No. 54 (Summer/Fall 2021)
Childhood In America
History—meaning the totality of actual events that happened in the past—does not change. But another definition of history—the study and understanding of our past—is a conversation that is constantly in flux. Scholars, librarians, and archivists discover new sources. Interpretative approaches rise in influence and then are superseded. Researchers reveal hitherto unknown connections between people and places. And, most importantly, who and what historians study and write about changes over time.
The Book of Trades (London?, 1806) was published in multiple editions to provide children and their parents with information about future employment options. The Clements Library copy (1806) contains the inscription, “Mary R. Tatnall painted this picture in the ninth year of her age.” It is impossible to know if Mary’s artistic attention to detail translated into success in a future job.
To take just one historiographical example, early histories of the Civil War focused on the political leaders of the United States and the Confederacy and the military strategies their respective generals enacted. This initial focus on political and military elites was augmented by new scholarship that dealt primarily with the everyday experiences of enlisted soldiers. Subsequent historical scholarship addressed the ways that African Americans—both enslaved and free—played a role in and were affected by the war. Other historians focused on women’s experience of the war, whether on the home front, maintaining farms and businesses in the absence of sons, fathers, and husbands, or in theaters of conflict. But what do we know about the experiences of children during the Civil War? (Spoiler alert: not much.) We know that children, along with adults, experienced enslavement and violence and disease and economic uncertainty and political unrest in the early 1860s. How did the exigencies of wartime shape their lives?
Or, to pose the question more broadly, how do we write the history of children in the United States? Children are challenging subjects for historians. Many children in the American past didn’t live very long (close to 50% of children born in the U.S. in 1800 died before the age of five). As was the case for African Americans, Native Americans, and women throughout much of American history, children left fewer legal and historical records that places like the Clements Library would collect than white adult men. And while children were the object of a great deal of print production in early America—from primers to picture books to religious tracts—there are very few sources that were produced by children that reflect their own experiences.
As a result of these evidentiary challenges, the history of childhood as a field has emerged more slowly than other areas of scholarship. One of the best ways to measure the emergence of fields of study is to look at when they become institutionalized in academic life. When do scholarly organizations, journals, and degree-granting departments dedicated to specific disciplines develop?
While countless universities had schools of education and departments of early childhood development throughout the 20th century, the interdisciplinary study of childhood took longer to evolve. The American Sociological Association created a Section on the “Sociology of Children” to focus on contemporary childhood in 1992. But the Society for the History of Children and Youth only formed in 2001, and did not launch a journal until 2008. The United States’ first graduate program in Childhood Studies (at Rutgers University-Camden) admitted its first cohort of students in 2007.
Children’s appearance in the historical record often leaves us with more questions than answers. Thanks to the David V. Tinder Directory of Early Michigan Photographers, we have biographical information on the producers of these late 19th-century photographs, but not on the subjects.
Although the institutional embodiment of childhood has been slow to emerge, in recent years some of the most exciting Americanist scholarship to be published has dealt with the history of childhood. Steven Mintz’s Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, published in 2004, was the first synthetic overview of American childhood as a distinct phase of life. Mintz wrote that instead of “regarding children simply as passive creatures, who are the objects of socialization and schooling, and consumers of . . . products produced by grownups,” he sought to view “children as active agents in the evolution of their society” and to show that “children have been creators as well as consumers of culture.” A group of scholars working in a range of disciplines have responded to this call, and in particular have worked to highlight the ways in which “childhood” has never been a static category in U.S. history, nor has it ever been a period of idyllic innocence. Rather, this scholarship shows how childhood has been experienced differently at different moments by different groups of children.
Perhaps the most important body of recent Americanist scholarship in childhood studies has focused on the experiences of Black children. Nazera Sadiq Wright’s Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (2016) uses written records left by Black girls to outline the ways in which race and gender shaped the experience of childhood. Anna Mae Duane has contributed several books that outline our understanding of race and childhood, from Suffering Childhood in Early America: Violence, Race, and the Making of the Child Victim (2010) to Child Slavery Before and After Emancipation: An Argument for Child-Centered Slavery Studies (edited volume, 2017) to Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation (2020). Robin Bernstein’s award-winning 2011 book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights uses a range of artifacts—books, toys, theatrical props, domestic knickknacks—to show how the notion of childhood “innocence” changed and became racialized over the course of the 19th century. Richard Bell (Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home) and U-M’s own Jonathan Wells (The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War) both have recent books (2019) that focus on the experiences of free Black children in the North who were kidnapped into slavery. And most recently, Crystal Lynn Webster’s Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North (2021) details how Black children navigated the unpredictable forms of Northern unfreedom that were not slavery but were also not liberty.
The Clements is lucky to hold items by children whose personalities continue to shine through in the archive, charming us centuries later. In these two notes by Margaret June Alexander (Alexander Family Papers) and Willys Peck Kent (Evarts Kent Family Papers), their love for family members is clear, even as the identity of “Spizer” remains a mystery.
