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New Exhibit: 1000 Books to Read Before You Die – Selections from the Elizabeth A. Stallings Collection

August 22, 2022

James Mustich, author of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die, provides a life-changing list of books you must read. The book is organized alphabetically by author and gives a excerpt about the recommended titles. Goodreads describes it as “not a proscriptive list of the “great works”—rather, it’s a celebration of the glorious mosaic that is our literary heritage.”

Elizabeth A. Stallings, a retired federal librarian, donated over 200 books from her collection to the L. Douglas Wilder Library in 2020. Her book plate reads “Librarian and life-long lover of books.” The books in her collection were part of The Heritage Club series. The Heritage Press edition of these titles came with a slipcase and laid-in Sandglass brochure.

The exhibit, located in the lobby of the L. Douglas Wilder Library, provides a selection of books from the list of 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. Which ones have you read? Check out these titles from our circulating collection: 1000 books to read before you die – L. Douglas Wilder Library (in Call Number order).

Some of the titles in our exhibit include the Classics, such as The Tragedies by William Shakespeare and adventure books, such as Gulliver’s Travels. Other books come from Greek history, British, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, and American literature. A few of these titles displayed include Oedipus, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Anna Karenina, Brothers Karamazov, and Les Miserables. The exhibit will be on display through December 2022.

We invite you to visit the library and explore our exhibits and collections. For research inquiries, email the Archives & Special Collections Department at


The Sheet Music Collection:

February 21, 2022

The Oldest Pieces 

The Archives & Special Collections Department has a fantastic sheet music collection.  The collection consists of 19th and 20th-century music across all genres. In keeping with the department’s focus on African American life, jazz, blues, rags, and spirituals are a good portion of the collection.  The collection also shows another side of African American life.  This other side was “”coon songs” whose vernacular and illustrations negatively stereotype African Americans.”[1]

The printing of sheet music for “popular” music exploded in the 19th century.  “Sheet music, which can be quickly produced in response to an event or a trend, is an excellent window into the popular attitudes of the day.”[2]  The oldest pieces in our collection are from the year 1844.  For the most part, they reflect the biggest trend of the day which was the explosion of large-scale blackface minstrel shows in the Northern cities of the United States.  Each of the pieces that are discussed shows different aspects of minstrels shows and of what was popular at the time.

“The Jolly Raftsman” has words by Andrew Evans and was published by Keiths Music Publishing house in Boston.  What might be the most interesting about this piece is the misspelling of the title right at the top of the music: “The Jolly Rafstman.”  This misspelling is not unique to our copy, it is the same on the copy at Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries & University Museums Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection (  “The Jolly Raftsman” does include words in the vernacular like “Virginny” for “Virginia” and “de” for “the” and the n-word; the message is quite different.  It is a take on love and freedom and getting to the North for a slave. 

I’ll bid good by to ole Virginia,

                I now will take my last farewell;

                And if I marry you my dearest Dine,

                We will in peace and happiness dwell.[3]

The song is an “imagining the road from bondage to freedom as a simple transplantation of slave customs to a northern urban setting.”[4]

The second piece of sheet music from 1844 “Miss Lucy Neale of the Yellow Gal” is a completely different view of slavery.  This song focuses on the cruelty.  “Although minstrel Troupes varied the details, the song always focused on happy black lovers being cruelly torn apart.[5]  The lyrics on the library’s version show the cruelty and heartbreak:

                My Massa he did sell me,

                Because he thought I’d steal,

                Which caused a separation,

                Of myself and Lucy Neale.

                Oh! poor Miss Lucy[6]

While most minstrel shows during this time showed an “ambivalence” towards slavery, the shows were “focused on oppressed common people and especially on broken families, minstrelsy’s criticism of slavery had the perfect appeal to mid-nineteenth-century American audiences.”[7]  This would change in the 1850s when the politics of slavery became everyday news, and the country was on the path to the Civil War.

The last piece of sheet music is not just one piece but a collection of the most popular songs of 1843.  This collection consists of seven songs.  Some are the standard minstrel songs and others come from other parts of the theater.  The cover song is one of the most famous minstrel songs of the period, “Dandy Jim of Caroline.”  The Dandy Jim was a common trope at the time.  “A dandy is a fashion trendsetter who places a high degree of importance on physical appearance, always staying fashionable, well-groomed, and elegantly dressed.”[8]  While this definition fits a certain set of young white men in 19th century New York, it was used as a way to degrade African American men and appeal to the white working-class audiences in New York.  “It was ludicrous and hilarious to see a person of perceived lower social standing donning fashionable attire and “putting on airs.””[9]

“Then You’ll Remember Me” is on the next page of the collection.  This song is a ballad from the opera “The Bohemian Girl.” It is the first song from act three and is also known as “When other lips.”  The Bohemian Girl” was “the only 19th-century British opera to gain widespread international recognition”[10] after its debut in 1843.  The opera came to the United States in 1844 and was performed in Philadelphia and New York. To listen to this song, visit the Library of Congress National Jukebox. (

“Boatman’s Dance” was performed by the Virginia Minstrels and the song is often attributed to Dan Emmett who was a member of the Virginia Minstrels.  The Virginia Minstrels came together in 1842-43 and then their show became very popular, and they were able to begin touring.[11] This song was “one of the most performed songs of the mid-1840s.”[12]  Like most minstrel songs the lyrics reenforce the stereotypes of African Americans.

                When de boatman blows his horn

                Look out ole man your hog is gone,

                He stole my sheep, he stole my shoat,

                Chuck em in a bag and tote em to de boat.

                Dance, de boatman,[13]

The song was reworked in the 1950s by American composer Aaron Copland as part of his “Old American Songs, Set 1.” The reworking made the song more of a traditional American folk song. “Copland reworked the text so as to remove the racial connotations”[14]  You can listen to this version here,

Two songs in this collection do not have any lyrics and are composed for piano.  The first is “The Chameleon.”  The library’s copy does not have an author listed, but the Library of Congress’ has the author as Samuel Lover on its copy.[15] Samuel Lover was an Irish author and composer among many artistic endeavors.[16]  The second song is “The Ball-Room March.”  The library’s copy’s only information about the author is printed “By Burgmüller.”  This could possibly be Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller also known as Friedrich Burgmüller.  He was a German-born composer who was living in Paris during this time.[17]  Maybe one of our readers will let us know if the library’s piece is by this Burgmüller.

The last song of this collection is “Old Dan Tucker. A Celebrated Banjo Song.”  This is a return in this collection to the minstrel songs with vernacular.  This is another of the songs that were popular for the Virginia Minstrels. The idea of the “plantation trickster” is brought forth in the lyrics of this song that Eric Lott cites:

Tucker is a nice old man,

                He use’d to ride our darby ram,

                He sent him whizzing down de hill,

                If he had’nt got up he’d laid dar still.[18]

The library’s copy is much more about a man who fights and plays the banjo.  But whichever version of the song lyrics is presented it still had a “contribution to the racist ideology.”[19]

                Ole Dan and I we did fall out,

                And what you tink it was about,

                He tread on my corn, I kick him on de shin,

                And dat’s de way dis row begin,

                So get out de way,[20]

The oldest pieces in our collection show the growing influence of minstrelsy in American life.  While other music was performed, there was no denying that white audiences in the North were now expecting to see performers in blackface.  “The birth of the minstrel show was truly a watershed moment, not to be understated.”[21]

If you are interested in exploring the library’s sheet music collection, please contact the Archives and Special Collections Department at or call 804-278-4117.

[1] L. Douglas Wilder Library Archives & Special Collections Department. 2022. Virginia Union University Archives & Special Collections: Special Collections. January 14. Accessed February 11, 2022.

[2] Brown University Library Center for Digital Scholarship. n.d. African American Sheet Music: History & Context: A Century of African American Music: A Slideshow. Accessed February 4, 2022.

[3] Evans, Andrew. 1844. The Jolly Rafstman [Musical Score]. Boston: Keiths Music Publishing House.

[4] Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press.

[5] Toll, Robert C. 1974. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. New York : Oxford University Press.

[6] Porter, James W. (arranger). 1844. Miss Lucy Neale or the Yellow Gal: A Celebrated Ethiopiam Melody. Philadelphia: George Willig.

[7] Toll, Robert C. 1974. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. New York : Oxford University Press.

[8] Miner, Blake. 2021. What is a Dandy? A Brief History and 101 Guide. August 21. Accessed February 11, 2022.

[9] Talbott, Tim. 2013. Random Thoughts on History: Dandy Jim, From Caroline. July 9. Accessed January 28, 2022.

[10] Burton, Nigel. 1992. Bohemian Girl, The. Vol. 1, in he New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie, 521-22. u.a.: Macmillan.

[11] Cockrell, Dale. 1997. Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[12] Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press.

[13] 1844. Boatman’s Dance. A Popular Song.

[14] Library of Congress. n.d. The Boatmen’s Dance and Simple Gifts. Accessed February 13, 2022.

[15] Lover, Sameul. 1847. The chameleon, or, I scarce know how. New York: Firth and Hall. Accessed February 13, 2022.

[16] Bernard, William Bayle. 1874. The life of Samuel Lover, R.H.A., artistic, literary, and musical, with selections from his unpublished papers and correspondence. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Accessed February 13, 2022.

[17] 2022. Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller. January 1. Accessed February 13, 2022.

[18] Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press.

[19] Ibid.

