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In December 2011, we began a 15-month journey with the Koreshan Unity, a journey that carried vestiges of New York State’s mid-19th century “burned-over district” west to the bustling streets of late 19th century Chicago, and then south to the untamed frontier of southwest Florida at the turn of the 20th century.
The journey was guided by an extensive collection of archival records created and maintained by the Koreshan Unity for over a century; personal letters and journals, religious writings, legal and financial records, publications, and many thousands of photographs documenting the Unity’s founding and founders, their beliefs, and their dream to establish a New Jerusalem against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
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.
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.
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.
What did the Koreshans believe exactly?
Up to this point we have discussed Cyrus Teed’s illumination and subsequent events that led to the formation of the Koreshan Unity. We’d like to continue to delve further into the Unity’s core principles. This time, we move from the realm of Cellular Cosmogony to a much more basic idea: equality.
Among the truths that Teed derived from his illumination was the belief that God existed as both male and female. Teed believed that while God drew from his masculinity, it was not his permanent state. In order to maintain equilibrium in the spiritual sense, he would eventually assume his female side. If God captured both sexes evenly, Teed believed his followers should as well. As a result, Teed called for equality of the sexes within the Koreshan Unity, a notion largely unheard of at the end of the 19th century.
Female members were not valued solely as wives and mothers, but for their intelligence, resilience and work ethic. Koreshan women held officer positions within the Unity, often outnumbering men. In addition to traditional officer roles, seven women made up the governing body known as the Sisters of the Planetary Court. Living together in a building of the same name, these sisters helped to manage the Unity.
Teed acknowledged the difficulty of both attaining and sustaining equality. This reality is apparent in his manuscripts and speeches. Teed explained, “I speak now for the human structure. If the two were now placed side by side as equals in government, there would still be no equality, because men have ruled so long there will be no righteous government until a woman stands at the head of affairs.”
This belief is most readily shown in the role of one Koreshan in particular: Annie G. Ordway. Ordway, one of the earliest followers of Koresh, acted as the first President of the Koreshan Unity. She operated as Teed’s counterpart in the managerial and supervisory senses, and in 1891 Teed pronounced her Victoria Gratia, Pre-Eminent of the Koreshan Unity. He believed Victoria was destined to be his successor. Despite Teed’s overwhelming faith in Victoria, not all Koreshans were convinced. After Teed’s death, many opposed Victoria’s continued leadership. This led to her eventual resignation in 1909.
While Koreshan women received equal treatment, the struggle for women’s rights beyond Koreshan grounds did not go unnoticed. Victoria Gratia spoke to the disconnect between the sexes before the Koreshan Convention in her 1888 address titled “Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion.” She explained,
“Woman, a natural born citizen of the cosmos, evolved through the same agencies which bring into being her brother, equally expert in all that pertains to juvenile sports and pastimes, as active in the discernment of specific means to any given end, as fertile in inventive genius, as dominant in will, more righteously and kindly disposed, more compassionate and humane than her masculine counterpart, finds herself at her majority the technical bondwoman of the most arbitrary and tyrannical prestige possible to conceive.”
In her speech, Victoria Gratia urged women to acknowledge the disparity between women and men. Both possess characteristics inherent to their sex. Only when the rights of women are protected can we truly benefit from our differences.
The State Archives of Florida’s in-depth processing of the Koreshan Unity Papers allows for a greater understanding of the Koreshan Unity’s convictions. Look to future posts for more on the fundamental beliefs of the Unity!
In Part Three of this series, we alluded to the fundamental principles of Koreshan belief that arose from founder Cyrus Teed’s “illumination.” Among the most interesting beliefs of Koreshanity was cellular cosmogony, or the hollow earth.
In The Cellular Cosmogony (first published in 1898), Teed explained that the earth was not a convex sphere but instead a hollow, concave cell containing the entire universe with the sun at its center. The earth was motionless while the heavens rotated within the concave sphere. Life existed on the inside surface of the cell, and people were held on that inner surface by centrifugal force. Teed dismissed gravity, heliocentricism, and other scientific theories as “gigantic fallacy and farce” and the convex appearance of the earth’s surface as an “optical illusion.”
