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'Breeches, Bibles and Beauty Parlors'—Exhibition Showcases Harvard Student Life Through the Ages

Harvard University Archives interns showcase materials they processed this summer in Pusey Library exhibition.

Pusey Exhibit Case

August 27, 2013—In 1915, when he was a senior, Harvard College student Richard Edward Connell wrote a libelous article in the Crimson about a piece in Boston American, a Hearst publication, resulting in a lawsuit. Yet the debacle brought the young writer to the attention of William Randolph Hearst, and eventually helped Connell get a job with another publication. This story, among many others, was uncovered as Christine Hubbard, graduate student intern, processed materials in the Harvard University Archives.

Hubbard and fellow interns Olivia Mandica-Hart and Eve Neiger uncovered a wealth of information about Harvard student life while working in the Archives this summer. The three collaborated on an exhibition, “Breeches, Bibles and Beauty Parlors,” that showcases photographs, letters and ephemera highlighting Harvard life during different historical periods.

“Revisiting materials I had processed to select highlights for an exhibit was an enjoyable culmination to my internship,” said Hubbard, who is completing a MSLIS with a concentration in archives management at the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. “It was a wonderful way to share a sampling of the interesting items documenting student life at Harvard in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.”

Hubbard and Mandica-Hart worked with Juliana Kuipers, special materials cataloger and processing archivist, and Neiger with Jennifer Pelose, processing archivist, and Robert Burton, cataloger for photographs.

“[Our interns] discovered so much content throughout the course of the summer that we wanted to put it on display for others—library staff and the public—to see,” Kuipers said. “We asked each to choose the materials she thought were the most interesting.” The exhibition features items from nine of the 15 collections they processed.

Among the materials Mandica-Hart selected  is a 1799 letter from a slightly older-than-average student asking his sister to send him some more fashionable attire—including deep blue overalls and a yellow coat—because he felt awkward among his younger peers. “Working with all these documents made me appreciate the richness of Harvard's history, and that the College's legacy reveals important and interesting insights into broader historical facts,” Mandica-Hart said. “I now realize the importance of preserving, maintaining and disseminating the institutional history of colleges and universities.” She noted that it was fascinating to see that “students have always been concerned with academics, fashion trends, popular culture, current events and dating.” Mandica-Hart is a candidate for a dual master's degree in history and library science at Simmons.

Neiger chose to showcase photographs from Harvardevens Village—a community set up after WWII for student-veterans and their families. Photographs depict women sitting at a beauty parlor, children engaging in a three-legged race and a typical kitchen with shelves completely filled with canned goods, cereals and other traditional items. Neiger is a graduate student specializing in archives and preservation at the University of Michigan School of Information.