[20] 1844. Old Dan Tucker. A Celebrated Banjo Song.

[21] Cockrell, Dale. 1997. Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Delver Woman’s Club, Richmond, Virginia Collection: New Finding Aid Available

December 2, 2021

“We must Delve for knowledge,” was the motto of the Delver Literary Club, from which the Delver Literary Club’s name was derived. Originally formed in 1917 in Richmond, Virginia, by a study group of Black college women, the Delver Literary Club studied and developed their interests in world literature, religions of the world, art, and music appreciation. Upon dissolution of the Literary Club, a group of women assembled by Mrs. Blanche Coles Case to form the Delver Women’s Club in 1945.1 

1931 Program, Delver Literary Club, first annual Tumbohkaynah, a contest stunt revue with music, comedy, song and dance. VUU Archives Vertical File

 Blanche V. Coles Case, a member of the Delver Literary Club, a VUU graduate, and daughter of missionaries Rev. and Mrs. John J. Coles, was the sister of Mrs. Elizabeth Coles Bouey,2 a former founding member of the Delver Literary Club.1

 Their mother was Lucy Ann Henry Coles, who briefly attended Hartshorn Memorial College and was among the first Black women missionaries in Africa.3 Mrs. Blanche Coles Case served as president of the Delver Woman’s Club for 15 years, taught science for 40 years in Richmond Public Schools, served as a Girl Scout Leader for 30 years with the Girl Scouts of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and was a member and held positions in many other organizations.4

The purpose of the Delver Woman’s Club was to “include all women interested in the civic and cultural betterment of the Richmond area community.”5 The organization consists of Interest groups were developed to engage women in activities they liked: Art, Drama, Economics, International Relations, Music, Social and Civic Affairs, and Youth Conservation. The motto of the Delver Woman’s Club is “Lifting as We Climb.”6 

Original members of the Social Welfare Interest Group, 1947, Delver Woman’s Club Collection, VUU Archives & Special Collections
Annual Dinner Meeting, Martin E. Gray Hall, Virginia Union University, ca. 1950’s,
Delver Woman’s Club Collection, VUU Archives & Special Collections

So, what’s in the collection, you ask?  

The collection provides information on the history of the organization, committees, constitution and bylaws, programs, and Foundation. The bulk of the collection spans from 1960-2019 and consists of meeting agendas, minutes, membership rolls and directories, correspondence biographies, and obituaries. Other records include anniversary year books, newsletters, news clippings, meeting and program schedules, and program records such as the Annual Luncheon and Dinner meeting, Annual Prayer Breakfast, Miss Future Delver and Vesper Service. Highlighting the accomplishments of the organization are photographs, certificates, plaques, and a 50th anniversary scrapbook.7 

Delver Woman’s Club 50th Anniversary Scrapbook, Delver Woman’s Club Collection, VUU Archives & Special Collections

The Delver Woman’s Club has made great accomplishments over the years in providing community service and uplifting the community. For instance, Miss Future Delver is a contest sponsored annually to fund scholarships and awards for young women graduating from high school.8

The organization sponsored scholarships since its beginning, but the first Miss Future Delver contest was held in 1968. The Delver Woman’s Club “contributed to education through donations to the United Negro College Fund, Virginia Union University, and financial assistance to students.”9 It is amazing what contributions and impact this organization has made to the Richmond community.  

There is so much more to learn about what all the interest groups have done, and all the amazing members and individuals involved in this organization. The finding aid for the Delver Woman’s Club Collection is available through the Archives & Special Collections webpage at the L. Douglas Wilder Library, Virginia Union University. To learn more about collections available in the VUU Archives & Special Collections, visit; Email us or follow us on twitter @VUULibrary. Collections can also be search using Virginia Heritage Database.


1. Delver Woman’s Club Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Committee. The First Twenty-Five Years: Delver Woman’s Club, Richmond Virginia, 1945-1970. Richmond, VA: 1970,  p.11. 

2. “Mrs. E. C. Bouey Dies in Richmond” Pittsburgh Courier (February 16, 1957): 17. via 

3. Bettye Collier-Thomas. Jesus, Jobs, and Justice: African American Women and Religion. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 220–221. ISBN 978-0-307-59305-4

4. Delver Woman’s Club, The First Twenty-Five Years, p. 11. 

5. Ibid. 

6. “Home,” Delver Woman’s Club. Accessed November 30, 2021, 

7. “MS-0027 Delver Woman’s Club Collection,” VUU Archives & Special Collections, L. Douglas Wilder Library, Virginia Union University, accessed November 29, 2021, 

8. Delver Woman’s Club, The First Twenty-Five Years, p.14. 

9. Delver Woman’s Club, Reflections of Elegance, Miss Future Delver Project, 2002 Program Booklet. Richmond, VA: 2002. 

L. Douglas Wilder Collection at Virginia Union University

November 26, 2018


The Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, humanitarian, civil rights leader and the first elected African-American governor (1990-1994) in the nation, is one of Virginia Union University’s most celebrated alumni.  He was the first Black legislator to serve in the Virginia State Senate since Reconstruction (1969-1986), and the first Black lieutenant governor of Virginia (1986-1990).

