Category Archives: RL Scholars

Phrenological bust from the commonplace book of  E. Bradford Todd.

A Vernacular Science of Crime

Phrenological bust from the commonplace book of  E. Bradford Todd.
Phrenological bust from the commonplace book of E. Bradford Todd.

 

The image above, taken from the commonplace book of E. Bradford Todd (found in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library), is representative of a popular view of the science of phrenology. Seen today on ironic posters and T-shirts, as well as modern ceramic reproductions, the phrenological bust has come to serve as metonym for the entire science of phrenology. The image persists, but so too do misconceptions about the nature of this peculiar nineteenth-century science, which proposed to articulate and even predict the character of an individual based on the shape of the skull.

Phrenology was attractive to the masses and inspired writing of all kinds, from diary entries to letters, as well as published texts and broadsides. E. Bradford Todd, as shown above, recorded the phrenological doctrine – complete with his own sketches – into his commonplace book in mid-nineteenth-century America. Eugene Marshall, a schoolteacher in 1851 in Rhode Island, went to see a phrenological lecture and resolved to study the science, a project he took on with such zeal that he eventually attempted to phrenologize himself. Writing in 1823 when the science was still young, another individual gossiped to a friend via letter that a mutual acquaintance was looking for a wife “with all the proper bumps on her head for he is a great believer [of phrenology]” (Eliza K. Nelson papers).   As seen in these letters and diaries from Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, from its earliest introduction, phrenology captured the mind of the public and promised solutions to life’s problems, both great and small, not least of which was the problem of crime.

With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I recently visited the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to conduct research in support of my dissertation, “Criminal Minds: Law, Medicine, and the Phrenological Impulse in America, 1830-1890.” My research takes a serious look at the “pseudoscience” of phrenology and considers the ways in which it was viewed as truthful, scientific, and useful to nineteenth-century individuals. In particular, I examine how phrenology, at the beginning of the century, came to be viewed as a valuable possibility for crafting a criminal science avant la letter, more than half a century before the introduction of Cesare Lombroso’s positivist criminology that would later be considered the birth of modern criminology.

Phrenologists wrote early and often about the problem of crime, which was drawing attention from all corners in the nineteenth century. The growth of cities and urbanization, the increasing rapidity and ease of movement of peoples within and between countries, and the rise of mass media that made sensational stories about murder and theft national (and international) news – all of these nineteenth-century trends combined to render crime a particularly fraught problem. Yet well before “criminology” had been introduced, phrenologists and other enthusiasts were considering the ways in which this new science could be used to help solve crime.

While it was primarily intellectuals and professional phrenologists operating within a narrow orbit who ruminated on the potential of phrenology with regard to the criminal problem, we can also find glimpses of the reception of these ideas in the records of non-phrenologists who encountered the science. For example, in the diary of Jane Roberts, a British author, she records a trip on January 6, 1837, to visit a phrenologist in London, Dr. DeVille, with her friend Mrs. Phillips, Lord Byron’s daughter. During this visit, both received phrenological readings by DeVille, but they also heard a long discourse from him about the truth of the science. Interestingly, the examples DeVille chooses to illustrate and prove the science are linked directly to bad behavior and crime, explaining that attention to the developments of the mind (as read in the skull) can serve to prevent or cure evil propensities. He illustrates this claim with two examples: one story in which he identified two robbers before the fact, and a second where a father brings his son in to see DeVille, before he eventually is sent to prison for his crimes. Miss Roberts was impressed by these stories, and resolved to visit him again.

Whether or not Miss Roberts repeated her pilgrimage to the phrenologist’s office, this interaction is representative of the ways in which phrenological ideas about crime entered into vernacular culture. Phrenologists framed their enterprise as a solution to one of the era’s most pressing problems, in part to sell their services to individuals like Miss Roberts. Yet, as I argue, phrenology also made a clear claim attempted to predict and explain the behavior of criminals, and in so doing signaled the development of a new science of crime.

Courtney Thompson is a PhD candidate in the History of Science and Medicine Program, History, at Yale University

 

 

 

National Negro Health News. From the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth Records.

Researching Black Health in the South

It was a great pleasure to conduct research at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke. As a recipient of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture travel grant, I looked forward to exploring the Library’s holdings that would advance my understanding of black women’s history.

National Negro Health News. From the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth Records.
National Negro Health News, Vol. 6, no. 3. From the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth Records.

My dissertation project, “Mind, Soul, Body, and Race: Black Women’s Physical Culture, 1900-1939,” investigates the structural barriers to health and fitness for black women and the ways in which they circumvented those barriers and engaged in the physical culture movement. I examine how black women used purposeful exercise to create a new, fit vision of black womanhood that had implications for public health, recreation, and ideas of beauty, citizenship, and racial uplift. As a national project, I want to capture how Southern women, who had even less resources and access to physical culture, participated in the movement.

A significant portion of my dissertation discusses the state of black health and the Library proved to be a valuable repository for exploring the public health aspects of black southern history. The archivists were informed and genuinely interested in assisting researchers and with their help; I consulted about a half a dozen collections in all including the African American Photo Collection, the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth records, and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company archives.

One of the most useful collections was the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth. Although the Alliance was primarily a vocational guidance service organization, it sought to address several issues affecting poor, rural young people in the first half of the twentieth century including health issues. I found several documents from the collection related to health campaigns and the barriers to health for black people in the South. For example, a note in the 1934 National Conference on Negro Education proceedings indicated that “environmental rather than racial factors” compromised black health including low income, insufficient housing, and limited access to hospitals, preventive care, and recreational facilities. As it relates to black women’s health, the collection describes some of the difficulties black women had in accessing health information and clinics for their obstetric needs. The collection also contains sources on black unemployment, the black nursing profession, diet and malnutrition, and leisure during the New Deal era.

Additional records at the Library on black health in the twentieth century include William J. Covington’s physician account books and the thesis, Black Health in Segregated Durham.

Post contributed by Ava Purkiss, PhD candidate, University of Texas at Austin and 2012-2013 Franklin Travel Grant recipient.

Martin Shubik, from the Yale Dept. of Economics webpage.

The Martin Shubik Papers: From Early Game Theory to the Strategic Analysis of War

Martin Shubik, from the Yale Dept. of Economics webpage.

As research fellows at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy, this summer we processed the papers of Martin Shubik, emeritus professor of mathematical institutional economics at Yale University. By arranging and describing Shubik’s life-long correspondence, his class notes from the time of his graduate training at Princeton in the late 1940s, files of professional engagements, as well as materials related to nearly all of his published works, we had the chance to get an overview of Shubik’s distinguished career as an academic and a practicing economist during an important historical period encompassing the Cold War years in the United States.

While Shubik was born in New York City in 1926, he received his early education in England. After moving to Canada, he graduated with a B.A. in mathematics and subsequently with an M.A. in political economy from the University of Toronto in 1947. Equipped with this background, Shubik arrived at Princeton University in 1949, where the archival record begins. He received a Ph.D. in economics in 1953 under the supervision of Oskar Morgenstern, one of the founding fathers of game theory. The influence of his supervisor becomes apparent in Shubik’s collection, not only through the class notes Shubik took of Morgenstern’s lectures and in the correspondence with him throughout the years, but also indirectly through Shubik’s life-long contributions to game theory and its application to economic problems. And, like Morgenstern, Shubik frequently voiced a critical attitude towards purely theoretical work.

Shubik’s collection is a treasure-house of primary resources on economics, especially for researchers interested in the early years of game theory. Shubik was part of an inspiring group of students during his stay at Princeton, including Harold Kuhn, John McCarthy, John Milnor, John Nash (Nobel Prize, 1994), Norman Shapiro, and Lloyd Shapley (Nobel Prize, 2012), who were pioneers in the field of game theory and would continue to shape the history of American mathematical economics during the second half of the 20th century. Innumerable drafts of Shubik’s collaborative works, often accompanied by correspondence and research notes by his co-authors, afford an inspiring set of resources evoking that historical period. The collection contains Shubik’s and Shapley’s drafts and notes on their joint works on game theory, from their early papers in the 1950s to their collaboration during the 1970s at the RAND corporation. The collection also allows for personal glimpses into Shubik’s life. For example, Shubik’s life-long friendship and professional collaboration with Shapley is reflected in the extensive correspondence throughout their academic careers. Similarly, Shubik’s exchanges with Nash (sometimes through humorous cards and joke letters) offer a unique source for historians interested in the early years of game theory and the history of modern economics.

