This second week of October marks the close of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. The national observance was established as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and then extended in 1988 to cover an entire month from September 15th to October 15th. Hispanic Heritage Month seeks to celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. To highlight just one of the many varied groups celebrated in Hispanic Heritage Month, the IDHH is featuring the Puerto Rican Cultural Center Collection and the Luis V. Gutiérrez Congressional Archives.
The Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) is a non-profit organization established in 1973 by the Puerto Rican and Latina/o community in Chicago to address both the social and cultural needs of the community. Currently located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on the West side of Chicago, the Center is a community landmark on the historic section of Division Street known as Paseo Boricua (“Boricua [Puerto Rican] Promenade”). Acting as a community center, political organizing space, and cultural hub, the PRCC hosts educational workshops, publishes the bilingual community newspaper La Voz del Paseo Boricua, and partners with a number of affiliated organizations in the community.
Luis Vicente Gutiérrez is an American politician of Puerto Rican descent who was active in local Chicago politics as well as the U.S. House of Representatives. The first Hispanic Representative from Illinois, Gutiérrez first served as an alderman on the Chicago City Council from 1986 to 1993 before being elected as a Representative for Illinois in 1992. In addition to advocating for workers’ rights and LGBTQ+ rights throughout his political service, Gutierrez was also a steadfast champion of Puerto Rican independence. He protested the United States military use of the island as a bomb testing ground in the early 2000s and human rights abuses occurring on the island against University of Puerto Rico students in 2011.
The work of the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center and of Luis Vicente Gutiérrez reflect the vibrant culture, community, and impact of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Here are a few of our favorite items from these collections:
Through its more than half a million items, the IDHH provides invaluable glimpses into the history of the state of Illinois and the people that have lived here. However, all too often we do not know the viewpoint from behind the camera, the eye behind the lens. To better appreciate those capturing history with the snap of a camera shutter, the IDHH is featuring the Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm Photograph Collection at the Illinois State Archives. Born in Mount Vernon, Illinois in 1911, Eddie Winfred Helm showed an interest in photography while still young, earning the nickname of “Doc” due to an early job delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy. In 1934, Helm moved to Springfield to begin working with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. One of a few African-Americans working in the Capitol complex at that time, he initially performed a variety of duties for the Office, including that of putting the state flag on top of the Capitol Building each day without a harness or other protective gear.
During his first decade in Springfield, Helm held various positions within the Capitol Building, coming in time to microfilm documents for the Illinois State Library in the early 1940s. The Library contained a photo lab, where Helm began to develop personal film there on his lunch breaks, and Helm’s photographic talents caught the notice of the Head Librarian in 1944. This attention resulted in Helm’s appointment as the Official State Photographer in February 1944. Until his retirement in 1992, Helm photographed all manner of state events featuring dignitaries, celebrities, and everyday citizens alike. In his capacity as Official State Photographer, Helm possessed a proximity to the workings of government that few people of color had in the mid-20th century. As a Black American in a largely white space, Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm captured not only the official history of the state of Illinois but of Springfield as well as he bore witness to the integration of the city and the Civil Rights struggles of the era.
Below are a few of our favorite Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm photographs taken at Illinois State Fairs over the years:
As students return to campus and the Fall academic semester begins, the IDHH is featuring Millikin University, one of our many academic partners. Millikin University is located in Decatur, Illinois, along the Sangamon River and Lake Decatur in Central Illinois, and was founded by businessman James Millikin. Born in 1827, James Millikin grew up the son of a moderately wealthy farmer in Pennsylvania, helping to drive cattle to New York City as a child. While attending Washington College, Millikin vowed to establish a center of learning himself, though this ambition would not become a reality for another 55 years. Known at one point as “the cattle king of the Prairie State” due to his sizeable herds of livestock, James Millikin settled in Decatur in 1856, eventually transitioning into the banking business in 1860. In the last decade of his life James Millikin would finally realize his long-held desire to found an institution of higher education, founding Millikin University in 1901.
