Despite the text on the photograph this is likely the Air Line Limited of the New York and New England Railroad
New York and New England Railroad White Train at the Middletown, Connecticut, railroad station
New York and New England Railroad White Train at the Middletown, Connecticut, railroad station
From Along the Line of the New Haven Railroad
From Along the Line of the New Haven Railroad
New York and New England Railroad train 183 with Gene Potter in the cab
April 11, 1891, cover of Scientific American showing the White Train
1864 map of southern New England train routes
New York & New England Railroad White Train parlor car
New York and New England Railroad White Train smoker car
On March 16, 1891, the opulent White Train, a luxury passenger train of the New York and New England Railroad, pulled out of Summer Street station in Boston on its first run, set to arrive in Grand Central Station in New York City in six hours. The Boston Herald reported that people lined the route through the city and suburbs “and gazed with mingled curiosity and delight at its handsome appearance.”
The train was pure Gilded Age splendor – its parlor cars were fitted with velvet carpets, silk draperies, and white silk curtains. The chairs were upholstered in gold plush; full-length glass mirrors were installed at each end of the cars. The coaches were heated with steam piped directly from the locomotive, an improvement over the fat-bellied stoves used in ordinary coaches. Pintsch gas lights brightly illuminated the coaches, replacing oil burning lights normally in use.
The dining car’s menu included baked striped bass with Italian sauce, roasted spring lamb, ribs of beef, sauté of chicken with mushrooms, and a wide array of vegetables, salads and desserts, with every fine wine and liquor available. There is no question that this luxury train was meant to serve the exquisite tastes of the robber barons and financial kings of the time.
The White Train’s name was literal – all of the cars were painted white. On its first run the crew, which included the famous locomotive engineer Gene Potter, wore white coats or overalls, white caps and white gloves. As time passed, when the white cars traveled through the countryside, particularly at dusk or in the evening, observers came to refer to it as an “eerie apparition.” Thus the White Train was soon better known as the Ghost Train.
In 19th century America, the railroad train held a place of prominence as the fastest mode of transportation. As the century progressed and more railroad lines were formed throughout the country, the railroad companies competed on which could produce the fastest trains. Prior to the 1880s travel between the financial centers of New York City and Boston usually involved steamships along Long Island Sound, connecting with trains in New London, Connecticut, or Fall River, Massachusetts. It wasn’t until 1893, when the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad completed its Shore Line Route, that passengers could ride uninterrupted between the two cities.
The New York and New England Railroad (NY&NE) was one of several inland routes, running from Boston to the Hudson River. Despite promoting itself as the “Air Line Route,” a reference to a route that cut through Connecticut and central Massachusetts on a diagonal, giving the impression it was faster than the Shore Line routes, it had to contend with the region’s many grades, curves and lightly constructed bridges. That did not deter the NY&NE’s goal of dominating passenger service between New York City and Boston.
The NY&NE debuted its first high-speed train along the Air Line Route in November 1884. Named the New England Limited, it was initially successful but by the late 1880s began to lose ridership to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad’s Shore Line trains, which included the The Gilt Edge and the Shore Line Flyer.
In an effort to bring back customers to its inland route the NY&NE transitioned the New England Limited into the White Train, which was touted as the height of luxurious travel. The White Train was actually two trains, each leaving New York or Boston at 3 p.m., arriving at the other city at 9 p.m.
When leaving from Boston the train traveled 86 miles through central Massachusetts into Connecticut, on a right-of-way owned by the NY&NE, with no stops until it arrived in Willimantic, where it changed engines. The train then went on to Middletown and New Haven, completing its journey into Grand Central on right-of-way owned by the NYNH&HRR.
The NY&NE found the cost of keeping the white cars clean to be exorbitant, and the Ghost Train lasted just four and a half years. Its last run was on October 20, 1895, and was succeeded by the Air Line Limited. That same year the NY&NE was taken over by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. The Air Line Limited ran until 1902, and passenger service ended on the old Air Line route by 1937.
The Ghost Train lives on in legend as one of the Gilded Age’s most opulent and noteworthy trains. This poem was distributed to its passengers on its first run in 1891, and well describes its impact at the time.
List, oh list to the railroad bard, Our new “White Train’s” the latest card; List to the poets’ dulcet rhyme, This train is always in on time!
Spread the glad news wide and fast The White Train’s come to Town at last! Such beautiful cars have never been seen, Outshining in splendor the sun’s bright sheen.
Without a jar, or roll, or antic, Without a stop to Willimantic, The New England’s Limited takes its way, At three o’clock each and every day.
One half the glories have not been told, Of that wonderful train of white and gold, Which leaves every day for New York at three, Over the scenic NY & NE!
Special thanks to historian Richard A. Fleischer for his help in clarifying the many confusions involving 19th century New England railroads, editing this writing and providing research and photographic materials.
With so many primary sources available online researchers don’t necessarily have to travel to an archives to find what they need. Academic and cultural heritage institutions have spent the last many years scanning large swaths of their collections and making them available in digital repositories, or have highlighted their collections in online exhibitions. Given the vast amount of primary sources held in the institutions’ physical spaces the resources that are available online are often just a drop in the bucket, but for many researchers the materials now available online have been as helpful as if they had made the trek to the research institution.
These databases are some of the best we know to provide primary sources to any researcher:
How to find archival materials in the UConn Archives:
The UConn Library digital repository holds holds scanned items from the archives. Note that while there are over 1,000,000 scanned items from the UConn Archives this represents only a small percentage of our overall collections: https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/
How to find archival collections at archives in the United States:
The Digital Public Library of America provides access to digital collection across the United States, https://dp.la/. It also provides themed primary source sets and online exhibits at http://dp.la/primary-source-sets and http://dp.la/exhibitions. If there is any one source to go to for comprehensive information about digital collections this is it!
In light of the June 24, 2022, United States Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overruled previous decisions Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), Archives & Special Collections here provides a list of materials related to reproductive rights and abortion that are held in our collections.
The landmark decision in Roe in 1973 stated that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to abort her fetus,” while the 1992 decision in Casey modified Roe by holding that requiring spousal awareness in order to get an abortion put undue burden on married people seeking abortions.
As of the June 24 decision in Dobbs, abortion is no longer a constitutionally guaranteed right in the United States, leaving the decision to individual states.
For those conducting research projects about reproductive rights, abortion, or related topics, Archives & Special Collections holds resources related to the topic in various media, both from pro-choice and anti-abortion perspectives. These materials range from polling information, correspondence, political documents, organizational literature, and much more. Among some of our archives’ relevant items are:
Connecticut Women’s Educational and Legal Fund Records. Connecticut Women’s Educational and Legal Fund (CWEALF) was founded in 1973. Related to reproductive rights, one major point in the collection is the Pregnancy Rights Project/Program, which took place in the 1980s, but CWEALF continues its work in advocacy, education, and empowerment to this day. Within the collection are publications, press releases from the organization, various writings, educational texts, administrative files, and more. Alongside reproductive advocacy, the records also include information on work CWEALF has done for LGBTQIA+ people. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Connecticut Women’s Educational and Legal Fund Records
National Organization for Women, Connecticut and Rhode Island Chapters Records. Founded in 1966, the National Organization for Women is a feminist organization, with currently around 500,000 members. The organization advocates for women’s rights across many fronts, including reproductive health. This collection includes informational literature, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, and more from both the Connecticut and Rhode Island chapters of NOW. For more information on how to navigate this collection, finding aids can be found online here: National Organization for Women, Connecticut Chapter Records and National Organization for Women, Rhode Island Chapter Records
Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Records. The CCLU was founded in 1949 as the New Haven Civil Liberties Council, and is now the Connecticut affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (it currently goes by the name ACLU of CT). This collection includes records from the original NHCLC, as well as administrative records from the CCLU from 1958-90. On the subject of reproductive rights, the collection includes legal documents from two cases: Women’s Health Services v. Maher (1979-1981) and Doe v. Maher (1981-90). Both deal specifically with Connecticut law surrounding abortion. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Records
Alternative Press Collection Files. The Alternative Press Collection consists of publications created by various people, groups, and organizations. There are many items in the collection that cover the topics of reproductive rights and abortion, both in digitized online form and solely in the physical stacks. Below are a few links that will help to navigate the collection.
