The Sanctity of Archives

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

You may have heard about a controversy that has emerged this week surrounding the National Archives and Records Administration: NARA, which refers to itself as the “country’s record keeper,” has been taken to task for altering historic images used to promote its exhibit celebrating the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement. Images of the 2017 Women’s March were blurred to obscure references to “Trump” and female anatomy, drawing criticism from historians, the museum field, and many others (including those who participated in the March).

You can read about the controversy in this New York Times article.

History is messy and complex (and wonderful and an incredibly important resource). This controversy strikes a chord: it raises questions about how institutions like Maine Historical Society go about our work at a time when the concepts of “facts, ” “knowledge,” and “truth” are under siege.

At MHS, our mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. Central to our work is caring for and providing access to documents and other historical items that serve as the foundation of the historical record. We strive to provide broad access to our collections and work closely with partners throughout the state to develop exhibits, public programs, publications, and online resources that provide context for issues that Mainers are focused on today.

A core tenet articulated in our strategic plan states that MHS is “committed to rigorous scholarship, freedom of inquiry, confronting all aspects of the historical record, and advocates the use of history to support planning for the future.” We take this very seriously.

This means that we are meticulous in how we approach, think about, and present the historical record: we do not alter images, manipulate them for effect, sanitize them, or attempt to put aspects of Maine’s story in a more favorable light.

Our staff engages in constant discussion internally and with partners throughout Maine to identify topics of interest and relevance to the community, to include diverse perspectives, and to present multiple viewpoints.

There are inherent biases in all history—based on what records survive, what materials have been valued and collected, the era in which the history is written, and the background and perspective of the historian and institution. We work hard to identify, acknowledge, and address those biases.

I could cite many examples of MHS’s work in recent years that reflect these commitments: exhibitions on immigration in Maine, the paper industry, and Maine’s food culture and economy.

Our current exhibition, Holding Up the Sky, offers a case in point. As the State of Maine commemorates its Bicentennial this year, we felt that it was essential to first place 200 years of Statehood into the context of 13,000 years of Maine history. The exhibition explores the experience and leadership of the Wabanaki, Maine’s first people, who have lived here and been stewards of the place we now know as Maine for thousands of years.

Holding Up The Sky logo 1 NEW

The exhibit revisits historic documents, like treaties, from the Wabanaki perspective and acknowledges that early Maine leaders, like the Longfellow family (near and dear to MHS), acted in deeply disturbing ways (e.g. by offering scalping bounties). The story is complex, tragic, moving, inspiring, and many other things. It is a story that people who care about Maine need to know, good and bad. Information, awareness, and open dialog is the foundation for moving forward together on this and every other topic of contemporary interest and concern.

I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Holding Up the Sky before it closes on February 1.

Exhibitions are one important way for the public to encounter and explore history. Each story, fact, object, label, panel, and graphic plays a role in establishing knowledge, understanding, and trust. It is essential that each is presented with honesty, accuracy, and transparency.

We are fortunate: Maine has an incredible historical community. Scholars, professors, graduate students, and local historians are dedicated to these principles, as are museums, archives, local historical societies, libraries, and many other organizations throughout the state.

These individuals and institutions are an invaluable resource and source of information. You can be confident in their vigilance and commitment to providing information that supports civic dialog.

We deeply appreciate the support of MHS members and donors who make this work possible.

Jessie Franklin Turner: American Fashion Designer (1881-1956)

By Molly O’Donnell, MHS Costume Project Intern

Within the Maine Historical Society costume collections live multiple pieces designed by Jessie Franklin Turner dating between 1936 and 1942. Turner was an American fashion designer based out of New York City. She opened her shop in 1923 and retired in 1942. During her time, she was known for her unique and striking clothing. She developed her style by directly draping fabric onto the model, to achieve the elegant draped look that many of her garments captured. She was mostly known for tea gowns and her use of exotic and rare fabrics. Tea gowns were dresses that were inspired from negligee or home wear that were altered to be appropriate to be worn in public. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art houses a few tea gowns of their larger Jessie Franklin Turner collection.

In 1936 Vogue ran an advertisement about her stating that “special fabrics were woven to her specifications” and they were “dyed by her own formula.”  Turner was involved in every step of creating her garments. The ad also stated, “one of [Turner’s] greatest delights is to plan gowns that are a perfect complement to a woman’s own drawing room.” All of Turner’s pieces were characterized by simplicity and elegance. They were not meant to be the star of the show, but rather, to show off the woman wearing them.

Throughout her career, Turner moved her shop locations several times: in 1922 she was on 290 Park Avenue; less than a decade later she moved to 23 East 67th Street; and in 1936 she relocated to 410 Park Avenue. Maine Historical Society houses three garments by this wonderful designer: one long pink robe; one long-sleeved green dress; and a sleeveless green dress.

The pink robe is lined all the way through with magenta satin. It ties at the waist with a pale green tie. A pale green band made of the same material as the tie goes around the inside of the robe. Below the pale green band, the color of the satin changes from magenta to deep red. Another tie on the interior, made of magenta satin, helps hold the robe closed. The pale green and magenta line the sleeve cuffs. Shoulders are slightly padded. A designer dressmaker label on the inside seam below the green band reads: Jessie Franklin Turner, 410 Park Avenue, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We next examine the pale green, full-length long sleeve dress, which has a high, rounded neckline lined with brown trim. A pleat center front emerges from the neckline. There is a small cut out on each of the gently padded shoulders. The front of the dress has darts to make it fitted.

