Adventures in the Archives

Posted by Jenifer Monger on October 12, 2017

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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