November 19, 2015

Evelyn Cameron's Dynamic Baggage

by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Montana residents, through the MHS, are blessed to be in possession of Evelyn Cameron’s diaries (1893-1928), thousands of her photographs, Ewen’s ornithological articles, Evelyn’s cameras, and so much more. Each artifact and photo offers a glimpse into both the Camerons’ lives as well as homesteading history. In the words of biographer Donna Lucy, “Hers is perhaps the most complete portrait we have of one woman’s pioneer experience –a virtual home movie of life on the frontier.”

While the vastness of Cameron artifacts, photos, and papers allows a uniquely thorough study of her life and personality, two artifacts offer particularly poignant clues to understanding this amazing woman: first, a remnant of her former life as a daughter of wealthy British merchants, the second a tool to assist her as a homestead housekeeper.
MHS Artifact Collection
Evelyn Cameron Collection
The first is a late 1890s formal dress, purchased in London from the M.A. Gryll dress shop, located on Conduit Street, just off of the affluent shopping Bond Street district. It is formal and elegant. Created in two pieces, the dress is red silk satin draped with black lace. The bodice is figure hugging, and intended to be worn with a corset. The skirt, typical of the time, is bustle-free, but with a full behind and slender front. Cameron’s diaries make references to a “Gryll red dress.”[1] While she may have purchased the dress earlier, she had the dress with her during a twelve month visit to Scotland and England in 1900-1901. On October 27, 1900, she reported wearing the dress to a “long” family dinner in Banbury. They were served “soup, codfish, veal, fruit, sago, omelet dessert, walnuts, and chestnut, grapes.”[2] Other entries discuss having the dress altered and dyed.

The second artifact is a much-used 1890 edition of Mrs. Lincoln's Boston cook book: What to do and what not to do in cooking. Mrs. Cameron inscribed the inside cover with “New York, March 1890,” suggesting that she purchased the book in New York during the Cameron’s 1889-90 honeymoon trip to the U.S. and Montana. The volume epitomizes a loved cookbook, with stains on favorite pages and endpapers filled with hand written notes. Not only does the book’s condition testify to its use, but Cameron’s diary entries refer to the book as though it were a dear friend. September 14, 1898, she reported, “Soup, chicken & rice, remains of Sunday’s pie, greens, mashed tatoes, tea, cake, . . . Read Mrs. Lincoln.” On 5 April 1904 she wrote, “Made cookies, successful from Mrs. Lincoln.” Time and time again, Evelyn documented her joyful use of the cookbook.
Cameron obviously treasured both the dress as well as the cookbook. The dress crossed the Atlantic, perhaps several times. And Evelyn kept the gown for decades after she ceased using it, not unlike contemporary women who preserve their wedding dresses. The dress symbolized her former life of "long" meals and monies spent on current fashions. The cookbook, on the other hand, was purchased during the very earliest stages of the Camerons' marriage, hinting that Evelyn was planning for her own kitchen. Mrs. Lincoln's cookbook signifies Evelyn's successful transition from a woman raised with servants to a self-sufficient rancher, photographer, and housewife. Although Mrs. Cameron left behind a wealth of words, photographs, and artifacts, we need only these two treasures to recognize the choices made by Evelyn Cameron and her journey from England to Terry, Montana.
Catalog #PAc 90-87.35-5
"Evelyn Cameron Kneading a panful of dough in her kitchen, August 1904."
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

[1] 1991.07.40 Dress, Montana Historical Society Museum

[2] Cameron diary, 27 October 1900.

November 6, 2015

Wikipedia and Montana History: Engaging the World's Largest Encyclopedia

By Jeff Malcomson, MHS Photo Archivist

When we need that quick information these days many of us turn to the Internet, and often our searching leads us to Wikipedia. With over five million separate articles in English alone, the popular Web-based encyclopedia has been around since 2001 and is now a staple of any Internet search. According to Wikipedia's own article about itself, content is developed "collaboratively by largely anonymous volunteers who write without pay." With over 26 million registered users, or "editors," many hands have built the resource that most of us use almost every day.

One of the main issues in using Wikipedia over the years from a research perspective is the perceived unreliability of the content. Many wikipedia articles are works-in-progress, with some more finished than others. The articles are only as good as the editors' knowledge of the subject and the sources that inform them. Many articles on people, places, and things in Montana's history are still awaiting creation, or in great need of improvement. This realization led me last summer to sign-up for a workshop called "WikiWrite." I wanted to use my knowledge of Montana history and the availability of numerous sources here at the MHS Research Center to improve Wikipedia articles on Montana history topics. That half-day at the MSU Library in Bozeman opened my eyes to the task of editing Wikipedia and gave me the time to learn the basics.
One thing I learned immediately was that Wikipedia itself had a substantial outreach to professionals like me in cultural institutions like the Montana Historical Society. Known as the GLAM-Wiki Initiative, which stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia, this effort seeks to engage cultural institutions with Wikipedia, to build relationships to add content in the form of article text and digital versions of historical documents, photographs, maps, and works of art.

As Montana Historical Society staff we seek to promote the knowledge of Montana history to the widest possible public, so it seemed natural to explore the use of Wikipedia to accomplish that end. One way to promote the improvement of a particular subject area on Wikipedia is to hold an edit-a-thon. Just like it sounds, this is an event where interested editors get together for part of a day and add content and improve articles usually surrounding a theme. Taking inspiration from our Women's History Matters project, we decided that our first edit-a-thon should focus on creating or improving articles on women in Montana history.

Members of the staff of both the Montana Historical Society and the
Montana State Law Library participate in the first Wikipedia edit-a-thon
 held in Montana this past August in the MHS Research Center.
We hosted this initial event in the MHS Research Center on August 31. It was open to MHS staff and the staff of the Montana State Law Library. Though several staff members assisted in planning and supported the edit-a-thon, we had five active "editors" learning how to edit and improve articles. Together we created four new articles on Montana women Dolly Akers, Helen P. Clarke, Rose Hum Lee, and Beth Baker and improved two other articles on Ella Knowles Haskell and Mary Fields. We also created a "project" page where we placed info about the event and helpful links for our on-going effort to improve Wikipedia entries on Montana history.

As a first engagement with Wikipedia this event was a success.  In the future, we hope to continue to hold edit-a-thons every four months and draw in more MHS staff, volunteers, and even interested members of the general public to participate in this project. Watch for information about our next edit-a-thon coming in early 2016 and, in the meantime, investigate how you can work to improve "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit."