Unveiling the Secrets of Fan Letters: A Conversation with David Reagles

This May, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections talks with historian David Reagles, author of Searching for God in Britain and Beyond: Reading Letters to Malcolm Muggeridge, 1966-1982, about his journey through the vast collection of fan letters held in the Malcolm Muggeridge Papers.

When and how were you first introduced to Archives & Special Collections? What kinds of research projects have led you to the Archives’ collections?

I first stepped on Wheaton’s beautiful campus as a graduate student in 2011. Two moments really stand out in my mind when I think about the archives during those life-changing years. The first took place during a seminar on the history of evangelicalism in the Atlantic world. It was a wonderful eye-opening class, which included among other things a jaunt to the archives. There Bob Shuster masterfully guided us through proper archival procedures and etiquette, as well as offered an overview of the kinds of rich materials available. As we walked into the classroom, he had placed one or more archival boxes at each seat. After a short lecture, he asked us to open our materials and to try as best as we could to tell a “story” of the box. I recall pouring through the contents and feeling a kind of weird combination of confusion, excitement, anticipation, uncertainty, and discomfort. I loved it. That short lesson really affirmed the kind of joy-filled experience archival research could be.

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The Shadow of a Modest Man

Stereo slide of Taylor and his wife Gloria, ca. 1930s. (Photo File: Taylor, Herbert J.)

One of the earliest collections opened by the Archives (in 1978) and one of the most heavily used (over 360 times at last count) is Collection 20, the papers of Chicago businessman and philanthropist Herbert John Taylor (1893-1978).

Taylor’s life was in many ways a typical American success story. He started out as a salesman in Oklahoma. After service with the YMCA in France, assisting servicemen during World War I and then a shore post in the Navy, he moved to Chicago and eventually became president of Club Aluminum Products, a near bankrupt company he rescued and made into a multi-million dollar enterprise.

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Memories of a College Life

Each class of Wheaton College brings new traditions, experiences, and stories to the long history of the campus. One of the ways the College Archives seeks to preserve these transitory memories is by collecting student scrapbooks. With their rich ephemera of college life – jokes, notes, invitations, photographs, and other mementos – student scrapbooks offer a glimpse into a strange yet familiar past. While clothing has changed, new buildings have appeared, and student groups have come and gone, these scrapbooks document the continued vibrancy and experimentation of a liberal arts college education. Here are the snapshots of jaunts off-campus, the portraits of new friends, the paper remains of events (official and unofficial), and the scraps from the programs and clubs that come to define many students’ college experience.

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Music to the Glory of God

Dr. Hans Rookmaaker (SC-18, Box 25)

The meeting of Hans Rookmaaker, a Dutch art critic, and Mahalia Jackson, a Black American gospel singer seems, at first impression, unlikely. Yet, archives are full of such improbable pairings.

Born February 27th, 1922, in the Netherlands, Hans Rookmaaker came to adulthood under the storm of Nazism and war. As the Dutch Nazi Party organized, teenaged Hans pursued a growing interest in art and music, developing an abiding passion for jazz. Spending his pocket money on albums and phonograph needles; some of his favorites included Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. Under the Nazi occupation, Hans joined the Underground Press and agreed to distribute anti-Nazi leaflets. Arrested after his first night, he was eventually freed through his father’s political connections. However, in 1943, thousands of Dutch reservists, including Hans, were “officially” enlisted for service at a collecting center where they were herded into trains and transported to concentration camps.

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Research by Proxy: In the Manuscripts Reading Room with Chelsey Geisz

While Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections continually adds new digital content to our online archival photograph database and oral history interview collections, most of the thousands of pages of records in our collections can only be accessed in the Manuscripts Reading Room. We frequently receive inquiries from researchers who are unable to travel to use the collections, and so keep a list of local researchers who provide research and scanning services to distance patrons as “proxy researchers.” This week, we sat down with Chelsey Geisz for a behind-the-scenes look at proxy research in the Archives.