Another recent body of scholarship focuses on the experience of children as laborers in the American past. These include Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America (ed. Ruth Wallis Herndon and John E. Murray, 2009), Sharon Braslaw Sundue’s Industrious in Their Stations: Young People at Work in Urban America, 1720-1810 (2009); and Vincent DiGirolamo’s Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys (2019). Children in the American past performed agricultural, domestic, and industrial labor, but they also worked as soldiers, experiences that have been uncovered by scholars such as Allan Stover in Underage and Under Fire: Accounts of the Youngest Americans in Military Service (2014) and Caroline Cox in Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution (2016). Jon Grinspan has outlined how young people in the 19th century U.S. became actively involved in partisan politics, even before they were old enough to vote, in The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century (2016).
This brief list of scholarship only covers work published in book form. Far more scholarship has emerged in the past 20 years in journal articles, exhibition catalogues, and other formats that combine to push against the notion of childhood as a uniform condition that was experienced in the same way by all children across American history. One other thing that much of this scholarship has in common is that very little of it was researched at the Clements Library. We hope that this issue of The Quarto will help reveal the wealth of material that the Clements holds that is waiting to be examined by students, research fellows, and faculty interested in the history of childhood in America. We’re ready when you are.
Randolph G. Adams Director of the Clements Library
Rules of the Game
Anyone who has observed small children at play with each other or even alone will be struck by their sense of space and place. The concepts of “here” and “there” emerge early in their vocabulary, and movement between the two becomes an important component in the simplest of childhood games, whether tossing a ball back and forth or hide and seek or a running game of tag. All involve getting self or something from here to there.
The same concept of “here” and “there” applies in its most essential way to maps. Thus, maps often occupy the space of board games, where the combination of movement from one place to another and the restrictions imposed by chance (the roll of the dice or spin of the teetotum/counter) are major components in playing the game.
One of the simplest and earliest of printed board games is the Game of the Goose, which originated in France as Le Jeu de l’Oie, and became known in English as Snakes and Ladders. A player moves a counter along a circuitous route of outlined and numbered spaces (usually circles or squares). The number of spaces traversed is determined by the roll of a pair of dice or a spin of a simple counter (often called a teetotum). By adding a map or maps to each square, the Jeu du Monde (game of the world), as found in the Clements collection, is born.
One of the earliest and rarest cartographic board games, Le Jeu du Monde was published in Paris in 1645 by Pierre Duval, nephew of the celebrated cartographer Nicolas Sanson. The route takes the player through the least known lands of the Americas, outlined in blue; then through Africa, in red; the lands of Asia, yellow; and finally through the countries of Europe, in green. The four corners of the game board display maps of the four continents, colored appropriately, and a double hemisphere depiction of the world, similarly colored, lies in the center of the board.
In the Jeu du Monde, the player starts at the remotest areas of the world—the North and South Poles (Terres arctiques and Terres antarctiques)—and then moves circle by circle through the lands of the Americas, the regions of Asia, the countries of Africa, and the nations of Europe to reach the goal of circle number 63: La France. The first player to reach France wins.
So far, so simple, and not particularly interesting, except for the youngest players, until we read the rules. Although the Clements copy of this game lacks the printed instructions, the broadsheet entitled Pour l’intelligence du Jeu du Monde (For the understanding of the Game of the World), may be found in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The players are advised that the game will become more interesting if there is a pool of money, comprising an agreed upon amount contributed by each player, deposited in the center of the board, to which players will add or subtract, depending upon which space he or she might land on. The rules provide for certain fines, fees, ransoms, and rewards levied or awarded to players depending on the specific circles. For example, on the Barbary coast (circle 16) one must pay a ransom to move forward; in Peru (circle 10) the player receives a bonus from the mines of Potosí; in Zaara or Libie (Circle 19), the player must wait for another player to reach the circle and pay for the “ride” on the caravan to continue. Thus, the pot of money in the middle of the board expands and contracts with play, heightening player interest. To further increase the tension, a potential winner must reach circle 63, La France, by an exact roll of the dice or spin, or else has to back track by the number of spaces in excess of the number required. In the meantime, all the players are learning a bit of geography and a bit of cultural history while money acts as the medium of reward or punishment.
What worked in 17th-century France—dice and spinners, advancing and retreating along a pre-set geographical path—also worked in the 19th-century United States. The Traveller’s Tour Through the United States, published in New York City by F&R Lockwood in 1822, employs the same basic rules as the Jeu du Monde, using dice or a teetotum to determine the number of spaces traversed along a predetermined route. The playing board displays a map of the young United States, with a route outlined like a zig-zag road network, starting in Washington, D.C., and ending in New Orleans, number 139, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Each number notes a place, usually a town, which is not named on the map. Players may consult the attached reference guide for information about the place, and as they become more proficient, a more advanced form of the game requires a player to name the place and its population or distinguishing feature without consulting the guide in order to move on. By basing the game on memory as well as chance for movement, the game emphasizes basic geography of the United States and its towns and adds some cultural geography (populations, historical landmarks) and physical landforms (Niagara Falls, Michilimackinac), thereby rewarding knowledge rather than luck.
The Traveller’s Tour (New York, 1822) is the earliest known map game featuring the United States. Possibly because of the identification of dice with gambling, a spinner, or teetotum, was provided for gameplay.
