Archivists explain acquisition of Jane Addams Papers

by Barbara Addison

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Jane Addams and President Frank Aydelotte at Swarthmore in 1932

In the January 2011 issue of Peace & Change, Barbara Addison and Anne Yoder relate the story of the acquisition of the Jane Addams Papers by Swarthmore College, forming the foundation of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Addams (1860-1935), a major influence on 20th century social, political, and economic reform, was a founder of the Hull-House settlement in Chicago and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Shortly before her death, she arranged to have her peace-related material sent to Swarthmore. The Friends Historical Library staff believed that she wished to have all of her papers there. But after her death, her vast archive was scattered among Swarthmore, Hull-House, the Library of Congress, and many other institutions and individuals around the world. Three indomitable Swarthmore-connected Quaker peace activists (Lucy Biddle Lewis, Hannah Clothier Hull, and Ellen Starr Brinton, first curator of the Peace Collection) and two Swarthmore College presidents (Frank Aydelotte and John Nason) worked for many years to reunite Addams’ material under the auspices of the newly created Jane Addams Peace Collection at Swarthmore. By cultivating Addams’ heirs and the Hull-House staff, much material was reclaimed. But the Library of Congress refused to yield the significant portion of papers it had received, and it took ten years of genteel arm-twisting by Aydelotte and Nason to bring that material to Swarthmore.

Not all efforts to reunite Addams’ archive at Swarthmore were successful: some papers were lost when Hull-House buildings were razed to make way for the University of Illinois’s Chicago campus. A treasure trove of Addams’ correspondence with a German Nobel Peace Prize winner, which Brinton fought to have released by the Gestapo, was destroyed in the bombing of Munich in World War II. Some of Addams’ heirs gave away individual letters as gifts to their friends. Nevertheless, the Peace Collection now holds by far the greatest amount of Addams material, including more than 20,000 letters, writings and speeches, notebooks and diaries, her Nobel Peace Prize medal, and memorabilia, including an (empty) can of “Jane Addams Tomatoes.” This archive became the nucleus of the Peace Collection, and, in the year of the 150th anniversary of her birth, remains a resource actively used by scholars worldwide.

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