Can you really imagine A Day Without A Woman? Historically speaking, women have always been essential to our nation’s security and economic well-being. After the United States entered World War II in 1941, the Coast Guard formed a Women’s Reserve, better known as SPAR. Created to relieve men of office work so that they could go overseas to fight, most of the jobs were clerical in nature.
Mildred Hiller Snyder, a Kutztown graduate and teacher at Reading Schools, served our country in SPAR as a Specialist, Petty Officer of the First Class. From 1944 to 1946, she worked in collaboration with the FBI in processing fingerprints at her office in Philadelphia. These artifacts, articles of Snyder’s time in the military, are now on display in Berks History Center’s Museum for Women’s History Month.
Snyder’s contributions are just one local example of how our national history has been shaped by women. Yesterday’s International Women’s Day Strike is another. Today women continue to make their mark, as they always have, in the books of American history. How do your daily activities contribute to history-in-the-making?
Women’s History Exhibit Items Curated & Researched by Erin Benz
The Berks History Center recently discovered several invitations from 1787, each requesting that a Miss Esther Keim accompany the sender to dances held at venues in the Reading area. While the identity of the admirer remains a mystery, his affection for Esther is clear. Interestingly, each of the invitations is written on the reverse side of a playing card.
While the recipient may have been Esther Keim Schlegel (1771-1843) of Fleetwood, circumstantial evidence suggests that the recipient was likely Esther de Benneville Keim (1774-1830) of Reading. Unfortunately for her mystery admirer, Esther never married.
The author of these invitations was not the only person who thought highly of Esther Keim. Writing in 1874, her relative Henry May Keim said that “the old people of Reading to this day speak of her many deeds of good will and charity. Her heart and means went for the encouragement of every act”.
In 2015, staff of the Berks History Center discovered an extremely early and original map of Pennsylvania, published in 1759 by Nicholas Scull, II (1687-1761). Scull was the Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until 1761, and his 1759 map of Pennsylvania is considered by some historians to be the first map of the entire colony. Of interest is the Northwest border of Berks County: since none had been established, none is shown. IN 1770, Nicholas’ grandson, William Scull, published an updated version of his grandfather’s map. During inventory work completed in 2016, staff found an original copy of this map as well.
The Himmelsbrief or ‘heaven’s letter’ was a charm which a person carried or hung in their home for protection against evil. The most common iteration was the Magdeburg Letter which purportedly fell from the sky in 1783 after having been written by God Himself. Scholars have discovered that the text of the Magdeburg Himmelsbrief existed in central Europe at least as early as the fifteenth century, and would have already been known for centuries when German-speaking immigrants brought the concept with them to Pennsylvania. This particular Himmelsbrief belonged to John Huyett, a Pennsylvania-German who lived in Cumru Township from 1798 to 1887. It was printed by a J. Rohr of Philadelphia, probably about 1850.
This certificate was written and signed in 1726 by officials of Minfeld, a community in the Palatinate region of what is today southwest Germany. It requests that the bearers, Jean and Susan (DeHarcourt) Bertolet, “be extended… every desired aid and assistance,” as they “remove themselves to the new country of Pennsylvania.”
Born to Huguenot families who had fled religious persecution in France, the Bertolets had been living in Minfeld for fourteen years before immigrating to Pennsylvania and settling in the Oley Valley. They retained the certificate as a cherished reminder of their family’s heritage.
Discover more stories about the origins and lives of Berks County’s founding immigrants at this month’s Second Saturday program on January 14, 2017.
Who would have thought there was so much Lincoln history at the Berks History Center? With our December Second Saturday program coming up, we were curious! – What can our collection tell us about this national tragedy and controversy? Here is what we found in the Henry Janssen Library’s Capt. James McKnight Collection.
Captain James McKnight received this General Order in November 1865 asking persons involved with the capture of John Wilkes Booth and other Lincoln conspirators to submit their reward claims by the end of December. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton offered an unprecedented $100,000 ($50,000 for Booth and $25,000 each for John Surratt and David Herold) to those who assisted. In the end, that sum was paid out to numerous investigators and the 16th New York Calvary Regiment.
(From AC 150, Capt. James McKnight Collection, BHC’s Henry Janssen Library; and Folio Broadside, no. 39 [Rare Book RR] Copy 1, from the Library of Congress)
The most frequent question I get is: How can I preserve and save my family documents. I will often ask questions to try and figure out the current condition to make recommendations. My basic recommendations are: 1. Unfold the documents and store flat. Documents tear along fold lines. Unfolding these documents, will take the stress off of the fold. 2. Do not store archival material in direct sunlight. The UV light will cause the documents and photographs to fade. 3. Do not store artwork, documents or photographs on outside walls. Outside walls have the most contact with outdoor temperature fluctuations and will expand and contract depending on the weather conditions, causing your material to expand and contract. 4. Do not store your documents in attics or basements, because of the lack of control over temperature and humidity and risk of flooding. Too much humidity can cause mold growth and too little humidity can make archival material brittle. Both accelerate the deterioration of archival material. 5. If your documents are rolled and maintain their tube-like shape, do not unroll them. Unrolling them will cause them to break at stress points along the roll. The documents will need to be humidified and once relaxed, can then be viewed.
When I started working here, I made the recommendation that documents could be humidified in a steamy bathroom. After a couple of long hot showers, the documents would begin to relax and then could be better handled. I made that recommendation, because I had tested it in my bathroom when I was living in New York. It worked great; until this past winter. The Henry Janssen Library is climate controlled, up to a certain point. During the winter the boiler is turned on and, in theory, I should be able to build up humidity in our humidifier. We use the double garbage can method, with distilled water. However, this past winter, nothing I did could get enough humidity into the chamber to humidify some tightly rolled documents. As a last resort, I took them home to use my trusty bathroom method. The bathroom humidification chamber didn’t work and I ended up bring the HJL’s humidification system home and finished the project.
I learned that the effectiveness of building up enough humidity in a bathroom, in order to hydrate documents is determined by the size of the bathroom. My bathroom in Gibraltar is twice the size of my old one in New York and has a window. Since the room is larger, it takes more steam to fill and less time for that steam to dissipate than in a smaller more compact space. The documents were not getting enough time to soak in the moisture. I forgot history preservation is also about physics.
In an ideal setting, including the Henry Janssen Library, all archival material would be stored in an area lower than 68 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity between 30-50% with very little fluctuation. Unfortunately, the recommended storage conditions are not the ideal living (or researching) conditions. Fortunately for the “Do-It-Yourselfers” following the recommendations above will set you on the track toward preservation.
The Northeast Document Conservation Center states that temperature and humidity control is vital to the preservation of archival material because unacceptable levels cause the deterioration of the material.… Heat accelerates deterioration: the rate of most chemical reactions, including deterioration, is approximately doubled with each increase in temperature of 18°F (10°C). High relative humidity provides the moisture necessary to promote harmful chemical reactions in materials and, in combination with high temperature, encourages mold growth and insect activity. Extremely low relative humidity, which can occur in winter in centrally heated buildings, may lead to desiccation and embrittlement of some materials. …Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are also damaging [because] …they respond to diurnal and seasonal changes…by expanding and contracting. Dimensional changes accelerate deterioration and lead to such visible damage as cockling paper, flaking ink, warped covers on books, and cracked emulsion on photographs. – www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/2.-the-environment/2.1-temperature,-relative-humidity,-light,-and-air-quality-basic-guidelines-for-preservation