Feed on

In the exhibit cases outside Special Collections & Archives.

Also on view:

  • Football memorabilia in the exhibit cubes in the Campbell Reference Room
  • Henry Bacon photographs and documents in the basement exhibit cases

On view in the exhibit cases outside Special Collections & Archives, 1st floor Olin Library, during library hours


This year, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the Center for African American Studies and the graduation of Wesleyan’s Vanguard class, the first group of actively recruited minority students. To help celebrate these occasions this exhibit was created to look back at the history of Black students at Wesleyan from its beginnings through today.



The cases include materials from Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives that trace the Black student experience at Wesleyan over the years, but especially focusing on the Vanguard class and evolution of the Center for African American Studies into a newly formed department in 2018. The cases conclude with information on how the viewer can help the university archives diversify their holdings through material donations.

On the walls to complement the cases, there are images showing highlights of what was going on within the larger world at the times discussed within the cases. This exhibit looks to show how the large-scale historical and popular events of the world likely had an effect on the students at Wesleyan and place what the students were experiencing in context with the outside world.


Photo courtesy of Olivia Drake, from the Wesleyan Connection.


Much of the background information to create the exhibit is from David B. Potts’ two volumes of “Wesleyan University, 1831-1910” (Potts) and “Wesleyan University, 1910-1970” (Potts 2) along with Alford A. Young, Jr.’s “Revolt of the Privileged: The Coming Together of the Black Community at Wesleyan University, 1965-1976” (Young). They are cited and directly quoted throughout the exhibit.

This exhibit was curated by Amanda Nelson and Emily Voss. Special thanks to Suzy Taraba, Cynthia Rockwell, Liza McAlister, Jesse Nasta, and Andrew White for their support and assistance in preparing the exhibit.

To further celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Center for African American Studies there are additional exhibits located across campus:

  • Olin Library, 1st floor exhibit cases – Through the Lens of History: the Wesleyan African American Experience
  • Olin, reading room – Student curated mini exhibits
  • Olin, 3rd floor music library – Celebrating the History of African American Music at Wesleyan
  • Usdan, 1st floor – History of the Ankh and Black Life at Wesleyan through the years
  • Usdan, Daniel Family Commons – Books in Black Studies by Wesleyan faculty and alumni


By Maggie M. Long

The Coen brothers pay homage to old Westerns in their most recent film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, an anthology of six short stories of the Old West, with the first featured story about an affable singing cowboy so familiar in many Westerns of years ago. We too have in Special Collections & Archives (SC&A), a story to tell about another singing cowboy, but not the gun-slinging or cowhand type. It was serendipity to rediscover in the closed stacks of SC&A a collection of cowboy and country music songbooks and sheet music that once belonged to a former student, William Bender, Jr., (born August 1, 1916 in Brooklyn New York), a non-graduate of the class of 1938. He attended Wesleyan University from September 1934-June 1935, and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Bender pictured 4th row left – 1935 Wesleyan University Olla Podrida yearbook photograph of Sigma Chi fraternity

It must have been the call of new frontiers because in 1936 he moved out West to attend Colorado University, where he became better known as Bill Bender. After not much time out West he picked up a western accent and having always liked to sing, a schoolmate suggested he try for a job at the radio station KOA in Denver. The station hired him to host a weekly then semi-weekly radio show featuring a wide variety of country musical performers popular during the time such as Dude Martin and his band; Fred Scott, “The silver voiced buckaroo”; The Drifting Pioneers, a four-man country music group; and the Golden West Cowboys, featuring Pee Wee King and others (see photo below).

After returning to the east coast around 1939, he worked a non-entertainment day job but his desire to sing and play guitar continued. Through music publisher and songwriter contacts he met when hanging out near Tin Pan Alley, he received an opportunity to record some traditional western ballads on an album titled “Frontier Ballads and Cowboy Songs” (with later re-issues). The recording was a hit for Bender but for some reason it seems he did not look upon his success as the beginning of a music career. Provided here is a link to a digitized audio recording of Bill’s singing voice.

Image courtesy of Maggie M. Long.

Who knows what would have happened next for him in his singing career because then the war came and like so many others, life changed. As a military service member, Bill Bender served his country honorably in the armed forces, from 1943-1946 as an Air Force Captain during WWII. During this time, he also managed to continue playing the singing cowboy where on his off hours he appeared under the pseudonym “Curly Bowers” on the radio station KOB in New Mexico.

