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The Handicapped Homemakers Project at UConn in the 1950s

Written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History doctoral candidate, who is currently serving as a Graduate Intern in Archives & Special Collections.

In the mid-1950s, the University of Connecticut led a pioneering studying in the rehabilitation of disabled homemakers. The study sought to examine the challenges faced by orthopedically handicapped women in caring for young children.

Mrs. Mathews of the Handicapped Homemakers Project

Supervised by Elizabeth E. May, Dean of the School of Home Economics, the project received generous funding from the U.S. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, a part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. It ran from 1955 to 1960 and included a pilot program of in-home research and a series of academic conferences.

The immediate goal was to produce educational materials for disabled homemakers and their families. But the project had loftier aims as well. Expanding the abilities of disabled homemakers, May thought, could boost individual morale, smooth family relations, and increase the numbers of workers both in and outside of the home.

Mrs. Mathews of the Handicapped Homemakers Project

When organizing the project, May and research coordinator, Neva R. Waggoner, adopted a team approach. The project team comprised a diverse group of researchers – including nurses, therapists, engineers, sociologists, and home economists. Together, they hoped to develop labor saving devices and techniques to help disabled homemakers more easily perform household tasks and increase their overall independence. Collaboration would be key. As May made clear in one report, “This is not an ‘ivory tower’ project!”

The bulk of the study involved holding interviews with disabled homemakers throughout Connecticut. The project team developed a list of interview questions and then identified around 100 suitable subjects. The women chosen came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and lived with various disabilities.

 

The team then dispatched a field worker to conduct in-home interviews. This was no small undertaking. Because the interview subjects were scattered around the state and sometimes difficult to locate, the field worker ultimately traveled 8,000 miles over the course of the project.

Mrs. Wilson of the Handicapped Homemakers Project

The interviews were extensive, with questions running to ten pages. Despite the careful research design, the responses left the researchers feeling somewhat discouraged. It became difficult to group the responses into general categories because the subjects experienced their disability in highly individualized ways.

But according to the field worker, the interview subjects cooperated willingly and appreciated the researcher’s interest. The worker even remarked on the “ingenious” ways those interviewed had already adapted their abilities to routine household tasks.

Advertisement for the Handicapped Homemakers Project

After the initial round of interviews, the research team chose to continue working with some women. One case was Mrs. M., “a warm, friendly woman” who had lost an arm to cancer but was eager to return to work. Over a series of visits, a social worker observed Mrs. M. throughout her day and suggested how to adjust her daily tasks or use new equipment as needed. Changes could range from using new cutting sheers or adjustable ironing boards to relearning how to type or drive a car.

 

The project even had an international dimension. At one point, May took a sabbatical from her teaching and research to explore the European approach to helping disabled homemakers. She traveled across a number of countries in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. At each stop, May lectured about the project underway at UConn and learned about the programs available in the countries she visited. Finland, she found, had made some of the greatest strides in meeting the needs of disabled people in the home.

Mr. Ackerman of the Handicapped Homemakers Project

By the time the project ended in 1960, the research team had made significant progress in understanding the needs of disabled homemakers. The final step involved translating the study into

Mrs. Fersch of the Handicapped Homemakers Project conducted by the University of Connecticut in the 1950s

educational materials that included films, slideshows, and pamphlets. May and Waggoner, along with another co-author, also published a book based on the study. Ultimately, the project had achieved its goal of drawing attention to the needs of disabled people working in the home.

For more information about the Handicapped Homemakers Project, see the finding aid to the Elizabeth E. Mays Papers at http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860129674 and several hundred photographs from the project at http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/search/%22handicapped%20Homemakers%20Project%22?type=dismax

Hartford Electric Light Company and the Marketing of Electric Appliances

Written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History doctoral candidate, who is currently serving as a Graduate Intern in Archives & Special Collections.

A. C. Dunham, president of the Hartford Electric Light Company


A. C. Dunham had a mind that rarely sat idle. Much to his frustration, the electric works he oversaw often did. As president of the Hartford Electric Light Company, Dunham sought to use every ounce of energy his company generated, and water wheels turning in the bright light of day symbolized for him so much wasted energy. But as America became wired in the late nineteenth century, Dunham exhibited an uncanny ability to find new channels for electrical current to flow down.

Shortly after Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb appeared in 1879, a group of New England merchants banded together to invest in the burgeoning electrical industry. On April 12, 1881, the Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO) received its charter from the Connecticut General Assembly. The first shareholders meeting took place about a year later in February 1882, and the board chose Austin Cornelius Dunham – A.C. as he was known – for president.

The company’s first display of electric light came the following year. On April 7, 1883, HELCO used twenty-one arc lamps to illuminate the Asylum Street train depot in Hartford. The Hartford Courant reported that “hundreds of people gathered at the depot during the evening and the comments were universally favorable.” From then on, HELCO would flourish as a leading producer and distributor of electricity in Hartford and the surrounding area.

