George Mason University Mentioned in the Film Hidden Figures

When was the last time you heard George Mason University mentioned in a major motion picture? For this author, never. But in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, George Mason University found its way into the script during a memorable part of the film.  The reference to Mason was made by Janelle Monae in her portrayal of Mary Jackson, a NASA engineer and one of three African-American women who played key roles in the early development of the United States’ space program.

Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures” Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Screenshot from video clip accessed at on 8 Mar 2016.

During the scene Mary Jackson is standing before a judge in a Hampton, Virginia courtroom to ask permission to attend night school classes in graduate-level math and physics sponsored by the University of Virginia and held in the then-whites-only Hampton High School.  When the judge informs her that segregation is the law in Virginia, and that an African American woman attending a white school is unheard of, Jackson pleads with him:

“Your Honor, you of all people should understand the importance of being first…You were the first in your family to serve in the  armed forces. U.S. Navy. The first to attend university.  George Mason… Your Honor, of all the cases you will hear today, which one will matter in a hundred years? Which one will you make the first?”

While the scene in the movie takes place sometime in 1961, as a later reference in the scene to Alan B. Shepard implies, we know that Mary Jackson actually attended the classes several years earlier and completed the program in 1958. A 1961 reference to George Mason University would have been a bit premature.  Mason was known as George Mason College (it became George Mason University in April of 1972), was a two-year community college, and had only been in operation for four years by 1961. So, it is highly unlikely that this jurist would have just finished his work at George Mason and became a high-ranking judge.

Nevertheless, it was gratifying to see that the writers of the film chose George Mason as the institution for the judge to have attended. This might spur some interesting reference inquiries in the future!

The Swing Mikado: Gilbert and Sullivan Reinvented in 1938

Cast photo of Swing Mikado, Chicago, 1938. Federal Theatre Project photographs #C0205 Box 46, Folder 17

Here in the Special Collections Research Center, we are gearing up for #GandS2017 – our celebration of all things Gilbert and Sullivan, culminating in the opening of an exhibit of materials from the David and Annabelle Stone Gilbert and Sullivan Collection.

One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular comic operas is The Mikado; or, The Town of Titpu. It opened on March 14, 1885 and ran for 672 performances as a production of the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

The Mikado remains popular, and in the years since it opened, has been updated and re-imagined. In 1938, The Swing Mikado premiered in Chicago as a production of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project. The production was conceived and directed by Harry Minturn, with swing re-orchestrations of Sullivan’s music by Gentry Warden. First staged by an all-black company in Chicago, it became a huge hit with audiences black and white alike. It also featured a live swing orchestra. The show was later produced on Broadway to similar acclaim.

Cast photo of Swing Mikado, Chicago, 1938. Federal Theatre Project photographs #C0205 Box 46, Folder 17

The Federal Theatre Project itself was a New Deal program to fund live artistic programs during the Great Depression, one of numerous relief measures to employ artists, writers and theatre workers.

New Collection-Prince William County Historic Newspapers

Special Collections Research Center received a new collection of historic local newspapers from the Prince William County Library in November 2016. We have been working to reorganize and address preservation needs of these papers for future use by our patrons. The papers in this collection date roughly from 1861 to 1992. They are currently organized by date and paper title which has been split up into six series. The series are:

  • The Manassas Journal
  • The Prince William News
  • The Manassas Messenger
  • The Journal Messenger
  • Potomac News
  • Miscellaneous
    • This contains article clippings and issues from other papers like the Alexandria Gazette, The Fauquier Democrat, The Richmond News Leader, and The Richmond Times-Dispatch

We began processing this collection in January and have just finished boxing the documents and created the Finding Aid in early February.

Processing Coordinator and Manuscript and Archives Librarian looking through new collections in the processing area of Special Collections Research Center.

Along the way, we found many interesting articles. One article that stood out to us came from The State:

“A Woman in Pants” from The State. Undated but between 1870’s to 1890’s.

And of course the advertisements are always entertaining, like these from The Manassas Messenger dated November 15, 1951:

“Magic skin bodies…”


So if you are doing research on local history, love newspapers, or just have some free time, stop by and check out the new Prince William County Historic Newspaper collection, #C0301! The finding aid is now up on our website and you can find it here by searching our collections alphabetically or by subject under Northern Virginia and Regional History. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

The Languages of Special Collections

There is a babel of languages in Special Collections.

Here at the Special Collections Research Center at George Mason University Libraries, a quick catalog search shows archival materials or rare books in the following languages:

A book of Lutheran devotional exercises

Tagliches Hand-Buch, Call Number BV 4834 .S7 1846. This volume is a book of Lutheran devotional exercises in German

  • English
  • German
  • French
  • Russian
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Greek
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew

In the Archives alone, untranslated material abounds. Whether it’s the Gustav Klemp German WWI Collection of untranslated German materials, the Michael La Vean French Documents Collection of French Revolution era documents, or the Kukryniksy Russian Cariacture Collection of Russian posters, these untranslated primary source materials present a unique opportunity for scholars, students, and researchers at George Mason.

Highlighted here are a few examples of rare books and archival materials in the many languages represented in the Special Collections Research Center.

Biblia Sacra spine

  • Biblia Sacra, printed in 1692 (Call Number: BR 75 1692)

“Biblia Sacra” is the Latin title for the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Christian Bible).

The Latin Bible faced challenges throughout the sixteenth century, as reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale and other figures of the Reformation questioned whether a Bible in the vernacular would be more accessible.

Translated into Latin in the fourth century by St. Jerome, the Vulgate was affirmed as the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church during the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

This edition of the Vulgate was published in 1692.

  • The Parson’s Guide, or the Law of Tithes: Where is Shewed, who must pay tithes, and to whom, and of what things, when and how they must be paid, and how they may be recovered at this day, and how a man may be discharged of payment thereof, by W.S., Esq. (Call Number: KD 8747.Z9 S54 1654)

Bound with the SCRC copy of “The Parson’s Guide” are extensive manuscript annotations on the text that follows.

Manuscript annotations bound with The Parson's Guide

  • Tagliches Hand-Buch, in guten und bosen Tagen : das ist : Aufmunterungen, Gebete und Gesange, 1) fur Gesunde ; 2) fur Betrubte ; 3) fur Kranke ; 4) fur Sterbende ; wie auch Spruche, Seufzer und Gebete, den Sterbenden vorzusprechen, nebst den Fest-Andachten ; viel schone Buss-, Beicht-, Communion- und Wettergebete, Morgen- und Abend-Andachten auf alle Tage in der Woche, Trost- und Erquickungs-Gebete, sammt Ges2017-01-23 13.56angen, und Kriegs-, Theurungs-, Pest- und Friedens-Gebete, bei allen Angelegenheiten nutzlich zu gebrauchen,  und mit Kupfern gezieret ; Gebeten fur Schwangere, Gebahrende und fur Unfruchtbare ; als der funfte und sechste Theil dieses Handbuchs, compiled by Johann Starck (Call Number BV4834 .S7 1846)

Published in 1846, the above book is a book of German Lutheran prayers and devotional exercises.

  • The Michael La Vean Collection of French Documents, C0078
Receipt for a debt, C0078

Receipt for a debt, Michael La Vean Collection of French Documents, C0078, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries

Finally, from our Manuscript Collections comes this document from the Michael La Vean Collection of French Documents, C0078. Written on February 9, 1790, this documents is the receipt of a debt of 2,806 livres paid.

This collection contains many other documents dating to the French Revolution.








To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. For rare books, search the library catalog, limiting your search to Fenwick Special Collections.

You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.