Both Duval’s Jeu du Monde and Lockwood’s Traveller’s Tour use maps as simple game boards; they require no special equipment that would not be readily available or easily made at home: counters, dice, and spinners. A more sophisticated game in its shape and equipment is Norris’ Cyclopaedic Map of the United States of America, (excepting Alaska) Together with Adjacent Portions of the Dominion of Canada and of the United States of Mexico, published in New York by W.R. Norris in 1885. The gameboard is a map of the United States printed on an articulated wooden roll, neatly housed in a wooden box. Also in the box are 96 small wooden pegs, each representing a city or place visited in the game, and an array of pink and black tally tokens. The pegs fit into the square holes on the gameboard map, but the holes are not marked with place names. One simple aspect of the game is that the players must know sufficient geography to place each peg into the correct hole.
No instructions are included with the Clements copy of this game, but the Rules for Playing Games of the Zylo-karta (i.e., wooden map) accompany the game in the copy in the David Rumsey Collection. Norris presents his game as “Prepared for use in schools and in the home circle” and explains that it is called a “cyclopaedic map” because it “is derived from the combination of the map proper with its descriptive blocks representing capital and business centres, and which always accompany it.” The Rules offer four different games that may be played with the board and pieces: Contention, Zykah, Selection, and Siste. All four games are based on knowledge and not on chance (no dice or teetotum are included); each game involves teams or partners and the correct placement of the city/place pegs in the right holes; correct placement is recorded by the red tally counters, wrong answers by the black. The most complex of the four is Siste, which pits two-partner teams against each other: one team attempts to block the route from the other team’s city peg at one end of the country to reach a city peg at the other end of the country, by filling in the intervening places. This has the effect of creating a strategy game rather than a game of chance, as some sense of the opponents’ choice of places and routes must be divined. This form of the game returns us to the “here” to “there” principle that the early Jeu du Monde played upon, but further adds strategy and knowledge to the mix.
The Clements has several other map games and puzzles, all of which could be played by children. But were these games designed primarily for children? Probably not. As with most games, the appeal of play reaches across all generations and the added allure of gambling always adds to the competition. What these board games do for children is provide the experience of movement when outside or inside movement is not possible; they create a geographic world that can be travelled and learned from a board; they encourage sociability and norms of taking one’s turn and following a set of rules. And of course, it’s all about winning.
Assistant Curator of Maps
Our time at school as young children typically has enormous influence on who we are as adults. Education was formalized in the 19th century in small school houses and large urban institutions. In the second half of the century, class pictures became an annual tradition. Examples of class photos are rare prior to 1870, but by the turn of the century quite commonplace. The Clements has several hundred examples scattered across the photograph collections, with the critical mass residing in the David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography. These views into educational settings can reveal how much a community has invested, how much has changed over time, what remains the same, who is included or absent, and how we celebrate achievement. These pictures are also a great instructional opportunity for close reading of visual images. One can learn to spot the difference between the unusual and the ordinary, as well as identifying the teacher’s pet, class clown, or someone having a very bad day.
Photo Div D.4.1.1.
One of our earliest examples of a class picture is a Daguerreotype dating from circa 1850-55. At this time, the taking of an annual class picture was a new ritual, still in the making. This image was taken at an unknown location, posed outside where there was ample light for the photographer—critically important in early photography. Although they are a modestly dressed group—girls in simple calico dresses, boys in shirts, some without shoes—they may be wearing their best. The carefully combed hair indicates some preparation took place. The subjects all must hold still for five or ten seconds for the exposure. A broad range in ages is represented, which is very typical of rural schools in areas of low population density. In the back are three young women, presumably one or all of them are teachers. Their hands rest on the four girls in front, perhaps holding them still for the camera. As the daguerreotype was a unique image, it is unlikely this was a souvenir possessed by a student—it more likely stayed with the school or the teacher.
Tintype photographs can be difficult to date, as the format was popular for several generations. Taken sometime between 1870 and 1890, this tintype shows a schoolhouse that stood on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Vanatta Road near Okemos, Michigan. This site is now occupied by the Winslow Mobile Home Park. According to an inscription, somewhere in this picture is a girl or young woman named Winslow. We can see some commonplace features: a belfry for the call to start the day, and two doors, one for boys, one for girls. The seating inside was probably divided by gender down the middle of the room. On the right we can see the privy. Indoor plumbing was an uncommon luxury. Heat was likely from a wood stove. It may have been chilly outside during this session—several children have their hands tucked under their arms. Note the two girls on the far right in identical smocks—sisters?
It is often difficult to identify teachers because they may not be the oldest people in the group, and may not always be present in the picture. More likely than not, they were female. Single female teachers often boarded with a local family in accordance with social norms. In this case, the instructor may be the woman in the center back in front of the door on the right. She may have assistance from the young woman on the left in the dark dress, or the man on the right wearing a hat.
Taken circa 1880 by “view artist” L. Horric of Leslie, Michigan, this modest schoolhouse lacks the porch, belfry, and double doors of the previous example. The three women in the back left, two with a hand on the shoulder of the next, may be in charge of this group. The carefully aligned students are mostly barefoot. It is likely that some traveled several miles by carriage, mule, or on foot. The schoolyard often served as a pasture for animals during the day. By the 1860s, it became possible that paper photographs like this example could be produced in abundance such that each student could have one as a souvenir.
