Tobacco Boys: The Universal Leaf Tobacco Company Records.

This entry is a repost from the Virginia Historical Society Blog. We are pleased to share this post by guest author Kurt Jensen.  Kurt is working with VHS’s business history collections this summer. We would like to thank the University of Virginia for partnering with us to offer this internship to one of their recent graduates. 

I find it hard to recommend the book by Maurice Duke and Daniel Jordan about Richmond’s Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Tobacco Merchant, for a light beach read this summer. But it was a tremendously pleasant surprise to find a group of interviews in the Virginia Historical Society archives, conducted during the research for that book, that lend themselves excitingly to dramatization.

If the corporate world of creative advertising in the 1960s can command the attention of so many viewers through the TV show Mad Men, surely so can the story of Universal Leaf through the World Wars. Let’s call it Tobacco Boys.

Postcard - Tobacco Warehouse Scene (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.625.8)

Postcard – Tobacco Warehouse Scene (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.625.8)

It’s a story of young, largely uneducated men who make a great deal of money they don’t know how to spend; American businessmen at the forefront of international business, entertaining clients and buying from suppliers whose languages they hardly know how to speak; and of course their wives, many of whom worked for the company! (At least, before they were married.)

During this period, Universal Leaf ran a highly successful buying and selling operation in Shanghai, China, which helped the company avoid the worst effects of the Great Depression—an early example of successful international diversification.

It wasn’t a simple task, however. Executives like A. I. McOwan, a Scotsman known as “Mac,” had to traverse mainland China, fording dangerous rivers, with armed guards to avoid bandit attacks. Not to mention the fact that this period saw near constant political turmoil in China, from the Nanking Incident in 1927 to the Japanese invasion of the mainland in 1937.

Bombing outside the Palace Hotel

Bombing outside the Palace Hotel; Shanghai, China, August 14, 1937 (Image from Institut d’Asie Orientale via Wikimedia Commons.  Photographer unknown)

Here’s just one exciting narrative of love and danger in 1941—best-selling novel material—as told by Mac’s wife, Lou:


I met him in May, I think it was, we were engaged in June, and he left in July. . . . In those days it took seventeen days to get to China. He got to the west coast and kept calling me from out there, and so I flew out to San Francisco and we were married out there. . . . I said about three weeks before I met him, “Now listen, I am going on record now, standing here in the Richmond Trust Building, if I ever had to get in an airplane, I will never get in one for anything or anybody.” So you don’t ever know what you are going to do.

Mac planned to take Lou to Hawaii as part of their whirlwind, fairytale wedding and honeymoon, but they were stopped at the British consulate.

It was going from the sublime to nothing. . . . I had a British passport and the man in the British Consulate said, “Don’t take your wife anywhere.” Mac then said, “I thought I would take her to Honolulu,” and they replied, “Don’t you do that.” [T]hey might have known more than we knew.

Like in any good war drama, the British consulate charged Mac with delivering a cache of secret documents, weighted to sink if his boat was attacked. He managed to do so, but shortly after he returned to work, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese Marine Guard took over international business interests in Shanghai and placed the employees in internment camps. The British consulate neglected to put Mac on their books as an official messenger of the British government, so he wasn’t exchanged with Japanese officers during the war. Lou recalled:

I didn’t hear from him for a long time, but once in a while I would get a message from the Red Cross that would be dated last August, and I wouldn’t get it until this August. I didn’t know for five years whether I would ever see him again. However, when I finally saw him down at Main Street Station, I felt like I had never been away from him.

When he finally was released in 1946, he went straight to Universal Leaf of China, which had been taken over by Japanese business men, burst into an executive meeting in his tattered clothes, and gave them a dramatic ultimatum to turn over the company in three days.

How would that be for a season finale?

Mac is just one of the colorful cast of characters at Universal Leaf. Everyone has different stories to tell about Pinkney Harrison, a ranking executive at the time, who was the type to go fishing with a client and accidentally catch the client on the end of his line. Or founder J. P. Taylor, who formed a company named Universal with international ambitions, yet hated to travel.

Universal Leaf logo

Universal Leaf logo, 1947 (Virginia Historical Society, Mss3 UN39a FA2, Box 2, Folder 122)

There’s also Sara Maynard Warwick, who accompanied her husband Pierre on exploratory business trips to South America at the expense of the company and who took the stand in legal proceedings when the issue came up with the IRS. When asked whether she enjoyed the trips, despite being told to say yes or no, she answered, “Well, yes and no,” which I’m sure the judge enjoyed.

