Ms. Kilbourne: Chemistry Teacher Extraordinaire

“Among the things that have made teaching of chemistry an inspiration have been the intrinsic challenge of the subject matter, and the enthusiasm of the students—above all, witnessing their later successes in life. . .”      –Elaine M. Kilbourne, circa 1967

Elaine M. Kilbourne (1923-2014)

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we would like to highlight the achievements and influence of high school chemistry teacher Elaine M. Kilbourne (1923-2014), who taught locally from 1948 to 1993. A collection of scrapbooks and other memorabilia she compiled was recently donated to the Museum by her friend and former student, Mr. Guy A. Toscano. It documents her distinguished career as a teacher and educator, and her ability to mentor and inspire generations of students.

Elaine M. Kilbourne, Anacostia History School Chemistry class, undated.

During her tenure at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC (1948-1968), and later at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, MD (1979-1993), Ms. Kilbourne earned a national reputation for her teaching. She pioneered the use of experimental and hands-on learning in her classroom, even discussing “atomic and ionic dimensions and molecular structure from student-constructed models”. In 1958 and 1963, Ms. Kilbourne received Principal Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching by the District of Columbia. The American Chemical Society recognized her contributions to the STEM field with numerous awards, including the Second District James Bryant Conan Award in High School Chemical Teaching in 1967.

Ms. Kilbourne is presented the James Bryant Conant Award, 1967

Not a person to rest on her laurels, Ms. Kilbourne created a series of national curricula for high school chemistry seniors while serving as Science Education Specialist for the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also worked for the National Science Foundation’s summer program, training chemistry teachers.

This is one of ten science projects written by Ms. Kilbourne, while she worked as a Science Education Specialist at the Food and Drug Administration.

Throughout her long career, Ms. Kilbourne demonstrated a passion for chemistry and a keen ability to influence students’ learning achievements. Her impact is evident in the letters and notes of appreciation she received from students, which are preserved in her scrapbooks. Actions speak even louder than words, and as one of her awards noted, an “average of nine to ten of her students per year” went on to major in science at college, leading in several cases to illustrious careers in STEM fields.

Ms. Kilbourne graduated from Eastside High School in 1940, received her B. A. in Physical Sciences from Montclair State Teachers College in 1944 and completed a M.A. degree in Student Personnel Administration at Columbia University in 1947. The collection contains limited personal information, and I am left to wonder about this remarkable woman’s early life and school experiences, what sparked her interest in chemistry, and how she experienced being a woman science teacher during the mid-20th century. What is undeniable is that she contributed to the advancement of STEM education, and that she instilled a love of learning in generations of Washington, DC area students. Her contributions are now duly documented among the Museum’s collections.

 

Help us identify these families!

In honor of National Quilting Day, research conservator Annaick Keruzec takes a closer look at several quilts with photographic patches in the museum’s collection.

Quilts are made for comfort, to decorate a home, or to tell a family story. For a textile conservator like myself, each quilt is unique and fascinating. Crafted from small pieces of fabric, they carry within them things that were part of the quilt maker’s environment. I can spend hours researching each fabric square, identifying fibers through the microscope or combing through historic sales catalogues to date and source the fabrics. I can examine how they were selected, arranged, and stitched together. I can document and admire the handiwork, the color combinations, and the artistry. Quilts are richly textured objects, full of connections and personal choices made by the maker. Indeed, researching quilts can offer remarkable insights on the person who made them.

Quilt with photographic patches

Shroud Series #2, Quilt by Fay Pullen Fairbrother. Photographed during examination in the collections processing room of the museum.

Several quilts in the museum’s collection incorporate squares with photographic images printed on them. This gives an added layer of complexity. How were they made? Why were these photos chosen? What was the artist’s intention? I am collaborating with a photo conservator and conservation scientists at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) to document these photographic quilts historically, technically, and personally from the artist’s perspective. In the next few months, we will analyze the fabrics, inks, emulsions, and binders used to create the photo patches – and we will report on it in this blog.

