MLK Day Special: Black Girlhood Exhibition is now open!

We are so pleased to announce that our latest mini-exhibition, The Sounds and Silences of Black Girlhood, is now open. This exhibition was coordinated by Cori Field and curated by her students in her class last fall, “Women and Gender Studies 4559: A Global History of Black Girlhood.” It was a real pleasure working with these talented and driven students.

This exhibition is associated with two events that are open to all:

  • Final Friday Exhibition Opening, hosted by the students!: Friday, January 27, 2017, Harrison Small First Floor Gallery
  • The Global Black Girlhood Conference, which is taking place in the Harrison Small Auditorium March 17-18. Details at the conference website.

Below are some tantalizing images of the exhibition. Come by the gallery and check it out! The exhibition runs through March 24.


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On View Now: “At the Front: World War I Series Books for Girls”

We are so pleased to announce our newest mini-exhibition, curated by Susan Swicegood, Wolfe Docent in the Harrison Institute. Susan is a fourth year student in the Master of Teaching program at the Curry School of Education. Her joint undergraduate major is in English. So, it was no surprise when, upon beginning to learn about the collections here with curator and supervisor Molly Schwartzburg, she gravitated towards a project involving the marvelous Arthur P. and Christopher P. Young Collection of World War I Juvenile Series Books. We’ll give you a sneak peek at the show below, with selections from the exhibition’s text.

“At the Front: World War I Series Books for Girls”

Detail of cover art from Martha Trent, “Alice Blythe Somewhere in England: A War Time Story,” illustrated by Charles L. Wrenn (New York: Barse & Hopkins Publishers, 1918)(PZ9 .Y67 no. 474)

After the Great War began in 1914, and even more so after the United States became involved in 1917, many children experienced the war through characters in series books. While some girl protagonists “do their bit” on the home front through food drives and benefit concerts, many leave for the front themselves.

From ***

Detail of cover art from Aline Harvard, “Captain Lucy in France” (Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Company, 1919). (PZ9 .Y67 no. 246)

These teenage characters—ranging in age from twelve to seventeen—dutifully serve as nurses in the Red Cross, drive ambulances, rescue lost soldiers, and uncover German spies.

Detail of frontispiece from Martha Trent, “Alice Blythe Somewhere in England: A War Time Story,” illustrated by Charles L. Wrenn (New York: Barse & Hopkins Publishers, 1918)(PZ9 .Y67 no 474)

The popularity of these books with American youth is undeniable, and with such far-fetched and fantastical adventures, girls could imagine the part they could play in gaining victory. In an almost propagandistic way, these books sold the war to young women as a chance to leave their homes and fight alongside the boys. Yet though the characters show an amazing degree of agency at the front, they return after the war’s end to the docile, domestic spaces they had left behind. Invariably, the heroine manages to find—or rescue—a fiancé along the way.

This exhibition will remain on view until the end of February, 2015.

A sneak preview of some of the items on display.

A sneak preview of some of the items on display.

Patron’s choice: Eliza Keating’s letters to her publisher T. H. Lacy, Fall 1855

This week we are pleased to feature a guest post from U.Va. English Department doctoral candidate Ann Mazur. Ann contacted us earlier this year with a purchase request and we happily obliged. Here, she tells us how this purchase has contributed to her dissertation. Thanks, Ann!

As a Ph.D. student in English literature, I am currently completing my dissertation, The Nineteenth-Century Home Theatre: Women and Material Space. My project aims to recover the nineteenth-century parlour play, an important dramatic outlet to Victorian middle-class women. The parlour play, or home theatrical, was a dramatic performance staged most often within the home, though sometimes plays were also performed at schools or at other venues to raise funds for charities. As the nineteenth century progressed, home theatricals largely replaced earlier forms of home entertainment such as tableaux vivants (“moving pictures”) and charades. Most theatricals lasted around fifteen to thirty minutes, though occasionally they are lengthier.

I argue that in the years from 1860 to1900, the parlour play became more popular among the middle-classes and was especially significant for women. Other literary scholars have shown that women who wrote for the public stage faced immense obstacles and prejudice. Likewise, Victorian public stage actresses had to battle an association with prostitutes. In contrast, the parlour play permitted women to both write and act freely.

