Embroidered Mini-Masterpieces in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

Contributed by Jennifer Davis, graduate student on internship for Kent State University School of Information

As a graduate intern at the Institute for Human Science and Culture, I contributed to the digitization and cataloging efforts of the postcards collected by David P. Campbell and fell head over heals for the mini-masterpieces contained in Embroidered Spain Vol. 1.

Postcard featuring the portrait of a person in regal attire with a large golden crown. The details of the outfit have been embroidered with thread.
Postcard depicting an illustration of a regal person with golden crown and white and grey headdress embroidered onto image.

A Very Brief History of Embroidery: Originating from the French word broderie, meaning embellishment, embroidery is the process of using a needle to apply yarn, thread, or even wire, to the surface of a textile fabric. The earliest surviving embroideries of heavily stitched clothing date back to the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE from Egypt, China, and India. Moving from the practical purpose of mending clothing, embroidery evolved to an aesthetic decorative art form as ceremonial tunics, ritual garments, and narrative tapestries. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries changed the face of embroidery as France paved the way for machine embroidered textiles. Cheaper and easier production promoted a greater accessibility to embroidered textiles and pattern books of stitches for personal use became widespread in the early 1900s. Throughout history and prevalent in populations throughout the world, embroidery has served as a document of cultural heritage by recording tradition and preserving history with stitches.

Postcard of a person with a shawl over their head and shoulders holding one hand to their chin and a fan in the other hand. The fan and shawl have been embroidered with thread.
Postcard depicting a photograph of a veiled person holding a fan. Embellishments on the veil, fan, and clothing are embroidered in many colors.

The majority of embroidered postcards dominated Spain, Portugal, and France in the 1950s-60s and were presented as souvenirs and keepsakes from travel. Popular themes featured in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection Embroidered Spain Vol. 1 binder include illustrations depicting Spanish actresses, singers, dancers, and matadors. The postcards were usually hand tinted photographs or illustrations and hand embroidered with layered brightly colored silk thread. Common color schemes include bright red, pink, yellow, and blues.

Postcard of a person in a bright yellow dress with polka dots and puffy sleeves wearing a large, red flower in their hair. Behind them in a circle is an image of a matador in front of a bull that is charging. The yellow dress has been embroidered with thread.
Postcard depicting an illustration of a dancer in a fully-embroidered yellow and black dress. Over their shoulder there is an image of a bull and bullfighter.
Postcard of a statue featuring a person in a large gown with a gold crown holding a child wearing a crown in one hand and a flower in the other. The person is standing on a gold stand and the faces of three children pear out from underneath. At the base is a forest of green trees and a church building. The gown is embroidered in blue, yellow, and pink thread.
Postcard depicting an illustration of a crowned person holding an infant. The veil, dress, and infant clothing are fully embroidered in many colors.
Postcard featuring the portrait of a person wearing a shoulder shawl with flowers in their hand and a scarf across their hair. Both the shawl and scarf are embroidered with blue, green, pink, red, and gold threads.
Postcard depicting a photograph of a person holding flowers. Embellishments on the shawl and headband are embroidered in many colors.

For more information about the history of embroidery:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Embroidery Essays

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Development of Embroidery in America, by Candace Wheeler

Janice Mitchell, early travel blogger

Contributed by Jennifer Hivick, graduate student on internship from the Kent State University School of Information

In the Spring 2022 semester, I interned at the Cummings Center and was able to get a “hands on” experience working with some of the material they held there. I was immediately drawn to the David Campbell postcard collection, which consists of over 250,000 postcards donated by David Campbell. He organized his collection in a mostly thematic manner – there are binders labeled “Cats” and “Greetings” and dozens of other descriptors. The postcards are varied; some have messages on them and some do not, some are illustrations and some are photographs, some are made out of paper and some are made out of more unusual materials like wood. They are all interesting, both for what they are and for how he organized them, and I was considering working with those when I stumbled upon the Janice Mitchell collection.

The Janice Mitchell collection was made up of two boxes and contained postcards both to and from Janice. The bulk of them were sent from Janice in California to her parents in New York during the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not sure how David Campbell acquired these postcards, and I will likely never know, but that did not lessen my interest in them.

