All posts by Lindsay Hiltunen


Reading Room Spotlight: Portrait of an Ancestor as a Young Woman

This week’s blog post is courtesy of our Assistant Archivist Resident, Emily Riippa. It provides a thoughtful spotlight on one of our reading room art pieces.

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For the past year, visitors to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections have been captivated by the portrait of a striking young woman that graces a wall in the reading room. This painting of Christeen Shelden was donated by Therissa Jane Libby, a great-granddaughter of the subject, in 2016; a previous blog post by University Archivist Lindsay Hiltunen provides additional information about Mrs. Libby’s generous gift.

While our staff knew the provenance of the portrait, our knowledge of Christeen herself remained minimal. As we passed the painting many times in our daily work and fielded questions from patrons who had paused to admire it, the sense of mystery grew. Christeen was a scion of the respected Shelden family, yes, but what more could be said about her experiences? Did she live to a happy old age, or was her life cut tragically short? Did she pursue one of the careers available to women of her time? Did she marry and raise a family? As archivists, naturally, we turned to historical documents to answer these questions. Like researchers who come to investigate their family history here, we now are able to see this face from the past with greater clarity.

Donor Jane Libby and Archivist Lindsay Hiltunen pose with the framed portrait of Christeen M. Shelden, daughter of local historic figure Ransom B. Shelden. The painting was donated to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections on Monday, June 20.
Therissa Jane Libby posing with the portrait of her great-grandmother, Christeen Shelden.

Christeen Shelden was born in May 1848 near the Portage Entry, where her father had recently built a store on the sandbars near Jacobsville. She was the third child and only daughter of Ransom and Therissa (Douglass) Shelden; Carlos and George were several years older, and Ransom, Jr., would join the family four years later. Hoping to further capitalize on the supply needs of the nascent copper boom, Ransom and his business partner relocated the store to Quincy Mine in the early 1850s and then to Houghton. Their operations flourished: by 1860, Ransom Shelden informed the census taker that his property was worth some $175,000.

Christeen grew up in Houghton, surrounded by her family and by the world that had sprung up around the mines: mercantiles, hotels, saloons, investors like her father, laborers who had spent everything they had to move to the Copper Country for a chance at something more than subsistence. Many of her neighbors were American-born, like her family, but just as many had come from places like Canada, England, and Germany. Undoubtedly, living in a boom town made for an interesting childhood, with the surroundings adding a real world touch to Christeen’s education. Based on the presence of a teacher named Emily Collingwood in the Shelden household in the 1860 census, it seems likely that Christeen received her formal schooling in her home. Census records also indicate that, as a young adult, Christeen probably did not elect to become a schoolteacher herself, one of the few careers available to a woman of her socioeconomic status. In 1870, her occupation was listed as “at home,” meaning that she likely filled her days by assisting her mother and their servants in household upkeep or by attending to social and charitable obligations. The style of Christeen’s clothing in the portrait suggests that it was painted at some point in the early years of this decade.

Love found Christeen in her twenties. She met a young man named Edwin Salmon Gilbert, a bookkeeper and the son of a Baptist minister. Edwin had spent his youth moving around the country, following his father between pastorates in his native New York, Illinois, and Marshall, Michigan, according to various federal censuses. From Marshall, the youthful accountant headed north and took a job with Ransom Shelden in about 1873. Christeen and Edwin fell in love and were married in Houghton on February 28, 1874. They remained close to her family: when the Michigan state census was taken later that year, the Gilberts and the Sheldens were recorded as living side by side.

Christeen and Edwin’s brief marriage was marked by moments of profound joy and sorrow. They welcomed their first child, Shelden Douglass, nine months after the wedding; a second son, Edwin Gage, followed in April 1876. Sadly, their next two children, who arrived in March 1877 and April 1878, were stillborn. Therissa I. Gilbert, named for her grandmother, was born on October 2, 1879.  Less than six months after her daughter’s birth, Christeen died; her headstone in the Shelden plot at Houghton’s Forest Hill Cemetery gives the date as March 8, 1880. She was 31 years old.

Christeen’s memorial in the Shelden family section of Houghton’s Forest Hill Cemetery as it appears today.
Christeen’s memorial in the Shelden family section of Houghton’s Forest Hill Cemetery as it appears today.

