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Oral history

Class of 1889 in front of Durfee Greenhouse
Oral historian at the First National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, 1977. Photo by Diana Mara Henry

However rich our archival collections may be, there are always parts of the historical record that never make it onto the page. Memories, emotions, and attitudes are notoriously difficult to document, and there a variety of all-too human reasons that people choose not to write down every detail of their lives. As a result, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has been actively engaged in recording oral histories as a way of capturing a more complete record of the many voices and diverse experiences that comprise .

SCUA first ventured into oral historical work in the mid-1970s with efforts to document the history of the university prior to the massive expansion of the previous decade, and the department has subsequently engaged in oral historical projects to document the university’s 125th and 150th anniversaries. In the past decade, SCUA has extended its work to documenting the histories of persons represented in its collections and to a broader array of projects documenting the history and experience of social change and the people and cultures on New England. Furthermore, SCUA is the repository for hundreds of oral histories recorded by other people, ranging in scope from interviews with Franco-Americans in the 1980s, 20th century Argentine political figures, and former residents of the Quabbin towns in Western Massachusetts.

Many of SCUA’s oral histories are available online through our digital repository Credo. These include audio and video recordings and, in a few cases, they may be fully transcribed.

Supporting material

For donors of oral histories:

SCUA is happy to accept donations of oral histories that fit within its collection policy.

Although SCUA accepts materials in most audio and video formats — cassette, reel to reel, RDAT, VHS, Betacam, or digital — we typically prefer to receive interviews in the format in which they were recorded and in the highest quality available. When possible, we prefer uncompressed digital files, however we appreciate receiving a compressed derivative (e.g., mp3 for audio, mp4 for video). When available, transcripts in print and electronic form are a very valuable addition.

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Ozer Family

Ozer Family Papers

ca. 1935-2015
10 boxes (13 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 1002
Ruth and Abe Ozer celebrating their 90th birthdays in 2010.
Ruth and Abe Ozer celebrating their 90th birthdays in 2010.

Both children of Jewish Eastern European immigrants, and born five days apart in June 1920 in Manhattan, Abraham Jay Ozer (born Abraham Ozersky) and Ruth Sydell Ozer (born Ruth Sydell Newman) married in 1947 after Abe returned from his army service in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Abe received the Purple Heart as a part of an Ordnance Company bringing supplies for the Battle of Leyte, where he was wounded by shrapnel from a kamikaze attack on his ship during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944. Returning to New York, Abe and Ruth began their romance, after being friends before the war as part of a Workmen Circle teen group, and lived almost the entirety of the rest of their lives in the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx, the country’s oldest nonprofit housing cooperative. The Ozers were involved in the social, cultural, and financial community of the cooperative, originally founded by Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union members, and decidedly Jewish and progressive in its early decades. Working for RKO Pictures Inc. and as a substitute teacher at Walton High School, Ruth also volunteered at the local Amalgamated nursery school, which her daughters Alison and Stephanie attended as children. Self-employed in the insurance business, Abe served on several of the community’s boards and societies, and after early retirement volunteered as a dispatcher for ambulances in the Amalgamated, and as a tour guide at the Bronx Zoo. The two were also able to pursue their passion for travel, after being unable to take the intercontinental honeymoon of their dreams, making it only as far as Montreal, and having other commitments earlier in their lives. The couple finally began their travel adventures in 1969 with a trip to the United Kingdom. Over the next thirty-five years they would take more than fifty international and national trips, with Ruth writing as early as 1982, “We’ve roamed the globe. Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia, Central Asia, North Africa, the near East. We’ve visited ancient historic capitals, modern picturesque cities, jet-set resorts and spas and thousands of slides recall the sights, the sounds and encounters of our travels there.”

The Ozer Family Papers primarily document the lives of Abe and Ruth Ozer, including their high school and college years, their correspondence and other records from Abe’s military service in the 311th and then 168th Ordnance Depot Company, additional war correspondence between Ruth and other parties, and extensive documentation of the couple’s many years of travel, including selected slides, photographs, travel planning documents, and Ruth’s detailed travel journals for each trip from 1969 through 2005. Additional materials cover the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, RKO Pictures Inc., and other aspects of the Ozer’s lives, including numerous oral history interviews and home movies on formats ranging from 8mm film to digital. The greater Ozer family is also represented, from a large family tree tracing the family and photographs back to Abe’s grandparents from Belorussia, to content and interviews with his mother, Sadie Uretsky, and several folders of clippings and mixed materials about Abe’s late brother, Bernard Ozer, an important figure in fashion forecasting and purchasing, and former vice-president of Associated Merchandising Corporation. Additional content on the Ozer’s children, grandchildren, and extended family rounds out the collection.

