Category Archives: Collections

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.

Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection at Virginia Tech Special Collections

Architecture has often been, and in many ways still is, a male dominated profession.  Early female pioneers in architecture were deemed “that exceptional one” based on a quote from Pietro Belluschi, FAIA stating, “If [a woman] insisted on becoming an architect, I would try to dissuade her.  If then, she was still determined, I would give her my blessing – she could be that exceptional one.” Virginia’s exceptional one was Mary Brown Channel.

Born December 8, 1907 to William Ambrose Brown and Mary Ramsay Brown of Portsmouth, VA, Channel attended Randolph-Macon’s Woman’s College earning a bachelor of Mathematics in 1929. She wanted to follow her brother to the University of Virginia to study architecture, but women were not accepted into the University’s graduate programs at the time. She instead applied and was accepted to Cornell University’s School of Architecture.

Graduating second in her class in 1933, she was the first woman to win the Baird Prize Competition Medal. The Baird Prize was a six day design competition held by Cornell for architecture students in their junior and senior years. Channel was awarded the second prize medal for her design of a “monumental aeration fountain for the city reservoir.”

Channel returned to Portsmouth, VA after graduation and began her career with the Norfolk architecture firm Rudolph, Cooke and Van Leeuwen. She drew no salary for her two years but gained valuable experience working with the team that designed the main post office in Norfolk as well as several other civic and organizational buildings. In 1935, Channel was one of three candidates in a class of five to pass Virginia Examining Board’s licensing exam becoming Virginia’s first licensed female architect.

Following her licensure, she opened her own practice. In October, 1941 she married local businessman Warren Henry Channel. After the birth of her first child she limited her practice to residences and churches. Channel retained her license until 1990 and was actively drawing plans into her eighties.

She designed structures throughout southeastern Virginia. Some of her projects include the Lafayette Square Arch housing the main entrance of the demolished American National Bank, the old Virginia Power Company Building on High Street, Channel Furniture Store in Greenbrier, numerous houses, church additions, and renovations.

She was recognized in October, 1987, at an occasion honoring Portsmouth’s local and statewide notables. Channel died in 2006.

You can view the full collection guide for the Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection on Virginia Heritage.

From the Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection.

From the Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection.

Rare Book Conservation at George Mason University, Special Collections and Archives

Originally posted on George Mason University’s Special Collections & Archives blog Vault217 on January 6, 2014 by Yvonne Carignan.

Conservation for rare books in Special Collections & Archives occurs routinely to make damaged books usable again. In the case of the 1820 Richmond imprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 1829-1830, our copy had a mutilated spine and the entire cover was separated from the text block as you see in the “before” photographs below. Conservation, using reversible materials and professional techniques, has resulted in a new spine created from compatibly colored and very strong Japanese paper. Meanwhile, the torn joints have been repaired, also using Japanese paper colored to match the beautiful original marbled end sheets.


Image of “Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 1829-1830” before conservation.


Image of “Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 1829-1830” after conservation.

Another, more modern book, the 1925 publication, The Building of Satellite Towns, had torn hinges. The conservator was able to save part of the original spine this time by adhering it to the spine replacement. The torn joints were repaired by replacing the old end sheets with compatibly colored, but new, acid-free end sheets. Note that the conservator saved the book seller’s stamp in the lower right hand corner of the pastedown. Working with conservators to repair books in Special Collections & Archives is part of our role as good stewards of these valuable research collections.

Image on the left shows spine damage on "The Building of Satellite Towns." The image on the right shows the inside cover after conservation.

Image on the left shows spine damage on “The Building of Satellite Towns.” The image on the right shows the inside cover after conservation.


“The Building of Satellite Towns” spine after conservation.

The Home Interest Club Records at Thomas Balch Library

Women’s clubs surged in popularity in the early years of the twentieth century. Groups of women gathered to discuss current affairs, domestic subjects, home gardening techniques, and new developments in preserving and preparing food. Women’s clubs developed in many communities as outgrowths of cooperative extension services, which were funded through land-grant universities by the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914. In other areas not served by land-grant universities, groups formed through church, family, and neighborhood associations.