In truth, according to Teed, “The earth is a concave sphere, the ratio of curvation being eight inches to the mile, thus giving a diameter of eight thousand, and a corresponding circumference of about twenty-five thousand miles. This fact is physically and mechanically demonstrated by placing a perpendicular post at any point on the surface of the earth, (though it were better to place it by the side of a surface of water,) and extending a straight line at right angles from this perpendicular. The line thus extended will strike the surface at any distance proportionate to the height of the vertical post.”
The Koreshans had in fact conducted this very experiment in 1897 to demonstrate the truth of their beliefs. The Koreshan Unity Geodetic Survey staff devised an apparatus they called a rectilineator and conducted tests on the Gulf Coast at Naples, the results of which Teed published in The Cellular Cosmogony as proof that the earth was indeed concave.
Bolstered by what he considered scientific proof of his theories, Teed now laid them out in detail in The Cellular Cosmogony. According to Teed, the sun and stars formed a “stellar nucleus” in the atmosphere above the concave surface of the earth at the very center of this hollow cell. Instead of the earth rotating on an axis and revolving around the sun, it was the heavens that moved, their movement generated by the “electro-magnetic substance created at and radiating from the stellar nucleus.” The heavens were, as Teed described them, “a great electro-magnetic battery.”
This universology also dictated Teed’s vision of what the final form of social government would be. “The government of the physical universe is imperial,” Teed wrote, “in that the head of government resides in one center; but democratic, in that all of the stars bear that reciprocal relation which makes the center dependent upon the reciprocal activity of the subsidiary but contributory centers. While there is a subordinate relation of the multiplicity of stars to the central one, so there is a subordination of the central star to all of the stars, whence the central one derives its powers of government. The regulation of society, therefore, is not left to another experiment, because former experiments have failed to accomplish for the people that for which government is established, but must be regulated by the scientific knowledge and application of principles which may be determined before the correct form of government is instituted.”
Who is She and Why is She in the Archives?
Most of the unusual or unexpected items we find in the Archives are usually some form of recorded information. Every once in a while, though, something – or someone – a bit different makes an appearance.
Take this distinctive woman, for example.
Who is she, and more importantly, why is she in the Archives?
One clue is the agency from which she originated – what archivists call provenance. This mystery woman is from the State Board of Health, located in a series of Midwife Program Files from 1924-1975 (series S904).
Make sense now?
The State Board of Health initiated a midwife licensing program in 1931 to reduce infant mortality and to promote maternal and child health. So, yes, this was a maternity and childbirth teaching aid for midwives and expectant mothers.
In addition to this midwife teaching doll, the Midwife Program Files include correspondence, reports of legislation, essays on midwifery, midwife manuals and publications, photographs, and midwife licenses, record cards, and summaries. The midwife record cards provide yearly health checkup information, race, literacy and education level, and consulting physicians. The summaries list licensed midwives in each county for each year.
There are plenty of great resources for mid-20th century public health policy research among the records of the State Board of Health in the State Library and Archives. Among the many other record series from the Board are a substantial series of administrative files dating from 1889-1926 (series S46), Board minutes from 1889-1969 (series S272), subject files from 1875-1975 (series S900), and a series of photographs, photographic slides, lantern slides, negatives and sound recordings documenting the history and activities of the State Board of Health (series S907).
The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection (Part Seven)
What should be saved?
Archivists grapple with this day in and day out. The question of what to save, commonly referred to as appraisal, is arguably the most challenging archival issue in the profession. However, the archivist is not the first to determine the long-term value of records; that role, knowingly or not, belongs to the creator.
The materials within the Koreshan Unity Collection tell much about the focus of the Unity and show that they attributed long-term value to surprising quantities and types of materials. The collection provides a glimpse into the structure of the group and shows relationships and themes between members.
Often, records are saved in order to document some sort of transaction; they offer proof of an event or an agreement. The Koreshan Unity’s administrative records are evidence of their business dealings both within their settlement at Estero, Florida, and relating to other ventures across the United States. Along with the typical receipts, tax records, and payroll records, the administrative records also include documentation of the origins of the Koreshan Unity and the emphasis its members and leaders placed on organizational structure and clear lines of authority from the Unity’s beginnings. Foundational documents such as a printed 1896 Constitutions of the Koreshan Unity and its Departments (below) are evidence of this focus on organizational structure.