While Shubik made fundamental contributions to mathematical economics, the collection shows that his interests were not confined to academia. Very early in his career, he took on consultancy positions for companies including General Electric and the Watson Research Lab of IBM. He also took on research and teaching responsibilities outside of the U.S., participating in projects such as the Cowles Commission’s research on simulation modeling in Latin America. The collection also contains a large amount of correspondence, trip reports, memoranda, and conference invitations that reflect Shubik’s professional development as an expert in the strategic analysis of warfare. More generally, the material reflects not only the increasing use of mathematical methods in American economics during the Postwar period, but also affords insights into the actual application of those new theoretical tools to specific problems that economists were concerned with during that time, and the institutional context within which those undertakings were embedded.

The papers of Martin Shubik reveal the mosaic of the career of an exceptional and multi-faceted economist during a highly charged professional and political climate, and the degree to which the field of economics is built on collaborative research. In short, it is a must for any historian interested in the origins of modern economics.

Post contributed by Catherine Herfeld and Danilo Silva, research fellows at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy.

 

Reminder: The Rubenstein Library is closed until Jan. 7!

newsletter image

The Spiritual is Political

With generous assistance from a 2012 Mary Lily Research Grant, I visited the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture this past summer to conduct research for my dissertation, “The Spiritual is Political: How the Southern Baptist Convention Debated Feminism and Found the New Right.”

I focused primarily on records in the Resource Center for Women in Ministry in the South collection.  The Resource Center was founded by Jeanette Stokes in 1977 to provide support for women who were in ministerial leadership roles.  Its extensive archival records at Duke University include back issues of its publication, “South of the Garden,” materials from its annual “Women in Ministry in North Carolina” conferences, and the newsletters and paraphernalia of affiliated religious organizations.

newsletter image
Illustration from the “Southern Baptists for Family and Equal Rights” newsletter. From the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South records.

In my examination of the Resource Center files, I came across an interesting collection of newsletters for Southern Baptists in North Carolina who supported feminism in the 1970s and 1980s.  These newsletters were produced by “Southern Baptists for the Family and Equal Rights,” or SBFER, an organization formed in 1981 to create support for the Equal Rights Amendment and issues related to women’s health and welfare in the North Carolina Baptist Convention and in state politics.SBFER was short-lived, lasting less than five years. Though it failed to attract considerable support in the national denomination, it enjoyed limited success as a local organization.  After its efforts to promote the ERA in the state were unsuccessful and the deadline for ERA ratification came and went, the organization turned its focus to women’s ordination and other expressions of feminism in the Southern Baptist Convention.  After 1985, however, the organization began to decline as it became clear that the denomination was not returning to a moderate course.The SBFER’s newsletters are crucial for my dissertation as they provide evidence of grassroots feminism within the Southern Baptist Convention at a time when the denomination was reversing course on many issues regarding gender equality, in full retreat from moderate positions it had taken in the 1970s.  These materials from the early 1980s reveal strong dissenting views, which complicate the narrative of the Southern Baptist Convention’s right turn on social issues.  SBFER aimed to throw a wrench in the plans of the denomination’s new conservative leaders. And while they were unable to stop the Southern Baptist Convention from aligning itself with the Religious Right, they did succeed in keeping women’s issues part of denominational dialogue in the 1980s.

Post contributed by Laura J. Foxworth, Ph.D. candidate,  University of South Carolina, Department of History.

Trinity College Faculty, 1878-1879

A Thoroughly Forgotten Duke Figure

Trinity College Faculty, 1878-1879
Trinity College faculty for the 1878-1879 academic year. Lemuel Johnson is seated to the right of President Braxton Craven.

LEMUEL JOHNSON (15 January 1828 – 29 April 1900) taught for more than thirty years the entire mathematics curriculum at Trinity College when it was a fledgling institution located in Randolph County, North Carolina.

Though there is no present building or other monument to his name at Duke, the Rubenstein Library holds in various collections a small memorial to this pioneer faculty member in the form of four manuscript letters, a mathematics primer that was widely distributed during the Civil War era, a carte de visite of him and another of the Trinity faculty of the late 1870s, and an 1887 map of Durham County printed from his own manuscript map, the first published presentation of the bounds of this county after its formation in 1881 from sections of Orange, Wake, and Granville.

