The Centennial of a Centennial: #explore1818

Note: This post is also published on steemit, which is the platform we’re using this semester in my Non-Profit Management class.

Through the #explore1918 tag, my classmates and I have been looking at different parts of what was going on in 1918. We’ve covered huge events like the Spanish flu and the end of WWI, to topics with huge legacies like the first Tarzan film, to parts of daily life like cooking and music.

But what would this project look like if we were living in 1918, and our assignment was instead to #explore1818?

First of all, we would probably look like this writing our posts today…. Image courtesy of giphy.

How did I do this?

To see what those living in 1918 were learning about 1818, I searched for mentions of “centennial” in national newspapers. However, this brought up a lot of news stories about organizations that simply have “centennial” in their name.

The Washington Post, September 4, 1918

In addition to the Washington Centennial Lodge, I also found Centennial Baptist churches, and even the Boston Centennial Mining Company.

So what were the actual centennials?

After filtering out the proper nouns, I was left with a large collection of what 100-year anniversaries people were celebrating:

  • The statehood of Illinois in December 1818, which was being prepared for throughout the year, and had celebrations including the Illinois Centennial Exhibition and the unveiling of a statue of the first governor;
  • The first diplomatic mission to Argentina on February 28, 1818, which was celebrated by American Ambassador Stimson and Foreign Minister Pueyrredon;
  • The founding of the Protestant Episcopal Educational Society in Virginia, an early seminary, the centennial of which was celebrated by a speech by Reverend Randolph H. McKim on how seminarians supported “the Great War”;
  • The Battle of Maipú, a decisive victory by South American revolutionaries against Spanish forces during the Chilean War of Independence;
  • The first steamship was launched from an American port, and in 1919, the ship sailed from Savannah to London in 25 days, 18 of which used steam power.

And in the Philadelphia area?

The Washington Post, Aug 23 1918
  • The Frankford Arsenal had its centennial, and workers celebrated by… pledging their anti-union loyalties to the arsenal?
  • The city of Lancaster turned 100 years old. A gigantic celebration had been in the works for several years, but with the Great War raging, the city opted instead for a single day of speeches and a choir performance;
  • Similarly, the Cumberland County Medical Society, reporting out of Bridgeton, NJ, decided to postpone its centennial celebrations due to wartime conditions;
  • Fall brought the centennial of public schools in Philadelphia, though this acknowledgment focused on the school system’s shortcomings, as an influx of families looking for war work in Philadelphia worsened a previous shortage of teachers;
  • The First Baptist Church in Haddonfield, NJ celebrated with a canceling of the church’s debt and the publication of the church’s history;
  • James E. Erichson, a veteran of the Civil War now living in Sewell, NJ, turned 100 years old and said he hoped to celebrate his birthday with an American victory during WWI.

Many more important things happened in 1818, plus unimportant things that are still important to learn about. This exploration could be continued through alternative search methods, since centennial celebrations might use different terminology.

If you were living in 1918, what would you want to know about life in 1818? How are these questions different than our interests in 1918?


Bryn Mawr College, Quarantines, and a Spanish Flu Success Story

Note: This post is also published on steemit, which is the platform we’re using this semester in my Non-Profit Management class.

On October 10, 1918, a strange group of people gathered on Merion Green at Bryn Mawr College. Members of the Christian Association covered their bodies with masks, gowns, and other costumes, and instead of shaking others’ hands, they extended yardsticks in their classmates’ direction. This was the “anti-flu party,” and it was one attempt to carry on with campus life during the school’s heavy quarantine.

Merion Green, Bryn Mawr College. Image courtesy of Bryn Mawr College.

Keeping Students Safe

Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s college located just outside Philadelphia, instituted a quarantine that, despite 110 flu cases reported, saw 0 fatalities. The president, M. Carey Thomas, was familiar with the science of the time regarding the epidemic and instituted the quarantine to prevent the spread of disease. As early as the first reported case, on September 26, she wrote to a colleague about how it was a problem that others were visiting the sick student. Shortly after, her quarantine banned all students from crossing Montgomery Ave, taking trains, and coming to school at all if they lived off-campus. Faculty living off-campus, external speakers, and relatives of healthy students also could not come to campus.

Bryn Mawr College News, October 2, 1918. Enlist in the health army!

As the disease progressed, so did the quarantine. Thomas implemented more and more restrictions, required all students and faculty to get vaccinations, and even included herself in the quarantine.

M. Thomas (via secretary) to M. Stone, October 15, 1918

College staff also helped to make sure the quarantine was diligently followed.

Bryn Mawr College News, November 7, 1918

A Successful Quarantine?

Despite the meticulousness of Thomas in implementing her quarantine, not everyone followed it. On October 17, a Lost & Found column listed one student who had “had never heard of quarantine regulations.” The column explained that “she escaped all conversational references to these college interests owing to the fact that she was spending most of her time in the labyrinths of Wanamaker’s.”

Students bristled against the restrictions, with one student journalist describing how the college has been “violently cut off” from all infusions of outside life.” Thomas repeatedly reprimanded students for breaking the quarantine, such as on November 2, when she discovered students sleeping in a dorm other than their own, and on November 5, when two people mysteriously put the college’s Department of Health into an unwanted position. The college’s health department at this point was so packed that even Thomas herself assisted doctors and nurses in caring for sick students.

M. Thomas to A. Dunn, November 5, 1918. What did they do???

Others attempted to carry on with the college’s many traditions, such as Lantern Night, typically held in early November.

Bryn Mawr College News, November 7, 1918. During Lantern Night, freshmen are officially welcomed into the college by ceremoniously receiving colored lanterns that represent their cohort.

An End in Sight

By the second week of November, the quarantine began to be slowly lifted, and the campus gradually returned to normal. To celebrate, students flocked to Philadelphia, partied outside, and even convinced the school to cancel classes.

Bryn Mawr College News, November 7, 1918

So what?

When we learn about the past, so often we focus on major players. Regarding the Spanish flu, studies often focus on heroes like the nurses and humanitarians, the victims, or villains like Wilmer Krusen. Less often studied is the general populace — how did ordinary people withstand and survive the disease itself and an atmosphere saturated with death and tragedy?

Bryn Mawr students proudly sing about fighting not just for their bread, but for roses too. M. Carey Thomas successfully fought for students’ “bread” through her strict quarantines protecting students. And by attempting to hold onto a semblance of normal life during a very abnormal time, students had their roses too.

All documents from the collections of Bryn Mawr College Library, Bryn Mawr, PA.
For more information, click here.

Human Value and Immigration: Exemptions from the Immigration Act of 1917

Note: This post is also published on steemit, which is the platform we’re using this semester in my Non-Profit Management class.

In 1917, the United States went to war. The government built up public support for America’s participation in “the Great War” by promoting patriotism, such as through the now-iconic image of Uncle Sam.

Though the character was originally created around the early nineteenth century, Uncle Sam didn’t become a prominent symbol until WWI. Source: Public domain, Library of Congress.

This promotion of American patriotism, against a backdrop of 23 million immigrants entering the country, provoked a desire for non-immigrants to protect their definition of American identity. This largely translated into anti-immigrant sentiment and public support for tighter immigration laws.

One such popular law was a literacy test. One had been introduced periodically since 1894, but was subsequently vetoed by the respective president in office. In 1917, the literacy test was introduced again, with enough support to override President Wilson’s veto. Now, immigrants wishing to enter the United States would have to read 30-40 words of their native language. Additionally, due to xenophobic fears like “yellow peril,” the Immigration Act of 1917 set up the Asiatic Barred Zone, which denied all immigrants from southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East.

In June 1918, however, this law was put on hold. Increased demand for supplies during the war, as well as increased demand on bodies to comprise the army, put a drain on workers for farms, coal mines, and railroad repair. To alleviate this drain, Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson lifted the literacy test for Mexican immigrants intending to work in those areas.

The Washington Post, June 20, 1918

Initially, this allowance was meant to be temporary; Mexican workers, already likely receiving minimal pay, would have a small amount of money withheld, which would then be returned when the worker returned to Mexico. By August, this provision was also lifted. This exemption from the literacy test for Mexican workers lasted until 1921.

In modern discourse, one common argument for restricting immigration is the accusation that immigrants will “steal” non-immigrants’ jobs. At the same time, immigration supporters and activists will often lift up the accomplishments of immigrants as proof that they bring value to American culture. Support for a merit-based immigration systemcontinues to grow. In all of these contexts, immigrants are reduced to their abilities and their potential for productivity.

However, this approach to immigration ignores all the qualities in a person beyond their ability to work. While it’s great to celebrate one’s accomplishments, that should not be a person’s sole qualifications to enter the country or to otherwise have a good life. This approach ignores immigrants’ worries, their hopes, their interests. For Mexicans entering the United States in 1918, it ignores their fear and need to escape the violent Mexican Revolution, which had been raging for nearly a decade at the time. For current immigrants, a so-called merit-based system ignores how America represents a better life. Jealously protecting “American” identities undercuts the dream that we can all thrive — and what could be more patriotic than encouraging people to come and follow their American dreams?

Don M Coerver, “Immigration/Emigration,” in Mexico: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and History, ABC-CLIO, 2004.

שוואַרץ חתונה: Marrying the Spanish Flu Away

Note: This post is also published on steemit, which is the platform we’re using this semester in my Non-Profit Management class.

On October 25, 1918, Harry Rosenberg and Fanny Jacobs stood together in a cemetery near Cobb’s Creek. They didn’t know each other, and the main quality they had in common was a lack of wealth and a desire to save their community. With an audience of 1,200 Russian Jewish immigrants, they wed.

Harry and Fanny were participating in a shvartse khasene (שוואַרץ חתונה, “black wedding”) This ceremony borrowed from Eastern European superstition that marrying in a ceremony would protect from tragedy: while Russian and Polish traditions differed, the main idea was that the wedding would appeal to the dead, who could intercede on the living’s behalf. Additionally, the sad sight of poor, young people marrying in a desolate location would induce God to have pity on the couple, and thus halt the spread of disease. Most research into this obscure tradition involves a cholera epidemic in 1892 Poland, but when Jews from such areas immigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century, just in time for another epidemic, this custom arrived with them.


An excerpt from The Advocate, October 26, 1918.

At the time of Harry and Fanny’s wedding, the Spanish flu epidemic was at its peak. In Philadelphia, nearly 700,000 lives were claimed, and a city came together to beat the disease. Public gatherings were banned, social groups donated time and supplies, and in an atmosphere of desperation, a handful of couples hoped this tradition from the “old country” might make a difference.

Granted, it’s easy to look through past newspapers and be amused or disturbed by such a custom. Admittedly, it was this voyeuristic reaction that attracted me towards learning more about this tradition while researching responses to the Spanish flu. However, examining the shvartse khasene in the context of both the Spanish flu epidemic and the larger wave of Eastern European immigration reveals a lot about the mindset of immigrants living through this plague.

Even contemporary voices looked on this tradition with disdain. The Jewish Exponent, October 25, 1918.

By the time Washington Avenue Immigration Station was demolished in 1915, around one million immigrants had arrived in Philadelphia, and those who stayed in the city primarily lived in tight-knit communities with other immigrants. For Eastern European Jews, their primary destination was the Jewish Quarter, now Society Hill, and Poplar. Surrounded by the patriotism of WWI, the Americanization Movement, nativist fears, the many resources of local settlement houses, and the constant striving towards the American dream, immigrants faced a constant struggle between being used to an old way of life and embracing a new one. What place could, or should, such superstitions carry in a new environment?

It’s interesting to note that, actually, the tradition of the shvartse khaseneitself derives from a cultural compromise: Hanna Węgrzynek traces the social influences of the black wedding, including elements of Slavic Christian celebration of All Saint’s Day, medieval Jewish magic, and kabbalah. These connections are not straightforward, but instead indicate a shifting relationship between Jews, who first migrated to what is now Eastern Europe in the thirteenth century, and their Christian neighbors.

