Collecting Your COVID-19 Experiences

An illustration revealing the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be one of the most significant events in recent history. This public health emergency has affected every aspect of society, including colleges and universities. Given the historic significance of COVID-19, future generations will be interested in studying how different communities experienced and reacted to this crisis. When looking back on the most similar event, the 1918 Influenza, there are surprisingly few records describing how Lehigh University responded. More importantly, there is little information about the experiences of the people who lived through the 1918 Influenza.

As the department tasked with collecting and preserving Lehigh history, Special Collections is trying to compile a comprehensive record of the pandemic. While we are collecting official University communications and webpages, we need your help to form a more accurate and representative archive. One of the foremost issues faced by modern cultural heritage institutions is archival silence, gaps in the historical record created by ignoring or overlooking the records and voices of marginalized people. In an effort to address this problem, the Lehigh Libraries are asking for your COVID-19 experiences, so that the voices of community members can be preserved alongside the University’s official records. This call for submissions is open to anyone in the greater Lehigh community including: undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, faculty, staff, Bethlehem residents, and family members of these groups.

To submit your COVID-19 experiences, simply visit the Collecting COVID-19 page on the Libraries website and fill out the linked Google Form. This form will ask you some basic informational questions and give you the opportunity to upload files. You can upload any type of material, including written journal entries, recorded audio or video, or images. If you have related physical material that you would like to donate to Special Collections, let us know on the form and we will get in touch with more information. This form will also give you the opportunity to recommend web pages for inclusion in Lehigh’s web archive. We ask that you own the material you are uploading, otherwise we will be unable to provide access to it in the future. For more information about the rights and ethics involved in this collecting initiative, please see the Terms and Conditions page.

If you have any questions about participating in this initiative or need assistance submitting material, please contact Ilhan Citak, Archives & Special Collections Librarian, Alex Japha, Digital Archivist, or the Special Collections Department.

 

Happy Halloween 2019

Happy Halloween everyone! In honor of Halloween, here are a few books from our very own special collections; A Whisper of Blood edited by Ellen Datlow and other notable books from the famous author and journalist Leslie Whitten, who donated these books along with his archival papers. Les Whitten was a Lehigh University alumnus who was originally enrolled as a civil engineering major before dropping out after three semesters to join the Army. After serving in the military, Whitten returned to Lehigh and switched his major to Journalism and English. This was the beginning of his career as a journalist, taking down corrupt politicians including in the Watergate scandal. 

Les Whitten was also a novelist who wrote multiple books in the genres of Horror and Science Fiction. Whitten donated A Whisper of Blood by Ellen Datlow and circled a paragraph on page 121 mentioning him as one of the fundamental authors for vampires. Whitten’s Progeny of the Adder, written in 1965, inspired A Whisper of Blood. Whitten has become an influential horror writer especially in the vampire and werewolf categories. He wrote about monsters while also battling them in real life. Whitten helped to kick start a generation of horror books that continues to grow today. Happy Halloween from Leslie Whitten and the Lehigh Special Collections. For more information about Les Whitten and to see what material Lehigh holds, visit the Leslie Hunter Whitten Papers finding aid.

Letters to Coca-Cola: Mary Tompkins Correspondence, 1918-1937

Lehigh’s University Libraries Special Collections contains a collection of diverse information.  One recent example is the Mary Tompkins Correspondence, which reflects a variety of research topics including: social commentary, business, genealogy, and transportation. This collection features letters written to Mary Frances Reid Tompkins (1908-2004) in the years between the World Wars by three generations of family members (1918-1937).  The letters from the Great Depression era are especially poignant in the family’s repeated requests to Mary Tompkins for financial aid. These letters also provide a rich source of information about how a formerly aristocratic Southern family coped with the devastation of their wealth and societal standing resulting from the Civil War.  Apparently, Mary Tompkins was one of the few people in her family with a secure and steady job, which was at the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia.  Coca-Cola was one of the very few American businesses that thrived during the Great Depression.  In an era when most companies cut back on advertising, Coca-Cola ramped theirs up.  In the early 1920s, Prohibition shut down bars that served beer and liquor.  In response, Coca-Cola came up with the slogan “The Pause That Refreshes” as a popular marketing campaign which associated drinking Coke as a part of the American way of life, promoting its consumption as a popular way for people to be sociable.  To further promote its product, Coca-Cola maintained the 5 cent price per bottle for 50 years, from 1909 to 1959, and developed the innovative six-pack cardboard carrier, which promoted buying multiple 5 cent bottles.  (http://www.coca-colacompany.com/history)

Mary Tompkins letter sent to Atlanta, Georgia.
Letter sent to Mary Tompkins in Atlanta, Georgia.

Many of the letters also had their envelopes included, which offered clues to Mary’s consistent address at Coco-Cola in Atlanta rather than a frequently changing residence.  Mary was very popular, having many friends and interests.  The letters requesting aid were sure to reach her at her business address.

 

A large portion of the letters requested financial aid, some letters from her grandmother, Mary Frances Reid Reese of Carrollton, Georgia, outlined the family’s former wealth and prominent Southern roots. This included the family’s relation to the Sallie Fannie Reid Guards Confederacy army unit, Governor of Georgia John M. Slaton (1866-1955), and Atlanta architect J. Neel Reid, who owned the well-known Antebellum house Mimosa Hall.

Among the envelopes is an unusual one: a commemorative issue from the Canal Zone noting the First Air Mail Express Flight.

Cristobal, Canal Zone to United States, May 1, 1930, Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, Pilot.
Cristobal, Canal Zone to United States, May 1, 1930, Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, Pilot.

The envelope is postmarked May 1, 1930 7 A.M. Cristobal, C.Z.  F.A.M. 5, and was sent from Peter W. Reese, an electrician for the Panama Railroad, who was a relative inviting Mary to visit him in Panama.  The F.A.M.-5 was a U.S. Post Office (Foreign Air Mail) designated contract airmail route flown by Pan American Airways that inaugurated the route from Miami, Florida to Central America. When combined with F.A.M.-6, this route would become known as the :Lindbergh Circle,” with flights circumnavigating the Caribbean. (see The Cornell Daily Sun, v. XLIX, n. 92, 7 Feb. 1929)

Letter sent to Wilmington, DE
Letter sent to Mary Tompkins in Wilmington, DE

In July 1934, Mary moved from Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters to the bottling plant office in Wilmington, Delaware.  In the move, Mary met Lowry S. Danser (1912-2007) who worked for E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. as a chemical engineer.  Lowry S. Danser earned a degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh in 1933, where he was involved with the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and the swim team.  Mary and Lowry would eventually marry in 1939. Lowry Danser went on to have a successful career with DuPont, holding a U.S. patent for copper removal from chloroprene.  He and Mary lived abroad during numerous assignments for the company, including three years in Japan where they began collecting oriental art.  Lowry and Mary, were generous benefactors of Lehigh, gifting artwork and pottery to the University’s Art Gallery.  They were members of the Asa Packer Society and the Tower Society.  In 2004, Mr. Danser established the Mary T. and Lowry S. Danser ’33 Gift Annuity.  On his death in 2007, the Danser estate gift to the University established the Mary T. and Lowry S. Danser Distinguished Faculty Chair in Chemistry. They are buried in the Carrollton (Georgia) City Cemetery, the city postmark featured on many of the envelopes.  In death Mary Frances Tompkins Danser returned to her Southern roots.