by Suzanne Curtiss ’14
Tall, uneven stacks of books, files, and stray papers swarm the desk of College Archivist Lisa Murphy ’98. Eying the piles of history, I make a playful comment about the state of her desk, thinking if it is any indication of her workload, it must be back breaking. “Actually,” she says, pointing to her paper-covered workspace, “this is clean.”
And not long into our conversation, I come to agree, once I realize the large number of projects in which she’s engaged at any given time—work that’s interspersed with answering a variety of questions from multiple sources as well as providing research help to students and alumni.
A bona fide (and busy) Nancy Drew, Murphy solves campus mysteries on a daily basis, sifting through early 20th-century scrapbooks; dating old, handwritten maps; and matching names with unknown faces in black and white photographs.
“I love the detective aspect of the archives,” she says. Especially the photo identification, where she resorts to creative investigation for labeling the old snapshots.
“When the 1962 basketball team came back to the College to celebrate their championship anniversary,” she says. “I had a bunch of basketball photos from that time period that weren’t labeled, so I made copies of each photo and laid them out on the table for alums to identify.” While team members delightedly perused the photos, they regaled Murphy with stories from their college years.
“I’m always interested in listening to stories and looking through photographs in the archives to see how student life has changed,” she says.
On another occasion Murphy determined the provenance of an apparent gravestone of a child unearthed during preparation of the construction site for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Had this child been interred somewhere near the northwest corner of campus? Not so, Murphy determined. She found the child’s real gravestone at Riverside Cemetery; and found the newspaper notice of his death and interment at Riverside. The stone found at K differs from the Riverside gravestone by one digit in the date. Murphy surmised that the original stone included an engraving mistake. Later, a new stone was rendered and replaced the incorrect original, which was scrapped for other purposes. It ended up at K most likely as part of an old retaining wall or backfill, but retained its appearance as a gravestone.
As a K student, Murphy thought herself somewhat adequately versed in College history. She knew it was founded by Baptist ministers in 1833 (before Michigan was even a state) and that it’s one of the oldest colleges in the country. As archivist (she started in 2010), Murphy began to uncover pieces of College history that she never knew existed.
One of the first questions she received on the job was from a man seeking more information about his great great aunt Sophia Dolson, who may have attended K in the 1850s.
“He said the College was named the Michigan and Huron Institute, and that his aunt was 13 years old when she attended school,” recalls Murphy. “I immediately thought he had the wrong place.”
Murphy discovered Dolson’s brother’s name handwritten in the registrar’s ledger for the years 1842 through 1844.
“Records for the following years in the ledger were either missing or incomplete,” she says. “I did, however, find Sophia listed on an 1846 program of prize-speaking and orations.” She is also mentioned in a book detailing an 1885 reunion of former pupils, confirming her enrollment as a student.
K was founded as the Michigan and Huron Institute, and became Kalamazoo College in 1855 when the state granted the College the power to award degrees. At that time, the College also served as a preparatory school. Similar to a high school, the preparatory branch helped ready students for College and provided training in other fields that did not require a college degree.
Murphy has since uncovered many historical surprises in the archives, and makes it a priority to work with students and help them access answers to their own historical inquiries.
“When I was a student I didn’t know the College had an archive,” she says. “I wish I had. There is so much the archives can offer students.” Murphy helps students working on class projects and papers, and has been especially helpful to history majors working on their Senior Individualized Projects (SIP).
William Schlaack ’12, for example, worked closely with Murphy in the archives and is following in her footsteps, pursuing a Master of Library Science degree at the University of Illinois. Murphy received her M.L.S. from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, with a concentration in archival work. She has a master’s degree in Scottish Studies from the University of Edinburgh and has completed many research and community projects in Scotland, having lived abroad in Edinburgh for six years.
When she returned to the U.S., Murphy learned that the archivist position at K was open, and she jumped at the chance to return to her alma mater. She is happy to be back on campus and at home in the archives.
“I love the library environment,” she says. “I sometimes find myself going off on tangents or spending too much time reading or researching.”
Like any good detective, Murphy is constantly following new clues.
A wooden fraternity paddle leads her to material about “literary societies,” which began in the mid-19th century, and were primarily focused on public speaking and debate. Eventually the societies evolved to resemble modern-day fraternities and sororities.
“Members didn’t live in a house together like fraternities, but the literary societies put on dances and hosted parties, and some of the men’s societies made pledge paddles.”
The literary societies and their fraternity-sorority progeny died out in 1971.
Not so for Murphy’s investigative drive. She is constantly looking to acquire College materials, and recently, for example, found a book written by 1899 K grad Coe Hayne, titled Jack of the Circle Dot.
Hayne was a member of the College’s first track team (some of his medals are in the archives) as well as president of student council. He became a Baptist minister and wrote extensively about his missionary work.
He did most of his writing in the 1920s through the 1940s, but prior to that, around 1914, Hayne also wrote short children’s books intended for Sunday schools, including Jack of the Circle Dot.
Hayne donated many of his books to the College, and Murphy is happy to continue to build the collection. She hopes that a student will write a SIP on Hayne, who typifies Kalamazoo College students at the turn of the 19th century.
Last year Murphy built a humidification chamber for campus blueprints and maps. Each day, she placed a few rolled blueprints into the chamber, and 24 hours later they were ready to be laid flat and dried before being filed into folders and organized on the shelves.
One of the maps is a 1960s-era campus master plan (a kind of crystal ball gaze into the College’s bricks-and-mortar future). Interestingly, it resurfaced during the College’s latest master planning work in 2011-12.
