It is a rare treat for me to have a chance to process some 19th century family letters. The family papers of Col. David S. Wilson, from Dubuque, Iowa, arrived in March 2014, thanks to a generous donation from the Kirby, Pfohl, and Quigley Family. The collection was discovered in an attic. It reached the Rubenstein Library as it was discovered, with rusty pins and covered in black dust. Considering its age and environment, the letters themselves were in terrific condition — just filthy. A lot of my time was spent cleaning the paper with special sponges that attract grime.
I was pleasantly surprised by the contents of the letters. Col. David S. Wilson is moderately famous in Iowa history for his service in the state legislature in the 1850s and early 1860s, and for raising the 6th Iowa Cavalry in 1862. His regiment fought the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. Wilson later worked as a lawyer in both San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and eventually was appointed district judge back in Dubuque.
The collection does not focus on Wilson’s military career, but instead consists largely of letters between David and his family, particularly his wife, Henrietta, and their four children. The letters cover personal topics such as in-laws, health, and finances, and reveal the hardships the family faced as David was frequently separated from his loved ones. They seemed to genuinely miss each other, and it was nice to see such warmth conveyed in their letters.
Also notable in the collection were the courtship letters received by the couple’s daughter Gertrude (also known as “Gertie”) in the mid-1870s. Gertie had at least six different suitors in 1872 and 1873, and their letters to her dominate the correspondence from that period. Emotions turned raw as she rejected a few declarations of love. Gertie finally married George Brock, from Chicago, in March 1874.
The collection includes more than just correspondence; there are also some legal documents, land grants, and a diary from David S. Wilson’s 1860 term in the General Assembly. One of the land grants includes a signature from President Franklin Pierce. The children’s activities, particularly their schooling, are documented through report cards and flyers. I also came across this handmade score book, which was largely empty, but I was excited to see what sport it was for: baseball. Along with all his other activities, it turns out that David Wilson was also a pitcher.
The Col. David S. Wilson Family Papers are now fully processed and available for researchers. You can explore it for yourself using the collection guide.
Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Archivist.
Our colleague Mary Mellon is currently reprocessing the Benjamin Duke Papers to provide more refined description. Among the many fascinating pieces of correspondence within the collection, she has found a letter, dated November 16, 1896, from Trustee A. P. Tyer to Ben Duke. In it, he makes a not-so-modest proposal: that Duke give a $500,000 endowment and that the school be renamed Duke College.
“The only hope that Trinity College has of ever being endowed is found in the Dukes. I therefore ask that you give the College five hundred thousand dollars as endowment and allow the Trustees to name it “Duke College.”
In 1896, the school was just four years old in its new Durham location. There was great concern about longterm viability, despite the generosity of the Duke family up to that point, including providing the funds to bring the school to Durham. $500,000 in 1896 would have been around $13 million in today’s money.
To sweeten the deal, Mr. Tyer added,
“This will forever take away the feeling of uncertainty, make the college an assured success forever, put the Dukes in front of all southern benefactors, largely increase the number of students, bring even a better class of patronage to the college, make it possible for others to give to it, be the greatest monument any southern man will ever build, be a perpetual benefit and blessing to the human family, and constantly glorify God your Father.”
Ben Duke remained a steady and heavily involved benefactor, but never made a gift at the level requested in the letter. The month after this letter was received, Washington Duke, Ben’s father, gave a $100,000 endowment, contingent on women being admitted on equal footing with men. In 1924, Ben’s brother, James B. Duke, established the Duke Endowment, which helped fund a massive expansion of the college, and led to the renaming of the school—not to Duke College, but to Duke University.
Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist, with assistance from Mary Mellon, Technical Services Intern.
The practice of experimentation on one’s own children belongs to a somewhat queasy tradition in psychology that embraces parenthood as an opportunity for “natural experiment.” Psychologists throughout the twentieth century have kept tabs on their children’s development, blending the pride of parenthood with the detached methodology of science. So it’s no surprise to find in the papers of William McDougall, the first head of Duke University’s psychology department, extensive notes on four of his children, Angus, Duncan, Janet, and Leslie. Just how the disciplinary practices of psychology in the early twentieth century filtered into McDougall’s child-rearing becomes apparent when comparing the McDougall journals to a contemporaneous laboratory notebook from a psychology student, Walter R. Miles, in the Rubenstein Library’s History of Medicine Collections.