Why did I gravitate to this collection? A few different reasons. First, her postcards were jumbled together and only organized in the sense that the box was labeled “Janice Mitchell”. It made it a mystery to solve! More importantly, however, is because I was taken by the concept. Janice attended graduate school in California and used postcards to her parents almost as a diary. After she graduated, she taught music, but she also traveled all over the world. Ultimately, though, it was because she was my current age, a graduate student in California, and her postcards were fun to read. They offer a glimpse into a woman’s life and her grad school experience 70 years ago, in the 1950s.

Postcard featuring a landscape with a lake lined by a forest of palm trees.
Postcard depicting Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA. The back of the postcard is postmarked October 10, 1955.

The more that I read through the postcards and the more that I researched Janice, though, the more I was intrigued by not only what she was writing but what she was leaving out. Part of this could probably be explained by the fact that she was sending postcards to her parents – of course she was writing about church and assuring them that her classes were going well – but I do not know why she omitted other things.

Postcard featuring the exterior of a church building with stained glass window and steeple. The building sits on a manicured lawn and is surrounded by dense trees.
Postcard depicting Little Church of the Flowers in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA. The back of the postcard is postmarked February 20, 1953.

Nowhere in the postcards, for instance, mentioned that in August 1955 Janice married James William Mitchell. I had to find that out via a Newspapers.com search, which informed me of his name, their marriage date, his specialty, and more. There is a “Jim” mentioned once in the spring of 1955, but we have no way to confirm that this was James Mitchell; the mentions of him are as casual and platonic as the way Janice mentions her other friends.

Back of a postcard addressed to Mr. + Mrs. R. W. Wignall of Walworth, New York. The handwritten message is dated March 22, 1955 and reads: "Dear Mother + Dad, Guess what. I finally decided to take Jim's old car. I'm having the motor overhauled now; I bought the license; taking driver test tomorrow; then I'll polish it up and it will be as good as new. It will be fun to get around in this summer. Even though it's old it's nice looking and in good condition. Will send you a picture of it. This is the last card; a letter next. Love, Janice."
Janice Mitchell mentions Jim in a letter home to Mother and Dad. The postcard is postmarked March 1955.

Her marriage explained something else I had noticed, however. Janice was a faithful correspondent and sent her parents postcards at least once a month. After her August wedding, however, there are no more postcards until Christmas 1956. By the time they picked back up, there were no more mentions of Jim, and no indications that Janice was married.

Nighttime scene on a postcard featuring a series laneway of fake Christmas trees covered in multicolored lights. A sign towards the bottom of the nearest tree reads "Hollywood" in lights.
Postcard depicting a night scene at Santa Claus Lane, Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, CA. The back of the postcard is captioned “Where glitter and glamour are in its glory during the Yuletide Season” and postmarked September 28, 1956.

It is a good reminder that postcards were in a nebulous place between private and public. They could – and often were – shown to other people, particularly if they had vivid or pretty pictures. They were not sent in envelopes, so anyone from USPS workers sorting mail to the mailman could read what Janice had written. I do not know if this is why there are no postcards from this time period – there could be a dozen reasons why there is a gap immediately after her wedding and the first year that she was married – but it is interesting to try to look underneath the surface and remember that a short postcard, even if sent weekly, does not begin to tell the whole story.

Photo-Multigraphs in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

Contributed by Jennifer Davis, graduate student on internship for Kent State University School of Information

As a graduate intern at the Institute for Human Science and Culture, I contributed to the digitization and cataloging efforts of the postcards collected by David P. Campbell and was particularly enamored with the miscellany I discovered held within the Metamorphic binder. If tasked with choosing a single favorite postcard from the Metamorphic collection, I am absolutely enchanted with the photo-multigraph of Baroness Sidonia de Barcsy, a recipient of the Cross of Honor from the Professors of Universities as the Queen of Freaks for her natural full beard. The golden age of photo-multigraphs coincided with the rise of the circus sideshow and exhibitions of biological rarities. Sidonia de Barcsy (1866-1925), the famed Bearded Lady Baroness, was considered a “double rarity” in the world of vaudeville for her natural facial hair and as a member of Hungarian Aristocracy.  You can read more about Baroness Sidonia on the blog post Queen of Freaks in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection.

Postcard with a white border featuring a black and white image of a person in a dress with a long beard. The same person appears seated at a table from five different angles making it look like they are seated at a table with copies of themselves. A typed caption has been affixed to the bottom of the postcard. The text of the caption is transcribed in the captions on the blog.
Postcard depicting Baroness Sidonia sitting at the photo-multigraph booth. The caption reads: Hungarian Lady with natural full beard. Received the Cross of Honor from the Professors of the Universities as the Queen of Freaks. Beard grew after birth of son.

