Women at the Forefront: The American Association of University Women

“We are living through one of those rare moments in history when profound changes are being made in our social and economic order… University women should be the leaders in reviewing old laws and testing them… We should be familiar with proposed laws and assist our community in understanding their full significance.”

Legislative Chairman, Miss Harriet Elliott, September 25, 1935
Delegates at the International Fellowship of University Women in Toronto Canada, August 13, 1947; American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

On November 28, 1881, with light snow falling in the chill air, 17 college graduates from eight colleges met in Boston to discuss the need for an organization related to higher education. At this point in history a plethora of college groups and societies related to higher education existed- the honor society Phi Theta Kappa was founded more than a century prior to when this meeting occurred. So why the need for another college organization? What was so interesting about this particular group of people who were meeting to discuss it?

They were all women.

The group was led by Marion Talbot and Ellen Richards, and their goal was to increase higher education opportunities for women through the formation of an organization devoted to women scholars. They would name their organization The Association of Collegiate Alumnae. By January 14, 1882, the organization was formally established and they would release their first research report establishing that women’s health was not adversely affected by attending college- a rather novel idea at the time.

Pamphlet from the Toronto Delegation, American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The Association of Collegiate Alumnae would go on to release several additional reports- a gender-based salary study in 1907, followed by a report presenting evidence that women during this time period were paid 78 percent of what men similarly employed were earning. By 1921 the Association moved into its new headquarters in Washington D.C., a mere two blocks from the White House, and continued to remain active in current events affecting women.

Later that same year, the Southern Association of College Women formally merged with the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, creating the American Association of University Women, or the AAUW. Today the AAUW is a non-partisan, non-profit organization whose members promote equity for women and girls through education, research, and advocacy. The AAUW comprises over 170,000 members, with over 1,000 local branches and 800 participating college and university members.

Closer to home, the Asheville Branch of the American Association of University Women has a similar and equally storied history. Founded in 1915 by sixteen female college graduates, this branch of the AAUW is the fourth oldest branch in North Carolina. These women organized the Western North Carolina Branch of the Southern Association of College Women, which merged with the AAUW in 1921.

North Carolina Bulletin, American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The North Carolina Branch of the AAUW tackled community projects from the outset, including assisting with the Salvation Army and visiting patients in local sanitariums. Women’s education remained at the forefront though, and members established night schools and helped set up the public library. The membership rolls of this local branch of the AAUW contains an abundance of Asheville women who were instrumental in making significant inroads for women and girls in Western North Carolina.

Achievement List, American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Indeed, the Asheville AAUW’s History in the area showcases various projects through the decades, from helping set up a juvenile court system to aiding refugees of World War II with their Refugee Shop. The Shop netted over $20,000 in its first year and was so successful that it continued to operate for thirty more years. The Refugee Shop did not go unnoticed on a national level either- the Asheville Branch of the AAUW received the US Treasury Award for the Shop in 1943.

The AAUW Chapter of North Carolina boasts many impressive achievements throughout it’s history, including their Women in History project, which provided local elementary schools’ fifth grade classes with a viewpoint of History from a woman’s perspective. In 2002, the branch inaugurated their GEM Fund- Gaining Educational Momentum, a 501 (c)3 non-profit endowment for local scholarships for women whose education was interrupted or postponed. They have awarded over $160,000 in scholarships to date, in order to help women achieve their educational, employment, and research goals.

GEM Brochure, American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The Asheville Chapter of the AAUW continues to grow and maintain their ongoing commitment to AAUW’s mission. Here at UNC Asheville’s Ramsey Library Special Collections, we are honored to hold their archives and consider their collection an instrumental addition to part of our mission of documenting and preserving the significant achievements women have made in Buncombe County and Western North Carolina.

Certificate of Achievement, American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Today marks UNC Asheville’s Fall 2019 Commencement for its winter graduates, and it is collections like the American Association of University Women which remind us that education is, and should remain, a pathway to a brighter future for all that wish to seek it.

On that note, we would like to wish our graduates “Good Luck!” today and always, as well as a very Happy Holiday to all of you from Special Collections! We will see you all in the New Year!