Chelsey Geisz is in her final semester of Wheaton College Graduate School’s MA in Systematic Theology. For the last year and a half, she has also served as a proxy researcher and a research assistant for a major College history project. Because of her work as a research assistant, she has the dubious distinction of likely being the only person alive who has read every Wheaton student publication from 1860-2000!

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A Good Stenographer, Spirit-Filled, Can Always Be Used

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections commemorates the many contributions from women whose unique voices and experiences are documented throughout our rich collections. This March, we highlight the life and missionary service of Hulda Stumpf, a missionary to Kenya from 1907-1930.

Hulda Jane Stumpf, ca. 1906. From Photo File: Stumpf, Hulda.

A native of Pennsylvania, Stumpf left the comforts of her middle-class, Midwestern life for the unknown challenges of missionary service as a single woman in British East Africa in 1907. During her two decades of service at the Kijabe Mission Station in Kenya, Stumpf became an outspoken advocate for the education and advancement of women and girls from the surrounding indigenous ethnic people groups. Her willingness to challenge the long-cherished cultural mores and religious rites resulted in her tragic murder at the age of 62.

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‘He Had Something to Say and He Said It Well’: Billy Graham at Wheaton

Billy Graham, The Tower, 1944.

Next week will mark the five year anniversary of Rev. Billy Graham’s passing on February 21, 2018. This month, in remembrance of his remarkable life and legacy, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections commemorates the beginnings of Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a fledgling undergraduate preacher at Wheaton College in 1940.

During Billy Graham’s time as a student at Florida Bible Institute (1937-1940), Alma Toff Edman, mother of then-interim president of Wheaton College, V. Raymond Edman, heard Graham preach at a local service. Impressed, she told her son Elner Edman and his friend Paul Fischer about the young preacher and urged that they hear him too. The two men invited Graham with them as a caddy for a round of golf. Similarly impressed with his passion for ministry and gift for speaking, they urged him to attend Wheaton College after graduating from FBI, to add a liberal arts education to his Bible and homiletics training. Graham applied to Wheaton and was accepted, starting on September 19, 1940.

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“They Called Him the Jesus Man”: Montrose Waite and the Afro-American Missionary Crusade

In celebration of Black History Month this February, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections commemorates the legacy of Montrose Waite, dedicated missionary to Africa and founder of one of the first independent Black faith missions in America, the Afro-American Missionary Crusade.

Newsletter for the Afro-American Missionary Crusade, 1948. (CN 81, Folder 8-40)

Born 1893 in Jamaica, Waite immigrated to the United States in 1916 with the promise of munitions factory work created by the ongoing World War. Settling in New York City, he wrote of his interest in missions to Dr. A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), who encouraged him to seek out missionary education at the C&MA’s Nyack Institute.

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Looking Back on A Year of New Old Stuff

Song sheet (ca. 1928) for evangelist Betty Weakland, one of the most well-known of the so-called “girl evangelists,” popular in the first decades of the 20th century. Donated by long-time friend of the Archives, Robert Dresser. Accession 2022-053.

“Collection” and “Accession” are words used all the time in the archival profession. In Buswell Library Archives & Specials Collections, an accession is material received from a single donor, usually an individual or an organization. It might be a single folder or hundred of boxes, with only a general inventory to use as a finding aid.  A collection is a set of materials (perhaps including paper-based records, photographs, audio or video recordings, etc.) that has been fully arranged and described. Most of our collections have been formed from several accessions. Here in the Archives & Special Collections, both collections and accessions are open for research (unless there have been donor-requested restrictions) but the lack of a complete finding aid and access points can make accessions difficult to locate or use for research.

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Remembering Christmas Past

Blanchard Tower displays a huge wreath, decorated with lights, c. 1960.

It has often been astutely observed that our warm feeling for Christmas are not about the present but the past. In other words, sentimental memories of remembered holiday seasons profoundly color our present expectations. As the caretaker for the physical memories of Wheaton College, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections maintains many photos, stories, and other mementos of the joyous, bygone yuletide seasons celebrated throughout the college’s history. As we wistfully glance back at campus festivities, perhaps the candlelit glow of our present Christmas will burn even brighter.

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