Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soroptimist International of Schenectady

Unidentified member of Soroptimist International of Schenectady, ca. 1960.
Photograph from the Soroptimist International of Schenectady Records.

Soroptimist International of Schenectady is a non-profit organization affiliated with the world’s largest women’s classified service organization, Soroptimist International. Founded in 1921, Soroptimist International is a volunteer service organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. The word “Soroptimist” was coined by combining the Latin words soror (sister) and optimus (best), which the organization uses as the basis for its slogan, “best for women.” 

Schenectady Soroptimists at the First Combined Installation Dinner for Soroptimist Clubs for Albany, Fulton, and Schenectady counties, June 19, 1954. Left to right: Beatrice Hocking, President; Dorothea Godfrey, Treasurer; Alice Neil, Recording Secretary; Marian Francis, Corresponding Secretary; Sara Laurence, Vice President.
Photograph from Soroptimist International of Schenectady Records.
Soroptimist International of Schenectady began meeting in 1953 and was officially chartered on January 14, 1954. The organization began with 23 charter members: Erna Meess Cinque, Genevieve Y. Clark, Marie Christine DeLorenzo, Marian D. Francis, Dorothea F. Godfrey, Marion G. Halpin, Beatrice E. Hocking, Sara K. Laurence, Bernadette McKernan, Isabelle S. Miller, Alice V. Neil, Ann E. O'Brien, Mary S. Pratt, Elizabeth W. Schurig, Frances R. Silverman, Margaret A. Smith, Dorothy G. Spira, Mary F. Tessier, Daphne J. Volkers, Jane Whamer, Glee Leete White, E. Lenore White, and Margaret Wyatt.

For over half a century, Soroptimist International of Schenectady has supported women and children’s projects in the community and donated funds to local organizations as well as organizations around the world. In addition to service-oriented projects, the organization also sponsors programs where speakers conduct presentations about a variety of topics to the organization’s members.

April 1960 issue of Soroptigram newsletter. The newsletters in the collection include information about events and meetings, new members, local and international service projects, fundraising, and committee information.
The records of Soroptimist International of Schenectady include meeting minutes for board meetings and general/business meetings, copies of the organization’s Soroptigram newsletter, membership rosters and board member lists, event programs, files related to the Friendship Link connections between the organization and Soroptimist clubs in the Netherlands, Japan, and France, scrapbooks, awards, newspaper clippings, and photographs. A complete finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rare Books in the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection

What qualifies a book as being "rare"? Although there are no strict rules, we define books are "rare" based on whether a book meets one or more of the following criteria: a printing date before 1850 in the Americas or before 1775 in Europe and other continents; importance (i.e. whether the book is a seminal work); limited edition; unique/significant autograph, marginalia, or annotations; known to be very scarce or of exceptionally high monetary value; unique characteristics as a physical object.

The rare book collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library includes approximately 90 volumes. A few highlights from the collection are included below. Please visit the Library to learn more about our rare book collection.

Title page of Miscellaneous Works by Eliphalet Nott, 1810. This book is important not only because it is written by an important figure in Schenectady's history; it is also significant as an example of an early book printed in the city of Schenectady. The book was published by William J. McCartee, bookseller, and printed by Ryer Schermerhorn.

Front cover of Love Poems by Famous Authors, printed ca. 1911. This book is an excellent example of a book as an interesting physical object -- the cover is made of metal, which has been etched and embossed with designs on both the front and back cover.  

Signature of Mark Twain on inside front cover of his book The Stolen White Elephant, printed in London in 1906. It was the property of Mrs. Helena Rowe Fuller Crooks (1881-1962) of Scotia. Crooks had bequeathed the book to historian Larry Hart, who in turn gave the book to his son, Alan, who donated the book to the Society.  Larry Hart, in a 1959 newspaper column about Crooks, wrote: “It was while vacationing in Bermuda in 1908 that Helena met and became good friends with that whimsical author, Mark Twain. She still has the book The Stolen White Elephant, that he gave her. On the flyleaf is penned the inscription: The main difference between a cat and a lie is that the cat has only nine lives. Truly yours, Mark Twain…Bermuda, March 1908."
Colorful endpapers swirled with designs are a common feature of 19th-century books, such as these endpapers from Dr. Daniel Toll's A Narrative Embracing the History of Two or Three of the First Settlers and Their Families of Schenectady, printed in 1847 in Schenectady.
Title page of Symon Schermerhorn's Ride, privately printed from type by J.B. Lyon Company of Albany, 1910. The printing is a limited edition of 225 copies. This copy was owned by Rev. W.N.P. Dailey, a missionary, pastor, and an active member of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Memories of World War II: Veterans Share Their Stories

Our program on December 7 was a great success! We had a full house and a number of local veterans were in attendance. Thanks to all of our staff, volunteers, and supporters who made this event possible, and special thanks to the veterans who shared their recollections of their experiences on our panel. Audio and video recordings of the event will soon be available to the public in our library.

