Hide and Seek: Finding Kids in the Archives
Posted May 31, 2022
Topics: Civil WarPresidents & PoliticsDaily LifeArchives & Library

By Matthew Benz, Manuscripts Curator

A recent donation of a child’s scrapbook from the 1950s started us thinking about what other examples of child-created materials we could find among the manuscripts collection at the Archives Library of the Ohio History Center. Considering that the archives is very much an adult place filled with the works of men and women opining on all manner of things, we didn’t expect to find much from children, but we did locate a few interesting items which we share below.

Samuel Adams, 1863. In 1863, as the Civil War raged, young Samuel Adams wrote to his brother John, a lieutenant serving in Company G of the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. “We have heard about the great battle,” Sam writes, “I hope you are not hurt.” Unfortunately, John was indeed hurt, wounded just a few days earlier in the battle of Chickamauga. John recovered from his injuries and mustered out with the company in September 1864, to rejoin his younger brother and the rest of his family in Warren County.

John Adams Family papers, MSS 1338, The Ohio History Connection

Hazel Hull Scott collection, MSS 1609, Ohio History Connection

Hazel Hull Scott, c. 1904-1908 Growing up in early 1900s Cleveland, Hazel Hull (Scott) attended East High School, graduating in 1908. We know this because the majority of the Hazell Hull Scott papers held in the archives concern her high school and young adult years. The Hazel Hull Scott collection then provides us with a glimpse into the lives of young urban Ohioans in the early 1900s.  Although the word “teenager” had yet to come in to use, the Hull letters reflect a growing change in the social fabric of Ohio and the country that would allow for the creation of “teenagers” later in the century. Teenagers in all but name, Hazel and her friends reveled in the same sort of experiences and drama that would enthrall teenagers in the years to come.   In these examples, we can read Hazel’s poetry - an “ode” to East High School and a poem about her boyfriend and eventual husband Leon Scott- and letters written by friends to Hazel in 1904 and 1906, letters that illustrate typical obsessions of the young: the opposite sex, jealousy, socializing and enjoying summer vacation.

Cliff Spires collection, MSS 8716 AV, The Ohio History Connection

Pen pal letters, 1968 In the 1960s, writing to “pen pals” was one of the many fads that appealed to teenagers. Cliff Spires was one such teen. Living in the Columbus area in the 1960s, Cliff wrote letters to “pen pals” all around the world. In 2019, the Ohio History Connection received a collection of letters that Spires received from his correspondents. The letters show that despite living in the midst of the great explosion of youth culture that was the 1960s, a decade that truly catered to their generation, the teenagers of the 60s were still kids, sharing many of the same concerns and interests of Hazel and her friends in the 1900s. That said, the turbulence of the 1960s is reflected in the letters as well, as such topics as the war in Vietnam, teen pregnancy, drug use, and of course the “generation gap” loom large in the lives of the young writers.  The two examples we selected from the collection are both from teenagers in Ohio: 15-year-old Karen from University Heights near Cleveland, and Becky, a 13-year-old from Dayton. Karen writes to Cliff about their shared love of acting and an exciting concert by the British rock band The Who (illustrative of the time, pop and rock music is a shared obsession among the pen pals in the collection). Becky talks about current movies and her father punishing her for seeing an older boy, as well as his disapproval over her clothing: “I guess I do dress like one, but does he have to call me a hippie?” she laments…

Rockwell Clown Unit collection, MSS 1654 AV, The Ohio History Connection

Children’s “thank you” letters and artwork, c. 1970s-1980s. A rather unique collection held by the archives library is the Rockwell Clown Unit collection. Established in the early 1960s as an outreach program of Rockwell North American of Columbus, The Rockwell Clown Unit consisted of amateur clowns who visited and entertained adults and children in hospitals and schools and participated in social events such as fairs and parades throughout the Columbus area. As you can see from the examples, the collection includes many “thank you” letters and drawings from children. While most of the children seem very happy in their letters, the letter by Shelly strikes a different tone.

Richard F. Celeste papers, MSS 600 AV, The Ohio History Connection

Celeste family children, 1975, 1978 During his many years of public service in Ohio and beyond, Richard Celeste wore many political hats.  From state congressional representative to Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Ohio, from Peace Corps Director to Ambassador to India. For a good part of that long political career, Celeste and his wife Dagmar raised their six children, with the children sharing in the political highs and lows with their parents. Their childhood filled with experiences shaped by the political world they found themselves in, from the treehouse in the yard of the governor’s mansion for the youngest, to a wedding reception held in the mansion for the oldest. All of the children found their day-to-day lives often dictated by the political whirl that surrounded them. As one can imagine, living in such an intense environment could be a very bewildering and exhausting experience for a child, and not always “fun.”  As the Richard F. Celeste papers are an all-encompassing overview of his lengthy career and life, it makes sense that nestled among the political papers and files are materials related to his children. These range from a “happy birthday” drawing and photographs of the children meeting celebrities at the Ohio State Fair, to files created by son Eric while working for the 1986 inaugural celebration. Also included are items reflecting the strain of living as a child in a political family, as the examples below illustrate.  In the first, a Celeste child responds to a printed “daily schedule” for their father (then Lieutenant Governor) in June of 1975, with their own version of the schedule, using a rather pointed wit to vent their frustration. In 1978, daughter Noelle, then 8 years old, described, “what happened!!!” on election night, when her father lost the governor’s race to James Rhodes. Years later, Noelle used that childhood perspective of election night to frame a paper she wrote while studying at Yale University titled “When Your Home is a Fishbowl: The Experience of Growing Up in a Political Family. A copy of the paper is included in the collection.

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