At the same time, we can use the custom of the shvartse khasene to look at human response in the face of tragedy. Looking at marriage as a major milestone in one’s life, Harry and Fanny made a major sacrifice in using their marriage towards a greater good. Further research or genealogy could be used to theorize their thoughts and reactions: how long did their marriage last? Did they have children? Or perhaps did they end up succumbing to the Spanish flu too? At the very least, I imagine them saying: “So many people have already died; how could this hurt?” All in all, the epidemic finally came to an end by summer 1919 — but how much the black weddings contributed to that is not for me to decide.

Dynner, Glenn. Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011.

Wirth, Thomas. “Influenza.” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, 2011.

What’s in a name? Trans people and LC authority records

While writing one of my final papers, I ran into a peculiar problem: how do I cite two different publications by an author when their name has changed?

In this situation, it seems as though the author has an uncommon first name with a distinct cultural marker, and changed to using a more common nickname that could be derived from their full name. How can I honor an individual’s preferences while still making sure my bibliography is navigable?

Fortunately, the Library of Congress helps maintain consistency in these cases. Through authority records, standards can be put into place for how to refer to individuals, organizations, corporations, and other proper nouns. Authority records also exist for subjects, such as content areas. This is especially useful regarding figures who use middle names and use pseudonyms, or events that are known by different names. These authority records can then be used in places such as metadata in libraries or in archives’ finding aids.

According to the Library of Congress, name authority records are updated daily, and subject authority records are updated weekly. However, they fail to mention who submits these changes, and why, and how immediately after they’re needed. In actuality, libraries can submit changes as an institution, or individual non-librarians can use forms to propose changes, although there’s no guarantee that the changes will be implemented. It’s for these reasons, and others, that trans people are frequently harmed by these subject headings.

The most common way this happens is through someone’s deadname appearing in their authority record. While authority records tend to be categorized under a single standard name, alternative names are included in the body of the record to assist in searches. Even when a trans person’s actual name is listed as the authority record, their deadname may still be included in the record. Alternatively, even when deadnames are not included in the record, an authority record might have a notation that an individual’s name was not their name assigned at birth: an unnecessary distinction for those who have never published under their deadname.

Additionally, subject authority records betray an unfamiliarity and other biases regarding trans-related subjects. For example, “Transsexuals” and “Transvestites” were created in the 1980s, and “Transgender people” not until 2007. “Female-to-male transsexuals” was created in 2002 and “Male-to-female transsexuals” not until 2006, and still no subject headings exist related to genderqueer people.

It is not uncommon for the general public to think of archives and libraries as neutral, authoritative institutions. However, authority records regarding trans people serve as a reminder that, like any public institution, archives and libraries reflect societal attitudes and biases. In this case, systematic transphobia shows up in stagnant and outdated language and naming practices used in records meant to set standards of identification. While many librarians and archivists are working towards changing this situation, like most responses to institutional bigotry, it’s a slow process.

(As for the author I’m citing? Her authority record was under her nickname!)

Angell, Katelyn, and K.R. Roberto. “Cataloging.” Transgender Studies Quarterly 1.1-2 (2014), 53-56.

“Frequently Asked Questions,” Library of Congress Authorities

Thompson, Kelly J. “More Than a Name: A Content Analysis of Name Authority Records for Authors Who Self-Identify as Trans.” Library Resources & Technical Services 60 no. 3 (2016): 140-155.

Time in Memorials

Last week (or the week before? what meaning does linear time still have?) in my Material Culture class, we did an impromptu scavenger hunt for as many different memorials or monuments as we could find. In the area around Penn’s Landing, with its open space and changing landscape, there were plenty.

The majority of monuments were permanent structures of triumphalist history, including memorials and statues for Christopher Columbus, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Others, dotting Spruce Street Harbor Park, were monuments to different cultural heritages, honoring Costa Rican, Javanese, and Korean traditions.

Afterwards, we were asked to somehow map the monuments that we found. To accomplish this, we tried to categorize them into some kind of taxonomy, such as by subject matter. Biographical, military, cultural…

However, I offered another kind of taxonomy: temporal categories. Especially having visited shortly after Veterans’ Day, we saw a collection of monuments taking up different amounts and kinds of time, in addition to different kinds of space.

