Homage to AmytheArchivist, a.k.a. Mystery Images #37 & #38

An astute subscriber to RPI History Revealed recently pointed out that the Archives blog has been going strong for ten years!  In honor of the blog’s creator, Amy Rupert (a.k.a. AmytheArchivist), I think it’s time to harken back to one of her signature series – mystery images!

Amy’s very first post was titled “Mystery Image #1” indicating her intention to post unidentified images on a regular basis.  And so she did.  Our readership has been an excellent resource in identifying the people and events depicted in these mysterious photos.  However, this time around I’m turning the tables a bit.

Instead of sharing an image about which we know little or nothing, I’m asking our readers what you know about a couple of photos that are well identified.  They come from our collection of Louis B. Puffer photograph albums, which I described in my previous post.  So please, have at it, and tell us if you think you know what either of these pictures represents!

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Views Into the Past: Results of an ebay Find, Part I

Not long ago I happened upon something of great interest to me as an RPI archivist – a photograph album documenting Rensselaer and its vicinity in the early twentieth century.  This is the story of how we acquired not one but seven photo albums compiled by Mr. Louis Blackmer Puffer, RPI Class of 1909.

The Institute Archives has a standing search in ebay for things related to Rensselaer.  Every day we receive email notifications about what’s new.  There’s usually a bunch of stuff we already own – old yearbooks, some Institute publications, a postcard or two, etc.  At the end of the list there’s a message that says “View all results.”  I rarely look there because it’s mostly stuff that’s been posted a thousand times and I’ve already determined we don’t need any of it.  But one day in September I followed the link, just to see how much additional material was available.  Was I in for a surprise!

As I pored over the usual array of items, one in particular stood out – an album containing photos of a 1911 student survey in Warrensburg, New York.  At that time  students were required to go on expeditions to develop their surveying skills.  The photos depict students posing with rods and transits and other paraphernalia as well as using the equipment, goofing off, and relaxing in their spare time.  Best of all, each image is neatly labeled, often including names or initials of people in the photos.

While the album was a little more costly than the things I usually buy, my colleagues and I wanted this unique treasure for our collection.  In addition, it turned out that the seller had several more Puffer items.  I quickly purchased the one I’d seen on ebay and began negotiating for the sale of additional materials.  In the meantime, I did a little research on the student photographer.  This led to a couple more surprises.

I discovered Puffer’s photographs were sold off to different people after his death, including a batch that ended up at the Vermont Historical Society (VHS).  The silver lining is that a description and inventory of the VHS collection is available online.  Thanks to the biographical information provided in their finding aid I now know more about this son of old Rensselaer.  It turns out that in addition to his photography avocation he was an avid outdoorsman, which helps explain the many outdoor scenes throughout his albums.

Additionally, Louis Puffer was not just a student here; soon after graduation he became a lecturer in mathematics at his alma mater.  In 1911 he was the faculty member in charge of the Warrensburg survey expedition, supervising a cadre of students only a couple of years younger than himself.  Puffer later took a teaching position at the University of Vermont, taking him back to the state where he grew up.

I’m happy to report that the Institute Archives now has Puffer photographs dating from 1905 to 1914 along with two undated albums.  They document student life in ways we’ve rarely seen, including Troy from the perspective of an RPI student/recent alumnus.  So stay tuned – I’ll share more of Puffer’s images in future posts!

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Adventures in the Archives Part 1

Throughout October, archivists and archives across the nation honor American Archives Month by explaining who they are, what they do, and the successful impacts they (and their collections) have on communities. For this celebration we decided to share some projects with the Rensselaer community and shed some light on how the Institute Archives gets used and who we work with.

I’ll begin by sharing a project that the Vice Provost & Dean approached me with last March. Linda Schadler was eager to find answers to some key questions: “Who were the first female full professors in each department?” “When were women first hired, and how many?” “Who were the first female deans?” “When did Rensselaer build the first residence hall for women?” “What was the environment like for female students at a predominately all male technological institute?”  Linda (and I) decided in order to answer these questions (and many more), a student needed to spend the summer researching in the Archives, with a sole focus on placing women in the context of Rensselaer’s history. Thus the History of Women at Rensselaer project came to fruition.

Throughout the past summer Linda and I guided Brooke Hayden ‘18 as she set out on her quest. We reviewed with Brooke her discoveries on a weekly basis, only to find that she was uncovering more questions we didn’t originally ask. To date, Brooke has done more research than anyone else on the history of women at Rensselaer (that I know of), and her research continues! Brooke meant for this to be completed at the end of the summer, but she was so enthralled with the subject, she decided this would culminate into her Capstone project!

Nevertheless, to celebrate Brooke’s pursuit of finding answers in the Institute Archives I asked Linda and Brooke to share their experience with the community. Here is what they have to say!

Linda: “After 20 years at Rensselaer, I looked around and realized that the landscape for women at Rensselaer had changed dramatically.  I am no longer the sole woman in my department, no longer teaching classes with very few women, and more.   When I asked our Chief Information Officer (whose mother was one of the first graduates) about the history of women at Rensselaer, he suggested talking to an archivist.   You cannot believe how much information is in the Institute Archives and how interesting it is to learn about the lives and perspectives of the women who have passed through here.  For me, the Archives have been a source of laughter, introspection, celebration, and recognition of how far we have to go for women at Rensselaer. Thank goodness for Brooke Hayden, who was willing to take on a project about the history of women at Rensselaer, and dig into the details!  I cannot wait to see what more we learn from the Archives and how she puts it together in an exhibit for all to see, hear, and learn from.”

Brooke: “When I began my research into the history of women at Rensselaer this summer, I must admit I did not know what I was in for. I remember on my first day I walked into the Archives to find stacks and stacks of boxes filled with documents and I wondered how I would be able to find all the information I was looking for. As I learned the lay of the land I began to feel like a detective working to uncover the past lives of people who walked the very same paths that I do as I hurry to class. I loved uncovering stories that had been overlooked that gave a glimpse into the lives of those who came before me. I was in awe over their incredible accomplishments and astounded by the struggles they overcame. Recognition for these women and their successes is long overdue and I feel proud to be able to share their stories. Throughout this whole experience I have had the incredible opportunity to learn from and work with Rensselaer’s wonderful Archivists as well as talk with current and former students, staff, and faculty. I look forward to sharing what I have uncovered with the Rensselaer community to shed light on the women’s history that has been waiting to be shared.”

Please stay tuned for Brooke’s exhibit and final project in 2018. We will keep the community posted.

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Troy’s Total Eclipse 1925

Total solar eclipse, Troy, New York, January 24, 1925.The last total solar eclipse to cross Upstate New York took place on the morning of January 24, 1925, reaching its peak at 9:11 a.m. This week’s eclipse prompted a researcher to send us a photograph of the event as viewed from Troy. (Note the figures standing on the roof tops in the left hand side of the image). The January 14, 1925 edition of the Rensselaer Polytechnic featured a front page article on the forthcoming event.

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Commencement 1917

The Institute’s ninety-third commencement took place on Wednesday, June 13, 1917 in the ’87 Gymnasium. Eighty-nine students received bachelor’s degrees: 53 in Civil Engineering, 19 in Electrical Engineering, 12 in Mechanical Engineering, and 5 in Chemical Engineering. Three graduate degrees were awarded: a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters in Civil Engineering, and a Doctor of Philosophy (chemistry). The commencement address was delivered by Charles Whiting Baker editor of the Engineering News-Record.

Many members of the class left for military service immediately after graduation.





Read on for the Class of 1917 Senior History

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