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Upon starting my research, my knowledge of Wilber Stilwell was very base level; I knew that he was Chair of the Department of Art for over 30 years, I had heard that he had won a Medal of Honor, awarded by First Lady Johnson, for his dedication to art education, and there’s a student exhibition every year in his honor. As my research went on, and I got a greater sense of Wilber, I realized that there’s much more to the story than the headlines. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten many of his efforts. The first of these I’d like to share is Wilber Stilwell as an inventor.

            From the beginning of the collection until the end, Wilber was overflowing with innovation. Scrawled in the margins of every page are notes that imagine the possibilities to surpass the limitations of our everyday lifestyle. He wasn’t alone, either; his wife, Gladys, had an innovative side as well, pioneering different gadgets to make life easier. She was particularly interested in fashion design and pursued a patent for a hem measuring tool. It’s obvious, and heartwarming, that the pair were inspired by one another, and supported each other’s creative endeavors. 

            During his time as a student at the Kansas City Art Institute, Wilber experimented with inventive techniques to inform his artwork – this includes trial and error with his Transfer Wax process, and the Blottergraph. The Blottergraph would later become a staple in many classrooms as an introduction to relief printing. Wilber even developed his own color wheel after much experimentation. 

            Gladys and Wilber becoming parents seemed to have spurred more inspiration for their inventions. They clearly had a passion for making art safe and accessible for children and young adults. Many of these techniques found their home in classrooms, especially after they were published in art process magazines. It was around this time that Wilber developed the idea of the “Safe-T-Scissors.” Wilber was in contact with attorneys and material companies throughout this time, to see if this was even possible. He created hundreds of sketches, and after much trial and error, was granted a patent for the invention. The safety scissors, something we’ve all probably used at some point or another, were a revolutionary possibility, and eventual reality. Below is the official patent found in Box 9, Folder 41.

            Behind the success of their inventions was a fair amount of failure and rejection. There is a significant amount of correspondence in which their lawyers told them their inventions were unpatentable, or that the idea didn’t hold enough merit for a company to invest money into. Throughout all of this, Wilber and Gladys persevered for their passions. 

            During a tumultuous economy, and a lack of state funding for education, Wilber and Gladys utilized accessible materials, like tin foil, basic crayons, freezer paper, even face powder, to help students make “fine art” without access to the prestigious materials usually utilized. In all of this lies a profound lesson: There can and often will be adversity and rejection in our lives, but it can lead to greater inspiration and success.


Here’s a link to the finding aid for the collection I’m researching.    https://archives.usd.edu/repositories/2/resources/99

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Mrs. M. Reed, M. D. Physician and Surgeon  

Salmer Block  

Vermillion, S. D.

The Volante. Volume XV, Number 1. October 2, 1901.


One little ad in the Volante sparks so many questions.  A woman doctor in Vermillion in 1901?   Who was she and where did she come from?  Where did she go to medical school?  What happened to her after she left Vermillion?

The ads for Dr. Reed ran in the Volante from October 1901 to June 1902.  

In the 1900 United States Federal Census, there is a Nannie B. Reed whose profession is listed as Physician living in Vermillion.   This has to be the same woman.  But why is her name listed as Nannie when in the ad she is Mrs. M. Reed?   The census states she is married but no additional household members. More questions!   The census also tells us she was born in Iowa in February 1871, lived in Vermillion ward 2 and was 29.  

Further research found that Nannie Reed died at the age of 33 on January 8, 1905 at her parents’ home.  She is buried in Montgomery County, Iowa. 

That is all I could find about Dr. Reed. 

Another question that came about when researching these questions, is where is the Salmer Block in Vermillion?   That question was a little easier to answer thanks to the Clay County Historical Society.  