Despite intense competition and the rapid pace of change, HELCO stayed at the forefront of the electrical industry. By 1896, the company could already claim several firsts. According to company records, HELCO was the first to use batteries to store excess electricity, the first to run cables through underground ducts, and the first to use forced cooling for transformer oil.

100-ton steam turbine in Pearl Street station, nicknamed “Mary Ann”

Most famously, HELCO was the first company to generate electricity using a steam turbine. In 1900, the company purchased a new 100-ton steam turbine designed in England to replace part of their hydraulic system. The mammoth machine arrived at the company’s Pearl Street power station in January 1901 and was soon nicknamed “Mary Ann” by a HELCO employee. By April, it was pumping out 1,500 kilowatt-hours of energy.

The company’s early success did not slow its restless president. Dunham was convinced that electricity in the home would open a vast new market for the industry. In 1902, he convinced HELCO to hire an outside contractor to begin wiring homes for electric light. The company also began selling electric refrigerators around this time. Still, HELCO faced an uphill battle as few Americans used electricity for anything other than lighting in this period. Dunham set out to change this.

Rose M. Greene in 1953

In a makeshift workshop on the company’s Pearl Street property, Dunham dreamed up one invention after another. He had a particular interest in using electricity for cooking. In 1906, he hired Rose M. Greene, a student at Hartford High School, to serve as test cook. One early success involved using a light bulb in an insulated pail to cook beans.

Original test range from Hartford Electric Light Company, c. 1912-1913

But Dunham’s real interest was in perfecting the electric oven. In 1908, he converted a vacant church into a model apartment equipped with electric lights, an experimental range, and other electric appliances he hoped to popularize. He invited employees and other local businessmen to taste the food Greene cooked on the new appliances. Employees reportedly never missed a chance to dine in the model kitchen.

As with any kind of innovation, the experiments sometimes faced setbacks. In one instance, HELCO employee Ralph D. Cutler came up with the idea to improve insulation by lining a test oven with cork. Since ovens took about four days to heat up at the time, Cutler started the oven before he left work for the day. Four hours later, he got a call notifying him that the oven had caught fire. Despite the accident, his idea had succeeded in speeding up the heating process.

1914 Advertisement for Hartford Electric Light Company

Dunham retired as president of HELCO in 1912 after leading the company for thirty years. His persistence had helped the company continually grow, and his promotion of home appliances would prove prescient as the consumer revolution took off in the 1920s. After leaving the company, he moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he died in 1918.

For more information about the Hartford Electric Light Company Records, please see the finding aid at http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860131166

Archives & Special Collections reading room closed for holidays

American Brass Company employees singing Christmas carols, 1955

Our reading room will be closed from Monday, December 19, 2016, through Monday, January 2, 2017. We will open at 9a.m. on Tuesday, January 3, 2017, and resume our regular hours of Mondays through Fridays, 9a.m. to 4p.m.

In the meantime we’ll sing Christmas carols with these employees of the American Brass Company in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1955.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from all of us here in Archives & Special Collections!

Greater New Haven Labor History Association Collection

Sewing Department, D&I Shirt Company, New Haven, ConnecticutThe Greater New Haven Labor History Association’s mission is to collect, preserve and share the history of working people in the New Haven, Connecticut, area. For years they gathered the historical records of labor unions that served New Haven businesses, conducted oral history interviews, and constructed traveling exhibits to disseminate this history. Recently they’ve had to close their office and offered to Archives & Special Collections the labor history records they have collected through the years. Working with their archivist Joan Cavanagh we’ve received many records in batches in the last several months, with more to come.

Collections we have received so far include those of the following labor unions:

Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Local 125/International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 151

Typographical Union of New Haven

American Association of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1939

New Haven Council for Unemployed Workers

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Local 299

and the papers of local labor activists Nicholas Aiello, Dorothy Johnson, Joseph M. Rourke, and David Montgomery.

You can find out more information on the materials in the collections through the finding aid.

 

Railroad Photography Exhibits

In the past few weeks we’ve put up three exhibits in the Dodd Research Center in preparation for our hosting the Conversations Northeast 2016 meeting of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art on October 29. The exhibits are available now for anyone visiting the building.

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The Call of Trains: Railroad Photography by Jim Shaughnessy, is available in the Dodd Research Center corridor until the first week of November. It shows the work of this extraordinary photographer who has spent his life traveling the country photographing trains and railroad scenes. This is a traveling exhibit created by the CRPA.

uconn_asc_2006-0195_box9_folder857_huntingtonave_boston_maDepots by the Number: The Legacy of Lewis Herbert Benton and Irving Newell Drake was created by two guest curators — railroad historians Richard A. Fleischer and Robert Joseph Belletzkie — showing and describing in detail photographs of Mr. Benton, who took thousands of photographs of railroad stations in New England from about 1910 to 1936 with the aid of an assistant, Mr. Drake. This exhibit will be available in the public lounge off of the lobby through fall semester.

