Exploring the Intricate World of Will Gould’s Comic Creations

With September 25th as National Comic Book Day, it’s an appropriate time to delve into the captivating legacy of cartoonist Will Gould.

Gould was born in 1911 in the Bronx borough of New York City. His father owned a haberdashery store and entertained his sons by drawing on wrapping paper when business was slow. Young Will himself took up drawing while sick with scarlet fever at the age of six. He was a reluctant student who whiled away his school days sketching and playing hooky. Gould soon dropped out of high school at the age of fourteen and got a job as an office boy for an advertising agency. Eventually he found employment at The New York Herald. It was there that he got his first glimpse of a cartoonist at work.

By 1929 Gould was working as the sports artist for the Bronx Home News. He covered high school and college sports, many baseball games and boxing. In the first year covering boxing he saw more than two thousand bouts.

Examples of Will Gould’s drawings from an advertisement for his services as a newspaper sports artist. Box 1, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Gould prided himself on being a student of human nature, studying colorful characters from show business, sports, politics, and the underworld. It was some of this accumulated knowledge that he put to good use in his 1920s comic strips Felix O’Fan and Asparagus Tipps. Gould’s Felix O’Fan character had one ambition – to devise plots to get past the gate keepers at ball parks and boxing matches.

Felix O’Fan cartoon by Will Gould. Box 9, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Asparagus Tipps, on the other hand, was a comic strip character who placed bets on racehorses. Readers who followed the strip were soon placing their own bets at the racetrack on the same horses Asparagus Tipps chose. New York bookies were not pleased.

When Gould wasn’t drawing cartoons, he tried his hand at songwriting and composing. By 1930, Gould made the decision to leave New York for California, where he did some freelance work as a cartoonist. In 1934, King Features Syndicate approached Gould about doing a detective comic strip to compete with Dick Tracy. Gould came up with Red Barry.

Will Gould, pictured with his dog while his cartoon creation “Red Barry” looks on. Box 8, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Red Barry’s appearance was a composite picture of all the sports stars Gould had drawn over his career. Gould described Red Barry as a clean-cut former football player, undercover detective, and friend of the law. For storylines and style, Gould took inspiration from a favorite detective novelist, Dashiell Hammett and from his boyhood friend, Dan Campion, who was the chief of New York City’s bunco and racketeering squad.

Gould’s view on the necessary ingredients for a successful comic strip were “a likeable drawing style, likeable characters and a sense of humor that needn’t depend on old jokes.” Of Red Barry, he said, “To attract readers young and old I mixed corn, satire, sophistication … and the violence necessary to call Red Barry a detective strip.”

Red Barry comic strip by Will Gould. Box 6, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Critics said he was years ahead of his time, with his bold pen slashes, black brush designs and vivid, athletic drawings. Early proofs of Red Barry were sent to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst for his review. Hearst returned the proofs, having written on the top, “I will not tolerate such violence in my newspapers.” Gould was undeterred. In Red Barry, Gould’s trademark style evoked a mood of imminent violence and impending danger. He wasn’t afraid to draw criminals with guns blazing. One of his most controversial strips even featured a death row electric chair scene.

The first Red Barry comic strip was based on a real incident involving New York mobster Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll. Coll gunned down two innocent children while shooting at rival gangsters on New York’s Lower East Side. To critics of the violence, Gould argued that his comic strips were reflective of the actual violence during the era. Real life bad guys like Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly provided Gould with another source of inspiration.

Red Barry appeared daily in hundreds of newspapers. It was remarkably popular at the time – in a newspaper contest to crown the best comic, Red Barry came third, only losing out to Popeye and Mickey Mouse.

Will Gould surrounded by fans of his Red Barry cartoon strip. Box 7, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Red Barry was also well received in Italy and South America, where the strip and character were renamed Bob Star. Fan mail poured in. Over time Gould introduced other regular characters to the comic strip, including a young sidekick to Red Barry named Ouchy Mugouchy and Ouchy’s friends who comprised the “Terrific Three”. The colors in the strip became markedly brighter and Red Barry himself sometimes disappeared from the storyline altogether.

Red Barry comic strip by Will Gould. Box 6, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

As the years passed, Gould found keeping up production of a daily comic strip a challenge – he was perpetually behind deadline and often worked on story ideas through the night with his assistant Walter Frehm at his favorite Beverly Hills café. By 1938, Gould and King Features Syndicate were at odds over copyrights to Red Barry. Gould abruptly stopped drawing the strip and turned his attention to writing Hollywood scripts instead. The last Red Barry comic strip appeared in a Sunday paper in 1939.

During World War II, Gould served as an Army corporal stationed at the Fort MacArthur reception center in San Pedro, California. Among his duties were editor and cartoonist for the camp’s newspaper, the Fort MacArthur Bulletin.

Drawings by Corporal Will Gould from the Fort MacArthur Bulletin, October 22, 1943. Box 6, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the 1950s, Gould’s screenwriting credits include episodes of the popular television show Lassie. Many of his days were spent indulging his passion for golf. For a time in the 1960s and 70s, Gould worked as an editor and cartoonist for the Writers Guild of America newsletter. His cartoon “The Schnoox” poked fun at the challenges Hollywood writers faced. Gould had limited success as a screenwriter, so he had ample personal experience to draw from. His ballpoint pen drawings for “The Schnoox” harken back to his work in the 1920s.

A Will Gould cartoon from the Writers Guild of America newsletter, March 1975. Box 3, Will Gould papers, Collection No. 8877, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

In his later years, Gould dabbled in writing screenplays and was embroiled in a series of lawsuits. He died in California in 1984.

For those interested in learning more about the man behind Felix O’Fan, Asparagus Tipps and Red Barry, the Will Gould papers are available at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.

#alwaysarchiving

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Behind the Scenes at the Cone: Handing out History

By now, you’ve learned how the American Heritage Center (AHC) intakes, processes, and digitizes history from both the University of Wyoming, the West, and around the country. But how can people like yourselves, who want to view these documents, go about doing so? Well, Archives Specialist Vicki Glantz has the answer to that.

Glantz works in the AHC Reference Department and oversees its reading room. She explains, “Reference services entails answering research requests from patrons and providing that customer service to them.”

The reading room where researchers are able to look into collection materials of their choice. (Photo courtesy of Carissa Mosness)

Vicki adds, “We help them learn how to be researchers because a lot of people don’t even know what questions to ask or where to start, and we help them do that. My primary job is to make sure that there are student workers called “pages” available to go downstairs in the storage areas and retrieve the boxes.”

The AHC employs a number of students who are earning their degrees at the University of Wyoming. They are the individuals who pull boxes of historical documents for researchers, and, right now, the Reference Department has a total of seven students. Glantz oversees them all and helps them navigate the basement storage areas filled with boxes.