I also found the Salmer Block is now known as 2 East Main Street and McVicker Plaza.  Many doctors had their offices on the second floor.   More about the history of the building can be found at http://www.cchssd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Spring-2019.pdf

Click to access 2EMain_History_FINALc.pdf

Newspaper are a great resource for historical research.   In an effort to help researchers, the University Libraries is resuming digital cataloging of the Volante.    Volumes 1, 1887 through volume 19, 1906 are now available on the Digital Library of South Dakota.  https://explore.digitalsd.org/digital/collection/volante/search/searchterm/Volante/field/all/mode/exact/conn/and/order/date/page/1

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The national woman suffrage story ultimately became a success because of the success of suffragists at the state and local levels. Next year, as we celebrate a century since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it is important to remember the significance of the state and local stories as well.

Simultaneously the most fun and most frustrating part of designing this display was choosing which items to include. The Jane Breeden, Mamie Pyle and Gladys Pyle papers contained a wealth of fascinating items. These collections worked well together to provide different perspectives of the suffrage movement. As a leading suffragist in South Dakota, Mamie Pyle’s papers provided an insight into the “business” end of the movement, while Jane Breeden’s papers gave a non-leadership perspective. Although active in the suffrage movement herself, Gladys Pyle’s papers were important to show that women were not just capable of using the vote, but they were more than capable of pursuing political office all the way to Washington D.C.

Organizing the display by theme seemed a much better way to put the items in conversation with one another. Highlighting the reoccuring elements of democracy, wartime, anti-suffragist and citizenship, it was clear that the history of the suffrage movement was not exclusively a women’s story. There were so many interesting and sometimes absurd pieces; I hope at the very least, those who are interested in the woman suffrage movement will take the time to visit the Archives and Special Collections at USD.

Although many of the items on display can be accessed through the Digital Library of South Dakota (DLSD), a trip to USD’s Archives and Special Collections is unparalleled. Sure, you can peruse these collections from the comfort of your own armchair, but the reading room has comfortable seating, a welcoming atmosphere and a superb staff waiting for you to bring in your research questions.

Interning at A&SC has been a rewarding experience. Honestly, it was a little like going on a treasure hunt, and every time I entered the stacks, I found something new. There were a few projects that I worked on through the semester, but the opportunity to put together a display on woman suffrage was by far my favorite.

My hope with this display is that it will encourage visitors to further explore these manuscript collections for the items that had to reluctantly be returned to the stacks and to contemplate how some of the issues presented in the display remain relevant today.

Information and items from:

Richardson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, the University of South Dakota

  • the Mamie Shields Pyle Papers
  • the Gladys Pyle Papers
  • the Jane Rooker Breeden papers

Chilson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, the University of South Dakota

  • Lahlum, Lori Ann and Molly P. Rozum. Equality at the Ballot Box: Votes for Women on the Northern Great Plains. Pierre, SD: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2019.

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If you think banning books is solely a modern pastime, stop by Special Collections to take a look at this 1541 edition of Petrarch’s Canzoniere.

The book was not banned in its entirety, but some sonnets were subject to censorship by the Catholic Church via the Index Expurgatorius. This index required the expurgation of selected sonnets from previously printed editions and prohibited printing in later editions.

The sonnets in question feature Petrarch’s critical take on the Avignon Papacy. These are sometimes referred to as the “Babylonian Sonnets” as Petrarch relates the residency of the papacy at Avignon to the biblical captivity of the Jews in Babylon.



These pages appear to have been intentionally affixed to one another at some point


This sonnet, along with commentary, has been marked out with ink

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The Richard Deo Grass collection (MS 254) is now open to researchers.

The 4.5 linear feet of material spans the years 1950’s-2010, with the bulk of the material dated 1980-2010.

Richard Deo Grass was born on May 29, 1939 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was raised off the reservation in Alliance, Nebraska and Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He served in the United States Marine Corp from March 3, 1957 to March 5, 1963.