The practice of photo-multigraphs, or trick mirror photography, emerged in the early 1890s as a method to capture a person’s portrait from every angle in one unique image. Invented by James B. Shaw, a photo-multigraph is created by placing the sitter between two mirrors angled to produce several reflections of the person.

Postcard featuring a black and white image of a person in a long coat ad Victorian style hat with a large feather. The same person appears seated at a table from five different angles making it look like they are seated at a table with copies of themselves.
Postcard depicting greyscale photograph person in a long coat and large, feathered hat sitting at the photo-multigraph booth.
Postcard with a white border featuring a black and white image of a person in a a blouse with a large collar and their hand held up under their chin. The same person appears seated at a table from five different angles making it look like they are seated at a table with copies of themselves. Handwritten text in the border reads: "Estie Swift."
Postcard depicting greyscale photograph person in white collared shirt and pinned up hair sitting at the photo-multigraph booth.

As touted by Scientific American in October 1894, this method of trick mirror photography produces a multi-view perspective which allows “us to see ourselves as others see us and affording opportunity for much range in art of posing”. Photo-multigraphs rose to popularity at the turn of the 20th century as a novelty souvenir from boardwalk and arcade photography studios, eventually fading into obscurity in the mid 1950s.

Hand-drawn diagram showing a camera on the left side and a person seated at a table with two mirrors in the shape of a triangle in front of them on the right. Lines depicting the cameras range of view connect the two images.
Diagram of the production of five views of one subject by multi photography, Scientific American, October 6, 1894.
Illustration showing a multi-graph photography set-up in which one person stands behind a camera which is obscured by curtains while a second person sits in front of two mirrors displayed in a V shape.
Gallery arrangement for multi photography, Scientific American, October 6, 1894.

Queen of Freaks in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

Contributed by Jennifer Davis, graduate student on internship for Kent State University School of Information

As a graduate intern at the Institute for Human Science and Culture, I contributed to the digitization and cataloging efforts of the postcards collected by David P. Campbell and the photo-multigraph of Baroness Sidonia de Barcsy is my favorite from the entire collection. The golden age of photo-multigraphs coincided with the rise of the circus sideshow and exhibitions of biological rarities. Sidonia de Barcsy (1866-1925), the famed Bearded Lady Baroness and recipient of the Cross of Honor from the Professors of Universities as the Queen of Freaks, was considered a “double rarity” in the world of vaudeville for her natural facial hair and as a member of Hungarian Aristocracy.

Postcard with a white border featuring a black and white image of a person in a dress with a long beard. The same person appears seated at a table from five different angles making it look like they are seated at a table with copies of themselves. A typed caption has been affixed to the bottom of the postcard. The text of the caption is transcribed in the captions on the blog.
Postcard depicting Baroness Sidonia. The caption reads: Hungarian Lady with natural full beard. Received the Cross of Honor from the Professors of the Universities as the Queen of Freaks. Beard grew after birth of son.

Sidonia was born in Budapest, Hungary on the 1st of May, 1866. She married Baron Antonio de Barcsy and Baroness Sidonia’s beard emerged at age 19 in 1885 shortly after the birth of their son, Nicu. Nicu was a small child weighing only 2 1/2 lbs at birth and growing to stand under 3 feet in height as an adult. The rapid growth of Sidonia’s almost 9 inch beard was in direct contrast to the growth of Nicu, whose birth initiated the production of her facial hair.

The family fled Hungary to Western Europe in the 1890s penniless from the Baron’s loss of their entire fortune in poor investments and stock speculations. In the pursuit of fame and fortune, Antonio cultivated careers for each member of the Barcsy family, forming the “De Barcsy Troupe” to tour Western Europe and arriving in the US around 1903 during the height of carnival sideshows. In the US, the troupe teamed with both Ringling Brothers and Campbell Brothers Circuses, whose performances were wildly successful and a popular sensation with circus audiences who were eager to see the vaudeville celebrities, Sidonia the“Bearded Lady”, Antonio a self-proclaimed “Strong Man”who stood at over 6 feet tall and 400 lbs., and Nicu billed as “The Smallest Perfect Man on Earth”.

