Friday, December 15, 2017

Rich in Stones

Page image of Old Farmer's Almanac featuring Frost's poemLast week, we brought you an 1890 plea to farmers to stay in New Hampshire. The lure of the rich soil of the Midwest was proving too strong, and land prices in New Hampshire were suffering. Skip forward fifty-odd years, and here we have a kind of admission of defeat in the first appearance of Robert Frost's poem, "Rich in Stones," in the 1942 Old Farmer's Almanac. Frost, an on-again, off-again New England farmer, knew what he was writing about. The short poem is narrated by an old New England farmer:
I farm a pasture where the boulders lie
As touching as a basket full of egg
It is addressed to one who has moved away to more fertile fields in the west:
In wind-soil to a depth of thirty feet.
And every acre good enough to eat
Then the narrator fantasizes about shipping a largish stone west to "set up like a statue in your yard." There it would stand as
"The portrait of the soul of my Gransir Ira.
It came from where he came from anyway."
There is a certain crustiness to the poem that captures the spirit of Yankee farmers too stubborn to head west, but also an acknowledgement  of the futility of staying behind.

Cover of 1942 Old Farmer's Almanac
This is part of our Robert Frost First Appearances collection that is incorporated into our Robert Frost Collection. You can ask for it by requesting MS-1178, Box 32, Folder 71.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On Crime and Punishment

Page from Register listing Amelia BuellAmelia Buell was born on May 25, 1856, in Lisbon, New Hampshire. She was the daughter of George Hansen Buell and Cordelia Thayer. On November 25, 1865, she was committed to the New Hampshire House of Reformation in Manchester, NH. The charge – fornication. Amelia was nine years old.

Cover page to RegisterAmelia is only one of the names listed in the "Register of Inmates of the House of Reformation Compiled to Jan. 1868." Ranging in age from eight to sixteen, many of the juveniles were incarcerated for such infractions as truancy, lewdness, vagrancy and stubbornness. The latter infraction dated back to a law known as the "Stubborn Child Law" which was first enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641.  Even though the law was no longer prosecuted to its fullest extent (which in the 17th century often led to the child's death), the fact that it was still used by the 19th century speaks volumes about the status of children, who until the late 19th century, were still prosecuted as adults. Reform schools, like the one in Manchester, were established to provide a way to separate juvenile offenders and their "crimes" from those of adults. There was strict discipline and education, but also institutional abuse.

The Manchester institution was built in 1857, on land that was once the home of Gen. John Stark, and opened in 1858 as "a house of reformation for juvenile and female offenders against the law." Most of the inmates were boys. The few girls that were incarcerated there were held on charges of prostitution.

Two page spread of Register
The register also contains more serious offenses such as stealing, assault, barn burning and breaking and entering with the offenders coming from all over the state of New Hampshire. Punishment ranged from one to seven years. Amelia was sentenced to six years. She was  released on December 11, 1869.

To take a look at the register please ask for Codex 003352 (there isn't a catalog record for this quite yet, but we will link to it when it is ready).

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Strangest Army Post...

Signed letter from Ted Geisel to President HopkinsYesterday was Pearl Harbor Day and, while going through a box of President Ernest Hopkins's presidential papers, we stumbled quite by chance on a curious artifact of World War II--a 1943 letter from Ted Geisel '25 (aka Dr. Seuss), to Hopkins thanking him for the letter of recommendation that got him into the armed forces. As Geisel put it, it was so good it got him into the Army and the Navy!

Geisel explains that he is "now out on what is probably the strangest army post in the country... the old Fox Studio, where under Colonel Frank Capra I am assisting in the writing of 'Orientation Films.'" As an indication of how much Geisel had to rough it in the Army, the letter is on the stationery of the Castle Argyle apartments in Hollywood.

In typical Hopkins fashion, the president replied with a two-page, single-spaced letter advising Geisel on important themes his films could explore.

To see the letters, ask for DP-11, Box 7043, Folder 11. For more, we have another example of Geisel's Army work: This is Ann.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Farmland Security

Cover of "Secure A Home in New Hampshire Where Comfort, Health, and Prosperity Abound."
 New Hampshire was never a friendly place for farmers, who had to scratch out a living in the state's rocky soil. Even nearby Vermont's soil was leaps and bounds above the Granite State's in terms of fertility and lack of physical obstructions. During the nineteenth century, with the rise of textile mills along the New England rivers and the settlement of the west, New Hampshire saw a marked increase in the abandonment of traditional farms. Entire families picked up and moved to the cities and places like Illinois and Ohio, where the land was plentiful and rich; we've blogged before about the publication of pamphlets meant to entice farmers to flee the barren ground of the northeast for the lush fields of Iowa.

First page of the farm descriptions in the government pamphletBy the late-19th century, the rate of abandonment had become so great that the New Hampshire state legislature passed an act in 1889 that required the office of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration to investigate the state of these farms. They then published a report of their investigation, complete with a color map, entitled Secure a Home in New Hampshire, Where Comfort, Health, and Prosperity Abound. As one can guess, the book was intended "to call public attention to the desirable farms which for various reasons have become without occupants," so that the farms could be repopulated and hopefully stimulate the state economy. The overall tone of the publication can best be described as strained optimism, wherein the authors try to portray the best picture possible of the state's agricultural situation while acknowledging the factors that caused mass migration in the first place. The pamphlet claims that new farming innovations with regard to crops and livestock, among them fruit and dairy, have made farms in New Hampshire more profitable than ever. There is also an emphasis on an expanding infrastructure made possible by the railroads as well as an uptick in summer tourism that brings money into the state during the warm seasons.