APC File Inventory – This link goes to a list of all the publications within the APC Files, both digitized and physical.
Abortion Rights Movement of Women’s Liberation Advertisement – This link goes to an advertisement for ARM’s (Abortion Rights Movement) services to aid women in receiving, specifically late term abortions. Also includes a letter from Sandra Sullaway, Los Angeles coordinator of ARM (February 23, 1979).
Public Official’s Records. The following list are each their own collections, consisting of papers belonging to political officials, with each collection including text related to reproductive rights or abortion. For more information on how to navigate these collections, finding aids can be found online at the links with each name.
Audrey Beck Papers – Audrey P. Beck (1931-1983) was a Connecticut politician and professor. She served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1967 to 1975, followed by a term in the Connecticut Senate from 1975 until her death in 1983. Prior to her political career, Beck taught Economics at the University of Connecticut.
Barbara B. Kennelly Papers – Barbara B. Kennelly (born 1936) is a former U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 1st District, where she served from 1982 to 1999. Prior to this, she served as Connecticut Secretary of State from 1979 until 1982.
Chase Going Woodhouse Papers – Chase G. Woodhouse (1890-1984) was a U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 2nd District, where she served two terms, from 1945 to 1947 and then from 1949 to 1951. Prior to this, she served as Secretary of State of Connecticut from 1941 to 1943.
Nancy L. Johnson Papers – Nancy L. Johnson (born 1935) is a former U.S. Representative, where she served both Connecticut’s 6th District from 1983 to 2003 and its 5th District from 2003 to 2007. From 1995 to 1997, she chaired the House Ethics Committee. She served in the Connecticut Senate from 1977 to 1983.
Prescott S. Bush Papers – Prescott S. Bush (1895-1972) was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, serving from 1952 to 1963.
Robert N. Giaimo Papers – Robert N. Giaimo (1919-2006) was a U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 3rd District, where he served from 1959 to 1981.
Robert R. Simmons Papers – Robert R. Simmons (1943-) is a former U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 2nd District, serving from 2001 to 2007. He served in the Connecticut House from 1991 to 2001, and after he left office he served as First Selectman of Stonington, Connecticut from 2015 until 2019.
Sam Gejdenson Papers – Sam Gejdenson (1948-) is a former U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 2nd District, where he served from 1981 to 2001. He served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1975 to 1979.
Stewart B. McKinney Papers – Stewart B. McKinney (1931-1987) was a U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 4th District, where he served from 1971 until his death in 1987. He served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1967 to 1971.
William R. Cotter Papers – William R. Cotter (1926-1981) was a U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 1st District, where he served from 1971 until his death in 1981.
Connecticut State Labor Council, AFL-CIO Records. This collection consists of the records of the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO, the United States’ largest labor union federation. Relating to the issues of reproductive rights and abortion, one item that the collection has is a group of letters from people commenting on whether or not the union should take a pro-choice stance. This debate took place in the early 1990s, and since then, the AFL-CIO currently is a pro-choice organization. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Connecticut State Labor Council, AFL-CIO Records
American Association of University Women, Connecticut Division Records. Founded in the 1880s by Marion Talbot, a graduate of Boston University, and Ellen Swallow Richards, an MIT graduate, what began as the Association of Collegiate Alumnae has been supporting women who have graduated from college ever since. This collection includes information on the organization’s history, programs it has run, legal activity, information on specific branches within Connecticut, and more. Information on what the AAUW has done regarding reproductive rights can be found mostly in the legislative information section. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: American Association of University Women, Connecticut Division Records
Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection. The Human Rights Internet consists of materials related to human rights organizations from across the world, including newspapers, reports, NGO literature, books, journals, correspondence, and more. The collection began in 1977, with Drs. Laurie Wiseberg and Harry Scobie as its founders. It includes human rights documents in many languages, including “English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Swedish, Chinese and Japanese (among many others),” according to the finding aid. Within the collection are materials belonging to Human Rights Watch, the International Council on Human Rights Policy, Amnesty International, and Anti-Slavery International. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection
Connecticut Citizens Action Group Records. Founded in the early 1970s by Ralph Nader and Toby Moffett, CCAG states that its goal is to empower citizens of Connecticut in their roles as “consumers, workers, tax payers, and voters.” Information on reproductive rights may be found within the “Health Project” series of the collection, as well as in Director Marc Caplan’s files. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Connecticut Citizens Action Group Records
Samuel Lubell Papers. Samuel Lubell (1911-1987) a journalist and public opinion pollster. This collection includes notes, manuscripts, correspondence, and reports belonging to Lubell. One portion of this collection that is relevant to reproductive rights is public opinion polling he did of students in the 1960s, with abortion being one of the topics polled about. More broadly, he also worked on studies related to women’s issues in the 1940s and 1950s. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Samuel Lubell Papers
Stephen Thornton Papers. Stephen Thornton (born 1951) is a community organizer in Connecticut. Since his days at UConn organizing student protests of the Vietnam War, Thornton has been advocating for various causes, with groups such as the Peoples Bicentennial Commission, the Anti-Racist Coalition of Connecticut, and more. This collection includes newspapers, alternative press, flyers, correspondence, notes, writings, and other forms of paraphernalia. Within the collection are some items related to reproductive rights. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: Stephen Thornton Papers
This post was written by Sam Zelin, a UConn undergraduate student in the Neag School of Education who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.
Front cover of “9-11: Artists Respond, Volume I” published by Dark Horse Comics in 2002.
Werner Pfeiffer’s “Out of the Sky,” published in 2006, fully constructed and viewed from the front.
Instructions on how to put the pieces of one of the two towers of Werner Pfeiffer’s 2006 “Out of the Sky” art book together.
Werner Pfeiffer’s “Out of the Sky,” published in 2006, fully constructed and viewed from the side.
Front page of The Daily Campus on September 11, 2002, remembering the tragedy one year later.
Front page of The Daily Campus on September 12, 2001, featuring a CNN article reporting on the events of the day before.
The front page story of the September 13, 2001 issue of The Daily Campus, describing a vigil attended by hundreds of UConn students held on the night of September 12
A poll in the September 13, 2001 edition of the The Daily Campus, asking students whether or not they thought the events of September 11 would lead to war.
Front cover of “Some of these Daze” by Mimi Gross and Charles Bernstein, published in 2005
.Front cover of “Witness” by Kathleen Fraser and Nancy Tokar Miller, published in 2007
On the morning of September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked in airspace over the eastern United States by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. Two of the planes were deliberately crashed into each of the twin tower buildings of the World Trade Center in New York City; one plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and the fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
These attacks stunned the United States and the world far beyond our borders; the effects were immediate and visceral. The aftermath had a long-lasting impact on many facets of society, including politics, commerce and culture.
News of the attacks greatly impacted life at the University of Connecticut. The following day a vigil was held on the Student Union Mall that brought over a thousand members of the Storrs community together in solidarity. The student newspaper, The Daily Campus, filled the paper with content related to the tragedy for most of the rest of the month.
