In a sense, every artifact is unique, thanks to its particular history of ownership and use. I won’t go so far as to say that some things are more unique than others, but there are certain pieces that really are absolutely one of a kind. Every autograph book and wedding gown, though specific to an individual, is part of a larger group of similar artifacts with similar stories. In contrast, today’s featured archival items fall generally into the Scrapbook category, but their subject is something that was only accomplished once and is likely to never happen again: A two-year journey on horseback through the forty-eight continental United States.

hitting every state in the union

From the title page: “Hitting Every State in the Union With Gypsy Queen Under Saddle”

On April 4, 1925, Silver Spring resident Frank M. Heath (1868-1945) left Washington, DC, determined to ride his middle-aged Morgan bay mare, Gypsy Queen (1915-1936), through every state in the union. A former U.S. Army Sergeant and a WWI veteran, Heath wanted to improve his health, promote the American Legion (his local was Cissel-Saxon Post 41 in Silver Spring), see the country, and prove that a horse could, in fact, make this arduous journey. The trip was funded through the sale of souvenir postcards as well as Heath’s veterinary skills, which he often plied in return for food and shelter for himself and Queen. Despite a host of unexpected delays, from weather events to restrictive quarantine laws to a broken leg (Heath’s), they persevered and finished their 11,532 mile, 48 state journey on November 4, 1927.

Headline from the Maryland News, Nov. 11, 1927: "Silver Spring Man Returns After Riding Horse Through 48 States"

Headline from the Maryland News, Nov. 11, 1927: “Silver Spring Man Returns After Riding Horse Through 48 States”

The pair retired to Heath’s small farm near Sligo Creek and Colesville Road; from now on, Heath declared, “Gypsy Queen is going to have an easy time the rest of her life.” In 1936, after celebrating her 21st birthday, Queen’s health failed. Heath made the difficult decision that so many animal lovers have to make, and had her humanely put down. Hoping that Queen’s experience would be of use to science, he donated her skeleton to the College of Agriculture at the University of Maryland; the rest of her was buried, with great ceremony*, at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Howard County. In 1941 Heath published a book about their journey, titled (appropriately enough) Forty Million Hoofbeats.

"Gypsy Queen and Heath at home, April 18 1931"

“Gypsy Queen and Heath at home, April 18 1931”

During the trip, Heath collected newspaper clippings, letters, receipts, and souvenirs from the places he visited. He took some photographs himself – particularly of landscapes in the southwest – and asked that copies of photos taken by others be forwarded to his father in Spokane, Washington. All of this documentation he later compiled in two scrapbooks, which were donated to MCHS in 1990 by Mary E. Martin.

The books are a matched pair, measuring 8″x11″, with faded green faux-leather covers stamped “Clippings” in gold.  Heath prepared these volumes carefully; the pages are numbered by hand, and the title page (see the detail photo above, “Hitting Every State”) says “Title and Foreword” in pencil underneath the actual, inked-in title, as if he planned the book’s layout before gluing things down.  When a clipping or photo ended up out of chronological order, Heath left an informative comment (e.g., “This should go a few pages back”). A note on the title page, “Any statement or comment followed by F.M.H. may be considered signed by me Frank M. Heath” (photo at bottom of this post), leads me to conclude that this wasn’t simply a personal effort; he expected this chronicle to be read and studied by others.

Volumes 1 and 2

Volumes 1 and 2

Indeed, the scrapbooks provide the reader with a thorough description of the trip, as seen both by outsiders and by Heath himself. Small-town newspapers reported on the pair’s progress across the country; communities and American Legion posts often welcomed him with celebrations; farmers, housewives, and blacksmiths provided letters of introduction to friends in other places, often citing Heath’s skill in tending to injured or ailing horses.

The note reads: “Mrs. Joe W. Chamberlain [Ala.], Bay Minette, Star Route, (Mobile Ala.), Alabama. Mr. Frank M. Heath. This man is out for a hike so I told him to call on you I send him: from Sister Mrs. Henry Merkle, Brooklyn Hts Ohio.”  Heath added two comments: “(But [on] account of detour because of Ticks I was way off trail F.M.H.)” and, sideways, “(We [he and Queen] had breakfast with these people of Brooklin Ht near Cleveland Ohio F.M.H) P.S. belongs over a few pages.”