American Association of University Women, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.



www.newspapers.com, The Boston Globe

Suffrage: An Emblem of Women’s Equality

“The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guarantee of your liberty… Understand what it means and what it can do for your country.”

Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, upon the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote

As voters went to the polls this week for off-year election voting, the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment rapidly approaches. The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage– which guaranteed and protected women’s constitutional right to vote. This landmark ruling remains relevant in light of current issues related to equal rights for all and calls to mind the women behind this historic milestone of Democracy.

The National Voter Magazine, 1989/1990, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

On March 23, 1919, in St. Louis Missouri, a “jubilee” convention was held which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Wyoming as the first territory (prior to statehood), to recognize rights of women on the ballot. Another prerogative of the women at the convention was to form a “league of women voters.” This League of Women Voters would be responsible for organizing a campaign for national women’s suffrage and proposed that its members be a determining factor in vital political issues across the Nation.

1946 History, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The idea gained quick momentum, and an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times on March 26, 1922 discussed the possible formation of a local chapter of the League in Asheville. There were a few additional blurbs mentioning the local League, but on August 11, 1922, buried on page 7, there was a small reference to the meeting being postponed due to the absence of several members. The next mention of an Asheville chapter would not come until Thursday, November 20, 1947.

Program, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Why the lapse in time? What happened to the Asheville chapter from 1922-1947? Unfortunately, there’s not a clear answer. However, here at UNC Asheville’s Special Collections, we are the repository for the records and Archives of the League of Women Voters for Asheville. While we have not yet located material in the collection which speaks to the League’s absence between those years, there is still a plethora of other fascinating history to uncover.

Correspondence, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Indeed, one such intriguing piece of history can be found in the very first box of material containing several years worth of correspondence. In one of the first dated pieces, in a letter to the Asheville chapter from the President of the National League of Women Voters, Miss Anna Lord Strauss, she imparts upon its members “… that democracy is, in reality, a young and revolutionary idea in a world far more accustomed to authoritarianism.” President Strauss goes on to highlight the importance of a representative government, selected by its citizens and ready to accept full responsibility for upholding the freedoms of its Republic.

Correspondence, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

To this end, the League utilized various publications and educational resources to assist in championing their causes. In 1951, “The National Voter” magazine was first published. North Carolina chapters of the League employed their own publications, including the “Tarheel Voter,” the “North Carolina Voter,” and various brochures, pamphlets, and programs. In 1957, the League of Women Voters Education was formed to educate and inform citizens of major public policy issues, both national and local.

The Tarheel Voter, 1951, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Indeed, the Asheville chapter of the League of Women Voters, the same as their local, state, and national compatriots, often lobbied fiercely over issues of taxes, the environment, the United Nations and International Trade, employment, and Constitutional freedoms, and they completed the work to sustain their position. Each League in North Carolina prided themselves on both their study and action: “Its reputation for thorough study of the issues it selects to work on is a second ‘shining armor,’ along with non-partisanship, when the League goes to testify or lobby, or takes an issue to the community.”

The National Voter, 1955, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Today, the agenda of the League of Women Voters, both National and local chapters, remains much the same. The League’s grassroots organization champions the idea of voters as instrumental in shaping public policy. Non-partisan, the group focuses on issues that affect voters regardless of party affiliation. The League opposes partisan and racial gerrymandering, is a proponent for health care reform, and supports a transparent donation trail in elections. The League also takes great pride in advocating for voter rights for all American citizens, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race, and they work to ensure that elections are fair, free, and accessible to all eligible citizens.

The Voters’ Handbook, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

At a 1966 National Convention in Denver, North Carolina League President Louise Pitman (from Asheville), recalled receiving a message from Zella Leonard, a Chapel Hill member and former National Board member. Zella’s message read: “Keep your shirt on, the League of Women Voters can’t reform the world in five days.” Perhaps not, but looking at a storied history which has inspired an organization that is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all, the League is well-positioned to ensure that everyone at the table- regardless of political affiliation, race, or gender- has a voice in ensuring the future of “The Great Experiment.”

Brochure, League of Women Voters of Asheville/Buncombe County Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.