For those conducting research projects about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Archives & Special Collections holds resources related to the tragedy available in many different mediums and from a myriad of perspectives. From congressional records to art books to newspaper clippings, the types of media created around the tragedy vary greatly. Among some of our archives’ relevant items are:
Christopher Shays Papers. Christopher Shays served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 2009 as a Republican from Connecticut’s 4th District. At the time of the September 11th attacks, Shays was on the House National Security Subcommittee, and was later a part of the 9/11 Commission. His papers include many documents related to 9/11 and the country’s response, including the recommendations of the Commission, lists of victims, findings on health effects, minutes from hearings and more. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/214
Robert R. Simmons Papers. Robert Simmons was in his first year in the U.S. House of Representatives when the 9/11 attacks occurred. He represented Connecticut’s 2nd District from 2001 to 2007 as a member of the Republican Party. Portions of this collection relating to 9/11 include files marked as such, as well as Simmons’ files related to the “Global War on Terrorism,” which date from September 2001 to June 2004. For more information on how to navigate this collection, a finding aid can be found online here: https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/658
Werner Pfeiffer, “Out of the Sky: Remembering 911.” This 2006 art book by Werner Pfeiffer was published around the five-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It consists of a list of the victims, a small booklet written by Pfeiffer, and two constructable towers. The towers are each made of seven segments that are supported by blank inside cardboard sheets, and each stand about five feet tall. On the outside of the towers, Pfeiffer incorporated names of victims into his artwork. This work can be found in the archives’ stacks at location: D1996
Sidney Jacobson and Ernie Colón, “The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.” Published in 2006, this book puts the findings of the 9/11 Commission into the format of a graphic novel. Jacobson, former managing editor and editor-in-chief of Harvey Comics, served as the writer, while Colón, who had worked for Harvey as well as DC Comics and others, served as the illustrator. The two collaborated once more for a sequel in 2008, titled “After 9/11: America’s War on Terror,” but that book is not available in the archives. This work can be found in the archives’ stacks at location: CLC C4476
Mimi Gross and Charles Bernstein, “Some of These Daze.” This spiral-bound art book was published in 2005 and is a collaboration between illustrator Mimi Gross and writer Charles Bernstein. Gross was near the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and began making sketches of what she saw while she was there. This book exhibits those sketches while coupling them with what Bernstein wrote, also from Manhattan at the time of the attacks, but slightly more removed in the Upper West Side. This work can be found in the archives’ stacks at location: D1882
Dark Horse Comics, “9-11: Artists Respond, Volume I.” This book was published in 2002, and features the artwork and writings of many artists, all related to the attacks. This was the first volume of a two-part effort, with all the proceeds going to organizations aiding the families of victims of the tragedy. Unfortunately, the archives does not have a copy of Volume II, but Volume I can be found in the archives’ stacks at location: C10332
Kathleen Fraser and Nancy Tokar Miller, “Witness.” This 2007 book by writer Kathleen Fraser and illustrator Nancy Tokar Miller features a poem by Fraser accompanied by eleven images by Miller. The book was created in memory of the September 11 tragedy. This work can be found in the archives’ stacks at location: D2013
The Daily Campus. This collection is made up of issues of UConn’s student newspaper, dating from 1896 to present day. As TheDaily Campus has been printed daily since 1952, this includes coverage of the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent aftermath. Throughout that month, many articles, images and other forms of media related to 9/11 were featured in the paper. In addition to coverage from directly after, the paper has printed more content surrounding significant anniversaries.
Articles of particular interest include:
The Daily Campus, September 13, 2001, “Students hold vigil on mall,” recounting a gathering of over 1,000 UConn students on September 12, in solidarity with victims of the attacks.
The Daily Campus, September 14, 2001, “Students and professors react to Tuesday’s attack,” a piece by two staff writers who interviewed multiple members of the UConn community about how they felt following the attacks.
The Daily Campus, September 11, 2002, “In Memoriam,” a piece written by the editorial board reflecting on the events of the day of the terrorist attacks and the year that followed.
This post was written by Sam Zelin, a UConn undergraduate student in the Neag School of Education who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.
Candidates for Student Senate, taken March 20, 1969 by Howard Goldbaum
November 1, 1971 Connecticut Daily Campus ad encouraging students to sign up for National Student Book Club memberships, sponsored by ASG
1959 Nutmeg Yearbook Photo of the Associated Student Government
1995 Nutmeg Yearbook Photo of the Associated Student Government
March 16, 1972 Connecticut Daily Campus article chronicling the victory of Bill X. Carlson for President of the Associated Student Government. Carlson was not a real person.
September 14, 1976 Connecticut Daily Campus article outlining the FSSO’s objectives for the year
Members of the Student Senate cut armbands as part of a Vietnam War General Strike, taken October 7, 1969 by Howard Goldbaum
UConn President Homer D. Babbidge speaks to the Student Senate, photo taken December 6, 1968 by Howard Goldbaum
1998 Nutmeg Yearbook 2-page spread for the Undergraduate Student Government
Ad in the November 1988 UConn Free Press encouraging students to vote in USG Elections
1973 Edition of the Connecticut Daily Campus’ April Fools Edition (The Daily Scampus), featuring an illustration of the ASG’s tombstone
Connecticut Agricultural College Women's Student Government representatives, 1931
Connecticut Agricultural College Women's Student Government representatives, 1933
UConn student government, November 1985
April 9, 1986 Daily Campus ad encouraging UConn students to vote yes for the USG funding increase to
Various forms of student government date back to when the University of Connecticut was known as the Storrs Agricultural College, from 1881 to 1899. Since the inception of the first version of student government at Storrs its purpose has been to act as a representative of the student body and to advocate for various causes on behalf of its constituency. Some of these causes have included creating and funding other student organizations and petitioning the administration for civil rights reforms.
In the 1896 inaugural edition of the S.A.C. Lookout, the first student run student newspaper, two separate organizations, the “Students’ Organization” and “Council,” were cited as the structures of student government. The former acted as the executive wing and the latter as a senate, and lasted until the early 1920s.
The first big change in student government occurred in 1923 when the Council (by this time referred to as the “Students’ Council”) became the Student Senate. This body remained similar to its predecessor until 1933, when all student representative power was centralized in the Senate, forming the Associated Student Government (ASG). The Students’ Organization existed alongside the Senate until the reorganization of 1933, when both merged to become ASG. The structure of this new government included Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches, but these were not independent of each other, as the Elected Vice President of ASG automatically became the Chairman of the Student Senate.
A Women’s Student Council emerged at the end of the 1910s, and this body existed for over 60 years in various forms, either as the Women’s Student Government or Associated Women Students. Its end in the early 1970s coincided with the founding of the Women’s Center at UConn, along with the merging of the departments of women’s and men’s affairs.
ASG existed from its creation in 1933 until its dissolution in 1973, which took multiple years to take effect. One of the catalysts for ASG’s demise was its presidential election in 1972, where the student body, fed up with their representatives, elected “Bill X. Carlson” as a write-in option. The catch was that Carlson was a fictitious person. Thus, runner-up Dave Kaplan assumed the presidency but resigned within the year, as calls for a Constitutional Convention strengthened. By the next year, ASG was replaced by the Federation of Students and Service Organizations (FSSO), which had been selected from a list of options proposed by various students. Its structure included an eight-person Central Committee that held absolute jurisdiction, with Primary and Secondary committees under it.
The FSSO lasted a mere seven years, as a new Constitutional Convention was called at the end of the decade, leading to the inception of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). The transition from FSSO to USG was far smoother, as the FSSO was not fully dissolved as ASG was. The convention led to a transition from FSSO to USG that circumvented the total absence of student government that had occurred in the interim between ASG and the FSSO.
