Glimpses into life in the past at National Park Seminary historic district

This was originally posted on “Retrieving the Past”, the internship blog of the history department of University of Maryland Baltimore County, the third installment of a series of posts about my work with Save Our Seminary historic preservation advocacy nonprofit.

Possibly my favorite part of my collections internship with historic preservation nonprofit Save Our Seminary (SOS) was taking inventory of new acquisitions to the organization’s archives. One of SOS’s board members monitors sites like eBay for paraphernalia related to the school. I was surprised that there would be things sold online related to the school, but that speaks to the wide spread of the girls that attended the school. One yearbook I looked at listed girls from a huge variety of states, some even from overseas. It was rare for a student to actually be from the DC area. And like any college, the attendees had a lot of pride in their alma mater; National Park Seminary had an active alumni network even after the school closed in the 1940s.

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A 1920s school yearbook. The girls all sport stylish 1920s bobs and each girl
has a fun, congenial description of her personality written by the yearbook staff.
Another interesting note: The Yearbook was called “The Acorn” and you may be
able to see the squirrels drawn in on the blocks behind the women’s pictures.

Unfortunately, many of these alumna are passing away and their estates are being sold. The majority of the acquisitions I went through were from the collection of one particular woman who attended NPS in the early 1920s. Interestingly enough, my supervisor and I discovered through some archival detective work that this woman and her sister both went to National Park Seminary…and must have married two men who were brothers!

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A note from one student to another asking to meet at one of the sorority clubhouses.

It was amazing how much stuff these women kept: playbills, ticket stubs, notes from friends and faculty, postcards, letters. One thing I found particularly amusing were these short notes that I dubbed “early twentieth-century text messages.” Sometimes these were warning notes from school faculty regarding money owed or dorm rooms that needed to be cleaned. Other times they were notes from sorority sisters asking the girl to meet them at a certain place later that day. It was interesting to see how people communicated before email and text.

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A student scrapbook with playbills and other paper ephemera.

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I came across a few of these decorative name plates with colorful character. The triangle folds on the sides of the base make me wonder if they were used to assign seating at dinner events, perhaps for sorority events. See two more of these decorations below.

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I also had a chance to look at yearbooks, school catalogs sent out to advertise the college to potential students, and scrapbooks made by students of their time at the school. It was fascinating to see fashions and hairstyles change over the years but also to get a sense of what it was like to be a student at NPS. Since I scrapbooked my own college experience, it was interesting to see the change and continuity between scrapbooks (and college life) in the early twentieth century and today. In fact, I decided to use the scrapbook collection as the source base for my senior thesis. All in all, after spending so much of my internship focusing on the buildings of the school, it was enlightening to get a glimpse on the lives that were lived within those buildings.

 

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Life lived in buildings: This field hockey team took this photo in front of the stone arches above, which I passed by every day I worked at my internship. I found this photo interesting because school sports teams still take photos like this. 

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