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder

The Honorable L. Douglas Wilder

Lawrence Douglas Wilder was born to Robert and Beulah Wilder on January 17, 1931 in Richmond, Virginia.  The grandson of slaves, he was named after abolitionist-orator Frederick Douglass and the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  He grew up in the Church Hill district of Richmond long with six sisters and a brother. In 1951, Lawrence Douglas Wilder graduated from Virginia Union University with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.  He then entered the Army, earning a bronze star in Korea for demonstrating heroism in ground combat. Upon returning to Virginia, he decided to study law after working as a chemist for the state medical examiner’s office for a while. In order to study law, he had to leave the state of Virginia because Virginia law schools did not admit blacks. In 1959, he graduated from Howard University school of Law in Washington, DC with a Juris Doctor degree.  After passing the bar exam, he established the law firm, Wilder, Gregory, and Associates – one of the few minority owned businesses at the time.

In 1969, Wilder entered politics running for a vacated state Senate seat in Richmond.  He won the seat becoming the first African-American state senator in Virginia since Reconstruction.  As Senator, he chaired several committees and successfully sponsored Virginia’s first drug paraphernalia law and compulsory school attendance law.   In 1985, Wilder made history again by being elected Virginia’s first African-American Lieutenant Governor.

On January 13, 1990, he was sworn in as the first elected African-American Governor in U.S. History. As Governor, he led anti-crime initiatives including one-gun-per-month handgun purchase limit laws, passage by the General Assembly of the largest general obligation bonds package in Virginia history of $613 million in bonds supporting building projects and capital improvements at Virginia’s colleges and universities, and was recognized nationally for his leadership in fiscal management, with Virginia ranked by Financial World magazine s the nation’s best-managed state, two years in a row.  Governor Wilder served as Mayor of the city of Richmond, Virginia from 2005 to 2009, in addition to lecturing on the national circuit and serving as a Distinguished Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s  L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center Dedication, February 14, 1997, Photo by Doug Buerlein

The L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center, named in honor of former Governor Wilder, opened in January 1997 on the campus of Virginia Union University. The library houses the office and collection of the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder.

The library currently houses his awards and historic memorabilia in a spectacular showcase setting which is a very popular national and international attraction.  The permanent exhibit of framed photographs, awards, and memorabilia on display documents his inaugurations, travel to Africa meeting with African leaders, his family, civil rights leaders, and speaking at institutions of higher education.  The exhibit also includes his military service in Korea and the Award of the Bronze Star, his visits with heads of state, and renowned celebrities and friends.

Virginia Union University has maintained the L. Douglas Wilder Collection since 1990 when donated by L. Douglas Wilder.  The collection covers Governor Wilder’s civic, military and political career from the late 1950’s through 2009.  The personal papers of L. Douglas Wilder of materials from his life and career as Virginia Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and Mayor of the City of Richmond.  The collection also includes correspondence, reports, speeches, campaign documents, schedules, radio program notes, magazine articles and news clippings, photographs, plaques, trophies, framed documents, honorary degrees, drawings, recordings, memorabilia, and other manuscripts.

The Press Office Photo Collection of the L. Douglas Wilder collection contains the photo record of his activities as Governor, including special occasions like his inauguration, visits from foreign dignitaries and even the Arthur Ashe funeral and his lying in state at the Executive Mansion. These negatives and photos span the years Governor Wilder was in office 1989-1994. The collection contains over 1,500 rolls of film.

The video tapes of the L. Douglas Wilder collection primarily span the years 1983-2001. They include the gubernatorial debates between Wilder and Marshall Coleman, political advertisements, public service announcements, Wilder’s inauguration ceremony, the State of the Commonwealth addresses, and Wilder interviews on national news shows such as World News Tonight, Nightline, C Span, Sunday Morning and the Today Show. The collection contains over 370 video tapes.

Wilder Radio Show_WRVA

Governor Wilder at WRVA, Rich Piermarini, Photographer for Governor Wilder, L. Douglas Wilder Collection

The audio cassette tapes of the L. Douglas Wilder collection contains over 300 entries and span the years 1995-2001. The recordings are primarily of Wilder’s popular WRVA radio talk show. Other tapes include public service announcements, campaign ads, press conferences and national news interviews Wilder had with such news organizations as CNN, BBC and CBS, public service announcement, campaign ads, and press conferences.