After Christeen’s death, Edwin and the children moved south to Illinois, residing with his parents at census time and likely trying to come to terms with their loss. They eventually returned to Houghton County. In 1883, Edwin remarried in Houghton and moved with his new wife to Santa Cruz, California, where voter registers the following year recorded him as a merchant. It is unclear whether Shelden, the younger Edwin, and Therissa accompanied him immediately or whether they remained with extended family in the Midwest. What is apparent, however, is that Christeen’s brothers felt it important that they take her children under their wing. Shelden Gilbert showed an aptitude for the law, and his name appeared in the alumni directories of Northwestern University and Yale Law School. When Carlos Shelden was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1896, he chose his young nephew as his private secretary. Sadly, Shelden Gilbert’s life was even shorter than his mother’s. While visiting the Copper Country in April 1899, the 24-year-old contracted cerebrospinal meningitis and died within a day.  

An obituary of Shelden D. Gilbert in the April 24, 1899 edition of the Copper Country Evening News.
An obituary of Shelden D. Gilbert in the April 24, 1899 edition of the Copper Country Evening News.

Edwin G. Gilbert, meanwhile, studied at Northwestern University and what was then the Michigan College of Mines, developing his abilities as a civil and mining engineer. Like his father, he moved to California, residing in Plumas County and San Diego. He died there in 1943, leaving a wife and one son.

Therissa Gilbert seems to have resided in Illinois for a time before also making the migration to California, where she married pharmacist Edwin Elliott at the age of 21. Their two sons thrived as professionals: the elder, Shelden, was a professor of law at New York University and dean of the University of Southern California School of Law, while Edwin Elliott, Jr., became a teacher and attained the rank of commander in the Navy during World War II.

It was Therissa Gilbert Elliott who inherited her mother’s portrait. Thanks to her faithful care and preservation of the painting over the years–a responsibility later taken up by her granddaughter–Christeen’s confident and thoughtful countenance will continue to charm onlookers well into the future, just as it has for over a century.



Photo of the Day – May 17, 2017

Photooftheday

 

From the Daily Mining Gazette in 1963: The Redridge Rhythm Ryders Band, carry on a tradition that was started 50 years ago. The young musicians have won considerable acclaim and recognition in the region, recently winning second place in a talent show at the Dee Stadium. Band Director William H. Brinkman plays the banjo.


Call for Volunteers, History Unfolded and Newspaper Project – Summer 2017

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is currently seeking volunteers for a temporary newspaper project. The volunteer project includes participation in History Unfolded, an internationally significant research project administered by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), as well as assisting with upkeep for the Copper Country and Michigan Tech Vertical Files. The volunteer(s) selected will receive training and will gain first-hand experience in microfilm research and vertical file upkeep.

newspaper3History Unfolded, a project of the USHMM in Washington, DC, asks students, teachers, librarians, archivists and community historians throughout the United States to research what was possible for Americans to have known about the Holocaust as it was happening. Participants look in local newspapers for news and opinion pieces about 31 Holocaust-era events and submit articles they find to a national database. As of May 12, 2017, 1,561 participants from across the country have submitted over 9,900 articles from their local newspapers. However, to date only 125 of those articles come from Michigan newspapers. It is the goal of the Michigan Tech Archives volunteer project to make sure that Upper Peninsula news stories are included in the national database. In addition to microfilm research and participation in the History Unfolded project, volunteers will also be expected to assist in clipping and filing newspapers for inclusion in our local vertical file.

The following skills are required:

  • Knowledge of World War II and Holocaust history.
  • Demonstrated analytical and research skills.
  • Ability to follow instructions and work effectively in a team-based environment.
  • Ability to use basic office equipment and to learn new software.

This call is for 1-2 volunteer positions with work hours to take place Monday-Friday, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. An ideal volunteer would be able to commit 10-15 hours per month, although there is flexibility in setting the weekly volunteer hours.  The preferred start date is June 26, to coincide with the university’s second summer session. There will be no compensation or benefits included with this position and the successful candidate(s) will be expected to complete the appropriate volunteer forms for the university.

To learn more about us, please visit our website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/.