I’ve been examining a set of seven quilts created in the early 1990s by the artist Fay Pullen Fairbrother (1948-1997). Collectively titled The Shroud Series, they incorporate turn-of-the-century photographs depicting family portraits, lynchings, and the Ku Klux Klan. In an artist statement shortly after she made the quilts, Fairbrother wrote that the photographs of the KKK activities, studio portraits of black and white families, and lynched men clearly reflected a dissolution of family values and morals, Christian or otherwise. She chose to accentuate the dissonance of the violent imagery by juxtaposing it with quilt making, which has associations of comfort and family. The images stand out among the patchwork of the quilt.

 

I’ve been sourcing the images for the 50 photo-patches Fairbrother created, although I am not sure where and how she located them pre-internet. She reused some images, so they constitute a total of 24 different photographs. Among them are eight photographs depicting lynchings. Lynchings were public events that were described and recorded in local and sometimes national news. Some were depicted on early 20th-century postcards. I have identified the men in four photographs as Bennie Simmons (1913), Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith (1930), Claude Neal (1934), and Rubin Stacy (1935), whose photographs are published in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000). Four other scenes remain unidentified.

On three of the quilts in the Shroud Series, Fairbrother incorporated family portraits. They show well-dressed black and white families posing against draped studio backdrops. In contrast to the lynching photographs, the portraits are private and personal. Family portraits are also ubiquitous, and it is hard to describe them in a way that is unique. As a result, portraits are difficult to research and document. I have contacted archives to which Fairbrother might have had access, but have not yet located the images she used.

Please help us identify the five family portraits shown above and below! Have you seen these photographs or any like them? Let us know in the comments section.

  

Our scientific research on the quilts will continue to reveal Fairbrother’s technical processes. Meanwhile I am hoping to discover more about the artist’s life and sources of inspiration for her exceptional quilt series.

A Pin Box in a Haystack

In honor of Presidents’ Day, the Museum’s Registrar highlights the museum’s curious connection to President Wilson.

From George Washington’s first inauguration until the present, Americans have been captivated by the nation’s highest office, and immediately that fascination extended into collecting and preserving objects associated with the Presidency. What started as a personal pursuit in the early 19th century has become the purview of museum and library professionals who collect, preserve, and curate objects related to each Commander in Chief.

As the Smithsonian’s community museum, our interest is in the everyday lives and experiences of ordinary people. As such, we are most interested in the local and personal manifestations of the Presidency. Our collection includes campaign buttons worn by community organizers, and pens that signed legislation into law.

One item in our collection, a small porcelain box with lid, recently caught me by surprise. The box was labeled as an archaeological artifact, part of a group of objects excavated in 1991 prior to the construction of the Anacostia Metro station in Washington D.C. It was stored in a cabinet with other archaeological finds from this dig, including early 20th century glass bottles, broken porcelain, keys, and other small items. At first glance, the attribution made sense because these things were all early 20th century household items. A maker’s mark on the bottom of the box, ‘Victoria Carlsbad, Austria,’ identified it as a fairly common item, readily available for purchase in Washington in the early 1900s.

This porcelain pin box in our collection is said to have been a gift from President Wilson’s wife to a local dressmaker. Object No. 1991.0064.0008a+b.

However, two recent discoveries caused me to question this attribution. Our friends from the D.C. office of Historic Preservation came to do an inventory of all the archaeological finds and field notes, and found no specific mention of this box. While not entirely unusual, this was intriguing. Meanwhile, a team of collections researchers were scouring through hundreds of files related to past exhibitions at the museum. One file referenced a china pin box donated by Mrs. Rosa Ware Jones, which was displayed in the museum’s 1977 exhibition The Anacostia Story, 1608-1930. This reference immediately attracted my attention.