Approximately 200 linear feet of the collection has been processed. Processing of the full collection is expected to be completed by Summer 2019. For more information on the L. Douglas Wilder Collection visit or contact the Archivist between 9:00 am – 5:00 pm weekdays at (804) 278-4117 or


Guide to the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center, Virginia Union University.

Ingram, Handsel. G., Tillerson, Thomas M., Walker, Mary C. & Myers, Lavonda E. Guide to The L. Douglas Wilder Collection. Special Collections and Archives Department, William J. Clark Library, Virginia Union University, May 1992.

Wilder, L. Douglas. Son of Virginia: A Life in America’s Political Arena. Guildford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2015.


Beyond Maggie Walker: 6 Other Richmond Women from the Turn of the Century

February 12, 2018

While Maggie Walker is worthy of praise and admiration, many other women had great effects on late 1800s/early 1900s Richmond  who are often overlooked. Here are just 5 examples of women we hope to focus more closely on in the future.


1. Ora E. Brown Stokes


Ora E. Brown was born in Chester, VA and grew up in Fredericksburg, the daughter of Rev. James E. Brown, most commonly known as Booker T. Washington’s first Sunday School Teacher. He passed his love of learning onto his daughter. During her lifetime she held the scholastic records at every institution she attended, graduating from Fredericksburg Public High School at the age of 13. She was sent on scholarship to the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institution at Petersburg (now Virginia State University) which she graduated from at the age of 16. After graduation she became a teacher, one of the few professions open to her at the time.

She married Rev. W. H. Stokes who became the pastor of Richmond’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. As the First Lady of Ebenezer Baptist Church she was integral in starting numerous initiatives and organizations including the Richmond Neighborhood Association, a social work organization that had a Girl’s Home, an Orphanage and put her in a position to become a Probation Officer for the Court. She was a member of numerous boards including being a trustee of Hartshorn Memorial College.


2. Dr. Addie Beatrice Gatewood Williams


Addie Williams attended school in Richmond before, like Ora Stokes, studying at the predecessor of Virginia State University. She also went on to get a special diploma from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University and in 1921 received a D. D. S. from Howard University. She worked as both a stenographer at publishing house and then as teacher and supervisor for the Richmond Public Schools.

She was a life long learner taking Latin and Spanish courses, music classes, and Science classes. She is said to be the first female dentist in Virginia.

3. Lizzie Lunsford Fentress Stanard


     Lizzie Stanard attended Richmond public schools and then went on to Hartshorn Memorial College.

     She was very musical, being the organist for the St. Phillips Protestant Episcopal Church for over 25 years.

She was the Grand Worthy Secretary of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers as well as the president of the Richmond Chapter of the NAACP.


4. Josephine Turpin Washington


     Josephine Turpin was born in Goochland but her parents moved to Richmond soon after her birth. She attended Richmond Public Schools and then attended Richmond Theological Institute which for a short term before the establishment of Hartshorn accepted a few female students. She also worked as an assistant teacher while taking classes. However, since she was teaching she missed some classes she needed to graduate and instead of taking an exam instead she decided to transfer to Howard University.

     While at Howard she worked as a copyist for Frederick Douglass. She went on to become a journalist and poet.

5. Lucy Ann Henry Coles
6. Harriette Estelle
Harris Pressley  



Lucy Coles moved to Richmond at the age of 10 and entered the public schools. She attended Hartshorn Memorial College for a short time before marrying Rev. J. J. Coles. She left with Coles, as well as the Colleys and the Pressleys (see below) as missionaries to Africa where she taught school.

Harriette, or Hattie as she was called, was born in Buckingham County, VA but moved to Richmond with an aunt when young. She attended Richmond Public Schools and like Josephine Turpin Washington, attended Richmond Theological Institute as a student/teacher.

She married fellow student Rev. James Henry Pressley and soon after the couple sailed to Africa to be missionaries. Her husband became gravely sick soon after their arrival as did their newborn daughter. In letters from their fellow missionary, W. W. Colley, back to Charles Corey, then President of Richmond Institute, Colley talks of James Henry Pressley’s sickness

All the missionaries stand the acclimation better than Bros Presley; the Fever effected his liver and this so feighten [frightened?] him that he has been deranged completely for nearly two months. He talks of nothing but “home” – he does not and has not known me for nearly two months. He knows me by a new name and as his “best friend…He is now as helpless as a baby.

Another member of the party, J. J. Coles added , “He sometimes knows not his own wife, she too is helpless, he has but little or no control of his mind.” The infant girl did not survive and Hattie Pressley herself soon succumbed to the illness as well, dying “like a hero in the heat of battle”.

This of course is only the smallest sampling of the remarkable women who made up Richmond at the time. Make sure to keep an eye out for future posts to learn more.