USG has continued as the student government of UConn since 1980. Currently it consists of Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, made up of the Senate, the President and the Advocacy Committees, and the Judiciary respectively.
Researchers interested in UConn’s more than a century of student government will find a plethora of resources on the subject in Archives & Special Collections. From 1944 onward, the Archives has the records kept by the ASG, FSSO, and USG. Student government resources generally include student publications, presidential files, photographic prints, and more. Among some of the Archives’ relevant collections are:
University of Connecticut, Undergraduate Student Government Records. This collection is split into four series: Associated Student Government (ASG) records from 1944-1973, Federation of Students and Service Organizations (FSSO) records from 1973-1981, Undergraduate Student Government (USG) records from 1980-2008, and the records of the Inter-area Residence Council from 1970-1982. While the USG records within the collection end at 2008, the Archives has Minutes and Agendas from 1985 up to the present day. The records include Constitutions, Committee Minutes, reports, Election data, correspondence, speech transcripts, documentation of Constitutional Conventions, and more. The finding aid to the collection can be found at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/721.
University of Connecticut Photograph Collection. This collection includes over 800,000 photographic prints, slides, negatives, and postcards. For content related to Student Government at UConn, look for sections of this collection relating to Student Activities. The finding aid to the collection can be found at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/958.
The Daily Campus and other student publications. Student publications have gone by several titles before its current iteration, including the Storrs Agricultural College Lookout, the Connecticut Agricultural College Lookout, the Connecticut Campus and Lookout, the Connecticut Campus, and the Connecticut Daily Campus. Throughout the years, the paper has reported on the affairs of student government at UConn, dating back to its very first issue in May 1896.
University of Connecticut, President’s Office Records. This collection includes the records of all of UConn’s Presidents, starting with Solomon Mead in 1881 and currently ending with Susan Herbst, whose tenure in office ended in 2019. The collection is updated as records are periodically transferred by the President’s office for permanent retention in the Archives. While this is not a chiefly important source of information on UConn’s student government organizations, small mentions may be found in many of the Presidents’ documents.
This post was written by Sam Zelin, a UConn undergraduate student in the Neag School of Education who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.
Connecticut Agricultural College Cadet Band, a predecessor to the UConn Marching Band, pictured in 1906
UConn Marching Band plays during or after a football game in 1942
UConn Marching Band plays at a 1950 football game
UConn Marching Band plays at a 1968 football game against Maine
Page 1 of the Arrangement for the Husky Prelude and March, from former UConn Marching Band Director David Maker
Magic Rhythm’ Marching Band formation, circa 1979, from David Maker Collection
UConn Marching Band member plays the tuba, from the UConn Photo Collection
UConn Band performance, circa 2001
Members of the Marching Band practice with flags, circa 2001
UConn Marching Band arranged in a ‘USA’ formation at Storrs, circa 2001
Journal Inquirer sports page from 12/6/05 that mentions the UCMB playing at Rentschler Field
Music and bands have been a tradition at the University of Connecticut for over a century. Beginning with small musical organizations and military bands, there were many predecessors to what is now referred to as the UConn Marching Band. The origins of the current organization can be traced back to 1939, the same year that the Connecticut State College in Storrs became the University of Connecticut. In that year Jack Brocjek, at the time an assistant instructor of music at the school, became director of the school’s “College Band” and decided to make his band open to all students, which effectively merged his with the ROTC’s band.
While the creation of the band occurred at the end of the 1930s, the 1950s was really when it gained prestige and an increase in the number of participants. Professor Allan Gillespie took the reins in 1956, and the band grew immensely during his 25-year tenure. It was under Gillespie’s leadership that the band embarked on three separate tours of Europe in the summers of 1970, 1974, and 1978.
Gillespie’s time as director was followed by the terms of David Maker and Gary Green in the 1980s. Current director David Mills took over in 1989 and led the band in such special performances as President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration parade, the 2003 opening of the 40,000 seat Rentschler Field in Hartford, and performing for over 100,000 fans at the University of Michigan in 2010.
Researchers interested in the UConn Marching band will find a plethora of information in Archives & Special Collections. In addition to the marching band’s official records, the UConn Archives has student publications, photographic prints, files belonging to past band personnel, administrative documents, and more. Among some of our archives’ relevant collections are:
University of Connecticut Marching Band Records. This is the most comprehensive of all collections pertaining to the UConn Marching Band. It includes various forms of primary sources from the band, including pamphlets for performances, musical scores, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs, and cassette tapes. The records date back to the early 1960s, corresponding closely with the first few years of Allan Gillespie’s tenure as band director. The finding aid to the collection can be found at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/1020
Maker Collection of the UConn Marching Band. Comprised ofarrangements, arranged for the marching band by Dr. David Maker, who worked with the band for many years, dating from 1969 to 1983. The finding aid to the collection can be found at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/512
University of Connecticut, President’s Office Records [Glenn W. Ferguson]. Glenn Ferguson served as the President of UConn from 1973 to 1978. His records include information about plans for the marching band to travel on tour in Europe. The finding aid to the Ferguson records is at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/606
UConn Marching Band at the airport for the 1970 European tour, from the 1970 Scrapbook
UConn Marching Band 1970 European Tour scrapbook page, with newspaper clippings describing the tour
UConn Marching Band 1970 European Tour scrapbook page, featuring preliminary information about the tour
UConn Marching Band 1970 European Tour scrapbook page, with a letter from Director Allan Gillespie and Assistant Director David Maker about a benefit concert on 4/29/70 to fund the upcoming tour
UConn Marching Band 1970 European Tour scrapbook page, including a photo of David Maker (Assistant Director) and Nancy Maynes (twirler) of the band meeting the Queen-Mother of England
UConn Marching Band 1970 European Tour scrapbook page, with two photos of the ‘South of England Show’ in Ardingly, England
Daily Campus and other student publications. The origins of a music program at the university occurred concurrently with that of the student newspaper and are a great source to show the formation and evolution of the marching band program. The student newspaper originated with the Lookout in 1896 and transitioned to other titles, including The Connecticut Campus and Connecticut Daily Campus, to The Daily Campus of today. A full run of newspapers up to 1990 available in the UConn Archives can be found in the digital repository beginning at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860408189.
Article in the November 27, 1934, Connecticut Campus about the choice of a Husky dog as the Connecticut State College Mascot
Continuation of article about new mascot in Connecticut Campus, November 27, 1934
February 19, 1935, article showing the burial of Jonathan I
The funeral of Jonathan I, the Connecticut State College first mascot, on February 15, 1935
In the Fall of 1934, after the famous “Ram-napping” incident where students from the Connecticut State College kidnapped the ram mascot of the Rhode Island State College (you can read the story here) prior to a football game between the two rivals, the CSC decided it was time to get its own mascot. Its one attempt at securing a mascot was in October 1906, when a fat white bulldog, who received the unfortunate name of “Piggie,” was hired for the job. Piggie didn’t last long because the students felt it would have been confused with Yale’s bulldog mascot, “Handsome Dan,” and no one liked the name Piggie.
By late November 1934 the student newspaper, the Connecticut Campus, announced that a 14 week old thoroughbred Eskimo dog “of high pedigree,” born on July 23 in Huntington, Connecticut, and donated by the college’s alumni, was chosen as the CSC mascot by an almost unanimous vote of the student body. The students were delighted by their new black and white Husky mascot. It was determined at that point that the athletic teams would be known as the Huskies.
