From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.
What is your job title?
Senior Officer for Public Relations and Marketing
When did you begin working at the VHS?
I began working at the VHS on March 21, 2012.
What are your job duties?
My job duties include:
- advancing the mission of the VHS by promoting programs, events, and exhibitions, and by developing public relations, marketing, communications, advertising, and social media strategies
- dealing directly with media outlets and sources, both seeking publicity for the VHS and responding to inquiries for images and information
- protecting and maintaining the integrity of the VHS in all endeavors related to publicity
How did you become interested in history?
I became interested in history and my family’s genealogy when I first studied Virginia history in third grade. I wanted to know how my ancestors came to Virginia. I still have old drawings of family trees I sketched at my grandparents’ house when I was a little girl and scraps of paper on which I recorded names of long-gone relatives that my grandmother recited to me during car trips on family vacations. As I grew up, I became interested in art history, which I studied extensively to write my MFA thesis in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
What is the favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is meeting new people every day and sharing with them my enthusiasm for Virginia history and tourism.
What has been your most memorable moment at the VHS?
There have been many memorable moments at the VHS, but my favorite memories are of the annual members-only Garden Party. It is my favorite event of the year. I love to dress up and see all of our members enjoying themselves at Virginia House.
What is your favorite item in your office? Why?
My favorite item in my office is a vintage cat statue that has been passed around the VHS for many years and was given to me by a cat-loving colleague.
What is your favorite collection piece at the VHS?
My favorite piece in the VHS collection is the portrait of Winnie Davis. There are many beautiful and important portraits in the VHS collection, but no other portrait is more striking to me.
What is your favorite historical period?
My favorite historical period is the time of the greatest generation. I love everything about the 1940s, especially the music. I feel that I understand that time period more deeply than any other by simply having known and loved my grandparents.
What are you hobbies?
My hobbies include documenting my life through photography and film, collecting and categorizing old family photographs and postcards, corresponding by letters and cards to friends and family, and participating in alumni activities and fundraising for St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Va., and Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.
If you did not work at the VHS, what would you be doing?
If I did not work at the VHS, I would buy a winning lottery ticket and plan a trip around the globe. I would visit every great museum in the world.
During my nearly eight years at the VHS, I’ve had many instances where I’ve needed to stop and do a double take.
We need you to photograph a small pox scab.
Those bears are on leashes.
Wait. What is going on there?
J. E. B. Stuart signed his pants.
Wait. Really? [not really, but someone signed them for him]
When I digitized a set of daguerreotypes this summer I made that familiar pause again.
Wait. Didn’t I just see this image?
It turns out that the two daguerreotypes of Lucy Goode Tucker Chambers that I was holding were mirror images of one another. It took me a while to determine what was going on. I compared the ribbon on her bonnet, the swag of her watch chain, and even the book on which she rests her elbow. Did she just shift her weight to the other side, or was it the same image in reverse?
I confirmed it by digitally flipping and overlaying one image on top of the other. After a slight resizing, it was a perfect match. What a unique find!
Daguerreotypes are the earliest form of permanent photographic imagery. They are made by capturing an image on a polished silver-coated, light-sensitive copper plate, which is developed with mercury vapor and fixed with a salt solution. Because the finished plate is viewed from the side that was closest to the subject, when the daguerreotype is created, the image is laterally reversed—a mirror image. The use of a reflective prism could produce a right-reading image, but that was rarely done primarily because the resulting light loss would require already-long exposure times to be even longer. To get a right-reading image, the easiest solution was to make a daguerreotype of the daguerreotype. The resulting copy would read correctly.
The Library of Congress has an interesting daguerreotype in their collection that shows a house with a picket fence. A landscape view like this is something that would be important to view in the correct orientation, not mirrored. To solve this problem, a mirror was included in the daguerreotype case so that the viewer could look at the photo of the house through the mirror and see a correctly oriented house and street scene. Ahhh, home feels like home again.
Each daguerreotype is a one-of-a-kind photograph. Because there is no negative, there is no way to produce a subsequent print.
With this set of portraits of Chambers we are left wondering if we have two images because 1) someone wanted a right-reading image or 2) someone wanted a second copy. We’ll never know for sure, but we can enjoy this example of early photography either way.
To learn more about the process of making a daguerreotype, check out this excellent video from The J. Paul Getty Museum:
Meg M. Eastman is the Digital Collections Manager at the Virginia Historical Society.