Gift of Alison Ozer, November 2017
Subjects
  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.)--Social life and customs
  • Housing, Cooperative
  • Hunter College--Students
  • Jews--New York (State)--New York
  • Leyte Gulf, Battle of, Philippines, 1944
  • Tourism
  • Travel
  • United States. Army. Ordnance Corps
  • World War, 1939-1945
Types of material
  • Letters (Correspondence)
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Slides (photographs)

Patterson, Charles H.

Charles H. Patterson Papers

1930-1958
2 boxes (1 linear feet)
Call no.: FS 089
Image of Charles H. Patterson.<br />Photo by Frank A. Waugh, 1926
Charles H. Patterson.
Photo by Frank A. Waugh, 1926

For many years, Charles H. Patterson served as head of the Department of Language and Literature at Massachusetts Agricultural College. Born in Smithsonville, Ont., in 1863, Patterson received both a BA (1887) and MA (1893) from Tufts University before launching his teaching career. He joined the faculty at MAC as an assistant professor of English, in 1916, after 13 years at West Virginia University. A former professional actor, he taught courses in modern literature, with a particular interest in drama, and served as department chair for nearly a decade before his sudden death in 1933.

The Patterson Papers contain a small selection of correspondence and notes on English composition and literature as taught at Massachusetts Agricultural College. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is a draft of Patterson’s unpublished book, The Amazing Boucicault.

Subjects
  • Boucicault, Dion, 1820-1890
  • Drama--Study and teaching
  • Massachusetts Agricultural College--Faculty
  • Massachusetts Agricultural College. Department of English
Contributors
  • Patterson, Charles H

Peck Family

Peck-Sisson-White Family Papers

1772-1975 (Bulk: 1830-1875)
2 boxes (0.75 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 933

Perez Peck (1786-1876) and Asa Sisson (1815-1893) of the village of Anthony (Coventry), R.I., were innovative machinists and manufacturers of cotton looms. Active members of the Society of Friends, they were supporters of the antislavery struggle and sent their children to the Friends Boarding School in Providence, R.I.

Although the Peck-Sisson-White family collection spans three families and three generations, the bulk of material is concentrated on the lives of Asa Sisson and his wife Mary Ann (Peck) and their daughter Emily, who married Willis H. White, with an emphasis on their poetry and their time at the Friends Boarding School in Providence, R.I. The family also copied verse from other writers, including works from George Miller (not otherwise identified) extracting Anthony Benezet and “Remarks on encouraging slavery” and a “lamentation over New England” which touches on the execution of early Quakers in Massachusetts Bay.

Gift of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, 2016
Subjects
  • Antislavery movements--Rhode Island
  • Death--Poetry
  • Friends Boarding School (Providence, R.I.)
  • Quakers--Rhode Island
Contributors
  • Peck, Perez, 1786-1876
  • Sisson, Asa, 1815-1893
  • Sisson, Mary Ann, 1816-1882
  • White, Emily Sisson, 1856-1945
Types of material
  • Diaries
  • Poetry

Permission to Publish

Copyright compliance

William Hastie, W.E.B. Du Bois, and unidentified man, ca.1947
Front to back: William Hastie, W.E.B. Du Bois,
and unidentified, ca.1947

The Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) makes reasonable attempts to clarify the copyright status of materials under its care, but cannot claim copyright for every individual item: even if a donor has transferred intellectual property to the letters she has written, for example, she cannot transfer copyright to letters written by others. When it comes to letters received by the donor — half or more of most collections — copyright remains with the writer.

Researchers are legally obligated to ensure their full compliance with the laws pertaining to copyright and intellectual property and must obtain written permission from all interested parties. By itself, permission to examine or duplicate materials held by SCUA does not constitute authorization to publish those materials. A separate written request for permission to publish must be made in advance to SCUA, and permission will be granted only after SCUA has received a properly completed permission form signed by the requester, along with payment for any applicable fees.

