By Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor
As August draws to a close and we look to the start of a very unusual fall semester, it’s a good time to look back on some of the projects of this past spring and summer.
Digital Projects Counter
Working remotely has given SCRC staff, students, and Bird Library employees an opportunity to work through several digital description and transcription projects. Our current “digital object” count for each of these projects listed below. And, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our student blog posts related to the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive and the Street & Smith Dime Novels:
Marcel Breuer Digital Archive (objects transcribed):
Drafts done: 1013
Completed: 335 (548 individual pages)
Street & Smith Dime Novels (objects described):
Drafts done: 144
William Safire Papers (objects transcribed):
Drafts done: 98
ABC Company Records (objects described):
Drafts done: 114
Call for Submissions
A reminder that the Syracuse University Archives is seeking to record and preserve the personal responses of Syracuse University students, faculty, and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Take a look at our website page on this project for more information.
Highlight from Social Media
August Blog Roundup
Thanks to some Twitter feed digging among several archivists, Ying Li’s history has been further filled in. She was a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), rather than MIT, as our August post had initially posited:
Check out our blog post about Ying Li and the other SCRC blog posts from the month of August below:
The image featured in the header of this post is from our Syracuse University Photograph Collection (Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s University Archives collections.
By Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women in the United States the right to vote. Although the amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, it could not be added to the U.S. Constitution until 36 states approved the amendment. Tennessee was the 36th state and approved the amendment on August 18th, 1920, by a narrow margin. Other states continued to approve the amendment in a small trickle over the remainder of the 20th century, with the most recent ratification occurring in Mississippi on March 22, 1984, a stark reminder of the sometimes plodding nature of progress.
This slow march forwards, interspersed with epochs that seemed to lurch backwards, is characteristic of the fight for suffrage in the United States. One of the leaders of the suffrage movement, Mary Church Terrell, understood the gradual nature of change better than most.
A lifelong activist, Mary Church Terrell lived in Washington, D.C. for much of her life and never stopped advocating for herself and others during the 90 years of her life. Early on, Terrell engaged in promoting educational reforms in the Black American community, took part in anti-lynching campaigns, and expanded the goals and viewpoints of the suffrage movement. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, as she neared her 90th birthday, Terrell continued to advocate for her community, protesting segregation in restaurants, schools, and public places.
Suffrage was one of the first causes Terrell took up in the 1890s and she consistently fought for the cause in two spheres. Utilizing the already-strong networks of church and club organization existing among Black women in the D.C. area, Terrell helped form the Colored Women’s League (CWL) in 1892 and later, in 1896, organized and became the two-times president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which adopted the motto, “Lifting as we climb,” an acknowledgement that the NACW fought for progress across lines of both gender and race, not only for voting rights for women.
Terrell did not allow her voice to disappear within the crowd. She picketed the White House with the National Women’s Party, led by Alice Paul and a small faction of devoted advocates, and she attended meetings of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by the mainstream white leaders of the suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. Although Terrell was eventually welcomed at these meetings, it was clear that her voice, insight, and point of view had been sorely missing from the group up until this point. She spoke up at the meetings, even when she was not a member, and advocated for herself and other Black women in the country. She saw the value in operating in two spheres, both in advocating for her community separately and in moving the concerns of the Black community into the mainstream.
Intersectionality was not widely acknowledged by the public-facing, white leaders of the suffrage movement, and prominent Black female advocates, like Mary Church Terrell, presented the realities of the different experiences of these groups of women in a straightforward and unflinchingly honest manner. At the time of its passage, Terrell noted the impact of the 19th Amendment on women of the nation:
“By a miracle the 19th Amendment has been ratified,’ I wrote. ‘We women have now a weapon of defense which we have never possessed before. It will be a shame and reproach to us if we do not use it. However as much the white women of the country need suffrage, for many reasons which will immediately occur to you, colored women need it more.”
Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World, p. 310
Though Terrell voiced her feelings at the time of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, she would echo and expand upon these thoughts in her 1940 autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World.
Shortly after the book was published, Terrell exchanged letters with the poet and writer Arna Bontemps on the sales of her book. In her letters, Terrell asks for Bontemps’ advice on funding a second printing, perhaps through the support of a major publisher. She describes to him some of the difficulties she faced on submitting her manuscript to publishing houses, before electing to publish the book privately:
“I do not understand publishers at all. From the nature of the case, the first autobiography written by a colored woman with a career similar to mine would be likely to sell if a well-know firm backed it. Two of the largest publishing houses in the country kept my book a long time…When they returned the manuscript, they declared it was a very good book, but the sales people feared they could not sell it.”
