Many of the hospitable people I met in Provo and Orem when I went to speak at Brigham Young University and the Orem Public Library were scrapbook makers. That’s not surprising, since the late-20th century surge of interest in scrapbook making is usually credited to Marielen Christensen’s exhibit of her her 50 scrapbooks in Salt Lake City, and pegged to Mormon passion for genealogy. What I hadn’t realized before this trip, though, is that LDS missionaries are encouraged to document their mission work, and well before Christensen often did that in scrapbooks.
John Murphy, special collections curator, led Kristin Matthews and me on a tour of BYU’s extensive special collections, which included a newly acquired scrapbook made by George Romney (Mitt’s father) documenting his missionary work.
They also had just gotten a Mark Twain scrapbook filled with clippings on a controversy in Washington about whether a polygamist could serve as the Senator from Utah. We didn’t have enough time to figure out whether it was compiled by someone sympathetic to polygamy or not. As I discovered in research on Writing with Scissors, people may collect many of the same clippings to explore or even argue very different viewpoints. Coincidentally, I came across another scrapbook on the same controversy at the New-York Historical Society a week later. This one was made for Helen Miller Gould, about her campaign to kick Brigham H. Roberts out of Congress, “On the ground that he is a polygamist, an enemy of our homes and home life.” Nice foreshadowing of the same language used against same sex marriage.
I love the wild things that special collections accumulate. They also have the swimsuits designed by Rose Marie Reid, in big archival boxes. Her bathing suits appeared in all those 1950s beach movies, until bikinis came in, she refused to market them, and got pushed out of her business. (The story gets creepy though — Reid was an avid proselytizer of Jews, and wrote how-to materials on the subject.) The library is planning an exhibit on her.