Political Maneuvering: Updates and Changes to the Digital Collections, Fall 2015

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Screengrab of portion of the new BCPM homepage, available at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/bcpm

We’re taking the opportunity of this week’s blog post to highlight some changes to one of our partner institutions and – as it directly relates to us – their digital collections.

Announcing the Baylor Collections of Political Materials
Digital Collections!

Our friends at the W.R. Poage Legislative Library recently announced a return to their longstanding practice of referring to their unit as the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM), housed in the W.R. Poage Legislative Library. Debbie Davendonis-Todd, the Bob Bullock Archivist at the BCPM, sent along this history on the use of the BCPM name:

In 1979, the W. R. Poage Legislative Library Center was established to honor the public service of former Representative and Baylor alumnus W. R. “Bob” Poage. The Center has been home to a number of departments including a unit of the Baylor Libraries focusing on legislative materials. On April 18, 1991 an official name was unveiled: Baylor Collections of Political Materials or BCPM.”

Returning to a previous moniker and launching a shiny new website meant we had a chance to do a little reorganizing of the BCPM digital collections, with some collections relocating into new, thematically-focused curated collections and others receiving updated branding to reflect the Poage/BCPM name change.

The BCPM Digital Collections
These collections, created from materials housed in the BCPM, have been updated to reflect their holding institution’s name change; they can all be accessed from the BCPM institutional page in our Digital Collections site, or via the links below.

Two New Curated Collections

The JFK Assassination Analysis Collection
This collection contains materials related to the ongoing analysis surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Its contents span the spectrum of thought on Kennedy’s murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The JFKAAC is comprised of the following collections:

Political Campaign and Propaganda Materials
This collection contains materials related to political campaigning, propaganda and the pursuit of political office, as well as ephemera related to political campaigns. The PCPM is comprised of the following collections:


We hope you’ll take a moment to peruse the new BCPM site, and to take a look at the materials in the collections highlighted in this post. We’ll be adding new content from the BCPM in the coming weeks and months, and as new batches are ready for public consumption we’ll be highlighting them in this space. In the meantime, please follow the BCPM’s blog, “like” their Facebook page and check out their Tumblr site.

Thrown Down, Fired Up and Glazed Over: Introducing the Harding Black Collection

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.03.34 PMHow do we honor an innovator? Do we associate their name with their creation forever, like Eli Whitney and the cotton gin? Do we raise a statue in their honor? Do we put their name on a piece of currency?

Around here, we make a digital collection out of their work, like we did with Harding Black.

From the 1930s to the 1990s, Black was a master ceramist operating out of San Antonio. His pieces are sought after by collectors and, thanks to his long friendship with a Baylor art professor, hundreds of them have been housed in the Department of Art since Black’s retirement in 1995.

Black is perhaps most known for his innovations in the realm of color. Black kept notebooks filled with his formulas –  labeled with codes like C543, D349 and 4FUY30 – that specified the mix of pigments to create colors like Orange-Peel Oxblood and Pale Blue Celadon.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Museum Studies graduate student Josh Garland and professor of art Paul McCoy, Baylor’s collection of Black’s work has been photographed and cataloged and loaded into our new Harding Black Collection. In the collection, you can view hundreds of examples of Black’s work, watch videos of interviews with and about Black and even peruse his glaze formulas notebooks.

Special thanks to our metadata librarian, Kara Long, for guiding the staff at The Texas Collection to ensure these items have robust, searchable metadata and to Amanda Dietz for coordinating the project in your neck of the woods.

Sample Items from the Digital Collection

Connect with Harding Black Materials Online

Harding Black Portal

Digital Collection

Discovering Harding Black (via the Department of Art)

(And, as ever: Fire the Cannon!)

Farmers’ Wives, Insane Asylums and Dr. G.W. Truett’s Sermons of the 1940s


The Texas State Lunatic Asylum in Austin ca. 1875, courtesy the Austin Public Library. Dr. George W. Truett ca. 1940, image via Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX.

George W. Truett was an unrivaled master of the preacher’s art for telling an engaging story, for drawing parallels between the Bible’s cast of characters and his contemporary audience, and for recalling passages of Scripture at the drop of a mic. But even he wasn’t above falling prey to passing along misinformation, and in at least two recorded instances in the early 1940s, Truett used a “fact” he believed to be true to help illustrate the points of his sermons. Normally, this wouldn’t be worth pointing out, but the nature of the “fact” is so striking, so strange that it seemed like a fun source for this week’s blog post.

“We are told the alarming thing …”

In the middle of his May 4, 1941 sermon on “The Cause and Cure for Discouragement,” Truett underscores his point about the body’s need for rest and diversion with a story of Jesus encouraging his disciples to take some time to eat and get some rest (likely from Mark 6:31) with an eye-opening statistic. (Click below to listen to the archival audio.)

Truett tells his flock that going about life in a “treadmill way” without distractions or goals (“horizons” and “outside views” in his parlance) leads to insanity. His exact words: “We are told the alarming thing that the wives of tenant farmers […] more of them in proportion are in the insane asylums than any other group in the country.”

That’s a mighty bold assertion, especially in a time when in-patient mental health treatment – a.k.a. a trip to the “insane asylum” – would have carried major social stigmas and a good possibility of taking part in new treatments like electroconvulsive (electroshock) therapy, two prospects that would have been enough to deter most “tenant farmers’ wives” to work very hard to avoid such a trip.

This 1941 assertion wasn’t the only time Truett would use this story. In a sermon on July 5, 1942 on the subject “‘Hope Thou In God’,” Truett relays the same statistic, with a slightly different wording.

Here, a year after its first appearance, Truett hedges his bets a bit with his introduction: “You saw that announcement some time ago, widely heralded, that the largest number of people in our insane asylums in the country [are] [t]he wives of tenant farmers.” He then repeats his assertion that the reason for this is the “treadmill of daily experience, no new visions, no new horizons, no fresh challenges.”

In both sermons, Truett draws a direct – albeit tenuous – connection between the lack of “fresh horizons” and “monotony” and the onset of madness in the wives of tenant farmers. He does so by relying on having been “told” an alarming thing and on an “announcement some time ago.” Is it possible to track down the source of this information, and, if so, to verify or refute it?

The Tenant Farmer of Truett’s Day

Before we examine the “widely heralded” announcement in depth, it’s important to take a moment to familiarize ourselves with the kind of person about whom Truett is speaking. When we think of poor farmers in this era, one series of images comes immediately to mind: those of the “Migrant Mother” taken by Dorothea Lang in 1936.

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Alternate image from the “Destitute peapickers in California” series (also known as the “Migrant Mother” photos) by Dorothea Lang. Photo via the Library of Congress.

It is important to note that the family pictured here is not a tenant farming family; they are explicitly identified as “migrant” farmers, or farm laborers who move from place to place, working the harvest of each season depending on the type of crop and location where it was planted. They are transient by nature. A tenant farmer, by contrast, usually worked on land leased from a landowner, using tools and labor he supplied himself (as opposed to a sharecropper, whose only contribution was his labor; the tools and land both belonged to the landowner).

Tenant farmers, therefore, could be said to occupy a rung of the agricultural ladder a couple of steps higher than migrant farmers and sharecroppers, but their lot in life was not much better. They were still beholden to a landowner, gave up large portions of their profit (or harvest) in exchange for the right to work someone else’s land, and the likely drudgery and routine of their daily life was occasionally punctuated by the dramatic fear that came from a failed crop. In short, their lives were difficult, day-to-day affairs: the perfect setting for many to develop crippling mental illnesses.

Truett’s audience would have been very familiar with the kind of person to whom he referred when he described a “tenant farmer’s wife.” In an era when a large percentage of people still worked the land for a living, and having come out of the Great Depression (and with a World War looming on the horizon), Truett’s parishioners would have had no problem conjuring up the mental image of an overworked mother, living on an isolated farm somewhere in the hinterlands, nothing to look forward to except the addition of more children to the family and a routine existence built on repeating the same tasks day after day in a race to avoid destitution. It is not a pretty picture on its own, but where did the added specter of mental illness enter in?