The Bearded Lady Baroness died on the 19th of October, 1925 preceded in death by her husband who passed in 1912. Nicu remained in the US after the deaths of his parents and continued to perform at Coney Island as “Little Nick” until his death at the age of 91 in 1976.

I find it interesting to note that although Sidonia was once a penniless Baroness, her facial hair became a symbol of power in the world of circus sideshows and her beard was a status symbol among vaudeville earning her the title, Queen of Freaks. She existed, in a sense, as a dual noble in two distinctively different societal groups.

Read more about Baroness Sidonia:

The Human Marvels “Sidonia de Barcsy-The Bearded Lady Baroness”

Prodigies by James G. Mundie-Bearded Ladies

Menus and Manuscripts: Weird Facts and Final Thoughts

by Bethany Decker

As we wrap up our Menus and Manuscripts UnClass led by Professor Hillary Nunn at the University of Akron, we all realize we have learned so much about the Hower family, for me Blanche in particular. We’re also left with many unanswered questions, some that might forever remain mysteries. In this final blog, I briefly account for some of my favorite stories of Blanche that either didn’t make the cut into other blogs or weren’t accompanied by enough anecdotal information for us to weave together. 

The Currant Wars

While Blanche was busy serving in the Ohio State Legislature in September of 1936, she composed a polite but sharp letter to the state’s Department of Agriculture. In her letter, found in the University Archives, she boldly lists the agents by name responsible for uprooting 21 of the thirty-year-old currant bushes she grew in order to make homemade preserves, a regular homemaking practice she engaged in. Apparently, the department’s agents tore many of these bushes out throughout the state in order to prevent the spread of white pine blister and rust disease.

Courtesy of The University Archives

Blanche certainly felt this remedy was worse than either disease, especially since she notes that her bushes were too far away from the closest pines to be affected. She warned them and their chief that she would be in Columbus and would demand an explanation and a repayment. This is a fabulous example of Blanche’s charisma, confidence, and resolve. 

A Possible Connection to the Titanic

During my work with the Hower House menus, I came across one with a name and a scribbled drawing. As you can see in the photo, on the paper is the name “John Wick” (not that John Wick) and under his name is a drawing of a ship cracked in half with a heart on it.

From University Archives Box 30.

Because Blanche lived during the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, I had to know if there was a connection. The heart especially grabbed my attention! Was there a hidden, romantic message here? Was she even the one who composed this note? I’m no handwriting analyst, but there are so many similarities between this handwriting and hers, that I believe it’s safe to say that she is the author here. However, I was somewhat saddened to learn that the connection probably isn’t romantic… and it might not be to the Titanic either. But there is a chance. 

After some digging and digging, I discovered here that the Wicks were a Youngstown family. John Meek Bonnell and Mary (Mollie) Wick owned  successful iron and steel manufacturing companies. The Wicks’ daughter, Caroline Wick, was a first class passengers on the Titanic,and she survived the tragedy. Their proximity to Akron and their ties to the same types of businesses urged me to connect these dots. However, they didn’t meet the way I thought they would. According to The Isle Royale National Park’s website, John Wick captained the SS America in 1928 when it brushed against some reef on its way from Minnesota to Ontario. The scrape resulted in four gashes to the bottom, and about half of the ship sunk. Although we do not know the clear connection between Blanche and John, the evidence points to this event motivating her to scribble his name and draw the shipwreck on that 1931 menu, though the dates still don’t match up in any perfect way. 

SS America, Washington Harbor, 1928: Patrie Collection, ISRO Archives.

That One Weird Law

I believe I saved the best for last. Something strange appears in Blanche Hower’s personal and political history that rings like no other bells of hers. Apparently, on February 5, 1935, Blanche proposed Bill No. 123 protecting men from women who use their sexual wiles in order to financially benefit from their husbands by accusing them of neglect, abuse, or other complaint. According to Pamela Christine Smith’s thesis Blanche Hower: A Woman of Spirit, women of all social strata were purportedly taking advantage of their husbands by falsely suing them, a means of securing financial self-preservation and perhaps media and social attention. Now, it’s important to note that Blanche was a staunch social feminist who pushed those women in her life to fight for equality and a seat at every table. Blanche herself even ran for a public school board election and won on the heels of the KKK’s domination of board seats (and whose members included Akron’s mayor), and vigorously campaigned to be elected for state legislature. Why, then, would a woman of such an established repute use her political platform to protect men from malicious cases brought to common pleas and lower courts?  

