A Visit to the Reed Archives
Down in the depths of the library, there is a treasure trove of information collected over years of Reed College history. Items in the Archives include gifts given to different presidents at graduation, handbooks, posters, photographs, and student diaries or letters. You can find odds and ends from time periods as early as the 1400s up to the present day. Now is a great time to take advantage of all this information, whether that means exploring the archives for fun, writing a Quest article or an interesting essay or two, or pulling together your senior thesis. Much of this information has not been studied since it has been stashed away years ago. It is waiting for you to find it and give it life once again.
So, what are some examples of treasures stashed away in the archives? What was Reed College like back in the day?
The President’s Donkey
If you look through the photos in the Archives, you may learn that the first president of Reed College, William T. Foster, had a pet donkey named Peter.
In the digital collection, there is an article written by Patti Macrae called “Treasures of the Deep,” which is about the Reed College Archives and the fascinating things one can find there.
Women on Campus
Some student handbooks give information about how Reed dealt with gender in years past. In the student housing section, there is a list of rules which specifically apply to women. These rules include “every girl must sign the register if she is to be out of her house after 10:00 p.m.” and “every girl must be in her room by one o’clock.”
Whalen and Kerouac Letters
The Archives holds personal letters written between the poet and alumnus Philip Whalen ‘51 and the beat writer Jack Kerouac. Beat writers, prevalent in the 1950s, wrote about America and American politics and culture in the disorienting aftermath of World War II. In some of his letters to Whalen, Kerouac laments about his travels, his thoughts, and his writing. In one letter, Kerouac tells Whalen that Whalen’s poetry “now stands alone and brilliant and frank among the shitty outpourings of phonies who lied about how they truly felt so they could look ‘poetic’ or something,” and ends with an update on his weight (195 lbs).
The archives has a sizeable collection of photographs of Japanese internment during World War 2. A series photos depicting Camp 111 display an array of daily activities in which the detainees participated, including factory labor and meal services.
The Archives have also kept old pictures of the canyon. The canyon used to hold less water, fewer trees, and less underbrush. In some pictures, students are collecting and burning fallen branches, possibly to improve the canyon’s appearance.
Radiological Monitoring Class
Images from the 1950–51 school year focus on a Radiological Monitoring Class, which was likely established in response to WWII. The photos show students using Geiger counters to detect radiation levels on dummy bodies as well as burning sheds. One image displays a group of three students wearing hazmat suits and carrying a dummy up a hill, and another group of students standing next to a burnt-down shed in the background.
Dogs on Campus
In the 1990s, dogs on campus had to be licensed and wear special Reed College dog tags, and you can find some of these tags in the Archives. Based on the tags’ numbering system, at least 195 dogs appear to have been licensed. According to the librarians in charge of the archives, there used to be more dogs living on Reed campus than today. Apparently, the Pet Policy was created in part because a student protested that they were chased out of Thesis Tower by a pack of dogs.
Special Collections and Archives Librarian Maria Cunningham loves the dog tags, as well as the collection of student publications which cover a wide range of topics which interested students at the time. Laura Buchholz, the Digital Infrastructure & Archives Librarian, was excited about the archive’s collection of currency printed on strips of leather, and Archives Specialist Isabel Lyndon expressed her fondness for a tiny guide to ballroom dancing from the late 1800s.
To access the archives, go down the left-hand steps in the lobby of the library and meet the librarians, or go online to: https://library.reed.edu/special-collections/ and check out the Reed Digital Collections. If you find anything cool, make sure to share it with your fellow Reedies!