The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  287

MICHIGAN HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS — BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY

In clear September weather, 1973, the Michigan Historical Collections began its long awaited move from its quarters in the Horace H. Rackham building to the Bentley Historical Library on the University's North Campus. The move represented a combination of many years of expectations and hope in which the splendid body of research materials, assembled since the Collections was started in 1935, could at last have an adequate home.

The seventeen million manuscripts and books plus 14,000 maps were moved with relative ease in the span of one and one-half weeks. By May 2, 1974, when the library was dedicated, the Michigan Historical Collections was well settled into its new quarters designed especially to meet the needs of a modern manuscript library.

Plans for the new facility had been under way since 1965. The architectural firm of Jickling & Lyman, Birmingham, Michigan, made the task of planning a challenging and pleasant one. The principal problem, however, lay not in achieving a workable plan, but in securing the funds necessary to construct the building. The fund raising campaign met with success but also setbacks. It was not until a major gift of $500,000, later increased to $600,000 by Mrs. Alvin M. Bentley, that the new facility was assured.

The first home for the Michigan Historical Collections had been in a single room in the old University Press building on Maynard Street. This was soon followed by the assignment of space in the William L. Clements Library, and, in 1938, the Collections was moved to the Rackham building. In later years, it expanded its original space in the Rackham building and also acquired the storage building at Willow Run Airport in 1958.

At the time of its move the Collections had assembled a well-integrated professional staff of archivists, including in addition to the director and the assistant director, a curator of manuscripts, a curator of printed materials, a reference archivist, an assistant manuscript curator and a field representative. In the two years Page  288following the move, a conservator and a half-time photographic archivist were added. In addition, the staff was aided by graduate student assistants, secretarial and technical personnel.

In its forty-year history, the Historical Collections has had but three directors. The founder and first director was Lewis G. Vander Velde, who served until his retirement in 1960. His successor was F. Clever Bald who served until his retirement in 1967. Dr. Bald had previously served as assistant director beginning in 1947. Robert M. Warner, who had joined the Collections staff as a research assistant, and subsequently served as field representative and assistant director, was named to succeed Dr. Bald.

The directors and staff of the Library have been active in a wide variety of professional academic activities. The Historical Society of Michigan, and the Society of American Archivists particularly, have been the focus of interest of the Library. All three directors served as president of the Historical Society, and for a two-year period the Collections housed the office of the Society of American Archivists. In addition, the Collections' staff has published a wide variety of books and articles on historical and archival subjects. The Collections itself began a modest publication program in 1948. By 1975, twenty-five bulletins, two Guides to the Collections with a third in progress, two books, and six bibliographies had been published.

The major service of the Collections, however, is reflected in its usefulness as a research facility to scholars, students, and interested persons from throughout the nation. In 1962 there were more than 1,400 research visits made to the Library. By 1975 this number had more than doubled. Of fundamental importance, however, to the Library and its history has been the acquisition of manuscript materials of unusual significance. Since its inception, the Collections has pursued two major themes: one, materials relating to the history of the University; and two, manuscripts relating to the people in the state of Michigan. These themes remain with some modification. Of special relevance for the history of the state has been the acquisition of files of Michigan governors and high public officials. In 1974, the Library had established collections for 19 of Michigan's governors. The earliest gubernatorial collection, chronologically speaking, is a small group of papers, 1813-1832, of territorial governor Page  289George B. Porter containing several letters from Andrew Jackson. The Toledo War was a major subject of the Stevens T. Mason collection, 1827-1842. Other pre-Civil War governors are represented by collections of papers of an Ann Arborite, Alpheus Felch, and Kingsley Bingham, the first Republican governor elected in the United States. Collections of later 19th Century governorships include the extensive papers of Henry Howland Crapo, 1804-1869, and John Rich, 1884-1895. The 20th Century, however, has given the library its greatest gubernatorial collections. One of the most important of these came in 1949 when the widow of Chase S. Osborn presented this progressive governor's unusually comprehensive papers, 1889-1949, covering his long life in association with notable Americans, including Theodore Roosevelt, Albert J. Beveridge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. Osborn was influential in the careers of two of his successors whose papers also came to the Collections. Wilber M. Brucker's papers cover his career as governor of Michigan and as Secretary of the Army in Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration. The Frank Murphy papers are of extraordinary value and contain much material of national significance. Among the subjects this extensive and rich collection covers are industrial unrest in the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, the U.S. Justice Department, the independence movement in the Philippines, and the activities of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A young assistant to Murphy, G. Mennen Williams, succeeded to the Michigan governorship in 1949 and served longer in this office than any other person in the state's history. The donation of the Williams papers to the library in 1960 was a milestone in its development. Not only was it the largest collection the library had received, but it was unusually comprehensive. In turn, it has attracted the papers of many of Williams' associates, while continuing to grow in covering the wide range of activities of Williams and his wife, Nancy.

