Category Archives: Collections

VMFA Launches Digital Fabergé Archive

The Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is happy to announce the launch of its first digital archive, which documents the formation of the museum’s world-renowned Fabergé and Russian decorative arts collection at In addition, the VMFA Archives has submitted the finding aid for the collection to the Virginia Heritage database, its first submission.



Bequeathed to the museum upon her death in 1947, Lillian Thomas Pratt’s Fabergé collection consistently remains one of the highlights of the museum’s permanent collection. In 1917, Pratt married her second husband, John Lee Pratt, a self-made millionaire engineer and businessman with General Motors. She began purchasing her collection of over 500 items, while accompanying her husband on business trips to New York City in the 1930s and 1940s. She eventually bought five of the 52 Russian Imperial Easter Eggs created by the Fabergé firm. Comprised of correspondence, invoices, price tags, and detailed item descriptions, the archive illuminates Pratt’s mind as a collector, as well as the close relationship she formed with New York based art dealers Alexander and Ray Schaffer, owners of the prominent art and antiques gallery A La Vieille Russie.

In all, over 700 items have been digitized, resulting in 1,500 downloadable image files, all of which are available to the public via a new online portal dedicated to digital resources about Fabergé and Russian decorative arts. The website provides access to the digitized Pratt archive, newly filmed videos of the Imperial Easter Eggs opening, new 360° views of the Imperial Easter Eggs,and downloadable resources for educators. The website also links to the new free Fabergé at VMFA mobile application that allows users to explore the collection through five different historical perspectives and design and share a Fabergé mini egg.


Powered by Piction, the museum’s digital asset management system, the launch of the portal coincides with the highly anticipated return of the Fabergé collection, which will be displayed in a new suite of renovated galleries opening to the public on October 22.

This project was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence.

High on Marye’s Hilltop

Today’s post is from Suzanne Chase, Digital Resources Librarian at the University of Mary Washington.

Earlier this year, librarians at the University of Mary Washington were delighted when the Alumni Affairs office contacted Special Collections and University Archives to see if we would be able to digitize an old record that had been mailed to them. They weren’t quite sure what was on the record, but it had the name of Irene Taylor and a date in 1947 written on one side of it.

Image of audio transcription disk.

Image of audio transcription disc.

After doing a little digging in the University Archives, we determined that Irene Taylor was a well-known alumna from the class of 1947.  A music major, Taylor, along with her friend Jean Crotty, entered an annual song competition between Mary Washington’s dormitories during their senior year.  Taylor and Crotty’s song, “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” was so well-liked that it sparked a movement by students who wanted to make the song the official alma mater of the college.  Ronald Faulkner, the school’s band director, drafted a sheet music copy of the song that was sent to all alumnae chapters.  The chapters overwhelmingly approved of the song, and “High on Marye’s Hilltop” became the school’s official alma mater in 1952.

Irene Taylor

Irene Taylor

Once we knew the background of this mysterious record, we had to figure out how to digitize it.  After further research, we determined that the record was not an LP, but a transcription disc.  This type of media was commonly used during the mid-20th century for recording music, before being replaced by magnetic tape, cassette tape, and eventually optical disc technology. Transcription discs must be digitized with elliptical cartridges, which are made by only a few remaining companies.  After the correct cartridge was procured, the real work could begin.

This disc was in relatively good shape, so after a thorough cleaning, it was ready to be digitized.  Following the initial digitization process, static and other artifacts were removed to make the listening experience more pleasant.  The resulting digital file is a wonderful time machine back to the spring of 1947, when Irene Taylor sat down at the piano and recorded the music to “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” the song that would become the soundtrack to student life at Mary Washington.  Please visit Archives@UMW to take a listen!

All images are from Special Collections and University Archives, Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

A Birthday Celebration

Today’s post is from Beth Harris, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Hollins University.

October 9th marks the birthday for an important Hollins University persona: Martha Louisa Cocke, known by all as “Miss Matty,” (1855-1938).   Miss Matty is also recognized as the first woman college president in the state of Virginia.   As the daughter of Hollins founder Charles Lewis Cocke, she was intimately acquainted with every aspect of Hollins: she was born on campus, received her education at Hollins, and served in many roles throughout her lifetime. She passed out candles to students as a child, and served as faculty (mathematics and English), librarian, and registrar as an adult.  She also became her father’s secretary in his advanced years, corresponding with parents, alumnae, and others.  Although her brother Charles H. Cocke was being groomed to succeed his father, his untimely demise in 1900 caused Charles Lewis Cocke to leave the decision of the next successor to his children.  After her father’s death in 1901, the family selected Matty as the new president, recognizing she was perfect candidate for the job.

Matty with her mother, ca. 1895

Matty as president, undated.

Matty as president, undated.









From Songs Every Hollins Girl Should Know, undated.

From Songs Every Hollins Girl Should Know, undated.