Typical of master plans, some suggested changes from the ’60s version never came to fruition, including the idea to close Academy Street and build an amphitheater at its intersection with Thompson Street.
Murphy’s duties also include expanding the College’s digital archives, making more archival material—ranging from sports to the College’s art collection—accessible online.
And working closely with alumni and their families is a continual and important aspect of the job. Murphy is always willing to answer a family member’s questions about a relative’s campus involvement or dig up a photograph for a graduate. She even goes out of her way to pass along stories and interesting information that she finds to alumni and their families.
For instance, Svenn Lindskold’s father, Swan Lindskold, entered the College’s Preparatory Department in 1899 and completed his freshman and sophomore years at the College before enrolling at the University of Michigan School of Law. Svenn wrote a biography about his father and sent a spiral-bound copy to the College archives.
When Murphy came across a piece titled “The Saga of Swan Lindskold” in the June 1944 edition of the alumni magazine Kalumni News, she was quick to contact Svenn.
The sidebar story about Swan was part of larger article about practical jokes pulled on campus and told the story of a prank to which Swan fell victim. Late one night, in the bitter cold, a group of boys “formed a bucket brigade passing pail after pail of water which was poured down the steep hillside path” leading up to the dorm.
Quickly freezing in the cold night air, a sheet of ice covered the path, and the boys concealed themselves in the darkness, waiting for a rival group of boys to encounter the slippery surprise.
The first to trudge up the hill, however, was not their intended rivals, but none other than Swan Lindskold, with his “trusty Bible under his arm and his funny little hat resting uneasily on his thatch of yellow hair.” After repeatedly
"I love the detective aspect of the archives."slipping on the icy path, Swan eventually made it back up to the dorms with the help of the other boys.
“Svenn was delighted to read the story about his father and included it in a supplement to his biography,” says Murphy. In true detective style, Murphy also showed Svenn unlabeled photos in the 1902 yearbook, and he was able to thumb through the pages and identify his father.
“The Saga of Swan Lindskold” is just one of the many interesting items available in the archives. These include historical documents of student groups and college administrations; student publications; works by College faculty; scrapbooks; blueprints; audio and video recordings of college events; photographs of people, places, and events; artwork; and memorabilia.
“The digital archives are great for alumni,” says Murphy. “They can look through old yearbooks, issues of the Index, and editions of LuxEsto and older alumni magazines.” Another large part of the digital collection consists of student SIPs. “So alumni may find that their own works are available,” she adds.
Of course a “real” visit trumps a virtual one. Next time you’re on campus, Explore College history and meet Lisa Murphy by stopping in for a visit at the archives, open Monday to Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Believe it Or Not
College Archivist Lisa Murphy ’98 comes across some very interesting information about her alma mater. Below are 10 of the most surprising (and buzz worthy) College facts!
1. In 1941 the Federal Bureau of Investigation was called to the College after a long freight train en route to Chicago came to a sudden halt when it reached the tracks near campus. Wheels tirelessly spinning, the train could not move forward; the tracks had been greased. The men of Hoben Hall had no idea how that ever happened, naturally.
2. A complete Model “T” was found “perched on the roof” of Williams Hall, the predecessor of Hoben Hall.
3. In the 1880s tuition at the College was $8.50 per term.
4. The 1942-43 Women Student’s Handbook mandated that “Showers and baths must be taken before 11:30 p.m.” No reason (or information on enforcement measures) was specified.
5. In 1938, it was suggested that the exits in Trowbridge Hall be equipped “with lights and electric bells” after President Thompson reported that the women in the dorms were sneaking out after regular hours and using the fire escape when returning late at night.
6. K was cutting edge in coeducation. President James J.A.B. Stone and his wife, Lucinda Hinsdale Stone, were adamant about the importance of the coeducation of the sexes, unlike the majority of the top universities in the country.
7. In 1860 Rufus Perry attended the College for one year. Born into slavery on a plantation in Tennessee, Perry escaped to freedom in Canada and taught other fugitive slaves. He eventually became a Baptist minister.
8. According to the ledger of faculty minutes, in 1885 Professor Brooks “moved that if the thermometer when in a suitable place in any recitation room at the college did not stand as high as 60 with no prospect of its speedily reaching that point the teacher in that room be instructed to dismiss the class.” The motion carried despite its prolixity. What places in recitation rooms were deemed "unsuitable," and how long did that discussion last?
9. From its founding, the College has welcomed students of all backgrounds and-- according to a news clipping found in a mid-20th century scrapbook--species! In 1949, Skippy the “canine collegian” left campus after 10 years of being allegedly enrolled by her original owner, Everett Hames, director of admissions. In her 10 years as a “student”, Skippy never moved beyond the freshman class, her learning consisting of “nothing more than cultivation of a taste for coffee and donuts.”
10. The Glenn Miller Band’s 1942 hit song “The Gal from Kalamazoo” captures the wartime mood of a soldier missing his girl back home. Nineteen-year-old Kalamazoo College student Sara Woolley came to immortalize that gal when she was selected by the men on campus to represent the song. She received fan mail and even made public appearances as “The Gal from Kalamazoo.”
Photo 1 - Lisa Murphy ’98.
Photo 2 - 1899 graduate Coe Hayne’s book, Jack of the Circle Dot.
Photo 3 - The campus’s southeast corner, many years ago: Bowen Hall (left) and Williams Hall.