Volunteer applications are due by June 12, 2017. Applicants should send a short letter of interest to:

Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
Attn: History Unfolded Volunteer Project
Van Pelt and Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
copper@mtu.edu | (906) 487-2505



Immunization Week Prompts a Look Back

The last week of April was World Immunization Week. A campaign of the World Health Organization (WHO), this special event celebrates the development of vaccines to prevent diseases that once ravaged communities. The Copper Country was no exception to the scourge of sickness: measles, meningitis, diphtheria, and other illnesses made the rounds of mine towns, often with devastating effects.

Mining companies took a keen interest in the spread of these diseases and others in their surrounding communities, both for the benefit of the corporation and the good of the workforce. From nearly the beginning of Copper Country mining, company payrolls included doctors, a holdover from the Cornish roots of many early miners. As the region matured, several mines constructed hospitals and medication dispensaries to serve their employees. For a modest monthly contribution and additional fees for inpatient care, workers and their families were entitled to diagnostic services–both at home and at the hospital–and medication. Calumet & Hecla (C&H) offered perhaps the archetypal example of this service. The company opened its first hospital in 1871 and, by 1897, boasted an expanded, state-of-the-art facility with a substantial staff. Patients seeking treatment visited this impressive building on the east side of Calumet Avenue (US-41), just north of Church Street. C&H also operated a clinic in Lake Linden.

 

After 1897, those seeking treatment from C&H company physicians could visit this attractive building on today’s US-41 in Calumet. The modern facility featured cutting edge surgical and diagnostic apparatus.
After 1897, those seeking treatment from C&H company physicians could visit this attractive building on today’s US-41 in Calumet. The modern facility featured cutting edge surgical and diagnostic apparatus.

 

By the late 1890s, C&H hospital physicians also aligned themselves with the growing field of public health. At the end of each month, doctors sent the company’s superintendent reports about the highly communicable diseases–now often preventable with vaccines–that its staff had treated. These dispatches, which C&H titled “Sanitary Bulletins,” recorded the nature of each illness, the neighborhood in which it had occurred, and the address of the patient; in an endeavour that presaged today’s emphasis on data visualization, physicians then carefully plotted the cases on a map of the Calumet area, using colored circles corresponding to the illnesses observed. The month’s average temperature, mean barometric pressure, total precipitation, and prevailing wind direction also featured prominently in these bulletins, which have been preserved as part of MS-002: Calumet and Hecla Mining Companies Collection.

The sanitary bulletins are a fascinating snapshot of the state of public health in Calumet in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Through the meticulous note keeping of the mine physicians, modern researchers glimpse the illnesses that struck the community and the geography of epidemics, how sickness spread through a mine town. In March 1910, for example, a physician was called to Rockland Street in Calumet location–a settlement along the east side of today’s US-41–to tend to a feverish patient, probably a child, who was suffering from a cough, running nose, and watery eyes. An angry red rash had erupted across the patient’s skin. When the doctor came to the home, his diagnosis confirmed what family members had no doubt suspected: a case of the measles. This became the first blue dot–that month’s chosen color for measles–in a wave of illness, the tip of the iceberg.

 

“Sanitary Bulletin” prepared by Calumet & Hecla physicians in March 1910. Notice the color-coded key to the various illnesses whose occurrences doctors plotted on a map of the area.
“Sanitary Bulletin” prepared by Calumet & Hecla physicians in March 1910. Notice the color-coded key to the various illnesses whose occurrences doctors plotted on a map of the area.

 

Four days later, C&H physicians were called to tend to two cases of measles down the road in Hecla location; the following week, the neighborhood where the outbreak had begun saw another four patients with the same disease. Measles began to spread west along Pine Street, branching into the community of Blue Jacket even as it took further hold in Hecla and Calumet locations. In April, the simple outbreak of measles exploded into an epidemic. Pine Street had 18 measles patients, Rockland Street a total of 25. Adjacent Caledonia Street topped them all: 45 residents came down with measles that month. Imagine this happening in your neighborhood! The epidemic, which faded by June, sickened over 200 people. No longer able to squeeze all of the blue dots onto their sanitary bulletin, C&H doctors settled for drawing one dot per street and painstakingly penciling the total number of measles cases beside it.

 

The April 1910 edition of the bulletin showed just how busy doctors had been in attending to what they acknowledged as an epidemic of measles. Notice how the house-by-house pinpointing of cases has given way to a summary of cases by street.
The April 1910 edition of the bulletin showed just how busy doctors had been in attending to what they acknowledged as an epidemic of measles. Notice how the house-by-house pinpointing of cases has given way to a summary of cases by street.