The note reads: “Mrs. Joe W. Chamberlain [Ala.], Bay Minette, Star Route, (Mobile Ala.), Alabama. Mr. Frank M. Heath. This man is out for a hike so I told him to call on you I send him: from Sister Mrs. Henry Merkle, Brooklyn Hts Ohio.” Heath added two comments: “(But [on] account of detour because of Ticks I was way off trail F.M.H.)” and, sideways, “(We [he and Queen] had breakfast with these people of Brooklin Ht near Cleveland Ohio F.M.H) P.S. belongs over a few pages.”

Amidst the articles and letters written by other people, Heath’s own voice is not lacking; initialed editorial comments can be found on almost every page. (He was particularly irritated when an article printed Queen’s name incorrectly, or under-counted the miles they’d traveled.) It is worth noting that throughout these records, Heath focused on Gypsy Queen. He denied any “endurance” records or other accolades for himself; emphasized that donations and postcard proceeds were used to buy Queen’s food; kept careful track of Queen’s health and appearance; and titled the covers of both volumes “Photos Clippings Letters Etc. Pertaining to Gypsy Queen’s Trip.” Heath was a horse guy, and this story was about his horse.

Two separate pages from the scrapbook, with a representative sampling: an undated newspaper clipping, photos of Gypsy Queen mailed to Heath's father in Spokane, and letters of testimonial (plus Heath's commentary). Click to enlarge this image . . . or come to our library and peruse them in person!

Two separate pages from the scrapbook, with a representative sampling: an undated newspaper clipping, photos of Gypsy Queen mailed to Heath’s father in Spokane, and letters of testimonial (plus Heath’s commentary). Click to enlarge this image . . . or come to our library and peruse them in person!

 

Close-up of the cover of volume 1, through Nov. 1926.

Close-up of the cover of volume 1: “Photos Clippings and Letters Etc. Pertaining to Gypsy Queen’s Trip. #1 To Spokane Wash. Nov. 10 1926”

I’ve lost count of my “favorite” items I’ve posted on this blog, but this is yet another one. I love this story. In November 2006 Jane Sween wrote about Heath’s journey for the Montgomery County Story (Vol. 49, No. 4), after which several of us here took turns reading our library’s copy of Forty Million Hoofbeats (donated by David Simpson) – and the book is GREAT. The logistics involved in getting a horse to every state are interesting enough, but Heath’s observations – expanded from those found in the scrapbooks – on the people, towns, and cultures he encountered are fascinating. Heath and Gypsy Queen made their trip just as motor vehicles were starting to take over the roads, and this record of their journey captured a vast American landscape, from urban to rural to barely inhabited, that was on the verge of modernization and irrevocable change.

Map of their route; or, how to get a horse to "hit every state."

Map of their route; or, how to get a horse to “hit every state.”

 

Heath and Gypsy Queen’s story might be obscure, but it is not forgotten. Gypsy Queen’s unique feat of endurance is referenced on various equestrian websites (such as The Long Riders Guild history page, which adds some details about how Heath and Queen met), and Forty Million Hoofbeats was reprinted in 2001 by Equestrian Travel Classics. (It’s not currently available as an e-book, but is still for sale in a print version.) For many years, Heath maintained a moderate level of local celebrity thanks to a photo at Fred & Harry’s Restaurant (opened in 1946) in Four Corners, just a few miles from Mr. Heath’s home near Sligo Creek. And Queen herself is listed as one of the famous burials at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park. Heath created these books for posterity; thanks to the donor, our archives storage, and the wonders of the internet, his goal is still within reach.

 

"Taken at home of Dave Burrows Chetopa Kan R#4 in Sept. 1925. Georgia M. Burrows in saddle. 1st kid to have picture taken on Queen. F.M.H."

“Taken at home of Dave Burrows Chetopa Kan R#4 in Sept. 1925. Georgia M. Burrows in saddle. 1st kid to have picture taken on Queen. F.M.H.”