The Possible Nexus of the Story (and its Refutation)

Thanks to a couple of clues in Truett’s sermons – like the use of the phrases “some time ago” and “widely heralded” – it is possible to conclude that Truett is drawing upon something that was popular in the general consciousness, at least enough so that his audience would be more likely to nod in recollection at his story than to stare uncomprehendingly at the reference. But we must keep in mind that Truett had been preaching for the better part of five decades at the time of these recordings, so his frame of reference for stories like this is likely much longer than those of the average person in the sanctuary that day. Truett had also spent a great deal of time over his career going to remote areas like farms and cattle ranches and preaching to the people there, so the idea of isolated women suffering mental breakdowns would have likely been more familiar to him than to other pastors.

Thanks to the power of Google Books, we were able to track down what may be the source of this story. In 1874, an edition of The Farmer’s Magazine was printed that included a letter written by a Rev. John Storer. Published under the headline “The English Labourer in Canada,” the letter writer sets out to support and refute the claims of a Mr. Arch, who wrote an article on the life of a typical laborer (farmer) in British Canada. Along the way, Storer writes the following:

I have been credibly informed that a large proportion of the female inmates of the lunatic asylums are farmers’ wives, whose reason has been impaired by incessant toil and anxiety of mind, and this is notoriously the case in the States, as the statistics of the New York State Lunatic Asylum and many others will show.”

Setting aside the fact that Storer cites no authority for this assertion (merely saying that he has been “credibly informed”), the wording of this sentence almost perfectly mirrors the kind of language Truett would use in his sermon almost 70 years later.

This article – or something like it – must have been widely disseminated enough to necessitate a refutation, and it got one in a big way courtesy Dr. George G. Groff. In 1908, Groff read a paper at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture titled, “Who Go Mad? Insanity Not a Rural Disease.” In it, he gives us a clue to the pervasive nature of the “tenant farmers’ wives in the asylum” trope.

Frequently, views widely held, and zealously propagated by earnest writers and speakers, have yet no basis whatever in fact. Such is the belief that insanity is especially a disease which attacks people who live on farms and in small country villages. […]

The statement is varied in many other forms: ‘Two-thirds of the inmates of our lunatic asylums are farmers’ wives'; ‘Statistics positively show that the largest group in our insane asylums are farmers’ wives.’ A popular lecturer at our Chautauquan assemblies repeated the same thing over and over again during the past summer. The above statements have been made during the year by two of the best known American women of letters, probably without their ever thinking for a moment that they are without any foundation.

Groff also says that the women’s tendency to “this dreary state of things” is not from “want of money, but want of opportunity and the must-be-so-because-it-always-has-been-so attitude which limits her horizon.” (Emphasis added.) He goes on to refute the assertion of major numbers of farmers’ wives in Pennsylvania’s asylums by citing actual patient totals for the state asylums from “recent reports,” including the occupation and family status of male and female patients alike. Of 1,653 married women patients, 38 were either wives or widows of farmers, for a total of 4% of the population – far below the 2/3 cited by popular speakers of the day.

Finally, Groff makes his own assertion as to the improved health (mental and physical) enjoyed by people who live in the country as opposed to the early 20th century’s crowded cities.

There is no isolation. There is freedom, splendid freedom from servile care where the wind blows free over range and forest, and if the multitude of humble bread getters in the cities could only be brought to realize the advantages of country life, the tenements would show a surprising depopulation. In the country, the rich find greatest recreation and the extremely poor a better living than they could glean from the world elsewhere.


All of this is not to take away from Dr. Truett’s main point, however. People need a life of fulfilled expectations, of new challenges and things to aspire toward, if they are to truly flourish. They are to take time to rest their minds and bodies, to seek God’s direction for their life and to apply themselves toward the betterment of their fellow man. And Truett can also be granted a certain measure of grace in his citing something that was taken for common knowledge in the early 1940s. After all, it was highly unlikely that he would have read the General Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for 1908, and he didn’t have the advantage of typing the phrase “tenant farmers wives insane asylum” into a search tool that scours trillions of pages’ worth of data in nanoseconds.

Still, while it may be an effective public speaking tool to take two minutes to paint a vivid mental image – like a desperate farmer’s wife sinking slowly and inexorably into madness, alone and overwhelmed on the fringes of a wild and hostile continent – the facts in this case simply don’t bear out Truett’s thesis. Fortunately, his primary source material for the rest of his sermons – the Holy Bible – is something he had quoted reliably for his entire adult life, and he uses it to great effect for the remaining 30 minutes of each of these preaching masterworks, preserved forever in vinyl and digital format for the world to hear.

You can hear the two sermons mentioned in this post, as well as dozens more, in the George W. Truett Sermons Collection via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

Works Cited

The Farmer’s Magazine, 1874 in a letter by a Rev. John Storer and published under a headline “The English Labourer in Canada.” (Read the original article via Google Books.)

General Bulletin, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, 1908. Article titled, “Who Go Mad? Insanity Not a Rural Disease” by Dr. George G. Groff, sanitarian. (Read the original article via Google Books.)



Well Done, Sister Suffragette! Celebrating the 95th Anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment at Baylor

This week marked the 95th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the addition to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits denying the right to vote to any American citizen on the basis of sex. The amendment marked the culmination of years of activism and struggle on behalf of women across the country, and in the years leading up to its passage on August 18, 1920, two major suffragists visited the campus of Baylor University to issue their clarion call for change.

Anna Howard Shaw

Anna Howard Shaw in 1914 and the Carroll Library where she spoke in 1919

Anna Howard Shaw in 1914 and the Carroll Library where she spoke in 1919

Anna Howard Shaw was a prominent leader in the women’s suffrage movement, having been active in both the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. She was also a physician and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. She had worked with women’s activists like Susan B. Anthony  and Carrie Chapman Catt. Her prominent position in the suffrage movement made her a sought-after speaker, and her trip to Waco occurred on April 11, 1919. According to the April 17th edition of the Lariat, Dr. Shaw impressed the urgency of the situation on her listeners.

After being introduced by Dr. W.P. Witsell, Dr. Shaw outlined briefly the development of the equal suffrage movement in the United States. She then entered into her argument, refuting most efficiently the every opposition to woman’s right to vote.

The fact that we live in a democratic age and under a government, constitutionally defined as a democracy in which all people must have a share, was among the first points brought out as proof of the right of woman’s suffrage.

‘The only way to refute that argument,’ said Dr. Shaw, ‘is to prove that women are not people.’ She also said that men are allowed a voice in the government not because they are men, but  because they are thinking human beings, and she maintains that women, also, deserve the same advantage.

Dr. Shaw’s appearance at Baylor would turn out to be one of her last public speaking engagements. On July 2, 1919, she would die at her home in Pennsylvania after a bought of pneumonia. She was 72 years old.

Annie Webb Blanton

Annie Webb Blanton ca. 1929 and a peek through the trees at Carroll Chapel where she spoke in 1920

Annie Webb Blanton ca. 1929 and a peek through the trees at Carroll Chapel where she spoke in 1920

Annie Blanton was one of Texas’ leading suffragettes. In 1918, Texas held the first statewide elections in which women could cast a ballot. Blanton was elected Superintendent of Texas Public Instruction, making her the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.

Blanton’s message to Baylor’s student body was two-fold: to discuss the passage of a statewide amendment to address Texas’ many educational needs and to encourage women to turn out at the polls to help it pass. According to the article in the August 12, 1920 Lariat, the state of the educational system in Texas at the time was very poor. Texas had lost almost all of its male teachers – primarily to service in World War I, one suspects – and the salaries for teachers statewide were among the lowest in the country. As the head of Texas’ public school system, Blanton knew the problems firsthand, and her plea to the Baylor community carries real emotion.

Blanton ended her talk by reminding the women in attendance that, should the nineteenth amendment be ratified prior to the vote on the education amendment, women would be eligible to vote regardless of whether or not they had paid their poll tax.

Baylor would celebrate its Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) in 1920, and the fact that its reputation had grown large enough to draw such high-caliber speakers in that short a time speaks volumes about the university’s place on the national stage.

