Category Archives: From Our Collections

Florence Tate’s Pan-African Activism

Post contributed by David Romine, Rubenstein Library Technical Services intern and P.h.D . Candidate, Duke University Department of History

Florence Tate flipping through a book with a pen in her hand
Florence Tate working as a journalist at the Dayton Daily News

The story of how Florence Tate, a journalist from Dayton, Ohio, and a fixture in the city’s civil rights struggle, became active in African independence movements unfolds in her archive, recently processed and available for researchers at the Rubenstein Library at Duke.

Born in 1931, Florence Tate grew up in during an era when African Americans had already begun to see links between budding African liberation movements and domestic civil rights struggles. Honing her skills in mass communication and expanding her connections with Black reporters and government officials as the first Black female reporter for the Dayton Daily News, Tate also hosted young African exchange students in her home. Along with her husband Charles Tate, she was active in the Dayton chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded several local civil rights organizations including the women’s group Umoja, and was a tireless member of Friends of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When the Coordinating Committee for the 1972 African Liberation Day invited her to participate as the national communications coordinator, she was able to put her skills to use on a national scale. While there had been other days that celebrated African liberation movements in the 1950s and 1960s, the 1972 African Liberation Day, held on Saturday, May 27, proved to be the largest in history and marked a sea change in African American activism.

Marches were scheduled for numerous American cities, including, Chicago and Pittsburgh, but the largest protest was to be held in Washington, DC. On the morning of the march, nearly 10,000 African Americans, some traveling from as far away as Houston, assembled in the Washington neighborhood of Columbia Heights where they set off on a long, snaking route to the National Mall. The marchers walked down Embassy Row and through Rock Creek Park, surprising many white citizens of the District as they loudly chanted, “We are an African People!” Among those leading the march was Queen Mother Audley Moore, a dedicated Black nationalist who had advocated for African independence movements since her days as a member of Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association. At the end of the route, marchers listened to speeches at the Mall given by Imamu Amiri Baraka, Rep. Charles Diggs, and others who implored them to think of the “Black community” as greater than that of any one nation.

Faded and worn cloth pennant with the words March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Let the World Know We Want Freedom
A pennant commemorating Florence Tate’s attendance at the 1963 March on Washington.

While much of Tate’s work on the march was behind the scenes, organizing and handling administrative details, and crafting press releases and other public statements, her role was nevertheless central to the national event. Two years later, during the Sixth Pan-African Congress (6PAC) held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, Tate traveled to Africa for the first time. Not only was she there in the capacity as a reporter, but she was also visiting her daughter, Geri, who was living in Tanzania at the time. It was at 6PAC that she came to meet several Angolan revolutionaries and, upon returning to the United States, began to devote more and more of her time to their cause.  She founded several organizations to get the message of the Angolan liberation movement out to Americans and publicly advocated for those fighting the Portuguese government in African American political circles. These activities were not without controversy. Florence Tate threw her support behind the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) at a time when many of her closest fellow activists, and her own daughter, supported the Popular Movement of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the group that went on to govern independent Angola.

As her archive reveals, Tate’s skillful use of official documents and opinion pieces increased American awareness of the conditions of the Angolan independence fighters. However, two of the groups she organized in Washington went further than op-eds and reportage. One of the first organizations she founded, Friends of Angola, organized a call for trained doctors, nurses, and other medical specialties to apply to be doctors in Angola. Another group, the African Services Bureau, publicized the plight of the Angolan groups fighting Portuguese rule. Having relocated to Washington, DC, she hosted dissident Angolan independence fighters on their visits to the United States, introducing them to diplomatic officials, writing press releases, and publishing op-eds in various American newspapers that were critical of the remaining colonial governments in Africa. Even as she served as the Press Secretary for Marion Barry’s first Mayoral Administration and later for Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential run, Tate remained focused on Angola throughout the 1980s.

While driven by the idea that the Black community extended beyond national boundaries, Tate’s archive reveals the ways in which she was also influenced by the personal connections and her on-the-ground experiences in Africa. Correspondence in her archive reflects the development of long-standing personal friendships and constant communication with Angolan revolutionaries and dissidents throughout the subsequent years of the Angolan Civil War, which did not end until the early 1990s. While other activists’ archives have documented the relationship between African Americans and the West African nations of Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea, Tate’s archive is one of the first to offer insight into the freedom struggles in former Portuguese colonies, and bring to life in less-explored ways the links between the US Southern Freedom Movement and freedom movements in Southern Africa.


