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U.S., Family Histories Right in Front of You
A colorful, informative and intriguing assortment of documents, photographs and letters are now on display for viewers in a historic exhibition coordinated by the Sophia Smith Collection (SSC).

And for this exhibition, viewers don’t even have to get up from their desks.

“Across the Generations: Exploring U.S. History Through Family Papers” is a broad, inclusive online exhibition of papers, pictures and an array of historic materials in the SSC’s holdings of four notable American families.

“We chose the Hales, Garrisons, Dunhams and Bodmans because they are some of our largest and richest family papers collections,” says Sherrill Redmon, head of the SSC. “Some [of the collections] are heavily used but the others merit much more attention from scholars.”

Some of the collections contain materials pertaining to Smith alumnae, Redmon acknowledges, but the families were not chosen primarily for that reason.
The exhibition -- which can be viewed at -- focuses on family life, social awareness, arts and leisure, and work. But in addition to the thematic views of the families, the exhibition contains specific sections detailing each family’s history.

“Scholars around the world know the SSC as one of the must-see destinations for any topic in the history of women and the causes they have championed,” says Redmon. “We want them also to know that many historical topics not pertaining especially to women can be researched here: the movement to abolish slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the single-tax movement, growth of capitalism, etcetera.”

Redmon says the SSC decided to produce the exhibition online because “scholars are increasingly using the Web to shop for research sources. Exhibits like this also reach high-school students and teachers and the general public and thus perform an educational function.”

One of the displays, the Bodman family papers, consists of 24 linear feet of materials, dating from 1687 to 1980. In the 17th century, the Bodmans settled in nearby Hatfield, Sophia Smith’s future hometown, but moved over to Williamsburg a hundred years later. The family built successful banking and grain merchandising businesses through the 1800s and thrived into the 20th century.

The Dunham family collection represents four generations of the extended family, dating from 1814. During World War I, two Dunham women volunteered for the American Fund for French Wounded (AFFW), which provided aid to wounded soldiers and refugees. The Dunhams lived in New York City and in Maine.

The family of William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) is represented by 150 linear feet of material rife with primary sources that document the family’s storied involvement in politics, business, art and its prominent role in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements of the mid-1800s. The abundant Garrison collection contains correspondences with such historic personalities as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Weld and Henry B. Blackwell, to name a few. The collection chronicles five generations over three centuries.

The Hale family, anchored by the Rev. Enoch Hale and his famous brother, the patriot Nathan Hale, of Westhampton, eventually centered mainly in Boston, where the extended family moved in well-known circles of politics, literature and business. Correspondents of the Hales in the SSC collection include Louisa May Alcott, Alexander Graham Bell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Webster. While the collection covers the years from 1787 to 1988, materials related to the activities of Nathan Hale (1784–1863) thoroughly document the social, political and cultural life of 19th-century Boston.

A virtual stroll through “Across the Generations” offers lessons on history, personal glimpses into the social lives of past eras, and intimate interactions between some of the country’s most notable characters.

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