Grass was an activist for the rights of indigenous peoples. He represented the Lakota Nation at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and at the United Nations. He spoke at international conferences and universities in the Netherlands, Denmark, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Canada, Alaska, and Geneva.   Grass spoke for the Lakota Dakota Nakota (LDN) Tribal Nation at the United States Supreme Court in defense of Native American claims to the Black Hills. He played a pivotal role in persuading his people to reject the Black Hills monetary award dockets A and B.

The collection is organized into eight series: Correspondence, Biographical and Personal Files, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), Tribal and Court Records, News Clippings, Ephemera, Media, and Photographs.

Grass died on December 23, 2010 in Rapid City, South Dakota and is buried at the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, Meade County, South Dakota.

Contact the Archives and Special Collections for a copy of the guide to the collection.

Richard Grass Picture

Richard Grass 17 Years old in U.S.M.C

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The Digital Library of South Dakota has a new URL: https://explore.digitalsd.org.

We have a new look as well. If you haven’t visited recently, take a look around, we’re always adding new material and collections.


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Archiving is not about history looking backward, but about storing and securing for the future. Archiving – all the activities from creation and management to the use of records and archives – has always been directed towards transmitting human activity and experience through time and, secondly, through space. It has the quality of the archive as a time machine.

Eric Ketelaar, “Archival Temples, Archival Prisons”

Quoted in Kristen Weld, Paper cadavers: the dictatorship in Guatemala. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2014, p.236.

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IMG_0300Well, this is it.

It’s my last day.

Today I get to turn in my key, submit my last time sheet, and clean up all my files on the computer, and I have to take home my sweater, wrist warmers, blanket, and refillable Einstein Bros. coffee mug . . .  plus say goodbye to probably the coolest job ever and all the wonderful people I’ve worked with.

The Archives and Special Collections has been an oasis for me through the grueling voyage of undergrad – tucked in the corner of the library, above the crowded sidewalks and away from the drama and stress of school.

I started here the summer after my sophomore year, after miserably spending the previous summer as a waitress. I began as a temporary hire for Sarah, allotted 120 hours to put in basically whenever, doing a lot of photo identification and negative-sleeve making. But I also got to work with Jim Legg’s collection of slides from Wounded Knee during the volatility of the 1970s (wow!).

When the fall semester started, Doris adopted me from Sarah. I began to make box labels instead of negative sleeves, pull boxes for patrons, make inventory lists of incoming collections, take the recycling down, and pick up the mail. Sure, a lot of my job involved removing rusty staples (yes, my tetanus shots are up-to-date), spending hours at the temperamental photocopy machine, and leafing through old Volante newspapers or yearbooks for an answer to a patron’s question.




However, I did some pretty amazing things here, too. Simply working with the Mahoney Music Collection was a dream! – how did my two favorite things in the world, books and music, end up combined in the back of the USD library? Though I couldn’t work exclusively with this collection, there was almost always a little project with it to satiate me. Writing press releases, creating a LibGuide, managing the website records, creating little exhibits, helping patrons, and writing blog posts were just a few things. I was invited to just go back and browse the stacks if I wanted, to get to know the books, and I got to correspond with the donor, Dr. John P. Mahoney, and even meet him this summer! I met a lot of great books, too. And who knows?  – maybe I’ll be back in a few years to do my own research with the collection.




The archives have forever changed me. Now I can’t bring myself to use staples or tape on anything, and I have a mission to preserve all my photos in acid-free paper. I learned so much that I don’t think I can fit it all on a résumé. And, thanks to Sarah, I’ll never be able to listen to Kishi Bashi or Van Morrison without nostalgia of the archives. I will sorely miss everything and everyone here – how did I get so lucky?

So what’s next? I have a couple more days in sunny Vermillion, then it’s off to Ohio, where I’ll be attending grad school for my master’s degree in music performance at Kent State (they have an Einstein Bros. too, so the mug comes with!).



P.S. For the record: I never got the lights turned off on me in the back room. Once the power went out when I was back there, though, and the terrifying flickering before tipped me off.



P.P.S. And my desk piggy’s coming, too! 🙂



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Z001570 Z001571

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