Nov. 4, 2020
VCU Libraries’ history project sees shift in use amid COVID-19 and social justice protests
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"We're freely available online with materials to help inform folks as they consider the urgent questions of our time.”
VCU Libraries’ Social Welfare History Project and its companion Image Portal — which provide free access to contemporary scholarship, historic documents and images related to the history of social reform and efforts at humanitarian assistance in the U.S. — has experienced a shift in use during 2020, coinciding with preparations for the centenary of women’s suffrage, a year of racial injustice and reckoning, and an ongoing public health and economic crisis.
With their focus on the history of social reform, charitable organizations, and government programs to promote the common good, the Social Welfare History Project and Image Portal were well-positioned to serve as resources for students and the general public.
“We're freely available online with materials to help inform folks as they consider the urgent questions of our time: What should we do about people in need? Do we bear any responsibility for our neighbors? Who deserves help? Who should pay for the helping? Who gets to vote on these questions? The Social Welfare History Project lays out the issues and the solutions we've tried — both good and disastrous,” said Alice Campbell, the digital outreach and special projects librarian who manages the history project and image portal.
Throughout the year, numerous articles were posted to the Social Welfare History Project and dozens of new documents and images were added to the image portal by VCU Libraries and its institutional partners.
Both the history project and image portal continue to be freely available and used extensively — visited approximately 5,000 times each weekday. Beginning in summer, an increase in links to the site from learning management systems pointed to the Social Welfare History Project’s usefulness as a resource for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project was even recently mentioned by The Public Domain Review and the blog “Boing Boing,” highlighting a suffragette pamphlet from 1917, titled “This Little Book Contains Every Reason Why Women Should Not Vote.” The booklet, which is totally blank, is included in the Social Welfare History Project’s collection of texts from the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., the publishing arm of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Some items of interest published in the Social Welfare History Project:
- Erin N. Bush, Ph.D, guest scholar from the University of North Georgia, contributed research on Richmond’s “girl problem” and the Virginia Home and Industrial School for Girls, a white reformatory now known as the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center.
- Project manager Alice Campbell and Laura Crouch, a VCU Libraries information associate, researched and published a series of previously unrecognized sources regarding the 1916-17 organizing activities by Orie Latham Hatcher, Virginia Spotswood McKenney and the Bureau of Vocations for Women that led to the opening of the Richmond School of Social Economy.
- Also published was a biographical sketch of Anna M. Petersen, superintendent of the Virginia Home and Industrial School for Girls and a lecturer in eugenics during the first two years of the Richmond School of Social Economy/School of Social Work and Public Health.
- Celebrating Freedom: Juneteenth and Emancipation Day Commemorations, Richmond, Va., looked at the history of emancipation commemorations and their reporting in the white press.
- Red Cross Home Service Institutes at the Richmond School of Social Economy, an intensive six-week training course for women who would support the families of soldiers and sailors serving in World War I.
The Social Welfare History Project Image Portal added four Discovery Sets (mini-exhibits):
- The Anti-Suffrage Movement
- Wielding the Pen: Editorial Cartooning for Social Reform
- The Rhetoric of Fear
- Controlling the Vote – Rights. Registration. Representation.
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, new primary sources related to women’s history included:
- Photographs from the May 1, 1915, suffrage rally during which members of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia gave speeches from inside their car because the mayor refused to issue a permit for them to gather on city streets. Also posted is the permit the league successfully secured the following month.
- Numerous women’s suffrage periodicals. Researchers expressed particular interest in images VCU Libraries had posted of female cartoonists such as Blanche Ames Ames, Lou Rogers and May Wilson Preston.
- Numerous photographs and ephemera from the Richmond Exchange for Woman’s Work, the first woman’s shop established in Richmond (1883) “to assist ladies who … felt their privacy would be violated and their pride tarnished if the public knew they were forced to work for money.” These items were contributed by The Valentine and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
A number of documents related to voting rights, civil rights and African American history:
- Union Presbyterian Seminary shared a series of pamphlets from the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an organization formed in 1919 to oppose lynching and promote interracial dialogue and cooperation.
- VCU Libraries and image portal partners opened their collections to share documents from the history of African Americans and Black and white citizens’ efforts to improve education and public health and overcome voter suppression. Newly digitized documents from the complicated and painful history of white supremacy were also made available on the image portal.
- With public interest in the upcoming election and the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture contributed materials related to voting rights, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and opposition to the act by the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government.
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