These images depict similar experiments in localizing sensation. The experimenter stimulated a spot on the subject’s hand or arm using a sharp object (Miles used the point of a compass); a few seconds later, the subject had to indicate, either on the actual hand or on a diagram, where he or she believed the point had been applied. The experimenter recorded both points, noting any discrepancy between the actual and perceived site of stimulation. For Miles, this was a bread-and-butter exercise in the methods of scientific psychology.
The McDougall image comes with a twist, since the experimental subjects were his young children. Rather than illustrating basic principles on a standard psychological subject, McDougall was inquiring specifically into the changing sensory and perceptual abilities of his own kids. The diagram of his son Duncan’s hand and arm are part of a record-keeping practice that encompassed everything from the children’s recognition of colors to their fear of bears.
The fact that these methods traveled a fairly direct path from the lab to the McDougall home, and from the “standardized” psychological subject to the developing child, reveals itself in the telling visual differences between the two sets of experimental notes: Miles’s experiment, neatly taken down in a lab notebook, uses ruler-drawn grid lines and a smoothly-traced outline of the hand and arm, while McDougall’s journal bears indications of its setting in the domestic scene of child-rearing: the data is recorded in grid-less, slanted columns, and the outline of the hand is traced hastily, as though the subject was loath to hold still.
Post contributed by Alicia Puglionesi. Puglionesi is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation is on “The Astonishment of Experience: Americans and Psychical Research, 1885-1935.” Alicia is particularly interested in the relationship between the amateur tradition in which psychical research developed and the emerging academic discipline of psychology. She is a 2014 History of Medicine travel grant winner.
I have been giving the collections of James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke, industrialists and benefactors of Duke University, a little TLC this summer. One of my most enjoyable finds so far has been a set of two candid photographs of Washington Duke that turned up in the the James B. Duke papers. Mr. Duke appears to be contemplating a bicycle, the handlebars of which are just visible at the bottom of the photos. The bicycle is likely the one that his son, Benjamin, purchased for $45.25, according to an 1894 letter from the Benjamin N. Duke papers. It would be interesting to know what was going through Washington’s head at the time when the pictures were taken. Possibly, “You really expect me to ride this thing?”
Like many members of the Duke community, I am accustomed to seeing Washington Duke in his dignified, solemn armchair pose (e.g. the statue at the entrance to East Campus). But, it’s nice to know that “Wash” got to have a bit of fun every once in a while.
-Post contributed by Mary Mellon, Library Intern
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The Devil’s Tale Archive
- Internationalist Books and Community Center records, 1960s-2011. August 26, 2014
- Marcel Montassut papers, 1914-1975. August 21, 2014
- Bengal Chamber of Commerce letter of gratitude to Daniel Mackinlay upon his retirement, 1860 February 21. August 21, 2014
- John Symonds Breedon diaries and account books, 1736-1808. August 18, 2014
- Rosina Lyon letters, 1846-1849. August 15, 2014
- Walden; or, Life in the woods August 22, 2014
- Precationes ex veteribus orthodoxis doctoribus : ex ecclesiae hymnis et canticis, ex Psalmis denique Dauidis collectae, et nunc recens recognitae & auctae August 8, 2014
- The danger of premature interment : proved from many remarkable instances of people who have recovered after being laid out for dead, and of others entombed alive, for want of being properly examined prior to interment : also a description of the manner the ancient Egyptians, and other nations preserved and venerated their dead, and a curious account of their sepulchral ever burning lamps and mausoleums : likewise, the pernicious effects of burying in the body churches, and confined church-yards pointed out, whereby many valuable lives have been lost to the public, and their friends : selected from historical records August 7, 2014
- Conseils aux femmes de quarante ans August 7, 2014