Alum Spotlight – Sterling Gardner: “A feather in the Richmond cap!”

November 6, 2017

The timeline and early locations of what would become Virginia Union University are tricky, especially give the fact that Union started as four different institutions. But before there was a Virginia Union University there was Richmond Theological Seminary residing in the old United States Hotel, and before that there was a Colver Institute renting the land that was once Lumpkin’s Jail, and even before that for two years the campus-less Richmond Theological School for Freedmen sought to educate those who wished to become preachers.

Sometime in these early years, right after the Civil War, Sterling Gardner became a student of Colver Institute. As is unfortunately the case for many of these men and women, we know little of his early life besides the fact that he had been a slave in the household of Judge William Gibson of Augusta, Georgia.


Judge William Gibson

How he came to be in the household is unclear but it very likely he was born a slave since the very name “Sterling Gardner” was a family name from Gibson’s mother’s family; the first Sterling Gardner being a Revolutionary War soldier. We do know from his own account that he was baptized at the Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, one of the oldest Black congregations in the United States.

We also don’t know what Gardner might have been doing during the Civil War, though he would have only been a young boy at the time. Gibson, however, became a Colonel in the Confederate Army.

Gardner enters our historical record at Virginia Union University’s Archive and Special Collections as a 14 or 15 year old boy writing letters to Richmond Theological Seminary President Charles Corey. Corey recalls him as being on the “earliest and most successful students” and he seems to have established a special bond with his professor/president. Certainly Corey thought he was providing Gardner with the chance for future advancements by helping him get financial help to attend Madison (now Colgate University) in Hamilton, New York.

But Gardner comes to us most clearly through those letters. Already as a young boy he had made the move from Augusta, GA to study at Richmond and his homesickness shines through. One remains from Gardner’s time in Richmond, writing to Corey who had taken a trip to New England. He tells Corey of the summer jobs he and his fellow pupils have taken. He has tried to find students to tutor while some of his friends are working in a tobacco factory or selling books.


Madison (Now Colgate) University

His letters written from New York to Richmond the following year show a studious sixteen year old trying to make his way in the world. He did not have a very high opinion of his fellow classmates, demeaning them frivolous. In May of 1870 he wrote to Corey,

Things are very loose. There is no rule to govern the students. they go out or come in when they please. They stamp and hollorr [holler] in the hall at night, and also out in the yard. They just have their own fun…If I do not be very careful I will have the worst kinds of habits. Is it this way in all Colleges?

Not only the students, but the buildings of the institution left something to be desired in Gardner’s mind,

The hallways, in which the students sweep the trash out of their rooms, are swept out only once a week.
Old papers, hats, boots or shoes, collars, and other things are thrown from the windows, and remain around the building.

He also echos the worries of college students through the ages, wondering if he has enough money to make it through the semester. A statement that prompts Corey to send him a draft for ten dollars.

Despite this, Gardner was succeeding scholastically and winning numerous awards. The corresponding secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society wrote Corey to say “The case of Gardner is a feather in the Richmond cap!”. It must have been a lot of pressure for one student to have, one of the first to graduate this new school and prove to more established institutions that his education was sufficient. And it was not without push back, especially as he started to win accolades for his intelligence.

In a letter from March 1871, Gardner tells Corey he suspects that an award, rightfully his, was discontinued, solely because it was he, a black former slave, who had won it.

I have thought that the class wished to abolish the honors because I was in it and I have told some, in a way to avoid an appearance of pride, that I thought thus, but they deny that was the thing which moved them and they think that no one was moved by such a motive. There is no outward appearance of such a thing just now, but I am afraid that it is in some. Some of the other classes speak of doing the same thing, but my class was the first. The reason why they do it is, to promote the good feeling and friendship of the classmates, so that when we graduate we will not despise one another on account of honors, as it usually is…
I have not had an opportunity of ascertaining my standing from the professor’s since I rec’d your letter, but some of the class members say that I stood a chance for the valedict[orian]. I stand among the best scholars in everything, except speaking.

Gardner did graduate with “several prizes…[and] high honors” and paved the way for other early students, Joseph Edom Jones and David Nathaniel Vassar to attend Madison as well.

Gardner returned to Richmond and from 1872-1876 taught at what was by then the Richmond Theological Seminary. But back in his home church, Springfield Baptist


William J. White

Church in Augusta, GA, his friend, William J. White, had helped co-found the Augusta Institute, a fore bearer of Morehouse College in 1867 and both he and school president Joseph T. Robert urged Gardner to come back home and teach there.