 

Although none of the 1910 measles cases appears to have been fatal, the sanitary bulletins often tell of patients who were not so fortunate. Diphtheria, a capricious disease, sometimes dealt a glancing blow–or led to a date inked onto the chart with the word “died” beside it. Pertussis (whooping cough) lingered in homes; a painful annoyance to older children, it frequently led to deadly pneumonia in infants. Meningitis killed without prejudice, taking up to 80 percent of its victims in a matter of days.

Today, vaccines dramatically curtail the spread of these diseases, sparing countless individuals from miserable illnesses and their families from grief at the premature loss of loved ones. Poring over these fascinating artifacts unlocks a vivid story of life and death, a world before widespread vaccination. To discover more of the story, visit or contact the Michigan Tech Archives–our friendly staff are always ready to assist you.

A special thank you to our Assistant Archivist, Emily Riippa, for another well-researched and thoughtful post.



Photo of the Day – April 12, 2017

lobothecrow

Yesterday was National Pet Day, so we couldn’t resist sharing this photograph Georgeann found of Lobo the crow. From the Daily Mining Gazette article, October 20, 1958: “The crow had half the surrounding area up in the air trying to find its owner, recently, with police checking from crow owner to crow owner, Lobo eventually was returned to a Kearsarge resident.” Be sure to check out the Copper Country Historical Images site for more interesting photographs of people, pets and more!

 


Michigan Tech Archives Seeking 2017 Summer Intern

The Michigan College of Mines library reading room, 1920s or 1930s.
The Michigan College of Mines library reading room, 1920s or 1930s.

 

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is currently seeking applicants for the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library Graduate Internship for summer, 2017. The archives provides a high level of service to scholars, students and a wide range of walk-in visitors and global patrons through virtual reference. Summer services are fast-paced and we see an increase in visitors, especially through our role as part of the Keweenaw Heritage Site network, a partnership with the Keweenaw National Historical Park, a member of the National Park Service. Areas of emphasis include manuscripts, maps, print and digital images which document the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and university history. Partnerships with faculty and collaborative initiatives within the Van Pelt and Opie Library expose archivists to leading edge projects. Current projects include a migration to ArchivesSpace, a formalization of our outreach program through the Harwood Cohort Public Innovators workshop, and a research study and exhibit of the Copper Range Railroad.   

The intern selected will receive substantial experience in both public service and collections handling. The intern will assist in (day-to-day) public service activities, including greeting and assisting researchers, retrieving and shelving collections, and assisting university and community patrons with use of materials and equipment. The intern will also gain experience in organizing, describing and processing archival collections. This includes researching people or events covered by a collection, cleaning, arranging, boxing and creating finding aids.

Preference will be given to applicants currently enrolled in a graduate archival studies program, but consideration may be given for equivalent education and experience. The following skills are required:

  • Knowledge of contemporary archival practices, policies and procedures, including arrangement and description, and familiarity with DACS, MARC, LCSH and MPLP.
  • Demonstrated analytical and research skills.
  • Ability to work independently and exercise initiative, discretion and judgment.
  • Ability to work collegially and effectively in a team-based environment.

This is a 35 hour per week, part-time summer position to span seven weeks. The preferred start date is June 26, to coincide with the university’s second summer session. There are no benefits included with this position and the successful candidate will be expected to cover travel expenses to Houghton, Michigan. The intern will be compensated in the form of a $5,000 stipend to be paid out bi-weekly throughout the duration of employment. Offers of employment are contingent upon and not considered finalized until the required background check has been performed and the results received and assessed. Housing options in the Copper Country include independently requesting a single occupancy dorm room and included meal plan (depending on availability) or making off-campus housing arrangements. In addition to a great working environment you will enjoy exquisite scenery, moderate temperatures and outdoor activities near the shores of Lake Superior!

To learn more about us, please visit our website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/

Applications are due by May 12, 2017. Direct any questions, or submit your cover letter and resume to:

Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
Attn: Graduate Student Summer Intern Position
Van Pelt and Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
copper@mtu.edu
(906) 487-2505

Michigan Technological University is an Equal Opportunity Educational Institution/Equal Opportunity Employer, which includes providing equal opportunity for protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.