From the start, Millikin University operated under the philosophy of providing an education that combines theory with practice, embracing James Millikin’s wish for a university that would emphasize the practical side of learning. Today, this approach is embodied in Millikin University’s rich tradition of Performance Learning. Through various hands-on, real-world experiences, Performance Learning prepares students for life post-graduation, honoring James Millikin’s vision of students living out their learning. Digital collections shared with the IDHH of the university’s student-run newspaper, The Decaturian, and of select School of Music Programs illustrate just a few of the many unique ways in which Millikin University students perform their knowledge, while the Big Blue Photograph Collection offers snapshots of the history of the university.
Here are a few of our favorite Millikin University items from their collections (including a delightful April Fool’s issue of The Decaturian):
With spring coming into full bloom, the IDHH would like to feature one of our earliest contributors, Monmouth College, and their unique collection of Greek life dance cards. Located in Western Illinois in the city of Monmouth, the college was founded in 1853 by Scotch-Irish pioneers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Notably, the College accepted women and students of color from its earliest days, being one of the first U.S. higher education institutions to do so. In fact, the College found itself with a primarily female student body shortly after its establishment, as virtually the entire male student body left for military service in the Civil War. Not to be outdone by the campus societies formed by male veterans returning to the College after the war, Monmouth College is home to Pi Beta Phi, the nation’s first “women’s fraternity” (what we would now call a sorority).
Spanning nearly 30 years, the Dance Card Collection is a testament to the vibrant Greek life at Monmouth College and the rich social history of groups like Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma, two early sororities known as the “Monmouth Duo”. Popular in European ballrooms during the 18th century, dance cards were originally used by women to record the names of dance partners at formal balls. They typically consisted of a booklet with a decorative cover and a decorative cord by which it could be attached to the wrist or clothing. The booklet might include sections providing details about the event menu and music, patrons and other featured guests, and most importantly, blank lines where dance partners’ names could be “penciled in”. In the hands of young college students, the dance cards reflect their owner’s individual personality as well as the variety and playfulness of the dance cards created for specific dances in campus Greek life such as the Rose Formal or the Holly Hop.
Below are a few of our favorite items from the Dance Card Collection at Monmouth College:
Want to see more?
Visit the IDHH to view even more items in the Dance Card Collection from Monmouth College, as well as items related to the pastime and art of dancing.
Nestled along the picturesque Rock River in northwestern Illinois, the city of Dixon bears a fascinating history in the early nineteenth century as a fledgling outpost in the newly incorporated state of Illinois. Established in 1828 by Joseph Ogee, who operated a ferry along the banks of the Rock River, the city would take its name from a “Father” John Dixon after coming to the area in 1830 and purchasing the ferry operation from Ogee. With its advantageous position on the Rock River for trade and commerce, the settlement prospered from the abundance of the significant waterway and quickly grew into a thriving community.
Fifty years later, the thriving city of Dixon saw the creation of Dixon College, a private college that operated with a teacher-training institution, the Northern Illinois Normal School. Dixon College advertised itself as an institution that taught “practically everything” and offered courses in such subjects as civil and electrical engineering, typewriting, and law. Though Dixon College closed around 1914 after only 35 years, the city of Dixon has a number of attractions that keep visitors coming to the area year after year. Designated the “Petunia Capital of Illinois” by the Illinois General Assembly in 1999, the city holds an annual Petunia Festival every summer featuring a parade, carnival, and fireworks show. In preparation for the festival, volunteers and citizens plant thousands of pink petunias along main streets, such as Galena Avenue with its iconic Dixon Arch.
The IDHH is pleased to welcome the Dixon Public Library to the IDHH and feature their collections with this Highlights post. Here are a few of our favorite items:
To ring in the new year, the IDHH is pleased to feature the North Suburban Library District Local History Collection, one of our oldest collections, from the North Suburban Library District (NSLD). Opened in 1944 by the North Suburban Woman’s Club, the North Suburban Library District serves Machesney Park, Roscoe, and Loves Park with branches in Loves Park and Roscoe. Fifty years after opening, the North Suburban Library District Local History Collection began taking shape when the Friends of North Suburban Library group formed a local history committee. From an 1869 assessor’s book for the town of Harlem to photographs taken in 2001 of the NSLD Loves Park branch building, this collection illuminates the humble beginnings of the communities that surround Rockford, Illinois as well as important developments in this area over the past 150 years.
