Welcome to the Scrapbook History website and blog. Here you’ll find materials on how ordinary (and extraordinary) people took media into their lives over a hundred years ago, through their scrapbooks. The site supplements my book, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. I hope you’ll comment and contribute.
This rare, riveting photograph of Harriet Tubman, probably taken around 1911 at her home in Auburn, NY, was in one of the scrapbooks kept by Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. They were ardent suffragists, and the daughter and granddaughter of abolitionist Gerrit Smith. You can see more of their scrapbooks on the Library of Congress website. I’m looking forward to speaking about all kinds of scrapbooks in Auburn, Monday March 19 at the Seymour Library, 6 pm.
Auburn is not far from Syracuse and Ithaca — come on over.
This will be my last talk for Humanities New York’s Public Scholars Program, which is coming to an end. Audiences have been enthusiastic, and I hope to keep giving talks.
Last minute announcement – Humanities NY and the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison, NY have asked me to fill in tonight, June 29, 6:30 in the library’s suffrage series. Come hear my talk Scrapbooks and the Hidden Life of Suffrage:
How did suffragists manage all the different arguments and strands of information to create a powerful and effective movement that spanned decades? They used scrapbooks: a form of distributed, decentralized information storage and history writing. In their scrapbooks, suffragists collected the history of their movement, strategized about public speaking, and explained their work to their families. Scrapbooks played a key role in transmitting tactics and stories. Susan B. Anthony fought to place her 13 volume scrapbook in the Library of Congress. Alice Dunbar Nelson clipping collection reveal her shaping her specifically African American vision of what women’s suffrage would do for the black community. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s scrapbook became a multi-generation collaboration. Lillie Devereux Blake used her clippings in her speeches against domestic violence, and taught her readers how to use scrapbooks.
In the 1910s, as the suffrage movement sped toward ratification, it became increasingly professionalized and ran its own clipping services. Scrapbooks supported its growing public relations campaigns. Anti-suffragists used the same materials, though the scrapbook of a dedicated anti-suffragist PR woman shows her busy inventing facts to get her stories noticed.
These scrapbooks open a window into the lives of the thousands of ordinary women who became suffragists. They let us see how these earlier generations of campaigners and supporters used the press, while they reveal an intimate side of well known suffragists.
Here’s how to take a break from grading: Run out to the cab where Jennifer Mayerle from CBS Sunday Morning is riding over to borrow one of my 19th century scrapbooks. She’ll use it as a prop in the studio on Sunday, May 14, when they (almost certainly) will air the segment on scrapbooks that I taped with them.
We met back in August at Butler Library at Columbia University and talked about the hundred or so scrapbooks of L.S. Alexander Gumby, the great gay scrapbooker of the Harlem Renaissance, which are there, though I didn’t get to explicate them on camera. We also talked about others, not at Columbia — William Dorsey’s over 400; the scrapbook Mark Twain invented, suffrage scrapbooks like Elizabeth Boynton Harbert’s, and one pasted into a book of sermons. Jennifer asked great questions, and I’m very eager to see what made it into the show!
And why did it take so long to air? Oddly enough, they’ve been covering more about politics this year.
Thrilled to be heading to the University of Delaware to speak on African American scrapbooks.
I’m heading there for a meeting of the 19th century women writers study group, and squeezing on a talk about African American scrapbooks along the way. (Listen for a mention of a slaveholding Gorsuch — an ancestor of the new Supreme Court judge? I wouldn’t be surprised.)
This time we’re discussing Alice Dunbar Nelson’s work (okay, the LONG 19th century). I wrote about a fascinating scrapbook Dunbar-Nelson made about her suffrage work in 1915, and will be talking about that for the study group on Saturday, too. (I wrote about it in Writing with Scissors, and again in more detail in Legacy’s special issue on Alice Dunbar Nelson. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/645636) She was a woman of remarkable energy, commitment, and political organizing interests.
My research on Writing with Scissors took more than 10 years of sitting in libraries to read scrapbooks, traveling around the country to find different kinds of scrapbooks, and finally sifting it all to make sense of it as I wrote about it. Because I teach at a university with a 4- course-per-semester teaching load, I relied on fellowships to give me time to research and write. If it had not been for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supported this work through a We the People fellowship for college teachers, and by funding a fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I could never have researched and written this book. That’s just my personal story. The NEH has funded so many important, essential projects. It enriches our country’s thinking about our culture — our history and our future. Trump wants to eliminate it. Fight national amnesia.Use this link to write to your Senators and Representatives to tell them to sustain funding for the NEH and NEA via the National Humanities Alliance.
If you didn’t have a scrapbook and didn’t have room for piles of newspapers in your house, how else could you find old news items in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? You could visit a form of offsite storage, flourishing first in a basement in midtown Manhattan, and then in an old horsecar barn in Astoria, Queens.
In the 1870s, an African American man known as Back Number Budd began sorting and organizing back issues of newspapers for sale to researchers, lawyers, and browsers. In a time before library newspaper collections or indexes, his business allowed his clients to find long lost information. Especially because he was black, buyers were suspicious of the high prices he charged for his work of sorting and saving old newspapers elsewhere considered trash. The story of his work offers a view into forgotten moments in African
Fire destroyed Robert Budd’s business, but competition from the New York Public Library, which started saving more newspapers, and clipping services, which came into use in the 1890s, also displaced it.
I’m excited to be speaking about Back Number Budd on Feb. 18, 1 pm at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, not far from where Budd had has warehouse, in Ravenswood, Astoria, Long Island City.
I already had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting some of his descendents in Massachusetts, and hope that someone in Astoria will have a lead on a photo of his business – or have other stories to share.