Life after Lovecraft

Sonia and Nathaniel Davis, circa 1936.

Sonia Haft Davis (1883-1972) would have lived her life in relative obscurity but for her 2-year marriage to a man named Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937).   Lovecraft was a science fiction and horror writer whose work has created a significant and active fan base.  To preserve her own literary output and the work of her third husband, Nathaniel A. Davis, Sonia donated materials documenting their lives to Brown University.  Those papers are now available for research in the Sonia H. and Nathaniel A. Davis papers (MS.2012.003) at the John Hay Library.

Those looking for information about H.P. Lovecraft in the papers of his ex-wife will be disappointed.  The bulk of the materials in this collection document the life of Sonia Davis from 1930 to 1972, during which time she lived in California and was married to Nathaniel A. Davis. Sonia and Nathaniel were both devoted to the idea of world peace and wrote numerous articles and poems promoting that goal.  Nathaniel founded Planetaryan, a humanitarian organization devoted to world peace, for which Sonia was the chief administrator.  The collection is a good source of documentation for anyone interested in U.S. social, political and religious history, especially around the period of World War II. It is also useful for researchers interested in American literature, especially religious poetry and didactic literature.

To learn more about the life of Sonia Haft Davis contact Christopher Geissler, Librarian for American and British Literary and Popular Culture Collections, or visit the John Hay Library.

Laundry – way more fascinating than you thought

Sawyer's Crystal Blue Little Bo Peep puzzle

Puzzle created by Sawyer’s Crystal Blue Company to advertise their bluing product, circa 1900. When added to wash water, the blue dye makes white clothes look whiter. The swastika symbol in this context means lucky or auspicious object.

Laundry.  At its most basic, washing clothes involves water and a scrubbing action, with soap as an added bonus.  Yet, our ancestors would not recognize the process of doing laundry in 21st century America.  We have incredibly sophisticated computerized machines and a dizzying array of laundry detergents and other products to get our clothes clean.  The evolution of washing technology from washboards to top-loaders, and the social implications of that process, is richly documented in the Joe and Lil Shapiro collection of laundry ephemera (MS.2014.002) now available for use at the John Hay Library.

The Joe and Lil Shapiro collection of laundry ephemera consists of ephemera that depict the history, artifacts and materials used to do laundry from 1800 to 2010.  Most of the items in this collection were produced by companies to advertise laundry products such as bluing, clotheslines and clothespins, dyes, soaps, starch, washboards and washing machines. The advertisements depict not only the variety and evolution of laundry tools and techniques but also attitudes towards women, women’s work, and people of African-American and Chinese descent.  The collection as a whole raises the topic of laundry from something to be avoided to something that tells a fascinating story about American history, technology, chemistry, social expectations, race relations, the status of women, and the power of advertising.  Who knew the laundry hamper could be so informative?

This collection was compiled by Joseph S. Shapiro, Brown class of 1957, and his wife, Lilian Shapiro. Joseph Shapiro was the owner of the Lundermac Company, Inc., which managed and supplied self-service laundries in apartments, condos and dormitories across New England. Lundermac was founded in 1940 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, by Lilian Shapiro’s father, Gerard Wolfe. Joseph Shapiro learned the business from Wolfe, beginning as a salesperson in 1961, and rose to become President of the company in 1988.  Joe and Lil collected anything and everything related to the process of doing laundry including washing machines, washboards, wash paddles, soap boxes, etc.  Only the paper-based ephemeral materials were donated to Brown University.

To learn more about this collection and how it can inform your research projects, contact Holly Snyder, Curator of American Historical Collections, or visit the John Hay Library.

José Rodrigues Miguéis Papers at the John Hay Library


José Rodrigues Miguéis

The papers of José Rodrigues Miguéis, the influential Portuguese writer, educator, illustrator, and jurist, are now available for research at the John Hay Library.

Miguéis was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1901.  He left Portugal in 1935 when his political opinions brought him into conflict with the rising fascist party, Estado Novo.  He moved to the United States and became an American citizen returning to Portugal occasionally.  He was the author of at least 23 works of fiction and numerous essays, newspaper columns, and articles.  The Portuguese government recognized his outstanding service to literature by awarding him the Ordem Militar de Santiago da Espada in 1979.

The Miguéis papers comprise the author’s correspondence, literary manuscripts, interviews, diaries, calendars, notebooks, drawings, photographs, audio recordings and awards. It contains work by others that relate to Miguéis, such as literary reviews and criticism, drawings, and adaptations of his work.  This collection also includes approximately 2,000 books from the personal library of Miguéis which features Portuguese and world literature and related literary criticism.

To enter the world of this important 20th century writer contact Patricia Figueroa, Curator of Iberian and Latin American Collections or visit the John Hay Library.

John Birch Society Records at the John Hay Library

John Birch Society

Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society shown in his Belmont (Mass.) headquarters with a painting of U.S. Army Capt. John Morrison Birch for whom the society was named. Birch was a Baptist soldier-missionary who was killed by communists in China in 1945.

A collection of records created by the John Birch Society are now available for research at the John Hay Library.  The records, the bulk of which date from 1965-1989, provide an excellent view into the work of the JBS and its mission “To bring about less government, more responsibility, and — with God’s help — a better world by providing leadership, education, and organized volunteer action in accordance with moral and Constitutional principles.”

