Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day and Our Veterans

Memorial Day is celebrated this weekend. Although decorating soldiers graves is an ancient custom, the custom became a national mourning ritual, known as Decoration Day in the U.S., during the Civil War. It was a ritualized, recognized day to decorate the war dead because of the unprecedented numbers of dead at the time, most of whom died far from home. Many families could not visit faraway graves, or even know for sure where their loved ones where buried. Memorial Day is documented in some of the collections in the Clarke.

What the day is all about- rows of honored, decorated U.S. soldiers graves in France, World War I
This image and others are in Nurse Mary Bourgeoise's gorgeous WWI A.E.F. [American Expeditionary Forces] photograph album 

Closeup of Nurse Mary Bourgeoise's clever photographic cover

Mary and her nursing unit in France, WWI
Within Clarke holdings are many primary source collections documenting veterans of wars, mostly the Civil War and World War I, although there is some material from World War II and Vietnam, and one collection mentioning the Korean War. These collections also document veterans' organizations and the women's organizations that supported the veterans. There are posters, official government records of war, postcards, scrapbooks, photograph albums, photographs, letters, pins, radio addresses, printed speeches, as well as secondary sources, published books, music, newspaper articles, and films.
Clarke Historical Library Archivist Marian Matyn would like to start documenting more of the Michiganders who have served our nation since World War II. If you are or have the materials of Michigan veterans or Michigan organizations that supported our troops since World War II, please consider donating to the Clarke. There are Michiganders making history right now serving our nation today.

Patriotic 1907 postcard in our Display Items


An assortment of GAR pins Civil War Veterans wore to parades, meetings and gatherings honoring fallen veteran comrades, also in our Display Items
To learn more about any of these collections, go to the Clarke Historical Library webpage

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

125th Anniversary of the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company

by Bryan Whitledge

Exactly 125 years ago, a small group of individuals came together with the goal of creating something that would benefit Mount Pleasant and Isabella County. Throughout Michigan, communities such as Muskegon and Saginaw had been purchasing land, selling off the lots, and using the proceeds to establish hubs of industry in an effort to increase the population and bring in more revenue. In Mount Pleasant, this group of individuals, who called their enterprise the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company (MPIC), decided that doing the same would benefit their town, but rather than industry, the best route was to make this small Midwestern town of 2,700 inhabitants, “the educational point for Central Michigan.”

First page of the Mount Pleasant
Improvement Company record book
showing the first entry on May 24, 1892.
click on image to enlarge
Sixteen citizens of Mount Pleasant made up the initial membership of the MPIC, and they convened their first meeting at 9:00 am on Tuesday, May 24, 1892, at the “private offices of the Exchange Bank on Main Street in the City of Mount Pleasant.” Of these sixteen members, nine were named directors: Douglas H. Nelson (President), Michael Devereaux (Vice President), Frank D. Patterson (Treasurer), Samuel W. Hopkins (Secretary), Charles M. Brooks (Manager of the Association), Isaac A. Fancher, Wilkinson Doughty, George A. Dusenbury, and John W. Hance. By the end of that first day, the group had determined that they would create an institution of higher education called “Normal University.”**

To create the “Normal University,” which they later decided to call the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute, the MPIC needed to inject capital into the community, as one would say in the twenty-first century. The MPIC put $500 down and secured a loan for $7,500 to purchase 52 acres of the Hursh farm (land now occupied by Central Michigan University). Of the 52 acres, 10 were set aside for the Normal School and the rest was separated into 224 lots. Those lots were then put on the market to raise funds for the operations of the Normal School and the new building. Initially, 174 lots were sold for $110 each. Later 49 more sold at a price of $150 each. With this revenue, the MPIC was well positioned to give the newly-appointed principal, Charles F. Bellows, the resources he needed to start a higher education institution in Mount Pleasant.

Advertisement from the Isabella County Enterprise (July 22, 1892)
offering lots for sale to support the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute.

So Central started on ten acres with a community investment of about $25,000 and served twenty students in the first graduating class. Now, in 2017, CMU has evolved to include a 480-acre main campus (not to mention the numerous satellite sites and research facilities across the country) with a $130 million endowment that saw 3,100 students receive degrees earlier this month. It is safe to say that, 125 years later, the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company has achieved its goal of creating something that would benefit Mount Pleasant and Isabella County, let alone the state, country, and entire world.

Groundbreaking of the new Normal Building, September 19, 1892,
located on the site where Warriner Hall stands today.
**Normal was a common term for teacher training colleges and universities. The term comes from the French, where the accepted standards for teaching that were taught to aspiring instructors were referred to as "norms."

This is the first of many items of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – – and the Clarke’s upcoming exhibit, opening this fall, for more great stories.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Source on the Mount Pleasant Indian School

By Katie Wilson, Clarke Historical Library student assistant 

The Clarke is well-known for its historical materials related to the Mount Pleasant Indian School. Among these collections are reports, published sources, unpublished manuscripts, historical accounts, and a collection of Mount Pleasant newspaper clippings. The Mount Pleasant Indian School Newspaper Clippings Collection contains articles found in local newspapers from 1892- 1928 that pertain to the school. This collection, which has been in the Clarke since 2003, sees frequent use from patrons. However, this collection only covered the school until 1928. The Mount Pleasant Indian School was not shut down until 1934. This left 6 years of unclipped newspapers, containing much sought after information.
In 2014, a graduate student from CMU’s history department created a database that included references to Native Americans in Isabella County newspapers.   After he completed his research, he gave the Clarke this database. In the Spring of 2015, I began to go through the database looking for articles specifically related to the Mount Pleasant Indian School. Each article I found I cropped for easier visibility.  I then printed the article, placed it in a folder, and labeled the folder. 

The articles cover a variety of subjects pertaining to the Mount Pleasant Indian School—baseball scores, band concerts, graduation lists, general updates on the school itself, etc.  The newspapers seemed to cover the Mount Pleasant Indian School just as they did the Mount Pleasant High School. In later years, the Indian School even had its own column that the students kept up to date.

Immersing myself in the history of the school was a stimulating experience. To me the most interesting discoveries were the published opinions about the shutting down of the school. Leading voices in Mount Pleasant had strong reservations about closing the school.  Many of the children had nowhere to go. These children were taken from their families years prior and had been taught to give up their original culture.  Many of them did not even know their birth-names. Administration would not only have trouble finding their families, but if they succeeded, the reintegration of the students would cause a strain on the Native American communities. The articles also mentioned the difficulty of transitioning students into public schools and the negative effects it would have on the school systems already experiencing cutbacks in the middle of the Great Depression.

Nevertheless, funding had been cut drastically for the Indian School already and keeping the school open would not have been practical. The school was purchased by the state and converted into a state home. Reading through these final articles was truly fascinating. In the early 1920’s America was forward looking in many ways, but in other ways the country was not so progressive as the reaction to the existence of the school and to its shutting down demonstrated.

This new addition to the collection includes information from 40 reels of microfilm. It will be made available to patrons as soon as it is catalogued.