Sleeves are wide and constructed with multiple pieces of fabric with a seam around the elbow area. Four hook and eyes and a zipper are positioned on the proper left side. There is a waistband with two pleats coming from it on either side. The skirt is straight below the waistband. Lined with olive-green fabric, the inside has sweat guards to keep the dress in good condition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, the full-length sleeveless dress has frosted glad round beads around the arm holes and hem. The neckline is rounded, and arm holes are large and oval shaped. Shoulders are gathered. Fabric is constructed with a puckered and pleated oval pattern throughout, and the skirt flares with many narrow gores inserted from waist to hem. There is no waistline, but the gores give the dress its shape. The back of the dress is slightly longer than the front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All three of these garments have the sewn-in designer label Jessie Franklin Turner, 410 Park Avenue, New York. Originally, the pink robe was dated 1925-1935 and the dresses 1930-1940. However, since Turner did not move to 410 Park Avenue until 1936, all garments have to be post-1936, meaning the original dates were inaccurate. From research, we know that she dyed all her fabrics herself. The two green dresses are the same shade of green and the pink robe has a stripe of the green on the interior lining, along with the tie. Therefore, it is likely that all these garments were dyed around the same time and were part of the same collection.

Jessie Franklin Turner was a prevalent and creative designer during her time. As can be seen here, her garments were not only stylish, but they were also exceptionally well-made.

Notes from the Archives: The Friendship of Robert P. Tristram Coffin and Samuel Appleton Ladd Jr.

by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I love presentation copies. I also love Maine authors. A recent donation from  Samuel Appleton Ladd III of books owned by his father, Samuel Appleton Ladd, Jr., combines two of my favorite things in the collections of the Maine Historical Society, as well as incorporating other themes such as friendship, the bond of fraternal brothers, and artwork/illustration.

Samuel Appleton Ladd and author, poet, and Bowdoin professor, Robert P. Tristram Coffin were longtime friends. They were also members of the same fraternity at Bowdoin College, Zeta Psi, although at different times. Samuel Ladd was born in 1906, and Robert P. Tristram Coffin was born in 1892, and graduated from Bowdoin in 1915.

Evidence of this friendship is in this wonderful collection of books and their inscriptions, including some with drawings, from Coffin to Ladd, and his wife Estelle (“Dolly“). “Primer for America” is inscribed: “For Sam Ladd, who spends most of his money buying my books, and may he keep up the good works! With best wishes, in Tau Kappa Phi as brother in fraternity and life.”

Apparently “Tau Kappa Phi” is the greeting of those in the Zeta Psi fraternity. This inscription includes a charming picture drawn by Coffin of a coastal scene, complete with house on the shore (with smoke billowing out of the chimney), dory on the beach, a lighthouse, and lots of seagulls (seemingly birds are Coffin’s trademarks).

Another inscription in “Maine ballads” says: “for my friend and brother in Tau Kappa Phi and fellow Brunswickian, Sam Ladd Jr. with all neighborly wishes, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.”

In “Kennebec, Cradle of Americans” Coffin writes: “Inscribed for Samuel Appleton Ladd who has a good Bowdoin name, is a Bowdoin man, a brother [?], and now my friend, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.”

In Coffin’s “Collected Poems” he writes, “For Sam Ladd who reads my books as much as I do, friend and brother in TKØ, with best wishes Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” This inscription also includes a drawing by Coffin of a house with smoke rising from the chimney, and flanked with pine trees on either side.

In “Captain Abby and Captain John: An Around-the-World-Biography” the inscription says: “For Sam and Dolly Ladd who live around the corner and are my good friends, with best wishes, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” The drawing underneath shows a bunny and tracks in between two pine trees.

Even Dolly, Sam’s wife, has her own inscription in Coffin’s “Mainstays of Maine”, a cookbook: “For Dolly Ladd who is a New England artist and cookery and doesn’t own this book, but I am glad she has it so I can put my name on it and good wishes, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” The drawing under this inscription shows a bird carrying off an envelope.

Also in the collection is a book “Inscribed for Harry Oakes, Fellow in Bowdoin at whose home I spent a lovely Californian evening talking about Maine, with best wishes in Tau Kappa Phi, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” This is an intriguing tale, if indeed it is inscribed to Sir Harry Oakes, the gold mine owner, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. Oakes was born in Sangerville, Maine, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1896. He earned his fortune in Canada, and in the 1930s moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes, where he was murdered in 1943 in notorious circumstances.

This inscription has a date of February 19, 1948, but it looks like it could have been written at a different time. In any case, obviously Oakes was dead by then, but his daughter, Nancy, later lived in California – perhaps this is when the book was signed. There is a bust on their mantelpiece of the Zeta Phi House at Bowdoin College of Sir Harry Oakes, so this may have been the same Harry Oakes in the inscription. Underneath this inscription is a drawing of three birds flying.

Samuel Appleton Ladd, Jr. was on the Bowdoin College faculty for many years. During that time, he became the elder person at the Zeta Phi fraternity to keep order, good food, and be financially secure. Sam co-edited “An informal history of the Lamda Chapter of Zeta Psi at Bowdoin College, 1867-1967” (Brunswick Publishing Company, ca. 1967). Bowdoin later eliminated fraternities and turned them into housing places for students. All living members on the fraternities voted to re-name the houses and get rid of the Greek names. The Zeta Psi house, by popular vote, was named the Ladd House. It still stands today on College Street in Brunswick. (Information from the donor, Samuel Appleton Ladd III).

All together, these presentation copies, as well as other books which were part of the library of Samuel Appleton Ladd, give us a charming picture into long friendships and connections within the Bowdoin College family.