Mary E. Fox photograph collection

In honor of Women’s History Month I thought it would be appropriate to share a collection of photographs taken by, and mostly of, women from the 1940s. The Mary Elsie Fox photograph collection documents Fox’s, and her friends’, personal lives in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. during the 1940s, at a time when she was working at the newly opened Pentagon. The collection consists of 423 photographs and one document from a discarded photo album that was found by George Mason University staff and was donated to the University Special Collections and Archives in 2006. The images in the collection date from 1935 to 1959. The entire collection has been scanned and is available as a digital collection.

Screenshot from the Mary Elsie Fox digital collection.

Screenshot from the Mary Elsie Fox digital collection.

The Fox collection is an excellent example of vernacular photography. It was created for personal use and with no artistic aspirations. In many of the photographs Fox and her friends are featured socializing and posing in or near Washington D.C.. Some of the images were also taken in Norway and other geographic locations in the United States and Europe that Fox herself may not have visited since she is not as visible in these photographs. As a collection, some of the images could have been taken by Fox, though it is difficult to know for certain, but all of them were collected, stored, and used by her. Many of the images are identified by writing on their verso indicating dates, names, and places, but there are also many that are not identified in any way. Some of the handwriting differs indicating that Fox was not the only one writing descriptions and that she may have received photographs from friends as gifts. These photographs serve as evidence of average people who chose to photograph themselves for their own enjoyment, posterity, and memory. Today they exist removed from their original function and may provide useful information for researchers about how people lived and recorded their existence at a certain time and place in history.

Screenshot of the Mary E. Fox photograph collection on Tumblr

Screenshot of the Mary E. Fox photograph collection on Tumblr.

Last fall, for the course HIST 696: Clio Wired: An Introduction to History and New Media at George Mason University, I created a digital project on Tumblr using photographs from the Fox collection. This site breaks down the photographs by dates into piles that can be shuffled through. Click on the image above to visit the site.


Special guest blog post from George Mason University Libraries’ Ordering Coordinator Meaghan O’Malley!

sca stacks collage

Cookbooks in situ.

The Rosemary Poole Cookbook Collection in Special Collections & Archives gives patrons of the University Libraries’ unique access to the documentation of 19th century housewifery, cookery, hostessing, basic first aid and treatment of common illnesses, and easy household maintenance tips. These titles supplement the University Libraries’ growing collection of cookbooks (modern and antiquarian) in SC&A as well as our expanding general collection of cookbooks.

Personally, I’ve collected cookbooks for as long as I can remember, fascinated by the descriptions of cuisines and the historical evolution of recipes, tastes, the American palate, and cooking methods. Working in Resource Acquisitions affords me the opportunity to see new titles added to the collection on an almost daily basis, and also inspires me to wander through the open stacks to check out the hidden gems one can only uncover through browsing. The recent uptick in our cookbook acquisitions is due in part to the Nutrition and Food Studies program, part of the College of Health and Human Services, and family recipes projects at New Century College. Sarah Sheehan, CHHS liaison librarian, has taken the lead on these general collection acquisitions after working directly with faculty in CHHS and NCC who expressed an interest in making various kinds of cookbooks available to their students as part of their curriculum and course work.

sca cookbooks in a row

Spines of The Hostess of To-Day, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Recipe Book, Jennie June’s Cook Book, and The Universal Receipt Book.

I was invited to do some cookbook browsing in SC&A recently and was completely mesmerized by our holdings, which contain an assortment of titles ranging from the original receipt book from Gunston Hall to a colorful resource on the seductiveness of casseroles. I elected to focus in on a few cookbooks from the 1800s, and found the variety of recipes and household tips contained within to be intriguing and, occasionally, bemusing.

The Hostess of To-Day, 1899

Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1852

Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, 1878

The Universal Receipt Book; being a compendious repository of practical information in cookery, preserving, pickling, distilling, and all the branches of domestic economy. To which is added, some advice to farmers., 1818 (Second edition with great additions)

sca recipes collage 1

Clockwise from top left: Universal Receipt Book, The Hostess of To-Day, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, Universal Receipt Book

sca recipes collage 2

Clockwise from top left: Jennie June’s, Jennie June’s, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, Hostess of To-Day.

sca whopping cough a universal receipt book

A cure for whopping cough from the Universal Receipt Book.

sca spot removal a universal receipt book

“Liquid to take out spots or stains of ink, red wine, iron mould, mildrew, &c.” from the Universal Receipt Book.

Cooking and baking have always been, at least to me, a form of self-expression and even with just a brief glance into this collection, I found the same to be true for their authors. Whether utilitarian, like The Universal Receipt Book, or lavishly decorated with illustrations and graphics, like The Hostess of To-Day, each title in this collection is a reflection of the times, but also a reflection of the socioeconomic status of the consumer for whom it was written. Cookbooks like these have become a form of historical record, giving insight into the appetites and cuisines of the time period in which they were written, as well as the structure of households and families. They were, in essence, the foundation upon which the modern American Family was built, giving women the ability migrate into work life by providing easy reference materials and simplifying their obligations at home; or, in some cases, making knowledge previously only available to women accessible to everyone.

In the coming months, I hope to report back to Vault 217 with some tested recipes from these books as well as others from the Rosemary Poole Collection.

You can follow my journeys through the stacks, as well as old and new cookbook discoveries, by following the hashtag #gmulibraries on Instagram and Twitter.