“There’s extensive training you must go through in order to be allowed down there in the first place. And to be able to pull boxes,” explains Glantz.

“The stacks are all movable, but you have to know how to operate the machinery. It’s really interesting down there, but you have very extensive training before we allow anyone down there to pull boxes.”

Just one small section of the AHC’s enormous storage areas. The Center houses more than 3500 collections. (AHC photo)
The current boxes that the student employees pulled recently for onsite researchers (Photo courtesy of Carissa Mosness)     

And while many researchers come to the Center in person, if they are unable to make the trip, the AHC recently added an online method to help them out.

“Our director decided that it’d be a good idea to build two rooms. We call them the “pods.” They’re at the back of the reading room. There’s a computer and monitor and a camera,” describes Glantz.

“We built them during COVID for when people couldn’t come in and we were closed. People could still call in and request materials, and we would make scans and send them. Using the pods, we can have live conversations with our distance patrons.”

The pods that are used for sharing historical documents with the world. (Photo courtesy of Carissa Mosness)

Vicki enjoys connecting with people all over the world, both in person and digitally, and there is one thing she wants everyone to know.

“We are not a museum, and we are not a library. When people come here to research their books, when they get it published, it goes to a library, not here.” Glantz exclaims.

“You come here to research your book first and then get published, and then your book goes to the library. That’s how I explain that difference to people. And the museum is right next door. The AHC does have regular displays throughout the building, with materials from our collections.” Vicki is referring to the University of Wyoming Art Museum, which is also housed in the Centennial Complex.

Thinking of visiting the AHC for a research visit? A handy website with information for you is at https://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/research/how-to-visit.html.

Post contributed by AHC intern Carissa Mosness.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Accessing historical documents, Archival reference services, Research and reference, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Empowering Communities: Exploring the Impact of MEChA at the University of Wyoming

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, our blog is highlighting the archived collection of the University of Wyoming’s chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán, more commonly known by its acronym MEChA. As an organization, MEChA encourages cultural pride, dignity, and unity. The University of Wyoming chapter was founded in 1984.

Logo of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán, also known as MEChA. Box 1, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

According to MEChA documentation from our archives, Aztlán, the “A” in the organization’s acronym, refers to the legendary place of origin of the Aztec peoples. Within Chicana/o folklore, Aztlán is the name for that portion of Mexico that was taken over by the U.S. after the Mexican American War of 1846. The literal translation of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán from Spanish is “Chicana/o Student Movement of Aztlán”.

At the University of Wyoming, MEChA was the outgrowth of the UW Hispano American Student Organization, which began in 1969, and then the UW Chicano Student Coalition. Members of those early organizations provided a campus support system. Their activism included the involvement of UW Chicano Student Coalition members in a May 1970 student vigil on campus in solidarity with the students at Kent State University. (During the protest UW students faced off against members of the Wyoming National Guard who had been sent to Prexy’s Pasture to break up the vigil and lower the American flag. Unlike at Kent State University, the University of Wyoming face off was resolved peacefully.) Some early members of the UW Chicano Student Coalition were Vietnam War veterans.

At the beginning, club leadership positions were held primarily by men, although the club’s history notes that Lila Rodriguez, from Cheyenne, was the first woman to hold a club office, as Vice President, from 1972 to 1973. Then, during the 1973-1974 school year, the club had its first all-female team of officers.

UW MEChA officers for the 1989-90 academic year, 1989. Box 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The organization helped to coordinate a series of Chicano Conferences on Education at UW, a Chicano Leadership Conference and Chicano Student Days at UW. MEChA members were involved in establishing what is now the University of Wyoming’s Multicultural Resource Center. The group hosted social activities including participation in the UW Homecoming parade, study gatherings, group dinners and fiestas. MEChA members organized a whole slate of events for Semana Chicana and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Flyer advertising the events of Semana Chicana, sponsored by MEChA, 1996. Box 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Additionally, MEChA sponsored activities during the Semana Primavera (Spring Week – a week of cultural festivities and performances) and el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead – a holiday widely observed in Mexico honoring the deceased). MEChA brought the first Cinco de Mayo (celebrations of the fifth of May remembering Mexico’s victory over the French Empire at the 1862 Battle of Puebla) to the UW campus.

Aztec dancers performing during Semana Primavera, sponsored by MEChA, 2008. Box 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Mariachi band performing during Semana Primavera, sponsored by MEChA, 2008. Box 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By 2008, MEChA’s constitution outlined the organization’s purpose as follows:

  • To strive for educational, cultural, social, political, and economical empowerment of our gente within our communities.
  • To involve itself in social, political, and educational actions and events to help build Chicano pride, confidence, and identity.
  • To encourage and support our gente in and through higher education.
  • To bring cultural awareness into the University of Wyoming and our community.
  • To implement plans of action that benefits the advancement of our gente.

Gente in Spanish translates to “people”.

Over the years, MEChA brought comedians Jackie Guerra and Cheech Marin, folk singer and educator Chuy Negrete, and actor Edward James Olmos to campus. The group organized speakers on a diverse array of subjects including US-Cuba relations, Chicano history in Wyoming and Racism at UW. MEChA arranged for Aztec dancers and the Ft. Collins Grupo Folklorico to perform in the student union. The organization sponsored refreshments for a bilingual mass at St. Laurence O’Toole Catholic Church in Laramie and organized a blood drive to honor labor leader and farm worker advocate Cesar Chavez.

Flyer advertising the Cesar Chavez blood drive, sponsored by UW’s MEChA chapter, 2011. Box 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Some years, the club sold traditional foods to raise funds. MEChA members also met periodically with UW’s President and Provost. They raised issues related to the teaching of their cultural history and the need for more faculty who could do so.

MEChA sponsored the University of Wyoming’s First Annual Hispanic Film Presentation in 1988 with a showing of La Bamba. The movie portrays the story of Ritchie Valens’ (Richard Valenzuela’s) meteoric rise to the top of the rock and roll world in the 1950s. Valens is credited with helping establish the genre of Chicano rock. MEChA coordinated scholarly speakers before and after the film who discussed the historical, cultural, and social themes raised in the movie as well as stereotypes portrayed. The film entertained and educated an audience of more than 100, including many off-campus members of the Laramie community.

Flyer for the First Annual Hispanic Film Presentation at the University of Wyoming, sponsored by MEChA, March 15, 1988. Box 24, Wyoming Council for the Humanities, Collection No. 9894, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

In more recent years MEChA has organized seminars on immigration reform and marched for social justice.

