By Nancy Noble, Archivist/Cataloger
I love scrapbooks. Even though they can be problematic, they have much to recommend them. They can be charming and quirky – the whimsical selections reflect the tastes of the compiler. They can be informative – documenting a movement or organization. And they can be indicative of how people created, collected, and presented information many years ago, in the days before the digital tools we have at our fingertips existed.
So, it wasn’t much of a hardship to make it a summer project to pluck over 100 scrapbooks out of backlog, where some have been languishing for at least 50 years, waiting to see the light of day. (Mostly I was weary of shifting them around and in desperate need of space).
109 scrapbooks later, I want to share with you my favorites, as well as some observations about them.
They typically contain newspaper clippings, but some include programs, correspondence, and photographs. Many focus on a theme, such as the hurricane of 1938 (Scrapbook 17), tuberculosis (Scrapbooks 45 and 84), and World War II. The war scrapbooks focus on scrap salvage efforts (Scrapbook 7), and men and women from the Belfast area who served in the military (Scrapbooks 50, 57, and 58). Two of my favorites are about the Emerson Mason School of the Dance (Scrapbook 122) and the Dorothy Mason School of the Dance (Scrapbook 123). The Emerson-Mason School of the Dance was located at 73 Oak Street in Portland, and run by Janet Emerson and Dorothy Mason. It was later known as the Dorothy Mason School of the Dance. Dorothy Mason (Mrs. John Wesley Craig) operated her school for 45 years.
I enjoyed cataloging the scrapbooks compiled by William E. Sutherland, the longtime chief engineer on the Oakey L. Alexander. He compiled a scrapbook about the wreck of that freighter, which shipwrecked off of Cape Elizabeth in 1947 (Scrapbook 52, as well as other scrapbooks on maritime history (Scrapbooks 44 and 83).
Several organization have scrapbooks represented: the Portland Port Commission (Scrapbooks 1-5), the Maine Federation of Music Clubs Choir Festivals (Scrapbooks 16, 63, and 64), Daughters of the American Revolution Maine (Scrapbook 54), and a large collection of 18 scrapbooks kept by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Maine (Scrapbooks 80, 100-116).
The Hospitality Committee of the Portland Chamber of Commerce (1928-1943) includes a photograph of waitresses at the Cabaret D’Art in 1930, as well as photographs pasted into the scrapbook of a picnic on Peaks Island in1933 (Scrapbook 85).
Some revolve around people, such as a scrapbook compiled by Philip Greely Clifford about his father William Henry Clifford, a lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1886 (Scrapbook 47). Scrapbook 125 features Clyde H. Smith and his wife Margaret Chase Smith, including clippings regarding the death of Clyde, and the subsequent succession of Margaret, who assumed his office in the United States House of Representatives. And then there is one about Carrie Kidwell Steward of West Virginia, a vocalist and pianist who performed in Skowhegan and Portland in 1900. The scrapbook (Scrapbook 60) includes concert programs, clippings, personal correspondence, a February 3, 1891 invitation to the White House, a wedding announcement for Carrie to Mr. Philo Steward (January 9, 1895), and several small portraits.
There are also interesting scrapbooks having to do with government entities such as post offices and police departments. Scrapbook 17 contains clippings regarding the post office in Portland from about 1927-1952, the gem of which is a typescript memo and related article from 1927 regarding postal employees learning how to shoot pistols. Interspersed are wedding and obituary notices, many of which concern post office employees. Scrapbook 88 has newspaper clippings mostly related to news about the Portland Police Department in the 1920s-1930s, including promotions, deaths, retirements, and crimes and arrests.
Scrapbooks can contain newspaper columns or series. There are six compiled by George Curtis Wing consisting of his column, “From the sidelines,” published in the Lewiston Sun (Scrapbooks 10-15). George C. Wing Jr. was born and raised in Auburn. He was a politician, lawyer, served on the Maine House of Representatives from 1921-1922, and served as mayor of Auburn from 1934-1935. Earle G. Shettleworth, Maine’s State Historian and the Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, wrote a series of articles, mainly from 1965-1967 (with some articles as late as 1978), entitled “Portland’s Heritage,” which ran in the Portland Evening Express (Scrapbook 42).
Elizabeth E. Fox is the queen of the scrapbook compilers, having assembled 20 related to Maine history, especially Portland and Westbrook history (Scrapbooks 19-36, 72). Edward C. Clarey’s passion was for the Robinhood and Georgetown area (Scrapbooks 65-68) – he was born in 1876 in Georgetown where he spent more of this life, working on his farm. He compiled many of these in the 1950s, shortly before his death in Bath in 1960. Harry S. Boyd was interested in Portland history, and compiled 6 scrapbooks related to that (Scrapbooks 37-41). Boyd (1878-1868) wrote A History of Portland Banks in 1895, and worked as a bank cashier or treasurer for most of his life.
Whether about specific topics or organizations, or general history of a time or place, scrapbooks offer a fascinating look into an era, of what was important or of interest to folks in Maine. Scrapbooking continues to be popular today, although in a different format, oftentimes digital.
To view all our scrapbooks in our catalog, click here.