Category Archives: Do Your Research

Talking to Customers Through the Screen Door: JWT, Lux soap, and the surprising ecological expertise of 1920s American consumers

Post written by Spring Greeney, a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a recepient of a Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History Alvin A. Achenbaum Travel Grant.

Since at least the late 1930s, advertising firms have been soliciting consumer feedback using what marketing guru Ernest Dichter termed the “focus group:” a laboratory-like controlled environment in which users test a single product while observed or interviewed by product developers. The focus group’s more place-based antecedent, the test kitchen, relies on a similarly anodyne concept of space: gleaming appliances, linoleum flooring, and replicability are the test kitchen’s distinguishing features.

But what more place-attentive research strategies did an advertising giant like J. Walter Thompson Company employ to solicit consumer perspective? To put a finer point on it: prior to the mid-century consolidation of a truly mass market in the U.S., how did a company like JWT account for local heterogeneity—differences in climate, topography, demographics, or consumption habits—when attempting to transform regionally popular products into truly national brands?

In its century-long relationship with JWT, the Lever Brothers soap company serves as an excellent case with which to answer questions about the environmental history of marketing. A British soap manufacturing company begun in 1885, Lever Brothers’ president William Leverhulme had begun as a wholesale butter grocer, a fact that kept the man attentive to the fundamentally ecological roots of his company’s product line. After purchased soap manufacturing plants in Boston and Philadelphia in 1897 and 1899, respectively, Leverhulme set his sights on selling Lever-branded soaps in the expanding U.S. consumer market.

Such sales would not be realized. U.S. sales stagnated following the 1907 roll-out of Lux Soap Flakes and Rinso Laundry Powder in northeastern grocery stores. Consumers remained unmoved by advertising appeals boasting that “This Wonderful New Product Won’t Shrink Woolens!” with the only uptick in sluggish sales confined to March and April. Boxes of Rinso laundry powder, similarly, lingered on drugstore shelves.

Why were American consumers so uninterested? Convinced of the attributes of advertising, the head of the U.S. division of Lever Brothers signed a contract with JWT in 1916 to answer precisely this question.

With focus groups still two decades away, JWT account managers adopted a simple boots-on-the-ground research strategy. In conversations had over fence posts and through screen doors, JWT employees talked with potential customers everywhere from “small towns and Farms in Iowa and South Dakota” to apartment complexes in Chicago, Louisville, New York. 399 interviews in 1918; 328 in 1919; 1741 in 1921.

Photograph of typewritten document showing the number of interviews conducted by JWT
Interview log from JWT’s interviews with consumers about Lux soap.

The results were astounding. “Resistances from the customer were mainly … the limitations of the appeal—Lux for washing woolens,” reported one executive, observing that many American buyers of Lux wore silk or synthetics rather than woolen undergarments. “Women liked Lux for easy suds, satisfactory cleansing of dishes and easier on hands,” reported another, with wonder that a product intended for washing flannels was ending up in the kitchen sink. Added another, betraying some defensiveness while bolstering the firm’s claims to effective person-to-person research, “These facts show a continuous contact with the Lux situation.”

Consumers, for their part, were full of ecologically specific requests and recommendations. In New England, buyers explained that they only used Lux during the months of spring cleaning, March and April, to soak winter odors out of woolen blankets and sweaters headed to the attic. The year-round Lux sales pitch (“Won’t shrink woolens!”) had been culturally and seasonally off-key. Or consider this revelation about water chemistry. In regions of the country where hard water was common because of calcium- or magnesium-rich bedrock, Rinso was unpopular because it reacted with dissolved calcium to form a “soap curd” on the top of the wash water. The same problem was cropping up in cities like Boston and New York, where the advent of indoor plumbing had subverted the 19th-century practice of collecting rainwater—always soft—for washing clothes.

