Rare scrapbooks that document African American life in the United States from 1890-1975 are being preserved with support through a “Save America’s Treasures” (SAT) grant. The project is a collaborative effort with Emory University Preservation Office, Digitization Center, and the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). The SAT grant is awarded through the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Last Spring, Preservation and MARBL staff made an assessment of the scrapbooks comprising the SAT grant project, surveying the items for damage and organizing them into groups by priority. Weighing the immediate conservation needs with anticipated or documented researcher use of the items, we determined that the most damaged books would be among the first ones treated, and the least damaged books could wait to be treated. During this assessment, similarities appeared between and among the scrapbooks, and it became clear that some were alike in ways such as subject matter, authorship, or book structure.
Within the first priority group, four scrapbooks share the subject of African American collegiate experiences and societies. These scrapbooks, all compiled by young women, describe college experiences in Georgia and Florida with dates ranging from 1914 to the 1960’s. All four of these scrapbooks came to Emory as individual items, unrelated to other collections or material. They have become part of African American Miscellany, a collection in MARBL that contains items related to African American history and culture.
Cleopatra Love’s scrapbook, circa 1914-1916, is a bound volume, originally a blank journal or diary. Over the course of two years, it became Love’s scrapbook, burgeoning with photographs of students and faculty, inscriptions, printed poems, programs, invitations, and other collected material. Love added these items to the volume during her tenure as a student at Atlanta University. Her scrapbook was beautifully organized and obviously a point of pride for her. Overstuffed with ephemera, the binding of this scrapbook broke at the spine and required extensive repairs to bring the structure back together. There are additional items with the scrapbook, mostly letters of correspondence. These have been encapsulated separately for protection.
The scrapbook of Helen Louise Wallace was created during the 1930’s, and unfortunately, this scrapbook has lost its original covers. The support pages are black album paper, which have become brittle and badly chipped over time. Because of the overall fragile nature of the scrapbook pages, each one will be encapsulated individually and secured into new covers as a post-binding. Wallace’s volume contains newspaper clippings, postcards, and a 1932 graduation program from Mayo High School in Atlanta. It also includes photographs of the period from Morehouse and Spelman College. There is a group of loose, very small photographs that at first glance appear to not belong to the scrapbook. Looking closer, it was determined that they are related and form two or three subject groups. New pages for these photos will be made and bound at the back of the reformatted album.
A resident of Jacksonville, Florida (from 1936 to 1949), Lettie Anne Holt created a scrapbook which opens with her school photo and a postcard from home, addressed on its last line to “Tampa Negro”. The scrapbook contains collected clippings, programs, and writings concerning her membership in Zeta Phi Beta at Florida A&M College in Tampa. The scrapbook also includes an autograph book from 1936. The album covers are intact, and the support pages are made of surprisingly strong construction paper. Handmade flyers, pamphlets, and flip books are mounted throughout Holt’s scrapbook, often on the side or at an angle. These items swing open with the turn of each album page, causing a little more damage every time and requiring the conservator to do more page-by-page stabilization.
The fourth scrapbook in this group relates to the history of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. Documentation indicates that this sorority, which originated at Howard University in Washington, DC, was developed around the stated ideal of “finer womanhood”. This scrapbook contains programs, newsletters, and other related material from the Epsilon Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority at Morris Brown College in Atlanta. Ephemera within this volume represent a slice of the sorority history, specifically identifying four original members on page one, chronicling the meeting agendas and group activities through many years of the organization.
The scrapbook covers are strongly attached to the overall binding, yet many smaller items are tucked inside the binding, not attached to page supports. Those items that have become detached will require remounting with wheat starch paste and possibly will be hinged with Japanese tissue. Stapled, multi-page documents will have their staples removed (to prevent rust and staining of the paper) and be hand-sewn.
These four scrapbooks will be treated and stabilized in the Conservation lab and then will be digitized. After scanning, the scrapbooks will be stored in custom-made boxes, ready for scholars to access.
By Kim Norman, Conservator, Emory University Libraries Preservation Office