Mary Church Terrell, excerpt from a letter dated September 17, 1941
In a fascinating exchange of letters, Terrell and Bontemps discuss the difficult nature of publishing books by and about the Black experience in America and the unwillingness of publishers to trust in Black authors and readers as a viable, reliable market for books. Like many institutions in American today, the depressingly narrow demographics of the publishing industry have changed very little in the past 80 years.
In a telling echo of Terrell’s experiences during the suffrage movement, Terrell and Bontemps also discuss women’s book clubs as a potentially potent market for Terrell’s book. Terrell acknowledges that while there is a existing audience of white female readers for her book, the publishing industry has failed to acknowledge the large untapped market of Black female readers that she feels her book could be effectively marketed and sold to as well.
Terrell’s choice to publish her book privately was based on a number of different factors, but in an echo of her suffrage movement experience, it was partly due to lack of buy-in from people in positions of power. In choosing to privately publish her book, however, Terrell also demonstrates her valuation of publishing the book that she wanted to publish, and not one that had been heavily edited by a editor’s pen. She writes in the same letter:
“But I published it [the book] privately because I wanted to tell the story of my life as I though it should be told. I did not want it EDITED. Even though I published it privately I was forced to omit something which was was not of any great consequence, to be sure, but which should have been told. However, I did tell it in a way that the reader could understand perfectly what was on my mind.”
Mary Church Terrell, excerpt from a letter dated September 17, 1941
In our popular imagining, the suffragette has taken on a set of stock characteristics. She is outfitted in a pristine floor-length white dress, perhaps wearing a “Votes for Women” sash, white gloves, white hat, and carrying a picket sign in protest standing in front of the White House. And she is white.
Although not inaccurate, this view of the suffragette and the suffrage movement is incomplete. And while this view acknowledges some of the voices of the movement, much like the mainstream pioneers of the suffrage movement and the major publishing houses who returned Terrell’s manuscript back to her, it does not acknowledge the untapped power of all of the voices still to be heard.
On August 18th, 1920, Mary Church Terrell’s home state, Tennessee, became the 36th state to approve the 19th Amendment. With this approval, the United States reached the 36 states required to add the amendment to the constitution. Terrell’s birth year, 1863, was marked by the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, and she died in 1954, only two months after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Near the mid-point of her life, the 19th Amendment was passed, a reminder for Terrell then, and us today, that while some progress has been achieved, there is still a very long way to go.
The images featured in this post are from our rare books collection (Rare books, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and our Arna Bontemps Papers (Arna Bontemps Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.
From August 2016 to January 2018, I processed the records of the Crusade for Opportunity (CFO), an anti-poverty organization based in Syracuse, NY, that existed during the 1960s. In the two and a half years since I finished processing the CFO records, the increasing widespread swell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, among others, has thrown the archival work I did in sharp relief. Although police brutality and unfair justice systems has been the focus of the BLM movement, issues such as segregated schools are concerns as well. We frequently think of segregated school districts as a problem specific to the 1960s, but inequitable education and employment opportunities for Black communities persist to this day. As a parent of four children in the Syracuse City School District, disparities in educational opportunities are often at the forefront of my mind. With New York State leading the nation with the most segregated public schools in the country, it is clear that work still needs to be done.
The Crusade for Opportunity organization was founded in 1964 with the desire to solve generational poverty based on racial discrimination. Widespread discrimination existed when it came to housing, education, and employment opportunities for marginalized communities, and the organization believed that these racial discriminations were barriers to opportunity, and, ultimately, success. According to an internal CFO report, the organization had a mission to “pinpoint the deficiencies of the social structure and system” and “assist the economically oppressed and socially disadvantaged groups so that they will be free of oppression…and demonstrate new approaches to the society at large in order to accelerate the social change.” In order for Black communities to succeed, the organization believed, systematic racism had to end.
The CFO took a three-prong approach to create opportunity: community service, employment training, and education programs. For community service, the organization established community centers where members of the community could congregate and plan. For employment, they offered skill training programs and Neighborhood Youth Corps, a job program that connected teens with employers based on their skill sets. And finally, the organization offered education programs, such as the first Head Start program (early childhood education centers) in the nation, tutors for struggling students, and field trips.
