Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Digging into History

Last year I started volunteering at the local history museum. There are tons of things which need cataloguing and sorting and there is no money for professional help, so we are a group of anal retentive types who can put our neuroses to work for the betterment of the community. At first I was reordering a confusion of files with no discernible purpose. There were ads, obituaries, letters, newspaper articles, typewritten memoirs, meeting minutes, etc., etc. It was slow work, mainly because there were many interesting things to read about people whose names are familiar in the community, or places I've always wondered about. I also thought it a shame that we were saving all this paper when it is much more efficient to digitize this stuff.

That led to my doing exactly that. I have been scanning one old scrapbook and there are others waiting for me. This scrapbook is fascinating and reminds me of one my great-grandfather kept (which is in the hands of some niece or nephew who I hope takes good care of it.) The particular scrapbook keeper whose work I am scanning clipped just about every birth, marriage and death annoucement from the local paper in the early part of the 1900s. There are occasional poems or inspirational pieces as well. The items describing the deaths of people are very specific and blunt: "After days of agony brought on by a disease of the stomach.."; "Having collapsed of a cerebral hemorrhage.."; "Distressed after losing his job, he was found..." The headlines over these tales of tragedy are flowery, and the young women are always described as lovely and pure and much adored by the community.

Right now I am researching the history of a signature quilt sewn in 1890 by the women of the Unitarian Universalist Church. We are sure that it was made as a fund raiser for a women's suffrage rally held in November of 1890, for which the Kent Opera House was rented. Two prominent suffragettes were brought in for the rally which was chaired by Abby Danforth who was the minister of the UU church at the time. There are signatures of every prominent man and woman of the town and we think that perhaps they paid to have their names embroidered on the quilt, thus raising money for the rally. I have been squinting at microfilm of the Ravenna Republican newspaper from 1889-90 at one of the local libraries searching for news of this great rally, but apparently it wasn't as important as reprints of bad poetry and farm news

My next step is to examine the church archives which are up at the KSU library special collections. Sally has worked on the church history, especially the story of Abby Danforth, so she has been a lot of help, and clued me in about the suffragette rally. The quilt will be featured in the summer exhibit at the museum. Then I can get back to my scrapbooks.


Yosustah said...

Fascinating stuff. Good for you to volunteer for such important work.

Nancy said...

Are you certain about 1890 as the date? I suspect that you couldn't find the event in the papers because you got the date wrong! Try 1900. See http://www.recordpub.com/opinion/2016/07/31/portage-pathways-susan-b-anthony-got-cold-shoulder-from-portage-press