Below are some photographs of the program:

WWII veterans on our panel of speakers. Left to right: Ralph Boyd, John Edwards, Hans Keller, and Paul Dobbins.

Before the program begins, veteran Ralph Boyd (left foreground) shares some photographs with
Bill Frank, Director of the Schenectady County Veterans Service Agency.

John Edwards of Niskayuna talks about his experience as a prisoner of war captured by the Nazis.
Ralph Boyd of Niskayuna shares about how his wartime experiences and the destruction he witnessed shaped his commitment to social justice and community service after the war.

Hans Keller of Charlton discusses his work as a radar technician on the USS San Diego, a light antiaircraft cruiser which was the first victorious American warship to enter Tokyo Bay.

Paul Dobbins of Ballston Lake shares his memories as an infantryman fighting in Europe.

Audience members, including many local WWII veterans, applaud the speakers on the panel.

A display of artifacts that made up part of a single soldier's layout during World War II. A local WWII history enthusiast, Nicholas Mancuso, shared these artifacts from his personal collection.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Civil War Diaries of George Rolfe, 134th New York

Flag of the 134th New York Volunteers, the regiment in which George Rolfe served.
Photograph from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

On June 1, 1864, Private George Rolfe of the 134th New York Infantry was sent along with other injured men to Chattanooga, while others in the 134th moved onward through Georgia. "Huddled thick together all day on box and platform cars, draw no rations and arrive in Chattanooga 11:00 p.m.," Rolfe writes in his diary. "Left on cars all night nothing to eat, no one to care for wounded. Two trains loaded in same condition. Some died on the cars." Rolfe had been wounded during a battle near Dallas, Georgia. He was shot in the thigh, "hit by spent ball on right thigh bruised and stiff but not cut."

George Rolfe was born in Kent, England, to Alfred and Ann Rolfe. The family moved to the United States in the 1840s, and George eventually settled in Schenectady, where he married Mary Penny in 1855 and became a naturalized citizen in 1859. In the 1860-1861 Schenectady city directory, he is listed as living at 24 Lafayette Street and working as a machinist. On August 7, 1862, he joined the New York Volunteers, becoming a part of Company B of the 134th Regiment. Rolfe was wounded at Gettysburg; after healing, he was sent back into action. His diaries begin on January 1, 1864, as he returns to service, and continues through June 1865, when Rolfe is mustered out of service and returns home. After the war, by 1870, Rolfe and his family had moved to Minden, Montgomery County. He would live in Montgomery County for the remainder of his life. Rolfe died in 1882 in Fort Plain. He is buried in Vale Cemetery in a plot with his wife's family.

Rolfe's diaries were transcribed by Jerry Whitehouse and given to the New York State Library in 1985. The Grems-Doolittle Library holds a copy of the transcribed diary, which also includes supplemental photocopied material, including Rolfe's military pension paperwork, a document related to his naturalization, and information about the 134th New York. The diaries trace Rolfe's experiences, chronicling the company's travels, battles, camp life, and Rolfe's monetary accounts. From June 1, 1864 until April 9, 1965, Rolfe and other injured men were in Chattanooga, while the remainder of the 134th continued on with the Atlanta campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea. While in Chattanooga, Rolfe details camp life, his hospital stays, and his assigned duties (i.e. as nurse), and reacts to news of the fall of Atlanta. On April 9, 1865, Rolfe returned to the 134th's encampment at near Goldsboro, North Carolina. There, he reunited with his brother, Sam, and found "the other boys well and in good spirits." Rolfe describes the final movements of the regiment and shares his thoughts on the end of the war, Lincoln's assassination, and other news. As the regiment moves homeward, they parade in towns along the way.

Rolfe's diaries also show him to be a man of great religious faith and a teetotaler. Many entries include details about Rolfe's spiritual life, including prayers, religious meetings, and Bible readings: "At 10:00 a.m. instead of Sabbath religious services we have a kind of brigade review, but a complete hoax, or next to failure. O when will our commanding officers learn to have respect for the Sabbath" (March 5, 1865). The diaries include a copy of Rolfe's signed pledge to the U.S.A. Temperance Union, and the diary contains several mentions of the deleterious "effects of whiskey" and "effects of beer" on his fellows. On June 5, 1865, as the company continues to head toward home, Rolfe writes "Lieutenant Dillon commander of Co. B under the influence of bad whiskey abuses the Co. on and after dress parade. Several of the Co. also are intoxicated. Makes us appear rediculas [sic] before the Brigade." 