Yet, in terms of education, the organization was limited in its capacity to combat the complex reality of segregated schools in Syracuse. Although de jure segregation – segregation by law – had been established as unlawful by the Supreme Court in 1954, de facto segregation – segregation established by segregated neighborhoods – was as much of an issue in the north a decade later. For example: In 1964, Croton Elementary School in Syracuse was 90 percent Black, while Ed Smith Elementary, another school in the district, was 92 percent white.
The CFO was invested in understanding how segregated schools affected their constituents. The organization’s research department explored issues relating to housing, criminal justice, employment, and education. The research CFO conducted regarding education suggested that disparities in predominately Black schools, such as lack of funding, access to resources, and community support, resulted in an imbalance in quality of education for Black children compared to their white counterparts. The Syracuse Committee for Integrated Education, a committee led by CFO researcher Hilda Rosenfeld, found that academic testing in Syracuse revealed that students in majority Black schools tested below grade level, whereas students in majority white schools tested above average. Dropout rates in the city were over 40 percent in poor, majority Black schools, compared to just 4 percent in affluent, majority white schools. “If segregated Southern schools have been ruled inferior and less than equal,” the report authors concluded, “what then shall we say about Croton?”
In September 1965, Syracuse School Superintendent Franklyn S. Barry, under pressure from local agencies and organizations like the CFO, closed two predominately Black schools (Madison Junior High School and Washington Irving) and began to integrate those students into white schools. Croton Elementary, however, remained open – the superintendent feared that he had no location to reassign its 1,200 students. Beginning in the fall of 1965, 900 Black students were bused to previously white majority schools. Fearing backlash from white parents, children from predominately white schools were not sent to predominately Black schools. In addition, the superintendent allowed open enrollment for all their schools within the district, so that Black parents had the opportunity to send their child to a preferred school. A year later, Superintendent Barry reported promising results: “24 children who were bused…achieved a total of 9.2 months progress in reading (in 8 months) while their matched counterparts (in the predominately Negro school) did in 4 months.”
Integration, however, was about more than just academics – it was also about the breakdown of barriers between different racial and ethnic groups. School integration not only gives students the opportunity to learn from those with different backgrounds and experiences, it also promotes shared experiences for students in a single environment. Integration itself is a form of education.
During the spring of 1966, the CFO research department sent out research aides into Black neighborhoods in Syracuse to gauge the perceptions amongst parents regarding busing and integration. Their interviews with the parents revealed that although parents were unhappy with the longer bus times and, consequently, earlier start times in the day, most parents were happy with both their children’s academic and social progress. For example, 53 percent of parents believed that their child received a better education compared to their prior school, and 61 percent of parents thought the new school was “very good.” Additionally, 76 percent of parents said that their children liked their new classmates “better or to the same degree as their old classmates.”
Ultimately, school integration did not last, at least in Syracuse. There are many factors for this. Chief among them is the continued white flight to the suburbs and white parents’ objections to send their children to majority Black schools. A number of Syracuse schools continued, and continue today, as de facto segregated schools, Croton Elementary (now Dr. King Elementary) among them. It has also been more than 50 years since Crusade for Opportunity closed its doors. The organization struggled as more community members became engaged with daily operations, sparking internal struggles between the members and the administrators. Additionally, external tensions emerged between the organization and local power structure when CFO members pushed for more social change. In 1967, after a short three-year run, CFO lost its funding. Yet their goals of ending systematic racism and providing opportunity for all is still an unrealized one. The failed attempts to prevent the continuance of de facto segregation in schools is a reminder of that.
The images featured in this post are from our Crusade for Opportunity Records (Crusade for Opportunity Records, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.
 Moko Ise, “Comments on Report of the Community Problems Study Committee,” February 1967, Education reports, Box 261, Crusade for Opportunity Records, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University.
 Hilda L. Rosenfeld, Joyce I. Ross, Mitzi O. Cooper, “Education and Integration in Syracuse,” Event: A Journal of Public Affairs, Vol. 7, no. 1 (Fall 1966): 8-14.
 “Process of Change: The Story of School Desegregation in Syracuse, New York,” Commission on Civil Rights (June 1968): 10.
 Momoyo Ise, “Parents Perception of the Syracuse School Bussing Program,” Box 262, Crusade for Opportunity Records, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries.