Lever Brother products changed in accordance with consumer feedback. As early as 1917, ad copy of Lux began boasting, “Won’t turn silks yellow! Won’t injure even chiffons!” and the box featured reminders that the soap could be used to wash dishes. Lever commercial chemists, meanwhile, increased the fat content of the laundry powder to allow its claim as “the granulated hard-water soap.” The shipping department, meanwhile, acknowledged heterogeneity on the national marketing map: “We are now shipping into the so-called hard water districts Rinso containing 45% fatty acids and the present plans are to bring this percentage up to 48%.” More fatty soap, even if more expensive, would allow uniform product performance across region, regardless of ecological distinction.

Consumer insights such as these, collected via “old-fashioned” direct interviews and telephone calls, remind us that JWT’s early research strategies solicited crucial information for securing Lever Brothers’ financial success in the U.S. JWT’s papers with Lever Brothers also remind us, in echoes, that consumers themselves were active workers and shapers of their local environments. As workers, not just buyers, homemakers were placed in direct contact with messy nature appearing in gritty wash water, uncooperative soaps, delicate fibers, and the weight of wet wool. When and how such consumer identities become politicized, as in the case of the 1970s Lake Erie water pollution contests, is intimately tied to the half-century development of Lever Brothers itself.

 

Research-a-Palooza 2017 Round-Up

On January 6, we invited our colleagues across the Duke University Libraries to come to the Rubenstein Library and explore our collections. Of course they (and anyone else) are welcome to come do research at anytime, but sometimes it’s fun to bring some conviviality to our reading room. Check out what our colleagues looked at – they have such good taste!

Winston Atkins – Preservation Officer
I used the Frank Clyde Brown Papers, General Editors’ Papers Series. In the process of editing Brown’s massive collection of North Carolina folklore for publication, the two associate editors who focused on ballads and folk songs chose not to publish about 25 percent of the collection’s music. I’m curious about the characteristics that led them to exclude a song. Naturally, they would want to omit songs that were under copyright, but even so, ambiguity existed. In 1954, one of the associate editors, A. P. Hudson, sent the Duke University Press the first of five checks for $50 to reimburse them for a reprint fee paid to Shapiro, Bernstein, & Co., a music publishing house. Hudson’s recently-published volumes had included songs that had begun as folk songs but unhappily, versions of these songs were under copyright. “I simply did not believe that any one would object to our publishing, without music, the somewhat garbled traditional texts of a lot of pieces that began as all folk songs do.” No word on whether the Press accepted the check.

Amy McDonald – Assistant University Archivist
I spent a little of my research time browsing through a curious scrapbook in the papers of Braxton Craven (considered Duke’s second president, he led the institution from 1842 to 1863 and then from 1866 to 1882). It contains sentimental and moralizing love stories clipped from newspapers and magazines. Many of the stories are accompanied by handwritten summaries of their key lessons; you can see examples of these words to live by on the Rubenstein’s Tumblr.

I’m not entirely certain who kept the scrapbook (Braxton Craven himself? A family member?)—but lest you think that this guy doesn’t look susceptible to this sort of story, let me remind you that one of his claims to fame is as the author of “Naomi Wise: Or, The Wrongs of a Beautiful Girl,” the story of a Randolph County, NC murder that became the basis for the oldest known American murder ballad.

Research-a-palooza time was nearly up when I came to a story with a truly great title (photo at right). I didn’t get a chance to read it (saving something for the next research-a-palooza!), but I’m sure Amy’s revenge was suitably epic.

Hannah Rozear – Librarian for Instructional Services
During Rubenstein Library’s Research-a-Palooza I looked at 1930s issues of a student literary magazine called, The Archive. I chose this item because I knew that a student activist and leader of Duke’s American Student Union, Sheldon Harte ‘37, was an editor for The Archive and I was curious to see what kinds of essays he’d contributed. I did find a piece of his he wrote called, “Red is Symbolic of Kay,” – which was a really interesting find because it’s a short allegory that Sheldon wrote about communism. After graduating from Duke, Sheldon moved to Mexico City where he became a bodyguard for Trotsky and, tragically, was kidnapped, tortured, and killed by enemies of Trotsky in the summer of 1940 (see Duke magazine article for details).