As Rolfe's regiment is mustered out on June 10, 1865, Rolfe shares, "the long looked for and much to be desired day has arrived. And now may God grant us a speedy and safe journey home, and prepare us for a peaceful and happy future." By mid-month, Rolfe has reunited with his wife's family. He ends his diary with a brief summation of his service: "Return from Charlton and go to Albany and get my discharge from the military service with pay in full. 17 months 22 days. And clothing money $22.00, also the bounty $75.00. total $372.65. Have been in military service of the United States 2 years 10 months."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The History of Medicine in Schenectady County

In anticipation of our program about the history of medicine in Schenectady County this Thursday evening, we would like to highlight materials related to the history of medicine in our collections.

Please click here for a research guide to sources pertaining to the history of medicine in the Grems-Doolittle Library. In addition to the sources listed in this guide, family files, city directories, city and county maps, and other library materials are useful in tracing the development of the medical profession in the city and county of Schenectady and learning more about the area's doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical professionals. Below, we have included a small sample of materials -- please visit the Library to see more of the resources available for research!

Operating room at Ellis Hospital, ca. 1900.
Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Advertisement card for Hill Dental Company in Schenectady.
From Grems-Doolittle library Documents Collection.

Steel work addition to Sunnyview Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center on Rosa Road in Schenectady, 1959. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection

Minutes of the Medical Society of the County of Schenectady, 1810.
From Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.
Label from Barhydt and Van Patten in Schenectady. From prescription book, ca. 1900.
Entries in Schenectady Nurses' Directory, 1905.
From Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebrating Veterans Day

In honor of Veteran's Day, we would like to share just a few of the photographs and memorabilia related to local veterans and Veterans Day in our collections:

The first page of a letter from Edna Pilling, a teacher living in Scotia, to Private Joseph Memelo, written on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Pilling describes the celebration in Schenectady. "At 3 or thereabouts this morning, bells and whistles made things lively - and things have been lively ever since," Pilling writes. "Stores, schools, shops, everything closed. The streets crowded. Parades as early as 8 o'clock this morning, and still more parades. The Italian parade was especially fine . . . It has been a beautiful November day - full of sunshine and warmth - a fitting day for so much joy" (Letter from the Larry Hart Collection). After World War II, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day and its purpose changed to honor all United States veterans.

Civil War veterans from the Horsfall Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, ca. 1930s.
From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

David H. Coulter of Schenectady, one of the last surviving veterans of the Spanish-American War, displays a medal he received for his service in the Philippines. In 1978 Coulter, at age 98, led the annual Veterans Day parade. "I never got above a buck private," said Coulter during a 1978 interview. Photograph from the Larry Hart Collection.

Local servicemen celebrate Victory in the Pacific Day on August 14, 1945 in Schenectady.
From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Members of the Last Man's Club, a World War I veterans' organization in Scotia, pose at the American Legion Hall around 1955.
Photograph from the Larry Hart Collection.

Program for the first annual ball of the Schenectady Washington Continentals in 1855. The unit, formed in 1839, served in the Mexican War. It was disbanded during the Civil War, but reformed afterwards. From the Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Francis Poulin Scrapbook Collection

Francis Poulin with scale model of a steel bridge built in Pleasant
Valley in 1904 to carry trolleys to the growing Mont Pleasant
neighborhood. Photocopy of photograph from Schenectady
Gazette article dated 31 July 1980, in Poulin family file.
The Francis Poulin Scrapbook Collection is comprised of scrapbooks compiled by Francis Poulin, a long-time resident of the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, Schenectady city archivist, and local history enthusiast.

Francis A. Poulin was born in Fort Johnson, New York. He attended Schenectady public schools, graduating from Mont Pleasant High School in 1934. Poulin married Mary Abbatiello in 1941; the couple went on to have three children. Poulin worked for the New York Central Railroad’s signal department and for the American Locomotive Company. He then worked for over 20 years with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles before retiring in 1979.

Poulin’s love of local history began when he was still in high school. Poulin participated in a citizens’ effort for a plaque to be placed at the site of the city’s first railroad station; he had the honor of unveiling a plaque at the Crane Street site in 1938. After his retirement in 1979, Poulin increased his involvement with local history. He served as historian for Mont Pleasant High School and for the Mont Pleasant Reformed Church, and served as an advisor for the historical preservation of Proctor’s Theatre. In 1988, he was appointed City Archivist for the city of Schenectady; he continued to serve as archivist until his death in 1994.