The exotic settings, period fashion, high stakes business and war, and the outstanding cast of characters ought to make for excellent TV drama.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff.

A Blast from the Past

Today’s post is from Beth Harris from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Looking at old photos can bring back a lot of memories of the way things “used to be.”  It can also be a great way to show younger generations how it was “back in the olden days.” As an archivist, one of the pleasures of my job is locating photographs for researchers.  In addition, I am also in the process of scanning and cataloging them.  Our collection, ranging from daguerreotypes and tin types through digital color images of today, enables our researchers to admire beautiful fashions from the past and see the faces of people that made Hollins University what it is today.

Unidentified Hollins alumnae (Lillian Adams?), 1904

Unidentified Hollins alumnae (Lillian Adams?), 1904

Part of the cataloging process involves assigning subject terms to each photograph.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  Should everything in the picture be given a subject term, even the smallest details, or should only the most prominent people and objects be given one?  Then deciding the right term: Is it a “comforter” or a “quilt”?  A phone or a telephone?  Should the general term “jewelry” be used or should the specific term “pearls” be used, or both?

Susanna Pleasants Turner, Hollins Class of 1935. First Officer (WAC), 1943

Susanna Pleasants Turner, Hollins Class of 1935. First Officer (WAC), 1943

Identifying an object can sometimes prove puzzling.  For example, one photograph showed a student holding a small metal device that was about the size of a Nintendo DS game.  The photograph, however, was obviously from the 1980s so the game was definitely out of the question.  After some speculation, we finally realized that it was a “Walkman.” (That’s a portable audio player, for those of you wondering what that is.)  Wow…that really took me back.  As a member of that generation, how could I have forgotten?  I never owned one, but a large portion of the teenage and college student population did.

Nancy Dick, Hollins Class of 1962 (front right) and Ellen St. Clair (William & Mary goal keeper), undated.

Nancy Dick, Hollins Class of 1962 (front right) and Ellen St. Clair (William & Mary goal keeper), undated.

Though this experience, I am reminded of the role of archivist is to preserve and make accessible records of the past.  Old photographs and yellowed letters may give us a “warm, fuzzy” experience, but they are also important for documenting the past for future generations.  For this, I am thankful for past archivists and other individuals who thought these materials were important enough to save for our students and researchers for years to come.

Hollins Cotillion Weekend, ca. 1976-1980

Hollins Cotillion Weekend, ca. 1976-1980

The Hollins University archives, in Roanoke, Virginia, is open to the public.  For more information, please contact Beth Harris, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at or visit our website at

Call for Virginia Archives Month poster images and stories

Posted on behalf of the 2014 Virginia Archives Month Committee

What is Archives Month?

It began as Archives Week which has been celebrated throughout the archival community since approximately 1988. A formal observance of Archives Week in Virginia, including the production of a poster by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) Virginia Caucus in conjunction with the Library of Virginia and the Library of Virginia Foundation, began in 2002.

In 2006, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) coordinated a nationwide observance of American Archives Month during October. Virginia archivists continue to celebrate and raise awareness about our archives by creating posters and planning events such as lectures, workshops, and fairs.

The Virginia Archives Month Poster for 2013.

The Virginia Archives Month Poster for 2013.

2014 Theme: Archives are for Virginians

This year, Archives Month in Virginia will celebrate all of the ways that archival and manuscript collections assist, educate, enrich, and enliven the lives of Virginians (and many others). Share an image or images from your collection that highlight that theme. What image or document best captures your institution? How about a document that was invaluable to a researcher or perhaps your most requested record. Maybe you can show off a wonderful but seldom seen item. However you choose to interpret it, show off how your archival institution is for Virginians!

You may upload your images to the Virginia Archives Month Group on Flickr or submit images to Vince Brooks, or Margaret Kidd,  by July 25th.

Image specifications: 300 pixels per inch (ppi) at 100%.

Share your stories!

We would also like to collect stories from the users of archives about their experiences that we may share in October. What discoveries have you made? How did these collections help you or enrich your knowledge? Feel free to add these to the comments below or send them to Margaret Kidd,



Have a wonderful 4th of July!

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, 1819.

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, 1819.

Did you know that if you search for the term “4th of July” in the Virginia Heritage database that 59 matches are returned? The term “Independence Day” yields an additional 20 matches. You never know what you might find until you search our finding aids and more are added all the time.

Have a fun and safe 4th of July!