What was so distinctive about this reference? I noticed the word “donated” – implying the box in the exhibit was a gift to the museum – yet I knew of no “china pin box” documented as such in our collection. Exhibit documents recorded the box’s provenance: given by one of President Woodrow Wilson’s wives to a dressmaker named Lillie Green, born in 1882, who lived on Elvans Road SE in the 1910s.

The Green family listed as living on Elvans Road SE in the 1910 Federal Census.
Year: 1910; Census Place: Precinct 11, Washington, District of Columbia; Roll: T624_149; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0234; FHL microfilm: 1374162

Could this be our box? I looked for additional sources that might corroborate the box’s origin. Inventories conducted by museum staff over the years all list the porcelain box, but offer little additional information. Yet I noticed that an inventory conducted in 1988 described a “china pin box,” using the same words as the Anacostia Story exhibition script and thus confirming that the museum kept the box after the exhibition. Later inventories continue to list this box and no other, even after the 1991 acquisition of the archaeological artifacts – casting further doubt on the archaeological provenance. Finally, a grainy photograph of the exhibition surfaced, showing a small white object on display. The poor quality of the photograph makes it difficult to see, but the item could be our box.

Knowing all of this, and looking again at the box and lid, its attribution to the archaeological dig is suspicious. It is in good condition, with a few scratches but no breaks – unlike virtually all of the material from the dig.

So assuming this is indeed the “china pin box,” does its story hold up?

First, who was Lillie Green? Federal Census records for 1900 and 1910 list her as a dressmaker born in 1882, living at 93 Elvans Road SE with her father, brothers, and sisters. She is listed with the same address and occupation in the 1913, 1916, and 1918 Washington, DC city directories. Better yet, this corresponds to President Woodrow Wilson’s time in office, making its story plausible: that the box was given to Ms. Green by one of President Wilson’s wives.

Lillie and Lula Green appear in the 1913 Washington, D.C. City Directory

Ms. Green died prematurely on August 21, 1917, as recorded the next day in the Washington Evening Star. What happened to her china pin box? It appears to have been passed down in the family, a treasured heirloom with a remarkable story. Federal census records and newspapers – as well as ancestry.com – identify Ms. Rosa Jones as the daughter of Lula Green, Lillie Green’s younger sister. It was Rosa who, six decades later, donated her aunt’s box – along with its exceptional story – to our museum.

We cannot corroborate beyond a doubt that this pretty porcelain pin box was a gift from the President’s wife. However, all the pieces available to us coincide to support Rosa Jones’ statements at the time she donated the box to our museum. Significantly, Mrs. Jones’ gift attests that Washington residents, like others around the country, have long treasured objects with a presidential connection.

A Portrait of Frederick Douglass

2018 marks the bicentennial of abolitionist and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, whose Cedar Hill Estate is located one mile from our museum’s current location. In his honor, collections researcher Meghan Mullins showcases a portrait that was created by one of our museum’s early employees, artist Larry Erskine Thomas.

Read More»

Urban Waterways newsletter issue 9

Urban Waterways and Education

Sockeye Salmon in the fish ladder at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Shane Wallenda/released)

As waterways and their environs undergo the process of being restored and deemed valuable in the eyes of a variety of stakeholders, the multitude of their “values” has become apparent as residents and other interested parties seek to define, solidify, and justify their connections and right to these natural resources.   How do we utilize them? What roles can the natural world play in our lives?  This issue explores education along waterways.   Education can be defined as “the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.”  It can also be defined as “an enlightening experience”.   As communities look to a future in which equitable access to reclaimed natural resources is one of the foundational pieces to healthy, sustainable communities what kind of educational experience is owed the people living along our urban waterways? Do either of the above definitions suit the task before us or is it a combination of the two?

The contributors of this issue present a variety of models for how our natural resources can be used as an integral part of the transmission of skills and values needed to ensure informed civic engagement in the variety of issues facing communities as they work to create a sense of belonging to and equal access to their natural world. UW Newsletter 9

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