Megan O’Connell – Research Services Assistant, Rubenstein Library
Having been around during the tail end of the Cold War amid national fears of nuclear attack, I was curious to see how these concerns had been addressed on college campuses such as Duke. Duke’s Fallout Preparedness Committee worked in the 1960s to evaluate the readiness of the University and community for a nuclear attack, assess existing infrastructure, build fallout-shelter infrastructure, and establish plans for emergency actions. From their reports, I learned that the Perkins library building is a superior shelter due to our sub-basements and thick stone walls; that early plans detailing which faculty and staff would shelter in the library neglected to include the Library staff (!); and that people sheltering for extended periods were to be offered sedatives and shuffleboard.

Kelly Wooten – Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture
I requested the Sarah Bowdich Lee manuscript on African history and geography from the 1830s to take a look since I had come across it in the catalog by chance. We have a collection of digitized women’s travel diaries, so I was curious about whether it might be a fit for that. In reviewing it, I felt empathy for undergraduates and other researchers who struggle with cursive writing—it was legible but difficult to skim. Though it is intended as scientific and based on observations, the colonialist tone towards the people and cultures she encountered in Africa were apparent from page one.

After setting the Lee manuscript aside, I poached a box of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazines from the shelf on hold for my colleague Kate Collins who will be leading a class on Mystery Fiction. I am a huge fan of shows like Murder, She Wrote and book series like the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French, so I couldn’t resist. The covers were all pulp style illustrations, so I ended up browsing through the entire box rather than settling on a Dashiell Hammett short story to read.

Aaron Welborn – Director of Communications
If Research-a-Palooza was a contest, Aaron definitely would have won. He and his wife looked at more than 10 books and archival collections. Here some of highlights from what they saw:

Papyrus fragment (P.Duk.inv. 756), containing a bit of Book 4 from Herodotus’s Histories

I had just finished reading Ryszard Kapuściński’s Travels with Herodotus, a beautiful, meditative book about his many decades as a foreign correspondent for the Polish Press Agency. Throughout his travels, Kapuściński took along a copy of Herodotus’s Histories, and he interweaves his own stories of covering political coups, civil wars, and repressive regimes with interludes from the 5th-century BC historian. The stories in that ancient text become a kind of lens through which to see the ongoing, seemingly eternal struggle of East vs. West, as well as the craft of writing history. The history of the ancient world has been passed down to us in bits and fragments, and it’s amazing that any of it survived. So I wanted to lay my eyes on one of those fragments and see it up close and in person. It was really cool.

Andrew Jackson Papers from the Harry L. and Mary K. Dalton Collection
There have been a lot of comparisons in the press lately between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump. Some people have this romantic vision of Jackson as an “American lion” who had an almost mystical connection with the masses and who bent the arc of history to his will. But it’s also worth remembering that Jackson was a genocidal demagogue with an unwavering commitment to slavery. The papers in this collection contain interesting glimpses of relations between the U.S. government and the Creeks, Cherokee, and Seminoles, who Jackson ultimately expelled from their own lands in one of the most shameful episodes of American history. Plus ça change…

Various Whitmaniana, including his corrected versions of “Songs of Myself” and two locks of his hair.
I’ve always heard about our Whitman stuff, but I’ve never actually taken the time to look at any of it. There is SO MUCH to peruse! His handwritten corrections to “Song of Myself” are fascinating in particular and reveal a messy, restless mind that was always revising, always trying out new turns of phrase. On one page, you can see where a drop of blood stained the paper, and Whitman has pointed to it and written “Inspiration!” As for the hair, I just wanted to see it because I could.