A Toy to End All Toys
These figures, dressed in Red Cross uniforms and English Brodie helmets worn during the First World War, were created by German company O&M Hausser, which made toy soldiers, cowboys, Indians, and medieval knights before closing in 1983. The soldiers are made from elastoline, the company’s trademarked material made primarily from saw dust and glue. August 2014 marked the centennial of the start of the First World War—a four-year-long global conflict that resulted in over thirty seven million military and civilian casualties.
The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at vahistorical.org.
We welcome Colin Woodward as guest author of this post. Woodward used the VHS’s extensive Civil War collections while writing his recently published book. In addition to being one of our Mellon Fellows in 2003, he also joined the VHS staff as a project archivist from April 2007 to September 2010.
The writing of my first book, Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War took fourteen years to complete. I began it as a graduate student at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Initially, my research involved many hours digging through letters, diaries, and memoirs at the library, which was only a short walk under the live oaks from my history department office. Eventually, though, I realized I needed to immerse myself in archival sources. As a dissertation student, the special collections at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library had rich sources on Civil War life and slavery in the lower Mississippi Valley. But because I was researching the “entire” Confederate army, I knew I needed to travel to an archive in Virginia.
I chose the Virginia Historical Society (VHS). I applied for a two-week Mellon research fellowship. My application was successful, and I headed to Richmond. It was a snowy week in January of 2003 when I journeyed to the former capital of the Confederacy for the first time. I stayed, as have many graduate students before me, at the bed and breakfast on Kensington Avenue across the street from the VHS.
I was impressed by the professionalism at the society. The formality of the place was a bit intimidating when I had to talk at the “informal” colloquium for Mellon fellows. At the Wednesday morning colloquium, I was seated at a table filled with well-dressed archivists and historians who asked me some tough questions about my research. Not only were there men with ties, but there were also men in suits. To put this in perspective, during my eight years at LSU, I never saw my dissertation advisor in a tie, let alone a suit.
My first week of research at the VHS was one of the best of my life. What the VHS had on Confederate soldiers was more than I could ever look at in a week or two. It would’ve been nice to stay for months.
Not only did I have the pleasure of uninterrupted Civil War research, but I also fell in love with Richmond. The city is full of history and interesting people. I found that some of the strangers I met in pubs actually wanted to hear about my research.
I also visited the Byrd Theater for the first time, where I saw Bob Gulledge on the “Mighty Wurlitzer.” Entering the Byrd is like going back in time, and it has the uncomfortable seats to prove it. As I walked home from seeing The Ring, snow fell on RVA.
On my way home after a second visit to Richmond that summer, I was getting out of a taxi at the airport when the cabby handed me his card. “But I won’t be back,” I said. “You’ll be back,” he promised. He was right. Two years after graduating from LSU, I was working as an archivist at the VHS.
My research at the society enriched the book that became Marching Masters. But there is more to an archive than letters and diaries. The VHS benefits from a first-rate staff that is knowledgeable and friendly. The reading room is splendid. Any researcher interested in Virginia should go there.
Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.
My nephew once challenged me to a duel. We matched wits with two retro-cool Star Wars light sabers, which he had received for his birthday. I prevailed over my young challenger (I believe he was five), but he was a sore loser and claimed I had cheated. Years later, when I see my former adversary, we continue to debate the intricacies of that duel. I still cannot convince him of my prowess, but I did concede that my height—I was roughly three feet taller at the time—likely provided me at least a slight advantage.
Such frivolity, of course, does not square with duels that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the United States and elsewhere, traditional and patriarchal conceptions of honor prescribed that men could respond to perceived slights by challenging the offender to a duel. Many Virginians earnestly engaged in such affairs, believing that their participation would mark them as “honorable” men. People in the vicinity took note of the outcomes of these rituals. A public contesting of honor in this format offered high stakes for one’s standing in his community. As Bertram Wyatt-Brown observed, in his book Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South,
“The duel, no less than hospitality and gaming, was inseparable from community evaluation of the individual, although dueling . . . was alleged to be a defense of personal honor.”
A number of these events evolved from insults lodged in print, frequently in the midst of political debates. The historian John Hope Franklin once observed that “no class of Southerner, perhaps, went to the field of honor more frequently than newspaper editors.” Meriwether Jones provided proof of Franklin’s assertion. An editor of the Richmond Examiner, and famous for his temper, Jones engaged in a number of duels—until, finally, an adversary killed him, in 1806.
