May 10, 2010 Archives Newsletter

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May 10, 2010


Clown and friend, Dillo Day, 1979.
News | Featured Collection | Monthly Highlights | Archives Tip



This Month's Highlights:
May Fest: Then & Now

Before there was Dillo Day and the month-long May Fest, there was Mayfete and the May Queen. (The three images shown here are from circa 1932.) Northwestern's springtime festivities started in the late 19th century and quickly grew into a centerpiece of campus life, with Mayfete becoming an annual all-campus event in 1910.

mayqueenThe highlight was the crowning of the May Queen and her court, but there was also a cotillion, pageant, and Maypole dance. By 1946, the addition of a women's sing, a men's sing, and an academic honors ceremony necessitated stretching May Day into May Week. Later, amidst growing student skepticism, 1969 was the last time a traditional May Court was selected. One take on how May Fest was fully formed is that in 1977 Greek Week, Armadillo Day, and A&O's Spring Festival were combined, but there are several theories.


The earlier May events have their origin in pagan celebrations of fertility and the return of the summer months, such as the festivals of Beltane, Walpurgis Night, and Flora, among others. Today, the same energy and love of having fun with good friends in good weather fuels contemporary festivities. If you would like to learn more about the history of these events, please visit the Archive's Northwestern's May Celebrations online exhibit.


Object Lesson: When the Boys of Summer Wore Wool
A monthly feature highlighting the artifact collection of the University Archives.cap

Thick wool, short sleeves, full collar, and felt letters in a semi-circle: what you see is what you get. Little is known about the origins of this baseball team jersey, but it still serves as a tangible connection to the sporting past of the university. Even without much supporting documentation, a little digging in the Archives yields some fruit...

The 1901 yearbook holds one of the earliest appearances of this style of baseball jersey in a photograph from circa 1899. After about a decade the jerseys had no overlapping collar, more like contemporary uniforms.


Read the rest of the story on our blog.

The Gift of Blossoms
placque A sure sign of spring's arrival and all-too-short transit through Evanston is a brief flash of purple, white, and gold over the ground near the south end of campus. Planted across the lawn between Sheridan Road and the sidewalk angling past Harris Hall, Northwestern's crocus bed, when in bloom, is a welcome sign of winter's passage.crocus

The bed is named in honor of Berenice J. Miller (d. 1998), wife of former NU President (later Chancellor) J. Roscoe "Rocky" Miller and Northwestern's "first lady" from 1949 to 1974. A much-admired member of the NU community, Berenice Johannesen Miller grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho and attended the University of Utah where she met her future husband. Graduating in 1927, Berenice married in 1928 and the Millers moved to Chicago where Rocky took his M.D. (1930) and M.S. (1931) degrees from Northwestern. Read more on our blog.


Book on Capone Uses NU Archives Material
Chicago-based author Jonathan Eig gives the Northwestern University Archives a credit in his new book Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster. Learn more at


Featured Collection:
Robert Kennicott-Henry M. Bannister Papers
shipThe Archives holds fascinating print and artifact materials from these two intrepid explorers and naturalists. The bulk of the collection consists of diaries, journals, and correspondence documenting the geography, flora, and fauna of several trips to
the then-wild lands of British North America (Canada) and Russian America (Alaska). A report of one expedition, presented to Congress by Bannister, was central to the United States' decision to purchase Alaska from Russia in 1867. For a full biography and guide to our holdings, please consult the finding aid.

kennicottThe journals are rich in descriptive detail about the landscape, people, and wildlife of these northern latitudes in the mid-19th century. In addition to the journals, we have several artifacts relating to these gentlemen, including a spyglass and a hand-blown glass paperweight.

Sandra Schlachtmeyer, an alumna of Medill, has a new book on Kennicott coming out in June, entitled A Death Decoded: Robert Kennicott and the Alaska Telegraph. The book focuses on the last two years of Kennicott's life, and especially his final journey collecting natural history samples while connected to an expedition researching the potential of running a telegraph line across Alaska to Siberia.

Schlachtmeyer used our manuscript material in researching the work and learned some fascinating things by focusing on some small details. 

Read more about this detective work in the archives, a mysterious death, and an upcoming event on our blog.

Tip of the Month:
We want your stuff! Learn more about donating student and alumni materials.

The University Archives:
The Archives has nearly 1000 processed collections and thousands of linear feet of material, including University records and publications, manuscripts of faculty, students, and alumni, graphics, sound recordings, and artifacts relating to Northwestern and its history. Browsing our website can help inspire choices of topics for research or general-interest purposes. Check our Finding Aids site for information about processed collections; our History and Traditions pages and Exhibits sites provide some great ideas; and browse through past entries in our This Day in NU History for items that pique your interest. As most of our holdings are not listed in the Library catalogue, we encourage inquiries by those looking for primary source documents or just a stroll through Northwestern's past.