So what is up with all the hats tossed on the ground? My guess is that after carefully setting up the camera and posing this group in neat orderly rows, the photographer noticed that their hats were casting shadows across their faces and that wouldn’t do. So, dispense with your hats but don’t you dare move!
Part of the fallout from the Nat Turner slave uprising of 1831 was the belief that Turner’s quest for freedom was driven by his literacy. The result was the passing of laws in slave-holding states making it illegal to educate enslaved people. As emancipation came during the Civil War, so did efforts to establish schools for those recently or soon-to-be emancipated. An early effort was the “Port Royal Experiment.” From 1862–1865, northern abolitionists and local people collaborated under the Union Army occupation of the South Carolina Sea Islands to transform a society once dependent upon enslavement into a self-sustaining free community. The first educators to arrive were northern missionaries Laura Towne and Ellen Murray, who founded the Penn School on St. Helena Island, and Charlotte Forten, a talented and well-connected woman from an established Black Philadelphia family.
This carefully staged image from photographers Hubbard & Mix of Beaufort, South Carolina appears in an album associated with the Parrish family of Philadelphia. The image shows Ellen Murray, Gracie Chaplin, and Peg Aiken examining a book. This carte de visite is from a series taken in South Carolina that recorded this historical moment in education history. Unlike other classroom photos, these images were likely aimed at distant audiences in northern cities with fundraising and recruitment in mind.
“I never before saw children so eager to learn,” Forten wrote in her diary, excerpts of which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. “Although I had had several years’ experience in New England schools. Coming to school is a constant delight and recreation to them. They come here as other children go to play.”
Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography
Forced assimilation programs were central to Native American boarding schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Practical trades and service work were emphasized along with Christian teachings. Removed from everything familiar to them and placed into a harsh, militaristic environment, most children experienced trauma. The emotional and physical toll of Native American boarding schools continues in indigenous communities. This photograph was taken by John N. Choate circa 1880 at the first of these programs, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Run by Civil War veteran Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, it became the model for most others that followed.
David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography, Oakland County
Photographic plate sensitivity increased in the late 19th century allowing for class pictures to be taken indoors. This example, taken by Samuel E. Miller of Oxford, Michigan, around 1898 shows an artfully draped flag and hopeful “try, try again” motto, partially hidden by a stovepipe. I suspect this class saw a new teacher arrive shortly after this photo was taken as her image is pasted over the person who was present at the time. If at first you don’t succeed . . .
Civil War Battlefields Photograph Album
This evocative photograph appears in an album of images that may have been assembled by a Civil War veteran revisiting sites of combat in Virginia. We don’t know the exact location. By the time this image was taken in the 1890s, the schools established across the former Confederate states by the Freedmen’s Bureau were gone. The simple furnishings here include a pulpit and two candleholders—clues that this school doubles as a rural church.
Ah! The good old days when students were allowed to discover the laws of physical science through firsthand experience. This impressive facility in Capac, Michigan, was clearly run by a far more relaxed administration than I ever experienced. I am amazed that this was allowed to happen, and that photographic evidence was provided for the school’s insurers.
It isn’t surprising that a class in Allegan County, Michigan, would be studying Dutch culture and heritage considering the region is known for its significant Dutch population. The girls in this circa 1920 photograph are wearing Dutch bonnets, the artwork on the walls is a combination of children’s creations and commercial prints, most showing rural Low Country scenes with canals, windmills, cows, etc. The iron and wooden lift-top desks are bolted to the floor. The students are having a milk break, drinking from small glass bottles with paper straws. Most are looking at the camera with seriousness, except for a couple of crack-ups in the very back. No wooden shoes visible.
There are a surprising number of photos of racially integrated classes in the David V. Tinder Collection. Mostly these are photographs from Southern Michigan urban areas taken in the first half of the 20th century. One has to wonder about the demographics of these same schools in the era of white flight in the 1960s. This picture was taken in 1913 by a photographer in Lenawee County, Michigan, an area that began experiencing Black migration prior to the Civil War. Many school group photographers had contracts to photograph all classes in a given district or county. A child in the front row is holding the photographer’s chalk slate, handy for connecting the image with the correct class. “Rives District No. 8” may refer to Rives Junction. Looks like they all have shoes. Several girls in front are holding hands.
David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography, Oakland County
The Great Depression depleted resources for new infrastructure across the country. Many unused railway cars were converted into storage sheds, chicken coops, and roadside diners. This happy looking school is temporarily established in a converted interurban railcar from the Detroit United Railway. The car still has its headlight intact, along with its DUR number, 7522. This photo was taken in Oakland County, Michigan.
Public education always comes with a cost, as does ignorance. Thomas Jefferson frequently linked the freedoms of democracy to education. In anticipation of objections to the financial burden placed on society he wrote that “the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” I find reassurance in these photographs that through education, our country can continue to be free.