After completing his military service, he returned to the University of Colorado, graduating Class of 1947. He became a staff member of the Radio Production Department working in public relations and radio programming. In a Rocky Mountain Empire Magazine article (May 30, 1948)* “Bill Bender today is recognized by folklorists as one of the West’s foremost ballad singers. Another tribute to his authenticity comes from the novelist and poet Vincent McHugh, in an article he wrote about homemade songs and homegrown singers “Sing me a homemade song” published in the January issue of ’48 Magazine, describes Bill Bender’s singing of cowboy songs in a “genuine easy Westernism.”

From the Wesleyan University Alumni record and further searches, we find Bender continued his career performing similar work duties as a staff member at the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service-Radio, in Ann Arbor during the 1950s and 1960s.

It has been a pleasure to get to know something about the former Wesleyan University student William Bender, Jr., through the collection he left with us. We have enjoyed telling a bit about his story and do hope you have enjoyed learning something about him as well.

As with many stories there is a final note. The trail ended for Bill Bender, Jr. on December 8, 1975 in San Antonio, Texas. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery, along with his wife, Jeanne, who passed away in 2004.


*Article courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society.


On January 16, 2019, Amanda Nelson joins the library staff as University Archivist.  Amanda comes to Wesleyan from the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland.  At AIP, she had a wide range of archival duties, including both behind-the-scenes collection and technical management and outreach and public services.  Amanda worked extensively on AIP’s oral history program, and she has described, digitized, preserved, and provided access to archival collections of all types.  Recently she managed the upgrade of the Physics History Network (https://history.aip.org/phn/), an online resource of “over 1000 biographies of physicists and histories of institutions with information pertaining to their lives, careers, and research.”



Equally adept at connecting with physicists and researchers at all levels of experience, Amanda serves as a judge for National History Day, an academic program emphasizing historical research, interpretation, and creative expression for 6th- to 12th-grade students.  She was instrumental in developing and implementing a new category of NHD awards in the history of science.

Amanda holds the MLS with a specialization in archives and records management from the University of Maryland.  Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where she majored in English, with minors in history and dance.  Among her many extracurricular interests, Amanda is a devotee of musical theater. All of these qualifications will surely come into play as Amanda assumes her new role as University Archivist.  Welcome, Amanda!

(written by Suzy Taraba, director of Special Collections & Archives, for the winter 2019 issue of Check It Out, the library newsletter)

Recently SC&A received an inquiry from Elizabeth Williams, a member of the Aqueduct Rowing Club in Rexford, NY.  She was looking for the names of the Wesleyan 1878 crew team, a vintage photo of which had been the basis for her club’s logo of over 30 years. She had already done some research, finding a copy of the photo in the Getty Images Bettmann Archives, followed by using Google Maps to confirm that the Memorial Chapel inscription on the building in the photo matched Wesleyan’s chapel.


She wanted the team members’ names in order to acknowledge the Wesleyan rowers in a gift book she had made for a member of her club, which included the vintage photo and the club logo. “We call them the ‘rowers with an attitude’ because of their jaunty poses,” she wrote.

Wesleyan’s 1878 yearbook, the Olla Podrida, provided a list of the 1878 crew team members, but no photographs.


Fortunately, class albums from that time period contained photographs of students and student groups in addition to faculty and campus scenes.  I found the crew team photo  and some of the team members in an album which had belonged to Sheldon Kellogg (Wes class of 1878), and class albums from other years provided the rest.













By comparing scans of the individual photos with the team, Elizabeth was able to match names and faces. She and members of the ARC were happy that the Wesleyan rowers were no longer anonymous to them.

I asked Elizabeth to tell me more about the connection between the photo and the Aqueduct Rowing Club.  She recounted that a founding member of the club, Rob Roy, a graphic artist, saw the photo hanging in a bar in Syracuse. The bar owner had gotten the photo from a vintage collection and created a black and white outline version to use in his menu.  Rob liked it so much, he turned a photograph he took of the image into a slide, which he then projected onto big panels of waterproof sheeting. He and friends traced the outlines of the figures by moving the projector one or two rowers at a time to keep it perpendicular to the panels.  They added two extra rowers (since ‘sixes’ boats aren’t raced anymore) and red and white striped socks.


When the original sign was too weathered, the club replaced it with a smaller, sharper image, one sure to remain visible above even deep snow.

Leith Johnson, University Archivist since 2012, retired on June 29, 2018.  As archivist, Leith was responsible for all aspects of the Wesleyan archives, manuscripts, and local history collections.  He also served in other positions at Wesleyan throughout the years.  From 2007 to 2009, he was the project archivist for the William Manchester Papers in Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives, and from 1990 to 2007, he was the associate curator (later co-curator) of Wesleyan’s Cinema Archives.  Library colleagues, faculty, and staff praised his deep knowledge of American and Wesleyan history, his professionalism,  his teaching and presenting skills, and his sense of humor.  To honor his 25 years of service, donations were made to WESU, where he is a dj, and to the Friends of the Wesleyan Library Adopt a Book program, to restore a book from his field of interest.  The book that was chosen was Acts and Laws of the State of Connecticut, in America (1784). 

Leith will be greatly missed by all, but we  congratulate him and wish him all the best for an enjoyable retirement.

Suzy Taraba, Director of Special Collections & Archives, displays the book that will be preserved in Leith’s honor.



Saturday, May 26, 2018 — 10:30-11:30 am — Room 112, Boger Hall

In 1914, The Great War—known later as World War I—broke out in Europe. Wesleyan became a war campus in the years that followed. After the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany in 1917, college life at Wesleyan “took on a belligerent aspect,” as Carl F. Price, Class of 1902, observed later. “Minor sports, dramatics, dances, were dropped. The students were in army uniform, rose early in the morning to drill, were allowed no cuts from classes. A trench seamed part of the back of campus, and armed guards challenged all comers.” By the time the Armistice was signed in 1918—100 years ago this year—some 1,200 Wesleyan faculty, staff, students, and alumni provided military or civilian service, including twenty-six students and alumni who died. Attend the illustrated WESeminar by Leith Johnson, University Archivist, during Reunion/Commencement to learn how the “War to End All Wars” impacted Wesleyan.




On exhibit through Fall 2018
During library hours

Special Collections & Archives exhibit cases
Olin Library, 252 Church Street, Middletown

Free and open to the public

Highlights from the Angling, Baskin, Beales, Husted, Lawrence, Moulton, and Williams collections.
Curated by Suzy Taraba, Director, Special Collections & Archives.

Special Collections & Archives Open House


Image from State of the Planet: collage/effect by Giorgia Peckman ’18


View  artists’ books created by students

in Introduction to Environmental Studies (E&ES 197)

and other environmentally-themed artists’ books

from the SC&A collection that inspired them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
4:30-6:30 pm

At 5:30, Giorgia Peckman ’18 and Hunter Vannier ’20
will speak about their books.

Davison Rare Book Room
Special Collections & Archives
Olin Library
Wesleyan University
252  Church St., Middletown, CT  06459

In conjunction with the art installation in Olin lobby.

The new exhibit of the cast of Glyptodon, a giant armadillo, outside of the Science Library, in the lobby of Exley Science Center has been unveiled.  Originally on exhibit in the Wesleyan Museum in Judd Hall, the Glyptodon had been in storage since 1957, when the Museum was closed and its collections were dispersed.


Here is a photo of her previous home in the Museum in Judd Hall.



And a young fan.


(Archival photos from Special Collections & Archives)

To read more about the journey of Glyptodon from storage to her new pedestal, go to the Joe Webb Peoples Fossil Collection blog.

To view the Wesleyan Museum Records, dating from 1836, in Special Collections & Archives, email sca@wesleyan.edu or visit during Special Collections & Archives reading room hours, Monday-Friday 1-5 pm.

We are also excited that Dr. Kirk Johnson, Sant Director, National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, will be giving a lecture on Thursday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Shanklin Hall, room 107 on  “Natural History in the Age of Humans,”  highlighting the ongoing importance of natural history museums.  For more information about his talk, visit the Joe Webb Peoples Fossil Collection blog.



Wesleyan has a long connection with the Smithsonian.  George Brown Goode, class of 1847, the first curator of Wesleyan’s Museum and the son-in-law of Orange Judd, class of 1870, for whom Judd Hall is named, was concurrently an assistant curator at the National Museum.  He eventually became assistant secretary of the Smithsonian.  Dr. Johnson will be visiting the Anthropological and Archaeological Collections to view objects and Wesleyan Museum records on loan from Special Collections & Archives during his visit.

Older Posts »

Log in