Had you asked me that question in January, I would have had no answer. But, much like her mysterious connection to the sinking of the Titanic, this strange occurrence in her timeline emerges from the norm. She was absolutely a direct speaker, so it’s no surprise that she would support a bill that encourages conscientious decision-making from anyone. It’s the fact that she proposed a bill that targets women that I find personally surprising, somewhat antithetical even to her otherwise progressive position. 

Again, it would be easy to pigeonhole her as hypocritical here, someone who was as interested in self-preservation and self-promotion as the women this bill would have targeted, had it passed. Maybe that’s the case, but she was already well-established and very much respected not only throughout her Akron community but the state as well. This bill, though, did garner some national attention through the media. All of that said, as in my previous blog, I argue that Blanche never truly strayed from her convictions. As a woman who earned the title “Mother of the 91st General Assembly,”  it is clear that Blanche’s efforts for women extensively outweighed any effort she would have made to damage their progression in society, employment, and politics. 

But it’s weird, right? She’s writing and proposing a bill that supports men! Well, it’s also well-documented in Smith’s thesis that Blanche was also a steadfast religious woman. Her devotion to Christianity spread through Akron as she wrote a regular piece each Saturday for the Beacon Journal in which she encouraged Akron’s citizens to embrace Christian values. Her kinetic and dynamic career was rooted in community service; she started schools, fought for women’s rights, gave to her community in many ways and with abundance. It is her drive to not just stay on the straight and narrow path to integrity for herself that inspired every choice she made; it was her earnest concern for others that perpetually urged her to take action. And maybe she didn’t get it right every single time, but that’s just what all humans do: Their best. 

Cooking on a Wood Stove, the Hower Way

by Rachel Roberts

In an earlier post, Rachel Roberts offered an anatomy of the wood burning stove that dominates the Hower House Museum’s kitchen. In the video below, she demonstrates what it’s like to cook on one, and gives a quick sketch of our Menus and Manuscripts class in the process.

Interested in making the Corn Soup outlined in the recipe yourself? The version Blanche Hower worked from appears below; if you’d like a version in more familiar font, you can also find the transcription, produced by our UnClass students, here.

On Blanche Hower’s Thrift

by Bethany Decker

Blanche Hower is still relatable. How many times have you visited the grocery store and found someone’s grocery list scribbled on the back of an envelope while you traverse the parking lot? Every menu Blanche composed was written with that same fervor we exert while fighting our own memories.

And she often scribbled her menus and recipes on scraps of paper, repurposing bits of mail and even her friends’ calling cards, as one of her several brownie recipes shows:

Hower House Museum Collection

This is a woman who rushed to quickly produce a thorough plan by whatever means available to her at the time. And she was as thrifty with her words and time as she was with her money.

Her husband, Otis, was known to keep loose records of the money he spent. His record-keeping skills were far from elaborate; instead, they were sensible, like this note about giving Blanche $10 in September of 1908:

A note in Otis Hower’s daybook from 1908. Hower Family Papers, Box 3, University Archives.

As this picture shows, Otis’s bookkeeping habits were extremely succinct, like a code only he, and perhaps Blanche who would later assume all of his responsibilities, understood. Perhaps Blanche adopted Otis’s frugality, or perhaps she and Otis shared this in common?

In a class discussion, fellow blogger and student, Jasmine Beaulieu, found that Blanche’s introduction to the Hower House was likely one reflecting her youthful financial need. She was employed as the family’s seamstress even before the Arts and Crafts Movement hit the United States (lasting roughly between the 1890s and the 1920s). In fact, Jasmine reports that Blanche’s clothes even later in life were found without tags, suggesting she made them herself — a further indication of her thrift, as a woman of her status would certainly not had trouble affording trendy, brand-name outfits during the early 1900s. Clearly, Blanche prioritized money elsewhere, but her clothing designs clearly took impressive expedition, dare I say celerity, to create since she appears to have been quite busy during her prominence at the Hower House. 

