By Mary Leet ’16
This year marks the 75th anniversary of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s influential visit to Keuka College.
The woman who inspired a nation visited Keuka College in the years leading up to World War II, and urged then President J. Hillis Miller to create a nursing program to support the war effort.
Erin Scott ’15, an adolescent education major with a concentration in English, worked to preserve the legacy of the former first lady this summer. She recently completed a Field Period in Washington, D.C. at the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, an effort supported by the National Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, and George Washington University, where it is housed. The group working on the project collects, accessions, transcribes, and annotates original material relating to the life of this impactful historical figure. There will be five volumes of these materials created in total.
The creator of the project, Editor and Principal Investigator Christopher Brick, spoke at Keuka in the spring of 2012 at the invitation of Assistant Professor of History Dr. Christopher Leahy. After hearing him speak in Leahy’s New York state history class, Scott attended his campus-wide program, where she learned the project accepted interns.
“I had previously done museum work at the Erie Canal museum [in Syracuse] and I wanted to take the opportunity to go somewhere new,” said Scott. “I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone.”
At the encouragement of Dr. Leahy and her adviser, Dr. Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English, Scott applied for the program and was accepted. She stayed with Nancy Riker ’69 while in Washington, D.C.
In addition to all the typical curatorial and accessional work, each intern has what Scott calls a “pet project.” Hers is a civil rights timeline of Roosevelt’s work from 1953-1962. The rich timeline covers her strong relationships with Philip Randolph, W.E.B. Du Bois, and other leaders within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“She was majorly ahead of her time, especially with her involvement in the United Nations,” said Scott, who added that Roosevelt was also an instrumental figure in the founding of the Wiltwyck School, which educated poor African-American boys.
Documents included in the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project come from multiple places – including Japan through the National Association of Sciences – that demonstrate the true global impact Eleanor Roosevelt had in her time.
“In August the creators are going to Hyde Park,” said Scott, noting the New York town where the Roosevelts had a house.
Each “paper” is not actually collected, but a high quality digital photograph is taken and brought back for the team to read, annotate, and upload to the digital archive from which the books will be created. This can be a challenge, as Roosevelt’s handwriting can be somewhat hard to decipher.
Roosevelt was a high-profile delegate in her day, always by the side of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during World War II. Scott supposes that she became a fixture to the American people, who were as fond of Roosevelt as she was of them.
“She wrote a My Day column, detailing what she had done and thought about each day. She also wrote a monthly If You Ask Me column, which answered questions sent to her from everyday people. She would give them advice, and follow up with them to make sure their problems were resolved,” said Scott.
Scott reiterated that her experience has been of great value to her, both academically and personally.
“I walked into this experience knowing about [Roosevelt’s] impact on the world, but working here brought her down to a human level for me,” she said. “I also learned that I really would like to get more involved in archival work, especially with the history of Keuka College.”
Scott’s experience has been chronicled at dear-dc.tumblr.com, where she has shared photos of her travels and daily video-logs, adding details about what she worked on every day.