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Philanthropy Builds the Archive and is Recorded There, Too

The Centennial is a celebration of the William L. Clements Library, but it is also a story of the philanthropy of the people who have bolstered the building, collections, and programs through their generosity. This, of course, starts with Mr. Clements himself. Influenced by U-M Professors Thomas M. Cooley and Moses Coit Tyler, Clements had a love of American history and culture that led to his collection and eventual donation of materials. His vision included the funds to build a magnificent facility to house the collection designed by Albert Kahn. While these gifts were extraordinary, Mr. Clements also participated in a variety of other philanthropic causes, but did not offer an explanation behind his gifts. We lack insight into the reasons behind his philanthropy and what influenced his donations—whether it was part of the culture of the time, a sense of duty, or other personal or moral imperative.

Jens Michelsen Beck, Tilforladelig Kort over Eylandet St. Croix Udi America ([Copenhagen], 1754)

In November we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Clements Library Associates (see sidebar). In addition to a party to mark the celebration, I also hosted 2022 Norton Strange Townshend Fellow Amanda Moniz on the online program Clements Bookworm to discuss her research into philanthropy. One hundred years ago the Clements Library didn’t have any professional fundraising staff let alone research fellows looking for evidence of philanthropy in the archives. The beautiful thing about the archives is that there are innumerable layers of information awaiting new questions to be asked.

As I contemplated the Centennial year and my role within the Clements, I started to think of the Development and Communications Division as a connector of the past, present, and future—perhaps not unlike Mr. Clements. We have modern tools in social media to help highlight stories in the collections for the public and we seek out gifts that ensure that the Clements Library will be here well into the future. One of Dr. Moniz’s research sources was the Divie and Joanna Bethune Collection (1796–1853), but that isn’t the only place we find philanthropy in the archives.

Benjamin Bussey (1757–1842) was a Revolutionary War veteran, excellent businessman, and philanthropist. The Benjamin Bussey Collection at the Clements holds letters from acquaintances, organizations, and even strangers asking Bussey for loans and charity. He responded positively with gifts to a wide range of organizations.

Those seeking to influence public perception have long known that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and the inexpensive availability of trade cards and photos in the 19th Century helped to make them a viable fundraising tool. We have images of social activists Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) and Sojourner Truth (1799–1883) that were sold to advance their work. Some who purchased these cards admired the activists and their causes enough to display their photos in family albums.

Other fundraisers used images to support the institutions where they worked. For example, we see the emergence of a professional fundraiser in Reverend Henry Leonard, the “financial agent” of Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University) in Tiffin, Ohio, for thirty-two years. Leonard posed for a series of photographs documenting his “fishing trips” to raise money for the University. He was well-known and beloved for his work and his story lives on in the Maxson Ephemera Collection.

Photograph taken in 1872 during Rev. Edward Francis Wilson (1844–1915) and Ojibway Chief Buhkwujjenene’s visit to England while fundraising for Shingwauk Indian Residential School. Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography. Gift of Tyler J. and Megan L. Duncan.

Henry Leonard re-enacted his “fishing trips” for the camera. Maxson Album #14, gift of Jerry and Charlotte Maxson.

A richly illustrated catalog of the floral and musical festival in Detroit, Michigan, records the efforts of the many volunteers who in 1890 enjoyed the camaraderie of planning a community event to raise funds for many causes around the city. We learn that at the 1889 event, nearly 35,000 people attended, garnering $11,000 that was split among twenty-one charities. 

Did you notice that the illustrations provided were also all donations? Philanthropy at the Clements Library has been woven into all we do since the inception of the institution. I hope that I serve this institution in a way that builds our foundation for the next century by valuing your partnership in this endeavor.

­— Angela Oonk
Director of Development

Illustrated Catalogue of the Floral and Musical Charity Festival (Detroit, 1890). Gift of Martha Seger.