You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!


Does anyone recognize the handsome piece of furniture in this 1920s photograph?  The booklet that the little girl is holding provides a clue:  It reads “Victor Records.”  Perhaps she’s picking out a favorite song to play on the new family phonograph.  “These wonderful instruments” were sold in music stores and department stores all over Connecticut at prices ranging from $15 to nearly $1000. Virtually any family could afford to have one so that they could listen to their favorite dance tunes, Sousa marches, or opera performances.  Advertising suggested that “a jolly little home concert always brushes our small troubles away.”  My family had a similar record cabinet when I was growing up and I remember listening to scratchy recordings of children’s books along with classical music and tunes from musical comedies.  It seemed magical to me in the 1950s and it must have seemed miraculous indeed to this little girl in the 1920s.  Today she would be downloading music off the Internet and using headphones to listen to it on her personal MP3 player.

A messy divorce, 19th century style

Sometimes, our volunteers and interns have all the fun!  If you can call divorce fun.  In the papers of Augustine Harlow (Ms 68508), processed by Zac Mirecki, are a series of letters from Augustine’s sister Flora Barry who was living in Boston.  The letters date from 1872-1873,  and in them she details the actions of her husband, Charles A. Barry, in obtaining a divorce.

The first indication that all was not well is enclosed in a letter dated November 16, 1872.  He wrote: “I have fully resolved to make a change in my domestic affairs on the first of December next.  I am not happy here, and the expense to me in carrying on so large an establishment as this is greater than I can any longer than the first of December willingly meet.”  On December 4, he wrote again: “A few days before you went away from this City–on the 27th of November last–I made known to you that I could not continue to live as we have lived–in an expensive manner. You have been away from home–against my wishes–a large part of the time for several years.”  He tried to get her to agree to a separation, which she refused to do.  Flora was a singer and was on frequent concert tours  and she mentions trips to Maine, Nova Scotia, and Chicago.  Evidently Charles did not like her independent life style.  When he issued his ultimatum to move to a smaller house and stop traveling, she refused and he sued for divorce.  But not before punching her in the eye and cheek and publishing slanderous articles in the Boston newspapers.

The end of the story is that Flora finally filed her own divorce suit against Charles, and when he did not bother to show up, the divorce was granted.  These letters are intriguing in that rarely do we get to see the inner workings of a marriage in total failure.

The  Augustine Harlow papers are a study in contrasts.  The bulk of the collection consists of letters exchanged almost daily between Augustine and his wife, Ella, who had a very happy and loving marriage.  The less positive side of life is reflected in the letters of Emma Jean Ritner, Ella Harlow’s sister, in which she mentions local incidents of rape and sexual assault as well as instances of childhood injury.  Love, courtship, divorce, assault all in one collection.  The research possibilities are endless!

What are you working on?

This is a question I am asked routinely by family, friends, and co-workers. Admittedly, I often struggle to come up with something more profound than, “Uh…um…you know, stuff.” I encounter great material every  day, and it is so hard to remember all of it! The larger collections are usually easier to recollect, simply because they can be discussed more broadly. Many times, though, some of the most original pieces are found in the smaller collections.

Such was the case today as I started working on the Solomon Porter papers (MS 62050, 0.25 linear foot, 1 box). Solomon Porter was born in Windsor in 1753. He later moved to Hartford where, in 1782, he married Rebecca Dodd. The earliest papers date from 1783, when Porter was working as a merchant with his father, Nathaniel Porter. I found three pieces that were different than I have seen before.

A traveler, perhaps one of the Porters, journeyed to Boston and made several stops along the way. This piece demonstrates that not only did the traveler make multiple stops along the way, but he chose to stop at different places on the way home from Boston than on the way there.

The Porters sold a variety of goods, including musical instruments. Who knew that instructions for German flutes were so popular. The list suggests they had 48 copies! Most often I read of merchants selling staples such as wheat and sugar. Not too many are selling bassoons!

My favorite for the day is a 1792 order for a backgammon table, clothes, and “print of an angel descending with a child.” The buyer wants to make sure the coat binding they receive will match their clothes, and has therefore attached five samples to the letter, with wax.  There are so many things about this piece I enjoy, and if I were teaching, I think this piece could provide young students with so many lessons. Among other things, I would love to show the wax seals and refer to it as 18th century Scotch tape.

Connecticut composers

Herman Katims, and his wife Miriam Lapin Katims,  were pianists and composers who lived for many years in the Rowayton section of Norwalk, Connecticut. The couple each had several pieces of music published. The collection contains copies of their copyright registrations with the Library of Congress. Copies of their songs, including “Caprice and Fuge”, “No Longer” and “Knickerbocker on Parade” can be found as well. The bulk of the papers are manuscript musical compositions, most without any provenance.  We hope a person with more music knowledge than any one on our staff has can help us identify some of these pieces.  These manuscript compositions are found in both spiral notebooks and loose pages. Family photographs are also included. In 1935 Herman Katims performed in Carnegie Hall. Oversized items in the collection are a poster from the Carnegie Hall performance and additional music scores. Miriam Katims taught piano lessons to local students. The couple also owned their own music publishing company, The Lyric Music Company, which they operated out of their home.

Herman Katims Music Collection, 1930-1980, MS 94883.

Leena Cravzow Lippman

Leena Cravzow (1913-2006), the daughter of Russian Jews, was an accomplished pianist in Hartford. She attended Julliard School of Music and also took lessons from the noted pianist R. Augustus Lawson. Lawson, who was African American and Indian, was born in Kentucky but moved with his family to Hartford. He studied at Fisk University and later taught at the Hartford School for Music.

Through a lot of hard work on my part, and not a little angst all around, we recently purchased a small collection of Leena’s letters dated 1935-1992. There are four letters written to her by Lawson, which is what attracted us to the collection in the first place. However, reading letters written by Leena’s friend Thelma Altschuler Wachsteter is worth the time and effort. She has a wonderful turn of phrase and is not afraid to tackle any subject, even menstruation. Most of her advice is about men, love and marriage. Leena was a bit of a late bloomer–she was not married until about 1957 when she was past the “old maid” age of 30.

Later letters to Leena and her husband Sam Lippman are written by someone named Ed who also writes an entertaining letter from retirement in Florida. His companion is his dog, and Ed writes about the dog as if he were a person.