Washington Monument located at the Virginia state capital. The image is from Harper's Weekly, 1858.  Image courtesy of  VCU Libraries Digital Collections.

Washington Monument located at the Virginia state capital. The image, courtesy of VCU Libraries Digital Collections, originally appeared in Harper’s Weekly, 1858.

Frank L. Lowther: Enlisted Man, Fledgling Archivist

Today’s post comes to us from the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library at the University of Virginia, Historical Collections & Services, and is written by Janet Pearson.

Frank L. Lowther (1919-1998) was an enlisted man with the United States 8th Evacuation Hospital, sponsored and organized by the University of Virginia. Private Lowther traveled with the 8th Evac as the mobile unit trained and then served in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

When Lowther returned home, he kept enough mementoes of his experiences to make an archivist proud. He saved personal items officially issued to him including his dog tags, pay record, rest camp meal ticket, immunization record, and identity cards. From these items we know he had blue eyes and red hair, wore glasses, and was born on 20 June 1919. He took good care of his Troop Assignment Card which served as his punch ticket for meals on board his ship (with marks for 48 out of 50 meals). Before the spring offensive that ended the war in 1945, he spent about five days at the Montecatini Rest Camp in Tuscany which would have been a welcome respite from the long winter spent in the Apennine Mountains. He was immunized for smallpox, typhoid, typhus, and tetanus, but not cholera or yellow fever. Those immunizations were important as more patients at the 8th Evacuation Hospital were treated for illness than wounds or injuries.

An assortment of items saved by Private Frank Lowther from his service with the U.S. 8th Evacuation Hospital during World War II.

An assortment of items saved by Private Frank Lowther from his service with the U.S. 8th Evacuation Hospital during World War II. Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Photo by Dan Cavanaugh.

Private Lowther also brought back unused V-mail forms and letters from home that had gone through the V-mail process. V-mail, short for Victory mail, was the main way soldiers kept in touch with folks back home. While it seems cumbersome to write a letter, censor it, copy it to microfilm, ship it, and then print it upon arrival, it saved tons of shipping space for war materiel. One mail sack weighing 45 pounds could carry the microfilm that represented letters that would fill 37 sacks and weigh 57 times as much. And V-mail had the advantage of foiling espionage communication since invisible ink and microdots would not show up in a photocopy.

While overseas, Lowther had an opportunity to enjoy Italian opera. He brought back a playbill from the Royal Opera House in Naples which had been damaged by bombs at the beginning of the war, but reopened late in 1943. The San Carlo Opera company presented “Rigoletto” by G. Verdi. The one newspaper in the Lowther collection is the Mediterranean edition of The Stars and Stripes, dated 30 August 1945 with articles announcing “Gen. M’Arthur Poised To Enter Japan Today” and “Goering And Hess Head First Group To Face Nuremberg Trial.”

Tons of military currency was printed in the United States to pay troops overseas. Private Lowther brought some of it back. He saved 1, 2, 5, 10, and 50 lire notes; the 1 and 2 lire notes were not printed after the first series because inflation had rendered them useless. Another note of a different kind came home. It was from William H. Laird, the unit chaplain, and read, “Your trials and tribulations have broken my heart. They are unique. I have never heard of any thing like them before. As proof of my deepest sympathy, I give you this card which entitles you to ONE HOUR OF CONDOLENCE.”

One last item in Lowther’s box is a memento that came from another U.S. soldier. It was worn by a paratrooper dropped behind enemy lines and served to identify him as an American so he would not be mistaken for an Axis soldier by invading U.S. assault forces. The off-white armband is made of oilcloth, 4” by 16.5”, and has a 48-star U.S. flag printed on it. Holes on both ends allowed it to be attached to a sleeve by safety pins.

The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library has an extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs related to the 8th Evac. Our Virginia Heritage guide helps us and others find the thousands of items in our collection, which is open for research. A web exhibit, The 8th Evacuation Hospital: The University of Virginia in World War II, tells the story of the unit and includes recollections of unit members and correspondence between the head nurse and the next-of-kin of soldiers who died at the hospital.

We are indebted to Frank Lowther both for his service to his country and for his donation which helps us preserve and tell the story of the past.

D-Day remembrances from Virginia Heritage partners

Lieutenant James W. Monteith Jr. Image courtesy of Virginia Tech Special Collections.

