Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Rhymes with Hungry?

Too often, the experiences and accomplishments of women in wartime remain hidden between the lines of diaries and letters or behind the shining medals of decorated generals. I was fortunate to learn the story of one such amazing woman when I processed the Marie Adams papers.

Marie Adams arrived in Manila in 1941 as a field director for the American Red Cross. Soon afterward, the war reached the shores of the Philippines, meaning that Adams and thousands of civilians became prisoners of war of the Japanese at Santo Tomás Internment Camp.

According to the letters she received from friends and family, Adams was loved by many and dedicated to her work with the Red Cross. As an internee, she suffered from both hunger and disease; however, she bravely put her pain aside to tend to the physical and psychological wounds of her fellow internees.

With limited access to food or communication with the outside world, Adams used poetry to document her experiences at the internment camp and relieve her suffering. Her poems capture her resiliency and sense of humor, even in the face of starvation. In January 1945, Marie Adams wrote one of her final poems at Santo Tomás, not knowing she was only days away from liberation. Below is an excerpt from this poem, titled "Life Without Lipstick."

I've gone without lipstick,
I'm always un-rouged,
I've lacked every comfort
To which I've been used.

I've gone without beefsteak,
Without even beans,
There's no coffee, no sugar,
I know what it means

To go to bed hungry
To awake just the same,
With the old sense of humor,
In this internment game.

The poem ends with the following verse:

But when it's all over
And we're out once again
I hope I can smile and say--
"Remember back--when!"

Marie Adams's book of poems, Life Without Lipstick, is available at the Hoover Institution Library; her personal papers are in the Hoover Institution Archives.

Marie Adams in 1941, Life Without Lipstick, Hoover Institution Library

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Herbert Hoover, the graduate: have Stanford degree, will travel

As Stanford University sends off another graduating class into the world, students are faced with a bewildering array of questions: Should they continue on to graduate studies or immediately look for a job? Can a new graduate even find a job in this difficult economy? And what does the future hold in store for someone with a newly minted degree as he or she leaves “The Farm”?

It can be comforting to know that previous generations of students faced those very same questions, including one of the university’s most famous alumni, Herbert Hoover, who graduated in the pioneer class at Stanford in 1895. We can gain an intriguing look at the young Stanford graduate as he sought work as a mining engineer in the late 1890s, just a couple of years removed from his studies under the tutelage of geology professor John C. Branner, in the Hoover Archives’ R.A.F. Penrose correspondence, which contains a number of early Hoover letters from such locales as Berkeley (yes, Hoover lived as a young Stanford graduate within a stone’s throw of that other university), Western Australia, and China.

R.A.F. Penrose (1863-1931) was a professor of geology and a mining engineer who, among other accomplishments, surveyed the Cripple Creek gold claims in Colorado in the 1890s and later cofounded the Utah Copper Company, which developed one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the United States, at Bingham Canyon, near Salt Lake City. He also mentored younger geologists, many of whom went on to attain prominence in the field, such as Herbert Hoover, whom he presumably met when Hoover was an undergraduate at Stanford.

In Hoover’s first letter to Penrose, written from Berkeley on February 7, 1897, he sought Penrose’s help in obtaining a position as a surveyor of mines, discussing various options in the district of Randsburg, in the Mojave Desert of California, or in Prescott, Arizona. Hoover suggested he team up with a colleague named Means in that the two of them could do excellent work, surveying a mine in half the time that an individual geologist could and noting that “we both have very fine instruments” and that “we have both had considerable experience in all kinds of mine surveying,” adding that he (Hoover) also “had three of four jobs involving legal issues of importance and can therefore attend to matters of title, etc.” In reading this letter, we can imagine Hoover in the position of many recent college graduates, sending out letters of application and networking with mentors in his search for a suitable position.