In my previous blog post, I emphasized Blanche’s intellect that could easily be mistaken for ineptness due to the swiftness with which she composed her menus and recipes. Again, it’s a mistake to interpret these as indicative of a woman who could not succeed without her husband. This timeline highlights some of her most prominent achievements in Akron’s local education decisions and the state of Ohio’s government, as well as other important – and fascinating – accomplishments of Blanche’s before her own passing in 1953. In fact, our Menus and Manuscripts [Un]Class’s work has consistently revealed new and surprising proof that Blanche was an intelligent, progressive, and reputable woman set on making her mark in Akron, Ohio in the 1920s and 1930s. Blanche’s husband Otis passed in 1916, widowing her at 56, and she appears to have used every moment of those next 35 years making the absolute most of her time, her money, and her attention.

Coffee and Hot Chocolate: The Hower House Necessities

by Rachel Roberts and David Hanno

If there was one beverage that was the most prevalent at all Blanche Hower’s get-togethers and events, it would have to be coffee. Coffee was a staple for post dinner refreshments and was usually accompanied by a variety of different desserts. Blanche had many recipes for sweets, cakes, jams, and candies which she loved to serve at her dinner parties.

The bitter flavor of the coffee complimented the sweetness of fruit cake, fudge, bon bons, and opera creams. It paired perfectly with Bavarian pineapple, plum pie, honey nougat, and biscuits with orange marmalade. However, throughout her written menus, white cake was the tried and true after-dinner-sweet served with coffee. Perhaps it was her favorite? Or maybe it was just an easy recipe that satisfied even the pickiest of palates.

Left, February 26, 1929, Alice Bryan Dinner

At Right, Dinner on August 6, 1931 

In Honor of E.T. Franks Vice Chairman of 

Federal Board for Vocational Training

Left, Luncheon on Tuesday May 12, 1931

Home + School League of Hower Trade Schools

In the picture below there are several coffee pots and glasses sitting in the dumbwaiter at the Hower House. A dumbwaiter was a sort of food elevator that worked on a pulley system. After dinner, the servants would most likely send up coffee in ornate china coffee pots from the first floor kitchen to the third floor warming kitchen.  

The coffee had to be ground by hand every morning. This could be messy because the beans were ground into a drawer that pulled out and was emptied into a percolator. 

Blanche Hower loved good morning coffee. On one trip in 1914, while aboard the U.S.S. Canopic, she laments in a letter to her daughter Grace: “I have been thinking of home so much and of our nice warm kitchen and crisp toast and good coffee – I have not been warm since I left home and have quit drinking coffee — think of that.” This suggests the coffee on the ship must have been terrible if Blanche couldn’t indulge in one of her favorite beverages! 

Not only was coffee an important staple of the Hower House, but so was hot chocolate. In the early 20th century, there was yet to be a readily available powdered hot chocolate like Swiss Miss or Nestle so hot chocolate was made by melting chocolate in hot milk. Blanche Hower, probably on one of her trips back to her native France, acquired a French style hot chocolate pot or also known as a chocolatiére. The chocolatiére has a wooden handle to the side for easy pouring and the spout attached at the bottom of the pot to encourage the chocolate, which was heavy and would separate and sink below the milk, to come out first. It could also have delicate designs on the sides, like on Blanche’s pot, with a detailed landscape of flowing hills, windmills, a ship on the sea, a church on a hill, and trees and flowers. 

Here is Blanche Hower in a photo from the Akron Beacon Journal on September 15, 1937. She is pouring from her chocolatiere, while entertaining William Sawyer, a former mayor of Akron. 

Coffee and chocolate are still important in our culture today, though maybe most people don’t own a chocolatiére or have a dumbwaiter to send up coffee for guests. However, in 2022 there are coffee shops on every corner and there isn’t a need to have a pot in the kitchen solely for hot chocolate. The custom of coffee has slightly changed with the convenience of its availability, but Blanche didn’t drink her coffee in the car on the way to work. She saw it as a social tradition—especially enjoyed with company and dessert! One hundred years ago, Blanche most likely reveled in sharing a cup of java or a hot chocolate with beloved friends and family while savoring a piece of white cake and chatting about education. Maybe she would smile as she took a sip and give a little laugh as she recalled to friends that one time she had to “quit drinking coffee” because the ship’s brew was atrocious.

When Dinner Gets Political II

by Sean Miller and Megan Delaney

Our research for our Menus and Manuscript [Un]Class has shown us that Blanche Hower was not just a hostess but a powerful businesswoman, and she had quite a few important connections in the business world. One of them was J.P Harris, the vice president of the Union Trust Company. In the University Archives there are two letters detailing an exchange between the Union Trust Company’s president and vice president and Blanche over a dinner party.