MEChA members, 2008. Box 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) records, Collection No. 300520, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The 1984 to 2016 records of the University of Wyoming chapter of Moviminto Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) are available at the American Heritage Center. They provide insight into the organization’s history, membership, and its contribution towards building a more diverse UW.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in activism, Culture and heritage, Diversity and inclusion, Education and empowerment, Hispanic Heritage Month, Student organizations, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Behind the Scenes at the Cone: Digitizing History

In this day and age, technology is everywhere and embedded in everything we see and do. But how do we digitize historical documents while perfectly preserving them? Well, the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center has someone named Halena Bagdonas, who works as a digitization lab supervisor to do just that.

Halena poses with a relay torch from the 1996 Olympics found in box 11 of the Hugh Downs papers, Collection #10150-01-02-02. Who says archivists don’t have fun! (Photo courtesy of Halena Bagdonas)

Bagdonas works to digitize various materials based on research popularity of certain collections and on other institutional priorities.

“Basically, we’ll pull from storage whatever box we’ve identified. And then, within that box, we’ll pull the folder we need. We’ll take that folder and then on the Zeutschel [scanner], we can scan items out of the folder two at a time. So, the scanner takes a picture from overhead, and then you just keep going.” Bagdonas explains. The two Zeutschel scanners pictured below can digitize photographic material and textual documents and can safely scan books without damaging the bindings. By the way, the scanners didn’t come with eyes. That’s just quirky archival humor.

“If it’s a photograph, once I review that, then I have to make a CSV out of the Excel, and then I upload it to Luna, there’s the backside where I create the collection, and then can add the metadata and then the scans. But if it’s an envelope or a folder of letters, we turn those into book readers on Luna. And so, then that involves changing the metadata to PDF metadata and then doing the CSV, and then I have to make book readers out of the PDF, then Luna combines that into a book.”

Like me, you may be scratching your head at the terms Halena just mentioned. She has one of the most high-tech jobs at the AHC and is versed in the language associated with digitization. For us regular folks, a CSV is short for “comma-separated value” and is a text file with a specific format that allows metadata to be saved in a table-structured format such as you see in Excel. Metadata is basically information about each item digitized and includes title, date digitized, collection from which the item came, etc. That info is needed so we (and you) can better find the digital object in Luna. That leads to what Luna is about. Luna refers to software the AHC uses to ingest, store, manage, and display digitized materials. That can include documents, photos, and video and sound files. You can search through the AHC’s Luna database yourself to see the thousands of materials that have been digitized over time. A “book reader” allows the viewer to see a set of materials such as a pamphlet or a group of letters in a book format so you can just turn the page (virtually, at least) instead of clicking on each page. The book reader helps keep items together that belong together.

But, as we know, technology is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Bagdonas then elaborated on how sometimes technology gets in her way while uploading history online.

“Sometimes the uploading goes really well. But then Luna can be really finicky sometimes,” Bagdonas noted, “When you do the book readers, after you upload the different sections of files and process the book parts, depending on how many pages it is, that can take a while and so you can’t really do anything else while it’s putting the files together into the book reader.” That’s when you might see an archivist twiddle their thumbs.

“All of our digitized materials are on servers. We’re not saving stuff to the desktop as we’re concerned about losing it. But if the server or the internet goes down, then we can’t access our servers to look at our material.” Another thumb twiddling moment, although Halena doesn’t have a lot of time for that. She always finds something that needs to be done.

Boxes filled with documents that Bagdonas is in the process of digitizing for easier research access. (Photo by Carissa Mosness)

Despite the challenges, Bagdonas loves the American Heritage Center and has been working there since 2005, where she was an intern during her time as an undergraduate student at the University of Wyoming. Then she moved up to become a scanning technician in 2009 before landing her current position in December 2020.

Notice the old equipment? Archives can be veritable museums of old playback equipment as they try to best preserve audiovisual materials. (Photo by Carissa Mosness)

Bagdonas recalled for me her favorite collection that she has worked with during her time at the Center.

“I really do like old Hollywood stuff because I’m a big classic film person,” Bagdonas exclaimed, “We have the Jacques Kapralik collection. There’s a bunch of shadow boxes from scenes from different movies he created, and he used to create the title cards they used to film back in the day.”  

3-dimensional artwork by Jacques Kapralik for the 1948 film Easter Parade starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, and Peter Lawford. His intricate artwork made from paper cut-outs and other materials was used by many Hollywood film studios to market their film productions. Box 56, Jacques Kapralik papers, Collection #4064, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. 
Bagdonas pulls up a digitized piece of artwork from the Jacques Kapralik papers at the AHC. Digitizing materials can help mitigate the wear and tear of use, thus helping to preserve original materials. (Photo by Carissa Mosness)

To learn more about the AHC’s digital collections, please go to http://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/collections/digital.html.

Post contributed by AHC intern Carissa Mosness.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Archival work, Digital collections, Digitization techniques, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lights, Camera, Activism: Gladys Margaret Crane’s Enduring Cultural Footprint

August 26th marks Women’s Equality Day, and in that spirit, our blog will delve into the papers of Professor Gladys Margaret Crane, a woman of many interests and talents. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 8, 1928. Crane attended high school and college in Washington, going on to receive a master’s degree in rhetoric and public address in 1955 from Northwestern University. She then graduated from Indiana University in 1968 with a Ph.D. in theatre. Her dissertation was titled “The Characterization of the Comic Women Characters of George Bernard Shaw.”

As she worked her way through her degrees she taught in various high schools and colleges, eventually becoming an assistant professor of theatre at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. She studied acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York.

Professor Gladys M. Crane. Box 32, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1969 she was hired by the University of Wyoming, where she spent 24 years in the theater department. As a professor, she received praise from her students who described her as “a fantastic teacher” and “well read, entertaining and insightful.” Crane was Head of the Department of Theatre and Dance from 1987 to 1992. Much of her academic published work was related to George Bernard Shaw.

One of Prof. Crane’s many publications about Shaw. Box 18, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

She also directed five of George Bernard Shaw’s plays at UW, along with more than thirty plays by other playwrights.

A partial list of plays directed by Prof. Crane at the University of Wyoming, 1986. Box 1, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Crane was active in university life, serving as a UW Faculty Senator and on both the Women’s Studies Committee and the University Tenure and Promotion Committee. She took an interest in helping students, both undergraduate and graduate and was a faculty advisor. In 1991, the Cap and Gown Chapter of the Mortar Board recognized her for exceptional contribution to UW and service to the students.

Certificate from the University of Wyoming recognizing Prof. Crane, November 7, 1991. Box 1, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Crane retired from UW as Professor Emeritus of Theatre in 1993. She went on to attend Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, where she received a Master of Theological Studies degree in 1995. She returned to the University of Wyoming where she was a Professor in Religion and Drama for the Department of English and later in the Department of Religious Studies. The classes she taught included Feminist Christian Theology, Feminist Christian Thought, Gender and Religion and Drama and Religion. Among Crane’s papers was this description of “What is a Feminist?”

