The Myth About Dusty, Musty Archives

Have you noticed how often news articles and blog posts refer to archives as dusty, musty places filled with similarly dusty, musty collections? Here are a few quotes perpetuating the dusty, musty myth about archives:

“I lifted the lid of a sere and dusty gray box; a box unexceptional among shelf upon shelf of sere and dusty gray boxes…”

“An archivist enters, pushing a cart that bears a dozen dusty gray boxes.”

“…the search happens in finding aids, the archival stacks, and the dusty boxes.”

“When people think of archives at all, they think of mouldering files in forgotten basements…”

“Leaving Cloister of Dusty Offices, Young Archivists Meet Like Minds”

“Musty Archives Shed Light on Democracies at War”

Invoking the name of T.R. Schellenberg, a revered mid-20th century American archival theorist and writer, one archivist responded to the seemingly endless litany of dusty mustiness with this Tweet,  “Whenever you use ‘musty’ [or 'dusty'] in an article about Archives, the ghost of Schellenberg kills a kitten.” (Brad Houston, University Records Archivist, University of Wisconsin –Milwaukee, @herodotusjr)

Houston’s response, though couched in humor, affirms a truth rarely revealed in the quest for a snappy headline or catchphrase: archives and the collections they preserve are usually pretty darn clean. As these shots of our storage areas show, one would have to search long and hard to find the dust and must so ubiquitous in those articles and blog posts.

Well-organized rows of shelves at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Well-organized rows of shelves at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

No dust here! Only neatly labeled boxes containing original documents from Florida's colorful past (2014).

No dust here! Only neatly labeled boxes containing original documents from Florida’s colorful past (2014).

Another view of the stacks at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Another view of the stacks at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Occasionally an archives will acquire a collection that was not stored in clean conditions and requires cleaning or rehousing. If researchers are provided access to such a collection before that work is done, they might indeed encounter some dirt or dust. Or a very small or severely understaffed and struggling archives might lack the resources to perform such work. But those are the exceptions. Far more typical are the well-maintained collections and facilities that disprove the myth of the dusty, musty archives. Come visit us – we promise you won’t get dirty!

Did you know you can search the holdings of the State Archives of Florida from your own computer anytime? Check out the Archives Catalog to find out what we have on your favorite Florida history topic.

 

Women’s Equality Day

A Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971 designated August 26th of each year as Women’s Equality Day and requested the President to issue a proclamation annually to commemorate that day. That Joint Resolution resulted in this 1972 Proclamation issued by President Richard Nixon.

Women's Rights Day Proclamation, 1972

The Proclamation was later presented to Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, the driving force behind the designation of August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.

Letter from Senator Edward J. Gurney to Roxcy Bolton, September 12, 1972

Letter from Senator Edward J. Gurney to Roxcy Bolton, September 12, 1972

A long-time Coral Gables resident and a 1984 inductee in the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, Bolton is known in Florida for gaining access for women to the previously all-male lunchrooms at Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores; for helping to end the practice of naming hurricanes only for women; and for opening the influential Tiger Bay political club to women.

Bolton was inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s stances on civil rights and was profoundly affected by her address at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, hearing her call to “help all of our people to a better life” as a personal call to action.

Roxcy Bolton with Eleanor Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1956

Roxcy Bolton with Eleanor Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1956

Roosevelt, who was a strong proponent of gender equality and supporter of working women, had her own sources of inspiration, including from Floridians. She met Mary McLeod Bethune at an education conference in 1927, gaining from her an understanding of racial issues and becoming a close friend of Bethune’s.

Eleanor Roosevelt with Mary McLeod Bethune (center) at Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, 1952

Eleanor Roosevelt with Mary McLeod Bethune (center) at Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, 1952

Do the Locomotion

Railroads opened Florida to new industry, expanded the tourist economy, and allowed for rapid residential and commercial development.

Tallahassee Rail Road Company banknote (Collection M77-155)

Tallahassee Rail Road Company banknote (Collection M77-155)

The first rail construction project authorized in Florida was the Tallahassee-St. Marks line, chartered in 1834. The first train to operate, however, was the Lake Wimico line that connected the boomtown of St. Joseph to the Apalachicola River in 1836. The Tallahassee-St. Marks train, which was initially mule-drawn, connected the highly productive cotton fields of Leon and Jefferson counties with the St. Marks River. These early efforts only hinted at the profound impact that railroads, passenger lines, and freight trains would have on Florida’s history.

First complete train from Bartow to Punta Gorda, late 1800s

First complete train from Bartow to Punta Gorda, late 1800s


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Take It From the Top

Before Web pages and social media sites, before television, in the early years of radio as a mass communications medium, businesses promoted themselves through other means of advertising, including eye-catching designs on their office stationery.

In the first half of the 20th century, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, office letterhead meant more than just a business name and address. Colorful artwork, detailed drawings, and inspiring slogans adorned much of the office stationery of the time, providing not only information and some humor, but also a glimpse of how we viewed ourselves, our work, our environment, and each other.


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What’s Your Hurry?

Why race off? Slow down and smell the salt water!

Ranson E. Olds in the Olds Pirate: Ormond Beach (ca. 1896)

Ranson E. Olds in the Olds Pirate: Ormond Beach (ca. 1896)

Louis Ross in a Stanley Steamer automobile: Daytona Beach (1903)

Louis Ross in a Stanley Steamer automobile: Daytona Beach (1903)

Arthur McDonald in his Napier racer: Daytona Beach (1905)

Arthur McDonald in his Napier racer: Daytona Beach (1905)

Barney Oldfield racing the Blitzen Benz: Daytona Beach (1910)

Barney Oldfield racing the Blitzen Benz: Daytona Beach (1910)

Sir Henry Segrave in the Golden Arrow: Daytona Beach (1929)

Sir Henry Segrave in the Golden Arrow: Daytona Beach (1929)

Tommy Milton: Daytona Beach (1920)

Tommy Milton: Daytona Beach (1920)

Harry Hartz: Miami Beach (1926)

Harry Hartz: Miami Beach (1926)

Ralph DePalma in his Packard V-12: Daytona Beach (1919)

Ralph DePalma in his Packard V-12: Daytona Beach (1919)

Buddy Callaway: Daytona Beach (1936)

Buddy Callaway: Daytona Beach (1936)

Jack Etheridge in Bill Milam's Special 1: Daytona Beach (1947)

Jack Etheridge in Bill Milam’s Special 1: Daytona Beach (1947)

Sig Haugdahl in the Wisconsin Special: Daytona Beach (1922)

Sig Haugdahl in the Wisconsin Special: Daytona Beach (1922)

Sir Malcolm Campbell in his Bluebird: Daytona Beach (1935)

Sir Malcolm Campbell in his Bluebird: Daytona Beach (1935)