The Unity’s focus on organizational structure continued after Cyrus Teed’s death, as evidenced by this “General classification and assignment of duties” from about 1909 (below).
The manuscript starts, “General classification and assignment of duties for the Edification, Assistance and Guidance of all Members of the Ecclesia or Home. Ecclesia is a Greek word signifying congregation, and as used in this connection, would embrace all those who have entered into communistic relation and have accepted Cyrus as their Shepherd and Messiah, and the authority He established as having the legal and moral right to regulate the conduct of the membership…”
Part Six of this series alluded to unexpected findings within the administrative and operational records. While most records align themselves with the function that they were created to document, it’s the unexpected items that provide archivists with the most entertainment and, in some cases, surprising insight. Here, then, is our first installment of:
They Saved What!?
Are these items in the collection because the Koreshans were meticulous record keepers? Because of a general consensus to save everything? Quite possibly it’s a combination of both. From the outset, the Koreshan Unity recognized the importance of maintaining their records to ensure long-term access and even designated members to carry out that responsibility. The size and contents of the collection are testament to that role.
As the community dwindled in the years after Teed’s death, responsibility for the Unity’s survival fell on a very small group of remaining members. It is likely that limited staff leaned towards saving everything to avoid the risk of throwing out important records. The plethora of receipts held members accountable for money spent from the communal treasury down to the last penny. While their historical value to the collection might seem less obvious than that of some other administrative records, these individual items explain daily operations of the Koreshan Unity and show the uniqueness of their administrative functions beyond what is expected.
Hello, again! Earlier this week I discussed my thoughts and experiences as a student of archives and as an archivist. This time I’d like to move from past experience to a discussion of the archives profession as I see it today.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue a career in the archival field. In the midst of economic and budget issues, archives have downsized in order to survive. Today, many archives are run by a single person. These archivists, commonly referred to as lone arrangers, take on all archival responsibilities. They are responsible for acquisition, appraisal, arrangement, description, preservation and access. The lone arranger advocates both for their repository in order to promote use and to maintain proper security of their archival holdings. Here at the State Archives of Florida, we’re fortunate to have multiple archivists that work towards these goals.
Although staffing is a common concern, the role of the archive within society remains strong. This is particularly apparent in the continual shift to digital. Our culture’s increased awareness and participation in the digital sector is changing the process of records creation, storage and long-term access. In this sense, technology serves as a catalyst for constantly evolving archival operations. Archivists have a commitment to preserve all mediums of recorded and collected information that they accession. Technological advances constantly challenge the archivist’s ability to adapt to change. New mediums call for new means of preservation. However, these advances also promote the archive within society through online dissemination and access. Technology connects the archive to a larger community.
I’m constantly reminded of these concepts here at the State Archives of Florida. I believe that Florida Memory is a prime example of the bond between the archive and technology. Through the digitization and web design efforts of the Florida Memory team, the State Archives brings centuries old documents into the digital age. The myriad online collections, coupled with the use of educational resources and social media, provide outreach far beyond what was possible pre-internet.
That being said, this shift does not negate the traditional archival collection and access methods. If anything I think it calls for an even more firm foundation within arrangement, description and collection management. The digital age expands our responsibilities as archivists. Each format expands existing preservation concerns. File migration of born digital records, format and software obsolescence, and digital metadata programs will join the storage and environmental concerns of existing collections.
Now I find myself back at my elevator speech, so here it goes. Archivists protect the historical and public records of the institution in which they work. These record groups are as varied as the archives that house them where they act as evidence of past events. By following professional guidelines and best practices we ensure their long-term preservation, appropriate arrangement, and availability for future users. To quote Theodore R. Schellenberg’s The Management of Archives, “Use is the end of all archival effort.” I agree with Schellenberg. While we work at all stages, the final goal of an archivist is to provide proper access. It both justifies and validates our continued existence.