 

*A bronze plaque in Gypsy Queen’s memory was unveiled at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park on July 9, 1938, at a ceremony attended by a candidate for governor (the actual governor, Harry Nice, was unfortunately delayed) and other “distinguished guests.” The program featured musical selections and an oration by the Hon. Charles E. Moylan, and finished with a rendition of the National Anthem. The plaque (full text here) details Gypsy Queen’s epic journey and finishes with this line: “A Faithful and Loyal Companion.” (The plaque’s whereabouts are currently unknown, as the cemetery underwent several difficult years; the grounds are currently being restored by the volunteers of the Rosa Bonheur Society.) Several decades later, humans were permitted burial at RB along with their pets; but when Heath died in 1945, he was buried near his family in Spokane, Washington. His stone includes the title of his book.

Front and back views of the souvenir postcard, showing Heath and Queen at the very start of their journey. From the title page of volume 1.

Front and back views of the souvenir postcard, showing Heath and Queen at the very start of their journey. From the title page of volume 1.

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Our collections don’t include much in the way of building remnants, other than some smallish pieces of hardware and the occasional decorative element. However, we do have this fine artifact, donated in 1980 by Mr. A.B. Chisholm of Silver Spring: the keystone or date-stone from the Silver Spring County Office Building, constructed in 1927-28.

x1487This is a trapezoidal block of concrete, measuring eleven inches high and eight inches square at the top. The front face is painted white, with metal numbers nailed on. The top, back and sides still have some cement residue. According to the donor – and, to a lesser extent, photographic evidence – this was the keystone used over the main door to the County Office Building at 8528 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring. I’ve not found any close-up images of the door, but this early 1930s photograph (published in Montgomery County, Maryland: Home Community of the Nation’s Capital) of the Silver Spring Northern Suburban District Montgomery County Building shows the Georgia Avenue facade (at left), with its arched center door; there’s the faintest hint of a diagonal stripe (=our numbers?) visible across the keystone.

SS County Bldg from 1930s bookletAlthough the building was constructed in 1927, and appears to have been operational by late that year, the keystone is marked “1928” – perhaps an official opening was held in 1928, when its companion building in Bethesda was completed.

It’s easy to assume that Montgomery County’s suburban boom is a recent phenomenon, or that it didn’t really start until the 1930s and 1940s. But the government workers who arrived along with the New Deal were joining a suburbanization movement in progress. By 1927, the down-county area had grown so rapidly that the State Legislature created a new Suburban District, to provide a more local form of government to unincorporated areas. For practical purposes the Suburban District was split into east and west sections, with Rock Creek as the dividing line. In other words, rather than giving the population centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring their own municipal governments, we gave them each a county government outpost.

Shortly after the Bethesda building was completed, an article in the January 27, 1928 edition of the Montgomery County Sentinel proclaimed that these new county offices marked the “passage of the metropolitan area of Montgomery County from a rural to an urban community.” The article also helpfully explained the Silver Spring building’s contents:

Sentinel, Jan 27, 1928The building in the Silver Spring district is of attractive appearance, being of brick construction, with stone finish, and is one story in height. It was occupied six weeks ago and at the same time there was established in it a police station, where police are on duty for 24 hours to answer any emergency calls. Offices also have been provided in the structure for the clerk to the county commissioners, the Maryland-National [Capital] Park and Planning Commission, justice of the peace and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There is a hearing room which will accommodate about 100 persons, where the various agencies dealing with the district affairs may hold public hearings. It cost $25,000.

This useful building was in the heart of the burgeoning downtown Silver Spring area, on Georgia Avenue just south of the intersection of Colesville Road. The aerial photo below, taken circa 1940, shows your County Office Building (circled) across Georgia Avenue from the brand-new Silver Spring Shopping Center, opened in 1938. (The shopping center, embracing its parking lot at the corner of Georgia and Colesville, is still there today, but basically everything else shown here is gone. Click the photo to enlarge.)

MCHS Library, donated by the Lee family.

MCHS Library, donated by the Lee family.

By 1931 the Silver Spring building was already too small, as the area continued to grow;  on April 4th of that year the Washington Post noted, “The building is too cramped for efficient work at present, and an enlargement of space must be provided in some manner.” Plans at that time were to either add on a second story, or sell the building and start over somewhere else. However it doesn’t appear that either action was taken for some time, if at all; the building continued to serve its various governmental functions into the 1950s. A new county office/police station was built on Sligo Avenue in 1962, and shortly after that the old building was torn down.