SNCC Digital Gateway Closing Events, March 23-24

SNCC Digital Gateway Closing Events

Dates: March 23-24, 2018

Locations: March 23 – White Lecture Hall, Duke East Campus, March 24 – LeRoy T. Walker Complex, North Carolina Central University

On Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Durham, North Carolina, the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, and Duke University Libraries will host closing events for the SNCC Digital Gateway, a project made possible by the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This two-day symposium will reflect on the creation of the SNCC Digital Gateway, where those who made the history are central to telling the story. Activists, scholars, and archivists together reflect on how SNCC’s organizing can inform struggles for self-determination, justice, and democracy today. Highlights include: Keynotes by Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson, co-executive director, Highlander Research & Education Center and philip agnew, co-director, Dream Defenders. We hope you can join us! Follow this link to register and see the full schedule:

A “malicious fabrication” by a “mendacious scribbler for the ‘New York Times’”

Post contributed by Mandy Cooper, Research Services Graduate Intern, and Ph.D. candidate, Duke University Department of History.

Scan of the Cover of Harper's Weekly magazine. Below the masthead is a wood engraving portrait of the Prince of Wales. He is show from the mid-thigh up, leaning against a short pillar on his right, holding a pair of gloves in his right hand.
“His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales” on the cover of Harper’s Weekly, August 25, 1860. (Vol. IV, No. 191)

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Okay, maybe we don’t typically use the word “mendacious” (which means lying) much anymore, but this quote sounds like it could be about a current headline. It reflects an incredibly divided country in which words were a weapon used to condemn everyone and everything on the other side. This quote, though, is from December 1860 and refers to an account of a mob meeting the Prince of Wales during his visit to Richmond, Virginia. The letter was written by John Rutherfoord, a prominent political figure in Virginia, in response to his English cousin’s question about the reports he had heard that a mob met the prince in Richmond.

The report in question was an article published in the New York Times on “The Prince’s Visit to the United States. The Richmond Mob and the Irish Insult.” Despite Rutherfoord’s furious denials of the report as an outright “malicious fabrication” by a reporter for the “venomous Abolition Journal” the New York Times, the article was actually originally published in the London Times and focuses primarily on anti-Irish prejudice. The author assured his readers that most Americans were disgusted by “the Richmond mob” and had “no sympathy with the acts of Irish emigrants in New-York.” Even the author’s description of events in Richmond revolved around anti-Irish sentiment: he thought the mob could have been “stirred up by some Irish or semi-Irish demagogue.” According to the author, the “disorderly mob” pressed constantly on the prince and his party and threw insults at them. After saying that lower-class southern whites were the most “ruffianly and depraved” in America, he then painted a picture of the mob for his readers: “Fancy a mob of four or five hundred slave-dealers, horse-dealers, small planters, liquor-store keepers, and loungers, together with, probably, a large sprinkling of blackguardism from Ireland.” The rest of the article had a similar anti-Irish tone, focusing on the response to fears of a similar situation with Irish immigrants in New York City.


Original article in the New York Times, November 6, 1860.


Harper’s Weekly also published a report about the prince’s ill treatment in London in the October 20, 1860 issue. (Vol. IV, No. 199)

As you might expect, Rutherfoord was furious at the depiction of his fellow southerners, particularly since the event took place in his own city of Richmond. He informed his cousin that even though the prince’s visit was not anticipated or expected, of all cities in the U.S., the prince would have been the most welcome and hospitably entertained in Richmond. He described the last-minute preparations to honor the prince and his party during his visit: from a military escort to the best accommodations in the city. However, the prince asked for no public ceremony or reception and had already found accommodations. He informed his cousin that though there was a crowd to see the prince, “the greatest order & decorum” prevailed, and that even the press of the crowd upon him was not as great as that “by the ruder population of the larger cities in the north.”

