In case you couldn’t tell, we (the four of us from Mary Washington) had quite the busy and successful week! Which was a relief considering that we unfortunately could not gather much information last week while we were snowed in for a majority of the week. Luckily we survived the “snowpocalypse” and made up for lost time by going to Special Collections here at UMW, the Masonic Lodge downtown, and the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center.
This past Tuesday we visited Special Collections in the Simpson Library, and were aided by the always helpful and sweet Ms. Parsons. This was the first time I had ever been inside the archive (pathetic, I know, considering this is my last semester and I’m a history major) and I was really quite fascinated by all of the artifacts that have been stored and preserved throughout our school’s history. While Leah, Jack, and I were there, we looked through President Russell’s papers since he was the president during World War I. Many of the documents were correspondence with faculty members, and we noticed that towards 1918, after America had joined the war, many professors asked for salary increases to accommodate the rising prices for food and other necessities. Of other significance, there were many references to students and faculty falling ill due to the influenza epidemic of 1918, and the chair of the history department, Virginia Goolrick, died from the sickness. Though this was definitely a sad way to view life at the university, we did not find that the war itself greatly impacted the campus community, or at least not directly.
Our second adventure this week was a bit out of the ordinary – on a whim we had decided to contact the Masonic Lodge since they have been around since the eighteenth century, and they quickly got in touch with us to arrange a meeting since they were quite interested in our project. On Wednesday night, Jack, Leah, and I were able to step into the Lodge to see what they had to offer. (And to experience National Treasure first hand! Not really, but it was still pretty neat.) The two men we talked with were the Lodge historian and the current Grand Master of the Lodge, and both were super interested in assisting us with our research. They gave us plenty of information about the Lodge and about Masonry in general, which was all very interesting and gave us a good idea of the background and how the organization functioned. They didn’t particularly have many artifacts or pictures from the World War I, but they did offer us names of members who served in the military or in public office. A couple of names stuck out, such as John T. Goolrick, William Mosely Brown, and Josiah P. Rowe, Jr. (who I will return to later). Thanks to names like these, we were able to make connections and picture how the Fredericksburg community operated and interacted with one another during this time.
Finally, finally, FINALLY, we were able to go to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center!!! We spent our Saturday morning, arriving at 9am, at the CRHC since their hours are not the most conducive for college students who have a majority of their classes during the small window of time in which the center operates. The experience was a little intense for me, just because I felt like I was being watched constantly and I was terrified I would mess up anything and everything I looked at. It makes complete sense that the volunteers are worried about the precious pieces of history that they allow us to view, but I definitely was much more anxious there than I was in Special Collections under the eye of Ms. Parsons. Luckily for me, I didn’t peruse many of the old documents; instead, I leafed through the published letters of Josiah P. Rowe, Jr. (I said I’d return to him) during his time in Europe as an aviator. The letters were extremely fascinating, especially because he discussed in detail his escapades with “the fairer sex” in correspondence with his mother, which I found a bit strange. I wasn’t quite sure how much these letters would tell us about the home front, but they were actually quite useful in pointing out the agony that Rowe felt while overseas without ever seeing the face of a familiar “Fredericksburger” . Rowe also made note of the care packages, letters, and copies of the local newspaper, The Daily Star, that he received while in the service. The story was a happy one, ending with Rowe’s orders to return home to Fredericksburg.
All in all, I was quite pleased that we accomplished so much in a week, especially given our setback thanks to the sweater weather that’s been sneaking up on us. We were thankfully able to find some extremely helpful leads, and so now can begin thinking about how we want to organize our site – so far, we think thematically might be the way to go, but that’s by no means set in stone. As far as the archival experience, I’ve definitely learned in this short amount of time that it helps to always be prepared with pencils, patience, and a positive attitude when working with others, especially those who are extremely invested in the well-being and conditions of their artifacts.