Our unassuming (though weighty) little keystone sent me on a delightful suburbia-research adventure this week. But there’s more to learn!  When, exactly, was the building demolished? (A 1964 aerial photo appears to show another building on that spot.) Who is/was Mr. A.B. Chisholm, and why did he acquire the keystone?  Much as I enjoy reading 1920s-50s surveys of county government and development (and no, that’s not sarcasm), those sources have not yet answered my lingering questions.  Do our readers have any insight to share?

Bonus images!

From our postcard collections, here’s a color view of the Silver Spring building, from B.S. Reynolds’ “Scenic Art Series” of the 1940s:

067017a
…And here’s the same early 1930s image as shown earlier, this time with the $30,000 Bethesda building for comparison.  (Like its friend in Silver Spring, the Bethesda building was demolished in the 1960s.)

both county bldgs

Our Library collection includes photographs of the various efforts of the Montgomery County Community Chest and Council.  “Community Chest” was a name adopted by civic-minded charitable organizations around the country in the early-mid 20th century (many of which were eventually combined under the United Way umbrella); our county’s group was founded in 1943.  Agencies such as local Scout and youth groups, the Public Health Lay Council, and the county Social Service League (founded in 1908, later renamed Family Services Agency) joined the Community Chest and helped organize, fund and run programs like the Christmas Bureau, which provided food, clothing and gifts for families in need.  Here’s a photo of a Toys for Tots delivery to the Volunteer Christmas Bureau Store, circa 1950:

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Toys for Tots was started in 1947, and adopted as an official program of the US Marine Corps Reserve in 1948. This photo from our collections is accompanied by an undated press release, identifying Technical Sergeant Robert E. McPhee “shoulder[ing] one of the cartons of 300 toys delivered this week” to the county Christmas Bureau, along with volunteer clerks Mrs. Sol Goldman, Mrs. Charles Gordon, and Mrs. Seymour Leopold.

In the late 1950s, the Community Chest and Council joined the newly formed Montgomery Health and Welfare Council, “a regional unit of the Health and Welfare Council of the National Capital Area” (according to their 1959 annual report).  The Christmas Bureau was still an important part of the organization’s work, with 391 county families receiving gifts from the Bureau in 1959.  I’ve not figured out where the storefront in the photo above was located, but by the late 1950s the Christmas Bureau store was held at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.  Here’s a photo of two Silver Spring Rotarians preparing a delivery of what looks like ham (?) to the Christmas Bureau store, as helpfully noted by the sign propped next to the loaded station wagon: “We are on our way with Christmas Gifts to the Christmas Store located at Gaithersburg Fair Grounds, Sponsored by the Montgomery County Christmas Bureau.”

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Our collection also includes a few photos of “Santa’s Hideaway,” a temporary mini-store set up in Silver Spring, probably to let children choose their gifts from amongst donated toys and games.  Though the Hideaway has so far proven rather elusive, research-wise, the photos themselves tell us that it was funded in part by Red Feather campaign donations (the Red Feather was a symbol used by the United Givers Fund, later part of the United Way), and supported over several years by local radio station WGAY.  The two images below, from different years, show first a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, attended by various officials (including Howard Bain, president of the county United Givers Fund in 1955); and second a group of children, each holding a different toy – though it’s not clear whether they’ve just received them as presents, or they’re preparing to donate them – being interviewed by a very serious-looking WGAY reporter.

051060L(Howard Bain, president of the county United Givers Fund in 1955, is second from right; an Ellsworth Drive (Silver Spring) street sign is on the telephone pole.  In addition to the large “WGAY – dial 1050 – The Suburban Maryland Station” banner, a smaller sign advertises radio broadcasts held from the Hideaway: “North Pole Calling” by Chuck Dulane, and “Melody Circus” by Val Thomas.  If you’d care to while away some time with memories and photos of WGAY, here’s a fun website for you.)

051060J(Notice the Red Feather / Community Chest sign, as well as another WGAY sign, and what might be an ad for the Maryland News paper.)

Do you recognize any of the people or locations in the photos posted here?  Do you remember the Montgomery County Christmas Bureau or Santa’s Hideaway campaigns? Let us know!  A little extra knowledge would be a great holiday-of-your-choice gift to myself and our Librarians.  And here’s a gift for those of you who live (or have lived) in the county, and who enjoy surveys: A survey!  We’re planning an exhibit on Montgomery County’s long tradition of civic activism, including but not limited to activities like the ones featured in today’s post.  This survey, put together for us by a graduate student at the University of Maryland History and Library Science program, will help us gather stories and artifacts for the exhibit.