Wood engraving of 14 men dressed in 19th century suits with long jackets. Three are seated in chairs, the others standing. The image is captioned "The Prince of Wales and Suite"
“Our Recent Visitors, The Prince of Wales and Suite – A Brady’s Gallery, New York” published in Harper’s Weekly on November 3, 1860. (Vol. IV, No. 201)

This last statement provides a clue about the real reason for Rutherfoord’s anger at the Times and their “mendacious scribbler.” He wrote this letter just over a month after Abraham Lincoln was elected president and just two days after South Carolina’s secession convention unanimously voted to secede from the United States. Not only did he call the New York Times a “venomous Abolition Journal” that constantly vilified the South, but he argued that the North’s “white slaves” were “inferior to our colored slaves in decency and good manners.” The final two-thirds of the letter focused on a second question that his cousin had asked: what he thought of Abraham Lincoln’s election.

Typed transcript of original letter from John Rutherfoord to “My dear Hawksley,” December 19, 1860, in the John Rutherfoord Papers.

Rutherfoord was a wealthy, white, slave-owning southerner. Though his brother-in-law Edward Coles had freed the enslaved people he inherited and, as governor of Illinois, had gotten abolition written into Illinois’s state constitution, Rutherfoord and the rest of his prominent Virginia family were certainly not abolitionists. He told his British cousin, that not only was Lincoln a “third rate Western Lawyer” who was a “small caliber” politician but also that Lincoln’s election was “a great national calamity” that “seriously threatens the dissolution of the American Union at no distant day” and may bring “a disastrous civil war” without a peaceful separation of states. According to Rutherfoord, the southern states were completely faultless in the situation. In fact, he placed the blame squarely on the “sectional party” of Lincoln whose policies would completely ruin the South. More than that, though, Rutherfoord placed the blame for the system of slavery with two groups: England, who introduced slavery to the American colonies, and the northern states. He argued that though Virginia and the rest of the South wanted the abolition of the international slave trade in the Constitution, northern states like Massachusetts insisted that the slave trade should continue for twenty years. He stated that during those twenty years, the northern states imported more than 100,000 slaves, which they sold to southern masters after realizing that free labor was more lucrative and suitable for their states. His description of events makes it clear that in his view any reports that stated otherwise (especially if communicated by abolitionists or other northerners) were unequivocally false.

What can we take from this rambling letter full of exaggerations, stereotypes, and misinformation? Just like the Times article was really a forum to vent anti-Irish prejudice, Rutherfoord’s letter was a place to vent his anger and frustrations with the North. It was a place to set the record straight (at least in his view) about the roots of sectional tensions in the U.S. and the role slavery played in that. While Rutherfoord tried to convince his cousin that the South was the wronged party, his justifications for sectional tensions and possible secession were all about one thing: the threat posed by Northern states (and particularly the Republican Party) to the continued existence of the system of slavery. And so we return to the opening quote: a “malicious fabrication” by a “mendacious scribbler for the ‘New York Times.’” The Times, as a “venomous Abolition Journal” could not be trusted to provide the truth. Any reports about the South were, quite simply, malicious lies.

Courageous and Audacious Ladies of Llangollen

Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby sitting at table with books and cat
A depiction of the Ladies of Llangollen (late 1800s)

Post contributed by Heather McGowan, Public Services Intern for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture

Eleanor Butler was the youngest daughter of the Earl of Ormonde of Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. Her siblings wed and secured their family’s future, but in 1778 39-year-old Eleanor had no plans to marry. Her brother threatened a nunnery and life in a convent for Eleanor.

Twelve miles away, 23-year-old orphaned Sarah Ponsonby, was facing the unwanted sexual advances of her cousin and guardian Sir William Fownes. As Lady Betty Fownes became ill, Sir William was waiting for the day he could call Sarah his new Lady Fownes.

Both women were trapped in unbearable situations. The Ladies met in 1768, Eleanor was appointed Sarah’s tutor and the two formed a deep friendship. They decided to run away to England together and missed the ferry, forcing the two women to hide in a barn. They were caught and taken home. When Sarah became ill, Eleanor ran away to Sarah’s home at Woodstock and hid in Sarah’s bedroom, where Sarah’s maid Mary Carryll smuggled food in to the room. Eleanor was found again, but her family refused to take her back. After a few days, Sarah’s family let them go. The Butlers agreed to provide Eleanor with an annual income of £200, and Sarah’s beloved cousin, Mrs. Sarah Tighe, agreed to a yearly supplement of £80.

