[The following entry is from guest blogger and SF State University undergraduate, Giselle H., who worked on a small research project at the Sutro Library last semester. She supplied all the text and images that follow.]
This semester I had the opportunity to research at Sutro Library, which provided me with experience in handling and analyzing rare and historical materials. The decision to pick just one item to further research was more challenging than I anticipated because there were various books, booklets, and other documents catching my attention. I ultimately chose a nursery rhyme called Good Morning.
Good Morning is a collection of seven short nursery rhymes bound with thread in a style called the saddle stitch. This type of bookbinding is most commonly used for smaller books and can be done by most commercial print shops. Nowadays, a saddle stitch is done with metal staples rather than thread. While it’s a simple and inexpensive method, it’s not the best long-term because books can easily be damaged, especially when compared to other types of binding like leather. Because Good Morning was bound in this way, it leads me to believe it was not widely published and was meant for short term keeping. This might not be all that unusual for nursery rhyme books published in the past, when children had shorter childhoods than compared to those in present times. The reason why this book seems to have endured over the years is due to the careful preservation effort of the Sutro Library staff. Credit may also go to the donor, Miss Lottie G. Woods, who donated several other rare books to the Sutro Library.
To begin the exciting process of unraveling the mysteries behind this children’s book, I decided to start with the author. Curiously enough, this little book possesses neither an author’s name nor the date or location of its publication in the front pages as expected. I searched through each rhyme, but I could not find any sort of evidence that pointed to the creator. That is until I took a closer look at the back cover. First, I noticed the almost faded handwritten inscription in the upper right corner of the cover which would have struck me as daring vandalism had I not recognized a name inscribed in it. Second, there was a very small, almost invisible scraggly black line at the bottom of the frame surrounding the nursery rhyme that I found to be a little odd. Could it be what I was looking for all this time? Why yes indeed! I have found the author’s signature at last!
To the naked eye, it is easy to dismiss as nothing more than being part of the illustration. Upon closer inspection with assistance from a camera, the traces of a name could be read. Perhaps the name of the book’s author? Even though the letters are very faint and almost completely faded in some parts, I was able to read it as NEELEY BWS WELLE.DEL Sadly, my delight at discovering the author’s mark was cut short when I could not find any information relating to the name. Whether it’s the name of a person or publishing house remains to be discovered.
Taking the lack of a creator’s name and the binding style into consideration, I reached the conclusion that perhaps this rhyme book was a single and privately published copy not intended for the market. Other conclusions I reached were that this book might not have been as popular as others during its publishing, hence the reason for a lack of records, implying that its creator was not well-known, if at all. This then, would explain the reason behind the insufficient information about this particular piece of work. Yet another potential and possibly stronger conclusion I came to was that this book might have been created as a gift for a family member with the means for private publication.
Perhaps a gift to the donor, Miss Lottie G. Woods? Her name is written in cursive on the upper right corner of the back cover as previously mentioned, along with a date. What I initially thought was vandalism could be a clue linking back to Miss Woods. The blue ink spot was already there when the book was donated to the Sutro Library sadly, as did the two white orbs on the book’s front cover, which serve as a good reminder to always take better care of delicate books like this.
Most of my research on Miss Woods found her in city and county records. I was not able to find much information regarding her life as it seems she did not leave personal written records of any kind, besides the little inscriptions on her donations.
What I did discover was that Miss Woods was quite generous in her donations. Not only did she donate various items to the Sutro Library, but she also donated other collections to the California Historical Society as well.
I also found out that she was a member of the Sorosis Club chapter in San Francisco. The Sorosis Club was a club originally founded in New York City around 1886, by the female reporter Jane Cunningham Croly. The club was in the words of Jone Johnson Lewis; a women’s movement activist; “…a professional women’s association, created in 1868 by Jane Cunningham Croly, because women were usually shut out of membership in the organizations of many professions. Croly, for example, was prohibited from joining the male-only New York Press Club… Croly and others hoped that the club would inspire confidence in women and bring ‘womanly self-respect and self-knowledge’ ” (Sorosis: Professional Women’s Club, Thoughtco.com).
In addition to being one of the first clubs that promoted intellect and reasoning among women, the Sorosis Club was also responsible for the creation of the General Federation of Women’s clubs (GFWC), which essentially helped with the organization and encouraging of other women’s clubs in the United States. Sadly, the Sorosis club in San Francisco is no longer active however, the GFWC is both still active and strong and continues to be involved in the social and political environment.*Evidence of Miss Woods presence has been certainly recorded in the club’s roster as evident by the 32nd edition of the Blue Book and Club Directory (see below).
If Miss Woods was then a member of the Sorosis Club which encouraged intellect and social integration, then it should come as no surprise as to how and why she came to possess quite the large collection of interesting and historically important documents and sources including this nursery rhyme book. I would like to think that possibly inspired by the club’s ideals or as a way to keep important documents well taken care of, Miss Woods contributed to the further preservation of historical primary sources through her gracious donations to various libraries and institutions, and for that we are thankful.
–-Written by Giselle H.
*For more information about the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, please visit their website at: www.gfwc.org
If you are interested in seeing this nursery rhyme fragment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org two business days in advance of your visit. Make sure to mention this information in your email:
Halswelle, Keeley. [Nursery Rhymes…] [fragment]. London?: [publisher not stated], 1851
Call number MISC000364