As a proper southern woman, she was reluctant to take on such a leadership role, yet for the sake of her father’s dream of making a Hollins education equal to that afforded to young men, she agreed to the position.  Serving from 1901-1933 as president, Matty oversaw numerous changes and allowed students freedom to shape Hollins Institute as well as their own college experiences. Student initiatives included establishing a student government, a newspaper, and fund raising for buildings (The Little Theatre and Tayloe Gymnasium) and the endowment, necessary for accreditation.  She maintained a serious, scholarly atmosphere, upholding the high academic ideals her father endeavored to create at Hollins.  She was an imposing figure on campus, always wearing full-length black dresses, even when the current styles were shorter, according to Fonnie Strang, Class of 1928.  She also was guardian of lady-like behavior, and would often point out in chapel services breaches of etiquette she had witnessed among the girls.  Strang remembered Miss Matty saying “I have noticed girls holding hands. Hollins girls don’t do that.  I have also noticed girls talking to boys from their [dormitory] windows.  Hollins girls don’t do that.


Student song sheet.

Miss Matty is remembered as being conservative and strict, but also serene and motherly, with a passion to carry on her father’s dream.  Despite her strictness, she was beloved by the students and fondly remembered by hundreds of alumnae.  Beginning in 1930, she was sung to on her birthday each year (a tradition which continues today).  Hymns, songs, and poems were written in tribute to her, and the preparatory students literary society was named after her (The Matty L. Cocke Literary Society).  Numerous letters congratulating her on her 25th anniversary as president, as well as those of condolence upon the death of her mother, exist in the university archives, testifying to the alumnae affection for her.

Letter congratulating Miss Matty on her 25th anniversary as president.

Upon her retirement, she lived in a house on campus, built especially for her.  Upon Miss Matty’s death in 1938, the entire Hollins community mourned her passing.  Local and state newspapers were filled with articles about her, giving testimony to her many contributions to Hollins.  Miss Matty’s obituary even appeared in The New York Times.  Susanna Pleasants Turner, Class of 1935 and great niece of Miss Matty, gave a fitting tribute in the Hollins Alumnae Quarterly (Fall 1938): “So closely was she identified with the school that as the years went by she was to become for Hollins girls all over the country, the living symbol of their Alma Mater and the personal actuality of their ideas for educated womanhood.”

Happy Birthday, Miss Matty!

To learn more about Miss Matty, Hollins history, and Special Collections at the Wyndham Robertson Library, please visit “Special Collections” in the Hollins Digital Commons.

Additional images: All images are from the Martha L. Cocke Papers, University Archives, Wyndham Robertson Library, Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia

Letter of condolence from Mrs. John C. Burnett.

Letter of condolence from Mrs. John C. Burnett.


A Benediction for Hollins

Today’s post is from Beth Harris, Special Collections Librarian & Archivist at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.


Charles Lewis Cocke at age 28.

As the graduation season draws near, institutions of higher learning often reflect on their beginnings and founding ideals in their commencement ceremonies. As Hollins University approaches its 173rd commencement this month, I am reminded of Charles Lewis Cocke’s role in the history of higher education in Virginia, particularly women’s education. Cocke was born in King and Queen County, Virginia in 1820 and attended the Virginia Baptist Seminary (now University of Richmond) and Columbian College (now George Washington University). Upon graduation, he returned to the Virginia Baptist Seminary to teach mathematics. While still a young professor, he was approached by the Valley Union Seminary’s board members for the job of running the four year old school. Located in Botetourt Springs, Virginia, it was floundering financially and without leadership.

Page from teaching notebook.

Page from teaching notebook.

While the actual founder was Joshua Bradley, a Baptist minister from New York, Charles Lewis Cocke is considered to be the true founder of Hollins because without his life-long leadership and managerial skills, the school would not have survived. Valley Union Seminary was eventually re-named Hollins Institute due to the generosity of Ann and John Hollins of Lynchburg, Virginia. John Hollins was a successful miller and also board member. Their initial gift of $5,000 brought financial stabilization to the school and in gratitude, the board voted to rename the school Hollins Institute.


Although much is known about Charles Lewis Cocke establishing Hollins, many are not acquainted with his role in Virginia education for both boys and girls as well as his interest in evangelism and establishing Baptist churches in the state of Virginia. While he was adamant about Hollins remaining non-sectarian, it is clear from his papers, housed in the University Archives, that his zeal for both education and evangelism drove many of his activities beyond the administration of Hollins. Benediction_collectionCommencement addresses to the students make clear his educational ideals for Hollins students but his other writings demonstrate his wider interests for improvements of the educational system throughout Virginia. The collection contains many writings on the subject of education, including addresses to the Virginia Education Association as well as articles and essays on various topics: “Our boys and girls! Where will they stand in coming generations?”, “The true ideal of a female school,” and “What are the best methods for educating the very ignorant?” Few know that Cocke also helped to established two other schools in Virginia: Alleghany College in 1858 at Blue Sulpher Springs and Alleghany Institute in Roanoke. The institute, established in 1886, was the first chartered high school in the western part of the state. While both schools were short lived, it is clear Cocke was concerned for educational opportunities for Virginians.