Photos donated to the MCHS Library by the Health and Welfare Council.

 

 

Today we have a pair of stained glass or leadlight casement windows, from a Silver Spring church that no longer stands. Dedicated in memory of Phillip and Caroline Eaglen, the windows were part of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. The design is relatively simple; windows like these, complete with the dedication space at the bottom, are a common sight in late 19th and early 20th century American churches of many denominations. Each of our windows measures 48″ tall and 32″ wide, including the heavy wooden frames (complete with flourescent lights) that were added at some point. The windows were donated to MCHS in 1993 by Mr. and Mrs. Clifton Andrews.

The windows on display - the mystery rectangle between them is the exhibit label.

The windows on display – the mystery rectangle between them is the exhibit label.

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church was located on Georgia Avenue, in the Linden/Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills area of Silver Spring. Its history is somewhat obscure, with only a few clues located so far. The 1879 Hopkins Atlas (below) shows “Mt. Zion M.E. Ch.” on the Washington & Brookeville Turnpike (Georgia Avenue). To orient you: downtown Silver Spring is off the map to the right; the “turnpike” visible in the upper right is modern-day Colesville Road; the road at left that ends at Forest Glen Sta. is Forest Glen Road; the road that runs down to the bottom, including the home of freedman S. Lytton, is Brookville Road.

linden 1879

In 1935, Mary Doolittle Dawson wrote an essay called “Early Days in Linden” (parenthetical notes were added by Frances Wolfe in 1983):  “The Laney House … was on the East side of the 7th Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) opposite the colored Methodist church (the site now occupied by Safeway on Georgia Ave. and Seminary Place)…. Mrs. Rose Wilson Kerr tells me that this church was first used by the white Episcopalians and Methodists. Mrs. Kerr remembers being taken there as a little child…. This church, however, had passed into the hands of the colored people by the time our family spent the summer with the Laneys and there has been a colored church there ever since. Although the old church was torn down and a new one built on the same site.”

A 1937 survey of Montgomery County churches, conducted by the Works Progress Administration as part of the Historical Records Survey, included the Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church – no street address – in Montgomery Hills, Silver Spring. The church was noted as “organized” in 1866; the “present building,” dedicated in 1916, was described as a “frame two story meeting house type, no bell, no special features.” Ms. Dawson’s story of the church’s origins is confirmed here, probably from history provided by Mt. Zion clergy or members: “The first church on this site was a white M.E. Church erected about 1825. This church was given to the colored people about 1866 and became known as Mt. Zion M.E. Church.”

Though a reference in a newspaper article shows that the church was still there in the early 1960s, by 1969 it was gone, replaced by shops. I haven’t yet found any images of the church, or information on when exactly it was torn down. It’s thought that the congregation was officially transferred to Van Buren United Methodist Church in D.C.

x2168ab-4

What of the couple whose names appear on the windows? For now, most of our information comes from census records (somewhat complicated by the fact that the name was recorded in various years as Eaglen, Edelin, Egland, Eglin, and Edlin). Phillip Eaglen (born circa 1840) married Caroline Bell (born circa 1845) in 1867; I haven’t found them in Montgomery County earlier than 1870, and don’t yet know if either of them had been enslaved. The Eaglens had at least 10 children, including William, Phillip, Helen, Harry, Mary Roberta, Olla, Ernest, Caroline, and John. By 1900, the family had settled in the Linden area, in an African-American neighborhood evidently known (to the 1910 census taker, at any rate) as “Monkey Hollow.” In the censuses, Phillip was variously described as a laborer or farmer; Caroline was usually “keeping house,” though in 1910 she was working as a laundress. Their children and grandchildren worked as gardeners, carpenters, housemaids, farm laborers, and hotel waitresses; grandson Arthur Eaglen served with the 808 Pioneer Infantry during World War I. The latest information on the Eaglens is the 1930 census, at which point the couple owned a house on Brookville Road in Linden (or possibly Lyttonsville, an African-American community) and lived there with their daughters Mary and Caroline, Mary’s husband John Potts, and their grandson Walter Eaglen.  Both Phillip and Caroline (noted in 1930 as aged 93 and 87) presumably died sometime during the 1930s.