Local landmarks such as the River Lane Outdoor Theater and Kiddieland amusement park in Loves Park are included in the collection and provide a sense of recreation and entertainment in the metropolitan area. A particularly distinctive addition to the collection are images from the telephone operators’ strikes in 1945-1948, a series of strikes over the span of three years in which “telephone girls” picketed against the Illinois Bell Telephone Company, including a walkout of more than 16,000 telephone workers across Illinois and Indiana in November 1945. These demonstrations ultimately won the workers better wages and advancement opportunities, and the images of these demonstrations offer a glimpse at traditionally unseen workers and speaks to the power of workers’ unions at the time.
With such vibrant items in the collection, we hope you enjoy revisiting the North Suburban Library District Local History Collection as much as we do! Here are a few of our favorite items from the collection:
The IDHH is thrilled to once more partner with Analú María López, the Newberry’s Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian, for our first post this December. Analú’s work focuses on underrepresented Indigenous narratives dealing with identity, language, and decolonization, and we are pleased to feature her writing for a second time as she sheds light on the Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition, an outgrowth of the American Indian Oral History projecthighlighted in last month’s blog post.
The Chicago American Indian Photography project by Analú María López
For a long time, photography has reinforced negative stereotypes of Indigenous people, oftentimes placing them in the past. When we think of “Native American” or “Indigenous photography”, we think of the cliché photographs by white photographers like Edward Curtis1, we don’t usually think of Native American or Indigenous photographers. Despite the fact that Indigenous People have long taken images of their communities, we rarely see these images uplifted or reflected in history texts, let alone in the history of photography. In fact, Indigenous Peoples embraced photography early in the nineteenth century. Some even owned and operated their own photography studios, such as the Purépecha photographer Antonio Calderón Sandoval and Tsimshian photographer Benjamin Haldane. As the photographer and educator, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Seminole-Muscogee-Diné) once wrote, “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanizing eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera and show how we see you.”
A collection of photographs titled the Chicago American Indian Photography project and Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition records, held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, an independent research library with a focus on rare books, manuscripts, and other archival materials, highlights the Native American community in Chicago through a series of photographs created by Native and some non-Native community members. These photographs are part of the Indigenous Studies collection, which was founded on the donation from Edward E. Ayer’s Library in 1911. Ayer, a white settler, was one of the Library’s original Trustees and one of the most active collectors of his time in the field of Indigenous Americana.
An outgrowth of the American Indian Oral History project which was highlighted in last month’s blog post, included the Chicago American Indian Photography project and the subsequent Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition, held July 22-September 21, 1985 at the Newberry Library. These projects aimed to document the Native American community in Chicago by creating an archive of photographs taken by community members over a span of 20 years. The project’s selections were chosen by an advisory group, and while Indigenous women photographers made the final list, the advisory committee’s decisions may have been based on how long the photographers had been photographing in the community.
The final exhibition included six photographers of the Chicago Native American community: Dan Battise (Alabama-Coushatta), Ben Bearskin (Ho-Chunk), Orlando Cabanban (Filipino-American), Joe Kazumura (Japanese-American), F. Peter Weil, and Leroy Wesaw (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi).
At two community meetings and dinners, held at the American Indian center on May 22, 1985, audiences were shown the photographs taken by each of the photographers; three photographers were featured at each meeting. Many identifications of the individuals in the photographs were made during the viewing of the photographs. On July 26, 1985, an opening was planned to commemorate the start of the exhibition, and attempts were made to make it a community event. A neighborhood spiritual leader conducted a prayer, then dancers and singers performed. At least half of the 400 persons who attended the brief event were members of the Chicago Native American community.
Images of the photographers, Powwow celebrations, community events and clubs such as the Camera and Canoe Club are just a few images seen within this collection. The Camera Club, first founded in the 1960s, often met at the American Indian Center in Chicago twice a week on Thursdays and Saturdays. At one point, the Camera Club proposed building a traditional black and white darkroom where youth could learn how to print from negatives.