There are lots more suffrage-related materials in our Baylor Archives. Read up on the movement today!

Jax and EBB Sitting ‘Neath A Tree / R-H-Y-M-I-N-G: On Sesame Street’s “Sons of Poetry” and the Brownings

What do fictional Northern California biker gangs, a beloved television institution and two Victorian poets have in common? According to this video from Sesame Street’s amazing line of pop culture parody skits, they share a love of rhyming couplets, of course.

In typical Sesame Street fashion, they’ve taken something decidedly adult – the hit FX show Sons of Anarchy, which features violence, drugs, adult themes and language aplenty – and reformatted it to teach pre-K kids about the importance of rhyming. Your tax dollars at work, America!

The setup is that Robert and Elizabeth, who are sitting under a tree (natch), are enjoying a beautiful day in nature, but Robert is having a hard time finding a rhyme to finish this little ditty:

Roses are red / violets are blue
Sugar is sweet / and I love …

Fortunately for our puzzled poet, the Sons of Poetry ride into town and do what they do best: glower, collaborate and come up with solutions. (If you ever watched the source program, which several of us did through all seven seasons, you’ll know that the SAMCRO gang spends lots of time doing the first two, and the third one usually involves someone getting killed in a creative but extra-legal way.)

Because there’s magic in threes – and because Sesame Street has a whole hour of airtime to fill every weekday morning – we get the Sons working through three options to finish Robert’s rhyme: shoe, moo and stew. Immediately, I wondered if any or all of them showed up in the full text of our Browning Letters Project, and it turns out two of them do! (It would have been quite a surprise if “moo” had turned up, of course.) And now, presented without context (because it’s more absurdist fun that way), are some times Robert or Elizabeth used the words “shoe” or “stew” in their personal correspondence!

I was thinking last night that when you come & drop the silver penny into my shoe, our dear Mr Kenyon might just as well be here to take his chance for a penny too! What do you think?

Page 3, letter from Elizabeth to Mary Russell Mitford, September 25, 1841

I am grateful to all my guardian “little spirits with shoe buckles,” who ‘preserve my life’ from grandeeism, & “company” in the general forms of it.

Page 8, letter from Elizabeth to Mitford, July  22, 1845

I thought, thought, thought of you,-& the books I took up one by one .. (I tried a romance too .. “Les femmes” by a writer called Desnoyers .. quite new, & weak & foolish enough as a story, but full of clever things about shoe tyes .. philosophy in small:) the books were all so many lorgnons through which I looked at you again & again.

Page 1, letter from Elizabeth to Robert, August 9, 1845

(See more examples of the poets’ use of word “shoe” here!)

I did not stand in reach just now of the temptations of mesmerism. I might have said that I shrank nearly as much from these ‘temptations’, as from Lord Bacon’s stew of infant children for the purposes of witchcraft– Well—then I am getting deeper & deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet & mystic,—& we are growing to be the truest of friends–

Page 10, letter from Elizabeth to Julia Martin, ca. January 28, 1845

A German professor selects a woman who can merely stew prunes-not because stewing prunes & reading Proclus make a delightful harmony, but because he wants his prunes stewed for him & chooses to read Proclus by himself.

Page 1, letter from Elizabeth to Robert, August 12, 1846


Because Robert can’t get his act together, he ends up losing the girl to the leader of the biker gang, which has probably happened a lot more times throughout history than we’d care to think about, even if it is in opposition to the real life ending of the courtship between Robert and Elizabeth. But then again, we weren’t able to find any references to Robert having to fend of a band of gun-running narco-bikers to keep fair Elizabeth’s hand, so maybe he merely lived in simpler times than our Muppet friends.

Lastly, in case you’re not familiar with Sons of Anarchy, we thought you’d like to see how well the geniuses at Sesame Street were able to replicate a crew of hardened criminals using only felt, yarn and elbow grease. Enjoy!

tig clay Bobby JAX

You can read more letters by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in our Browning Letters Project. The entire 7-season run of
Sons of Anarchy is available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you can watch Sesame Street at pbskids.org. And if you want to see portraits and other artifacts related to the Brownings, be sure to visit the Armstrong Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University!