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It’s not clear how the donors ended up with these windows, although a note in our files indicates that their maid, Sadie Kelly, was married to a man whose parents were acquainted with the Eaglens. Ms. Kelly is the one who supplied us with the name and location of the church.

The short version of all of this is, of course, “There’s still a lot more research to do.” Where did the Eaglens live before 1870? Who commissioned the windows in their memory? When was the church demolished, and why were these two windows saved? (Do any blog readers have information or photos to share?) Nonetheless, even with this moderate amount of info the windows are interesting artifacts, and they serve as physical reminders of a church – and a family – that might otherwise have been forgotten by local historians.

Interested in learning more about African American churches in Montgomery County? Visit our library!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which reads in part: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Essentially: if you let boys do it, you’d better let girls do it too… and while you’re at it, don’t just allow it, encourage equal participation.

Many longer and more thorough reports than mine have been written on the effects of Title IX and its current rate of success.  (Last week’s Gazette had an interesting series, including several local accounts.)  Though much of the popular focus has been on improvements in athletic opportunities, it’s worth remembering that Title IX applies to academics as well.  However, our collections are best suited for an example of the growth of women’s sports in county schools, so until someone donates a nice 1973 shop-class project by their mother or aunt (hint, hint), let’s take a look at a sport uniform.

This cotton/nylon jersey was worn by a currently unknown female student at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, in the mid-late 1970s.  Happily, our library has a large collection of local school yearbooks, and the yearbooks for Northwood in 1973, ‘74, ‘75, ‘76 and ‘78 (sorry, we’re missing a year) give us some clues as to this jersey’s history.  (A full-on study of athletics at any given school requires more sources than just the yearbooks, of course, but I was mostly looking for pictures of uniforms; and hey, yearbooks are fun.)

Northwood High School opened in 1956, closed in 1985 due to declining student-age population in the area, then reopened in 2004 when the neighborhood once again required it.  In the 1970s, the school colors were black and red, and the team name was the Indians.  (Today the colors are the same, but the school mascot is a Gladiator.)  The Arrowhead yearbook gives a hint of the sports available for girls each year*.  In 1973, girls are shown participating only in swimming and gymnastics, though other teams (perhaps intramural) probably existed.  Only a year later, though, there are pages for girls’ tennis, field hockey, basketball, volleyball and softball.  The young women on the basketball teams (just one team at first, later the Junior Varsity team) in 1974-1978 are wearing jerseys like this one; the style also shows up on a softball player in the only photo of that sport included in 1974; by 1983 other uniforms have replaced it.  Two #44s appear in the books, whom I won’t call out in case they don’t want their names randomly appearing on the internet (although, hey ladies, if this is your jersey please let me know!).

I didn’t find any references specifically to Title IX, but the tone of the mid 1970s books does give a sense that yes, there is a new interest in, and attitude toward, girls’ athletics.  In 1976 that attitude (perhaps because of that year‘s editor?) is particularly evident.  That year, the girls’ basketball team had switched from a female to a male coach, a point which is emphasized in the yearbook: “He proved that men too can make good coaches for an all-girls’ sport involving skill and talent.”  The cross-country page features this headline: “Cross Country Team Includes Girl Runners” and, only a few sentences after informing us that one of those ‘girl runners’ was a state champion, the author points out that the (male) coach “expressed his lack of male chauvinism by insisting that the girls receive the credit due them.”  2012 gives that a sarcastic “gee, thanks,” but depending on the school’s culture at that time, such an “insistence” may have been highly progressive.  Happily, by 1978 the novelty of serious girls’ teams seems to have worn off, at least in the Arrowhead.

*Comparing the numbers and types of sports available to the county’s public school students since the late 19th century is actually quite interesting, and there were many girls’ teams in the early-mid 20th century… but that will have to wait for a later article.

April is both National Poetry Month and National Financial Literacy Month, and I was torn – but ultimately I decided to go with the money. (Maybe next year, Poetry.)  Here is an Olivetti Summa Quanta 20 printing calculator, purchased in D.C. in 1972 and used in Silver Spring.

