I wrote this piece for my school’s history internship blog, Retrieving the Past, about an internship I am completing with a historic preservation organization. You can read the original piece here, which includes photos. You can also visit my website about museum and public history internship opportunities here.
This summer, I volunteered with Save Our Seminary, which is a nonprofit organization in Forest Glen, MD that was formed to fight for the preservation and restoration of the historic National Park Seminary campus. National Park Seminary was a women’s secondary school that was known for its whimsical architecture. The school was a popular choice for the daughters of prominent Americans until the U.S. Army took over the campus to serve as a medical rehabilitation center for returning soldiers in World War II. By the 1990s, the buildings had fallen into disuse and disrepair.
Shocked by incidents of theft, water damage, dilapidation, and even arson, preservationists and local community members formed Save Our Seminary (SOS) to pressure the army to take better care of the property. After a long, hard-fought battle, they were able to arrange for a developer to restore the historic campus buildings and convert them into condominiums, apartments, and single-family homes. Today, SOS continues their preservation work by archiving the site’s history, providing educational programming, and preserving the site and its sculpture.
My internship has involved working in the SOS archive to help organize its collections so that they are easily accessible to researchers. My first project was sorting through an extensive collection of slides featuring pictures from the seminary’s extensive history. Some of the photos dated back to the 1890s and it was fascinating to see images of the campus in its glory days, with smiling young women in Gibson Girl shirtwaists with bouffants piled high posing for the camera with friends.
While the work of archiving – housing, dating, categorizing, and sorting into chronological order – can get tedious at times, I always treasure the intriguing glimpses into the past that often serve as a reminder that history was lived by people not so different from us. And even though the tasks we perform as interns can seem insignificant, each small task contributes to a larger cause: preserving the stories of the past to inspire the people of the future.
For more information on Save Our Seminary and the National Park Seminary, visit the organization’s website at http://www.saveourseminary.org/.