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Five Interesting Things in Archives

From Carl Van Vechten portraits to Red Glass Globes from Old Main, Archives and Special Collections has a lot to offer.

From Carl Van Vechten’s portraits to a bust of Edward Brooks and red glass globes from Old Main, Millersville University Archives and Special Collections department in McNairy Library has a lot to offer.

The 8th floor of the McNairy Library is home to the Archives and Special Collections department, which collects and preserves historical items such as photos, books, memorabilia and records. These collections can be used for in-class instruction, personal research, and projects. Archival pieces allow visitors a deeper understanding of past time periods and our school’s history.

Millersville students, staff and community members are able to request to see materials by appointment by submitting this form. Donations can be made by contacting the archives and special collections department at special.collections@millersville.edu. More information about the department and its endeavors can be found on their Facebook and Instagram.

  1. Collection of Carl Van Vechten Portraits

Millersville is home to an extensive and unique collection of original portraits taken by photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten. After his death, Van Vechten’s estate was left to Millersville faculty member Bruce Kellner, who donated a sizeable number of materials over the course of 30 years. “It’s sort of a legacy of his dedication to the institution and his belief in using these materials that we have such a fantastic collection here for our students,” says university archivist and special collections librarian Dr. Frank Vitale.

Van Vechten’s portraits capture the Harlem Renaissance, a point in time defined by the blossoming of African American culture in terms of creative arts in Harlem, New York.

A photograph within this collection will be on loan to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery from April 26 to Feb 23, 2025, in Washington, DC, for the exhibition “Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900-1939.” After this, it will travel to other museums for the remainder of 2025. The exhibition will showcase African American female artists who traveled to Paris seeking more rights and artistic freedoms there than they had in the United States at that time. The particular image of Nora Holt, a prominent African American musician of the time period, could not be found in other collections held by institutions such as the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and Yale University. “It gives us the opportunity as a university to share some of the fantastic things in our collections,” says Vitale regarding the benefits of Millersville loaning materials.

  1. Bust of Edward Brooks

Edward Brooks was one of the first faculty members of what is now Millersville University, previously the Lancaster County Normal School. He began his time at Millersville as a mathematics professor in 1855 before serving as president of the college from 1866 to 1883. After his resignation, he dedicated his time to the public school movement in Pennsylvania.

This sculpture was cast in 1910 by Clyde Bathurst, shortly before Brooks’ death in 1912. Vitale says it most likely would have been on display in the library, now the Biemesderfer Executive Center, or Old Main, a previously demolished building.

In 1938, Brooks Hall was built in commemoration of Millersville’s past president. It was in use until 2017 and will be undergoing renovations to become Lombardo Hall, home of the Lombardo College of Business. “It’s kind of an interesting connection between the University’s roots and its role in public education, tied into what the University is doing here in the 21st century to continue to further that public education,” says Vitale.

  1. Red Glass Globes from Old Main

Old Main was the first building built on the plot of land that is now Millersville University. It stood where the McNairy Library stands today. It was ultimately demolished due to its state of disrepair and safety concerns. Built by a group of private citizens in the 1850s, the building was later taken over by the state, per the builders’ request, to become the first Normal School in Pennsylvania. “Normal Schools” refers to colleges that practice standardized ways of teaching public school teachers.

These red glass globes were positioned around exits of the building, acting as exit signs do today. Some are basic red glass, while some have lettering. “One of the examples that we have has the word ‘stairs’ etched in it because it would have been placed on the 2nd floor so that you knew you could climb down to get out of the building from there,” says Vitale.

Old Main was expanded several times and served many purposes throughout its existence. Classrooms, dormitories and small offices all had homes in the building. “It served initially as a dorm space and faculty space,” says Vitale. Faculty members and administrators would even live in the building with students.”

  1. “Martyr’s Mirror” Book

“Martyr’s Mirror” is a religious text from the Mennonite and Anabaptist Christian communities about nonviolent martyrs. “The particular volume that we have is the first English translation that was published,” says Vitale. The book was published in Lancaster County and was donated by a Millersville student by the name of A. CP. Frick in June 1857. This is monumental because that is only two years after the institution was founded and is the earliest documented donation.

At the time of the donation, the institution was home to two main student groups: the Normal Literary Society and the Page Literary Society. “Before the institution had a single university library that everybody could use, these two societies maintained their own libraries,” says Vitale. Among the first pages of the book is a handwritten note that indicates the donation was to the Normal Literary Society library.

  1. Psychological Testing Materials

These psychological testing materials depict the ever-changing standards of healthcare. “These are not something you might use today, but they tell you a little bit about what psychology and psychological testing was like in the late 20th century,” says Vitale. These kits contain tests, activities and paperwork used to diagnose and determine psychological health.

These testing kits were donated by Moya Kinnealey, a retired psychologist and community member who previously had no connection with Millersville. “This is a great example of somebody who’s not even associated with Millersville, who thought that it would be really valuable and helpful for our instruction and research,” says Vitale. Although unrelated to the University’s history, having items like these in the archives is beneficial. “They tell us about that period of time,” says Vitale.

 

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