Friday, January 17, 2020

Branding with a Bang

Letter from Fitch to Stefansson 28 March 1908
Most of us today have heard of the retail clothing outlet Abercrombie & Fitch, most likely because of a string of nationally publicized controversies including sexualized advertising to teens, the sale of t-shirts displaying racist and offensive slogans, and a statement in 2006 by then-CEO Mike Jeffries that Abecrombie & Fitch clothing is only for "good-looking people." Although this statement is offensive for its elitist and exclusionary stance, it's also in keeping with the organization's founding vision. In 1892, the Abercrombie Company opened its doors in the Tribeca neighborhood of lower Manhattan, bent on catering only to an elite clientele. Instead of teen clothing, however, the company's focus was on a different sort of lifestyle: sporting and excursion goods for the wealthy and well-to-do. Abercrombie Co. was an outfitter for expeditions by Theodore Roosevelt, Richard E. Byrd, and Ernest Hemingway, among other notables.

Abercrombie became Abercrombie & Fitch in 1900 when Ezra Fitch, a wealthy lawyer and avid client of the store, bought a major share in the company. Fitch eventually bought out Abercrombie in 1907 and pursued his vision for the company by making it more accessible to the public and not just to high-brow, would-be explorers and adventurers. To that end, he published the company's first mail-order catalog in 1909. Fitch quickly became known as an innovator and, under his leadership, the company flourished. Here in Special Collections, we have a letter written by Ezra Fitch to Vilhjalmur Stefansson in 1908, soon after Fitch took the helm of the company. Stefansson, a rising star in the field of polar exploration, was ostensibly preparing for his five-year ethnological survey of North American Central Arctic coasts. For that excursion, he needed a rifle, and so he visited Abercrombie & Fitch. In the letter, Fitch continues a conversation that must have begun in person at the store: he provides Stefansson with specifications for a Mannlicher-Schönauer rifle, which was very popular at the time with big game hunters (including Ernest Hemingway, who mentions the rifle in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber).

To see the letter, come to Special Collections and ask for MSS-196, Box 2, folder 27.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Plan for World Peace

Manuscript of Whelden's manifesto for world peaceOn July 9, 1917, Vermonter Belno Marsh Whelden enlisted as a private in the Machine Gun Infantry. For the next two years he would serve on the front lines in France. Whelden was one of the 4.7 million Americans who served in World war I. He was also lucky, because he got the chance to come home alive. Whelden was a member of Dartmouth College's Class of 1921. At Dartmouth, he was an avid fan of the track team and member of Phi Gamma Delta. After graduation, Whelden attended the Tuck School for a short time, before taking a position with Stetson Shoe Company in New York City. In 1925, he returned to Vermont and went into the family hardware business.

Cover letter for Manifesto sen to Tom Connally Whelden was never able to forget what he had seen during World War I and became an ardent proponent for the need of world peace. In 1945, he took matters into his own hands. In the report for the Class of 1921's 25th Reunion, he writes:
I am still on the losing end of the fight for World Peace, as I am an out and out World Government man. I have worked out my own plan for World government, based on an approach for the viewpoint of the individual who fights the wars and not from the viewpoint of nations who manage and operate same.
In 1945, Whelden sent his 147-page plan, entitled World Trusteeship of Life and the Means of Life, to Senator Tom Connally, a member of the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations. Whelden enclosed a message reading:
I enclose herewith my suggestions of a way to lasting peace. I have submitted it to no other group anywhere. You are the men who will make the peace …. Will you please read it today – now – before you go to San Francisco. I stand ready to come to Washington on a moment’s notice, if you wish to talk to me.
Newspaper account of Weldon's manifestoWhelden believed that his education at Dartmouth under President Hopkins contributed to his desire to take action. In his class letter, he continued:
Hoppy told us in ’16 when he took over that his thesis of the liberal college was to teach young men how to think and not what. … If we as people don’t damn soon cut out the fol-de-rol, flim-flam and bluff we are perpetrating at this moment, and really get down to the task of leading this tired old world or ours into the ways of peace by carrying out into the world the heritage that is ours as a nation of freeman under law, then the next war which is too far away, will wind up our life, and Dartmouth College, its Alumni Fund and its endowment won’t be worth a damn, and there won’t be any more reunions, because there won’t be anyway of getting there except in foot or canoe, the way old Eleazar got there and maybe we’d all be a helluva lot happier if that was the case anyway.
I do not know if Whelden was ever called upon by Senator Connally to speak in Washington. However, if you would like to read his plan, come to Special Collections and ask for MS-157.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Exhibit: "The Ties that Bind: Slavery and Dartmouth"

Eleazar Wheelock came to Hanover and carved a place for Dartmouth College out the wilderness, or so the story goes. Often overlooked in that account is the significance of slavery in the founding and the first century of the college. In an exhibit at the Dartmouth Library's Rauner Special Collections Library in Webster Hall, the students in Professor Deborah King’s Sociology 79.08 class, "Lest We Forget: History, Collective Memory and Slavery at Dartmouth," explore the role played by the enslaved people of its first two presidents, and the College and Hanover as a site for the intellectual, moral and political debates surrounding slavery.

The exhibit is on display in the Class of 1965 Galleries at Rauner Library in Webster Hall from November 15th, 2019, through March 13th, 2020. To learn more, visit the exhibit website.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Hitting below the Belt

Front of letter to selectmenWe were digging though the Hanover Town Records for documents pertaining to the poor farm for a class next week on poverty in the 19th century. There was not a Federal safety net, and not much on the state level, so individual towns and counties ran poor farms for the indigent. We have file after file of sobering affidavits and letters documenting the plight of the poor.

Back of letter to selectmen
One jumped out at us because of the rhetoric it employed. In 1860, the aged Mrs. Hastings sought relief due to some unfortunate event in her life: her son only alluded to it in a letter by saying "I need not ever name the cause of her unhappyness." She desperately wanted to stay out off of the poor farm, but no one in her family had the means to keep her and the Selectmen of Hanover seemed to have little pity for her case. There are several letters back and forth between the town and her son and her grandson. The family offered to take her into the grandson's home if only the town would pay thirty cents a day for her board. The town repeatedly denied the request, and her grandson finally resorted to saying that sending her to the poor farm would be tantamount to one of the worst horrors of slavery: he said his reason for writing was "to relieve the feelings of an aged woman lame and infirm for what to her is like separating the families of the black slave."

Damn, that is harsh, especially directed at northern government officials just before the start of the Civil War, but it points to the treatment of the poor in the 19th century when poverty warranted the removal of individuals to the poor farm, and often the separation of children from their parents.

To see the letters, and many other similar stories, ask for DH-1, Boxes 10799 and 10801.