Theodore R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives, quoted in Mark A. Greene, “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and the Value in the Postmodern Age,” The American Archivist 72 (Spring/Summer 2009): 33.
In the spirit of American Archives Month, we’ve decided to discuss the role of the archivist in a personal fashion. That being said, a brief introduction is in order. As you can tell from above, my name is Bethanie. My presence on Florida Memory up to this point is with the series of blog posts on the Koreshan Collection. I work at the State Archives as a Project Archivist where my main responsibility is arranging and describing the aforementioned collection.
Each archivist comes to the field in a different way. Some seek out the profession directly while others happen upon it. On the whole, I identify most with the former rather than the latter method. What follows are my thoughts, opinions, and experiences as an archivist; my metaphorical archival soap-box.
So, what is an archivist? Or, more importantly in terms of this post, what does it mean to be one? One of the first bits of advice I was given when I started as a student in an archival education program was the importance of an archivist elevator speech. In other words, a 20 second speech designed to explain and justify my role as an archivist to anyone who asked. Fast forward two years, and I’m still working on it. I suppose part of my problem is in my inability to condense my thoughts. A much easier, though longer, way for me to explain begins with my experience.
I decided I wanted to be an archivist while at my internship for my history degree. I worked in a historical society in Western Pennsylvania where I transcribed correspondence written by a member of an expedition to the North Pole. I enjoyed learning about the early 20th century through one man’s life in letters. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Next step: master’s degree. Fortunately, I lived within an hour of a university where an archives specialization in the Library and Information Science program was offered. Thus began my archival education.
Theories and best practices, arguments and discussions. Debates over Sir Hilary Jenkinson and Theodore R. Schellenberg. Functional analysis vs. Macroappraisal vs. Documentation Strategy vs. countless other approaches to appraisal. Drills on provenance, original order, and a determination to always, always respect des fonds. I, along with my classmates, spent many months in a theoretical think tank. After a long class of discussing a topic ad nauseum, we’d eventually come to the same question: why?
Enter, experience. While interning at a university archive and participating in collaborative projects with a local museum, the endless discussions started to make sense. Their relevancy beyond the classroom became apparent as we applied best practice and theory to the task at hand.
As a project archivist I draw from my education and that of fellow archivists daily. It’s a constant back-and-forth activity. There seems to be a divide between a concentration on theory and on the reality of everyday archival operations. I think the truth of the archival profession is somewhere in between. While theory and practice are necessary in the archival sphere, theory requires experience in order to be fully appreciated. Of course, that’s just my point of view!
Stay tuned later this week for my thoughts on the archives profession today!
Preliminary inventory: Check.
Transfer to State Archives: Check.
Initial sort of boxes: Check.
Now it’s time to begin detailed processing; but where to start? Something especially intriguing, such as members’ personal correspondence? Something likely to be very heavily used and with great exhibit potential, such as photographs? Something fun, such as the Koreshans’ sheet music collection?
We decided upon a two-pronged approach, addressing both the photographs and the administrative and operational records of the organization first. Not only will the photographs be heavily used, but about 1,000 of the images will receive item-level cataloging and be made available on the Florida Memory website with the assistance of a federal grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
Most of the photographs were grouped together in plastic cases or scrapbooks. Most were fairly well identified, and those that were not were usually easy to identify based on their context among better-identified photos. The photos included a small number of glass plate negatives, primarily portraits of Cyrus Teed that also exist as prints, but also images of Teed’s body after his death that apparently are the only such images in existence (see Part Three of this series). The glass plate portrait below did not survive the trip from Estero to Tallahassee; fortunately, the rest of them did, and they are being placed in custom enclosures to prevent any future damage.
The administrative records were also a logical choice to address early in the project, since they document in detail the operations of the organization from its beginnings, and provide a foundation for understanding the organization and the rest of the collection. Original constitutions, minutes of meetings, bylaws, organizational correspondence, legal and financial records, property records, and more have been identified and organized, moving from inaccessible piles of envelopes in boxes such as this:
to well-organized, clearly-identified archival folders and boxes such as these.
Along the way, we’ve discovered a number of unexpected items in the collection. More on that next time!