Curator of Graphics Material
“The Sorrow of Our Nation Was Ours Too”
Under normal circumstances, when you are simply living your life in all its chaotic glory, trying to find time to make dinner and fold laundry, it can be easy to forget that you’re a historical actor. This past year, however, as we grappled with a global pandemic, racial injustice, and political turmoil, it was clearer than usual that we were, in fact, in the midst of history. But more than all the dramatic headlines and late night fretting over foreboding public health charts, it was my four-year-old son that made me stop in my tracks and realize the weight of the moment. Walking down our street, he was tiptoeing over the cracks in the road and turned to me to exclaim, “Don’t step on the cracks! They’re full of virus!” And my breath caught, not just because I viscerally saw how his young mind was using play to process the anxiety and fear of this time, but because I knew if I didn’t write that down, it would be lost to history. He’s too young to document his own life, so I share my historical record with him.
Looking at archival collections with a careful eye, pausing to notice how children enter into the documentary record produced by the adults around them, you find evidence of their lives and their impact woven through all different kinds of sources. Which makes sense! In the present, children are everywhere, filling parents’ days with their chatter and imaginative play, challenging their teachers and making them laugh, shining light for all of us to follow. But when they can’t write for themselves or save their own history yet, you have to look to others to help tell their stories. Thinking of my son jumping over “virus cracks” or building a Lego facemask as a way of telling me how he was living in our own historical moment, I was reminded of a letter in our Continental, Confederation, and United States Congress Collection. “I was just informed that the Shot and Kentledge [slabs of iron] which were cast by Messr. Faesh and Company and deposited at Elizabeth Town are wasting daily by Children and others throwing them in the Creek and burying them in the Mud,” an exasperated James McHenry wrote in 1797. As Secretary of War he had been turning his attention to the military supply system, but he may not have been expecting to have to deal with the threat of playful youth who turned to his stores for entertainment. Military and political collections are full of these moments that give glimpses of children, reminding us that histories of pivotal moments or grand strategies can skim over the fact that kids were likely nearby, active in the same spaces, being impacted by these events, and sometimes causing trouble.
[Daughter of Thomas Hughes?], carte de visite, 1862.
Even when children were not physically present during tumultuous events, we can still catch sight of them through the records of those who loved and missed them. Thomas Hughes served with the 28th Iowa Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, leaving his wife and at least five children back home. His 11 surviving letters tell of his wartime experience, but most only contain passing references to his children, sending prayers for their safekeeping, kisses, and assurances of his love. His commitment to his family is clear, but the depth and texture of his longing for them is obscured by the limitations of language. How much heartache lies behind the platitude, “Kiss all the dear children for me”? A photograph contained in the collection helps us better understand how Thomas Hughes’ Civil War service was colored by his role as a father. A well-worn carte de visite of a child, possibly his daughter Anna who would have been about 10 when this photograph was taken in 1862, bears the inscription on the back, “Carried by Father thru the War.” Missing his daughter, Thomas Hughes kept this small talisman of home close to him as he served in the Vicksburg and Red River campaigns. Anna Hughes was nowhere near the front lines, but her father carried her with him as he waged war, and this photograph hints at the profound ways parental love and longing shaped soldiers’ wartime experiences. Even in their absence, children were shaping the world around them.
Indeed, visual sources provide powerful glimpses into children’s encounters with the historical drama of the day. Military artist Richard Short produced two sets of views while stationed in Canada in 1759, which were later engraved in London. One set depicted Québec on the heels of the English siege of the city during the French and Indian War. While we can certainly wonder at the artistic liberties Short may have taken, his work suggests a high level of destruction and disruption in Québec during an already turbulent time. Looking closely at the figures populating the scene, you’ll notice a number of children playing amongst the ruins, seemingly using a beam like a seesaw. Short’s view hints at the resilience of the city’s youth during war and uses their everyday playfulness to contrast with the devastation around them. We can’t know for sure whether Short actually witnessed kids cavorting amongst the crumbling buildings, but it’s suggestive about how children have turned to play across the centuries as they confront and live through trauma.
A careful eye is needed to note the requisitioning of debris for youthful diversions in A View of the Bishop’s House with the Ruins, as they appear in going up the Hill from the Lower, to the Upper Town, by Richard Short (1761).
Sometimes, though, the weight can be too much, and they can’t bring themselves to play. In 1946, 90-year-old Clara E. Paulding wrote about when she learned about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Just nine years old at the time, she recalled seeing her friend’s mother “sobbing bitterly in a rocking chair” before telling them of the tragedy. “[A]fter a while we went to the barn where we had meant to play house. We couldn’t. The sorrow of our nation was ours too.” A powerful reminder to make space in our histories and in our hearts to attend to the emotional impact events have on the youngest among us, Clara Paulding’s remembrance in the John E. Boos Collection sits extra heavily with me. The sorrow, joy, or fear we read about when we learn of grand events belongs not just to the leaders of nations or the adult citizens, but to all of us. Attending to that fact often means looking for children’s voices nestled within other people’s records, and it requires that we tell their stories, not as asides or comic relief or as a way to humanize their parents, but in their own right. In some ways, there are parallels between parenting and doing responsible research. Respecting the children in our own lives often means trying to hear what they’re saying from their perspective, not disregarding something as silly or small because that’s how it may appear to us, but instead trusting it’s important and big to the child experiencing it. That same tenet holds true for how we approach the historical record. And so, I look to accounts of children playing as a profound way to understand historical disruption and trauma, just like how I’m careful to step over the cracks in the sidewalk while I walk alongside my son.