In the first letter, dated February 15th, 1930, the president of the Union Trust Company, J.R. Nutt, recalls how he relayed Blanche’s invitation for her dinner party on March 4th to the vice president of the company. The letter goes on to inform Blanche that the vice president, J.P. Harris, cannot attend her party unless she moves it to the next week, March 11th, due to a prior commitment. Before the letter ends Nutt points out that Harris can give a speech at the dinner, but the subject of the speech would have to be left to Harris. Nutt also makes it clear that Blanche should not feel pressured to keep Harris due to the conflict. Nutt is not forcing anything on Blanche, just informing her of Harris’s schedule and skills in regards to public speaking.

Letter from Harris to Blanche Hower, from the University Archives, Feb. 15, 1930.

In the next letter from Harris himself it is apparent that Blanche altered her plans for Harris, since in this letter Harris thanks Blanche for being kind enough to change the date for him. This must mean Blanche wanted Harris specifically at this dinner, so Harris is pretty important to Blanche for a reason we do not know. This could be a one time thing, or he may be an important person to her all the time. No other letters or menus in the archive folder these letters were found in gave further information on this exchange and dinner party.

Letter from Harris to Blanche Hower, from the University Archives, Feb. 27, 1930.

The rest of the letter states that Harris “never aspired to the role of professional entertainer” and wants to give a quick overview of his most recent public speech, and concludes when he states that Nutt cannot attend since he will be in Washington at the time. It’s interesting how this discussion started with Mr. Nutt but it ended with him not being able to attend. 

Blanche was very clearly a very powerful woman from her contacts in Washington to her business endeavors. Through her dinner parties the world can learn of her influence and how she managed her professional life.

How UA Students Are Using Videos to Present Materials from the Archives

by Mixby Dickon

In Dr. Hillary Nunn’s Menus and Manuscripts@The Hower House [Un]Class, students have brainstormed a variety of ways to present stories that would not normally be visible from the University of Akron Archives and the Hower House Museum. In addition to working on a book of Hower recipes, students are also encouraged to pursue their own research interests based on the materials they’ve found.

The class has resulted in many creative mediums being used to present materials including the making of informative videos. I had the pleasure of speaking to some of these students about their projects and how video has worked as a creative medium of presenting their work throughout the semester.

Megan Delaney, and undergraduate dance major in the class, says, “I wanted to do something creative instead of just a paper.” Delaney is part of a group project to bring letters written by Blanche Hower to life using video and sketch comedy. She and her group mates have done much with the help of the class’s research community with contributions such as costumes and filming locations, as well as leveraging filming and editing experience. Sean Miller, who is also a member of Megan’s group, has also offered his expertise in this area in more than one video project in the class.

[Un]Class students filming as they prepare Blanche Hower’s recipes. From left, Sean Miller, Megan Delaney, and Mixby Dickon.

Rachel Roberts is a graduate student in the Menus and Manuscripts [Un]Class and studies creative writing in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) with a concentration on creative nonfiction. Her research interests in the class are in the cooking utensils and appliances used by the Howers. Using video, she hopes to shed some light on the process and methodology of cooking in the Hower House, including the use of a wood-burning stove. She states:

“When I think about discussing certain historical landmarks or objects, I think about how our present society discusses these things— on TV! With programming on PBS like Antique Roadshow or educational and history-based shows alongside mainstream programming like American Pickers or documentaries on the History Channel, or even fictional shows like Downton Abbey, it is easy to get sucked into a past that contains so much information about former society, technology, and people.”

[Un]Class member Rachel Roberts.

Among the stated goals of Dr. Nunn’s [Un]Class is encouraging students to “[investigate] new methods of interacting with, interpreting, and presenting materials found in the archives” (Menus and Manuscripts Syllabus). In addition to being a method of visual story-telling, video has the capacity to bring new stories to light in an animated fashion. It gives students the freedom to incorporate sources creatively as well as speculate when doing so is both needed and appropriate. Regardless of what medium they choose, however, the students of Dr. Nunn’s Menus and Manuscripts [Un]Class are doing important work. They are giving voices to the past in a manner that is digestible and accessible beyond academia. They are bringing part of Akron history to life.