Applications Now Accepted for the 2017-2018 Travel Grant Program

t1867-1The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2017-2018 travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, the History of Medicine Collections, and the Human Rights Archive (new this year!) will each award up to $1,000 per recipient ($2,000 for international applicants to the Human Rights Archive) to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein also offers the Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship, a $1500 award for researchers whose work would benefit from use of the Jantz Collections.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC, and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers listed above.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2017. Recipients will be announced in March 2016.

Movers and Shakers: Robin Morgan and Ms. Magazine

wonder-womanDate: Thursday, October 20
Time: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Location: Breedlove Conference Room, 349 Rubenstein Library
Optional Facebook RSVP

Please join us for a conversation with Linda Lumsden, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, about her research project, The Ms. Makeover: The survival, evolution, and cultural significance of the venerable feminist magazine. Dr. Lumsden received a Mary Lily Research Grant recipient to conduct research at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History.

Light refreshments will be served.

Duke History Revisited Round-Up: Sept. 19th

Date: Monday, September 19, 2016
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library Room 153
Contact: Valerie Gillispie, valerie.gillispie@duke.edu

This summer, the University Archives offered a new program for undergraduate students called Duke History Revisited. The idea was to give students a chance to dig into the University’s history and tell the stories of people and events that were not widely known.

On September 19th, the program’s eight students will come together to recap their research projects. During this event, each student will briefly introduce his or her topic, highlight their research discoveries, and offer their own insight into Duke’s history. The presentations will be followed by refreshments and an opportunity to talk with the students in more detail.

The DHR students spent 6 weeks working with faculty members Jolie Olcott and Joshua Sosin; graduate student Will Goldsmith; and archivists Amy McDonald and Valerie Gillispie. The group met twice a week to discuss progress and share research. This special program was made possible by a grant from Humanities Writ Large and the Office of the Dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

Students and faculty discuss research strategies during a Duke History Revisited meeting.
Students and faculty discuss research strategies during a Duke History Revisited meeting.

We also welcomed a number of special guests to the program to talk about the act of doing research or reflecting on the past. Our guests included William Turner (T ’71, M.Div ’74, PhD ’84), Charles Becton (Law ‘69), Brenda Becton (WC ‘70, Law ‘74), Bob Ashley (T ’70), Steve Schewel (T ’73, PhD ’82), and Robert Korstad (Duke faculty). We were also joined by experts from the library, including Tracy Jackson and Matthew Farrell (University Archives), John Gartrell (John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History), Laura Micham and Kelly Wooten (Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture), Hannah Rozear (Librarian for Instruction), and Michael Daul (Digital Collections).

The students pursued a wide range of topics, using archival materials from the University Archives, materials from other repositories, oral histories and interviews, and other sources. Each created a final project that they felt best expressed the content. The titles and links to the projects are below:

Sini (Nina) Chen Finding a Home for Tricky Dicky: The Nixon-Duke Presidential Library Controversy” (online exhibit)
Hayley Farless Right to Access: A History of the Duke University Abortion Loan Fund” (presentation; link to PDF)
Elizabeth George Success of the Second Sex: Duke University’s Demonstrated Efforts to Empower Women” (research paper; link to PDF)
Lara Haft (we know) (we’ve been here): uncovering a legacy of student & employee solidarity” (online exhibit)
Alan Ko ‘Cherry Blossoms Among Magnolias?’: A History of the Asian Experience at Duke” (online exhibit)
Paul Popa A Leap of Faith: Documenting the First-Generation Undergraduate Experience” (online exhibit)
Victoria Prince “Town and Gown Relations vs. Power Struggles: An Overview of How the Durham Freeway Controversy Affected Relations Between Durham, NC and Duke University”
Jesse Remedios The Politics of Identity” (podcast)

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.

Name that Adwoman!

Help the Hartman Center solve a mystery! Recently we acquired a photograph, dated circa 1949, of a woman working on art and layout for what appears to be a Chevrolet poster. A man is standing behind her watching as she labors on a snowman at a drawing table.