It was purported that the dog’s great-grandfather was one of the team that pulled the sled of famous American explorer Robert Peary, who claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole, in April 1909.
Around Christmas 1934 the dog settled with the family of Music Professor Herbert A. France, who lived with his wife and four children in North Windham. In 1995 Professor France’s son, Herbert France, Jr., sent a reminiscence to the UConn Archives about life with the first mascot. Mr. France was six years old at the time they owned the dog, who was very much a family dog to the France children. Mr. France recalled a snowy day in January 1935 when he hitched the dog to his sled and tried to get the dog to “mush.” The dog apparently turned around, looked at the boy, jumped over him and the sled, and took off with the sled bouncing behind him, with little Herbert left face down in the snow.
Now that the college secured the dog they also had to give him a name. In January 1935 the Alumni decided they would hold a contest among the students to determine the name, which was to be announced by February 15.
Alas, even before the dog could be formally named his life was tragically cut short. On February 13, 1935, the poor dog dashed into the road in front of the France’s house and was struck by a car. Attempts were made at resuscitation but were futile. The dog died at the tender age of six months. He apparently had been to only a handful of basketball games in his short time of service as mascot.
The CSC students were stunned and saddened by their mascot’s sudden demise. Two days later, on February 15, at a small and somber funeral attended by CSC President Charles McCracken and the presidents of each student class, the dog was formally named Jonathan, in honor of Connecticut’s first governor, Jonathan Trumbull. George Potterton, President of the Student Senate, gave a short speech where he said that Jonathan “…was a symbol of the forward progress that we as students are bound to make. He was a symbol of the coming greatness of our athletic teams as well as those other activities in which we enter in order to make our college greater. Connecticut State’s Jonathans will go out to do battle on the court, field and gridiron, for Jonathan’s is a fighting tradition.”
The next Jonathan, number II, arrived at the college in the fall of 1935 and ably served as mascot until 1947, when he died of natural causes. Apparently three more Jonathans – III, VI and X — also met tragic ends as the victims of car accidents.
You can read more about Jonathan I, and the tradition of Jonathan as the Connecticut State College/University of Connecticut mascot, at these sources:
Articles in past issues of the UConn Advance, written by staff writer Mark Roy, at
The post was contributed by Michael Rodriguez, Collections Strategist at the UConn Library.
The University of Connecticut has a strong presence on Wikipedia, which goes under the tagline “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” In a personal summer project, I wrote thirty new encyclopedia articles and expanded seven others about influential figures in UConn’s history. For sources, I drew on texts and images from Archives and Special Collections, as well as other UConn Library resources that brought to life the university’s remarkable history and people.
Wikipedia is one of the world’s most-viewed websites. Founded in 2001, Wikipedia has over 6 million articles and 3.5 billion words in English alone. Edits happen at a rate of 1.9 per second. Wikipedia is the first stop for millions of people seeking a quick fact, a topic overview, or links to other sources. But because Wikipedia is 100% crowdsourced, articles exist only if someone cares enough to write them and then navigate Wikipedia’s maze of rules to publish them.
When I began editing, eleven of UConn’s twenty-one presidents and principals lacked Wikipedia articles about them. Notable scholars such as Henry P. Armsby and Nathan L. Whetten had zero representation. Wikipedia had little coverage of influential faculty and philanthropists whose names we see on campus buildings. Not a single woman who had a campus building named after her was represented on Wikipedia, reflecting Wikipedia’s longstanding gender gap.
Wikipedia cautions against editing where editors may have a conflict of interest. I wrote my contributions off the clock, but even so, I generally avoided writing about living people. I wrote about no one I knew. I consulted a range of sources, citing not only university publications, for instance, but also the Hartford Courant and other sources unaffiliated with UConn.
Second, I wrote about UConn presidents. Did you know that the college’s first leader, Solomon Mead, patented a special plough? Or that Harry J. Hartley was named Man of the Year by the Daily Campus student newspaper in 1978? Or that Charles L. Beach commissioned Ellen Emmet Rand to paint a posthumous portrait of his beloved wife, Louise? Or that Benjamin F. Koons fought in 17 Civil War battles and ran an Alabama freedman’s school during Reconstruction?
Third, I wrote about the chroniclers of UConn’s history. Did you know that Jerauld Manter, who served as UConn’s unofficial photographer for half a century, has a gnat named after him? Or that forty-eight erstwhile Daily Campus student editors attended the retirement party of their mentor Walter Stemmons, chronicler of UConn’s first semicentennial? Or that Bruce M. Stave, who literally wrote the book on UConn, was president of the Federation of University Teachers during the campaign that brought collective bargaining to the university in 1976? Stemmons and Stave wrote authoritative histories, including Connecticut Agricultural History: A History (1931) and Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits(2006). These chroniclers were such key sources for so many articles that I had to celebrate them with articles of their own.
Fourth, I wrote about influential faculty. Sidney Waxman brought along his .22 rifle on car trips, shooting down pinecones to augment his dwarf conifer collection. Henry Ruthven Monteith’s daughter, Marjorie, scored the second goal at UConn’s first women’s basketball game. George Safford Torrey played the organ and carillon at Storrs Congregational Church. Albert E. Waugh, provost for decades, was the only American member of a German group called Friends of Old Clocks. While I necessarily focused on getting facts right, the humanity of these figures, as well as their remarkable contributions to science and to the school, shone through my sources.
Finally, I wrote about figures who, while not faculty members or presidents, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence on the university’s history. Charles and Augustus Storrs donated land and money to start the university in 1881. T. S. Gold was godfather of the school from its inception, shepherding it through its infancy and ensuring it remained viable and appropriately resourced. The Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture was named for an industrialist up the road in Tolland. Ratcliffe’s daughter, Elizabeth Hicks, has a UConn residence hall named in her honor.
Using the archives
UConn Library’s Archives & Special Collections (ASC) were an incredible resource. ASC collects the papers of presidents, prominent faculty, and other figures associated with the University. To inventory materials and guide researchers, archivists write finding aids, which often include biographical information. Finding aids proved a valuable source, as well as helping me assess who was notable enough to merit Wikipedia articles about them. I linked to finding aids in the “External links” section of most of my Wikipedia contributions, ensuring bibliographical depth.
Finally, I drew on the expertise of archivists. I requested high-resolution images from University Archivist Betsy Pittman when scanned online copies proved too pixelated for Wikipedia. Betsy even found me a never-before-digitized photo of UConn coach and acting president Edwin O. Smith. I am grateful for both archives and archivists—the collective memory of the university.
In addition to contributing text, I contributed images to Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia. I took photos of various named campus buildings—and a European larch dwarf conifer cultivated by Sidney Waxman—and released the images for unlimited public use on Wikimedia Commons. I downloaded pre-1925 portrait photographs from the CTDA and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons too, maximizing their discoverability and linking back to the CTDA. Where no portrait existed online, I tracked down group photos in yearbooks or newspapers, took screen captures, and cropped them. When the only extant photos were not clearly uncopyrighted, I used one of the very few fair use exceptions permitted by Wikipedia, in which historic portraits of deceased persons may be uploaded solely to illustrate their Wikipedia biography. I sourced most images from UConn’s archival collections, as well as from UConn Today and various books and serials in HathiTrust Digital Library. Contributing images to Wikipedia is a great way to boost visibility of those images while driving traffic to UConn’s digital archival content in the CTDA.
UConn’s people, places, and unique resources are better represented on Wikipedia than ever. But this work is hardly done. I plan to monitor the in-memoriam section of UConn Today—what better way of acknowledging a prominent professor’s passing than ensuring that they get the most widely read Who’s Who-equivalent entry on the planet? In fact, one of my most recent articles was on Roger Buckley, founding director of the Asian and American Studies Institute, who died in August 2020. I will continue to create articles for UConn people with landmarks named in their honor, such as puppeteer Frank W. Ballard and cellist J. Louis von der Mehden.
