News Archive

Museum Department News Archive

Perfect timing: New IDA collection featuring correspondence between women debuts in Women's History Month
posted 11 Mar 2021

The Museum Department team has contributed a second digital collection of Madison County Historical Society materials to the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA). Private and Real--A Collection of Correspondence Between Women is a small but powerful collection of letters by Anna "Nan" Howell to Hannah "Hallie" Wade spanning 1888–92. The digital collection includes images of the letters and searchable transcriptions.

Born in 1869 in Aurora, Illinois, Nan met Hallie at Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, where they were both students. The Wade family lived on Henry Street in Alton. Nan’s letters are sprinkled with mentions of fellow classmates (notably Nora "Dell" Hatheway).

In her letters, Nan speaks frankly on a number of personal topics. She relates that her future husband Harry has undergone an operation for a sexual disorder. She answers questions from Hallie about pregnancy and recommends a sex education book. Nan writes more than once about struggling with feelings of depression. And in her letter of January 12, 1890, she reports that she has had a lumpectomy.

The last letter in the collection is a brief note dated July 29, 1892. Nan died seven months later.

publicity image rev
Page 1 of Ann Howell letter dated January 12, 1890, in which she reports that she has had a lumpectomy. MCHS document 1987-060-0037. Read the whole letter.

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Nellie Friday is "brought back to life" above using the MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia photo animation technology. The moving image was created from a carte de visite photograph of Nellie Friday taken in 1875, when she was about 18 years old. She lived with her parents and two brothers (their little sister had died three years ago). Her father, an immigrant from Hanover, was the Madison County jailer. The original photograph is in the Madison County Archival Library picture files.

Nellie married Herman Ritter two-and-a-half years after this photograph was taken. Herman’s Bavarian-born father was a wealthy lumber merchant. Herman was studying law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he married Nellie. Within a year, Herman had graduated and started a law practice, and the couple had moved back to Edwardsville and had their first child.

The newspapers report that one morning in the summer of 1884, Herman decided to clean his guns. He wrestled with an old rusted breech-loading shotgun, trying to take the barrels off the stock. Most accounts state that Herman was aware the gun was loaded. The gun slipped and discharged, riddling Nellie’s chest with shot. In some versions, Nellie’s heart is struck and she is killed instantly. In others, she is shot below the heart, through her lung, and it takes about 10 minutes for her to die. The coroner immediately held an inquest; the jury ruled that the death was accidental. Nellie was 27 years old and left behind two sons: 6-year-old Frank and 4-year-old Homer. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. 

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  March is Women's History Month
posted 4 Mar 2021

March is the perfect month to visit our online exhibit on the Women's Suffrage Movement in Madison County.

The exhibition features images and artifacts illustrating the movement that swept the county, state, and country.

Some of our other online exhibits also feature stories about Madison County women. For instance, check out Musical Madison County to learn about bandleader Cordelia Jones, trumpet player Anita Ellsperman, and the Schwarz Sisters Orchestra.

Online exhibits are written and designed by Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library staff, and feature artifacts and images from the Madison County Historical Society collections.

Photo at left: Two piece 1912 "suffragette suit." MCHS object 2005-305-0036-FIC.

Museum Department Contributes First Collection to Illinois State Library Online Repository: Schoolhouses of Madison County

When the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder for people to visit museums and libraries, the Madison County Museum Department staff started looking for digital solutions. We soon realized that the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA) presented an opportunity to continue to serve the public and also increase the visibility of the Madison County Historical Society collections statewide. A collaboration between the Illinois State Library and the Office of the Secretary of State, the IDA repository serves as a online archive for digital collections held by libraries and cultural institutions throughout the state.

We wanted our first IDA collection to concentrate on unique photographs in the archival collection that had already been digitized and reflected Madison County broadly rather than just one small section. The result—Schoolhouses of Madison County—became public in early February 2021. The collection of 89 images provides a glimpse at rural one-room schools and early school buildings throughout the county. The photographs in the collection come from a scrapbook affectionately known by staff as the "School Album," full of photographs labelled with school names and township locations. By the year 2000, no one working in the library knew when the scrapbook had been created, or by whom.

New Douglas--Elm 32
Elm School in New Douglas Township. Constructed in 1898; photograph taken circa 1910–1930. MCHS School album 025.17, page 32

Watch this space for announcements of new Madison County Historical Society collections available in the IDA repository.  Send us your comments.

IDA search tips: To find materials only from the Madison County Historical Society collections, click on "By Institution." IDA has sixteen subject groupings, like military history and transportation, if you want a broader search to see what is available at other institutions.

February 2021 Staff Pick

Cora Whittington and Herman Aitch were both born in Union (a small town in Franklin County, Missouri) in the 1860s. They married and raised three children there. After graduating from eighth grade, the Aitch siblings attended private boarding school in Jefferson City: Union did not offer any high school options for African American students.