The John Birch Society was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 9, 1958. Robert Welch, Jr. (1899–1985), a retired candy manufacturer, led the organization from its founding until his retirement in 1983. The original twelve founding members included Fred Koch (1900-1967), founder of Koch Industries, and Robert Waring Stoddard (1906-1984), president of Wyman-Gordon, a manufacturer of complex metal components. The Society was named in honor of John Birch, an American Baptist missionary and United States Army intelligence officer who was killed by Chinese communists on August 25, 1945, making him, in the Society’s view, the first casualty of the Cold War.

The Society has local chapters in all fifty states. It uses grassroots lobbying, educational meetings, petition drives and letter-writing campaigns to gain members and influence public policy. The goals of the society include limiting government and blocking an international conspiracy designed to replace Western nations with a one-world socialist government.  Accordingly, the Society has opposed any trade or diplomatic relations with communist countries and American membership in the United Nations. In addition, the Society opposes the federal income tax and the Federal Reserve system, Social Security, the Medicare program, the creation of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the transfer of control of the Panama Canal from the United States to the Republic of Panama, the Civil Rights Movement, sex education in public schools, and efforts to add fluoride to water supplies. While it supports the American military, it has opposed American military intervention overseas. The Society has operated Summer Youth Camps across the United States and produces radio programs, newspapers columns, and films.

This collection of JBS records totals 45 linear feet and dates from 1928-1990 (bulk 1965-1989) and includes correspondence, business files, publications and audio-visual material.  Additional information about JBS can be found in a related collection called the John Birch Society pamphlets (Ms.2014.001) which contains copies of their publications and newspaper articles about their activities.

To learn more about the John Birch Society and related collections consult the LibGuide on American Conservatism.

Focus On Special Collections: Botanical Illustration

The John Hay Library will present a short session on Botanical Illustration.
Thursday April 21st at noon in the Lownes Room

The primary goal of botanical illustration is not art, but scientific accuracy. In many cases, the illustration is also a thing of beauty in its own right. A variety of examples of botanical illustration will be displayed and discussed.

Audubon's Lesser Redpoll on Display at John Hay Library

A volume of John James Audubon’s master work, The Birds of America, is on display on the main floor of the John Hay Library. Each plate will be on display for only one month. This month’s bird is the “Lesser Redpoll”.

This elephant folio edition of The Birds of America, bound in six volumes, was presented by Albert E. Lownes to the Library on the occasion of his 50th class reunion in 1970.

For more information please contact

Audubon's Rock Ptarmigan on Display at John Hay Library

A volume of John James Audubon’s master work, The Birds of America, is on display on the main floor of the John Hay Library. Each plate will be on display for only one month. This month’s bird is the “Rock Ptarmigan”.

This elephant folio edition of The Birds of America, bound in six volumes, was presented by Albert E. Lownes to the Library on the occasion of his 50th class reunion in 1970.

For more information please contact

Early American and British Popular Amusements, Exhibit and Lecture


An exhibit from the personal collection of Professor Emeritus Don B. Wilmeth, supplemented by items from Brown’s Special Collections

John Hay Library
10 Prospect Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02912

Open to the Public
September 13 – October 28, 2010.
Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 6:00pm

This exhibit focuses on some of the pioneer entertainment forms and entrepreneurs who dominated the amusement business in England and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries It includes pleasure gardens and annual fairs; equestrian demonstrations and dramas featuring animals; the minstrel show and early vaudeville. There are child prodigies, pantomimes and the early popular museum. Formats include broadsides, playbills and satirical prints, along with photographs, pamphlets, and posters.

The exhibit, which will be in place through September and October of 2010, will be enhanced by the seventh annual Wilmeth Lecture on American theatre and performance. This special event will be held on Oct. 3 (Sunday) at 3 PM in the John Hay Library. The distinguished speaker is Laurence Senelick, Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University and an internationally-known authority on popular entertainments. His topic is “Custard’s First Stand: The Origins of American Slapstick Comedy.” A viewing of the exhibit will follow the lecture.

Guest curator: Don B. Wilmeth, Asa Messer Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of Theatre and of English, Brown U. (retired in 2003). Download Professor Wilmeth’s complete catalog of the exhibit.

Pictures from the Hay: Celebrating the John Hay Library at 100

Pictures from the Hay: Celebrating the John Hay Library at 100
August 28 – November 16, 2010

David Winton Bell Gallery
List Art Center 64 College Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02912

Gallery hours
Monday – Friday 11 – 4
Saturday and Sunday 1 – 4

Presented by the Brown University Library and the David Winton Bell Gallery in honor of the John Hay Library Centennial, this exhibit features and celebrates special collections, manuscripts, and archives. The thematical arrangement of the exhibit highlights the richness and great variety of the John Hay Library’s holdings and the complementary nature of its collections. Represented in this exhibit are both the Library’s ever-expanding special collections as a foundation for teaching, learning, and research, and an extraordinary history of the development of printing and the book arts from late medieval times to the present.

Opening reception: Friday, September 10, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.