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Railroad Photographs in Archives & Special Collections of the UConn Library shows the work of ten photographers whose work is held in the Railroad History Collections. The photograph above was taken by photographer and author J.W. Swanberg and is one of many showing the impact and beauty of railroads in our region. This exhibit is now in the gallery and will be up through fall semester.

All are invited to attend the conference on October 29. You can find information about the conference and how to register at http://www.railphoto-art.org/conferences/northeast-2016/.

Many photographs from the exhibits can be found in our digital repository at http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/.

 

Are Photographs a Truly Reliable Primary Source?

Do you notice something different about these two images?

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donovan_granby_box2_folder105I’m sure you see it — in the second photograph there is a man standing on top of the box car. These two digital images are from the same actual, physical object of a photographic print. What do you think happened here?

It’s an interesting story. This photograph, of the Granby, Connecticut, railroad station, was taken around 1930 by the noted regional photographer Lewis H. Benton, who was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, in 1872 or 1873 and worked for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad as a clerk. In his free time he would travel around the region with his sidekick Irving Drake and take photographs of railroad stations and structures. In both versions of the photograph you will see Mr. Drake’s sedan near the station; in the second image that’s him on top of the railroad car. This image was donated along with thousands of other photographs of railroad locomotives, stations, and scenes by Mr. Francis D. Donovan of Medford, Massachusetts, in 2006.

Recently we had a visit to the archives of Mr. Robert Belletzkie, a very knowledgeable railroad historian who maintains a website focusing on railroad stations in Connecticut — TylerCityStation.info. Mr. Belletzkie was conducting his research in the Donovan Papers, saw the photograph, the version without Mr. Drake on top of the car, and knew something was wrong. He had seen this same image before in other collections (which is not uncommon; railroad photograph collectors routinely make copies and share the prints among themselves) but he knew the photograph to have the image of Mr. Drake on top of the box car.

Mr. Belletzkie brought the photograph to my attention and we took a close look at it. A small dot of white-out had been placed on the print to cover up the image of Mr. Drake in the photo. How intriguing! Who would have done that, and why? It was certainly done before the collection was donated to Archives & Special Collections. Did Mr. Donovan do it? Did someone do it before that particular print made its way to Mr. Donovan?

Mr. Belletzkie offers this explanation — “Whoever covered up Mr. Drake thought it was inappropriate for him to be seen posturing in a serious station photograph or perhaps even that Mr. Benton was unaware of him up there and did not intend him to be in the shot. A larger study of the Benton & Drake photos currently underway, however, shows several shots with a similar, humorous touch. The eradicator’s sense of propriety may have been offended but anyone who retouches historical  photographs does a disservice to future generations by not passing on something exactly as its creator intended.”

Well, who or however it happened, I wanted to set the record straight. Yesterday I gave the print to the UConn Library’s Conservation Librarian, Carole Dyal, who expertly scraped off the white-out to reveal Mr. Drake on top of the railroad car.

We’ve come to expect that photographs reveal the truth of any historical moment. Sometimes we have to remember that photographs can be altered and obscured, which affects our knowledge of historical events.

American Montessori Society Archives Committee meeting

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Thanks to the Archives Committee members of the American Montessori Society for their visit yesterday to Archives &  Special Collections, to conduct a meeting, learn about the digital repository, and help identify images in the collection. The AMS donated their records in 2006 and the Society’s Archives Committee has advised us on the records since then, frequently adding important documents and media. The finding aid and selected documents from the records are available in our digital repository, as well as a full run of their publication The Constructive Triangle.

Present at the meeting, as shown in the photograph, are (seated) Robert Rambusch (husband of AMS founder Nancy McCormick Rambusch) and Marilyn Jean Horan, (standing) Maria Gravel, Matty Sellman, Archives Committee chair Marie Dugan, Carolyn Dodd, Susan Kambrich, Phyllis Povell, Laura Smith, Keith Whitescarver, and Natalie Danner.

Connecticut History Day winners of the ASC prize!

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Congratulations to Nina Lestrud, Jocelyn Zordan and Bayleigh DiMauro, students at Torrington High School, who were the winners of the Outstanding Entry Related to Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in Connecticut History, sponsored by Archives & Special Collections and presented to these students at the Connecticut History Day contest held on April 30 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

The project for which Nina, Jocelyn and Bayleigh won the prize was a Senior Group Documentary titled: Ivory Trade and the Impact it had on Connecticut.

Commemorating the Flood of 1936

1936 Flood in Hartford

In March 1936, after experiencing heavy storms that swept from Ohio to Maine and as far south as Virginia, the Connecticut River, swollen beyond its banks, spilled over into Hartford, Connecticut, flooding over one-fifth of the city.  Adding to that was the late winter melting of snow and ice, causing the river to crest at 8 1/2 feet, the highest ever recorded at that time. Other cities and towns along the Connecticut River were equally affected — in Springfield, Massachusetts, 20,000 townspeople lost their homes.

You can find photographs of the devastation of the Flood of 1936 on our digital repository, mostly from the Southern New England Telephone Company Records.