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.

Recent Transfer from the History Department

Special Collections has recently processed a new transfer from the History Department. The material in this collection is now open to researchers. More detailed information about this collection and its contents can be found in the ArchivesSpace finding aid. Special Collections also houses and has made public the personal papers of Professor Lawrence Henry Gipson.

The Department of History and Government was created in 1924 under the Presidency of Dr. Charles Russ Richards. There is no single document within the collection that explicitly describes the need for a Department of History and Government. Following Lehigh University’s creation by Asa Packer, it became primarily a scientific and engineering college. Nevertheless, the humanities and social sciences consistently grew in size. To accommodate this increased interest in the humanities, the History and Government department was formally established.

In 1924, President Richards brought Professor Lawrence Henry Gipson to Lehigh University to head the newly-created department. Gipson had previously been the head of the History Department at Wabash College in Indiana. Under Professor Gipson’s able leadership the department steadily grew in strength and prestige. In his time, Gipson became one of the world’s great historians. He became a renowned professor after arriving to Lehigh, where his name became intertwined with that of the University. As his prestige as a historian increased, so did Lehigh’s good name. Several other professors in the History and Government Department also helped Dr. Gipson establish and raise the young academic department.

Gipson
Professor Lawrence Henry Gipson

Dr. George Harmon was perhaps the second leading professor in establishing the History Department next to Dr. Gipson. Another key contributor to the early growth of the History Department was Mr. Sydney Brown. Years later, while recommending Mr. Brown to be named the Head of the History Department at Louisiana State University, Dr. Harmon called him the most brilliant man he had ever known. There were other men who contributed to the growth of the Department but these were the early key players. Articles by both Gipson and Harmon can be found together in the March 1937 issue of the Lehigh Review, a magazine published by students between 1927 and 1940.

Harmon
Dr. George Harmon

These professors also faced challenges while trying to grow the History Department. Dr. Harmon produced annual reports for each year, detailing the happenings, successes, and struggles of the Department. As far as happenings are concerned, the professors had quite eventful schedules. All of the professors worked on books, articles, and review that were typically published. Additionally, the professors vacationed and made scholarly trips to other countries when they weren’t teaching. The Department was rather successful. Many of its students went on to graduate school and law school at institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Penn. Dr. Harmon also vividly detailed the struggles of the Department. In building the History Department, there were struggles with who would teach which classes, limited office space, Department Budget, and how to recruit the best students. Despite these struggles, the actions of these professors played a pivotal role in starting the History Department and its subsequent success.

Brown and White, First Week of Class 1966

Following the 100 year old Freshman Handbook, here is the front page of the Brown and White from the first week of class in 1966. This 50 year old newspaper provides a glimpse at what freshman orientation and the beginning of the semester were like. The newspaper is searchable and available in its entirety through The Brown and White Archive as part of Lehigh’s Digital Library. This archive contains every issue of the Brown and White from its founding in 1894 to 2015.

Front page of Brown and White, 9/14/1966
Front page of Brown and White, 9/14/1966

The top image is of a freshman cap or “dink,” which was a prominent part of the regulations highlighted in the recently digitized 1916 Freshman Handbook. According to the article, upperclassmen regularly attempted to steal freshmen’s dinks, which would greatly inconvenience the freshmen victims.

Also of note are the plans for the opening of Mart Library, which is now part of Fairchild Martindale Library. The Mart Library was dedicated to engineering and the sciences, was estimated to cost $1.5 million, and eventually opened in 1968. 50 years later, plans for a major transformation of Fairchild Martindale Library are in the works.

My “Special Collections” Education

by Devin Bostick, Class of 2014

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Digitizing Lehigh-Lafayette 100th Game Booklet for a library patron

Since I started working in Special Collections in the fall of 2011, I have gained a great deal of experience related to research for digitization projects, camera imaging and editing in Photoshop, library collection and material organization using Omeka, and library exhibit display and presentation.  Through my experience in Special Collections, I have digitized hundreds of images ranging from book pages to maps and Lehigh alumni photograph albums.  I have had the privilege of seeing up close the progression of Lehigh’s history as related to its campus buildings, student organizations, sports teams, Lehigh/Lafayette games, and graduation and reunion ceremonies.  Towards the end of my Lehigh career and particularly my senior year, I frequently look back with nostalgia at my own experience at Lehigh, and my experiences in Special Collections have affirmed the fulfillment and satisfaction of so many other past Lehigh students shown in its records.   To name a few specifics, I have learned about the scientific and engineering laboratories of Lehigh, famous alumni and their many achievements, the passing of important faculty and the significance of their past work on Lehigh’s future, the work of talented and driven Lehigh doctoral students, Lehigh’s history as recorded through the eyes of the Brown and White, changes to the Epitome and Lehigh’s course catalog over time, and more humorously the extent to which older alumni at class reunions compete with each other for most ridiculous costume by dressing up like astronauts or clowns.  That last one will give me some ideas for Halloween in future years no doubt.

In addition to increasing my appreciation for Lehigh and all it has provided me in terms of education and personal growth, my work at Special Collections has allowed me to learn so much about the effective operation of a high-tech camera and about digital image editing, which can serve me well in the future. I enjoyed learning how to troubleshoot the camera and became an expert on how to operate it when problems occurred. I have also learned how to manage and standardize digitization projects encompassing the collaborative work of several others, create and organize hierarchies and logical progressions for items displayed in Special Collections online exhibits, create folders and holding devices for damaged rare materials, and develop descriptions for the Special Collections physical exhibits and display cases in Linderman Library.

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Digitization is finished and the file delivered. Another patron is happy.

Special Collections contains a fascinating plethora of rare and old books, maps, journals, and manuscripts showcasing Lehigh’s history.  It allows students to study original materials first-hand and identify intriguing pieces of history only found through diligent and perceptive research.  I will miss many of the life lessons and experiences I have gained from working in Special collections, and I hope the department can continue on an upward path of growth and expansion for the educational and cultural enrichment of Lehigh University and the broader community.