Lieutenant James W. Monteith Jr. Image courtesy of Virginia Tech Special Collections.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the the D-Day invasion. Like so many around the world, Virginians felt the effect of this momentous day, and records in the collections of our Virginia Heritage partner repositories bear witness to the contributions of the Commonwealth’s own.  We want to point you to three blog posts that give an idea of the types of records held in our institutions, and encourage you to explore the very personal remnants of an event with global impact.   

The Virginia Tech Special Collections blog marked this special anniversary with the moving story of James (“Jimmie”) W. Monteith Jr., a former VT student whose heroic actions and ultimate sacrifice are made more poignant by his letters home just prior to the event. Also included are pictures from a VT publication of other grads and students, with news of their deaths on and not long after D-Day.

The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia, because that small town famously suffered a higher proportion of men lost at D-Day than any other American community. Today, the Library of Virginia’s Out of the Box has a story about how official state records give fascinating details on 15 of the 19 “Bedford Boys.” The article links to the actual war service records of these men, compiled after their deaths by the Virginia World War History II Commission. 

Douglas J. Raymond. Image courtesy of Mary Raymond and the Library of Virginia.
Douglas J. Raymond. Image courtesy of Mary Raymond and the Library of Virginia.

Another story focuses on Douglas J. Raymond, who was not yet a Virginian, or even an American when he participated in the events of 6 June 1944. He became both by the time he passed away on the 50th D-Day anniversary, 6 June 1994. Serving in the Royal Canadian Navy, he and his comrades helped protect the landing troops with anti-submarine action. Two years ago, Out of the Box featured Raymond’s dramatic story after his widow, Mary, donated the small but powerful diary he kept for approximately two weeks before, during, and after the invasion. 

The Virginia Heritage database contains, among others, finding aids for the Jimmie W. Monteith Jr. Collection (Virginia Tech Special Collections Number MS90-062), the Virginia World War II History Commission’s Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead (Library of Virginia Accession Number 24805), and the Douglas J. Raymond Diary (Library of Virginia Accession Number 50043). We are proud to be able to say that records in the collections of our Virginia Heritage partners put names, faces, and heartfelt words to this pivotal moment in history.  


MARAC award announcement – Arline Custer Memorial Award

The following is an award announcement from our friends at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC):

Presented by the MARAC Arline Custer Memorial Award Committee, this award honors the memory of Arline Custer (1909-1975), MARAC member and editor of the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.


The Arline Custer Memorial Award recognizes the best books and articles written or compiled by individuals and institutions in the MARAC region – the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Works under consideration include, but are not limited to, monographs, popular narratives, reference works, and exhibition catalogs using archival sources.

Individuals or institutions may submit up to two works published between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014.


Works must be relevant to the general public as well as the archival community.  They also should be original and well researched using available sources.  In addition, they should be clearly presented, well written, and organized.  Visual materials, if used, should be appropriate to the text. Preference will be given to works by archivists.


Up to two awards may be given, with a maximum value of $200.00 for books and $100.00 for articles.  The 2014 awards will be announced at the Fall 2014 Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

How to submit an entry

Please send two copies of each submission with a letter of nomination to the Senior Co-Chair of the Arline Custer Memorial Award Committee:

Elizabeth Shepard
39 Harrison Avenue, Unit #8
Montclair, NY 07042

Entries must be received by 31 July 2014.

For additional information about this award and a list of previous award winners, see the Arline Custer Memorial Award site at

Digitization of The Bullet, the University of Mary Washington’s Student Newspaper

UMW Libraries is pleased to announce the digitization of the University’s student-run newspaper, The Bullet. Issues from 1922-2010 are now available online through the Internet Archive at

The Bullet is a great source of information for University history and important events, and provides a snapshot of what life was like on campus throughout the last century.

The Internet Archive allows for multiple methods of searching and viewing issues of The Bullet. Users can page through an issue by choosing the “read online” option, download an entire issue in PDF format, or search the full text of an issue for specific keywords. This digitization project was made possible through UMW Libraries, the LYRASIS Mass Digitization Collaborative, and LYRASIS’ scanning partner, the Internet Archive.


America’s First Regional Cookbook (Thanks, Virginia!)

Today’s post is from Kira Dietz, Virginia Tech Special Collections.

In 1824, Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife: Or, the Methodical Cook was published. Considered one of the first American regional and first Virginia cookbooks, it includes an eclectic variety of recipes for the home, along with Mrs. Randolph’s observations on a number of topics. Virginia Tech Special Collections is home to a copy of a coveted 1824 first edition, but its condition prevents it from being scanned. So this week, we’re sharing the 1846 edition from our collection (we also have an 1855!), which was clearly used in someone’s kitchen–and there’s plenty of stains to prove it!