On September 21, 1938, just two days before the start of the fall semester, the Great New England Hurricane hit Connecticut State College. The campus had dealt with natural disasters before, such as the ice storm of 1909, but the damage inflicted by the Hurricane of 1938 was unprecedented. The loss of electricity and the impassability of the roads meant that of immediate concern was the water and food supply for the faculty, staff, and students. The College had to resort to using an emergency water pump and chlorinator to provide safe drinking water, and a battery-powered shortwave radio was the only means of receiving outside news. In the days following the storm, workmen and student volunteers scrambled to clear the damage and repair electric lines. The local telephone company hurried to get a pay station working on campus. Fewer than half of the 668 students registered for the fall semester were on campus at the time of the storm, and there were concerns about the rest making it in before classes started.
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, news was spread across campus through the College’s publication, the Connecticut Campus. The Campus published special editions on both September 22 and 23 with the use of a hand-cranked mimeograph machine. It supplied updates on the water and food situation, informing students that although the Dining Hall was stocked with enough supplies, “no pie will be served tonight and no ice cream tomorrow.” The newsletter also shared statements made by President Albert Jorgenson and other College staff regarding campus conditions. The superintendent of the grounds speculated that “it would take about one hundred years for the campus to regain its former beauty.” Mixed in with reports on the state of the roads and estimates for the cost of repairs was a concern for returning to the College’s regular activities. The Campus was uncertain if the upcoming football game between CSC and Brown would be cancelled, although it optimistically reported that planning was underway for a barn dance.
Although most buildings on campus suffered some degree of damage, the grounds and barns experienced the worst effects of the storm. In the weeks following the hurricane, various departments across campus reported their losses to President Jorgenson, including those from Forestry, Poultry, Animal Husbandry, Horticulture, Zoology, and Genetics. Some of the campus’ barns, outbuildings, and fences needed to be completely rebuilt, including the horse barn and two sheep barns. One sheep barn was lifted off its foundation in the storm, and the estimated cost to rebuild totaled $16,000. The poultry department also suffered heavy damages, with piles of rubble all that remained of some chicken houses. Not only was the College’s agricultural activities put on hold by the storm, but its scientific research in genetics and animal diseases was also at an impasse until barns could be repaired and rebuilt. While the College’s horses and cattle survived, over 500 birds sadly perished.
There was a great concern with the damage to the trees on campus, and students were involved in assessing and cleaning up some of the destruction. The Campus bemoaned the loss of the Valentine Grove, where some of the trees destroyed had been over 200 years old. Two students counted 1,762 fallen trees on campus, and others were paid 30¢ an hour to salvage apples from the orchard. Workmen used tractors and teams of horses to pull trees back up, however many could not be saved. The College owned over 900 acres of woodlands, and one report advised that the trees lost should be salvaged if possible and cut into lumber. It was estimated that the labor required to clean up the woodlands would cost $10,400.
Fortunately the academic and student housing buildings suffered relatively minor damages. All buildings with slate roofs needed to be repaired, and some of the fraternity houses reported broken windows, leaking roofs, and damaged chimneys. Despite the hurricane, and as a testament to the hard work of both staff and students, the fall semester began on time. However, it would be many months until the campus could return to the extent of its pre-hurricane operations.
Written by Alexandra Borkowski, a UConn PhD student and student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.
Today marks what would have been Maurice Sendak’s 92nd birthday and the 8th anniversary since his death on May 8, 2012. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 10, 1928, Maurice Sendak was a largely self-taught artist who went on to illustrate over 100 books during his sixty year career. Books for which Sendak became singularly identifiable include Nutshell Library (1962), Where the Wild Things Are (1963), In the Night Kitchen (1970), Outside Over There (1981), and many others. He was honored with numerous awards, including the international 1970 Hans Christian Anderson Award, the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award given by the American Library Association, the 1996 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Sendak was the 1964 Caldecott Medal Winner forWhere the Wild Things Are.
He later held a second career as a costume and stage designer in the late 1970s, completing work on operas by Wolfgang Mozart, Sergei Prokofiev, and Maurice Ravel. Of music, Sendak said in a 1966 interview produced by Morton Schindel at Weston Woods Studios in Weston, Connecticut:
“I do most of my work to music, and music plays an extremely important part in my work. Depending on what I’m doing at the moment, there is always a specific kind of music I want to listen to. All composers have different colors, as all artists do, and I kind of pick up the right color from either Haydn or Mozart or Wagner while I’m working. And very often I will switch recordings endlessly until I get the right color and the right note and the right sound and then settle down happily to whatever I’m doing.”
Maurice Sendak moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1972 with his partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn. He supported the University of Connecticut for many years, speaking to the children’s literature classes of Professor Francelia Butler in the 1970s and 1980s and making important contributions over the years to support the legacy of Professor James. On September 5, 1990, Sendak was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at UConn.
To honor Maurice Sendak’s birthday anniversary, it feels appropriate to celebrate with The Birthday Party (1957), one of eight collaborations between Sendak and children’s book author Ruth Krauss (1901-1993) between 1952 and 1960. The Birthday Party follows a young boy, David, who “had been everywhere” except to a birthday party. He arrives home one day and after searching through the rooms in the house, finally finds everyone in the dining room singing “Happy Birthday dear David” and only then does he realize that not only is he at a birthday party but that the birthday is his own.
Sendak reflects on his relationship with Krauss in the 1994 obituary “Ruth Krauss and Me: A Very Special Partnership”:
“Ruth wasn’t so patient, or quiet, and she could frighten me with her stormy tirades. It was hard for such a fiercely liberated woman to contend with a potentially talented but hopelessly middle-class kid. In the end, she slapped me into shape — almost literally. When Ruth approved of a sketch, I was rewarded with the pleasure of her deep belly laugh, which rose upward and exploded in little-girl giggles. But her disapproval could be devastating…
…My favorite Krauss is A Very Special House, published in 1953. That poem most perfectly simulates Ruth’s voice — her laughing, crooning, chanting, singing voice. Barbara Bader, in her American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within (Macmillan), sums up that text: “It runs on, it erupts, it runs together — like a dream, daydream or nightdream or playdream; and the disarray, the flux, the indeterminacy were essential to the personal and private fancies that were to chiefly occupy Ruth Krauss thereafter.” “Thereafter” was the series of books Ruth and I collaborated on, eight in all. They permanently influenced my talent, developed my taste, and made me hungry for the best. But nothing was so satisfying as A Very Special House; those words and images are Ruth and me at our best. If I open that book, her voice will laugh out to me. So I will leave it shut a while.”
The Birthday Party charms. A petite book accordingly sized for children’s hands, the images consist of ink drawings with yellow and grey washes. David wanders alone from a scene of a beach, the woods, and a street corner until he reaches the party and suddenly, turning from one page of David peering into a dark room to another, everyone comes into full view. He is surrounded by smiling adults and a young girl, candles set in cupcakes raised high in the air. Sendak’s imagery captures Ruth Krauss’ playful use of rhythm and David’s surprise, delight and joy.
The Birthday Party is a gentle reminder to celebrate the special days of one’s life and to cherish those fleeting moments. Happy Birthday, dear Mr. Sendak!