On March 17, Hoover wrote to Penrose regarding a promising position with a British mining firm, Bewick, Moreing and Company, whom he had been put in contact with by Louis Janin, a well-known mining engineer based in San Francisco whose reputation had been established through his work on the Comstock Lode in the 1860s. Hoover thanked Penrose for his letter of recommendation to Bewick, Moreing and explained that the firm had “asked Mr. Janin to nominate them a man and to my surprise he nominated me.” Hoover needed additional references, however, and noted that he could benefit from “some eastern influence” (Penrose was based in Philadelphia) because his sole recommendation until then had been from Janin. He was especially eager to win this job because it paid well ($6,000 a year, with fees and bonuses, potentially $10,000) and was with “a strong company in a confidential position in a new country.” As if Penrose hadn’t already understood Hoover’s strong desire to land the job, he added, “I am therefore anxious to secure it.”

By April 12, Hoover had found success: he had been offered the position with Bewick, Moreing, noting in a brief letter written that day that he was being sent to Coolgardie, in Western Australia, with a salary of $5,000 (roughly equivalent to $100,000 in today’s dollars). Hoover wrote to Penrose, “I desire to express my great obligations to you for the various kindnesses you have so freely extended and I hope I shall be able to vindicate your good opinions.” The rest, as they say, is history. Hoover’s position as a mining engineer in Western Australia led him to survey and discover several very profitable mines, such as the Sons of Gwalia, which in a few years earned Bewick, Moreing tens of millions of dollars and placed Hoover on the fast track to a successful career as the “doctor of sick mines,” and subsequently, as a well-known humanitarian, as the secretary of commerce, and, eventually, as the president of the United States.

As these letters demonstrate—even in reading between the lines—Hoover’s path began in a manner similar to that of many college graduates: humble requests to respected mentors, dogged determination, countless application letters, and a few lucky breaks. In some respects, the experiences of this Stanford graduate of 1895 may not be so different from those of today’s graduates.

Herbert Hoover poses for his portrait at a studio in Perth, Western Australia, after beginning his position with Bewick, Moreing, 1898, Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, photo file E, Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert Hoover (seated, lower left) with other Stanford geology students and their surveying equipment, 1893, Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, photo file D, Hoover Institution Archives

First two pages of a letter, dated March 17, 1897, from Hoover thanking Penrose for his letter of recommendation and giving him directions for sending it to Bewick, Moreing, R.A.F. Penrose miscellaneous correspondence, Box 1, folder 3, Hoover Institution Archives

The remaining pages of Hoover’s letter to Penrose of March 17, 1897, R.A.F. Penrose miscellaneous correspondence, Box 1, folder 3, Hoover Institution Archives

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From reference request to preservation project

Previous blog posts have covered our preservation queue for sound recordings: the delicate balance between the physical stability of the medium and importance of the content that dictates our usual operations. Meanwhile, patron requests, which always receive prompt attention, often interrupt this, sometimes happily. Let me explain.

A visual appraisal usually tells us what we need to know about a sound recording’s physical stability. However, one hidden benefit of patron requests is those cases where this usually doesn’t apply. In those cases, we monitor the tape during digitization and thus spot things originally not apparent that affect the sound quality: bad splices, slitting issues, odd track configurations, and so on. Because some collections were created at the same time with the same tape stocks, the issues on one or two tapes can tell us a lot about the rest of the collection.

What this means is that what we thought was a stable collection isn’t. We then reassess the collection and modify its place in the queue, with it possibly becoming a preservation project. Of course, I’m writing this inspired by recent examples. One is the sound recordings in the Mont Pelerin Society records, which had bad splices of acetate tape. A second was an inquiry from my alma matter leading me to poorly wound acetate tape recordings of Gamal Abdel Nasser. As you may recall, acetate tape is one of the more unstable formats, and acetate tapes with abnormal problems are worse. Thus the Mont Pelerin tapes became a project; the Nasser tapes, though moved forward in our queue, are still awaiting preservation.

On the lighter side, there’s another benefit: the content is sometimes humorous and timely. Within a week of the opening of the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part One, I hear Lawrence Fertig describe Ayn Rand’s book (Atlas Shrugged) as “one of the recent books that has caused a sensation.” He was extolling the virtues of the novel at the Mont Pelerin Society’s 1960 meeting, joking that Ayn Rand had called Ludwig von Mises “a left-wing deviationist.”

An offending splice point, Box 61, Mont Pelerin Society records, Hoover Institution Archives