We have four mid-20th century adding machines – or mechanical printing calculators – in our collections. One, a Victor Champion (like this one) from the 1950s, has no known history; the other three, including this Olivetti, were donated by Allen Hillman of Silver Spring. Mr. Hillman, a CPA, worked for Sinrod & Tash in D.C. until 1967, when he left to start his own accounting firm; his first office was on 16th Street, and he later moved to Colesville Road in Silver Spring. The machines he donated show the course of his early career: an electric Remington Rand from the 1940s, purchased used by the donor from Sinrod & Tash when he started his own firm, and in use until 1973; a hand-cranked Olivetti Summa 15, in a traveling case, bought new in 1958 and used at his home until 1975; and this Olivetti Summa Quanta 20.

According to Mr. Hillman, when the Summa Quanta 20 came out, “everybody bought one.” He got this one in 1972 from Leon Office Machine Co at 623 H St NW, and used it in his Silver Spring office until 1980, when he – like many of his colleagues – switched to a new, just-introduced electronic calculator. 

Olivetti is an Italian company, founded in 1908. Our electric (but not electronic) Summa Quanta 20, made in Argentina, has a green metal cover and a reddish-brown plastic base. It still has its cord and plug, as well as a gray vinyl dust cover. According to the donor, part of the appeal was that it was “portable;” while it’s not exactly a hand-held machine it is, at only 11″ long and 5″ tall, rather smaller and lighter than the other machines in our collection.

Vintage adding machines, or mechanical printing calculators, come in many different varieties and perform different functions; woe to the ignorant person who thinks a calculator is a calculator is a calculator. Fortunately, there are collectors and fans out there who are happy to share their collections online. Though I personally have never thought much about mechanical adding machines – I grew up with electronic calculators, and had never seen a hand-crank machine until Mr. Hillman’s donation – I can understand their appeal. Like typewriters, they are interesting on several levels: as aesthetic objects, reflecting the design sensibilities of their time; as historical artifacts, telling the story of changing technologies and changing economies; and as functioning machines, still valid and useful even in our digital age. Just don’t ask me to actually use one.

Want to see some more machines? These websites – here, here, and here – have both technical information, for those of you interested in the mechanics, and photos, for those who want to admire the design.  Wikipedia also has a fairly thorough history of mechanical vs. electronic calculators, here. These sites are only a sampling; if you enjoy them, I encourage you to while away an hour or so with your preferred internet search engine and a few keywords. 

Edited: to correct the name of Mr. Hillman’s first CPA firm. 4/25/12

**NOTE!!** Next week’s blog will be a day late, as I’ll be at the American Association of Museums conference in Minneapolis.  Your monthly dose of postcard history will arrive on Thursday the 3rd!

As you probably know, this past Monday (March 12, 2012) marked the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America.  In modest commemoration of the date, here are a few things from our collections related to local troops.

This handkerchief belonged to Kathleen Sisk of Takoma Park, Md., who was a member of a D.C. troop in the late 1940s.  The colorfully printed fabric measures 11.5″ square.  The symbols around the edges correspond to badges, and appear to include everything from art to boatcraft to skiing.  (Unfortunately, we don’t have any GSA handbooks earlier than the 1970s in our collections; anyone have insight into the official badge names?)  We also have Kathleen’s green beret, which was later handed down to her younger sister Ann (who was not a Girl Scout) and the insignia was removed.  Both items were donated by Kathleen’s daughter, along with a few artifacts from the daughter’s own 1970s troop in Silver Spring.  (I love continuity!)

This snapshot, donated by Jean Case, shows members of Girl Scout Troop 59 (Rockville) participating in the 1953 Rockville Memorial Day Parade (and looking very pleased to do so).

And finally, here’s a Girl Scout pocketknife, donated by an MCHS member who led Troop 47 (Flower Valley) in the 1970s.  The knife was used by both of her daughters on camping trips.  I particularly like the fact that the can opener blade is marked “CAN OPENER” – apparently the uses of the other blades were self-evident. 

Looking for more on the history of the Girl Scouts?  Here’s the official GSA overview.  Want to get involved in local scouting?  Here’s the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.  Want to really get involved in hyper-local scouting?  Volunteer at the Historical Society!  We have history programs for Brownies and Girl Scouts, and as much fun as it is for us to lead those tours, we can always use volunteers.