is cataloging library assistant at the Virginia Historical Society.
If you haven’t heard the news, October is Virginia Archives Month! The Virginia Historical Society has so many items in its vast collection that it is difficult to focus on just one. So for Virginia Archives Month, I thought I would share a poem about a few of my favorite things at the VHS. Please feel free to connect with your inner Julie Andrews.
Rare books on shelves and postcards in scrapbooks
Civil War uniforms and holiday placards
Diaries and journals and “hairloom” rings
These are a few of my favorite things
Best Products records and Lane Company ads
Letters of Governor Dinwiddie and a smallpox scab*
Broadsides and sheet music and genealogies by George Harrison Sanford King
These are a few of my favorite things
Black and white photographs and a George Washington survey
Mary Custis Lee’s trunks and Governor Spotswood’s diaries
Colonial portraits and maps of Virginia springs
These are a few of my favorite things
When my archival spatula breaks
When I can’t find the linen tape
When my mechanical pencil jams
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
*Please note that the smallpox scab does not contain any virus and has been cleared by the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
Paige Newman is an Assistant Archivist at the Virginia Historical Society and a celebrator of Virginia Archives Month all year long.
October is Archives Month, and to help celebrate, here is the true story of why, or rather, how I became an archivist.
By the end of my first semester of college, I had run through all of the money I had saved up from my summer job. Though I was lucky to have parents who could pay my tuition and room and board (at the then-cheap state university, mind you), spending money was my responsibility. So, first thing upon my return to campus, I hit the student job center.
Two positions looked like something I could handle. One was as a lab dishwasher in the entomology department, located in the sub-basement of one of the science buildings. I went on an interview where I learned that I would have to use a Geiger counter to test for radiation before touching anything. I also met my “office mates,” Madagascar Hissing Roaches, who had a tendency to escape and run riot. The very nice man who showed me around told me that the current project was to create a pesticide that would solve the serious insect infestation in campus dormitories. (As a dorm dweller, I can tell you that they did, indeed, solve that problem, to the point I never, ever saw another live insect in any dorm.)
The second position was in the college archives, located on the top floor of the graduate library. My job would be to help the associate archivist label folders and boxes of the records of a former dean of libraries. All I would need is neat handwriting—no use of the Geiger counter required. There might be the occasional insect, but it would most certainly be dead. The office smelled of slightly musty books, not deadly chemicals. The choice was not hard to make.
And this is where I learned an important lesson. No matter how boring the collection appears on the surface (the dean of libraries?), there is always something interesting lurking below. This dean had served in the mid-seventies, when there had been protests, student sit-ins, and a semi-riot that broke thousands of windows across the campus. There were also several young men who attached mirrors to the tops of their shoes and went around looking up the skirts of young women. And anyone who has ever spent any time in an academic library knows that there are always those pesky restrooms, where smoking is the least offensive behavior!
That semester job continued until graduation, interrupted only by summer internships at the state archives. From there it was on to graduate school and my first professional position. And to think I owe it all to those Madagascar Hissing Roaches!
Eileen Parris is the archivist at the Virginia Historical Society.