Image from the Jane Hirst Bogle Photograph Collection (VC 0005), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

Image from the Jane Hirst Bogle Photograph Collection (VC 0005), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

In Loudoun County, Virginia, the Home Interest Club was founded in the fall of 1903 by a group of women near Lincoln and operated until March 2013. Most of the founding women were members of the Society of Friends, though involvement with the Friends was not a prerequisite for membership in the club. The constitution and bylaws of the club state that it was to “Benefit the home by making housekeeping easier in the exchanging of recipes and the discussion of all topics tending to elevate and improve the home.” One of the original requirements of membership was that every woman share a proven recipe at each meeting. Some of the recipes were eventually published in a cookbook written to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the founding of the club.

The club held monthly meetings that consisted of a roll call, discussion of club business, a program, and refreshments. The program usually consisted of one or more presentations by members. Presentations often included readings from published material or original writings, but were usually informational in nature. Topics included temperance, suffrage for women, civil rights for African Americans, foreign affairs, local history, and current events. During the meeting held just prior to the presidential election of 1920, the first national election in which women could vote, the women discussed what would happen at the polls and went through the steps of voting. During World War II there was a program on using sugar substitutes and members were asked to contribute sugar-shortage recipes. The membership also shared ideas about education, child rearing, and household maintenance.

More information about the Home Interest Club of Loudoun County can be found at Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Virginia.

You can view the full collection guide for the Home Interest Club Records, 1903-2013 (M 077) on Virginia Heritage.

George Washington’s Last Will and Testament available in George Mason University’s Special Collections and Archives

Originally posted on George Mason University’s Special Collections & Archives blog Vault217 on February 17, 2014 by Jordan Patty.

Although we are supposed to be celebrating George Washington’s birthday, a recent donation to Special Collections & Archives recalls Washington’s life just prior to his death. Included in the recent donation made by Randolph and Ellen Lytton is a published copy of George Washington’s last will and testament that he completed in July 1799 only six months prior to his death. Perhaps the most interesting section of the will states that following the death of his wife, Martha, “that all Slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom” (page 3). Washington, like other Founding Fathers, faced an obvious contradiction as he fought for freedom from tyranny while at the same time he owned people that worked in his houses and in his fields. His will appears to be an attempt to reconcile this contradiction. The will also includes a detailed description of his property and how he wanted it to be divided up among his heirs. According to the Papers of George Washington website, “[t]he language of Washington’s will and its contents combine to make it a document of particular importance among his papers.” The will was first printed in Alexandria shortly after being filed for probate in Fairfax County, Virginia in January of 1800. According to the title page of the copy held by SC&A, it was printed in New York “from the Alexandria edition.”


Title page from a published copy of George Washington’s will and testament (January 1800), Randolph Lytton Historical Virginia Graphic Material Collection, George Mason University Libraries, Special Collections & Archives. Public Domain.

There are some noticeable differences between it and the title page from the copy that was printed in Boston in February of 1800 that is available through Google books and held at the New York Public Library.

For further inquiry into this document, the Papers of George Washington includes a transcription of the will as well as the original handwritten will.

Book talk at VCU – Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism

When: March 18, 7:00-10:00 pm
Where: W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Avenue, Richmond, VA 23284

VCU Libraries celebrates the release of the autobiography of noted civil-rights activist Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr., with an evening panel discussion featuring Dr. Peeples in a conversation on his life’s mission with his book contributors, Dr. Nancy MacLean and Dr. James H. Hershman, Jr., moderated by Dr. John Kneebone. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. A book signing and reception will follow.

This event is free and open to the public, but please register. Parking is available for a fee in the West Broad StreetWest Main Street and West Cary Street parking decks. If special accommodations are needed, or to register offline, please call (804) 828-0593 prior to March 14, 2014.

Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library is home to the Edward H. Peeples, Jr. papers. For additional information about Peeples and his paper please see the finding aid found on Virginia Heritage.

About the book

Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism is the autobiography of Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr. It tells the story of a white working-class youth who became an unlikely civil-rights activist. Born in 1935 in Richmond, where he was taken to segregated churches and sent to segregated schools, Peeples was taught the ethos and lore of white supremacy by the white adults around him. But by age nineteen, he had become what the these people called a “traitor to the race.”