Mystery photo circa 19492

What we can put together from the photograph is that the image on the drawing board is similar to the snowman featured on a poster for Chevrolet Radio Service that is affixed to the wall above the woman. A recent online auction for a similar Chevrolet Dealers’ Service Department poster, by Barrett-Jackson, dated the campaign to the 1950s and likely it is the early 1950s based on some of the design elements. The Campbell-Ewald agency held the Chevrolet advertising account during this period.

Chevrolet radio service

If you have any information about the people in this photograph, who likely worked at Campbell-Ewald on the Chevrolet account in the 1940s-1950s, please contact the Hartman Center at hartman-center@duke.edu. Thank you!

Post contributed by Richard Collier, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History

Measuring the Children of the Corn

“The babies are entered like any other exhibit at an agricultural fair. . . . They are examined by judges, just as live stock [sic], grain or apples are examined. . . . The result is bound to be – not prettier babies, – but better babies at each year’s fair, – a stronger, healthier race of people on the farms, in small towns and in the state.”

This excerpt from a Better Babies Bureau circular, from the papers of Victor Bassett, contains several templates for Better Baby Contest advertisements. Popular at local fairs in the early 20th century, Better Baby Contests presented a lighthearted way to challenge infant mortality and promote fitter populations. However, they also reveal governmental eugenic efforts to objectively quantify and thus improve American health.

Announcement for Better Babies Contest.
Announcement for Better Babies Contest.

Examiners judged children under five years old on their measurements and proportions, mental and developmental states, vision and hearing, and physical development. These tests set government-determined averages as the standard by encouraging families to “produce” children who met or exceeded these ideals. Additionally, they served to cement the public health as existing in the realm of scientific medicine and the government, rather than in the home. These kinds of contests illustrate the complex relationship between eugenics, popular movements, and public health.

Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, my visit to the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library allowed me to conduct research to support my dissertation, “Measuring Health: The United States Sanitary Commission, Statistics, and American Public Health in the Nineteenth Century.” I examine the statistical work of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC).

During the American Civil War, the USSC attempted to improve the health of the Union Army. The leaders of this organization understood their work as forwarding ideas about preventative medicine and improving sanitation. Yet with the entirety of the Union army at their disposal, the USSC also inspected and measured over one million soldiers and sailors. These records include tabulations not simply of height and weight, but also the distance between a man’s eyes, the size of his head, and angles of his face. The statisticians presented their findings in groups divided by race and education level, and, while they provided limited interpretation of these numbers, they were made available to the broader scientific and anthropologic communities. It was in their hands that these numbers defined medical standards for Americans and shaped the nature of American public health.

My project explores why these statistics were collected and how they were used, and, more broadly, the Commission’s public health legacy. By using these statistics as a starting point, I explore the ties between the USSC and changes in public health, and how research from a 19th century organization continues to impact later public health issues. These Better Baby Contests represent the Commission’s legacy of measuring the quality and usefulness of a human being and of using governmental authority to establish scientific authority.

Post contributed by Sara Kern, a Ph.D. candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University.

What Happened to Fanny?

I wanted to share one of the most powerful letters I’ve seen while working here at the Rubenstein Library: a letter from Fanny, a former slave, writing from Texas in 1867 (149 years ago today!). Here’s the letter. (Click to enlarge; transcript below.)

fanny1 fanny2

Texana, Jackson Co., Texas, August 5th, 1867

Dear Sister,

Your kind favor of a July 3rd to hand a few days ago, it affords me such pleasure to be in a position where I can converse, if not in person through this medium. it found us all in tolerable good health and delighted to hear of [your?] being well.