By Breeann Austin, Curatorial Instruction Assistant
This summer, I worked and interned remotely with the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive for SCRC. The Breuer Archive is the digital repository of archival materials relating to the twentieth-century architect, Marcel Breuer, composed of materials from numerous institutions, SCRC among them. Over the summer, I worked with many other library staff members and students to transcribe the handwritten correspondence of Marcel Breuer. The transcription project will be an invaluable time-saver, allowing researchers to search the contents of the archive’s documents. As an intern for SCRC, I also created lesson plans with the archive’s materials, designed to provide professors with a digital alternative to on-campus instruction in SCRC.
Hidden within these documents, I found some amazing individuals, whose stories had been forgotten. These people were not the celebrated Marcel Breuers of history, but their stories survive in the archival collections dedicated to others.
Ying Li was one of these people.
I first found Ying Li in a letter written by Marcel Breuer, where he writes, “My best to Rolland, Albert, and the Li girl.” This sentence caught my eye because I had come across very few Chinese names in Marcel Breuer’s documents. Through the archive’s Names List, I connected “the Li girl” to Ying Li, whom the Archive describes as a “former student of Breuer’s who worked in his office c. 1947. She left the office unexpectedly and with no explanation in the middle of work on the Scott house.” This description only served to further pique my interest: Who was she? Why did she leave? These questions led me on a quest through the Breuer Archive to find out more about Ying Li.
Ying Li was born in China around 1924. In 1946, she sailed from China with someone named KY Chen to San Francisco, CA, on route to Cambridge, MA. On May 27, 1947, Marcel Breuer wrote his friend and colleague, King-Lui Wu, about “a Chinese girl who is a graduate of M.I.T.,” who was interested in working for Breuer. This is where things get murky. The Names List only says that she left unexpectedly and without notice. However, while going through the archive, I discovered that this was not entirely true.
On September 1, 1947, Ying Li wrote to Marcel Breuer and explained, “Some unfriendly friends of friend invaded our home in N. Y., without even challenges. We left unconditionally. And I was forced to leaves the work you assigned unfinished to Harry…now I am a farmer instead, living with a group of old but childish people, working in the farm according to their naive rhythm of hourless day.” She concludes by thanking Breuer for letting her learn and work with him, adding, “but there are things I regreted [sic] and still regret — my uselessness, my mischief, and the unfinished end.” This document, while fascinating, raised more questions than it answered.
Despite her unusual departure, in August, Breuer wrote Rolland Thompson and Harry Seidler, two draftsmen who worked with Li on the Scott House, to “give my best to Miss Li, I think we will miss her. An architects office needs pretty girls, especially when they are intelligent, and can drive a car.” While a problematic sentence for a modern reader, the letter reveals that Breuer held no ill will toward Li.
In fact, two letters from November 7, 1950, reveal that Breuer was attempting to find a way for Li to return to Cambridge. In the first, Breuer responds to György Kepes, a Hungarian-born artist, professor, and friend, and assures Kepes that he is trying to find a way for Li to return to the United States. Additionally, Breuer mentions that he has been in contact with King-Lui Wu and I.M. Pei, Chinese-born architects with ties to Harvard University, for advice on bringing Li to the United States through a visitors exchange program. In the second letter, Breuer writes to Walter Gropius, his mentor, friend, and business partner, asking Gropius to help facilitate an exchange visa for Li to Harvard University.
These letters provide a glimpse into Li’s life, but do not confirm whether she returned to China or the United States. As there is no known recorded professional or personal connection between Li and Kepes, Gropius, or Pei, we can only guess at their motivations for helping her return to the United States. We do know that Breuer, Gropius, and Kepes had all faced various immigration and travel restrictions when they left Europe just prior to WWII and that the political changes brought about by the rise of the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s may have made it more difficult for Li to leave China if she returned. Importantly, in his letters, Breuer relates that Li said if she could not come to the United States that she would return to China. Bearing these factors in mind, it is not surprising that in his letter to Gropius, Breuer writes, “No need to say that this is a bad idea.”
Unfortunately, this is the last of Ying Li’s historical record available in the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive.
For much of our history, books and archival collections have focused on the stories of those in power. But what about those outside of that limited scope? What about people like Ying Li? A young woman born in China, who graduated from MIT, worked for Marcel Breuer, became a farmer, and then tried to come back to the United States as an architect. Her story, even if it is an unfinished one, deserves to be heard.
Incomplete, her story ends here.
At least for now.
The images featured in this post are from our Marcel Breuer Papers (Marcel Breuer Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.