In 1778, the Ladies, along with their maid Mary, eloped to the rural vale of Llangollen in Wales and settled down for a life of “delightful retirement.” The Ladies redesigned their cottage in the Gothic style, and spent 50 years studying literature, learning languages, and piecing together a collection of woodcarvings and other works of art. The letters that make up the majority of the Ladies of Llangollen collection in Rubenstein Library are written from Sarah to her cousin, Mrs. Sarah Tighe, who hesitantly accepted the Ladies’ lifestyle.

Manuscript with hand-writing
Letter from Sarah Ponsonby to Sarah Tighe, September 17, 1785 from the Ladies of Llangollen collection

The two Sarahs wrote to each other for the remainder of Ponsonby’s life about their lives in Ireland and Llangollen. Tighe kept Ponsonby abreast of political happenings (revolutions and counter-revolutions in Ireland between the 1770s and 1820), as well as social and family matters at home, while Ponsonby told Tighe of her idyllic life iwth Eleanor reading, gardening, and enjoying the culture in Llangollen.

Despite their hopes to live a life of quiet retreat, their elopement catapulted the Ladies into the nineteenth century press. The highest echelons of cultural and social elites found their way to the door of the Ladies home, Plas Newydd. They entertained up to 20 visitors a day; William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott and even Queen Charlotte all came to talk and spend time with the Ladies of Llangollen. Questions about the nature of the Ladies ‘romantic friendship,’ circulated around this extraordinary pair both during and well after their lifetimes. Eleanor was described as masculine, while Sarah was seen as more feminine, but once in Llangollen, both cropped their hair and wore dark riding habits. The Ladies shared a home and a life of devotion in their retreat at Llangollen. Eleanor Butler died on June 2, 1829 and three years later Sarah Ponsonby died in December of 1832. Upon Sarah’s death, Plas Newydd was publicly sold.

In addition to the letters in the collection, the Ladies of Llangollen, their home, and Llangollen itself are thoroughly documented in drawings, photographs, and print materials produced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their position as courageous and audacious Irish aristocrats who broke away from the constraints of convention gained them substantial notoriety.

Painting of Ladies of Llangollen on the porcelain, showing ladies in dark clothes and top hats.
Porcelain basket with color image of the Ladies of Llangollen.

This collection, especially the objects and printed material, capture the world’s curiosity about the Ladies’ life. Their images were printed on tea cups, figurines, prints, and postcards, and their story was told and retold in accounts by neighbors, friends, and visitors to Llangollen. As a result, Llangollen became a destination and an ongoing source of fascination because of the two ladies who risked everything to live the life they always dreamed of, together.

Two women in dark riding clothes and top hats.
Figurine of Ladies of Llangollen in their riding habits.

The newly-processed Ladies of Llangollen collection was received as part of the Lisa Unger Baskin collection in 2015.

Sojourner Truth’s Narrative

Post contributed by Jessica Janecki and Lauren Reno

Over the past few years, the Rubenstein Library acquired some early editions of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth. These new acquisitions allowed catalogers in the Technical Services department to reevaluate and re-catalog these editions of the Narrative according to more current standards. We were surprised to find upon searching OCLC, the union catalog used by libraries around the world, that authorship for the Narrative was given to Olive Gilbert in most of the catalog records for various editions. This gave us pause and cause to look more closely at the history of the Narrative, the life of Sojourner Truth, and ultimately how to approach the cataloging of one of the most important books of the 19th century by one of the foremost abolitionists and feminists.

The attribution to Gilbert is problematic given that the first edition in 1850 and subsequent editions to 1878 reference Truth as the author in the publication statement with wording such as, “Printed for the Author,” or “Published for the Author.” Cursory research would show that Truth acted as her own publisher and distributor. This statement confirms that she also considered herself the author. Additionally, Gilbert’s name does not appear anywhere on any 19th century editions of the Narrative. Meaning, those attributing authorship to Gilbert had to be conducting some research into the history of the Narrative, and were likely to come across the fact that Truth was also the publisher and distributor.