I am yet so very anxious about my children that I want you to take this letter and show it to Mr Slade urgently requesting him to write to Mr J. Paul Jones (to above address.) stating all he knows in connection with the sale of my children and Mr Jones has kindly consented to write for me. He could not afford me a greater pleasure or favor and in return beg to assure him of the fervent and constant prayer of one who though humble hopes that her prayers are heard.

I hope to have a longer letter the next time for paper must be scarce in your section.

Say to Brother Slade that he is in position to require all his prayers, for he was the cause of my children being sent away, or rather my being separated, for if God can forgive him for this sin he will forgive the balance —

You forget to state anything about John Wilkins, who was your first husband. how came you to be separated or is he dead. are you a member of any church you seem so silent on that subject.

George says to send his son out here and he will go home with him next spring.

When you write to sister Lotty write the general substance of what I have written to her. I am ashamed to hear you [?] of old age. I never feel old unless after a hard day’s work. I am more like a girl of sixteen than an old woman. Receive the love of one who may never see you, but constantly has you in mind. Love from all to your family.

Your sister,

Fanny

Unfortunately we don’t have the letter’s envelope, so I don’t know who Fanny’s writing to. Although she addresses her sister, I can’t be sure they’re actual relatives. I don’t know Fanny’s last name. I don’t know her sister’s name, or where her sister lives. I’m not sure which Mr. Slade she’s referring to, or where he lived (it could be North Carolina, Georgia, or somewhere else). There’s a lot I don’t know about the people in this letter. But, one thing is very clear: Fanny’s looking for her children. The Slades sold them away, or sold her away, at some point before 1865. This letter is concrete, powerful evidence of the devastating impact slavery had on African American families, with ramifications lasting long after the the end of the Civil War.

I found this letter breathtakingly sad. I couldn’t stop thinking about Fanny. Did she ever find her children? All I could know for sure was that her sister did show the letter to Mr. Slade — because now it is held in the Slade Family Papers. But, unfortunately, I found no further correspondence with Fanny or J. Paul Jones in the collection.

I decided to look for circumstantial evidence instead. I returned to the pre-war years of the Slade Family Papers to look for evidence of her existence in the plantation records. Despite being able to trace many of the slaves owned by the Slades from the 1830s through the 1860s, Fanny was a mystery. The only hint of a slave named Fanny lies in this estate inventory for Henry Slade, who died in 1838.

1838 slave list
1838: Liley (34, dropsical, 100) Fanny (15, 500) Stephen (12, 500) Atwood (10, 450) Maranda (7, 350) Clay (5, 300) Reuben (3, 200)

The majority of the papers in the collection stem from Thomas B. Slade and William Slade, two brothers who appear to have inherited the majority of Henry Slade’s estate. In 1838, Fanny was 15, and the estate inventory suggests she was unmarried and had no children. She is listed in what appears to be a family group with Liley (presumably her mother), Stephen, Atwood, Maranda, Clay, and Reuben. Fanny does not appear on William B. Slade’s slave census for 1850, and is not listed on his slave inventories for 1861 or 1864. My guess is that Henry Slade’s Fanny was separated from her mother and siblings shortly after 1838. I base this theory on an undated slave valuation scrap that I found tucked into William Slade’s account book.

Undated scrap from William Slade's account book. It lists Liley, Reuben, and Clay -- but no Fanny.
Undated scrap from William Slade’s account book. It lists Liley, Reuben, and Clay — but no Fanny.

It has the same names and similar ages as the Henry Slade estate inventory, except several slaves, including Fanny, are missing. I’m guessing this scrap represents the slaves that William Slade acquired as part of the settling of Henry’s estate around 1838. It’s possible that Fanny, Stephen, Atwood, and Maranda moved with Thomas B. Slade down to Georgia, where he ran the Clinton Female Seminary. It appears that Liley, Clay, and Reuben were transferred to William Slade and stayed in Martin County, North Carolina. Clay and Reuben continue to show up on William Slade’s accounts in the 1850s.