Box 11, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Crane defined feminist theology as “thinking about God that considers female human experience as significant a source for systematic reflection as male human experience.” She was beloved by the students in her religion courses. They appreciated her ability to facilitate classroom discussions around sometimes controversial topics. Crane’s later in life academic interests were feminist theology, women’s spirituality and religion and drama.

She received a Kennedy Center Gold Medallion for contribution to theatre in 1990. The Rocky Mountain Theatre Association gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. She was recognized by the Wyoming governor in 1994 with the Governor’s Award for contribution to the arts in the state of Wyoming. He cited her “tireless commitment to her teaching … and unflagging professional dedication to theatre and the promotion of theatre in Wyoming, the region and the nation.”

Gladys Crane receiving the Wyoming Governor’s Award from Governor Jim Geringer for her contributions to the arts, 1994. Box 1, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Beginning in 1997, UW hosted an annual Gladys Crane Mountain Plains Film Festival. The festival brought films and filmmakers from around the U.S. to Laramie. Crane was actively involved in selecting films for the festival. They included Academy Award winning documentaries and films that had debuted at international festivals in Europe. The festival films portrayed everything from queer experiences in Mommy Queerest to African American migration from the South to the North at the end of the 19th century in Daughters of the Dust.

Program from the Gladys Crane Mountain Plains Film Festival, September 1998. Box 18, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 2000, the Crane Studio, a 4,000 square foot rehearsal hall named for Professor Emerita Crane, opened in the UW Fine Arts building. Funds for the construction came from an anonymous donor.

Gladys Crane at the opening of the Crane Studio in the UW Fine Arts Building, 2000. Box 32, Gladys Margaret Crane papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Crane’s interests extended beyond academics. She took two bicycle tours of Europe – one in the summer of 1952 and again in the summer of 1960. Crane spent a sabbatical in London and attended the conferences of the International Society for Humor Studies. She played the saxophone, enjoyed downhill skiing, and served as president of the League of Women Voters of Wyoming. She even had a bit part in the Paramount Pictures film A New Leaf in 1971. Crane was also an active member of Laramie’s Trinity Lutheran Church, where she sang in the choir and taught Sunday School. She passed away in Laramie on October 18, 2018.

The Gladys Margaret Crane papers at the American Heritage Center consist of 41 boxes, including many of her teaching materials and dozens of scripts as well as documents associated with the League of Women Voters.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in activism, Feminism, The Arts, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucile Wright: Commercial Pilot and All-Around-Go-Getter

Lucile Wright was a “Lady of Firsts,” as one biographer called her, and acquired a long list of accomplishments in her lifetime. Described as being “nearer pint sized than quart,” her petite frame nonetheless housed a voraciously curious mind and bold personality that resulted in a life that could only be described as wide-ranging.

Born Lucile Miller in 1901 in Beatrice, Nebraska, Lucile’s family later moved to Billings, Montana, where she completed high school with honors in only three years. According to her, her parents were both terribly disappointed that she was not born a boy, so they decided to raise her as one. She learned to ride horses, fish, and hunt, along with other “masculine pursuits which in those days were more uncommon for a girl than they are now,” according to a sorority sister that wrote a brief biography of Lucile.

Many people who lived in the rural West at the turn of the 20th century would likely disagree that this was an unusual upbringing for a girl, but one thing Lucile did learn from her parents’ attempts to expose her to varied activities and skills was that if she wanted to do something, she would not let society’s opinions of her gender’s supposed limitations stop her.

Known as someone who was always doing more than one thing at a time, Lucile spent her high school years not only organizing a new “Girls Yell Club” (presumably cheerleaders or a pep squad), but also in performing public service during WWI, including knitting for the Red Cross.

After high school graduation, she went on to study languages and literature with “science on the side” at the University of Minnesota. She transferred to Washington University when her family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she studied the same subjects but “went to art school on the side.” Along with her studies, she started a pep club (The Peppers), wrote for the school and local newspapers, joined the Rifle Team, and headed a Big Sisters group.

She said she wanted to study medicine but acquiesced when her father suggested she study law instead and when she and her family moved to Washington, DC, she also took a Foreign Service course at Georgetown. Finally balking at her parents’ wishes, however, she decided to do what was necessary to pursue a career in medicine.

A page from Lucile Wright’s “Leader” notebook from Billings High School, where she wrote down several cheers she made up. This may be the “Girls Yell Club” she organized. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Lucile M. Wright papers, Accession Number 9799, Box 21, Folder “Notebooks.”

She had to tell a few falsehoods about her credentials to “hold down several men’s jobs at once” and occasionally bend the rules to transform her fascinations into real pursuits, which later led her to joke about her “checkered career.” For instance, she became the first female and first person without an MD or PhD to hold the job of research chemist at the City Hospital on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island in New York). She got the job by telling them she had “lots of experience” and writing her own reference letters. She was successful in the job, which included teaching nursing students and, when she got bored with her regular duties, she established and ran a department of clinical photography—where she was the only woman in New York to hold such a position. When she left, they hired three men to take over all her duties.

Lucile married Dr. Edward G. Winkler, who had been an intern at New York hospital and a new acquaintance of Lucile when she decided to turn away from her family’s financial support and run away to New York to pursue a career in medicine. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Lucile soon after would become Mrs. Winkler during her stint as a research chemist.

Later, in Buffalo, New York, she worked as his receptionist and nurse. Again, “on the side,” she made medical motion pictures and helped prepare his lectures. By creating a chapter of her college sorority, they sponsored a club for underprivileged girls, similar to the Girl Scouts. She supported many organizations in her life, but those that focused on teaching practical skills and confidence to girls seemed to be a particular passion for Lucile.

Lucile Wright, left, presenting awards to members of the Jamestown Girls Club in 1971. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Lucile M. Wright papers, Accession Number 9799, Box 20, Folder “Photographs – Lucile M. Wright 1965-1975.”

After she broke her back falling from a horse, she had to spend a year convalescing. That must have made this ever-active go-getter unbearably restless. She and the doctor also divorced in 1940. It was during this time she decided she wanted to learn to fly, and to do so, she wanted to buy her own training plane. She started selling life insurance and began working as a photographer for the US Army in 1942 to help fund her new passion for aviation. Keeping up with three jobs to learn to fly (again, “on the side”) is admirable. When asked how she did it, Lucile responded, “I have to keep my nose to the grindstone to keep my plane in the air.” Lucile never let obstacles keep her from doing what she wanted.