1850 edition of Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Title page and frontispiece portrait of the first edition of ‘Narrative,’ 1850.

What emerged when we looked at more recent research, mostly consulting Nell Irvin Painter’s biography Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, was unsurprisingly that the history of the writing and publication of the Narrative is complex. This however does not account for this century-long misattribution of authorship.

Continue reading Sojourner Truth’s Narrative

#28daysofblack at the Rubenstein

Post contributed by Rubenstein Library staff

Materials from various collections at the Rubenstein Library that feature African Americans.
Photos from collections in the Rubenstein Library that will be featured during Black History Month.

Happy Black History Month! This year we’ll be celebrating #28daysofblack by sharing materials from the Rubenstein Library’s collections and by highlighting our work on current projects. Stay tuned to follow our rare materials catalogers and manuscript archivists as they catalog and process collections that feature black authors, activists, artists, characters, entrepreneurs, and families. You will also be hearing regularly from John Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. John will be posting about the SNCC Legacy project, among many other things. You can follow us on our various social media platforms:



Franklin Center Facebook:

Franklin Center twitter:

Look for the #28daysofblack, #bhm, #blackbooks, and #blackarchives hashtags.

Here’s a brief rundown of the projects we will be working on for #28daysofblack:

SNCC Legacy Project

In the 1960s a group of brash young organizers worked alongside local people in the Deep South to change the direction of America. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a key catalyst for mobilizing grassroots activists to address voting and political power, economic equity, education, and civil rights. Over the last three years, the SNCC Digital Gateway project has worked to create an online platform that highlights the work of SNCC activists, mentors and allies using primary sources from our library and libraries across the country.

Contract with freedmen on Plains Plantation, 1865 June 8-August 28

Contract that binds newly-freed African Americans to the Plains Plantation in Mississippi.
Newly acquired Freedmen’s contract, 1865.

This worn and creased contract was once framed and ostensibly hung on someone’s wall. It contains language binding newly-freed African Americans and their children to the Plains Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi and was signed not even a month after the Civil War was over. According to the contract, the laborers committed to working every day “from sun to sun,” except Sunday, with other possible days off. They were to be paid one quarter of the net proceeds for the crop. Surnames of the freedmen include: Wilson, Thompson, Digg, Turner, Lonsway, Hatton, Clement, Willis, Payne, West, Blair, Garner, Kelley, Arran, and Johnson. The contract was written in iron gall ink, which caused corrosion of the paper. It now has a catalog record and a collection guide and is currently with Duke Libraries’ Conservation Department to receive repairs and proper housing.

Radio Haiti

Destroyed office of Radio Haiti.
Radio Haiti in 1986.

Radio Haiti is an ongoing, multi-year project to create a trilingual (Haitian Creole, French, and English) public-facing digital archive of all the audio of Radio Haiti-Inter, Haiti’s first and most prominent independent radio station. Our goal is to make the content as accessible as possible to people living in Haiti.

In February, we are going to finish up the processing of Radio Haiti’s papers, and archivist Laura Wagner will be traveling to Haiti to continue to do outreach around the project and to distribute flash drives with a large selection of Radio Haiti audio (around 500 recordings) to libraries in Haiti.

Allen Building Takeover

February 13th will mark the 49th anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover at Duke in 1969. This month we’ll be continuing work on the Vice President for Student Affairs Records, which include materials documenting the events during and after the Allen Building Takeover. Some items of note include eye-witness accounts of events written by students as well as materials documenting the administration’s planning for an African and African-American Studies Program in the wake of the Allen Building Takeover.

Continue reading #28daysofblack at the Rubenstein

For the Eyes of a Princess: Jean Dominique on the Life and Death of Richard Brisson

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D,  Radio Haiti Archivist

Richard Brisson. Photo from the The International Center for the Documentation of Haitian,
Caribbean and African-Canadian Information (CIDIHCA)

In January 1982, Richard Brisson – poet, actor, journalist, station manager at Radio Haïti-Inter – was killed, along with Robert Mathurin and Louis Célestin, following a quixotic attempt to invade Haiti via Île-de-la-Tortue, the island off Haiti’s northern coast. He was thirty-one years old. Along with the rest of Radio Haiti’s journalists, Brisson had been in exile following the Duvalier regime’s violent crackdown on the independent press on November 28, 1980. Richard, they say, could not bear exile. The dictatorship claimed that Brisson and his comrades had been killed in combat. They were, in fact, executed.

