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National Archivist Helps Celebrate 200th Anniversary of Georgetown Archives

David Ferriero speaks at a lectern.April 22, 2016 – The most difficult truth for non-historians is that there is often more than one legitimate way of recounting past events, David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States said last night at the 200th anniversary celebration of the Georgetown University Archives.

“Who owns history?” Ferrerio asked, “Everyone and no one, which is why the study of the past is a constantly evolving and never-ending journey of discovery.”

Ferrerio said he was envious that Georgetown recognized the importance of archiving material “long before your federal government did.”

“It was not until 1934 that the U.S. had a national archives,” he explained, “and I’m daily in awe of what has survived, including the charter of this university.”

Before introducing Ferriero, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia noted that in the 200 years after the signing of that charter in 1815, “our archives have grown and flourished into an extraordinary resource.”

“It would be hard to imagine a more appropriate and distinguished person to share this celebration with us tonight,” DeGioia added.

Realism and Color

Actress and singer Pearl Bailey is surrounded by Georgetown basketball cheerleaders in this black and white photo circa 1980.A slideshow behind the podium included such archival material as a photo of the first international students at Georgetown in 1792, a commencement program from the 1800s, and a photo of actress and singer Pearl Bailey (C’85) with the Georgetown basketball cheerleaders the year she graduated with a degree in theology at the age of 67.

University Archivist Lynn Conway also spoke at the celebration, which took place in Georgetown’s Lauinger Library, which houses the university archives.

“As well as documenting the history of Georgetown as an institution … records in the archives can tell the stories of students, faculty, staff and others associated with the university,” she said. “These individual stories are among the least known and least expected parts of our collection, but they are sometimes the most meaningful and powerful. They add realism and color to facts, figures and dates. Perhaps more importantly, they help us to connect with those who have come before and to evaluate our own place in the continuum of Georgetown's development. “

She told celebration attendees that the archives include a recollection by actor John Barrymore, grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore, of his arrival on campus as a student in 1895 at the age of 13.

“In a 1933 interview he said, ‘a priest took me through the buildings. I paused in the gymnasium to swing on the parallel bars and as I turned over there fell out of my pockets a razor, a dime novel, and half a pint of whiskey. The mishap gave the priest more information than I could have supplied in 80 confessions. They were very kind to me at Georgetown and although they eventually expelled me, they did it in a nice way.’ ”

Harrowing and Difficult

But she also noted that there are “harrowing and difficult stories,” including those that relate to slavery.

“A number of enslaved persons worked on campus in the first decades of the College's operation, some owned by the Jesuit Order, others hired on a temporary basis from local slave holders,” Conway explained.

She noted that one of the first items in the archives’ 200th anniversary exhibition outside the library’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections, is an extract from an early College account book recording Georgetown's hiring of an enslaved person in 1792.

“Because no records exist in the archives in the voice of any of the enslaved persons who were brought to campus, references in the financial accounts have to stand in to testify to their presence,” she said.

A shot used by alumnus and world record shot putter Al Blozis.Shots and Lemons

Other activities at the anniversary celebration included a "petting zoo," where people could touch artifacts such as a football from the 1906 game that Georgetown won 16-6 against Georgetown Washington University, a Corona Portable Typewriter from 1925, a shot used by Alfred C. “Al” Blozis (C’42), the world record-holding shot putter, a Hoyaopoly game, and one of the 6,000 lemons, encased in acrylic, used in a student protest in the 1970s.

One of the 6,000 lemons, encased in acrylic, that was used in a 1970s student protest.

Captions accompanied the items, including a note that Blozis, at over 6' 6" and 248 pounds, was known as the Hoya Hercules, and even inspired a comic book. He also served as right tackle on the Georgetown football team that went to the 1941 Orange Bowl and played for the New York Giants after graduation. 

A “myth-busting station” run by Assistant Archivist Ann Galloway debunked or confirmed famous Hoya myths, such as whether the Georgetown Mascot has always been a Bulldog (not true).

A blue and gray Corona Portable Typewriter from 1925 with a "G" and "U" on it.Archival Roots

An online exhibit on life at Georgetown in 1816 is also part of the celebration.

In 1816, the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen passed the following resolution:

“Resolved that an Archives be erected in the College of George Town to be fire proof for the purpose of containing the Title papers of the Corporation ...”

Once the archives were established, it was logical for Georgetown to store its own records, says Conway, who took over in 2000 after the death of longtime archivist Jon Reynolds (C’65).

First Real Archivist

“We actually know very little about the operation of the archives until 1898, when Francis A. Barnum, S.J., an alumnus, was appointed the Riggs Library Librarian,” she says.

After Barnum’s appointment, Conway says the Jesuit began gathering historical documents he found across campus in closets, attics and other places to keep them safe and make them accessible to researchers.

“The archives basically were stored in his own room on the first floor of Old North, but he quickly outgrew that space and moved elsewhere,” says Conway, the fourth archivist since 1946. “The archives then moved into Healy in 1908 and much later to Lauinger Library, which was built in 1970.”

Barnum, a linguist who spent the majority of the 1890s among Eskimos on a Jesuit mission in Alaska, officially served as served as Georgetown’s archivist from 1913 until his death in 1921.

A Hoyaopoly board game set up for play.

Interpreter and Promoter

He was the first, Conway says, to attempt a systematic organization of the records in the University Archives, and memoirs he wrote during his tenure are considered among the most vivid accounts of day-to-day life on Georgetown’s campus from his school days in the 1860s through the early 20th century.

No one knows the extent of the archives in its earliest years, but now the material in the Special Collections Division in Lauinger comprises 7,677 linear feet, Conway says.

“The position of university archivist has gone from simply being a collector and custodian of records to being an interpreter of and promoter of the use of the archives,” she explains. “While we still collect and we still take care of the records we collect, the true value of the archives is in the contributions they make to the university in terms of acting as the institutional memory in being a resource for teaching and scholarship.”

The archives staff collaborate with faculty to incorporate archival research into the curriculum and respond to about 1,000 queries each year, she said, in addition to located documents, verifying facts, proofing publications, captioning photographs and helping with research projects large and small.

DeGioia is appreciative of their efforts.

“On behalf of our entire community,” he said at last night’s celebration,” I cannot begin to express my deep gratitude to all of the women and men who have helped to protect and preserve this rich history over the course of two centuries.”