In 1944, she married John H. Wright, who was the president of a bank and head of the Jamestown, New York, telephone company. He, too, had a passion for photography. And he owned two planes! They were a perfect match, despite his 40-or-so year head start on life. For their honeymoon, Lucile flew the couple to the west coast. She later said she loved her new home of Jamestown, New York, because it was the “most western town of any eastern town she had been in.”

Lucile Wright behind the controls of a plane when she worked as a commercial airline pilot out of the New York area, taken in 1950. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Lucile M. Wright papers, Accession Number 9799, Box 11, Folder “Photographs – Lucile Wright Aviation 1950.”

In Jamestown, she was active as ever. She again helped form a girls club and was active in several clubs, including the Jamestown chapter of the 99s, the International Association of Women Pilots. Her husband died just a few years later, in 1951, at age 83. His obituary describes his lifelong passion for aviation, resulting in his buying his first plane at the age of 73. It seems the timing of his first meeting with Lucile was kismet. He also helped form the local Civil Air Patrol and served on the Jamestown Municipal Airport Commission. Lucile became the first woman to serve on this commission when she took over her late husband’s unexpired term. This proved to be an important turn in her life since she served as chair of the airport commission for the better part of a decade and oversaw the creation and execution of a major improvement plan for the Jamestown Municipal airport.

A clipping saved by Lucile Wright, right, where she is shown with other people who worked on her improvement plan for the Jamestown Municipal Airport. The Jamestown Sun, September 9, 1955. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Lucile M. Wright papers, Accession Number 9799, Box 10, Folder “Newspaper Clippings – Jamestown Municipal Airport 1953-1962.”
A newspaper clipping Lucile Wright saved during her time as airport commission chairman in Jamestown, New York. It depicts the newly elected mayor, Carl Sanford, taking credit for the years of work Lucile put into the redevelopment and improvements of Jamestown airport. The Jamestown (N.Y.) Sun, September 24, 1957, p. 8. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Lucile M. Wright papers, Accession Number 9799, Box 10, Folder “Newspaper Clippings – Jamestown Municipal Airport 1953-1962.”

While serving on the airport commission and multiple other boards, Lucile also continued to work as the secretary-treasurer of her husband’s telephone company for 35 years. Though she took her first flight way back in 1938 (before she had a license to do it!), by the time of WWII, she was serving in the Civil Air Patrol alongside her husband. She was the only woman in western New York to do so.

She flew in several Powder Puff Derbies until 1954 but stayed active as a commercial pilot traveling all over the world until the 1970s. In 1976, she moved to Cody, Wyoming, where she, of course, was active in many local groups and clubs including the Republican Women’s Club, the Cody Music Club, and the Cody Country Art League.

She died at the age of 89 from Alzheimer’s and her ashes were spread over the mountains because, despite her globetrotting and kaleidoscopic life, Lucile always loved the West.

Post by Brigida Blasi, AHC Public History Educator

#alwaysarhiving

Sources:

“Lucile M. Wright,” Obituary. The Billings Gazette. June 23, 1990, p. 17.

“John H. Wright Dies at 83,” Obituary. Buffalo Evening News. February 19, 1951, p. 4.

Posted in aviation, Uncategorized, women's history, World War I, World War II | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Sky is the Limit: The UW Atmospheric Science Department and an Oral History Project

Donald Veal is a name that many University of Wyoming employees and citizens of the state remember. Veal had many “firsts” at UW. He earned the first Ph.D. from the College of Engineering when he completed his Civil Engineering degree in 1964. In 1981, he became the first alumnus to be named president of the university – a position he held until 1987. It is another “first” that ultimately led to an oral history project.

On July 1, 1971, the Department of Atmospheric Science was formed, and Veal was named its first department head. Veal remained chair of the department until 1980, when he accepted the position of Vice President of Research and moved from his College of Engineering office to Old Main.

Don Veal’s connection to atmospheric research at UW dates to the early 1960s, when he became acquainted with Professor John Bellamy, who was director of UW’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI.) At the time, the NRRI was beginning to study weather modification on top of Elk Mountain, northwest of Laramie. Bellamy encouraged Veal to join the research team. With Veal’s experience as a pilot, the NRRI also began conducting aerial research with a recently purchased university aircraft. After retiring from UW in 1987, Veal entered the private sector where he was involved in weather research instrumentation development with a firm in Colorado known as Particle Measuring Systems.

Don Veal with the UW Beech C-45 research aircraft at the UW Flight Center at the Laramie Airport, circa 1969. Gabor Vali Photo, Department of Atmospheric Science Records.

Veal passed away on January 20, 2019. Professor Bart Geerts attended Veal’s memorial service in Longmont, Colorado, on January 26, 2019. Geerts was the chair of the Department of the Atmospheric Science at the time. After the service, Geerts realized that with Veal’s passing, many important memories and critical details of the early years of the department were lost. Moved by the stories shared at the memorial service of Veal’s tremendous vision and efforts to establish and sustain an Atmospheric Science Department, Geerts recognized the loss of Veal’s institutional memory and began the effort to ensure other stories could be preserved.

Geerts knew how important it would be to connect with other individuals who were associated with the early years of the department. He contacted me and asked if I could assist in preserving the early history of the department. After meeting with Geerts and others from the department – including Al Rodi, Perry Wechsler, and Jeff Snider – over the course of several months, we agreed that conducting oral history interviews would be a worthwhile project.

I was given contact information for approximately ten former employees and graduate students who could provide key information about the early years of the department. The arrival of COVID-19 initially slowed the project. I conducted my first interview on September 27, 2021. The first interview was, perhaps, the most important. It also was the most fortuitous. Professor Gabor Vali, like Veal, arrived at UW prior to the establishment of the department. Vali was hired in 1969 as an assistant professor. After retiring from UW in 2006, he moved to Spain.

I reached out to Vali to encourage him to share his memories of the department. Though my goal was to conduct as many in-person interviews as possible, I knew that would not happen with him living so far away. In a stroke of luck, when I contacted him by email, he happened to be in the area on vacation where he was visiting family and friends. He was gracious enough to take a few hours to meet with me in Laramie.

Professor Gabor Vali and graduate student, Vickie Sutherland Johnson on top of Elk Mountain, circa 1977. Photo by Dave Rogers, Department of Atmospheric Science Records.

During the oral history interview, Vali made an important observation about institutional memory loss and the importance of oral history interviews. When I asked Gabor to share his thoughts about Don Veal, he responded very emotionally, saying:

I spoke to Don less than a month before he died. I went to visit him at his home in Longmont. His memory was just as sharp as ever. So, when you say, ‘you lost memory’ (referring to Don’s passing), his was it. I never had a good memory. He had an incredible memory – to detail and connections. Incredible.