Since that 1838 Estate List is the only evidence of any Fanny I could find in the papers, I turned back to her 1867 letter. She lived in Texana, in Jackson County, Texas, and referenced J. Paul Jones, a literate man who was writing for her. I decided to look for a Fanny from Texana in the 1870 U.S. Census, using the library’s subscription to Ancestry.com. One problem I faced was the location, Texana, which is not referenced in the 1870 Census (too small, I suppose) and is now a ghost town under the Lake Texana Reservoir. I ended up using J. Paul Jones as a reference point. By 1870, he was living in Victoria, Texas, near enough to Jackson County for me to feel confident that it was him.

Screenshot 2016-08-03 at 9.40.53 PMHe was a relatively successful landowner originally from Maryland. I then narrowed the search with a birthplace of North Carolina and a race of Black or Mulatto. And I eliminated the Fannys who were too young in 1870 to have had children before 1865.

I ended up with two possible Fannys in Texas; but, neither matched the age of the Fanny on the Henry Slade estate inventory. The first, Fanny Ward, was 26 in 1870; her estimated birth year was 1844. At the time of the census she lived with Lucas Ward (30) and George Nicholson (62) in Matagorda County, Texas, near Jackson County. The letter mentions a George, which is why this Fanny seemed like a possibility. But I’m also thinking that Fanny Ward seemed too young to be referring to herself as an old woman in her letter to her sister. The other option in Texas was Fanny Oliver, from Victoria County, Texas, also near Jackson County. In 1870, Fanny Oliver was about 58 years old, and was married to John Oliver (62). The tone of the letter reads to me like an older adult woman; between these two Fannys, I was leaning toward Fanny Oliver.

That of course presumed that Fanny still lived in Texas three years after she wrote her letter to Mr. Slade. I began to wonder if I had it wrong. Maybe by 1870, she had reconnected with her children and had returned to the East Coast. In looking around the 1870 census, I found several former Slade slaves who had taken the Slade name; I decided to see if there was a Fanny Slade living somewhere outside of Texas. It turns out yes, there were several Fanny Slades in 1870. I narrowed my census search to slaves born in North Carolina in or around 1820, and found the following:

Screenshot 2016-08-03 at 9.32.56 PMSlade, Fanny. 45. F. Black. Works on Farm. Birthplace: NC. Cannot Read. Cannot Write.

And with her: Slade, Rose. 15. F. Black. Works on Farm. Birthplace: GA. Cannot Read. Cannot Write.

Circumstantial evidence suggests this is the right Fanny. She adopted the Slade last name. In 1870 she was 45, meaning that in 1867 she was 42 — she was old enough to have children pre-war. She would have been born around 1825, only 2 years off from the 1838 estate valuation from the Slade Family Papers, which put Fanny’s birth year as 1823. In 1870, Fanny Slade was living in Dooly County, Georgia, which was home to numerous other Slades, both black and white, in the 1870 Census. And most gratifying, in my mind, was to see that in 1870 she was living with Rose, a daughter, which suggests that her quest to be reunited with her children was partially successful.

It could be that I’m totally wrong; the Slade Family Papers are frustratingly silent and I’m out of ideas as to how to cross-reference this hypothesis. Too many blanks in the evidence means I have too many unanswered questions, the first being, What Happened to Fanny’s Other Children? I doubt we’ll ever know.

Letters from former slaves to their masters, like Fanny’s, are extraordinary documentary evidence of freedmen and women claiming their freedom and their rights. What’s amazing to me is that this letter was not only written, but has survived. So many former slaves did not have Fanny’s resources, especially friends like J. Paul Jones, to help her find her children. I hope that she at least found some answers, even if I never do.

Scholars’ Tea with the Sallie Bingham Center, June 29th

Date: Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Time: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Location: Rubenstein Library, Room 249 (Carpenter Conference Room)
Contact: cwhc@duke.edu

The Managing Editors of RFD at Short Mountain Sanctuary. From the James T. Sears Papers.
The Managing Editors of RFD at Short Mountain Sanctuary. From the James T. Sears Papers.