The following guest post is by K-Fai Steele, recipient of the 2019 James Marshall Fellowship.K-Fai (www.k-faisteele.com) is an author and illustrator who grew up in a house built in the 1700s with a printing press her father bought from a magician. She wrote and illustratedA Normal Pig. She illustrated Noodlephantby Jacob Kramer (a Kirkus Best of 2019 picture book) and Old MacDonald Had a Baby by Emily Snape. She also illustrated the forthcoming Probably a Unicorn by Jory John and Okapi Tale, the sequel to Noodlephant. She wasa Brown Handler Writer in Residence at the San Francisco Public Library, and the 2018 Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellow at the University of Minnesota. K-Fai lives in San Francisco.
The job of a professional children’s book author and illustrator is challenging. There’s no one formula for, or definition of success. The job walks the line between commercial and creative disciplines and requires a bizarre combination of skills: not only writing and illustrating books but being able to perform in front of large varied audiences (toddlers one day, fifth graders the next), deftness at publicity and social media, teaching, and generally being able to project an aura of success and expertise. It can often feel competitive and lonely. And one is paid as a freelancer, so (at least in the United States) there is no economic safety net and it’s hard to plan for a long term career. Another aspect of the job requires constant learning, growth, and improvisation which can either be stressful or exciting and luxurious (if you have the time and space to fully devote to it). Whenever I feel stuck I end up in a library and I’ve learned that some of the best libraries and collections contain public collections of children’s literature preliminary materials. The University of Connecticut is one of these places, and through the James Marshall Fellowship I was given the time, space, and funding to spend time learning and luxuriating in their collection.
If you spend enough time with someone’s work you get a sense of their process; in a way it’s the closest thing you can get to a mentorship. In his essays Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, Maurice Sendak quotes Alphonse Mucha (a mentor to one of Sendak’s heroes Winsor McKay, the creator of the Little Nemo comic): “I think it would be wise for every art student to set up a certain popular artist whom he likes best and adapt his ‘handling’ or style… when you are puzzled with any part of your work, see how it has been handled by your favorite and fix it up in a similar manner.” It’s a very clever way to get a very good (and free) education.
When you read a picture book you only see the finished product. When you visit archives, you see evidence of an often messy process, from sketches and sketchbooks to drafts, manuscripts, and original art. Occasionally you find very special pieces of media, like collections of audio cassette lectures. Francelia Butler was a professor of Children’s Literature at UCONN from the 1960s to 1990s and she invited dozens of authors, performers, and otherwise impressive thinkers to speak in her Children’s Literature 200 class, or as students referred to it, “kiddie lit 101.” She had the foresight to record most of these lectures which are now housed in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection. James Marshall lived a couple of miles from the UCONN Storrs campus and would give a yearly lecture to her class of primarily undergraduates from 1976-1990 when he was 34 to 48 years old (he died when he was 50). These lectures are mostly off the cuff; he reads a book aloud (often George and Martha or The Stupids), discusses how he came up with ideas for books like Miss Nelson, then takes questions from the audience.
Marshall is the perfect guest lecturer. He is funny, insightful, knows how to work a crowd, and best of all he’s a generous lecturer. He knows how to communicate ideas and make them accessible. At his core he was an educator; he worked professionally as one for a while, having taken over Maurice Sendak’s picture book making class at Parsons. Much of the insights he shares in these recorded lectures are still deeply relevant today, particularly in terms of the creative process and the job of a children’s book creator. Marshall agonized about writer’s block and felt the pressure to make money. He also spoke from the perspective of an outsider who worked extremely hard and never took the joy of making books for granted.
When I arrived at UCONN to start my fellowship I didn’t anticipate that most of my time would be spent using my ears rather than my eyes. I had spent three weeks in 2018 at the Kerlan Collection looking through dozens of his sketchbooks in their collection and since then have tried to read all of his books. I realized I was engaging in a bit of detective work, trying to put the pieces together of a fascinating, talented, funny creator through the crumbs he left behind. Hearing him talk about his work (getting a firsthand narrative) made me feel incandescent. I popped in one cassette after another and was grateful for my fast typing (as of the time of this blog post’s publishing only two of the cassettes have been digitized; according to the archivist it’s an expensive and laborious process). In this post I’m going to share some quotations from these audiocassettes, what surfaced for me as a picture book creator, and what I think other people in the field might find interesting, from his process to how he thought about creative work.
“I start off drawing. I develop a character, make it as crazy as I can, and put that character in a situation. I start with a visual. I couldn’t sit at a typewriter and start a story with words… Drawings first, and then I type it up” (1977, cassette 504). Marshall was known for his strong characters; consider George and Martha, Fox, or The Stupids; the story revolves around them and how they interact with other characters. It’s not so much about plot; Marshall at one point describes George and Martha as a comedy of manners. “I teach my kids at Parsons that to start out you must have a very solid rounded character that lives. I have lots of sketchbooks and I just develop characters as they go along” (1982, cassette 515). Marshall trusted that a good story would organically come out of a good character, particularly if put in an interesting situation where they have to react. There’s a sort of faith required in starting with a character; you don’t know who’s going to show up on the page. You get to know a character by the way they look, their gesture, and how they react to other characters.
Marshall didn’t discuss a specific method that he used to generate stories because he didn’t seem to have one. He described working intuitively, relying on his brain and hand to put together funny ideas. “People ask me often where the ideas come from. If I knew that I could probably spell it out to you… I don’t know where the good stuff happens. It happens when I work a lot, and late at night. Usually If I’ve been working 8-10 hours doing just mechanical stuff I’m so tired all my defenses are down. I’m not worried whether it’s going to be a success or not, and some nutty idea comes in, it’s like someone else told me that… You know it came from inside your head but you don’t know why or how” (1979, cassette 506). “What I do is try to sit down, and if I fall down and start laughing that’s a good sign” (1980, cassette 508). It seemed that he didn’t examine his story-making because he was worried that if he figured it out he would lose the muse. “What I do is intuitive and I don’t know why I’m sitting here talking to you because I don’t really know why I do what I do, and to talk about it is a little scary to analyze it. I’m afraid if I look at it too much and try to figure out what I do it’ll go away” (1985, cassette 525). Since he relied so heavily on intuition his fear of losing the muse makes sense. He mentioned this fear in several lectures, and it seems to really be the thing he feared the most: the bucket going down the well and coming up dry.
Perhaps this fear came from a sense of what we would now describe as imposter syndrome. “Often I have so much trouble coming up with endings. It’s just like hell. Because you think here I am, this is what I do for a living, but maybe I’m not so good anymore, maybe I never had any talent in the first place” (1987, cassette 527). Marshall continues in a 1990 lecture, “I’ve thrown up in my studio from the fear of thinking I’m all finished, I’m washed up, I have no talent, I can’t even write one of these dumb books, I can’t think of another joke” (cassette 531).
Perhaps it came because making good books for children is deceptively challenging. There isn’t a roadmap, particularly when you’re making something that pushes boundaries of humor, style, etc. “When I’m drawing it’s like heaven, even when it’s not going so well I’m really, really happy. I feel connected, I feel like I belong. Why it’s such hell to get started, I don’t know. I guess it’s because I’m scared. Chekhov had the same feeling, he thought he was no good, couldn’t cut it. If a guy that great can have those feelings maybe it’s not so abnormal, maybe you should have those feelings of insecurity. Because if you’re absolutely sure that what you’re doing is brilliant what you’re doing is copying yourself or copying someone else” (1988, cassette 529).