Both schools were under the auspices of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and the board agreed to let Gardner transfer, with Jones replacing Gardner in Richmond, but they were not happy with the salary amount that Corey and Robert had proposed for their new professors. Corresponding secretary, S. S. Cutting wrote,

The Committee were unanimous in the opinion that the salary paid to Gardner was too large as also that asked for Jones. We wish to do what is just and right in the matter, and therefore ask you to reconsider the amount of salary you wish Jones to have and see if the sum cannot be considerably reduced. There are scores of white men who would be glad to teach for a much less sum, and who have had many years of experience. Why should [Illegible], Gardner, & Jones be paid a larger salary than our other white assistants. If it is because they are educated colored men, then certainly we are making unwise discrimination between the white and the blacks.

It is unclear whether Gardner and Jones got the salary amount requested. Unfortunately for Gardner it wasn’t to be a concern for long. In December of 1877, at only 23 years old, Gardner died of “consumption” and “heart disease”. The letters written to Corey, informing him of Gardner’s death says “he was so highly esteemed & loved in the Institute” and makes not that at his funeral “Judge Gibson, his former owner was also there & seemed much affected”. Gardner was exalted by President Roberts as “a most excellent Christian Scholar of great promise.” He was laid to rest in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Augusta. He was survived by his mother and at least one brother.

Judge Gibson may have been widely known and respected in his time, but Gardner soon became so as well, and at a much faster pace for much more admirable reasons. In just 23 short years of life, Gardner helped set up two HBCUs that still stand today – Virginia Union University and Morehouse College.


Ghosts of Readers Past

October 17, 2017

All libraries are full of ghosts. Especially those with special collections and archives. People have left their marks everywhere. Archives are really nothing more than a collection of ghosts, curated for your enjoyment and research, pieces of their souls they’ve left behind to be stored in record center carton prisons.

But the ghosts in special collections are different, they are more elusive. Who were these ghosts of readers past? Why did they read this book? Did they like this book? Was it bought by them or for them? Did it help them in any way? Such thoughts go through my mind when I open the worn covers and see the notes, the names, the doodles. So on this spooky October day I’d like to share some of the Virginia Union University Special Collection’s Ghosts of Reader’s Past.

According to the archives at King’s College Cambridge, “The earliest known examples of printed bookplates are German, and date from the 15th century.” As early as the 19th century they became a collector’s item because of their many beautiful designs and motifs. However they are more then just decorative, they are of course utilitarian.



Some were simple, just recording the owner’s name – other’s had room for some more information. W. E. C. Rich, a Boston school administer, had his bookplates made with room for him to add the price he paid and when he bought it.




Still others made sure to warn anyone borrowing their books that they expected to get them back in one piece. The bookplate of Rev. William A. Lilley below admonishes borrowers to take care of the book as if it were an extension of Lilley himself.



Z. F. Griffin’s (short for Zebina Flavious) bookplate however seems to imply that he 20160825_081518.jpgwouldn’t dare let anyone borrow his books which makes one wonder how it left his side and became part of our collections. A somber looking missionary in his photographs, he hardly looks like one to let you joyfully cart off his books.


My favorite, however, are the pictorial ones. I’d like to imagine that the readers chose images that they could relate to and between the pictures and the books that they chose to claim as their own we might be able to determine a little more about these people.

For instance, it seems fitting that Deborah Dunn Chapman (lower left) has a simple picture of a horse on the coast. Her father was a farmer and timber seller and she lived in Maine surrounded by similar scenery. Her father’s business card has a similar simple beauty.scan0158

Whereas the bookplate of Mabel Wood Cheek (lower right) is very ornate and seems to make a lot of sense when you see where she lived.


Cheekwood, the home of Mabel Wood Cheek in Nashville, TN

Virginia Union has had many different bookplates for its library books over the years as well. Below are just a few.

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A Puzzle in Parian.

September 21, 2017

Wednesday, October 4th is #AskAnArchivist Day on Twitter. Each year archivists use this hashtag to answer questions about their collections or about the work that an archivist does.  Last year we posed a question of our own…


This lovely gentlemen has been part of the library for as long as anyone can remember. Once he was probably part of a collection of busts that were housed in early reincarnations of the library. This early picture of the Virginia Union University library circa 1908.


It was quite a fashionable thing to do at the time. To fill your place of learning with the busts of high-learned men. The Library of Virginia (then situated in Capitol Square) had a similar set-up at the time.


Courtesy of the Library of Virginia

Only a few books from the early days of Virginia Union University still exist and it would seem that only one of the many busts remain as well.

The one that remains currently sits in the Archives stacks, unseen by many but if one is working back there he stares at you for hours at end. Archival work can sometimes be a lonely business, sitting in the back, working through papers in generally what is a windowless and cold room (so light and humidity don’t harm the papers) so I became very attached to our busty friends in the back room. And yet sad that I did not know this one’s name. Luckily there were clues to lead the way, a maker’s mark on the piece informed us that the bust was made by a British company, Copeland, around the mid to late 1800s. Copeland made many busts and small statues during that time period. Allegorical figures, members of royalty, and even some popular celebrities such as the singer Jenny Lind (see below). Have a post of your favorite movie star in your room now? Maybe then you would have had a bust of your favorite opera singer.