Assistant Curator of Manuscripts
“Joyfulness in Childhood That Goes on Forever”
For years, Conservator Julie Fremuth has taken great joy connecting school-aged children with the Clements Library. Using collection items as models for teaching tools, Julie has worked hands-on in the classroom to bring these historical items to life. I recently talked with her about her experiences. Our conversation has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
Head of Reader Services
Terese Austin (TA): The Clements’ audience has traditionally been college students, faculty, and doctoral and post-doctoral researchers. What interested you in reaching out to school-age children?
Julie Fremuth (JF): At the time, I had my own children, and volunteered in the schools. I always want to share the world with children. The process of making art has been my way to connect with my own thoughts and the world. I wanted to connect to children that way and open up things to them that maybe they weren’t exposed to.
Front: Milton Bradley’s Historiscope Panorama & History of America (Springfield, Mass., ca. 1868). This scrolled, hand-colored, lithographed panorama contains 25 iconic scenes including early American history ending with the Revolutionary War. Back: Modeled on the Historiscope, a painted shoebox provides the frame for a story written by a 21st century 4th grade student, with paper towel tubes used to advance the narrative.
TA: How do you feel your projects connect schoolchildren to themselves and to the past?
JF: What happened 150 years ago we can relate to today, human being to human being. For instance, kids love interactive devices. They love to push buttons and turn flaps and flip open things. The scroll project we did was based on a Milton Bradley item and is made from a shoe box, two paper towel holders, and a long sheet of paper. Who wouldn’t like it? It’s almost like magic, “Wow, I can make this thing move.” They use their hands, but it’s more than using your hands. They learn to measure, problem solve, follow a procedure, and things start to make sense.
Each child got a very basic kit. I would supply the long scroll of paper or poster board but they would have to do the measuring, the scoring, the folding, and then the trimming. It’s really fun to see kids sitting in their groupings, talking while they’re measuring. When somebody says, “I don’t get this,” or, “I need help,” you don’t do it for them, you just ask them, “What’s not working?” And they’ll tell you. “Well, let’s see if we can measure that again. Is that really five inches? Oh, nope, that’s four and a half, that’s why it’s not working, let’s go back and re-measure.” It’s really fun to help them on the journey. To me it’s full of energy and life and connection.
But before all of that, I would sit down with the teacher and say, do you have some kind of curriculum that you need to fulfill. We would talk about different types of content that could be applied to these various structures in a sensible way, and then pair the two. You almost camouflage the writing assignment from the students because they are having so much fun making something. Teachers have always told me that the kids really work hard on the writing piece of the assignment because they made this cool three-dimensional thing that they are proud of and want to keep.
TA: How much do you talk about the collection items that are models for the objects that you bring in – the connection between what the kids are making and the items in our collection or the history of this format?
JF: I had pictures of the items from the collections, and I explained to the students that there were kids 150 years ago that played with that Milton Bradley game. They’re intrigued by the same things, they’re intrigued by the flaps. I said, the same structures were as stimulating to the kids in 1909 as they are now, and some of these things were very colorful. They used fantastic printing, illustration, and ingenious designs.
The Milton Bradley model was for a writing assignment—this was just a format we grabbed from an item which was stimulating. These concepts don’t necessarily have to be used by history students, they can be re-adapted, used by somebody else in areas we couldn’t even anticipate.
Kellogg’s Funny Jungle-Land Moving Pictures (Battle Creek, 1909). Front: Students created their own flap books, using the endlessly fascinating process of swapping out body segments to bring historical figures to life.
TA: What do you feel are the main takeaways from your work in the classroom?
JF: One is exposing the kids to making things with their hands and making deeper connections with their minds, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, learning to follow steps. I realized some kids don’t do any of this at home. It is really about spending time with yourself, your ideas, getting a break from the world, reflecting, and trying to relax. Art work for me became my companion, and I needed it at various points in my life. I hoped kids could give themselves that through this process, and I wanted to help break down some barriers they didn’t know they had about it.
Second, it was a way to share things about history or about any topic, and the stimulation and the inspiration came from items in the collection that I think are beautiful and fanciful and so cool and so simple. All the great ideas come from really simple concepts. They are timeless.
Fold-out accordion books provide another timeless and entertaining format, either for tourism advertising, as in the series of Philadelphia postcards on the right (Teaching Collection, Clements Conservation Office), or as a template for preparing an illustrated report on the country of Japan.
TA: If you had unlimited time and resources, what kind of programming would you like to do with kids?
JF: I would like to do some outreach with community centers where there might be a need. I would love to either invite people to the Library, or go to a place, to connect kids with a history lesson or a little something they would be interested in with a little takeaway project. They take it home and remember, oh yeah, that was a really fun day, we went to that place or they came to us and we did this project and they showed us some stuff they had and I didn’t even realize that stuff was around!
