SLC Archives Celebrates 25 Years

Stewart Howe
Stewart Howe

Written by Ellen Swain

Twenty-five years ago, the Stewart S. Howe Foundation provided a million dollar endowment to establish the Student Life and Culture Archival Program at the University Archives. That gift was the culmination of years of discussion and negotiation between alumnus Stewart Howe ’28 and University Archivist Maynard Brichford. Together they developed a vision for the Student Life and Culture (SLC) Archives that has blossomed into the one-of-a-kind program it is today.

A native of Streator, Illinois, Stewart Howe (1905-1973) majored in journalism (AB ’28 and MA ’31) at the University, serving as senior editor of the Daily Illini and as member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. In 1930 he united these interests by establishing the Stewart Howe Alumni Service, a public relations business which provided record-keeping and publication services to fraternities and sororities on campuses across the country. He was an avid collector of books and manuscripts about fraternity and student life and supporter of archives’ efforts- specifically those at the University of Illinois- in acquiring research-rich collections and historical resources.

With the establishment of the University of Illinois Archives in 1963, Howe and Brichford developed a collegial friendship which ultimately resulted in the transfer of Howe’s massive research collection upon his death in 1973 and the acquisition of a number of important fraternity leaders and publishers’ papers. In 1989, Howe’s Foundation, under the directorship of Carlyle Anderson, provided the funding for the SLC Archives, a program that would document national fraternal history and all aspects of University of Illinois student life and culture.

In 1991, John B. Straw, the first Archivist for Student Life and Culture, was hired to build and publicize the collection and nurture relationships with national fraternal leaders and campus student administrators, student organizations, and alumni. Under his leadership, the SLC Archives acquired numerous national collections and established solid footing in documenting student experience at Illinois. Since 1999, Ellen Swain has served in this position. Today the SLC Archives works closely with national fraternities and sororities to document fraternity history and educate leaders about archival best practices through its National Archives Conference for Fraternities and Sororities. At the same time, SLC serves as the “active” repository for University of Illinois student life and through its class instruction activities, student organization presentations and exhibits, chapter history program, Town & Gown speakers series, and many other initiatives, it promotes student history and archival holdings widely.

As Brichford recalls, Howe “was more than a friend of the University’s archival and historical manuscripts program, he understood how this program could be employed to preserve an understanding and appreciation of the past while strengthening its resources for future use.”[1] We are thankful for his vision and generosity.

UI Archives Staff, 1996
UI Archives Staff, 1996 Front row: Eliot Wilczek, grad assistant (now University Records Manager, Tufts University), Wanda Finney, archives fellow, Liz Cardman, grad assistant. Middle: Maynard Brichford, University Archivist (now Emeritus); John Straw, SLC Archivist (now Director of Special Collections, Ball State University); Ellen Swain, grad assistant (now SLC Archivist); JoAnn Jacoby, grad assistant (now UI Library Head of Reference, Research & Scholarly Services); Bill Maher, Assistant University Archivist (now University Archivist); & Tom Kmetz, grad assistant. Back: Robert Chapel, reference assistant & Phyllis Danner, Sousa Archivist



[1] Maynard Brichford, “Stewart S. Howe,” April 20, 1982, Stewart S. Howe Foundation Records, Record Series 26/21/1, University of Illinois Archives.

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