An article from the New York-based Haitian newspaper Haïti Observateur (Jan 15-22, 1982) about the invasion in which Richard was killed. With no respect for international conventions concerning the rights of prisoners of war, the Duvalier regime summarily executed three rebels captured on Ile de la Tortue. A brief communiqué from the Minister of Information, Jean-Marie Chanoine, stated that Louis Célestin, Robert Mathurin, and Richard Brisson “had succumbed to their injuries.”

In 1987, a few months after Radio Haiti returned from exile after the fall of Duvalier, they paid tribute to Richard Brisson. The broadcast opened and closed with the Alain Barrière song “Un poète,” which begins, “A poet does not live long.” Richard’s cousins Ady Brisson and Freddy Burr-Reynaud and Radio Haiti journalists Michèle Montas, Konpè Filo, and Jean Dominique remembered Richard the journalist, the poet, the iconoclast, the dreamer.

Dominique’s words are translated below.

An excerpt from Jean Dominique’s original text commemorating Richard Brisson. These papers are currently being processed as part of the Radio Haiti records.

This would have been the title of a fine fairytale, Richard’s death, for the two eyes of a princess. I have rightly said “two eyes” [deux yeux] and not “sweet eyes” [doux yeux]. But quickly consider, good people, that this is the wicked fairy godmother[i] of whom we speak, that evil princess whose two eyes Richard wished to gouge out in a famous song about one of the poor neighborhoods of our capital — do you recall, “Panno Caye Nan Bois Chêne”?[ii] And it was due to an evil spell cast by those two eyes that our poet was killed. But his murderers were so ashamed of their crime that they then tried to disguise it as a death in combat. Yet you must have seen those photos of Richard and his two comrades shackled and perfectly alive after their arrest on Île de la Tortue…

I read in the newspaper that slumber eludes that wicked fairy who so despised Richard, now in exile in France where she and her husband were dispatched, thanks to the complacency, or the complicity, of the world’s powerful. “She cannot sleep at night!” she complained. The ghost of Richard must haunt her sleepless nights, and that is as it should be.

For the death of Richard, whose memory we are celebrating this week, paradoxically raises very current questions. Paradoxically, because Richard approached news as he approached politics, as he approached everything: as a poet. He wanted to represent Léogâne in parliament, like his grandfather Frédéric Burr Reynaud. Richard’s photo soon hung from the electrical towers along the road. When asked about his lack of political experience, he laughed uproariously and responded, brows knitted: “Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.” And when Luc Désir[iii] made it clear to him this was not his place: “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” demanded the Duvaliers’ chief torturer, future lackey of the wicked fairy. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” Richard told me this story smiling once more, then added, “Jean Do, are we truly the Jews of this land?” And on he went, whistling, hands in his pockets, a song by Jacques Brel on his lips, a song about the bourgeois who are like… you know…[iv]

Continue reading For the Eyes of a Princess: Jean Dominique on the Life and Death of Richard Brisson

The Last Chapters of Kenneth Arrow’s Work

Post contributed by Jonathan Cogliano, Assistant Professor for the Department of Economics at Dickinson College. 

A few of Kenneth Arrow’s medals, including the John von Neumann Theory Prize, the National Medal of Science, and the John Bates Clark Medal.

The Economists’ Papers Archive features collections from some of most influential economists of the post-war era, and among this impressive group are the recently re-processed papers of Kenneth J. Arrow (look for the new finding guide soon!). Arrow’s contributions to the field of economics are wide-ranging, notable among them are: his contributions to social choice theory—with the eponymous Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem—and welfare economics; his work with Gérard Debreu on the development of general equilibrium theory; the idea of learning-by-doing as a driver of economic growth and innovation; and the problems posed by asymmetries in information available to people when making economic decisions. Over his lifetime he received numerous awards for his work, including the John Bates Clark Medal (at the time, awarded biennially by the American Economic Association to the economist under the age of 40 who has made “the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge”), the John von Neumann Theory Prize in operations research, the National Medal of Science, and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (shared with John R. Hicks), as well as numerous others and honorary degrees. Arrow’s, perhaps, lesser known contributions outside of economic theory include work on the abatement of acid rain with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), efforts to build a program to provide affordable malaria medications with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and political advocacy on behalf of persecuted scholars under repressive regimes throughout the world, among many others.