The Charles Lewis Cocke papers in the University Archives also describe many writings on religious topics, in general and specifically Baptist issues. In an 1897 letter to his children he comments about his early career: “In 1846 I came to this place to save the Institution now known as Hollins Institute from sale and to do also a kind of lay evangelistic work. While most of these documents do not indicate their purpose, whether for speech or publication, they reveal his broad interests, from the theological (“The Priesthood of Christ”), to daily life (“Can Christians read novels and light literature of the day without injury to themselves and the cause of Christ?), and to evangelism (“The wider circulation of our Baptist newspapers & the better support of our missionary work”). Cocke also wrote about African American issues, including “Our duties to the Colored Baptists” and “Mission work among the colored race in the days of slavery.” In addition, records of the Valley Baptist Association show that people of color either joined existing white churches or formed their own churches.

Benediction_Cocke2Among his personal papers are his will and a letter to his children and grandchildren, written on his 77th birthday. Anticipating his death, which would not come until 1901, he wrote of his wishes for his children to continue his life’s work at Hollins and for success and contentment in their lives. He closes the letter with what seems fitting a benediction to his life and for Hollins: “I enjoin you all, my children, to live and labor together in peace and harmony and to carry out the great design for which I have toiled assisted by yourselves through a long life. Aim to do a good and honorable part in all the labors and responsibilities of this life and acquit yourselves as those that must give an account at a solemn tribunal and at the bar of a common consensus of opinion of good men in this world and of the great God in the world to come.”

The Charles Lewis Cocke papers are located in Special Collections, Wyndham Robertson Library, Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia. The images of Cocke used in this post are located in the Photograph collection also located in Special Collections.

Receipt from the business series.

Receipt from the business series.

Letter to his brother, John Cocke, 8 Nov 1856.

Letter to his brother, John Cocke, 8 Nov 1856.

Enon Colored Baptist Church report

Enon Colored Baptist Church report










Our Boys and Girls! Where shall they stand in future years.  Essay on education, undated.

Our Boys and Girls! Where shall they stand in future years. Essay on education, undated.








Scenes from a Scrapbook: Victorian Christmas and New Year’s Greeting Cards from Scrapbooks in the Hollins University Archives

Today’s post is from Beth Harris, Special Collections Librarian & Archivist at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Leila Virginia Cocke Turner (Hollins University Archives)

Leila Virginia Cocke Turner

Leila Virginia Cocke Turner (1844-1899) and her daughter, Leila Mason Turner Rath (1872-1937), shared similar lives:  both spent most of their lives on campus and attended Hollins Institute (Roanoke, Virginia).  Leila Virginia was the second child of Hollins founder, Charles Lewis Cocke, and Susanna Virginia Pleasants Cocke.  In 1871, she married Joseph A. Turner, Sr., Professor of Ancient and Modern Languages at Hollins and together they had two children:  Leila Masters Turner and Joseph A. Turner, Jr.


Leila Mason Turner Rath

Leila Mason Turner Rath

While there are a number of records that document their lives in the University Archives, the most interesting items left behind were two scrapbooks filled with beautiful greeting cards.  Shown here are just a few of the Christmas and New Year’s cards that they received from various relatives and friends.  Leila Virginia’s scrapbook was begun ca. 1882, while her daughter was given a scrapbook when she was thirteen years old, in 1885.

Some of the cards depict images of holly, ivy, and snow, traditional illustrations for modern day cards.  However, many others include nautical and floral designs that are not associated with Christmas or New Year’s cards today.  Please visit the Hollins Digital Commons  for more information and to see more cards.

Scrapbook1      Scrapbook

scrapbook5   scrapbook3


An elephant in the archives

Today’s post is from VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives.

Holding out the hope of a ride on the back of P.T. Barnum’s recently purchased Jumbo, this 19th century trade card, printed by J. H. Bufford’s Sons, advertises “Prospective fun for the children” along with the Richmond Stove Company.

M439 B3r Richmond Stove Co Elephant crop resz

Jumbo was an African bush elephant captured as an infant in French Sudan. Sold first to a German menagerie, he was imported to France, then transferred to England. He became famous for giving rides to children at the London Zoo until he was sold to the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1881. When the prospective sale became public knowledge 100,000 school children wrote to Queen Victoria begging her not to sell the elephant. Jumbo did come to America where he was a great sensation and where, unfortunately, he died in a railway accident in 1885. His skeleton was given to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and his stuffed hide was donated to Tufts University where it resided in P.T. Barnum Hall for many years. Today, Jumbo is the official mascot of Tufts.

This card is one of many fascinating items in the Charles E. Brownell Collection of Architectural and Decorative Arts Ephemera (M 439 Special Collections and Archives) which you can see in person on the 4th floor of VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library.

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

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.