He was the second graduate of Normal College, Trinity’s predecessor, when it was a very humble institution situated in a rural, red clay, Quaker-Methodist corner of the Carolina piedmont. There, beginning in 1852, he taught courses in arithmetic, mensuration, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus as well as performing the duties of college treasurer, librarian, and first president of the Trinity College alumni association.

Among his most memorable achievements as an educator was his tutoring of the gifted Giles sisters, every evening in his parlor after a full day of classroom teaching. Mary Z. Giles, Persis P. Giles, and Theresa Giles were graduated with the Trinity class of 1878 (although segregated into a “Ladies” column with less than full membership), an event that the Wilmington Morning Star reported as “unprecedented in the history of North Carolina colleges.” Indeed, the celebrated Sallie Walker Stockard, early historian of Alamance county and first female matriculate at the University of North Carolina, received her diploma in Chapel Hill in 1898.

In the last years of his life, Professor Johnson supported himself through hard times by teaching in rural high schools and by working intermittently as a civil engineer, and his maps of Randolph and Davidson counties are available online via the NC Maps site.

Post contributed by David Southern, Rubenstein Library researcher and Managing Editor for the Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle at the Duke University Press.

The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.

Representing Bodies: Ivory Manikins

In researching changes in the representation of female bodies in Northern Europe, I noticed that ivory manikins (meaning “little men,” though usually female) portray  a changing trend away from the easily available prints of the female anatomy in the  sixteenth century toward more formal depictions, displayed only for demonstration. Little is known about the manikins themselves in terms of their origins, but stylistic and material differences may provide much needed information in terms of who made these models and the ways in which they were used by others.

In my travels, I found that the History of Medicine Trent Collection’s set of anatomical ivories is one of Duke’s—and America’s—great treasures. Normally they are stored in a glass viewing case in the Trent Room, but looking closely at them, they hold much more than one might expect.

An ivory anatomical model carved into the lid of a hinged box
An ivory anatomical model carved into the lid of a hinged box

One object in particular caught me by surprise. It is a manikin carved meticulously into the lid of an ivory box. It is not a unique example, as it is quite similar to other objects—one in the Trent Collection and the other in Dusseldorf. Opening the box is precarious because, as with the other manikins, the torso is easily removed (though, luckily, the individually carved organs have been glued down).

The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.
The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.

The manikin itself, however, is only one of the object’s curious features. When the lid is lifted, an exquisitely small painting is revealed on its underside.

The underside of the box’s lid, showing an image. The paint is chipped in the corner and around two wooden pieces that act as sockets for the ivory pegs securing the torso.

In this strange scene a nude woman and a well-clothed gentleman dine unabashedly before an open plaza where others go about their normal errands. The presumed courtesan shares many similarities with her counterpart on the box, who is likewise unclothed and recumbent, clutching a sheet with her left hand. Figures of this kind are often seen in artisanal ivory works, but this particular object invokes intriguing questions as to how the fine arts relate to the anatomical sciences and historical representations of women.

Post contributed by Cali Buckley, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History, Penn State University

Click to enlarge.

old film | new music

Click to enlarge.

Tonight and on December 6th, the Duke New Music Ensemble will be performing new compositions written as soundtracks for films from the Rubenstein Library’s collections. We asked the dnme composers to tell us a little bit about the films they chose and how they inspired their compositions. For more details about the performances, visit the group’s Facebook page or click the poster at right to enlarge it.

David Kirkland Garner

The video I chose to use is from H. Lee Water’s “Spindale ’37″ film (from the H. Lee Waters Film Collection). I chose the portions of the video having to do with the factory for Yelton’s Flour, opening with footage of the flour refining process from inside the building then turning to the procession of workers leaving the factory at the end of the day. The music I wrote is not meant to be closely synced with the video. Rather, it creates a singular mood for the film images. The music is created in two parts: a repeating groove in the keyboard, bass and 3 banjos and a slowly unfolding melody in the other instruments. At the beginning and end of the piece the ensemble uses percussion instruments to imitate the sounds of summer in rural North Carolina.