One of the difficulties of my project—though this has simultaneously made it more exciting—is tracking down the ephemeral parlour play. Home theatricals were often printed in book collections of plays and in fragile pamphlets. Many libraries have not thought to save this popular entertainment, and I’ve often had to turn to the tireless services of Interlibrary Loan to find plays on microfilm, microcards, and less often, in the form of the real physical pamphlet or book. I have found some items only in the listings of rare booksellers, and as a result have built my own personal collection of parlour plays. In searching, I made an exciting find: a set of three letters written by mid-century parlour playwright Eliza Keating to her publisher T. H. Lacy, concerning the publication of her Acting Charades. All evidence in my research pointed to women having an easier time writing for home theatre, but here was a woman’s actual voice offering real details about this process.

Eliza Keating's signature on one of the 1855 letters (MSS ****)

Eliza Keating’s signature on one of the 1855 letters (MSS 15628. Image by Elizabeth Ott)

The letters date from the early stage of Keating’s home theatre writing career, as most of her plays date from the 1860s. They are not long, but they reveal her often thoughtful, shrewd, and persuasive business sense in dealing with her publisher. In the first and third letters, she offers suggestions to Lacy about the printing process and pricing. In the first, she writes, “I was thinking that three shillings might repay – particularly if it were stitched in a pretty cover of fancy paper – binding we might dispense with.” In the third letter she states, “I think you do quite right to make the volume of Charades as cheap as you can – for people now like to have a great deal for their money[.] My copies I can sell at the price you mention.” In this letter she includes a postscript noting her further hopes for the timing and color of publication, evidently persuaded by Lacy that binding rather than stitching would suit her work: “Would it be possible to get the volume published by Christmas – I hope they will be bound in bright-colours – as they sell better – Can you give me an idea of the price – perhaps half a crown would pay.” While Keating from the start appears eager to engage in discussions of design and pricing, the continued correspondence suggests that Lacy was an encouraging correspondent.


This passage from the letter dated October 10, 1855 includes the only underlinings that appear in Keating’s letters to Lacy (Image by Elizabeth Ott).


A passage from the letter dated November 29, 1855 (Image by Elizabeth Ott)

The letters also disclose the role of actual parlour performance in Keating’s own life. Often, her friends are cited as performing her own work. In the first letter she writes: “I shall be enabled to have many copies subscribed for among my own friends – as the Charades were all got up by them – and people are fond of seeing in print – the nonsense they perpetrated in private.” In the third letter, discussing the appropriate order for her plays in the table of contents, she explains that her own personal copy of her plays “is briefly among my private friends.” Having no copy before her, she writes: “I presume the names of the Charade [sic] are very evident – Blue-Beard – Phaeton – Cataline / Guy Fawkes – I forget the order in which they come.” While copies of Blue-Beard exist, I have yet to find any of the other three plays tantalizingly listed here.

Keating’s second letter makes one curious about other details of her life. She acknowledges having received the “100 copies” forwarded by Lacy, and writes she “should have acknowledged the receipt of them ere this had I not met with an accident which for some time incapacitated me from writing.” To this letter, she adds: “P.S. I directed my friend Mr. Thirlwall to call in Wellingborough for a copy of my Charades – which you will add if you please to my account –.” I suspect she is referring to Connop Thirlwall (1797-1875), who, according to the Dictionary of National Biography was “historian and bishop of St. David’s,” just thirteen miles from Wellingborough. While Keating so kindly offers to add Thirlwall’s book to her own account, I also wonder whether a sort of name-dropping might have come into play here.


Keating alludes, somewhat mysteriously, to an “accident” in this undated letter [1855] (Image by Elizabeth Ott).

If you are interested in learning more about Eliza Keating, stay tuned for the full dissertation-turned-book. Keating is featured in Chapter Two, “A Parlour Education: Reworking Gender and Domestic Space in Ladies’ and Children’s Theatricals,” where I compare her fairy-tale theatricals written for adult performers with Florence Bell’s later 1890s fairy-tale plays written for children. My introductory chapter, the last of my dissertation to be written, discusses Keating’s letters to T. H. Lacy. Thanks to the Small Special Collections Library for making this possible!