Going back to your question about history, sometimes kids look at old stuff and they think it is not relatable because it’s not modern and button-pushing. But when they realize, “Wow, I can move this or I’ve got a slide-y thing or a flip book or a flap book that folds into something, that’s kind of cool.” I think it does still appeal even though it’s not “modern.” There has been this joyfulness in childhood that goes on forever and helps you connect with these younger people.
Developments – Summer/Fall 2021
When I first heard about childhood as a Quarto topic, my long forgotten love of the Childhood of Famous Americans series came to mind. I remember going to the school library and finding their orange and green covers and enjoying the old smell of the books. As I read them, I thought I, too, could grow up to make a difference in the world like Clara Barton, George Washington Carver, and Benjamin Franklin had.
As I pondered this memory, I realized that even in biographies, we typically prefer a story arc in a protagonist’s life where they overcome an obstacle and emerge successful, victorious, revered, etc. That is all fine and dandy for entertainment purposes, but is that how we want to study history?
On the June episode of our virtual program “The Clements Bookworm,” we hosted Dr. Crystal Lynn Webster for a discussion about her book Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North (2021). Her work shines light on the enslavement of Black children which continued as part of the process of gradual emancipation following the Civil War. This is a difficult topic. It is not the sudden happy ending of freedom that might be written as part of a feel good movie script. Instead, Dr. Webster explores the lives of real children and families caught up in complicated bureaucratic systems that denied them freedom until adulthood and often separated them from their families.
The work of combing through the archives and looking for the various clues about how children were treated is time consuming, but is important for a well-rounded study of history. Through our fellowship program, we can provide support for scholars to travel to Ann Arbor to expand the areas of scholarship explored here at the Clements. All of our fellowships are funded through gifts. If you are interested in making an impact in this ongoing work, please consider adding to one of our fellowship funds or setting up a new fund.
During the pandemic, the staff has been considering the future work of the Clements Library. We all agree that visiting researchers are integral to our mission and funding for the aforementioned fellowships is key in building a robust program. However, we have also seen how we can expand the audiences we serve through digitization and online transcription. We discussed these learnings in our last issue of The Quarto. After all, as George Washington Carver said, “I know of nothing more inspiring than that of making discoveries for ones self.”
Now, with a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize one of our largest and most utilized Revolutionary War collections, the Thomas Gage Papers, we are poised to usher in a new era of access. This can be just the beginning. With your help, we can build upon this momentum. Donors are already making a difference by sponsoring the purchase of equipment through our “Adopt a Piece of History” program and through the Clements Technology Fund. Volunteers are signing up to assist in transcribing handwritten materials to make them fully searchable and easier to study. I invite you to consider getting involved as we embark upon these ambitious projects.
With technology opening up access to our collections and our ongoing support for innovative scholarship, the Clements enables a deeper understanding of childhood and other nuanced topics that can enrich and transform how we understand the past. Perhaps your own connection to the Clements is rooted in the stories you heard as a child. I hope that we can inspire children to learn history, and that as new heroes emerge more books are written. Let’s work together to continue to explore and learn from the archives.
Director of Development
Announcements – Summer/Fall 2021
Clements Library Associates Board of Governors News
M. Haskell Newman served on the board from 2010 until 2017. He passed away on April 12, 2021.
Martha Seger was a long-standing and active member of the board from 1994 until her death on June 30, 2021.
Paul Ganson died on January 2, 2021 after serving on the board since 2005.
Four new board members were elected by a special electronic vote this summer. Derk J. Finley of Brandon, MS; Troy E. Hollar of Tuscon, AZ; James E. Laramy of Ada, MI; and Kristin A. Cabral of McLean, VA.
NEH Grant Awarded for Gage Papers
The William L. Clements Library has been awarded a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize one of our largest and most utilized collections. The funds will support a three-year-long effort to digitize over 23,000 items related to Thomas Gage, a famed British commander-in-chief in the early days of the American Revolution who was also the governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1774 to 1775.
“Multiplying modes of access to our collections is one of our primary goals,” said Paul Erickson, the Randolph G. Adams Director of the Clements Library. “We will always remain committed to welcoming the many scholars who travel to Ann Arbor from around the world to do research in the Clements Library, but we are also committed to making it possible for people anywhere in the world to study landmark collections like the Gage Papers.”
Audiences can expect to be able to view parts of the digitized collection via the online finding aid as progress is made over the course of the grant. The complete collection is expected to be available by May 2024, with support from the U-M Library’s Digital Content and Collections service.
The UMMA exhibit will include [Kiowa Infant in Cradleboard], ca. 1889-91, Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography.
University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) features several photographs from the Clements’ Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography in its ongoing exhibit, Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism.
The Saginaw Art Museum will also include items from the Pohrt Collection in its upcoming exhibition, ‘No, Not Even For a Picture’: Re-examining the Native Midwest and the Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography, based on the Clements Library’s online exhibit of the same name. The exhibit is scheduled to run from October 27, 2021 to February 26, 2022.
Long Term Fellowships (3 month)
Howard H. Peckham Fellowship on Revolutionary America
- Camden Elliott, Harvard University. “Sisyphus in the Wilderness: Environmental Histories of the French and Indian Wars, 1676-1766.”