Jamie Keesecker

Margolin’s 1965 Hawaii film footage (from the Morris and Dorothy Margolin Film Collection) presents a challenge in that almost every moment captured in the footage comes from a performance that was originally accompanied by music, and the musicians themselves can be seen throughout most of the film. Seeing the musicians strumming guitars and ukeleles in unison is one of the aspects that attracted me to this film. But rather than attempting to recreate the music that would have originally accompanied the images in the video, I have written music that is merely meant to represent my own reactions to seeing the film. At the same time, I have chosen to write for a consort of mostly plucked string instruments similar to those depicted in the video. Musical gestures are at times intended to be synchronized with the musicians on film, and other times not, just as the musical material itself contains hints of Hawaiian tropes while remaining, on the whole, quite different from what would actually have been played by the musicians on film.

D. Edward Davis

My archival footage is of a student protest that occurred at Duke University in 1969 (from the Radio TV Services Records). Despite the “homemade” image quality (or perhaps because of it), the images capture the drama of the protesters in action, with the cameraman acting as a participant and not a spectator. I’m drawn to this film because of its connection with the University’s history, and I tried to mirror the intensity but also the sinister beauty of these images with my music. As students are presently (Nov 2011) involved in “Occupying Duke” in the same physical location as the 1969 protests, I love how the film has both a distant timeless quality and a captivating immediacy. Thanks to the staff of the Archives for preserving this footage and also for making it accessible to researchers and artists.

Vladimir Smirnov

The video I chose was footage of traveling down a river (the Chao Phraya, I presume?) in Bangkok from a collection of travel footage by former Duke Professor Margolin (from the Morris and Dorothy Margolin Film Collection). I myself have never traveled to Thailand, and the video drew me in with its images of a very exotic world and with its slow hypnotic pace. I tried to create a musical atmosphere that the video suggested to me with very gentle and exotic sounds—muted piano, bowed vibes, slow swells on the guitar and bass, flute that is sung into at the same time as it’s played, banjo, and very sparse strings. I didn’t really think too much that I was working with archive film when writing, I just focused on the images and atmosphere.

Kenneth David Stewart

The footage I selected is of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens from 1937 (from the Radio TV Services Records). What moves me about this footage is how striking the color of the flowers appears as captured by the Kodachrome film. It is interesting how this footage from 1937 is just two years after Kodak made this kind of film commercially available—in fact, the famous color scenes in the Wizard of Oz were shot with this same film. This captured color, to me, almost has its own texture independent of the hue itself.

The written music for the instruments is based on the live ensemble playing the role of three choirs simultaneously ‘singing’ different music, but at the same time each contributing to a larger, composite texture. In addition to this, there is an electronic track with supporting harmony and the sounds of a typical journey in the rain from my home to the Biddle Music Building recorded onto microcassette.

The process used to construct the visual narrative is based on whether the camera shot is close to the flowers themselves or farther, panning across the gardens. At the same time a ‘chord progression’ of color directs the footage from yellow to orange to red to pink to white to ivory and back to yellow again to repeat the cycle. None of these textures are more important than another and in this way, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

My mother, a former professional horticulturalist, instilled in me a love of plants and flowers at a young age. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother and I outside planting flowers and vegetables in our family garden. This piece is dedicated to her.

Post contributed by the members of the Duke New Music Ensemble.

A very fill Rubenstein Library reading room!

Happy North Carolina Archives Week!

It’s North Carolina Archives Week, a weeklong celebration of North Carolina’s cultural heritage repositories and the wonderful researchers that use them—that’s you!

Stop in, meet your friendly neighborhood special collections librarians, and request some archival collections and rare books—we think you’ll find that the Rubenstein Library has something for everyone! Or check out the North Carolina Archives Week’s website to find more ways to celebrate with cultural history repositories throughout the state.

Need some inspiration? We’ve gathered together a few previously-published blog posts written by our researchers:

We’ll see you in the reading room!

A very fill Rubenstein Library reading room!

Upheavals in Charleston

As part of our “RBMSCL Scholars” series, we’ve asked some of the wonderful researchers that the RBMSCL has hosted over the years to contribute a few words on their new books and research projects. Today, on the 125th anniversary of the Charleston Earthquake of 1886, we present an essay by Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius, authors of Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow, released in June by The University of Georgia Press.

Helene Marie BurdayonA chubby-cheeked young woman in a ruffled cap gazed up at us from a sepia photograph labeled “Dawson’s French Maid.” There she was, the unlikely femme fatale who had triggered one of Charleston’s most notorious murders. We had been looking for such a photo for eight years.

