The Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Ten)

In previous posts, we’ve discussed how we approached processing a large, very disorganized collection, talked about the nature of the collection and some of the interesting items found in it, and looked at the background and some of the beliefs of the Koreshan Unity as revealed in the collection.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission logo

Full-time processing of the collection has continued in the meantime, so let’s take a look at the very significant progress our archivists have made in transforming the collection into an easily-accessible research resource, supported in large part by National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant funding (www.archives.gov/nhprc).

We have largely completed processing of the Koreshan Unity’s administrative records and operating records, including general accounting and transactions, payroll, stocks, taxes, attorney fees, legal cases, insurance, will and estate records, and other records documenting the administration and operations of the organization and community.

These records include foundation documents such as original constitutions, corporation records, and early minutes of the organization. The pages below, taken from minutes in 1893, document the Unity’s adoption of a constitution in which an Archivist and an Assistant Archivist were designated as two of the seven members of the Board of Directors. It is thanks to the work of these first Koreshan Unity archivists that today’s archivists have such a valuable collection to process and make available.

"A Form for the Constitution of the Koreshan University"

"A Form for the Constitution of the Koreshan University"

"A Form for the Constitution of the Koreshan University"

 

 

We have also completed processing the files of Hedwig Michel, a German immigrant who joined the Unity in 1941 and was the last remaining member upon her death in 1982. Processing the papers of “The Last Koreshan” was complicated by the extensive intermingling of personal and organizational records. The three items below are examples of the wide variety of materials found in Michel’s files.

National Audubon Society membership

Letter from John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Fort Myers News-Press Article

Founder Cyrus Teed and other early members are also well-represented among the processed Koreshan Unity files. Daily life is captured within the correspondence, manuscripts, and the various other personal papers of Koreshan members. Other files processed include the Koreshans’ extensive Event Files containing programs and other records of the many performances and other events held at the Koreshan Unity from the very beginning of their time in Estero. Events included plays, skits, Koreshan Unity Orchestra concerts, national holidays, the annual celebration of Cyrus Teed (the Solar festival) and Victoria Gratia (the Lunar festival) and, remarkably, a full night of entertainment leading up to the unveiling of a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt sent to the Koreshan Unity by the U.S. Government.

Among the most exciting portion of the Koreshan Unity Papers is an extensive collection of photographs. The Koreshans were as diligent about documenting their history through photography as they were through more traditional means. They photographed and maintained images of their headquarters buildings, residences, and natural surroundings; and of founders and other members engaged in every activity from dining, to dramatic and musical performances, to gardening, to observing holidays and festivals. Most excitingly, over 1,000 of these photos have already been scanned and made available on Florida Memory and many more will be in coming months.

College of Life, Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, ca. late 1880s.

College of Life, Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, ca. late 1880s.

The building above as the Unity’s headquarters after they incorporated under Illinois law in 1886.

Lunar festival procession led by Koreshan Unity band, April 10, 1906

Lunar festival procession led by Koreshan Unity band, April 10, 1906

Eleanor Castle, Victoria Gratia, and Koreshan Unity founder Cyrus Teed, Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901

Eleanor Castle, Victoria Gratia, and Koreshan Unity founder Cyrus Teed, Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901

For a more in-depth look into the history of the Koreshan Unity, see the Koreshan Unity exhibit on Florida Memory.

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