Please join the staff of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture for a Scholars’ Tea. Three recipients of Mary Lily Research Grants will present brief remarks about their research projects and allow time for conversation with library staff and other attendees.  Light refreshments will be served.

Presenters:

  • Jason Ezell, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, University of Maryland, “Queer Shoulders: The Poetics of Radical Faerie Cultural Formation in Appalachia”
  • Margaret Galvan, Ph.D. candidate, English, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “In Visible Archives of the 1980s: Feminist Politics & Queer Platforms”
  • Yung-Hsing Wu, associate professor, English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, “Closely, Consciously Reading Feminism”

Mary Lily Research Grants support researchers in their use of women’s and LGBTQ history collections at the Bingham Center.

Post contributed by Jennifer Scott, Bingham Center Public Services Intern.

 

Photographic Research on Obstetric and Gynecological Instruments

Auvard Weighted Speculum from the L. M. Draper Collection..
Auvard Weighted Speculum from the L. M. Draper Collection.

With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I traveled to Duke University to view and photograph historical obstetric and gynecological tools housed in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  There I viewed various artifact collections donated by practicing regional doctors, including the L. M. Draper Collection, the George D. & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection, and several anonymous collections.  I also viewed anatomical lift-the-flap guide books, lift-the-flap anatomical fugitive sheets and the Trent Collection of Ivory Anatomical Manikins, all of which were used to teach medical procedures, including delivery.

Having access to Duke’s collection was an incredible experience.  I treated it like a short artist residency.  I set up my lights, a pop-up tent, my camera and a tripod in a study room within the library.  Every morning, a cart was wheeled in with OB/GYN tools, anatomy text books and glass slides.  It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking), opening up boxes and not knowing their contents.  For some items, I felt I was discovering the files for the first time.  In a way I was: besides the archivists who received and catalogued them, some of the items had never been requested.  I often felt as though I were in the medical field—donning nitrile gloves, carefully removing the items from their boxes, gently lying them down on the fabric of my pop-up lighting tent, careful not to harm them in any way.  I found myself photographing them as abstractions or as jewelry, a style of cataloguing unlike other projects I have photographed.

Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.
Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.

My work focuses on historical and contemporary women’s lives and I am particularly interested in the past’s technology and how it relates to today.  I have previously done photographic projects on antique vibrators, social media and the practice of keeping a commonplace book and with this project, the history of labor and delivery technology.  While the process of getting pregnant has changed with IVF and the location of delivery may have changed, the actual process of delivery has not changed.  Although American society emphasizes new products & experiences, and the medical world uses recent technology & procedures, women continue to deliver only one of two ways—vaginally or via Cesarean section.  Prior to my arrival at Duke, I assumed the tools used in labor and delivery were harmful to the infants and delivering women.  I also wondered how deadly labor actually was—in fictionalized accounts in both books and screen, no female who delivered a newborn ever lived, and seldom the child.  I expected antique tools to be brutal and different in appearance than today.  It surprised me that many of the tools I photographed resembled contemporary tools, only with time’s effect through rust or evident aging.

My research at Duke is the beginning of both my project and into further research on the history of the OB/GYN tools and their uses.  Although in its early stages, I plan to study these tools’ history, as well as their use & influence today.  The final images may be printed as slides, emulating turn of the twentieth century magic-lantern plates or late-twentieth century educational slide shows.  Whatever form these images take, I was particularly inspired by the anatomical lift-the flap books & broad sides and will create an artist book influenced by these interactive educational guides.  I look forward to sharing future developments of this project. Thank you to everyone at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library for their assistance during my stay.

Post contributed by History of Medicine Travel Grant recipient Lindsey Beal. Beal is a photo-based artist and professor in Providence, Rhode Island.  Her work and further information can be found at lindseybeal.com.