An approval of permission to publish from SCUA does not imply that all copyright demands have been met. The University of Massachusetts Amherst assumes no responsibility for infringement of copyright held by others: full responsibility for infringement is assumed by the individual requesting permission to publish.

How do I request permission?

Information

Download
permission form
  1. Download the form for requesting permission to publish and print two copies.
  2. Complete both copies of the form, including your full name and address, a complete listing of the material to be published, and the title, place, and expected date of publication.
  3. Sign and date both copies of the form and submit both to SCUA.
  4. ALL requests for permission must be accompanied by a cover letter providing information on the nature of the publication (including print run when appropriate), and acknowledging that use fees may apply.
  5. Permission to publish is granted for one-time, non-exclusive, world-wide rights, solely for the project specified in the agreement and in the medium indicated. Permission is granted for the life of the project.

Citation of material

Citations should take the form:

[Item details ]. [ Collection name ] ( [Call number] ), Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries.

Fees for publication

SCUA reserves the right to assess a modest fee for use of materials under its care. Proper attribution is required.

View the fee schedule.

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Perry, Cynthia Shepard

Cynthia Shepard Perry Papers

1946-2010
7 boxes (10.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 842
Image of Cynthia Shepard Perry, ca.1986
Cynthia Shepard Perry, ca.1986

An educator, diplomat, and expert on Africa, Cynthia Shepard Perry was the first recipient of a PhD from of the Program in International Education at UMass Amherst (1972). Born in Burnett, Indiana, in 1928, Perry was raising a family when she set a twenty-five year goal of earning doctorate and entering international service. One year after earning a bachelor’s degree at Indiana State University in 1967, she arranged for her first trip to Africa, leading a secretarial training project at the University of Nairobi, and over succeeding decades, her connections to the continent deepened dramatically. On faculty at Texas Southern University (1971-1982), Perry served as Associate Director of the university’s Peace Corps Program, which resulted in her leading educational projects in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Kenya. In demand for the expertise she had gained, she worked as a consultant to the US Information Service in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia and as Staff Development Officer at the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. Having become a full professor and Dean of International Affairs, she left TSU in 1982 to take her first diplomatic post as an officer of the Africa Bureau of the US Agency for International Development, followed by successive appointments as Ambassador to Sierra Leone (1986-1989) and Burundi (1989-1993), as Honorary Consul General of Rwanda, and finally an appointment as U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank (1996-2001). Although officially retired, Perry remains active in supporting education and development in Africa from her home in Houston. Among many other awards she has received, Perry was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from UMass for her international work and was recognized by the Salute to Service Award.

A record of a life in international service in Africa, the Perry papers includes materials from Perry’s time as head of the African Development Bank and her two ambassadorial appointments, including speeches, some correspondence, and a handful of publications. The collection also includes a series of awards and plaques, some family photographs, and memorabilia.

Gift of Cynthia Shepard Perry, Oct., 2014
Subjects
  • Africa--Foreign relations--United States
  • Burundi--History
  • Sierra Leone--United States
  • United States--Foreign relations--Africa
Types of material
  • Memorabilia
  • Photographs

Peters, Charles A.

Charles A. Peters Papers

1853-1971 (Bulk: 1894-1920)
6 boxes (3 linear feet)
Call no.: FS 066
Image of Charles A. Peters
Charles A. Peters

Born in Worcester, Mass., in 1875, Charles A. Peters studied chemistry under Charles Goessmann at Massachusetts Agricultural College, graduating with the class of 1897. After receiving his doctorate at Yale in 1901, he joined the faculty at the University of Idaho for several years before completing his education with two years of post-doctoral work in Berlin (1908-1910). Offered the chance to return to his alma mater in 1912, Peters became a cornerstone of instruction in chemistry, teaching courses for many years in quantitative analysis, inorganic chemistry, and analytical chemistry, and serving as chair of the department. Although he retired when he reached the mandatory age in 1945, Peters remained in Amherst. In 1970, he was presented a gold cane by the Amherst selectmen as the town’s oldest man. He died on Oct. 4, 1973, at the age of 99.

A small, but diverse collection, the Peters Papers include an interesting assortment of materials from the early years of Charles Peters’ association with the Massachusetts Agricultural College. In addition to an assortment of correspondence, primarily from the turn of the 20th century, the collection includes a series of notes taken during undergraduate classes in economic botany, horticulture, chemistry, agriculture, and organic chemistry, some teaching materials, and personal photographs.