Arrow passed away in February, 2017 and this meant that new additions were made to his collection at the Economists’ Papers Archive. With a substantial amount of his papers already at the Rubenstein Library, the arrival of new materials required careful incorporation into the existing collection and management of a large quantity of physical materials (over 90 boxes in total!). This large and complicated re-processing project took several months and entailed  significant  re-organization, including the incorporation of his numerous prizes and the last chapters of his life; Arrow kept working until shortly before his death. How does one go about keeping track of such a large project with a number of boxes stored offsite at any one time? Well, a couple of Excel spreadsheets and a few lines of code can help to sort things out (an example is pictured below).

An example of how computer code helped sort and keep track of Arrow’s large collection during re-processing.


Using computing power to help overcome the challenges of sorting and tracking boxes in an archival collection may seem unrelated to the work of Kenneth Arrow, but his contributions to information economics and the economics of complex systems (via the Santa Fe Institute) helped pave the way for a burgeoning body of work applying computational modeling to economics. (They have, at least, been influential for the computational work done by the economist writing this post.)

The impact of Arrow’s work is too expansive to fully capture here, but having his papers available again in the Economists’ Papers Archive will prove an invaluable resource for those interested in one of the most influential economists of the post-war era.

A Cylinder from ‘On the Square’

This post is contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, History of Medicine Collections

Purified talcum powder, 20th century
Morganton, NC: Spake Pharmacy
Item hbirdw0001
Warren Bird Collection Artifacts
History of Medicine artifacts collection, 1550-1980s

There are many extraordinary items in the History of Medicine artifacts collection: Bloodletting fleams, trepanation kits, bone saws, and ivory handled dental tools. But for me, the most magic dwells in the unassuming items that ask us to tell their stories, such as a diminutive paper cylinder measuring 3 ¼ inches in height and 2 inches in diameter. This Kraft brown tube is capped on each side by scalloped-edge paper in dark blue. I fall in love with the simplicity and utility of this object – its design, its size, its weight in my hands. A small amount of its contents, Purified Talcum Powder, remains inside. A label emblazoned across the front declares that the product was dispensed at Spake Pharmacy in Morganton, North Carolina.

The January 1937 edition of The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy heralds the opening of the Mimosa City’s newest drug store: “The Spake Pharmacy is the name of a new drug store which was formally opened in Morganton on Dec. 9 (1936) by Mr. Y. E. Spake. The new proprietor has spent fourteen years in drug work in Morganton, coming to that town from Kings Mountain where he was a partner in the wholesale drug firm of the Mauney Drug Co. The prescriptionist will be Mr. W. P. Phillips, originally from Morehead City, who goes to Morganton from Charlotte where he was connected with J. P. Stowe and Co. The new store, Mr. Spake says, ‘will offer complete prescription service, in addition to maintaining a modern fountain and a complete line of other medical supplies, cosmetics, and other goods.’”[1] At the time of the store’s opening, purified talcum powder could be obtained from a wholesale druggist for approximately 20 to 40 cents per pound.

Freeman’s Violet Talcum, 1900s-1910s
Freeman Perfume Co., Cincinnati. Text on reverse explains difference between talcum and face powders. Offer for a sample of Freeman’s Face Powder. For sale by G.E.B. Fairbanks Druggist, Providence, R.I.
Cosmetics Trade Samples and Sachet collection, 1890s-1930s
Box 1
Item RL11349-0024

Talcum powder is a refined powder form of the mineral talc, which rose to commercial popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries. Advertised as ‘thoroughly antiseptic’ and intended for use by the young and old alike, it was generally applied after bathing, shaving, or partaking in outdoor activities. Talcum powder was thought to cool the skin on hot days, sooth irritation, and keep the skin ‘comfortable.’ On babies, it was used to prevent chafing and ‘nappy’ soreness. Adults dusted the powder on their bodies to absorb dampness and neutralize body odors. Advertisements aimed specifically at women promoted its scented quality, proclaiming that talcum powder would keep them ‘dainty’ and fragrant ‘like a newly opened flower’ when essential oils were added to the product – typically rose, lavender or violet. Given its myriad uses, powder-filled tin canisters, glass bottles, and paper cylinders like the one dispensed at Spake Pharmacy, would have been a common sight within the medicine cabinets and on the dressing tables of many American households.