  • “Last Great Convention Woman Suffrage Soon,” The Asheville Citizen, March 23, 1919.
  • “What the League of Women Voters is and Intends to Do,” Mrs. L.E. Fisher, The Asheville Citizen, March 26, 1922.
  • League of Women Voters, https://www.lwv.org/
  • League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, https://www.lwvab.org/

Exhibit on RiverLink: Asheville-Based Activism in the French Broad Watershed

The month of October is considered Archives Month across the nation and the theme for the upcoming year is Activism and Social Justice in North Carolina. The purpose of Archives month is to raise awareness in the Archives and what better way to do so than to spotlight Archival collections that illustrate a passion for local activism. Our Special Collections and Archives staff are members of the Society of American Archivists, as well as the Society of North Carolina Archivists, and we are excited to participate in Archives month as well.

Beginning stages of the RiverLink Exhibit in UNC Asheville’s Special Collections Reading Room for Archives month.

On that note, UNC Asheville’s Special Collections received a collection from RiverLink in 2017, and in 2018 the collection was processed by both staff members and interns. The collection has an online finding aid and is available for researchers to use. Special Collections will also be receiving additional material from RiverLink, which we will add to the collection soon. And since it is Archives month and this collection is an excellent example of a local activism group, let’s take a closer look at RiverLink and the new exhibit we just installed regarding their collection.

RiverLink Exhibit layout.

RiverLink is an organization in Asheville that for more than three decades has protected the French Broad River and its watershed. The non-profit environmental group was formed in 1987 by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and thru the vision of Karen Cragnolin, who remained RiverLink’s director for 30 years. RiverLink’s history, based on the ties the Asheville area has had with the French Broad for thousands of years, is a rich story of community activism.

Tools of the trade- the Archival trade.

RiverLink’s primary goal is to provide permanent access to the river for the public and to educate individuals and groups on the importance of the river and its watershed. Since its inception, RiverLink has successfully promoted the environmental and economic vitality of the river through a variety of initiatives, including community-based projects such as the development of Greenways and Blueways, riverbank restorations, and watershed plans.

The big reveal!

Education of the public remains a core component of RiverLink’s program. The various educational programs they lead, including the French Broad RiverCamp and Voices of the River: Art and Poetry Contests, focus on hands-on learning in order to empower the next generation of youth to protect the French Broad. RiverLink also partners with various other groups in order to create a collaborative of educational opportunities, including groups such as the North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville GreenWorks, and in the past, groups such as the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition.

RiverLink’s important connection to the French Broad.

Another of RiverLink’s fundamental values is promoting clean water. In order to advance this project, they have adopted the practice of a “riverkeeper.” RiverKeepers were long employed in the British Isles and in the late 1990s, RiverLink added a fifth RiverKeeper to their program, specifically covering the French Broad River. This position was created in order to safeguard the French Broad and to act as a public advocate for clean water throughout the 5,000 mile watershed.

RiverLink Exhibit centerpiece- who is this environmental activist group? Come find out more!

At UNC Asheville’s Special Collections, one of our core drivers is documenting the diverse culture and history of Asheville and Western North Carolina. Some of our strongest collections which help to tell this story are those with ties directly to the land. In recent years, our mission has expanded in order to encompass those collections which are of interest to our undergraduate researchers, scholars, and general users- including those collections with strong environmental ties to our beloved mountain region. RiverLink’s collection is a vibrant example of the history of environmental activism in this area, and we invite you to come take a closer look at both the exhibit and the collection itself!

RiverLink Exhibit on display directly outside of Special Collections. Come and take a closer look!


RiverLink Papers, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Recommendations from the Rare Books Collection

Editor’s note: We were delighted to have Shelby Beard as an intern in Special Collections this semester. Her previous post discussed her research on UNCA’s John Martin’s Book Collection. In this post she explores some books from our Rare Book collection. Shelby, an English Major, graduates this semester.

By Shelby Beard, Special Collections Intern

The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Thomas de Quincey

Content warning: addiction, drugs   

Thomas de Quincey was born in August, 1785, in Manchester, England. From an early age, it was clear that Thomas was creative and saw the world from a unique perspective. After the death of his father and two of his sisters, he was cared for primarily by a handful of legal guardians, which filled his life with conflict and transition. After attending two grammar schools, and fleeing the later, he went to university, and soon developed a relationship with a number of prominent writers at the time, such as William Wordsworth (and his family) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who proved to be influences in his writing career. Another influence on his career was opium, which de Quincey took for the first time in 1804 in hopes of quelling the pain of his “severe rheumatic pains in his head and jaw” (Agnew 34). At the time, opium was commonly and legally used to treat pain, but many people, including de Quincey, became addicted to the substance after taking it for a short time.

Portrait of Thomas de Quincey

In his autobiography, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, de Quincey details the perks and downfalls of opium (or more specifically what was likely laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol) addiction and his own experiences with it, including the dreams he had under the influence. De Quincey began writing for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1820, where he would publish Confessions as a two part series that would eventually be published as a book. Confessions was an immediate success and “brought [de Quincey] lasting fame” (Agnew 37). Despite his struggles with addiction, de Quincey maintained his writing career through most of his life. He regularly contributed to Blackwood’s, as well as Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, and published essays and books independently. Throughout his successful career, de Quincey struggled with money, and he was in and out of debtor’s prison nine times from 1832 to 1840. So despite his success, his family continued to struggle. Near the end of his life, de Quincey’s battles with addiction and debt began to fade. Under the careful watch of his children after his wife’s death, de Quincey paid his debts and lived fairly comfortably until his death in December of 1859.  

As previously stated, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is an autobiographical account of de Quincey’s experience with opium addiction. Confessions is, as the title implies, a confession piece, which is a form of autobiographical literature that exposes intimate details of the subject’s life.  Writing in the Romantic era, de Quincey was pretty much alone in discussing addiction in the context of an English gentleman’s life, rather than a cliché junkie on the streets. He was also alone in discussing both the “pleasures” and the “pains” of opium, rather than outright condemning the substance and anyone who would touch it. De Quincey was famously fond of opium, though as he writes in his revised introduction, he was not proud of his addiction. This book is a compelling story, told in a stylistically unique fashion that helps the subject matter stand out in a crowd.  

Cover of Confessions

On ‘Tao Te Ching’

Bertolt Brecht

Portrait of Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was most well-known for his play writing, but also wrote some poetry and fiction before his death in 1956. He is often remembered for his Marxist views that are apparent in his writing, which has made him a controversial figure amongst literary scholars. Bertolt Brecht’s On ‘Tao Te Ching’ is a short poem about an old man on a journey. This pocket sized book is number 85 of 150 numbered editions printed by Nancy Chambers for the Anvil Press in 1959. It is printed on rice paper, the cover is coated in decorated paper with the title pasted on the binding, and it includes illustrations pulled from a collection of Chinese prints. This is a beautiful book, and as a first (and only) edition could be valued at over $200 dollars. Little is known about this book, which makes it an intriguing addition to the rare books collection in UNCA’s Special Collections.

Cover of On ‘Tao Te Ching’

A Double Barrelled Detective Story

Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in Missouri, where he spent most of his childhood years by the Mississippi River. As a young adult, Clemens worked as an apprentice, a compositor, a writer for local newspapers, a journeyman, and a steamboat driver. He eventually adopted the pen name Mark Twain, which is a riverman’s term for “water that is safe, but only just safe, for navigation” (Gale 2). Twain continued to write for newspapers, began venturing into travel correspondence, and eventually began writing and lecturing on various topics. In 1870, Twain married Olivia Langdon, and they moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where they would live for the next twenty years and have their three daughters. Twain also started gaining popularity as a writer and lecturer at this time. Twain’s early work was sold by subscription, and sold well, which granted Twain a sizable profit. However, he soon fell into debt after his publishing company went bankrupt and his typesetting machine failed to make his fortune. He and his family moved to Europe, where they could live cheaper, until Twain was able to pay off his debts and return to the United States in 1900. By this point, Twain was reaching new levels of popularity and considered a public hero to some. He is often thought “among the best to express, or expose, the spirit of the American people” through his writings (Gale 4).