Subjects
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Chemistry
Contributors
  • Peters, Charles A
Types of material
  • Photographs

Photographic collections

Jack Dixon and camera
Jack Dixon and camera, 1929, by Alton Blackington Collection

SCUA is a significant source for visual content, and thousands of digitized images are available for viewing online in our digital repository, Credo. Credo contains thousands of scanned images from our manuscript and photographic collections, representing photographers such as Jeff Albertson, James Baker, Alton Blackington, Burt V. Brooks, Lionel Delevingne, Roy Finestone, Clif Garboden, Diana Mara Henry, Nancy Palmieri, and Peter Simon, as well as over thousands of photographs documenting the history of the University of Massachusetts Amherst community. Although new content is being added to Credo daily, tens of thousands of other photographs are described through manuscript finding aids and have yet to be digitized. All can be viewed on site.

Digital copies of images from SCUA collections are available for a modest fee and modest publication fees may also apply for either commercial or scholarly use. Additional information about our collections can be obtained by contacting our reference staff.

Inventory of unscanned negatives

The Negatives Collection represents over 21,000 photo shoots (perhaps 500,000 images) undertaken by Campus Creative Services between 1954 and 2004. Each negative number represents a single photographic session and may include anywhere from a single image to thirty or more. Please note that the terms used in the inventory were supplied by Photo Services staff over many years and are not always accurate, and furthermore, not all images listed in these inventories were transferred to SCUA. You are always welcome to contact our archivists if you have any questions. Please use the reference number when requesting negatives.

Other UMass photo collections:

While the University Photograph Collection and Photo Center Negatives represent the largest collections of University-related photographs, there are several other smaller collections that visually document UMass.

Contact SCUA for more information about viewing the photographs in these collections.

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Pictou, Louis, collector

Louis Pictou Mi'kmaq Manuscript

Prior to 1903
1 vol., 140 p. (0.1 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 342 bd

The Pictou family were prominent members of the Bear River Band of the Mi’kmaq nation in Nova Scotia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Notably, Chief Benjamin Pictou (1830-1931) lived for over a century, witnessing the evolution of the Mi’kmaq economy from hunting, fishing, and trapping to include guiding and attempts at agriculture, and was listed by the anthropologist Frank G. Speck in 1922 as having a hunting allocation near Sporting Lake, southwest of the Bear River.

An extensive, unidentified manuscript written in Mi’kmaq (Micmac) language, using the “hieroglyphic” (pictographic) writing system. At one time, the manuscript was apparently in the possession of Louis Pictou, an “Indian guide” on the Bear River, who stating that the manuscript was written by his “ancestors.”

Language(s): Mi'kmaq
Subjects
  • Indians of North America--Nova Scotia
  • Micmac Indians--Manuscripts
Contributors
  • Pictou, Louis

Plenzdorf, Ulrich, 1934-2007

Ulrich Plenzdorf Collection

1970-1979
1 box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 978

An East German screenwriter and playwright, Ulrich Plenzdorf was born into a Communist family in the working-class Kreuzberg district of Berlin in 1934, settling in East Germany after the war. Abandoning his undergraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Leipzig, Plenzdorf worked as a stagehand at the DEFA film studio while studying at the film academy in Babelsberg. His breakthrough as a writer came with the play Die neuen Leiden des jungen W (1972), which enjoyed enormous success internationally, selling more than four million copies in 30 languages. A year later, he followed up with the popular film, Die Legende von Paul und Paula (1973), and his popularity as a writer continued through unification. Plenzdorf died in Berlin on Aug. 9, 2007, at the age of 72.

This small collection includes research files on the screenwriter Ulrich Plenzdorf assembled by Albert R. Schmitt, a professor of German at Brown University. In addition to an early edition of Die neuen Leiden and a mimeograph copy of an English translation by Herbert Lederer, the collection includes a handful of letters and a few pieces of ephemera from early productions of Die neuen Leiden, along with reviews and scholarly articles of Plenzdorf’s work.

Gift of Barton Byg, June 2017
Language(s): German
Subjects
  • Dramatists--Germany (East)
  • Plenzdorf, Ulrich, 1934-2007. Neuen Leiden des jungen W.
  • Screenwriters--Germany (East)
Contributors
  • Schmitt, Albert R.
Types of material
  • Ephemera
  • Posters