Mrs. Randolph’s book opens with some advice to her readers, or, more specifically, to the ladies of the household:

Management is an art that may be acquired by any woman of good sense and tolerable memory…The Virginia ladies, who are proverbially good managers, employ themselves, while their servants are eating, in washing the cups, glasses, &c.; arranging the cruets, the mustard, the salt-cellars, pickle vases, and all the apparatus for the dinner table. This occupies but a short time, and the lady has the satisfaction of knowing that they are in much better order than they would be if left to the servants.

Title page of the 1846 edition.

Title page of the 1846 edition.

 Regardless of who does the actual cooking, Mrs. Randolph continues to reinforce a woman’s responsibility for the household and kitchen. She should know what is going on at all times to make the best impression.

As for the recipes, Mrs. Randolph offers the total range: beef and other meats (including several uses for calf’s head), poultry, fish and other seafood, vegetables, breads, cakes, puddings, jams, creams, and (what cookbook with be complete without!) pickles. There is also a section with beers, wines, cordials, and vinegars. The book contains international recipes, particularly those with Spanish and East/West Indies influence, as well as recipes from other regions of the US. There are pastas, polentas, and New England style cakes alongside southern staples like croquettes and catfish. Among the puddings and preserves are instructions for coffee and fruit ice creams. (Mmm, coffee ice cream!)

So, whether it’s breakfast for the family or a multi-course dinner for guests, Mrs. Randolph can help. Her book is still reprinted today. Although it shares certain characteristics with other cookbooks of the period (particularly the lack of specific directions of cooking times and temps), none of her recipes are beyond the capabilities of the modern kitchen. As for taste, well, that’s another story. Whether you want to make mock turtle soup from a calf’s head is entirely up to you…

What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” has been an active blog at Virginia Tech Special Collections since 2011 and is largely the work of archivist, amateur culinary history, and wannabe cocktail archivist, Kira Dietz. Each week, it features an item or items from the History of Food & Drink Collection and throughout the year, we share promotions for local food events, favorite images, favorite quotes, unsettling recipes, and food news. And we poke fun—because with the kind of gelatin recipes we have, who wouldn’t?



Mary E. Fox photograph collection at GMU Special Collections and Archives

Originally posted on George Mason University’s Special Collections & Archives blog Vault217 on March 21, 2014 by Greta Kuriger Suiter.

In honor of Women’s History Month I thought it would be appropriate to share a collection of photographs taken by, and mostly of, women from the 1940s. The Mary Elsie Fox photograph collection documents Fox’s, and her friends’, personal lives in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. during the 1940s, at a time when she was working at the newly opened Pentagon. The collection consists of 423 photographs and one document from a discarded photo album that was found by George Mason University staff and was donated to the University Special Collections and Archives in 2006. The images in the collection date from 1935 to 1959. The entire collection has been scanned and is available as a digital collection.

Screenshot from the Mary Elsie Fox digital collection. George Mason University, Special Collections & Archives

Screenshot from the Mary Elsie Fox digital collection. George Mason University, Special Collections & Archives.

The Fox collection is an excellent example of vernacular photography. It was created for personal use and with no artistic aspirations. In many of the photographs Fox and her friends are featured socializing and posing in or near Washington D.C.. Some of the images were also taken in Norway and other geographic locations in the United States and Europe that Fox herself may not have visited since she is not as visible in these photographs. As a collection, some of the images could have been taken by Fox, though it is difficult to know for certain, but all of them were collected, stored, and used by her. Many of the images are identified by writing on their verso indicating dates, names, and places, but there are also many that are not identified in any way. Some of the handwriting differs indicating that Fox was not the only one writing descriptions and that she may have received photographs from friends as gifts. These photographs serve as evidence of average people who chose to photograph themselves for their own enjoyment, posterity, and memory. Today they exist removed from their original function and may provide useful information for researchers about how people lived and recorded their existence at a certain time and place in history.

Screenshot of the Mary E. Fox photograph collection on Tumblr.

Screenshot of the Mary E. Fox photograph collection on Tumblr.

Last fall, for the course HIST 696: Clio Wired: An Introduction to History and New Media at George Mason University, I created a digital project on Tumblr using photographs from the Fox collection. This site breaks down the photographs by dates into piles that can be shuffled through. Click on the image above to visit the site.