Coverage of Michigan's executive branch expanded with the accession of the papers of John B. Swainson, and in turn by his successor George Romney. The Romney papers also contained the records of his presidential campaign and later his service as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Other 20th-Century gubernatorial collections include the papers of Fred M. Warner, Woodridge M. Ferris, Fred Green, Frank D. Fitzgerald, and Murray D. Van Waggoner. The papers of those who sought the governorship and lost are significant too. The papers of Charles R. Sligh, Page  290Arthur J. Lacy, and Neil Staebler are important sources of 20th-Century Michigan politics. Politics and public service, particularly in the 20th Century, are reflected in the papers of many other leaders, particularly those of U.S. Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, whose diary of the founding conference of the United Nations is a major historical document of national significance. The papers of Blair Moody, Martha Griffiths, Alvin Bentley, Gardner Ackley, Weston Vivian, Raymond Cleavenger and John B. Bennett are among the many other congressional collections of significance in the library. Of very special interest in the history of the library are the papers of Gerald R. Ford. The University of Michigan alumnus began donating his papers to the library in 1963, while serving as U.S. Representative from Michigan's fifth district. To date the library has received comprehensive files covering his congressional service in addition to some materials relating to his Vice Presidential administration. These total nearly 1,000 linear feet of materials and will form a principal source on the formative years of the first man to become President from the state of Michigan.

Intellectual and educational history is the major subject of the papers of University of Michigan faculty, administrators, students, departments, and organizations. These papers, comprising the University archives, date from the founding of the University in 1817. They include the papers of John Monteith, first president of the University, and the collections of all subsequent University presidents. These presidential collections reflect a wide spectrum of topics, touching on all phases of the history of higher education in America in addition to the history of the University itself. Many of the great figures of the Michigan faculty have placed their papers here. Henry C. Adams and Kenneth Boulding (economics), Charles H. Cooley (sociology), Thomas Francis (epidemiology), Frederick G. Novy (medicine), Marcus Ward (dentistry), Thomas M. Cooley, Henry Bates, and E. Blythe Stason (law). James K. Pollock, Jesse S. Reeves and Joseph R. Hayden (political science), Claude Van Tyne and Verner W. Crane (history), Alexander Winchell (natural science), Leslie White (anthropology) and Fielding H. Yost (athletics), are a few of those represented in this collection of faculty papers, an area which continues to grow more valuable yearly.

How people make their livelihood is a fundamental question of continued concern of the library. Many kinds of records of Michigan's economic activities are located Page  291here. Some are crudely written ledgers and journals of general stores which flourished in pre-Civil War years; others are diaries of farmers and small businessmen. The 1899 time book of Pewabic Mine shows the wages in an Upper Peninsula iron mine. The frayed 1894 ledger of the Postum Company, with entries by C.W. Post, records the humble origins of the great General Foods Corporation. Michigan's vast lumbering industry, which led the nation in the 19th century is well represented among our collections. These materials begin with the papers of Michigan's first lumberman, Charles Mears, and include vast collections of the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company, Tittabawasee Boom Company, Michigan California Lumber Company, as well as the personal papers of lumbermen like Frank Fletcher, William B. Mershon, and Gideon O. Whittemore. The Hannah Lay and Company, also an important lumber enterprise, was the firm which founded Traverse City, Michigan.

Many economic groups established associations to further their objectives. Minutes of the meetings of the Niles or Ann Arbor Chambers of Commerce reflect one type of papers. The recordings of the Michigan State Grange, founded in 1873, reflect another. Always of sustaining interest are the records of Michigan citizens who served in various military conflicts. The Collections' holdings of Civil War manuscripts are particularly rich, covering all phases of that conflict. Equally interesting are the substantial collection of papers of Peace Corps volunteers from Michigan who have placed papers in the library for future researchers interested in tracing the history of this group which was first suggested by John F. Kennedy on the steps of the Michigan Union.

From its beginning, the library has sought materials reflecting all facets of the history of women in the state, not only the dramatic side of women's rights, but also the records of every day ordinary activities of women. Thus the manuscripts in the library include papers on the women's suffrage movement, educational reform, campaigns for and against abortion, state and local Leagues of Women Voters as well as the W.C.T.U., the D.A.R., and many other state, local, religious, social and reform organizations. In addition, the library has collected materials related to the careers of prominent women including abolitionist Elizabeth Chandler; political leaders Margaret Price and Elly Peterson; and peace advocates Rebecca Shelley, Angela Morgan and Mrs. Chase S. Osborn. U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths and Page  292Senatorial candidate Lenore Romney have also placed their records here.

Michigan's people represented a wide diversity of ethnic groups. This ethnic pluralism is reflected in a variety of manuscript and printed materials. There are especially strong collections on the Dutch, Germans, Danes, Swedes, and Finns and the beginnings of a significant collection of Michigan citizens of Polish descent. In 1975 the Collections received a substantial grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to pursue its interest in documenting the heritage of Michigan's ethnic groups. Michigan's black heritage is well represented in the pre-Civil War papers of Calvin Township, Cass County, and in a collection on Sojourner Truth, including Abraham Lincoln's autograph to her. The pre-Civil War struggles are recalled in the papers of Michigan abolitionists Nathan Thomas and Elizabeth Chandler. Also in the files are an abolitionist newspaper, the Michigan Freeman, and its successor, the Signal of Liberty. For more modern times the papers of all the Urban League chapters in Michigan are on file at the Collections. The largest of these collections, that of the Detroit Urban League, has been microfilmed under a grant from the National Historical Publications Commission. Native American history too has been a continuing interest, and the unpublished and published writings of many of the early Protestant and Catholic missionaries contain much material of significance. Since its establishment the library has made an effort to become a major depository relating to the religious heritage of Michigan. In pursuit of this goal the library acquired the papers of the synod and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church, the three dioceses of the Episcopal Church, the Michigan Synod of the Lutheran Church of America, the Free Will Baptists, the Disciples of Christ, and many other denominations. Of special interest are microfilmed copies of the records of St. Anne's Parish in Detroit. These are probably the earliest records relating to the history of Michigan; they begin in 1704, the first entry recording the baptism of Baptist Cadillac's daughter.