Or perhaps the pressure was more external; he needed to make more books in order to keep his career (and income stream) flowing. This is when his practice of writing intuitively probably chafed against a demanding publishing schedule. “I have an artistic problem: when a book is successful, editors like to see success perpetuated, so they hire you to do a sequel. I’ve done so many sequels but I haven’t gotten any quite right. It’s the hardest thing in the world to capture the spirit of another book when you don’t have an idea. I’m doing three picture books, all three are sequels, and I’m stalled on all three. It’s a sickening feeling to think that you’re going to have to turn that money back and that you’ve run out of ideas” (1985, cassette 525). Marshall’s output was prodigious; he made around eighty picture books during his 50-year life. What is the result of working faster than your machine wants to run? The quality may suffer, at least in the creator’s eyes. In one lecture Marshall says, “I’ve made 60 books and only about 20 am I really proud of” (1983, cassette 517).
Marshall’s writing and drawings have a sense of lightness and ease to them, particularly in the way he draws characters and communicates their emotions through their eyes (often simple dots). In 1997 several years after Marshall’s death, Sendak wrote in the New York Times, “Much has been written concerning the sheer deliciousness of Marshall’s simple, elegant style. The simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page. Not surprising, since James was a notorious perfectionist and endlessly redrew those ”simple” pictures.”
Marshall drew with joy, and this is most evident in UCONN’s collection of his sketchbooks. In his lectures he talks about the phenomenon I hear a lot of other author-illustrators experiencing when they move from sketches to final art; some freshness is lost. “It’s when you have to prepare something that’s going to get published, at least not only me but everyone I know in the business, you get tense and frightened because this is going to be out there, there are going to be 20,000 copies of this, and it gets tighter and tighter. The best stuff I’ve done of any quality is in my sketchbooks and I pick that stuff out and I’m like why can’t I do that here?” (1984, cassette 520). Perhaps it’s different when you’re making final art because you know that you have an audience, that you’re relying on the art to make money.It’s less about amusing yourself; it goes from a private activity to a very public one. “The sketches are so much more interesting, that’s the fun part. It’s when you do a line that you know is going to be published you start to clutch and tighten up. I’m just now learning to do books and get a line that’s going to be published that’s as good as the one in the sketches. I’d love to take my old sketches out and publish them. I feel so much more comfortable with them. I don’t know if it’s a fear of success or fear of failure, it’s a really terrifying process to go through” (1981, cassette 511).
Marshall also shared insights into how he thought he was perceived by gatekeepers of the industry, specifically librarians who had a more traditional sense of illustration and who also reviewed books and selected for awards (in particular the Caldecott Award). “I work in basically creative periods of about 3 weeks that’s all I can stand… This is dangerous because when I tell librarians (“conventional people”) if I tell them how short it takes me to do a book I can see in their eyes my stock going down. You have to tell them you worked 5 years on this book and you’ve drawn with the blood of your slaughtered children and then it’s a masterpiece” (1985, cassette 519) Marshall drew somewhat injured and bitter conclusions about why he had been overlooked, “People who are in children’s books are ashamed of being in children’s books. People on committees want to pick a book that shows they’re an important, art-minded profession” (1985, cassette 519).
Sendak wrote that Marshall “paid the price of being maddeningly underestimated — of being dubbed ”zany” (an adjective that drove him to murderous rage)… he was dismissed as the artist who could — or should or might — do worthier work if he would only dig deeper and harder. The comic note, the delicate riff were deemed, finally, insufficient. James knew better, of course, and he was right, of course, but he suffered nevertheless. There was nothing he could do to impress the establishment; that was his triumph and his curse. Marshall did fulfill his genius, and its rarity and subtlety confounded the so-called critical world. The award-givers were foolish enough to consider him a charming lightweight, and when Caldecott Medal time came around, they ignored him again and again.” Marshall also spoke about competition in the children’s literature world, which undoubtedly was connected to him not feeling appreciated, validated, or celebrated by the people who held power. “The world of children’s books I used to say is a nice world. It is not, it’s a nest of vipers, we all hate each other… we’re very competitive” (1982, cassette 513).
It was interesting to hear Marshall talk about the other authors and illustrators he was in community with. In nearly every lecture he named some of the people who he thought were doing the best work in children’s literature: Arnold Lobel, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Rosemary Wells, William Steig, Edward Ardizzone, and Quentin Blake were all mentioned. “If you want to see some magnificent small jewels, look at the Frog and Toad books. I thought, oh I can do that. First I saw Sendak: oh, I can do that. Lobel: oh I can write stories about two friends too. They sort of gave me confidence. I didn’t know how hard it is. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s impossible to try and write two-page stories with a beginning, middle, and end” (1990, cassette 532). He clearly adored Maurice Sendak, who he referred to as “the granddaddy of us all” (1980, cassette 508) in terms of contemporary illustration. The Maurice Sendak Collection of James Marshall at UCONN contains several of Marshall’s books that he inscribed for Sendak, including a rare copy of his first illustrated book, Plink, Plink, Plink (1971) by Byrd Baylor which Marshall said “sunk, sunk, sunk” due to the “awful poems and awful pictures” (1977, cassette 504).
This collection of recordings is a very rare and special item; you just don’t find a lot of authors speaking in their own words, at length, about their work. I think that this speaks to Marshall’s experience as an educator; someone who has good communication skills, a sense for what might be interesting content, respect for their audience, a willingness to be generous with the knowledge they possess, and their love for the work.
One of my favorite things that Marshall said had to do with the joy of getting to do the thing you love most in the world as a job. “To be able to support myself by doing what I really like to do best and by being creative, I never dreamed that that could be. I was raised with protestant puritant [sic] ethics. In Texas you had to bring home the bacon by doing stuff that you hated; my daddy hated his job, my mama hated being a housewife, everyone in my family hated everything. I thought when I became an adult I had to just swallow it. It’s not true. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling” (1983, cassette 517). This is something that you can easily lose sight of a children’s book maker as you get involved in the day-to-day of trying to meet deadlines, negotiate with art directors, redo cover art, schedule school visits, make money and budget wisely, etc. I’m writing this blog post in late spring 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic which has made clear that nothing is guaranteed, in particular human life, especially those most vulnerable in our society. For a while I wasn’t sure if books or art even mattered. But of course they do, and the act of engaging in joyful creative work is a much-needed lifeline, as Marshall attested to during his short life, ended by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 1992. “One of the most wonderful things in the world is to do creative work, it is the greatest high, it makes your life come together” (1987, cassette 527).
To our community of scholars, donors, and supporters,
I’m reaching out to provide an update on the status of Archives & Special Collections. In accordance with the University of Connecticut’s response to the COVID-19 situation, Archives & Special Collections remains closed to the public. Although our facilities are currently closed, we remain committed to providing the highest level of care and support for our collections.
In preparing for the shutdown, our staff made all necessary provisions to secure the collections and ensure their safety. We have onsite security staff monitoring our collections, research, and exhibition spaces, and receive daily briefings on the status of our facilities. We also maintain an up-to-the-minute environmental monitoring system, which includes the ability to check on the temperature and humidity of our spaces remotely.
Although some of our services are limited at this time, we are working hard to ensure that you can continue to engage with our collections throughout this closure, from providing virtual instruction sessions to developing online exhibitions from our rich digital collections.
We recently launched a new online search portal, where you can access guides to our collections remotely, and have made more than 750,000 digital objects from our collections available for research and use through the Connecticut Digital Archive. We are active on social media – I encourage you to check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram regularly for new content, programming, and collection highlights.
Our staff are teleworking and remain accessible by email and phone – please feel free to contact us at any time with questions or concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-486-2524. We will keep you informed about service and facility updates via the UConn Library’s COVID-19 response webpage and our social media outlets.
We appreciate your continued support as we work together to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities, and look forward to seeing you again in the near future.
~ Rebecca Parmer, Head of Archives & Special Collections