One of the more famous duels in Virginia involved two other Richmond newspaper editors, Thomas Ritchie, Jr. (ca. 1820-1854), and John Hampden Pleasants (1797-1846). Ritchie, who worked for the Enquirer, engaged in a bitter debate with John Hampden Pleasants of the Richmond Whig. Although Pleasants opposed dueling in principle, after Ritchie called him a “coward”—in print—Pleasants felt compelled to respond by challenging Ritchie to a duel. The two met on the south side of the James River in 1846. Pleasants shot into the air, intentionally avoiding Ritchie, but Ritchie took no such mercy and mortally wounded Pleasants. According to the historian Virginius Dabney, in his last moments Pleasants asked that Ritchie not be prosecuted and said “What a damned immolation, to be such slaves to public opinion!” Indeed.
The daguerreotype seen below features another victim of a duel—Martha Anne Fletcher Hardaway Shore. Probably born about 1798, Martha Shore did not participate in a duel, but lost her husband to such a confrontation. The inscription enclosed with the daguerreotype, found in our Museum Collections, claims the following: “Martha Fletcher, daughter of James Fletcher of ‘Somerset,’ widow of Dr. Hardaway (killed by Mr. Bacon in a duel). Second marriage to Dr. Robert Shore.”
Today, we often complain about the dysfunctional process of our political leaders in Washington. But perhaps inertia (if, alas, accompanied by much hyperbole) is preferable to deciding matters in a duel, as was the case when John Randolph (1773-1833) confronted Henry Clay (1777-1852). Randolph, a congressman from Virginia, was widely considered an eccentric. Though he possessed a quick mind, sharp wit, and formidable political skills, one of his biographers has also noted his rather odd qualities: “As a young man Randolph suffered a mysterious malady that left him beardless, treble-voiced, and attenuated. He never married; rumor gathered around his apparent lack of masculinity.” Eccentricities aside, Randolph also was well-known for his volcanic temper. In a speech given in the House of Representatives, in 1826, Randolph castigated the administration of President John Quincy Adams—singling out then-Secretary of State Henry Clay, of Kentucky, for an especially harsh attack. Clay took umbrage. Within a few days, Clay claimed in a letter to the Virginian that he had “no other alternative than that of demanding personal satisfaction.” Randolph accepted the challenge.The match was set for 8 April 1826. Randolph insisted that it should take place in Virginia because, reportedly, should he lose he wanted to die on Virginia soil. However, the duel proved anticlimactic. In the interim between Clay’s challenge and the date of the clash, Randolph had confided to friends that he did not intend to kill his opponent. Clay, for his part, apparently shared Randolph’s reluctance to follow through. At the fateful meeting, Clay fired the first shot but missed Randolph by a distance that convinced observers he had not intended to hit his purported target. Randolph returned fire—his only shot of the day—and though he was known to be a marksman, he missed Clay entirely. Clay’s second shot penetrated Randolph’s cloak, but did not graze him. At that point, rather than aim at Clay, Randolph shot into the air, and then moved toward Clay with his hand extended. According to witnesses, Randolph said “Mr. Clay, you owe me a coat.” Clay responded that “I am glad the debt is no greater,” and with that, the two leaders then walked from the field together.
The Randolph-Clay duel made me wonder if, perhaps, such confrontations were somehow cathartic (if rather dangerous). Perhaps someone should suggest a similar, but less deadly, exchange for our leaders in Washington today—maybe a game of dodgeball? In the meantime, I should get in touch with my nephew. I think I owe him a beer.
John McClure is the Reference department manager at the Virginia Historical Society.
Though you might not expect it, 1932 was a big year for George Washington. It marked the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth and launched a year-long birthday party on a national scale.
Congress officially established the George Washington Bicentennial Commission to oversee and promote the celebratory events. Cities, schools, civic organizations, and private individuals across the nation planned ways to remember Washington as the greatest American hero—from parades and reenactments to essay competitions and special school courses on his significance. With Congress’ support, the bicentennial commission put out a flurry of publications of Washington’s papers and new scholarship on his life. The commission especially encouraged the participation of children in order to promote the importance of Washington to the next generation.