His emotional account of Don Veal reminded me of the importance of oral history projects. Another professor associated with the very early years of the department was John Marwitz. Sadly, he passed away before I had a chance to meet with him. His passing was yet another reminder of the importance of interviewing people sooner rather than later.

Professors John Marwitz (L) and Donald Veal, July 2007. Photo by Ken Grandia, Department of Atmospheric Science Records.

Like so many projects, this project took on a life of its own. During interviews, other important names would come up in conversation. It seemed that every time I would interview somebody, the person would ask, “Have you interviewed (fill in the name) yet?” What started as a list of ten names quickly grew to include many more interesting perspectives from individuals connected with the department. At the conclusion of the project on December 6, 2022, when I conducted the final interview, I had met with 44 individuals. Interviews were conducted in-person at various locations, via telephone, and through Zoom video conferencing. Oral history interviews bring life and character to a story, and they help fill in voids that are not recorded in reports and other historical documents.

John Waggener (L), interviews retiring professor, Jeff Snider, and Department Head Jeff French in 2022.

The approximately 70 hours of audio content will be made available to the public later in 2023 within the Department of Atmospheric Science Collection at the AHC. A link to the inventory for those records can be found at https://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv601332

Post contributed by John Waggener, University Archivist & Historian.

#alwaysarchiving

Those interviewed include:

  • Wendy Abshire (M.S. 1989)
  • Susan Allen (graphic artist and office assistant 1978-2015)
  • Darrel Baumgardner (M.S. 1980, Ph.D. 1988, Research Scientist 1978-1981)
  • Bill Bellamy (son of NRRI Director John Bellamy)
  • Jerry Berger (former UW Art Museum curator and friend of Don Veal)
  • Bruce Boe (M.S. 1981), Kermit Brown (friend of Don Veal and UW Trustee)
  • Richard Clark (Ph.D. 1987)
  • Don Day (student and teaching assistant 1990-1992, owner of Day Weather)
  • Terry Deshler (M.S. 1975, Ph.D. 1982, Research Scientist and Professor 1982-2014)
  • Richard Dirks (Professor, 1969-1976)
  • Tom Drew (UW Pilot 2002-present)
  • Trude Eidhammer (Ph.D. 2002)
  • Jeff French (Ph.D. 1998, Research Scientist and Professor 2005-present)
  • Bart Geerts (Professor 1999-present)
  • Bill Gern (UW Vice President for Research and Development 1995-2017)
  • Ken Grandia (M.S. 1973)
  • Sam Haimov (Research Scientist 1995-2022)
  • Larry Irving (Technician 1966-2000)
  • Vickie Johnson (M.S. 1978)
  • Robert Kelly (M.S. 1978, Professor 1984-2017)
  • Dan Knollenberg and Robert Knollenberg (friends of Don Veal and owners of Particle Measuring Systems)
  • William Mahoney (M.S. 1983, Research Associate 1983-1984)
  • Brooks Martner (Research Scientist 1974-1987)
  • Karen Marwitz (Widow of Professor John Marwitz)
  • Tom Parish (Professor 1980-2017)
  • Marcia Politovich (Ph.D. 1986, Graduate Research Assistant and Research Associate 1978-1986)
  • Ken Pomeroy (M.S. 1999)
  • Al Rodi (Ph.D. 1981, Professor 1981-2018)
  • Dave Rogers (M.S. 1973, Ph.D. 1982, Research Scientist 1973-1983)
  • Wayne Sand (Ph.D. 1980, Research Meteorologist, Pilot, Professor 1976-1987)
  • Ken Sassen (Ph.D. 1976)
  • Russell Schnell (M.S. 1971, Ph.D. 1974, Research Assistant, Research Scientist, 1969-1974)
  • Robert Serafin (National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, who collaborated with UW on numerous projects)
  • Jeff Snider (Ph.D. 1989, Professor 1990-2022)
  • Tom Spangler (M.S. 1972), Gabor Vali (Professor 1969-2006)
  • Rimvyda Valiukenas (Staff Assistant and Business Manager 1987-2016)
  • Marthajayne Vaughan (UW Classmate and friend of Don Veal)
  • Sherrill Veal (Don Veal’s daughter)
  • Perry Wechsler (Engineer, Research Scientist 1982-2016)
  • Joney Wilmot (Widow of Roger Wilmot, Natural Resources Research Institute)
  • Tom Yoksas (Graduate Assistant 1977-1981, Systems Administrator 1981-1987)
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Celebrating National Book Lover’s Day with Medieval Treasures

August 9th is National Book Lover’s Day. To celebrate, the Toppan Rare Books Library is presenting a couple of our (personal) favorite books from the collection: a 15th century Belgian prayer book and an illuminated religious song book, also from the 15th century.

Illuminated manuscripts were extremely valuable books in the medieval world, each meticulously handcrafted from binding to text. Thanks to the expansive Fitzhugh collection, Toppan boasts a couple of extraordinary examples. These particular manuscripts have been broadly dated to the 15th century.

Before the printing press began to revolutionize and democratize printed culture in the early sixteenth century, books were the possessions of the wealthy classes and the Church. They were frequently produced in the scriptoria of monasteries by monks and nuns trained as scribes, or in universities after 1200. Luckily for us, unique scribal hands can sometimes be attributed to particular monastic members or by colophons in the bindings. Through colophons and scribal hand comparison studies, Cynthia J. Cyrus identified 460 manuscripts made by 286 female scribes across forty-eight German women’s convents.

Something that many are drawn to at first glance are the colors on the pages – just as vibrant all these centuries later. Each of these pigments had specific recipes, meanings, and values.

Gold was the most valuable since it was real gold that had been pounded into fine leaves and carefully applied to the design. In other cases, it was pounded into a powder and made into a paste using a liquid like mercury or vinegar. Ultramarine was an extremely difficult pigment to mix for various reasons. Lapis lazuli was expensive, and it was back-breaking to acquire it from the mountains in the Sar-e-Sang region of Afghanistan. It was also made up of a plethora of impurities. The artist had to separate the deep blue color from these impurities which took about three days to complete. For this reason, the recipe to make ultramarine blue was shrouded in secrecy. Due to its brilliance and value, artists relegated this blue pigment to the robes of one precious figure in particular: the Virgin Mary.

