Thanks to Mary Wootton, conservator in Gettysburg, PA, two of the St. Joseph’s Academy scrapbooks are available to researchers once again! These two books had fallen completely apart at the binding, and pages had a hodgepodge of sealed and unsealed items, some so large as to be damaging the binding and some uncovered and acidic enough to slowly burn pages away.
Today, we would like to highlight one of these books, the “Tablet of Friendship” owned by Mary Teresa Devine, which was donated by Judith Cristella, a direct descendent of Mary Teresa. She first enrolled in St. Joseph’s Academy in 1826, a few years after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the school, passed away. She spent the next few years on the growing and expanding campus.
The book itself is a dark green (Or brown? Or black? We think green), covered and bound in sheepskin, which was the cheapest form of leather used at the time. The book would have been a mass-produced product of the early industrial age and not been overly expensive, similar to a blank journal or diary available at a bookstore today. It is what is inside that makes this a great relic of the Archives.
Based upon the dates included in the pieces, the book came into existence quite a while after Mary Teresa attended the Academy. Nonetheless, this shows the networks that formed between students of the Academy and their enduring closeness. But perhaps most importantly, many of the pieces were signed by their authors, providing us with actual written work attached to known individuals, a relative rarity of this time period for women not affiliated with high-status positions or families. Even when only a first name exists, as in the piece below, the fact that the book contains an entire class list makes it easy to track down individual’s last name.
In addition to the students themselves, the book also provides valuable resources for researchers of Catholic and material culture in this time period, including inserted, mass-market imagery.
And on the artistic front, the book contains inserted pieces in the unique medium of leaves. This very delicate work made of organic matter managed to survive for over 150 years until it was secured in a special case to provide support and a stable climate.
The scrapbooks are available on-site. Although they are not yet digitized, we are hoping this can be accomplished in the near-future.