19791210001-2 Cora Whittington wore this two-piece wedding outfit when she married Herman Aitch in 1894. The ivory silk bodice has leg-o-mutton sleeves and lace trim. Grosgrain bows adorn the ruffled skirt. MCHS object 1979-121-0001.
  Middle child Alma went on to earn a teaching certificate and got a job at Lincoln School in Edwardsville. Cora left Missouri to join her daughter in Edwardsville after Herman's death in 1937. Alma's teaching career ended in 1951 when the Edwardsville public schools were integrated and Lincoln School teachers lost their jobs.

Cora's children—Alma Aitch Jackson, Ethel Aitch Shaw, and Uncas Aitch—donated Cora's wedding dress to the Madison County Historical Society in 1979. Send us your comments.

This real photo post card (cropped) dates to circa 1920–1925. Based on information about the origin of the photograph and comparison to other photographs, Museum Department staff believe it depicts Cora and Herman Aitch. MCHS photograph 2001-096-0003.

 p1_Ballingers   February is Black History Month
posted 4 Feb 2021

If you haven't already checked out our online exhibit on Black History in Madison County Before 1900, this is a great time to do it!

The exhibition features photographs, illustrations, documents, and period artifacts held by the Madison County Historical Society relating to the lives of early African American Madison Countians. It was created by the Museum Department staff in collaboration with community historian/genealogical researcher Charlotte Johnson of Alton. Send us your comments.

Photo at left: James and Matilda Ballinger in 1913.

 Arashiyama postcard MCHMAL side 1

Arashiyama postcard MCHMAL side 2
  International Exposure for the County Museum
posted 2 Feb 2021

The Madison County Historical Society was recently contacted by Norio Togiya, professor of Informatics at Kansai University in Japan. Professor Togiya's research focuses on digital cultural heritage. He is currently working on a project compiling an electronic catalog of pre-World War II Japanese photographs preserved in museums, libraries, and archives in the United States and the United Kingdom. The free catalog will be published on the website of the National Diet Library (the national library of Japan) later in 2021. 

The Madison County Archival Library contributed this postcard (MCHS document 1986-067-0003) of "Arashiyama at Kyoto" to the project. Ned Caldwell, on a trip around the world courtesy of the United States Navy in 1910, sent the postcard to his mother in Edwardsville. Send us your comments.
 Three girls 1897   January 2021 Staff Pick

The two little blond girls are sisters (Mildred and Marion Brown); the girl in the middle is their cousin Sarah Travous. One day Mildred and Marion’s mom called up Sarah’s mom and said the photographer was in town, so hurry up and come over for a picture. There wasn’t enough time to brush out Sarah’s curls. This picture was taken about 1897 or 1898. When the Brown family purchased their first car years later, beautiful and popular Mildred was the first one to learn to drive it. But someone had to ride with her, to keep her from picking up boys. MCHS photograph 1992-095-0015-002. Send us your comments.

Ink to Paper: Exploring the Advancement of Letter Writing and Its Uses

This "mini-museum" exhibit in the Madison County Archival Library looks at the lost art of letter-writing. Various types of letters, the instruments used to write them, and the stamps used to send them, feature in the exhibit.

Ink to Paper was curated by intern David Thompson, a graduate student in Historical Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, under the direction of Madison County Museum staff. The exhibit will run be on display through May 2021.


 bubble pipe   Artifact Spotlight: December 2020

This bubble pipe is about 100 years old! You dip the bowl in a soap solution and then blow into the mouthpiece, holding the pipe so that the bowl faces downward. Ads for the "Wonder Soap Bubbler" tout it as "fascinating, healthful, sanitary, and indesctructible." The perfect holiday gift for kids! MCHS object 2019-300-0012-FIC. Send us your comments.
Artifact Spotlight: November 2020

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, editor of the St. Louis Observer, began writing editorials against slavery in 1833. After a mob destroyed his printing press for a third time, Lovejoy moved his family across the river to Alton, Illinois, where he started the abolitionist paper the Alton Observer. Soon a vocal faction of citizens felt that Lovejoy's abolitionist views had become more extreme (for the time and place). On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob approached the location of his hidden printing press with murderous intent. Both parties fired shots. Lovejoy came out of the building to overturn attempts to burn it down and fell victim to multiple gunshots. The mob reached the printing press and threw the pieces in the Mississippi. Due to multiple conflicts of interest, the justice system did not charge anyone with Lovejoy's murder.

MCHS object 1964-035-0005: Joining a mantle from his Alton home, this platter entered into the Madison County Historical Society collections after travelling through Lovejoy’s extended family. In a 1937 Alton Telegraph article, the owner stated that the platter and four matched plates had been part a larger set that did not survive the 100 years between. "I did not realize the value of these dishes or I would have been more careful with them." Send us your comments.
 Spread Eagle   Archival Image Spotlight: October 2020

The Spread Eagle, a side-wheeler steamboat, cruises down the Mississippi River. You can see the old Burlington Northern railroad swing bridge at Alton in the background. The steamboat and bridge were both built in 1892 (the bridge was completed in 1894). This photograph was taken about 1900.

Transportation will be a prominent theme in the new exhibits when the museum reopens. Send us your comments.