Poulin served on the board of trustees of the Schenectady County Historical Society. He was a member of the Schoharie County Historical Society, Vermont Historical Society, Mohawk Hudson Railroad Society, National Railway Historical Society, Schenectady 2000, Friends of Union College, Mont Pleasant Reformed Church and the Greater Consistory of the Church, the Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem, the Giles Fonda Yates Council 22, New Hope Masons Lodge 730, and was a patron of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Poulin died at Ellis Hospital on January 21, 1994. He is buried in Memory Gardens Cemetery & Memorial Park in Colonie, New York. Following his death, the New York State legislature passed a resolution honoring Poulin and his advocacy of railroad history.

Materials in the Francis Poulin Scrapbook Collection are Photostat copies enclosed in three-ring binders; contents include copies of newspaper and magazine articles, maps, photographs, correspondence, and notes. The binders cover a variety of topics related to the history of Schenectady, with particular emphasis on the history of railroads, the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, the Westinghouse family and company, local schools and churches, and the YMCA. A finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

E.Z. Carpenter Collection

E.Z. Carpenter, ca. 1880.
Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
Edwin Zachariah Carpenter was born in 1835, the son of William Carpenter and Anne Heddon. Carpenter, a long-time resident of Glenville, collected historical material about local people, families, businesses, and events. Scotia historian Neil Reynolds describes Carpenter as a self-styled historian “who chose to specialize in the seamy side of life,” recording the “the anecdotes, the tall tales, the nicknames and characteristics” of the townspeople along with the basic facts of their history and genealogy.

Carpenter's focus on gossip and on "the seamy side of life" are reflected in his notes from a conversation with painter Samuel H. Sexton: "I spoke to Sexton of Oothout, recently buried and he promptly answered 'yes, the d----d old simpleton and [illegible], his whole life has been a total failure. He never allowed an opportunity to slip to speak of his having graduated from Union College and was always quoting snatches of Greek and Latin, but he hadn't the mental grasp to read a sensible newspaper article that demanded half an hour's close attention.'" Carpenter's lively and at times lightly mean-spirited details impart a juiciness to the genealogical facts of birth, marriage, and death. Reynolds recommends Carpenter's information for those who don't mind gossip about their ancestors and who can appreciate some lore along with the facts.

Carpenter is perhaps best known for his self-published magazine, The American Historian and Quarterly Genealogical Record. Willis T. Hanson, in his History of Schenectady During the Revolution, investigated the authorship of The American Historian and Quarterly Genealogical Record, which was noted on the title page as being “edited by the Historical Society.” Hanson writes in 1911: “Indirectly, from the publisher, the writer has learned the history of this little magazine. There was no ‘Historical Society’ … Mr. Carpenter had no associates in his enterprise. He was sole editor, proprietor and printer, setting his own type and using as hand press which he still has.” 

Neil Reynolds notes that Carpenter’s most steady work was as a printer and publisher. He also served for a time as Glenville Justice of the Peace and was involved in real estate in Glenville. After a lifetime of chronicling and collecting information about Scotia and Glenville history, Carpenter died on December 20, 1917 at the home of his niece, Mrs. H.L. Schermerhorn. He is buried in the cemetery of the First Reformed Church of Scotia.

The collection is comprised of a variety of material created and compiled by E.Z. Carpenter, a historian, genealogist, and collector from the town of Glenville. The bulk of material pertains to people, organizations, and events in Glenville and Scotia. The collection includes original historic documents and copies of historic documents, copies of deeds and documents pertaining to legal matters, pension papers, genealogical notes, and newspaper clippings. The collection also includes occasional notes or other materials added by Scotia historian Neil Reynolds.

Materials of special interest in the collection include Carpenter’s genealogical material about a number of Glenville families, Carpenter’s notes on his conversations with painter Samuel H. Sexton, transcribed copies of the diary of Abram O. Veeder, and material pertaining to the legal and financial dealings of E.Z. Carpenter. A finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Monday, October 17, 2011


A "squiggle" becomes a horse!
 A recent donation of materials made us smile -- and made some of our volunteers sing! -- here in the Library. Among some general memorabilia and photographs of a local young man were three "squiggles" made by local children and enhanced by Jim Fisk on WRGB's "Breadtime Stories."