Another fascinating color to behold in illuminated manuscripts is green. Based on the way the pigment has interacted with the paper in the Toppan Library’s Fitzhugh manuscripts, it is likely that it is what was known as verdigris. Verdigris is created through the intentional corrosion of copper with air, moisture, and acid – or vinegar. Cennino Cennini, a fourteenth century artist, noted that because verdigris was produced using copper, it was liable to break down over time. Such breakdown appears in the form of chemical reactions between the paper, binder material, and color. Examining degradation patterns today depends on factors such as pollution, environmental conditions, and storage methods. In the case of the Toppan manuscripts, there is minimal degradation aside from the pigment gradually bleeding through the parchment. This is influenced by the fact that the book has been kept under controlled low humidity in a dry Wyoming environment. Those in locations with higher humidity might observe the color beginning or already eating through the page entirely.

Illuminated manuscripts were owned and commissioned by the wealthiest of medieval people. Books of hours like these were one of the most common types of bound volumes produced in the Middle Ages. They were meant to structure the days or years of the owner and encourage private and individualized devotion times throughout a given timeframe. Frequently found are lists of saints and their feast days as well as the legends of some saints that the owner found especially venerable.

Especially interesting is the frequency with which books of hours were owned by women. Mothers were in charge of their daughters’ educations. Wealthy mothers might commission a personalized volume that taught girls how to be pious and good wives and mothers themselves, and they may choose specific saints’ legends to meet this end. Illuminated manuscripts were valuable enough to be included in dowries, and books of hours could be given as wedding gifts to the bride. Excitingly, recent noninvasive scientific examinations of the books themselves and substances found on them have shown evidence of illuminated books’ role in the elite birth room. Prayers and legends – such as that of Saint Margaret of Antioch, the patron saint of childbirth – could hold incredible power for a woman in labor who believed that the saint’s protective powers could transfer to her if she bound the text to her thigh or abdomen.

Illuminated manuscripts are more than just books. They are works of art, expressions of faith, and windows into the past. They reveal the skills, creativity, and devotion of the people who made them and used them. They also show the challenges and changes that these books faced over time, from the invention of the printing press to the preservation efforts of today. The Toppan Rare Books Library is proud to have these illuminated manuscripts in its collection and to share them with the public on National Book Lover’s Day and beyond. If you are interested in seeing these manuscripts in person or learning more about them, please visit the website for more information.

Post contributed by Toppan Library Assistants Marcus Holscher and Emma Comstock.

#alwaysarchiving

Sources consulted:

[Anonymous illuminated ms. prayer book. Belgian], [15th century?], Fitzhugh Collection. ND3380.M36x. Toppan Rare Book Library, University of Wyoming.

[Anonymous illuminated ms. song book], [15th century?], Fitzhugh Collection. ND3380.M37x. Toppan Rare Book Library, University of Wyoming.

Banik, Gerhard. “Discoloration of Green Copper Pigments in Manuscripts and Works of Graphic Art.” Restaurator 10, no. 2 (1989): 61-73.

Brown, Michelle P. The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Cennini, Cennino D’Andrea. The Craftsman’s Handbook. Translated by Daniel V. Thompson, Jr. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960.

Cyrus, Cynthia J. “Appendix B: Forty-eight Women’s Convents with Active Scriptoria in Late Medieval Germany.” In The Scribes for Women’s Convents in Late Medieval Germany, 217-220.Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Colour: The Art & Science of Illuminated Manuscripts. Edited by Stella Panaytova, Deirdre Jackson, and Paola Ricciardi. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2016.

Donohoe, Róisín. “‘Unbynde her anoon’: the Lives of St. Margaret of Antioch and the lying-in space in late medieval England.” In Gender in medieval places, spaces and thresholds. Edited by Victoria Blud, Diane Heath, and Einat Klafter, 137-156. London: University of London Press, Institute of Historical Research, 2019.

Fiddyment, Sarah, et al. “Girding the loins? Direct evidence of the use of a medieval English parchment birthing girdle from biomolecular analysis.” Royal Society Open Science 8 (2021): 1-14.

Finlay, Victoria. The Brilliant History of Color in Art. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014.

Finlay, Victoria. Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004.

Groag Bell, Susan. “Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture.” Signs 7, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 742-768.

Posted in 15th century, Artists, Book arts, Book history, Toppan Rare Books Library, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the Scenes at the Cone: Organizing and Processing History

Organizing and arranging historical documents can be difficult. And at a world-renowned archive like the one at the University of Wyoming, there are a select number of people who can manage it.

One of them is AHC Processing Archivist Roger Simon. His particular specialties are politics and pop culture. In fact, Roger is the AHC’s go-to person for anything to do with Hollywood film history. Currently, he is processing the papers of Robert Bloch (1917-1994), best known as the author of the 1959 novel Psycho, which was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film of the same name. 

The Bloch papers include the author’s many books that were translated into various foreign languages for international editions. Included are books in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, and Swedish. Robert Bloch papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming (Photo courtesy of Leslie Waggener).

Simon explains, “What we do as processors is called ‘arrangement and description.’ If I’m going to process a collection of materials from a particular donor, my goal is to arrange them in a way that I hope will make sense to any researchers who use the collection.”

He compares it to completing a puzzle.

“When I begin work on a collection, normally I first take an inventory of the materials in it by opening the boxes and going through them. That’s one of the things that I find most interesting – the process of finding out what’s in the collection, and it’s kind of like seeing how the pieces of a puzzle fit together.”

What does that puzzle look like when it’s complete? An example is the finding aid for the papers of Buddy Ebsen, an accomplished dancer and stage, film, and television actor best known for his roles in the TV series Davy Crockett, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Barnaby Jones. Ebsen was also an artist, musician, sailor, and author. It took Roger many months to figure out how to solve the puzzle of putting that collection together, but he eventually was able to organize it into a set of series that describes Ebsen’s multi-dimensional life and career.

A photograph of Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Ebsen was replaced for the part after he experienced a severe health reaction to the aluminum dust used as part of the costume. Buddy Ebsen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Arranging and describing a collection is fascinating work, but it can have its tedious moments. “If the collection has a massive amount of correspondence and it’s just a mess, there’s no other way to do it except just to sit at a desk and sort the letters – usually by year and month,” Simon notes, adding, “I can’t read through every single document – that would be almost impossible. But I look at each document to see what it is and where it belongs.”

In addition to the volumes of correspondence are gems like this. It’s a cover of the March 1989 issue of The Reluctant Famulus, one of many fanzines that Bloch collected. Robert Bloch papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
And these. Make you want to sit down and read while organizing a collection. Robert Bloch papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

“I normally work on one collection at a time. Depending on the size of the collection, it may take me as little as a few weeks or as long as a year or more to fully arrange and describe it. It took me about a year and a half to fully process Buddy Ebsen’s papers.” 

While organizing all the items in a large collection may seem overwhelming, Simon has his methods for sorting through them all.  “I like using filing cabinets, which allow me to organize the materials as I inventory them,” he explains. 