Still, despite this cheery prognosis, the fact remains that there were hundreds of abandoned properties in New Hampshire. The book's introduction attempts to address the elephant in the room directly:
A printed image of a farm landscape entitled "Intervale at Conway"
"Doubtless the question arises, why are these farms vacated when circumstances seem so favorable to their occupancy?" Many possible reasons are provided, all of which provide alternatives to the inferiority of the local soil: extravagant habits of the owner; the attraction of the society of city life; even that the previous owner has become so wealthy that they have invested in a larger, even more successful business elsewhere. Regardless of how fantastical the explanations may be, or how desirable the properties are presented, it's still a hard sell; thumbing through hundreds of descriptions of deserted farms doesn't leave one with an impression of prosperity but, rather, desperation.

To see whose farm was up for sale in your town or county, come to Rauner and ask to see NH Imprints M35 1890.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Getting into the Spirit

Black and white photo of college students walking to class on the green in the snow with the christmas tree in the backgroundThis evening, the giant Christmas tree on the Green will be lighted to start the holiday season here in Hanover. It is a really festive evening: there are carols, cookies and hot chocolate, and horse drawn wagons full of cute kids. Still, there is something missing--college students. Now that Fall term ends just before Thanksgiving, the undergraduate have almost all gone home and we don't get to see scenes like the one pictured here from 1940--students tromping to class in the snow with the tree towering over them on the Green.

Here in Rauner, there will be plenty of good cheer in December. Next week we will put up a small display featuring Christmas lore created by two Dartmouth alumni: Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Robert May's Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both stories--one a bit saccharine, the other more acerbic--are sure to put you in the spirit the of the season.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Cover art from A. Greely's Three Years in the Arctic showing a man struggling in a storm with a compass in the background pointed north.Feeling stuffed after your Thanksgiving dinner? Our latest digitized collection, David Brainard's Diary, may make you appreciate that overly-full feeling. In 1881, Lieutenant Adolphus Greely led an expedition into the Arctic as part of the First International Polar Year. After a period of relative comfort and success, bad luck hit the expedition and they were forced to retreat southward to Ellesmere Island to await rescue. From March 1st to June 21st, 1884, young Sargeant David Brainard kept a meticulous diary. At the start, there were 25 living crew members; in the end, only six survived--most died from starvation (one was shot for stealing food from the others). At least some who survived resorted to "the last dread alternative," a euphemism for cannibalism.

Page 221 of Brainard's diary
Brainard's diary, now housed here in Special Collections, elides the incidents of cannibalism, but he carefully documents the daily life and struggles of the crew as they slowly perished. Independent scholar Laura Waterman transcribed Brainard's diary and she has allowed us to put up her transcriptions side-by-side with the scanned page images. Laura also provided an essay that introduces Brainard's story and the diary. The diary is a harrowing read: Brainard had a talent for writing, and the diary puts you on Ellesmere Island with him. It will make this winter's weather seem like nothing, and it may inspire you to make good use of those holiday leftovers.

To see the actual diary, ask for Stef MSS-189.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

For What We Are About to Receive

First page of the Oct. 29 letter by Sylvester to his sisters
The fall term is almost done, except for perhaps a few final projects, and we are looking forward to the holiday season that will begin on Thursday. To get us in a festive mood for Thanksgiving, we looked through our various collections of Dartmouth student letters that are in the archives to see if we could find something suitable for the occasion. As expected, the archives did not disappoint. Among the numerous letters written to and by students, we found a great little note from Charles B. Sylvester, class of 1905, to his sisters at the family home near Haverhill, Massachusetts, north of Boston near the New Hampshire state line.

Second page of the Oct. 29 letter by Sylvester to his sistersIn the letter, written on October 29th, 1901, during his first semester in Hanover, Sylvester is quick to encourage his sisters to send him "a box for Thanksgiving, as good a one as you can, and we will have a spread." Although he won't be able to be
home for the holiday, he reminds them that he'll see them again a few weeks after Thanksgiving is over. The letter continues by relating various stories of college life, among them stealing a number of apples from an apple orchard and the prospect of sharing a large box of fudge with a friend. He concludes by asking his family to send him photographs and any local news.

Sylvester went on to be a well-liked teacher of mathematics and Latin and then principal at various high schools in New England. In his later life, he experienced multiple hardships, including the contraction of a serious case of polio in 1916 that left
Third and final page of the Oct. 29 letter by Sylvester to his sisters
him partially crippled for the rest of his life. In 1933, his wife of only two years, Eleanor Stonestreet, died while giving birth to their daughter, Nancy, and Sylvester went on to raise her as a single parent while continuing his work. As is so often the case with stories of our alumni, learning about their lives and their experiences never fails to inculcate a sense of admiration for their perseverance and a feeling of gratitude, or thankfulness (if you will), for the many ways in which we have been blessed.

To read through Sylvester's letters from his freshman year through his junior year, come to Rauner and ask for the Charles B. Sylvester Student Letters (MS-853).