Freddie Freihofer himself pops up
for a portrait in this "squiggle."
WRGB began production of “Breadtime Stories,” also known as “the Freddie Freihofer Show,” in 1949. The program proved to be very popular and ran until 1966. Children who had a birthday could be on the show to celebrate and were given a birthday cake from Freihofer’s Bakery. Host “Uncle Jim” Fisk would create a drawing from a “squiggle” made by a child on the show. Ralph Kanna, Bud Mason, Ed Joyce, and Bill Carpenter each served as hosts of the show before Jim Fisk, but Fisk was the host from 1956-1966 and is perhaps the show's best-remembered host. During the 17-year run of "Breadtime Stories," over 200,000 local children appeared on the show.

Birthday boys and girls with “Uncle Jim” Fisk on the set of “Breadtime Stories”, 1957.
Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Greetings from Schenectady" - The Grems-Doolittle Library Postcard Collection

The Library's collection of postcards consist primarily of photograph postcards or colorized postcards based on photographic images. The subjects of the postcards in the collection range from general aerial and river views, to railroads and trolleys,  to various buildings, including businesses, industries, churches, hospitals, schools, individual homes, and residential areas. Many postcards also document organizations, prominent indivduals, and events such as floods and parades.

American postcards were first developed in 1873 as a means to send brief messages more easily through the mail. The first American souvenir postcards were printed to promote the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. As a result of this exposure, postcards, "private mailing cards," and "souvenir cards" exploded in popularity. Most of the postcards in the Grems-Doolittle library range from the early-to-mid twentieth century.

A sampling of postcards from our collection is included below. A complete list of the classifications for the collection can be found here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Schenectady Lights and Hauls the World"

Billboard, ca. 1920s. Photograph from the Larry Hart Collection.
The motto "Schenectady Lights and Hauls the World" refers to the city's two major employers during the first part of the twentieth century, General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. Immigrants from Europe -- ranging from scientists and engineers to manual laborers -- came to Schenectady to work for the city's booming industries. According to federal census data, the city's population increased from around 20,000 to over 31,000 between 1890 and 1900, and mushroomed to nearly 73,000 by 1910. The phrase reflected pride in Schenectady's position as an important industrial city.

Souvenir coin, 1909. Photograph
from online auction.
But exactly when did the phrase originate, and who coined it? Tracing back such information can be difficult. As early as 1910, the phrase was used in the trade publication Printer's Ink. Schenectadians appropriated the phrase to promote the city and their works in it, ranging from a 1910 letter to the Postal Record in which H.A. Van Vranken, a mail carrier, touts the city's industry and its "progressive postmaster," to a Mr. Clarkson of Christ Church speaking in 1912, hoping that area churches might emulate Schenectady in "lighting" the world, to area labor leaders using the phrase in their remarks at a conference in 1914. References to the phrase flowered throughout the 1910s and 1920s, appearing in trade publications, travel guides, promotional material, and on billboards. City historian Larry Hart remembered hearing Major Edward Bowes on his popular national radio program, Amateur Hour, referring to Schenectady as "the city that lights and hauls the world" in the early 1930s.

Schenectady Board of Trade "Ske-Daddle" Carnival, 1909.
Note the drawn figure, which was used in "skedaddle to
Schenectady" promotional material. Photograph from the
Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The earliest references to the phrase I was able to find were created in 1909. From around the turn of the century until the beginning of World War I, the Schenectady Board of Trade (a precursor to the Chamber of Commerce) began to hold an annual carnival in the city to promote business downtown. In September 1909, the Board of Trade produced a souvenir coin for the carnival that featured an image of a seated woman holding symbols of the American Locomotive Company and General Electric. Around the edge of the coin is the phrase "Schenectady Hauls and Lights the World," a order transposed from the usual motto.

Postcard featuring artwork by Augustus
Crouse, 1910.
On January 26, 1910, artwork was copyrighted by a Schenectady man, Augustus Crouse, that would go on to be printed as a postcard and poster. Crouse is listed in the Schenectady city directory at the time as working for General Electric, but according to the Library of Congress' Copyright Office, the copyright for the artwork is copyrighted under his name. The artwork depicts a woman on a float standing with each hand on the shoulder of two men, one representing General Electric and one representing the American Locomotive Company. Above the scene reads the words "Schenectady lights and hauls the world." In the absence of earlier references, it appears that the motto may have originated in connection with the Schenectady Board of Trade's carnival, although the identity of the person who coined it remains a mystery.

Another possible origin of the phrase mentioned by Larry Hart in his "Tales of Old Dorp" newspaper column is that it was coined by newspaperman Ralph Record. Record visited Schenectady "around 1910" and became a reporter for Schenectady Gazette before becoming an editorial writer for the Knickerbocker Press in Albany. Although the exact origins of the slogan remain unclear, its rapid dissemination into the vernacular of Schenectadians and its use in shaping Schenectady's image to the world reflects the perspectives of a community charged with optimism and civic pride.