Roger Simon shows how he organizes the collections he works with. These files contain Bloch’s correspondence (Photo courtesy of Leslie Waggener).    

But that is only for print documents.  Digital materials are a completely different ballgame – or are they?

“It’s really no different from processing paper materials. Our digital archivist provides me with the digital files (through a process called ‘ingestion’), and then I go through them and figure out where they belong within the arrangement of the collection. For example, correspondence may be paper, or it may be digital – for example, emails. In collections of older materials, there probably won’t any born-digital documents, but more recent collections will likely have them.”

To learn more about the AHC, see our website.

Post contributed by AHC intern Carissa Mosness and AHC Processing Archivist Roger Simon.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in faculty/staff profiles, Interns' projects, science fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucy Tells: The Story of a Woman Comic Book Writer

Lucy Thomas was a woman author and columnist in the heavily male-dominated comics industry of the 1950s. Born on June 19, 1920, in New Jersey, Lucy Thomas later resided in Colorado in the 1950s where she was heavily involved in her local church and volunteered for the Red Cross during World War II. She documented stories while volunteering abroad though freelance writing but was primarily employed by comic book writers Charlie Brio and Bob Wood and by extension, their comic book publisher Lev Gleason.

Thomas ran an advice column called Lucy Thomas Tells, which was geared towards giving romantic advice as filler in romance comics, which she also helped author. “How to Get Your Man,” “Great Lovers of History,” and “What Gifts Should a Girl Accept?” are some of her column headlines.  

“Lucy Thomas Tells” from issue #3 of Boy Meets Girl Comics, 1950. Image from https://c.im/@ruralgloom/109956331121865216.

In addition to dispensing advice to the lovelorn, Thomas authored features for comics geared towards boys, though it was unclear why she was not credited as the author. The features were “type” (filler stories), approximately two pages in length that separated the two main stories of the comic. Both the comics and the features were held liable by the Comics Code, which was issued in 1954 and comics adhered to it in order to be a respectable publication. Comic book publishers did not necessarily have to adhere to the code as it was voluntary, but Lev Gleason worked to ensure that his comics did.

The cover of each comic published by Gleason has a sign: a star with a rectangle, both with text on the top point, to show that the comics were adhering to the code and were safe for children to read, and that they would not be a bad influence on the child’s psyche. Comics like Daredevil, Black Diamond, Uncle Charlie’s Fables, Crime Does Not Pay, and Boy all attempted to promote positive behavior as dictated by the Comics Code, and discourage delinquent activity such as vandalism, petty theft, loitering, and other crimes. The code also discouraged explicit gore, extreme violence, or depicting authority figures such as the military, police, or government as corrupt.

Cover of Boy Comics #76, April 1952. Note star insignia on the top right indicating that the comic adheres to the Comics Code. Box 1, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Cover of Daredevil Comics #88, July 1941. Note that there is no Comics Code insignia on this issue as it pre-dates the code. Box 1, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Feature written by Lucy Thomas in Black Diamond Western #34, 1952. Note that she was not credited on this filler that she authored. She was not credited for this story anywhere in the comic book. Box 1, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Cover of Black Diamond Western #34, 1952. Box 1, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Excerpt from “Black Diamond” no. 34. Written and Edited by Charlie Brio and Bob Wood. Box 1, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Comics Code was also used to promote traditionally American ideals, such as being anti-communist and anti-Nazi, as seen in Crime Does Not Pay and Daredevil, and to promote American exceptionalism, which can be seen in Black Diamond and Boy. While she did not pen the main stories of the comics, Thomas followed similar guidelines in her features. Both the comics and the features slip in subtle promotions of “ideal” behavior in children regarding how they should behave in school, with their parents, and with other authority figures. Brio-Wood did not have to alter their story lines to any major extent to adhere to it.

Lucy Thomas, while an established and accomplished short story author, still encountered problems navigating the comic publishing world. She received credit for authoring her advice column, and for co-authoring romance comics written for young women, such as Boy Meets Girl and Lover’s Lane. Her features that appeared in comics meant for young boys, however, did not acknowledge her as the author. She also experienced multiple problems regarding payment for her stories, as well as the use of her. This also happened to another female writer on the Brio-Wood payroll.

Letter written by Lucy Thomas to Charles Brio and Bob Wood. Box 2, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The problems regarding the use of Thomas’ name arose due to a shift in management and editorial staff, which she and her co-author Ada Nevill strongly disagreed with. The problem arose after Brio-Wood and Lev Gleason Publications partnered to continue to publish stories. Brio-Wood, who were Thomas’ initial editors, were the editors in name only. The actual editor of the advice columns, stories, and features was Henry Lieferant, an employee of Gleason. After the merge, Nevill removed herself from writing for the magazine, but Gleason continued to use her name. Thomas took over her work, which increased sales for both Boy Meets Girl and for Nevill’s comic, Lover’s Lane. This increase in sales incentivized Lev Gleason Publications to move the comics to a monthly release. Because Thomas had taken over Nevill’s work, both her and Lieferant’s work doubled.

Lieferant and Thomas did not get along, which only increased tensions as fan mail and advice letters were being signed as “Ada Nevill” or “Lucy Thomas” without the knowledge of either woman. According to Thomas’ correspondence, the editorial staff was switched to Lev Gleason without their knowledge as well. More problems arose when Gleason was accused by the New York World-Telegram for aligning with communists in 1950. This suspicion was reinforced by the fact he had been a member of the party in the 1930s, and that he was a member of an anti-fascist league.

Permissions letter written by Lucy Thomas to Lev Gleason, Box 1, Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers, Collection #6731, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Thomas was concerned that she would be associated with a publisher who promoted communist ideals to children, and that her name would be slandered thereafter. She was also displeased with the use of Nevill’s name over her own, as Nevill had larger impact on Lover’s Lane as an author than Thomas did on Boy Meets Girl. Adding to the issues was that Lucy Thomas was in habit of using her given name when authoring comics while ‘Ada Nevill’ was a pen name, thus protecting the real author – Ada Fisher. Thus, Fisher, would have relatively more protection if Lev Gleason was accused of promoting communism.

Thomas did eventually relent in January 1950 and gave Lev Gleason permission to use her name and likeness, even in the event that Brio-Wood withdrew their own permissions. Thomas moved to Denver from New York City in 1952 following her marriage to J. Clark Blickensderfer, where she became involved in local opera and symphony clubs.

She still wrote filler stories for comics following her move to Denver, electing to mail them to the publisher rather than work in the office. To learn more about Lucy Thomas and her work, see the Lucy Thomas Blickensderfer papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Archives Aide Jade Vandel.

#alwaysarchiving

References:

Posted in Comic book history, Communism, Uncategorized, women's history | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment