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While some of what we have here in the Cambridge Room relates to the more distant past, we also collect contemporary archival materials to support out mission to document the many facets of the culture and history of Cambridge. I’ve been processing a number of the more recent additions to the collection, and it’s been enlightening to learn more about what was happening in Cambridge during periods that I lived through and remember well in other contexts.

One of these collections is the Sheli Wortis papers. Now retired, Wortis had a long career as an early childhood educator and educational administrator with the Cambridge Public Schools. She was particularly involved in ensuring that diverse viewpoints were incorporated into the Schools’ curricula and programs through her work with the Multicultural Coordinating Committee and Early Childhood Connections. She has also been active in many local causes and groups, and her papers are a rich source of information on some of the progressive organizations that have flourished in Cambridge from the 1970s to the present.

One of these was the Working Committee for the Cambridge Rainbow, later known as Cambridge Rainbow. It began in late 1988 as a series of informal meetings – originally just called “the Saturday group on Cambridge politics” – among friends discussing concerns they had about the political and cultural direction of the city. It soon grew into a strong progressive political action committee that was a force in Cambridge politics for a number of years. The Rainbow’s concerns included affordable housing, racial justice, and human rights and it backed a number of candidates who gained election to the Cambridge City Council or School Committee from the late 1980s through the 1990s. Several of their candidates were elected mayor of Cambridge, and one, E. Denise Simmons, is still on the City Council today. You may recognize a number of the names from the 1989 slate on this flyer advertising a benefit dance party held at the Cambridge Community Center, including former mayors Alice Wolf and Kenneth Reeves, and former mayor and current City Councilor E. Denise Simmons.

Flyer for 1989 Dance Party to benefit the Working Committee for the Cambridge Rainbow

Flyer advertising an October 1989 dance party at the Cambridge Community Center to benefit the Working Committee for the Cambridge Rainbow and its slate of City Council candidates

We have one more Cambridge veteran represented by a small collection here in the Cambridge Room to tell you about before Veterans Day. Vernon Grant was born in Cambridge on February 14, 1935. His family lived for many years at 131 Putnam Avenue in Cambridgeport. He graduated from Rindge Technical School in 1952. He studied art at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston for one year before joining the U.S. Army. He served in the Army from 1958 to 1968, including two tours in Vietnam.

Grant did a great deal of illustration work for newspapers and the military publication Stars and Stripes, in addition to self-published work. Stationed in Japan for part of his military career, it was there that he was exposed to and developed a great appreciation for Japanese comics. After he was discharged from the Army he returned to Japan and studied at Sophia University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Betsy. He and Betsy moved back to Cambridge in 1973, where he authored and illustrated a number of graphic novels, including a series that forms a small collection in the Cambridge Room. This series is titled The Love Rangers, and the Cambridge Room has copies of four of the seven issues, including “The Plowshare Conspiracy” and “Behold…A Robot!” Grant died in Cambridge in 2006.

cover of The Love Rangers, vol. 1, no. 1

In a 2013 article about an exhibit focused on Grant that took place at the Kilbourn Public Library in Wisconsin, Betsy Grant said that The Love Rangers demonstrates the extent to which Grant was influenced by Japanese art styles and themes, such as manga. While this type of influence is common in American comics and cartooning today, Grant was considerably ahead of his time when he first began working. She also asserted that the head of the Love Rangers squad, Lt. Teebee, bears a close resemblance to Vernon Grant. (Betsy Grant maintains a site devoted to her late husband’s art, if you’re interested in learning and seeing more.)

A page from The Love Rangers, vol. 1, no. 3, "Behold...A Robot!"

While this is a wonderful little collection on its own, reading through the issues one finds a surprising demonstration of the value of the services we provide here in the Cambridge Room, when in number 3, “Behold…A Robot!” one of the characters discovers the power of family history and historical records. Given a journal the titular robot created from a bonsai tree that records her family’s experiences, low-ranking team member Noriko learns for the first time about her past, after which, according to the text, “Knowledge, Revelation, Curtains of the Past Are Opened! The Mysterious Mind Blocks Are Swept Aside. Feelings and Emotions, Long Suppressed, Erupt!” She is never the same again and ready to take on a more heroic role in the narrative. While not everyone’s experience in the Cambridge Room will be this dramatic, we are happy to help people connect to their past and know that it can cast one’s present experiences in a very different light.

As Veterans Day approaches, I wanted to call attention to a particularly appropriate collection here in the Cambridge Room – a small collection of papers and personal effects related to Salvatore Valente, a Cambridge resident who served in the United States Army and died in World War II. He is also the namesake of the Valente Branch of the Cambridge Public Library.

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Photograph of Salvatore Valente in uniform

Photograph of Private Salvatore Valente in uniform and a postcard he sent to his mother in June 1944 from basic training in Fort McClellan, Alabama

Salvatore Valente was born on March 11, 1926, in Cambridge, to Alessandro and Ines Valente, who had emigrated from Italy. He had 10 brothers and sisters and his family lived at 14 Marion Street in East Cambridge. He graduated from Wellington Grammar School in 1942 and attended Rindge Technical School for his secondary education. He left Rindge Tech in 1944 to join the United States Army and was sent to Germany in early 1945. He was killed in action in Germany on March 12, 1945, less than two months before V-E Day. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

In January 1961 the City of Cambridge adopted a motion put forward by Italian-American Councillor Alfred Vellucci to name the new branch of the Cambridge Public Library at the Charles Harrington School in honor of Valente and his family’s sacrifice. Named the “Salvatore Francis Valente Memorial Library,” the Branch is located only a few blocks from Valente’s childhood home. The Valente Branch celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011.

The Cambridge Room collection on Salvatore Valente includes a small number of items related to Valente and his connection to the branch of the Cambridge Public Library named in his honor. The collection includes his birth certificate, his Wellington Grammar School diploma, a postcard he sent to his mother from basic training in Fort McClellan, Alabama, a telegram from the Army’s Adjutant General informing his mother of his death, condolence letters and memorials sent to Valente’s family from various public officials, and two photographs. Items related to the Valente Branch Library include a copy of the City Council resolution naming the public library branch for Valente, invitations to anniversary events, and two newspaper clippings.

Looking to give your Halloween celebration a vintage feel this year? An article in the November 13, 1909, issue of the Cambridge Sentinel describes a few “frolicsome” games for Halloween party “hostesses” (as this article appears in the “Woman’s World” section of the paper it assumes a woman at the helm). Read on to learn more about “Pumpkin Vine,” competitive chestnut roasting, and tips for decorating to make your party the envy of your neighbors.
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From Cambridge Sentinel, November 13, 1909, issue, available through the Cambridge Room’s Historic Cambridge Newspapers collection

(And for even more vintage fun, you’ll may also be amused by some other concerns of this edition of “Woman’s World,” including the “imminent suffragette war,” solving your housecleaning problems, and advice on basting, sending marriage announcement cards, and pleasing a man.)

Those of you who know the Cambridge Room well will notice there’s someone new in the office (and behind the blog) these days. My name is Christine Di Bella, and I’m here temporarily filling in for the regular Cambridge Room archivist, Alyssa Pacy, who will be back in a few months. Alyssa left me an archives that’s in an amazingly well organized state and wonderfully detailed instructions so though I’ve only been on the job a few days I feel at home already.

While I’ve worked as an archivist for a number of years in a variety of academic and non-profit settings, and have even worked in Cambridge before, I’ve never before worked as an archivist devoted primarily to Cambridge history. But since one of the many things I’ve always really enjoyed about being an archivist is that it gives me a chance to explore so many different areas that I might not have naturally found on my own, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be here digging into the Cambridge Room’s wonderful collections, and even more excited to have already met and corresponded with a number of people needing help from our collections. Every question helps me learn more, and helps me help all of you in a better and more informed way. (And even though it won’t work for every question, I always love an excuse to delve more into our wonderful Historic Cambridge Newspapers Collection; inevitably I’ll come across something fun like the short article and illustration below.)

 

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From Cambridge Tribune, Volume XLV, Number 23, 5 August 1922, available through the Cambridge Room’s Historic Cambridge Newspapers collection

I don’t expect to know everything about Cambridge history by the time I leave here, but I’m really looking forward to knowing much more than I do now. Your questions will really help me reach that goal, and hopefully help you in the process. So please keep those questions coming! If you have suggestions for me of Cambridge-related resources that I should be sure to check out, please let me know in the comments here or by emailing me at cdibella@cambridgema.gov. (You can also stop by the Cambridge Room’s regular hours or call the regular Cambridge Room number too.) I look forward to hearing from you.

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Trip to Castle Island, 1915, from the East End Union Collection (023) , Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections.

Cambridge’s East End Union is one of the oldest settlement houses in the Boston area.  The East End Union, founded in 1875, promoted outdoor activities like Fresh Air Week where their members – most of whom were recent immigrants – could take a respite from city living and working to enjoy the country.  Picnics were held in Newton (then considered rural) as were outings to Castle Island in Boston.  The photo above features some of the East End Union’s younger members enjoying an afternoon at the beach.

The East End Union is now called the East End House and is still very active in Cambridge.

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A leaf from an Italian breviary manuscript, rubricated on both sides and dating from about 1450.  The 3 inch tall page has five rubricated initials.   

Miniature Book Exhibition

Exhibition Location: Entrance and 2nd Floor, Glass Building

The definition of a miniature book depends on who is asked.  In the United States, many collectors feel that a miniature book is usually considered to be one which is no more than three inches (7.5 cm) in height, width, or thickness.  Some aficionados collect slightly larger books while others specialize in even smaller sizes.  Outside of the United States, books up to four inches are considered miniature by many.  The Library of Congress determined a miniature book to be one smaller than 4 inches (10 cm) in spine height.

The books in this exhibit represent a variety of sizes.  From 4 inches to one of the smallest in the world at .0394 inches (1 mm).  All of the books on display are “real” books, with pages that turn and with text and images on the pages, or sample pages from real books.

The categories of miniature books are:

Macro-Mini (between 4 and 3 inches tall)
Miniature (between 3 and 2 inches tall)
Micro-Miniature (between 2 and 1 inches tall)
Ultra Micro-Mini (less than 1 inch tall)

This exhibition is on loan from Joseph Curran, former President of the Miniature Book Society of America, and is in honor of the 2014 Book Fair of the Miniature Book Society, which is free and open to the public on Sunday, August 17th from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Taj Boston Hotel.

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