Signed, Sealed, and Delivered letters donated to University Archives

by: Dan Linke

With the rise of email more than 20 years ago, many have lamented the decline of the handwritten letter, but with her new book, Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Nina Sankovitch has done much more than that.  Drawing on letters from across the ages, she explains why putting pen to paper can communicate much more than the thoughts and ideas on the page.

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Inspired by a cache of letters written by a Princeton undergraduate to his parents that she uncovered in the tool shed of a dilapidated New York home she bought more than a decade ago, Sankovitch originally read the letters in small batches, as a break from the toils of mothering three young children.  Years later, with her oldest son readying himself for college, Sankovitch revisited the letters and began her mediation on the important  and wide range of human connections that letters make, using the Princeton student’s letters and their discovery as the basis for the book’s first chapter.

James B. Seligman

The letters were composed by James B. Seligman, Class of 1912. According to his Nassau Herald entry, “Jimmie” grew up in New York City, was a member of Clio, studied economics, and hoped to go into banking.  He was also Jewish (“Hebrew” in the parlance of the day), just one of five such students in a class of almost 300.  He became an independent stockbroker and a member of the New York Stock Exchange where he was a floor trader.  The February 22, 1941 New Yorker called him “one of the wittiest men on the Floor.”

That wit is reflected in his surviving letters.  Some excerpts that Sankovitch highlights in her book:

“I am getting a good college education, developing like a film, apologizing to the grass every time I step on it, scrambling like an egg, yelling like a bear, telling the upperclassmen to go to @#$ …”

 “I am once more sorry to say, with tears in my nose, and with shaking toes, etc that I didn’t pass French…Thanking you again for your kind applause, I will close as Le Student Francais.”

“Chapel was great. I never laughed so much in my life.”

And in answering what he called the “ponderous interrogations” sent by his mother: “my diet consists principally of food.  My health is fine.”

He also wrote of his classes – “Woodrow Wilson lectures to us in Jurisprudence – It is a treat to listen to him speak.”

Now Sankovitch has donated Seligman’s correspondence, consisting of about 100 letters and postcards, to the Princeton University Archives, and they will join those of other students in the Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334). This collection, along with a number of others, contains the correspondence of about two dozen students ranging over three centuries, and collectively it provides insights into Princeton undergraduate life that can be found nowhere else.  The earliest letters date from 1768 and the most recent is a collection of printed emails from a member of the Class of 1997.

Records Management and University Archives: Perfect Together

The job of the Princeton University Archives is to keep in perpetuity the University records that should be kept, and the University Records Manager, Anne Marie Phillips, helps to identify them.  She also helps offices determine how long non-permanent records must be kept before they can be destroyed.

With the University’s first financial records retention schedule coming online, she identified almost 300 boxes of journal vouchers and check registers from the 1950s and 1960s held within the Archives that should have been destroyed long ago.

containersThese records filled 21 bins (see above photo) and weighed over 6,000 pounds.  Now that shelf space can be used for permanent records that the Archives will keep for as long as there is a Princeton.

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Allen Dulles and the Warren Commission

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death on Friday, November 22, has brought renewed attention to the Warren Commission and its conclusions on the assassination.  Then-retired CIA Director Allen Dulles served on the commission and the Mudd Manuscript

Warren Commission; F.B.I Investigation Report: Visual Aids, circa 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01586

Warren Commission; F.B.I Investigation Report: Visual Aids, circa 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01586

Library recently digitized five boxes of Dulles’ personal files documenting his work on the commission as part of our NHPRC funded large-scale digitization project.  Images and downloadable PDFs of every folder related to Dulles’ Warren Commission work are available by clicking on any of the folder titles from the Warren Commission section of our finding aid for the Allen Dulles Papers.

 

The Warren Commission material includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, preliminary drafts of the final Commission report, clippings, articles and interviews relating to Dulles’ service on the Warren Commission. The correspondence includes incoming and outgoing notes and letters, articles and clippings. Correspondents range from members of the Commission to citizens offering their own analysis of the assassination.

The administrative material documents the official activities of the Commission. Included are minutes, agendas, financial information and memoranda, which demonstrate how the Commission was organized and its guidelines for procedures. Also included are intra-Commission memoranda as well as memoranda with other governmental organizations, including the F.B.I. and Secret Service. The findings of these two agencies, plus the Dallas police, were submitted to the Commission, and much of this material documents the life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

First page of Psychiatric Report on L.H. Oswald, 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01581

First page of Psychiatric Report on L.H. Oswald, 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01581

Over 64 boxes, and 96,900 pages of documents, from the Dulles Papers were digitized as part the NHPRC project.  In addition to the Warren Commission files, Dulles’ correspondence is now available online.  The correspondence includes letters to and from Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Edward as well as material related to Kennedy created after the assassination.