This guest post was written by this summer’s Norfolk Charitable Trust Intern, Elliott Hadwin (AC 2019).
Before archivists can get collections ready for use by researchers, they have to get the collections ready for themselves! This summer, as the Norfolk Charitable Trust Intern, I undertook two projects to help prepare eight new collections ready for processing by the Norfolk Charitable Trust Transition Archivist, Jess Dampier: preliminary research and physical assessment. The goal of doing this kind of work before processing is to help the archivist get oriented in the collection and contextualize the materials, but before I get to my work with the collections, let me tell you a little bit about the collections themselves.
In the winter of 2018, the archives received a generous donation from the Norfolk Charitable Trust of eight new collections:
- Henry P. Kendall Archive,
- Evelyn Louise Kendall Archive,
- Henry W. Kendall General Archive,
- Henry W. Kendall Nobel Prize Archive,
- Henry W. Kendall Photographic Archive,
- John P. Kendall Archive,
- Kendall Company Archive,
- and the Kendall-Plimpton Genealogical Archive
All together, that’s about 150 linear feet of materials on or about the Kendall family. For a better idea of the size of that, that’s about 150 banker’s boxes. It seemed like a lot to me at first, especially because there’s such a wide range of topics covered! The Kendall family has always been very active in everything from business to philanthropy to the arts, and quite a bit of that is represented here. Henry P. Kendall (Amherst College Class of 1899) bought a failing textile mill in the early 1900’s and turned it into the multinational Kendall Company, an important supplier of medical textiles, primarily bandages during the first and second World War. His wife, Evelyn, was a Canadian born nurse and artist, as well as an avid collector of art, shell art, South Caroliniana, whaling memorabilia, dolls, and early aeronautic memorabilia (primarily ballooning). Their older son Henry W. (Amherst College Class of 1950) was a Nobel Prize winning physicist as well as an expert outdoorsman and photographer. Their other son, John P. (Amherst College Class of 1951), was a businessman with the Kendall Company until it was acquired by Colgate-Palmolive in the 1970’s, as well as an important figure in Hampshire College history (but more on that later!).
With the preliminary research, one of the main goals was to get a better sense of the people who created the collections; what it would’ve been like for them to live in that time period, what kind of work (professional or personal) they did, what their hobbies and interests were, etc. Since the Kendall collections have a good amount of personal materials (photographs, memorabilia, correspondence, etc.) it was great to turn to the collections themselves for this context but simply because of the cumulative size of the collections and the long history of the Kendall family, there were lots of other rabbit holes to go down. One of the first challenges for me was to wrap my head around all the members of the family. To get started, I made a very rough family tree – but the Kendall family has been in New England for centuries and for a while it was almost more confusing than before!
But as I started to learn more about the individual family members, they each began to take shape and it became easier to keep them all straight in my head. Something I had not expected was how strongly the Kendalls have been connected to the Connecticut River Valley. Although many members of the family have been Amherst graduates, it became apparent as I researched more that their connections went way deeper than just Amherst College. For example, I’d seen a few references throughout my research to John P. being an important early supporter of Hampshire College, but never anything about the exact nature of that, so I took a trip to Hampshire to look at their archival records of the college’s founding. John P.’s interest in Hampshire might have been sparked, at least in part, because of his personal connection to his cousin Amherst College President Calvin H. Plimpton and his college friend Charles Longsworth who was Hampshire’s founding Vice President. But he also obviously supported the college’s founding principles: he had provided some input on The Making of a College, and starting in 1975 served as the chairman of the Board of Trustees. According to the student newspaper Climax, he became chairman during a particularly tumultuous time in Hampshire’s history, when students were regularly protesting the Board of Trustees because of changes to financial aid and other dissatisfaction on campus.
In addition, many of the women in the family attended Mount Holyoke College: Clara Idella Plimpton (Henry P.’s mother) was class of 1871, Helen Idella Kendall (Henry P.’s sister) was class of 1900, and Helen Louise Kendall (Henry P.’s daughter) was class of 1951. And even before that, Henry P.’s grandmother, Priscilla Guild Lewis Plimpton, was one of Mary Lyon’s first students at Wheaton Seminary before Lyon went on to found Mount Holyoke College. Especially because none of these women are very heavily represented in our Kendall collections, I decided to make a trip to Mount Holyoke’s archives to collection biographical information and look at the Kendall Papers. While researching there, I learned that Clara Idella Plimpton is also credited with being the first woman to spend her junior year of college abroad. Clara Idella went on to marry Henry Lucien Kendall, but was widowed at a young age and raised Henry P. and his sister by herself on the Plimpton family farm in Walpole, MA.
The Kendall family connection to Walpole was also a strong one, and I ended up making a trip to visit the Walpole Historical Society. They had also received a donation from the Norfolk Charitable Trust, mostly concerning the Plimptons’ side of the family, and I was able to get a better sense of where materials related to our collections are kept. For example, they had the originals of some things we only had copies of, and vice versa.
While all of the research was going on, I was also working on physical assessments with the Norfolk Charitable Trust Transition Archivist, Jess Dampier. Like the preliminary research, a part of the physical assessments is just to get acquainted with the materials. Since these collections had already been worked on by an archivist at the Norfolk Charitable Trust, they came to our archives in relatively good shape. Since I’m just starting out working in archives, I thought it was really helpful to see the choices a previous archivist had made about housing, arrangement, etc. and try to understand why those choices were made. Sometimes, however, the questions we were asking ourselves were very basic “what is this?”, for example with Henry W.’s scientific materials that we received.
Another “what is this?” moment happened with a clear, plastic pyramid that had been given to Henry W. to commemorate a diving expedition. What I initially thought was a piece of coral inside turned out to be a Styrofoam cup that had been crushed under the pressure when it was taken down to their diving depth. I also really enjoyed looking at Evelyn’s doll miniatures, just because I was surprised by how intricate they are!
The other part of the physical assessment though is to find and address any immediate preservation issues. Thankfully, the issues we ran into most often (understuffed boxes and non-archival housing, for example) can be fixed by re-housing the materials. We did, however, find some mold on some leather materials and some film reels with vinegar syndrome. For now, these items will be placed in cold storage to stop the spread the leather’s mold and the films’ degradation.
In the end, the whole range of Kendall collections ended up getting a color-coded makeover!
After the research and the physical assessment, it’s much easier to work with the materials without getting mixing up the family members or the boxes themselves. Hopefully, the preliminary research will not only help Jess with processing the collections, but also help visitors as they use the Kendall collections to conduct their own research.
Special thanks to John and Sue Anderson at the Walpole Historical Society for hosting me for the day, and to Emily Moran at Hampshire College for helping me access their archival records. And a huge thank you to the staff at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections for supporting this internship!