I’ve been meaning to write this post for about a week.
I meant to write up a post last week after some exciting findings at the archives, however I realized I forgot to copy the files of all the items I had scanned into the computer there to my jump drive.
Although I could have gone ahead and written a post regardless, I wanted to reference some of the materials for a more detailed post so decided to wait until I had them copied to my computer.
This week got busy and so here I am, finally finding time today.
Last Friday was my most exciting day at the archives. I finally felt like I was getting somewhere in my research after a few visits of dead ends and frustration.
Although I feel very fortunate that I am able to get into the archives after hours, the negative side of that is not having any guidance. UMM’s archive is divided into two seconds–the history of UMM and the West Central Minnesota Historical Research Section area. I know the UMM section pretty well since those are the materials I work with as an student archives worker. However, since UMM was founded in 1960, those materials aren’t going to be be useful to me. It is the West Central Minnesota Historical Research Section area that I’m most interested in and it also happens to be the area that I know nothing about.
Well, I shouldn’t say that. Through my days there researching, I’ve gotten to know what’s there pretty well. I was basically told I could look through whatever I want to, so I’ve been rifling through a lot of materials at my leisure and having some hits but also a lot of misses.
My best finds have been in the WCSA yearbooks, particularly the 1919 yearbook.
The 1919 Moccasin (the title of the WCSA yearbook) is filled to the brim with so much information. It felt like the jackpot in really allowing me to gauge student feelings during this time period.
I had been getting really frustrated because the 1917 and 1918 yearbooks yielded nothing war-related. I was astounded that the students didn’t have anything to say about the war during those years when I’m sure it affected them quite a lot, at least indirectly, out here on the prairie. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety was ruthless in promoting patriotism and in weeding out the supposed “traitors” throughout Minnesota in order to set them straight. The Non Partisan League–a well-known political organization that exhibited anti-war sentiments–was also really active out here in this section of Minnesota also. I would not be surprised if the Commission of Public Safety and the NPL butted heads out here on this side of the prairie.
Upon realizing that the Moccasin went to print in February, it made sense to me that the 1917 yearbook yielded no information about the war. War wasn’t declared until April, after all.
The 1918 yearbook though, puzzled me. Then again, as a college student, I’ve found it’s really easy to become disconnected to the outside world while focusing on my studies and such. Perhaps the WCSA students had a similar experience when the war was going on. Or maybe, they were too caught up in digesting all the changes that the war brought to them at home that they chose not to concentrate on it in the yearbook because it was just too much. Of course, this is all speculation and I’m not really sure either way.
What distinguished the 1919 yearbook from 1917 and 1918 was not only the content, but also the nature of that content. The 1919 yearbook had a really nice memorial to the WCSA students–past and present–who fought in the war, as well as a short history of what the WCSA students were up to during the war.
The majority of the content that I was interested in, though, focused on the the Spanish influenza. There were numerous references to how the influenza affected the student population–the influenza reached Western Minnesota in the fall of 1919, which pushed back the beginning of the semester; football season wasn’t able to happen that year, and it got the year off to a bit of jarring start for the WCSA students.
The most interesting part of the 1919 Moccasin, though, was an abundance of quips and cartoons that made light of the influenza.
We do this all the time today. A terrible thing happens and we use humor to help us cope with the horribleness. Well, the WCSA students were doing this too; responding to this terrible influenza epidemic in the aftermath of an extremely influential war with a humor that at first seemed a little out of place to me–until I remembered that humor can sometimes be an extremely effective way of coping.
Here are some examples:
All on account of ‘fluenza
“Perhaps his nose doesn’t fit the mask”
“Earl Leaf….All the flu makes worn by us during the epidemic”
I love how these little quips and cartoons say so much about the WCSA students at the time. Then again, this might just be the sense of humor of the editors showing, but I do get the sense that the editors were made an effort to include all students in the yearbook in some way, shape or form. Regardless, it does give a glimpse into the way some of the students reacted to the influenza, at least.
Furthermore, in really delving into the content of this yearbook, I felt as if I got to know the WCSA class of 1919 a little bit more. My favorite party of history is those personal stories, and I was really able to get an idea of some of the student’s stories while going through this yearbook.
I still have a lot more to look through in the archives. I am currently sifting through oral histories; yesterday I found an oral history from a World War I veteran and I hope to find some more regarding the war during the home front.
I am eager to find more WCSA materials regarding the war, since that is what I realized I’m really interested in for this project. The campus archivist has a really great source that he intends to get to me one of these days, though he can’t seem to locate it at the moment. I really hope he does soon, since, from my understanding at least, it seems to be a collection of recollections from WCSA students during the war period.
I haven’t talked to Colm in a little bit, though I intend to sometime this weekend in order to get an idea of where he is at research-wise. Getting to the museum is still on my list of things to do, but I want to make sure I don’t go through anything he’s already looked through when I get there.
Next week I intend to dive further into the archives and hopefully the archivist will have a better idea of the whereabouts of that source by then!