Despite some obstacles, such as timeline and prohibitive printing costs, the Chicago American Indian Photography project’s overall success, which led to the organization of the Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition, reflects a growing consciousness among Chicago’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities that Indigenous histories must continue to be told and uplifted through the lens of the community.
1Edward Sheriff Curtis was an American photographer and ethnologist whose work focused on the American West and on Native American people. Curtis’ portraits reinforced the Vanishing Race myth: often, and problematically photographing Native people as ethnographic depictions of a “disappearing” people. The “Vanishing Race” myth derived its name from the caption of Edward Curtis’s photograph of Diné riders disappearing into the distance.
We would like to begin today by recognizing and acknowledging that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is on the lands of the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Piankashaw, Wea, Miami, Mascoutin, Odawa, Sauk, Mesquaki, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Chickasaw Nations. These lands were the traditional territory of these Native Nations prior to their forced removal; these lands continue to carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity.
As a land-grant institution, the University of Illinois has a particular responsibility to acknowledge the peoples of these lands, as well as the histories of dispossession that have allowed for the growth of this institution for the past 150 years. We are also obligated to reflect on and actively address these histories and the role that this university has played in shaping them.
Located near the confluence of several waterways, the Newberry Library sits on land that intersects with the aboriginal homelands of several tribal nations: the Council of the Three Fires: the Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe Nations; the Illinois Confederacy: the Peoria and Kaskaskia Nations; and the Myaamia, Wea, Thakiwaki, and Meskwaki Nations. The Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Kiikaapoi, and Mascouten Nations also call the region of northeast Illinois home. Indigenous people continue to live in this area and celebrate their traditional teachings and lifeways. Today, Chicago is home to one of the largest urban Indigenous communities in the United States, and this land remains an important place for Indigenous peoples. As a Chicago institution, it is the Newberry’s responsibility to acknowledge this historical context and build reciprocal relationships with the tribal nations on whose lands we are situated.
The IDHH contains some content that may be harmful or difficult to view. Our cultural heritage partners collect materials from history, as well as artifacts from many cultures and time periods, to preserve and make available the historical record. Please view the Digital Public Library of America’s (DPLA) Statement on Potentially Harmful Content for further information.
With the month coming to a close, the IDHH dedicates this post to Indigenous voices, highlighting November as National Native American Heritage Month. The earliest calls for a day to officially recognize and commemorate the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples occurred in 1915 at the annual Congress of the American Indian Association in Lawrence, Kansas. Over the course of a century, various states passed legislation declaring American Indian Day on different dates throughout the year, and national legislation and proclamations were also passed celebrating a Native American Awareness Week or American Indian Week. However, it was not until 1990, when George H. W. Bush declared November as National American Indian Heritage Month, that the United States officially committed a month to recognizing and commemorating the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples.
The IDHH is thrilled to partner with Analú María López, Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian at the Newberry, in the creation of this post and to benefit from her subject expertise. Analú’s work focuses on underrepresented Indigenous narratives dealing with identity, language, and decolonization, and she has chosen to feature a one-of-a-kind item from the Newberry’s collections which centers Indigenous peoples: the unpublished manuscript Native Voices in the City.
Native Voices in Zhekagoynak, Zhigaagoong, Šikaakonki by Analú María López
Zhekagoynak, Zhigaagoong, and Šikaakonki (“Chicago” in Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Myaamia respectively), has always been and will always be Indigenous land. Since time immemorial Indigenous people have lived on and stewarded this land we now call “Chicago.” Although Indigenous people were forcibly removed from the city of Chicago through a series of treaties,1 and in spite of settler-colonial projects seeking to remove Indigenous people from the city, Indigenous people have not vanished or ceded their relationships to Chicago. Today, Chicago is home to one of the largest urban Indigenous population in the United States, with more than 65,000 Native Americans in the greater metropolitan area and some 175 different tribes represented.2 And yet, settlers have often frozen Native Americans in the United States and specifically in the city of “Chicago” to the distant past, usually using settler narratives and not Indigenous histories, contributions and stories.