Jacob M. Price Dissertation Fellowship
- Jessica Fletcher, Vanderbilt University. “Before the Amistad: Atlantic Litigants and the Politics of Haiti and Cuba’s Legal Currents in the Early Nineteenth-Century US.”
Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship
- Mariah Gruner, Boston University. “Puncturing Femininity: The Construction of Race and Gender in Antislavery Needlework.”
Short Term Fellowships (1 month)
Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship
- Dr. Richard Bell, University of Maryland. “The First Freedom Riders: Streetcars and Street Fights in Jim Crow New York.”
- Dr. Greta LaFleur, Yale University. “A Queer History of Sexual Violence.”
- Phillippa Pitts, Boston University. “Picturing a Medical Democracy: The Art & Visual Culture of American Pharmacopeia, 1800-1860.”
Alfred A. Cave Fellowship
- Dr. Samantha Davis, The Pennsylvania State University. “In Plain Sight: Negotiating Gender and Race in Yucatán, 1521-1821.”
Reese Fellowship in the Print Culture of the Americas
- Dr. Daniel Diez Couch, United States Air Force Academy. “Literature, the Subject, and the Act of Erasure.”
- Dr. Danielle Skeehan, Oberlin College. “Genealogies of the American Quill: Settler Colonialism, Slavery, and the Natural History of Handwriting.”
Howard H. Peckham Fellowship on Revolutionary America
- Adam McNeil, Rutgers University. “‘I Would No Go With Him’: Black Women, Liberty, and Loyalism in the Revolutionary Era Mid-Atlantic, 1775-1815.”
- Sarah Pearlman Shapiro, Brown University. “Women’s Communities of Care in Revolutionary New England.”
- Keely Smith, Princeton University. “Communicating Power and Sovereignty: Creek and Seminole Communication Networks from 1715-1880.”
- Emily Yankowitz, Yale University. “Documenting Citizenship: How Early Americans Understood the Concept of Citizenship, 1776-1840.”
Richard & Mary Jo Marsh Fellowship
- Dr. Carrie Tirado Bramen, University at Buffalo. “‘The Journey-work of the Stars’: A Cultural History of Astrology in the American Nineteenth Century.”
David B. Kennedy and Earhart Fellowship
- Dr. Carolyn Eastman, Virginia Commonwealth University. “A Plague in New York City: How the City Confronted—and Survived—Yellow Fever in the Founding Era.”
Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship
- Dr. Aaron Hall, University of Minnesota. “The Founding Rules: Slavery and the Creation of American Constitutionalism, 1789-1889.”
- Dr. Amanda Moniz, Smithsonian Institution. “Isabella Graham, Founding Philanthropist.“ Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship.
- Heather Walser, The Pennsylvania State University. “Amnesty’s Origins: Peace, Federal Power, and the Public Good in the Long Civil War Era.”
Mary G. Stange Fellowship
- Dr. Nikki Hessell, Victoria University of Wellington. “Lewis Cass and the Poetics of Treaties.”
Howard H. Peckham Fellowship on Revolutionary America
- Dr. Marcus Nevius, University of Rhode Island. “The Revolution from Below: A Story of Race and Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1760s to the 1790s.”
Forty-three Foundation Fellowship
- Rachael Schnurr, Eastern Michigan University. “Adapting to Americanization: Mixed Race Families and the Coming of the American State.”
Brian Leigh Dunnigan Fellowship in the History of Cartography
- Nicole Sintetos, Brown University. “Reclamation: Race, Labor and the Mapping of Settler States.”
Jacob M. Price Digital Fellowship
- James Rick, College of William & Mary. “Cultivating Machines: Capitalism and Technology in Midwestern Agriculture, 1840-1900.”
Randolph G. Adams Director of the Clements Library
Paul J. Erickson
Committee of Management
Mark S. Schlissel, Chairman
Gregory E. Dowd, James L. Hilton, David B. Walters.
Paul J. Erickson, Secretary
Clements Library Associates Board of Governors
Bradley L. Thompson II, Chairman
John R. Axe, John L. Booth II, Kristin A. Cabral, Candace Dufek, William G. Earle, Charles R. Eisendrath, Derk J. Finley, Eliza Finkenstaedt Hillhouse, Troy E. Hollar, Martha S. Jones, Sally Kennedy, Joan Knoertzer, James E. Laramy, Thomas C. Liebman, Richard C. Marsh, Janet Mueller, Drew Peslar, Richard Pohrt, Catharine Dann Roeber, Anne Marie Schoonhoven, Harold T. Shapiro, Arlene P. Shy, James P. Spica, Edward D. Surovell, Irina Thompson, Benjamin Upton, Leonard A. Walle, David B. Walters, Clarence Wolf.
Paul J. Erickson, Secretary
Clements Library Associates Honorary Board of Governors
Peter Heydon, Chair Emeritus
Philip P. Mason, Joanna Schoff.
Clements Library Associates share an interest in American history and a desire to ensure the continued growth of the Library’s collections. All donors to the Clements Library are welcomed to this group. The contributions collected through the Associates fund are used to purchase historical materials. You can make a gift online at leadersandbest.umich.edu or by calling 734-647-0864.
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