The most populous, and expected, type of monument we saw were permanent monuments. These were mostly statues and similar constructions, paid for and maintained by private veterans’ organizations or government offices. These become sites of memory: a place to remember whatever is being commemorated.

The Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

A subset of this is future permanent monuments: permanent monuments that have not yet been built. We ran into one example of this, where spray-painted markings showed where a monument will soon be placed.

Another section of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which looks like it will become a memorial for Prisoners of War. writing on the sidewalk indicates where a stone will go. 

Another subset of this could be called finite permanent monuments. This would be a monument intended to be permanent, but no longer exists in whole or in part. This memorial commemorated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, apparently through both a plaque and the planting of trees. While the picture doesn’t show it, there were no trees nearby — where did they go? Or is the text just misleading?

Jewish National Fund Council of Philadelphia memorial

The counterpart to permanent monuments are, of course, temporary monuments. Doing this exercise right after Veterans Day, we saw plenty of flowers, flags, and tokens left at these sites, presumably by veterans, family, and others coming to honor the victims of war. In these cases, the act of placing the token at the site is as much a form of memorial as the physical objects themselves. A bouquet of flowers is one thing, but a bouquet of flowers placed on a memorial stone takes on an entirely separate meaning. These tokens also bridge the gap between inanimate objects being the holders of memory, and humans participating in that ceremonial remembering.

A single rose placed in honor of this Medal of Honor recipient, near the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Before you think I’m setting up a dichotomy of permanency, I want to consider graffiti a form of memorial. In particular, tags — when a graffiti artist writes their name or similar pseudonym — commemorate an individual being in a particular place, saying “So-and-so was here.” Sometimes graffiti artists place tags in hard-to-reach areas as a proof of bravery, or in particular places as a way to claim territory. Graffiti murals can even act as a memorial for someone who has passed away. As a form of expression often associated with African-American culture, as well as with low-income neighborhoods, tags in an area such as Society Hill becomes a reminder of the presence marginalized people in a whitewashed space.


To fit graffiti into this temporal taxonomy is difficult, because graffiti evades this categorization. On the one hand, it’s permanent, in that artists often use spray paints that don’t wash off easily. On the other hand, officials often try to deliberately remove or cover up graffiti, making it impossible to know how long graffiti will last. Even then, one can re-paint the graffiti, making an image or an area have a nonlinear temporality.

I confess I hadn’t thought much about monuments or memorials before this excursion, to the point that I realize I’ve been using the terms interchangeably when describing this experience. That said, it has been interesting to consider the permanency of these structures, particularly within Philadelphia, which as a city has been changing considerably due to constant construction.

Going through my own family’s archives

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, so my partner and I drove to my aunt’s house for dinner. We arrived several hours early to venture into my aunt’s basement, to go through some of my mother’s Stuff. My  mother was an avid photographer, spending rolls and rolls on decades of vacations and other events. She was also loathe to get rid of anything potentially memorable. At a young age after my father’s death, the two of us moved in with my grandparents, and many boxes of keepsakes ended up in my aunt’s basement. Later, after her own death, my aunt took in the rest of the boxes. So now they wait there, until I live somewhere with enough space for me to take them off her hands… And in the meantime, about once a year, I’ll take a box or two and see what’s in there.

This venture was a lot of fun, with several relatives coming into the basement at various points to identify long-gone faces and laugh at outdated fashions. However, one particular moment made me realize the impact of original order on wholly understanding a collection.

One box, helpfully labeled “pictures in frames,” was stuffed with newspapers protecting the frames from each other. It was a hodge-podge of photos, ranging from my own baby pictures to my great-great-grandparents’. It was packed so haphazardly it was a struggle to get even halfway down into the box. And the newspaper was dated December 1996.

Seeing this newspaper immediately put the box into a larger context for me. My father passed in September 1996, and we moved in with my grandparents in February 1997. This box must have been packed in the interim, during what must have been a very emotionally wrought time for my family. It also most likely went immediately into storage at my aunt’s.

While this doesn’t give me any information I didn’t already have, original order in this case did help me to make connections between the individual box and the larger emotional context of its packing.