These busts were called “Parian busts” after the material they were made out of. Parian ware is a type of porcelain that looks like marble, allowing middle class people to decorate their houses and institutions with imitation pieces that looked reminiscent of expensive marble statuary. Copeland mass produced popular busts and figurines making them both accessible and popular.

But despite finding this information on the internet and looking through pages of pages pictures of Copeland Parian Busts, I could not find our staring friend. His draped clothing seemed to suggest a Roman or Grecian figure but we soon learned that this was part of the look of these busts. Many of the “modern day figures”, meaning those of the late 1800s were styled in a manner that evoked the great Greek and Roman philosophers. Might it have been made specifically to honor a specific patron of the university? If that was the case I lost all hope of figuring it out after it failed to look like any of the pictures of the early Board of Trustee members.


But there is this wonderful thing called ILL. What is ILL? ILL stands for Inter-Library Loan. Just as your library has an agreement with you that allows you to borrow items, libraries have agreements with other libraries. If there is a book you want and we don’t have it at Virginia Union University, let a librarian know because another library might be able to let us borrow it.

We were able to use ILL to borrow a book from Washington and Lee University, a catalog of Copeland statuary and busts. And there finally, staring back up at me (always staring), was his face…

Whose face? Who did the early administration of Virginia Union University believe was important enough to display a bust of?

Daniel Webster.

If you are a little rusty on your early American History, Webster was a member of both the House and Senate, held numerous government positions, and (unsuccessfully) ran for president three times. Although in the beginning of his political career Webster spoke out about slavery. However, after about 30 years into this political career, in an attempt

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A copy of Webster’s speeches from VUU’s Special Collections

to forestall the Civil War, Webster signed on to the omnibus bill which came to be known as “The Compromise of 1850” which included such legislation as the tougher enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. His constituents in Massachusetts were appalled and forced him to resign, though later he served a second term as Secretary of State.

So how might the students of Virginia Union University felt about seeing his face every day?

While we will never know for sure, we definitely know they were cognizant of who he was. Although students tended to focus their essays on more prominent abolitionists such as Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner and Frederick Douglass or on theological issues, Webster pops up every now and then.


One of several monuments to Webster

In his essay “Representative Men”, Richmond Institute (a forerunner to VUU) student, Roger M. Harrison listed Webster, along with Lincoln, Washington, and Garfield as men representative of the American character. Another student, Alfred Chisholm, in his essay “The Men We Need”, cites Webster as one of the great orators whose produced “great works on language”.

It wasn’t all glowing praise though, John W. Jackson mentions Webster in his essay on Charles Sumner only to point out that Sumner, being far greater than Webster, will have no need of a huge monument to make sure people will remember him such as Webster has.

I, for one, am glad to have a name for my working buddy. But what do you think? Do you think its a good likeness?



They got the creepy staring, that’s for sure.

If you want to see what questions we tackle this year, join us on Twitter at @VUULibrary on October 4th or follow the hashtag #AskAnArchivist to see what cool stuff Archivists are working on around the world.

Create Art; Win Prizes!

September 13, 2017

Do you like digital art? History? Archives? Ghosts? Booze? Virginia Union University Panther Pride?

How about winning prizes?


REMIX | Spirits in the Archives is a contest to inspire literal and figurative out-of-the-box ideas for cultural heritage collections. Archives aren’t just about serious research, they can be about serious (or not so serious) art! Redaction poetry, GIFs, collages, coloring pages, memes, and other digital interventions are all ways to remix.

The Virginia Caucus of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) in celebration of American Archives Month is sponsoring this contest and institutions around Virginia (including VUU) have supplied images from their collections for re-use to make new and exiting works of art focused on the theme of “Spirits” for October!

The artwork will be judged by a panel (including our own Fine Arts Professor Sukenya Best. Winners will be rewarded with Amazon gift cards as well as other goodies.

Visit the Flickr album to see the images available to used in your re-mix art. Guidelines and submissions can be accessed via the Remix | Spirit in the Archives Tumblr. You have until October 23rd to enter. Winners will be announced on November 2nd.

Don’t forget to share your creations with us on Twitter as well at @VUULibrary. Flyers are available at the L. Douglas Wilder Library Periodicals Desk.

Almost 20 Years of!

May 9, 2017

You might have noticed that our website got a makeover this year! Thanks to the WayBack Machine we can see the evolution of the VUU website as far back as 1998 (although sometimes it didn’t capture the photos).

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We were even using gifs some 15 years ago or so…snazzy.