Ross, M. (1944). The 1944 Cat’s Tale, Vol. II. Morganton, NC: Morganton High School, 79.

Occupying a small space on North Sterling Street, Spake Pharmacy first operated under the catchphrase, “The little store with the big heart.” In addition to dispensing and delivering prescriptions, they sold fountain drinks, Blue Ridge Ice Cream, and Martha Washington candies. In the early 1940s, Yates Ellis Spake moved his business to a prominent location at the corner Union and Sterling Streets and adopted the iconic slogan, “On the Square.” While the talcum powder cylinder is undated, the presence of this simple slogan on the label indicates that it was dispensed sometime after the move.

Between 1936 and January of 1953, Spake and his team filled over 300,000 prescriptions.[2] A set of these were captured in a small 1950s feature, entitled ‘Rx Oddity’: “Yates E. Spake of Morganton sends us a list of three prescriptions filled for a customer recently: (1) 1 bottle of Cortone Tablets, $30; (2) 1 Rx for Terramycin Caps., $14.40; and (3) 1 Rx for an ice cream cone, 5c. ‘I have never experienced anything like this during all my years in the drug business,’ says Yates.”[3]


(September 1946). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXVII(9), 378.
Y.E. Spake appears as the first standing from left.

Under the leadership of J.A. Hurt, Spake Pharmacy moved locations for a third and final time in 1966 to 307 West Union Street. Spake Pharmacy last appears in the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy’s ‘List of Drug Stores’ for Morganton in 1970 with J. A. Hurt, Jr. certified as pharmacist in charge. By 1971, the address was assumed by Burke Pharmacy, Inc.

[1]Happenings of Interest. (January 1937). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XVIII(1), 8.Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94.

[2]Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94

[3]Rx Oddity. (December 1951). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXII(12), 581.

New Acquisition about The Most Famous Reindeer of All

Post contributed by Claire Payton, John W.  Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History intern and Ph.D. candidate, Duke University Department of History

Just in time for the holiday season, the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History in the David M. Rubenstein Library has acquired a copy of the 1939 booklet that introduced Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to the world.

Rudolph was invented by a Robert L. May, a 35-year old copywriter, for a promotional campaign at the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago. May was inspired to pen the story of the humble, resilient, reindeer to cheer his daughter Barbara, whose mother was dying from cancer. Drawing from the “Ugly Duckling” story and his own memories of being ostracized as a child, May wrote a tale of an odd-looking deer whose unusual bright-red nose saves the day after Santa asks him to light the way on a particularly cloudy and foggy Christmas Eve. In the end, Rudolph is feted and admired by reindeer-peers who previously had bullied him. May collaborated with Denver Gillen, a colleague from Montgomery Ward’s art department, to create drawings to accompany the story. Their booklet, which first appeared in November 1939, became a hit, with nearly 2.5 million copies printed and distributed.

Production of the pamphlet ceased during WWII. Montgomery Ward resumed the marketing campaign in 1946, printing another 3.6 million copies. But in January 1947, for reasons that remain unclear, department story executives turned over copyright on the Rudolph story to May. This was a boon to the May family, which was reeling from medical bills accrued during the illness and death of May’s wife.

Luckily, the delightful story continued to enchant. In 1948, Rudolph became the hero of a short animated Christmas film. The following year, May’s brother-in-law, a songwriter named Johnny Marks, composed a jingle based on the reindeer’s adventure. The song was picked up by country-singer Gene Autry, whose version would become a smash-hit, selling more than 25 million copies worldwide. This song became the basis of a 1964 stop-motion animated film by Rankin/ Bass Productions based on Rudolph’s story.  The film became a classic holiday special that continues to air today. Rudolph not only saved Christmas, he also saved the May family from bankruptcy.

This unassuming 78-year-old booklet introduced an unlikely hero who transformed the life of an Illinois family and the culture of Christmas around the world.