A collection of interviews held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, an independent research library with a focus on rare books, manuscripts, and other archival materials, highlights Native American urban experiences in “Chicago” through the vehicle of oral history. These interviews are part of the Indigenous Studies collection, which was founded on the donation from Edward E. Ayer’s Library in 1911. Ayer, a white settler, was one of the Library’s original Trustees and one of the most active collectors of his time in the field of Indigenous Americana.
In 1982 the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies (then called the D’Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian) submitted a proposal to the Illinois Humanities Council to initiate a collaborative oral history project with members of the Chicago Native American community. The resulting, “Chicago American Indian Oral History Project,” operated between 1982 and 1984. The interviews were first captured on reel-to-reel and cassette tape recordings; they were later transcribed. The project interviewers and organizers3 gathered the memories of twenty-three Chicago Native American residents over the course of two years. The persons interviewed reflected the diversity of the Chicago Native American community, with individuals primarily from the northern and central Great Plains, as well as the western Great Lakes. The transcripts were then combined into an unpublished typescript titled “Native Voices in the City,” incorporating excerpts from the original interviews.
Although many community members and Newberry staff were involved in the project, Dorene Wiese (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) of Truman College played an instrumental role in the directing of the oral history project –
This project intended to document Native American relocation to the city of Chicago with perspectives from individuals who came to the city during the Relocation era of the 1950s.4 The project also aimed to tape and transcribe the interviews with elders who best remembered all the stages of the evolution of the community, in hopes that the project would continue and to create a wider awareness of the history of Native American people in Chicago. An advisory board composed mainly of Chicago Native American people oversaw the project; it trained and utilized Chicago Native American community members as interviewers; and it held three public forums to publicize and promote the documentation project.
While relocation to the city offered opportunities to some individuals, many Native American families found it difficult to relocate to the city, and this had a direct impact on the demographics of the Native population in Chicago: “The experience for Native American people who came to Chicago can easily be divided into two groups: those who experienced the city and decided to return home and those who decided to stay. The latter are the people who make up the population of approximately 13,000 in Chicago” (p. 16, Native Voices in the City). The relocation program was frequently chastised for making hollow promises, as evidenced by the manuscript’s numerous first-person accounts. Housing insecurity, food apartheid within neighborhoods, and a lack of opportunities for the Native American community in Chicago, still problems in the city to this day, can be traced back to the 1950s government colonial efforts designed to drive Native Americans to assimilate into dominant white society.
1The Chicago area was directly affected by five of the approximately 370 ratified treaties between the federal government and Native American nations signed from 1778 to 1871. Native American treaty making ended by law in 1871, but an additional 73 “agreements” containing similar provisions were ratified up to 1911. Treaties involving the Chicago area were signed in 1795, 1816, 1821, 1829, and 1833. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago
The IDHH would again like to thank Analú María López for sharing her expertise and insight this National Native American Heritage Month into the unique item that is the unpublished Native Voices in the City manuscript. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with her on this post, and look forward to featuring Analú’s work next month with a related post about the 1985 Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition. Stay tuned for that post in the coming weeks, and enjoy a teaser image from the digital collection “Seeing Indian in Chicago Exhibition Records” below!
For our second post in the month of October, the IDHH would like to feature the audio recordings of the Dorothy Vann Collection of Oral Histories. Created by amateur historian Dorothy Vann in the 1970s and 1980s, these recordings document the history of the North Park neighborhood in Chicago and the Swedish immigrants who called the area home beginning in the late nineteenth century. Topics include family and community history in the North Park neighborhood, campus life at North Park University, and the influence of the Evangelical Covenant Church in the area. The recordings highlight a range of members from the community such as a former North Park University librarian, an individual associated with the Manhattan Project, and two sisters who were ballet dancers with the Chicago Civic Opera Company.
Dorothy Vann’s oral histories are part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and North Park University Archives Repository located at North Park University in Chicago. Founded by the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church in 1891, North Park University quickly became an educational and religious hub for Swedish immigrants on Chicago’s North Side, offering theological education and boasting a location close to the nearby Swedish Covenant Hospital. Vann’s recordings provide a distinctive lens on this historical period, as the project lead and most of the interview subjects are women.