The collection we were exploring, the Francis Warrington Dawson Family Papers, is a vast compendium best known for the six-volume diary kept by the precocious teenager Sarah Morgan, later Dawson’s wife, during the Civil War. But it also contains material that is crucial to understanding, among many other topics, the great Charleston earthquake of 1886, the political struggles of late nineteenth-century South Carolina, and the murder of Francis Dawson, editor of the Charleston News and Courier.

Frank Dawson is the central figure in our book, Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow. After the earthquake, Dawson shaped public opinion around the country, rallied his fellow citizens to try to rebuild their city, received a major portion of the relief money that was sent, and spoke loudest at meetings of the Executive Relief Committee. Because Sarah was traveling in Europe with their two children when the earthquake hit, the couple wrote each other daily. Sarah’s letters did not survive, but she carefully preserved Frank’s, in which he updated her on earthquake damage and his fears about the changes that were happening in Charleston. “Had you been here,” he wrote to his nervous wife, “you would have been dead, or in a lunatic asylum.”

Cover of Upheaval in CharlestonHailed as a hero in the aftermath of the earthquake, Dawson was denounced by white supremacists and murdered on March 12, 1889, less than three years after the disaster. Sarah went to her grave convinced that her husband was the victim of a political conspiracy.

In fact, Dr. Thomas B. McDow shot Frank Dawson when the editor forbade him to talk to Hélène Burdayron, a voluptuous young Swiss woman who was taking care of the Dawson children. During McDow’s trial for murder, the world came to know Burdayron as “the French maid.” The photograph we discovered at Duke is the only known image of her.

In the 1940s, a graduate student named Frank Logan, who was writing his master’s thesis on Dawson, contacted the Dawsons’ son Warrington, who lived in Versailles. For several years he typed out lists of questions, and Warrington sent back long answers, sometimes slightly hysterical, but always packed full of telling personal detail. Did Frank Dawson prefer dogs or cats? How many cigars did he smoke a day? How did Hélène behave while living with the Dawson family after Frank’s death? Good graduate student that he was, Frank Logan passed over most of these homely tidbits and in his thesis he focused on Dawson’s role in some of the bloodiest and most terrifying episodes in southern history.

Luckily for us, Logan went on to serve on the Duke faculty, and he convinced Warrington to donate his mother and father’s papers to the RBMSCL, along with his own. Among them are scores of photographs, Sarah’s diaries and scrapbooks, family letters, and business correspondence. Together they reveal a rich tapestry of political and domestic life, including that amazing photo of the mousy-looking woman who possessed “a bust fit for a Venus” and enough sexual magnetism to provoke Charleston’s crime of the century.

Find out more about the book at www.upheavalincharleston.com!

What She Wore

Mary Lily Travel Grant recipient Julie R. Enszer recently completed her second visit to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to conduct research for her dissertation project, which investigates the production of lesbian-feminist print culture in the United States between 1969 and 1989.

While Julie was here, she used materials from these collections:

Minnie Bruce Pratt at the Academy of American Poets awards ceremony, May 16, 1989.
Minnie Bruce Pratt at the Academy of American Poets awards ceremony, May 16, 1989. From the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers. Photo by Dorothy Alexander.

Reflecting on her research experience, Enszer writes that the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers were “one of the most exciting collections that I worked with. This may be in part because I have been a fan of Pratt’s poetry and writing since the late 1980s, but it is also certainly due to the fact that this is an extensive and thorough collection.”

She continues, “One aspect of my dissertation focuses on the literary appraisals of lesbian writing and a significant portion of the chapter discusses the Lamont Prize [given by the Academy of American Poets] in 1989 given to Minnie Bruce Pratt for Crime Against Nature. There are extensive documents on this event in the archive, but my favorite archival item is the outfit that Pratt wore to the award ceremony at the Guggenheim: a two-piece, cotton Batik. The shirt is light green with a lavender smock on the front edged by pink. It is both festive and feminine while distinctly conveying ‘lesbian.’”

Thanks to Dorothy Alexander for letting us use her photo of Minnie Bruce Pratt at the 1989 Academy of American Poets awards ceremony in this post. You can see more of her work on her website.

Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture , with thanks to Julie R. Enszer.