Portrait of Mark Twain

        Some of Twain’s most well-known books are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1875), which center around quintessentially American notions of life along the Mississippi river, and The Innocents Abroad (1869), which is a humerous retelling of Twain’s travels. A Double Barrelled Detective Story (1902), is different from Twain’s more popular works. He write it later in his career, at a time when some believed Twain was only writing so that he could get out of debt, stay out of debt, and rebuild his decimated savings. Much of his work from this time is considered messy and not important to Twain’s established canon. However,  A Double Barrelled Detective Story is a unique work, and worth a look. This satirical story follows a woman who discovers that her son has a superhuman sense of smell. She decides to use this power to find her husband, who was abusive when they were together and is unaware that he has a son, and kill him. Along the way, a handful of colorful characters are introduced, including none other than Sherlock Holmes. Twain’s detective story is a satire jabbing at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s meticulously thought out crime dramas by throwing logic to the wind and telling a story with all the drama of an original Sherlock Holmes piece, but much less planning.  A Double Barrelled Detective Story was not received well by Twain’s contemporaries, or the general public, who largely seemed to miss his satire. While this story isn’t one of Twain’s most famous, it is worth a read. The edition available in the UNCA Special Collections is formatted uniquely in that each page of text is summed up in the margins with a word or two. For example on page 95, the margin simply reads “Sherlock Holmes!”, which adds to the intrigue and humor of this story.

Cover of A Double Barrelled Detective Story

The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems

Oscar Wilde

Content warning: homophobia, imprisonment

        Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. He was an Irish poet and playwright, and was well known for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). His mother was also a writer, and his father was a doctor. Wilde was a leader of the Aestheticism movement in England, which promoted the idea of “art for art’s sake”. In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, and they had two children. The last ten years of Wilde’s life were most fruitful to his writing career, he wrote and published Dorian Gray, and his society comedies which included A Woman of No Importance (1893) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). The central theme of many of his works was the exposure of a secret or sin that someone was hiding, which usually ended badly. Wilde himself was known for his “reckless pursuit of pleasure” in life (Britannica). In 1891, Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he started an affair with. Douglas’s father, upon finding out about their relationship, accused Wilde of homosexual activity. Wilde attempted to sue Douglas’s father for libel, but his case fell through and Wilde was arrested and made to stand trial. He was found guilty in 1895 and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Most of his sentence was served at Reading Gaol, and his time there left him with irreparable health issues that plagued him for the final years of his life. After his release in 1897, Wilde published The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which expressed his concern about inhumane prison conditions. He died in 1900.

Portrait of Oscar Wilde

        Reading Gaol was a prison in England known for its harsh conditions. While imprisoned, Wilde was only allowed to write letters, but upon his release he wrote and published The Ballad of Reading Gaol in response to what he had endured for the past two years. He details the shame and pain he felt while imprisoned, and the brutal conditions he and the other prisoners faced on a daily basis. He mentions other prisoners, such as Charles Thomas Wooldridge, who was a murderer and was sentenced to death by hanging, which Wilde also recounts in his poem.  UNCA Special Collections has a small copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems, published in 1951, well after Wilde’s death. This edition features black and white illustrations by Louise Phillips that accompany the poem, and make a powerful addition to the content.

Cover of The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Fairy Tales and Legends by Hans Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen is a well-known and well-loved writer of fairy tales. Born in 1805 near Copenhagen, Denmark, Andersen was a prolific writer, and his work is renowned in many countries all over the world. He also wrote a number of novels, plays, and poems, which are less popular. Fairy tales most people would be familiar with, such as “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, and “The Ugly Duckling” are all works of Andersen. Some of his stories end with optimism and a favorable outcome for the characters, but others end unhappily like many Grimm’s fairy tales. Andersen was willing to engage with less than perfect outcomes in children’s literature, which is part of what made his stories compelling to adults as well. UNCA Special Collections has an illustrated copy of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, published in 1948. This edition features a beautifully designed cover, and nearly fifty stories with illustrated pages throughout.

Cover of Fairytales and Legends


Agnew, Lois Peters. “Chapter 2: De Quincey’s Life.” Thomas de Quincey: British Rhetoric’s Romantic Turn, Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/unca/detail.action?docID=1354633.

BBC – History – Historic Figures: Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900). http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilde_oscar.shtml. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

“Bertolt Brecht | German Dramatist.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bertolt-Brecht. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.

Foundation, Poetry. “Bertolt Brecht.” Poetry Foundation, 10 Apr. 2019, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/bertolt-brecht.

“Hans Christian Andersen | Biography, Fairy Tales, & Books.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hans-Christian-Andersen-Danish-author. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

“Oscar Wilde | Biography, Books, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oscar-Wilde. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

Schiller, Francis. “Thomas De Quincey’s Lifelong Addiction.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 1, 1976, pp. 131–41. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1353/pbm.1976.0009.

Twain, Mark | Gale Biographies: Popular People – Credo Reference. https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galegbpp/twain_mark/0. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

Finding Connections

John Donne observed no man is an island, but part of a greater continent, and the same can be argued of archival collections. Each tells a story, but sometimes looking at multiple collections can yield a bigger narrative.

In 1977, a large number of photographs, negatives and other items were donated to UNC Asheville Special Collections. The images, identified as the, Hollday Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs, were thought to be the work of Robinson, who owned a Kodak store in Asheville in the early 20th century.

The collection has recently undergone significant reprocessing, resulting in a new finding aid including a full listing of all 2426 images in the collection, and a reassessment of who the photographer actually was. Some images were clearly taken after Robinson died in 1923, and may be the work of his wife Sarah. Or his son John Jr., who for many years owned an electrical and camera store in Burnsville, may be the photographer. Or they may be the work of other unidentified photographers.

Some images were provided to Robinson by postcard manufacturers and, conversely, some images taken by Robinson were intended to be used on postcards.

Special Collections is fortunate to have several collections of postcards, including the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection.

Fred Kahn was a deltiologist (postcard collector), and through the kind generosity of his widow Jan, and other members of his family, Special Collections now has approximately 700 postcards in the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. The collection follows Kahn’s original arrangement and groups the images within themes, often showing numerous versions of the same “view”.

Which brings us back to the Robinson Collection.

As mentioned earlier, many images, thought to be the work of Robinson, were made into postcards and some of these feature in the Kahn Collection.

The Kahn Collection includes two copies of a postcard titled, “Mount Pisgah from Buck Spring Lodge on Vanderbilt Estate, ‘In The Land Of The Sky’”, published by the Southern Postcard Co. of Asheville. The image shows sheep in front of the lodge, with two women and a man looking on.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Collection [2_25_004]
The Robinson Collection includes a series of images that were clearly taken at the same time as the image on the Kahn postcard, with robb208 being almost identical. The photograph does however show an expanded view, with four men seated on the lodge veranda, which were cut from the postcard, as was the Robinson index number. The other major change is that the postcard image is colorized.

P77. 16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb208]
Although Robinson is not credited on the postcard, it seems highly likely he photographed the original image.

Some postcards were taken directly from Robinson’s negatives. Examples of this are the images of Biltmore House shown below.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [1_53_001]
M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [1_53_003]
The Kahn Collection includes two postcards  showing a view of Biltmore House, but although they both have the same title and credit, the text layout differs.

P77.16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb957]
Robinson negative robb957 has suffered damage, but otherwise is identical to Kahn 1_53_003.

Neither of the Kahn postcards identifies a publisher, so it is possible that Robinson produced the postcards himself and sold them in his store. Both postcards were mailed, providing an approximate year of manufacture; 1_53_001 was mailed in 1915, and 1_53_003 in 1916, so it may be that the different text styles are from two different print runs from different years.

Some images raise more questions than they answer.

The two images of the original Battery Park Hotel shown below are similar enough to assume that the photograph is the source of the postcard.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [5_55_001]
P77.16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb2407]
However, the postcard is credited to “Plateau Studio for S.H. Kress & Co.” Plateau was a studio operating in Asheville at the time Robinson had his Kodak store, but there is no record that he worked for Plateau. But did he? Or is the postcard credit incorrect? Or was Robinson not responsible for the original image, which exists in the Robertson Collection as a print rather than a negative?

Materials from the Kahn and Roberston collections are not available online, but can be viewed at Special Collections