Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Simpson College visit

Day 11: Monday, July 16, 2012. We spent last night at a motel in Indianola, IA so that I could get an early start at the Dunn library at Simpson College. I was interested in the "Craven Room" at Simpson - an archival room dedicated to an alumnus of Simpson College, Avery O. Craven, an historian of the ante-bellum South.

Why?  Well, I'm involved in a project relating to Ellen's father, Frederick B. Tolles, an historian of colonial America, and more specifically colonial Quaker history. He taught for many years at Swarthmore College and was Director of the Friends Historical Library there. I'll paste in here part of an email which I wrote to the curator of the Craven collection. It turned out that the person I needed to talk with in order to get access to what I wanted to see was on vacation, and the staff that was at the Dunn Library today wasn't able to help me access the collection.

Here's what I said:

"The project I've embarked on has to do with a projected 5-volume History of the United States that was to be published in the late 1950's by Alfred A. Knopf. Each volume was to be 150,000 words. Dr. Tolles was contracted in 1954 to write Volume I: From the Beginning to 1790; Dr. Craven was contracted to write Volume II: 1790-1850. Kenneth Stampp was to do Vol. III; Thomas  Cochrane Vol. IV, and Walter Johnson, Vol. V. Johnson was the editor of the series. Dr. Craven was contracted to deliver his manuscript to Knopf by June 30, 1957.

Dr. Tolles started his writing, but was prevented from completing it by a brain tumor. He went through several surgeries and other treatments, requesting several extensions in the hope he could complete the work, but illness finally necessitated that he resign the contract in 1963. He never recovered from his illness and died in 1975. So far as I can determine, the 5-volume series was never published. Obviously, this had some impact on the other authors.

The unpublished and unfinished MS of Dr. Tolles' work is in his papers in the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore and I have a copy. I want to publish it for Dr. Tolles' family (my wife has two siblings and there are several grandchildren, etc.), with an Introduction explaining the background of the MS. His MS is 278 pages, typed, double-spaced. It's about 70,000 words, so he was able to complete almost half of the work before he had to give it up. It is beautifully written, despite his illness.

Which brings me finally to Dr. Craven. What I am wondering, and hoping, is that there might be reference to Dr. Craven's involvement in this projected Knopf History of the U.S. in his papers - particularly in his correspondence. I can imagine there could have been  an exchange of letters between him and Alfred A. Knopf, and also Walter Johnson, the editor. Perhaps there was also correspondence between him and Dr. Tolles. There might also be some reference to his contribution to the project - did he complete a MS of Vol. II? If so, what happened to it? Did he work it into other publications? What impact did this unfinished project have on his life and work?"

Ellen and I were able at least to go into the Craven Room for a few minutes. It contains Dr. Craven's personal library pertaining to the ante-bellum South, a fascinating collection of books, plus many other memorabilia from his life. It is a lovely room, one that it would be a pleasure to spend time in.

I have brought the Tolles MS with me on this trip and I'll be transcribing it whenever I can find a chance to do so. If I'm lucky, I may be able to have a first draft of it by the time we get home.

Here are photos of the two men discussed above: Dr. Avery Craven and Dr. Frederick Barnes Tolles.
Frederick Tolles
Avery Craven


After Simpson College we drove Route 30 across Iowa through Onawa, where I used to live, and on to Mullen, NE. (On Route 2 in central NE). The Congregational Church in Onawa, which my father served in the 1950's, is now the Onawa Bible Baptist Church. That is a fairly recent development.  However the other church he served in nearby Blencoe, is still U.C.C. I lived in Onawa the summer of 1954, between college and seminary, assisting my father in the churches. I helped assemble a Moehler pipe organ in the Onawa church that summer. I wonder if it's still there?

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