Americans invested so heavily in this celebration for several reasons. For one, the milestone coincided with the height of colonial revivalism—a national infatuation with all things colonial. In 1932, Washington and his era were very much in style. The Great Depression also played a role. During hard times Americans tended to look to the past to give hope for the future. Remembering how Washington overcame adversity inspired many twentieth-century Americans that they could do the same.
It was while conducting research for my undergraduate thesis on Ferry Farm (George Washington’s boyhood home near Fredericksburg, Va.) that I first learned about the 1932 bicentennial. I was immediately shocked and intrigued by the passionate, adoring language used during the celebration. Since coming to the Virginia Historical Society, I’ve enjoyed finding more of that same 1932 Washington craze in the society’s collections.
Of particular interest are several pieces of sheet music composed specifically for the birthday bicentennial. That the 1930s inspired such revival of Washingtonian songs is remarkable enough, but listen to some of the language used in these tunes:
“Washington, Savior of our Race/ Man of charm and grace/ Great Father of our Country/ Thy name we honor and adore.” – “My Washington Grand,” 1930
“Onward on! Ye stalwart sons of freedom. Shout out ‘George Washington’ with cheer! Praise the leader of our nation true, praise him year by year. . . . Hail to the father of our glorious land, for he gave us liberty!” – “Washington Forever”
“The glorious name of Washington shall glow with fire immortal!” – “The Glorious Name of Washington,” 1931.
This sheet music truly captured the spirit of the age and the remarkably passionate way Americans in that year chose to remember George Washington. The Washington of these songs resembles less of the human George, the Virginian who became the nation’s first president, and more of Washington the legend—the superhero. Perhaps remembering their revolutionary beginnings in this way gave Americans courage to face the trying days of the Great Depression.
In these lyrics, and most of the language of the 1932 bicentennial, Washington becomes not only the embodiment of all things American but also the figure who continues to guide the nation in spirit. Some of the lyrics even take on a religious tone, portraying Washington as immortal and his memory as sacred:
“His spirit is here/ His spirit is here/ He’s standing, commanding above/ In word and deed we follow the lead/ Of the father of the land we love.”
Americans in the early 1930s loved George Washington, and took his 200th birthday as an opportunity to show it. His memory still looms large in modern American culture; however, it would be rare today to hear someone express the type of love for our first president demonstrated in this bicentennial sheet music.
To see the sheet music collection and dozens of publications from the George Washington Bicentennial Commission, visit the Reading Room at the Virginia Historical Society.
Candice Roland is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.
Baby showers, Easter, church dinners, my niece’s wedding, Fourth of July picnics, a funeral of a friend from church, vacations with family and friends, prayer shawl meetings, festivals (yes, even the Virginia Festival of the Book), Virginia Historical Society staff birthdays, Sunday dinners, and even working Saturdays in the VHS library are some of the reasons I have used my cookbook collection this year. I am blessed to live in a country where food can be found in abundance. My vegetable garden did very poorly this year, and I am grateful that I live close to a grocery store, where I can buy a tomato to supplement my meager homegrown supply! This is so different from the situation Virginians faced during World War I.
During World War I, the United States, even before declaring war, encouraged its citizens to share their bounty with the soldiers and citizens of the Allied Powers in Europe and Great Britain. The United States grew more food than any other country, and it became so important to the cause that Germans attacked ships carrying food along with other war supplies across the Atlantic. After formally declaring war on Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order creating the U. S. Food Administration that August to assure the supply, distribution, and conservation of food during the war. Herbert Hoover was appointed administrator of the Food Administration, and he appealed to the American people’s sense of patriotism when he called upon them to sacrifice through voluntary food rationing and substitutes. He stated in his memoirs that his job was to ask people to “Go back to simple food, simple clothes, simple pleasures. Pray hard, work hard, sleep hard and play hard. Do it all courageously and cheerfully.” By the end of the war, fourteen million Americans (primarily women) joined the Food Administration by signing the membership cards found in their publications.
And these women collected and produced cookbooks:
In all of these cookbooks, the most appealing recipe to me is for war candy. Ingredients are simply sweet chocolate, raisins, and vanilla and remind me of the raisinettes that my girlfriend Karen eats at the movies! If you want to try it, the recipe is below, or you can get a sample on the World War I Behind the Scenes tour on Saturday August 30, 2014. There you will see our cookbook collection (as well as the staff kitchen!) and other amazing treasures from World War I.
Paulette Schwarting is Director of Technical Services at the Virginia Historical Society.