At Richmond Professional Institute (the forerunner to VCU on the Monroe Park Campus), Peeples was encouraged by a lone teacher to think critically. Peeples found his way to the black freedom struggle and began a long career of activism. He challenged racism in his U.S. Navy unit and engaged in sit-ins and community organizing. Later, as a VCU professor, he agitated for good jobs, health care and decent housing for all; pushed for the creation of courses in African American studies at VCU in the early 1970s; and worked toward equal treatment for women, prison reform and more.

Covering fifty years’ participation in the civil-rights movement, Peeples’s gripping story brings to life an unsung activist culture to which countless forgotten individuals contributed, over time expanding their commitment from civil rights to other causes.

Scalawag Book Launch - Book Jacket

University of Mary Washington Celebrates James Farmer’s Civil Rights Legacy

James L. Farmer Records, 1980-1999, Special Collections, University of Mary Washington Image courtesy of CORE/Edward Hollander

James L. Farmer Records, 1980-1999, Special Collections, University of Mary Washington Image courtesy of CORE/Edward Hollander.
Photo depicts the second march to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 in support of voting rights. The marchers were able to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge but were turned back by U.S. Marshals. From left to right: Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, and James Forman (SNCC). In the foreground: Andrew Young.

In celebration of Black History Month and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the University of Mary Washington honors distinguished professor Dr. James Farmer’s outstanding life and achievements.

Farmer was the founder of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the organizer of the 1961 Freedom Rides. Combined with other non-violent acts, the Freedom Rides paved the way for the Kennedy and later Johnson administrations to align themselves more decisively in support of Civil Rights and the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

Materials documenting Farmer’s early civil rights contributions are housed at the University of Texas at Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History (see A Guide to the James Leonard, Jr., and Lula Peterson Farmer Papers.) Records from Farmer’s later years, along with a rich trove of audio-visual materials spanning his career are housed in UMW’s University Archives. Additional resources on Farmer’s civil rights legacy are available in the James Farmer and the Freedom Rides research guide and in the finding aid of his close friend and colleague, William B. Hanson, located in the Virginia Heritage database.

Old Dominion University Libraries: Holiday Images from the YWCA of South Hampton Roads 1990s

This holiday display was located in the lobby of an office of the YWCA of South Hampton Roads in the 1990s. The display’s holiday messages and the YWCA’s mission are timeless.


Images from the Papers of the YWCA of Hampton Roads 1910s-1990s

Images from the Papers of the YWCA of Hampton Roads 1910s-1990s

For more information about the Papers of the YWCA of Hampton Roads 1910s-1990s please view the finding aid located in the Virginia Heritage database. To learn more about the special collections at Old Dominion University Libraries please visit our website.


A Wartime Thanksgiving

Do you ever wonder what Thanksgiving is like for those in the midst of war far away from their loved ones? Sometimes we can catch a glimpse of these holidays spent away from home via the collections in our archives. For instance, tucked among the papers of Dr. James Thomson is a 1944 Thanksgiving dinner menu for the 45th General Hospital located in Naples, Italy. Thomson was a surgeon at this hospital and thanks to his saving this menu we know that they were treated to a proper Thanksgiving meal. The staff feasted on traditional fare such as roast turkey, chestnut dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. This meal provided the medical staff with a little slice of home in the midst of treating the wounded soldiers. They certainly earned a good meal as the daily patient average for the hospital in November 1944 was 2,253.1  Below are images of the menu, photographs of the mess halls for the hospital, and a photograph of Dr. Thomson.

These and many more fascinating items are found in the collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library, Special Collections and Archives at Virginia Commonwealth University. For more information about the James L. and Dorothy Knowles Thomson papers please view the finding aid located in the Virginia Heritage database. To learn more about the collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library please visit our website.


Thanksgiving menu, 45th General Hospital 1944

Thanksgiving menu, 45th General Hospital 1944

Officers and nurses mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Officers and nurses mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945


Detachment mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Detachment mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Dr. James L. Thompson, Bagnoli, Italy, April 1944

Dr. James L. Thomson, Bagnoli, Italy, April 1944.

Brashear, Alton D. From Lee to Bari: The History of the Forty-Fifth General Hospital, 1940-1945. Whittet & Shepperson (Richmond, Va.) 1957.