A Treasure Chest of American History

For many years, we have been sitting on top of a true gold mine of American history in the form of a sizeable collection of American newspapers dating back into the 18th century.  The Collection of Bound Newspapers has resided for some time at the Texas Collections Deposits Library on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.  Currently the archive is being selectively digitized and  relocated in more rigorously climate-controlled storage facilities on the university’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus.

In this continuing blog, our aim is going to be two-fold.  We want to try to keep readers abreast of the efforts to perpetuate this is important archive and to make it increasingly more accessible to researchers now and in the future.  We’re also going to enjoy discovering and re-publishing some of the news from our country beginning in times not too far removed from our Revolutionary War.

To get started, perhaps we should look back at the people who took the important first steps in assembling this collection, and why they did it.

Texas Collection Deposits Library

Two events occurred in 1897, both of which importantly related to the newspaper collection.  The first was the formation of the Texas State Historical Association, which collected, among other items, newspapers; the second was the donation by Swante Palm of his library to the University of Texas.  This library contained seventy-seven volumes of historic Texas newspapers.  In 1904, the librarian noted that, through the giftof the publishers, the library received 255 different newspapers published in Texas.  He resolved to preserve them, for they “will in time become exceedingly valuable in the study of our State history.”

It was in 1911, when Major George W. Littlefield became a member of the Board of Regents, that the University began its collection of newspapers from other of the United States in addition to Texas.  Littlefield, who had served the South in the Civil War, believed that the South was still being done wrong by Northern historians.  The chairman of the History Department at the time, Eugene Barker, told Littlefield that “the South had not exerted herself to collect the historical materials necessary to enable scholars to present her point of view.”  On April 14, 1914, Littlefield tendered his first gift to the University, and continued his gifts until his death, on November 10, 1920, upon which he willed $100,000 for the Littlefield Fund for Southern History.   The fund was to be used for the preparation of a history of the South since the beginning.  According to Barker, the terms were such that “it can be used for almost anything in American history.”

The first purchase of the Littlefield Fund was for ten volumes of the Richmond Enquirer, twelve volumes of the Richmond Examiner, and other journals, from John Rutherfoord of Richmond, for a total of $1,150.00.  Another highlight of the Fund’s purchases was in 1916, when it outbid the Newberry Library of Chicago for a large collection of Charleston newspapers, ranging from 1799 to 1910.  Of the United States’ newspapers in the University’s collection, the dominant range is from 1820 to 1880.  Southern cities well represented by newspapers purchased by the fund included Charleston, Augusta, New Orleans and Little Rock.   Papers based in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Louisville, and Washington, D.C. were also purchased.

The Collection includes bound newspapers that were not purchased by the Fund, including at least one newspaper that was a duplicate discarded by the Library of Congress, and the copy of the Richmond Enquirer that was sent to the Salem Gazette as an exchange copy.  The editor of the Salem Gazette marked those items of the Enquirer that he wanted to reproduce (always with correct citation) in his newspaper.

These newspapers are invaluable, among other reasons, for the letters they print.  In an age before the AP and UPI, news from foreign lands was gained by Americans writing home to friends, who would then give the letter to the hometown newspaper.  That news would be spread to all the United States by exchange newspapers.  The editor of the Arkansas Gazette commented on April 8, 1823, that that Sunday, he had received over 200 exchange newspapers, “from all parts of the Union east of the Mississippi.”

**For further reading, see Louis C. Moloney.  A History of the University Library at the University of Texas, 1883-1934,  Thesis, Columbia University, 1970.  Paul Walter Schroeder.  “The Littlefield Fund for Southern History.  I.  A History of  the Littlefield Fund.”  Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, VI (Spring, 1957), p. 3-23.  F. R. Holland and E. A. Stokes, Jr.  “The Littlefield Fund for Southern History.  III.”  Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, VI, (Spring, 1959), p. 3-16.

If you are interested in contributing funds to speed this massive project, please contact Linda Abbey, of UT’s General Libraries, phone (512) 795-4366 or online to the
Historic Newspapers Preservation  link.


About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden