SPEAKER: This is a production of Cornell University Library.
SARAH WRIGHT: OK. I think we're still waiting for a few people to log in, but I think we're going to go ahead and get started. So good afternoon. I'm Sarah Wright, the interim director of Mann Library. And I'm happy to welcome you all to our second virtual Chats in the Stacks, Book Talk of the fall 2020 semester. We have another sizeable audience with us today. And we are so grateful for your interest.
While we do very much miss the ability to host our book talks in person, one of the perks of the virtual platform that we've had to adopt this semester is that we are able to include audience members from quite far away. So for those of you who are not familiar with Cornell University Libraries Chats in the Stack series, I'd like to provide just a little bit of background. Our Chats in the Stacks program is aimed at providing an opportunity for Cornell faculty and researchers to present their recently published books to a cross-disciplinary audience.
Upcoming talks that we've lined up for the rest of the semester will discuss topics ranging from the theory of citizenship developed by Black activists intellectuals of the 19th century to the design of outdoor spaces for young people by contemporary designers and planners. And you can find the link to the full schedule that we'll be posting in the chat field shortly.
I'd also like to mention that most of these talks are recorded and made viewable online. So if you'd like to catch previous book talks, you can get to most of these recordings through our YouTube channel. And you should see a link for that pop up in the chat window as well.
And then just briefly before I introduce our speaker today, I'd like to touch on a few points concerning the logistics of today's event. First, we do have a live captioning service associated with this talk. So if you'd like to see the live captions, be sure to hit the toggle on your Zoom view.
Second, much like our usual book talks, today's event will begin with our speaker's presentation, which will then be followed by a question and answer session. You can submit questions via chat in this webinar at any point in the presentation. One of our co-panelists, Eveline Ferretti, will be gathering the questions that come in, and she will be presenting them to our speaker, Karen Penders St. Clair, in the order that they were received.
And now it is my pleasure to tell you a little bit about our speaker and her work. Academic writer and book reviewer Karen Penders St. Clair spent five years researching the archival papers of several notable Cornellians for her dissertation, Finding Anna-- The Archival Search for Anna Botsford Comstock, and received her doctoral degree from the School of Integrative Plant Science Horticulture Section at Cornell University in 2017. Dr. Penders St. Clair's extraordinary dissertation project involved rekeying the entire 708-page surviving manuscript, restoring Anna Comstock's voice, and making the new Comstock autobiography a first and second generation document, which has now been published by Cornell University Press as the 2020 edition of the original Comstock manuscript.
Dr. Penders St. Clair continues to help spotlight the important legacy of educators shaping the teaching of the life sciences through her contributions to venues such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library's Earth Optimism 2020 campaign, and the Plant Sciences bulletin of the Botanical Society of America. Please join me in welcoming Karen as she gives us a close up view into the fascinating story of one of the most influential nature educators of the early 20th century.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Thank you very much, Sarah. Let me-- well, here we are. Welcome, everyone. And I want to thank you, truly. This is a grand occasion for me today to bring this to you. What I mean by this is I don't mean my book. I mean Anna's book. This is her book.
And I learned so much about Anna and myself, how information is documented, how information is destroyed. And as George Washington said yesterday in Hamilton, what I was watching, we have no control over who lives or dies, or who tells your story. And that really resonated with me. And George was right when he said that history has its eyes.
And for me, I was wanting to put the goggles back on this book and bring it back to you and to everyone who is interested in nature study and sustainability, entomology. This is your book. This is a library book, an archivist's book. There was a lot of people that are behind the scenes of this book. And it is a tremendous joy for me to bring this to you.
I'm going to talk about the Comstock manuscript, and that it is the first document of what's called original order. This manuscript was the template for the 1953 edition of the Comstocks of Cornell, which is this book right here with all of my notes. And this 1953 edition was so altered from its source, the manuscript, that this actually became a biographical book with third and fourth generation information. And this book is actually a shadow of the autobiographical document that Mrs. Comstock wrote. And the importance of my research work was to bring these egregious actions to light and to restore the voice of Mrs. Comstock to her own autobiography.
What I want to talk about today is who the Comstocks were. I'm going to talk a little bit about each one separately. I'm going to touch upon my dissertation research just a little bit. And I want to tell you especially what was revealed. And I will also give a comparison between the 2020 edition and the 1953 edition in case you're wondering what in the world I did that was so great.
So here we go. Who were the Comstocks? Not everybody knows who the Comstocks were outside of Cornell. There's a few nature study lovers who are just Anna Comstock lovers, and they're dedicated to her. And they are across the country. And if you look on the internet, you will see websites where they are talking. Anna Comstock said this. Anna Comstock that, The Handbook of Nature Study. She's beloved. And she's beloved still.
For those who don't know who Anna Comstock is, she was born in 1854 in a log cabin near Otto, New York to Quaker parents. And she grew up as an only child. She was the second-- or excuse me-- she was-- there was a second marriage for both of her parents, but she was their first and only child. They educated their daughter. Her mother, as those who know Anna, her mother taught her her love of nature, but also her love of books. And Anna was well read as a youth and throughout her life.
Mr. Comstock, or Professor Comstock-- it's used interchangeably-- he was born in Janesville, Wisconsin to a pioneer family. He came from a very difficult family life. And his father became enthralled with the gold rush fanatics of the time. And his father actually died on the way to California, but his mother and the family never knew what happened to him. She was left to fend for herself. And she was swindled. And she worked and scraped to save money and try to get her and her son back to her family in New York. And it took her four years to do so.
Now, each Comstock on their own-- and I'll talk a little bit more about Professor Comstock-- each Comstock on their own, they were a self-made person. Professor Comstock, he was adopted when his family-- his mother came to New York. He was adopted by a family of seamen who used to patrol the Great Lakes. And they would move freight, say, from Oswego to Chicago. And he entered-- because he was a part of this family and he so loved them, he entered this trade, but as a cook because he was a skinny, sickly kid. And his mother knew that he was not going to be a big, strapping guy. And he needed to do something, so she taught him how to cook. And he was apparently a very good cook.
He came to Cornell in 1870, and he worked his way through the work study program with the college. He worked for, at that time, $0.15 an hour unloading the stone that was built McGraw Hall. He was not a particularly religious person. In fact, he didn't like it at all. And it was the exact opposite of Anna. Anna, being raised a devout Quaker, she was very much of the belief of finding God in nature and of all things living. And she was a very spiritual person.
And she was educated through her childhood. As I said earlier, her parents wanted to educate their daughter. And they wanted her to go on to some sort of advanced schooling. As there were no high schools, she went with Cattaraugus County School, the chamber-- a seminary for women, young women, called Chamberlain Institute and Female College. And that is where she did her preparation for her college.
Just a quick note about some of these pictures. You're going to see some of these again and again. And this is quite intentional. These are pictures from the archives. And I just tried to bring up different photos of Anna and Professor Comstock that maybe have not been seen before, and just that are really kind of fun. There's a story behind everything. And I will try not to digress too much, but it is tempting for me. This is their marriage certificate, for example.
Anyway, Professor Comstock, he came to Cornell because the university catalog informed him that a professor of entomology would be appointed. And that was his interest. And his interest was in entomology, but he wanted to go to med school. So Professor Comstock, when he came, he studied biology and comparative neurology under-- here he is as a young man, and here are some of his collection. This is from when his-- I believe this is his days on the Great Lakes. But he came and he studied entomology on his own because there was no instructor.
The Department of Entomology at Cornell records Comstock beginning to teach courses in 1871. That was in his sophomore year of college. He was so enamored with what he was doing and what he was learning. And he was a natural teacher, and all of his buddies and friends petitioned the school to say, hey, we want this guy to teach us. He knows what he's talking about. And so he did.
Now, like I said, the Department of Entomology records 1871. In a letter of 1872 to his mother, he said that it was found that the professor who they were originally going to hire for entomology was not able to attend. So he was asked to deliver the course of lectures on economic entomology in his stead, and he did. In the spring of 1873, the petition was sent, and he thus began his career teaching.
Here we have some of the-- these are the actual specimens that he and Anna Comstock collected. He collected first when he was a bachelor, and then with Anna. And these are all the little labels that they made. In the books it talks about these special jars that he made bent at the neck. Here are some of their microscopic slides. This is their microscopic collection. And here's a photograph from the entomology library.
Here is a picture of the inside of the insectary that was built in 1888 for about $2,500. And when Professor Comstock started teaching in 1880, they established the Department of Economic Entomology. It was said to be the first of its kind in the United States.
And this picture here, this is a picture. And the Comstocks are right there in front and center. This is a picture of the Department of Entomology. That is taken from about mid 1920s. And also, mister-- excuse me-- Professor Needham, he is in this picture. Professor Needham is right here. And he became the chair of entomology upon Professor Comstock's retirement in 1914.
Glenn Herrick is also in this picture. And I'm trying to see if I can pick him out. He's right in here, I believe. And he was the editor of the 1953 book.
Now, today, at Cornell Entomology that Professor Comstock started, they have 7 million insect specimens representing about 200,000 species, or roughly 20% of the world's described insect fauna in their department. And it is staggering. And it is amazing. And this is what he started. This is why John Comstock is so amazing and so unique to this half of the Comstocks of Cornell.
Again, here is a picture from the archives. Hello, all my archive buddies are RMC. Yay! This is a picture from the professor's office. And here's a picture of the elementary lab-- or excuse me-- elementary entomology lab.
And now "that beautiful Miss Botsford." That's what Professor Comstock said of Anna when they first started sitting together, taking their meals together at Sage Hall. Now, Sage Hall, which is here in the center photograph, the cornerstone for Sage College was laid on May 15, 1873. And Henry Sage said at the ceremony that this was the first university in this country, if not in the world, which has at the same time boldly recognized the rights of a woman, as well as a man, to all the education she will ask, and pledged itself to the policy and duty of maintaining equal facilities for both.
And this is from Morris Bishop's book, [INAUDIBLE] History of Cornell. And he was talking about Sage College that was built for the women students. It was not ready for occupancy in 1874 when Anna arrived, so she lived in town in Ithaca and trudged up the big hill. But it did open in 1875 for about 30 girls who occupied the building.
When Anna enrolled here at the college-- now here's a picture of Anna with some of her classmates. She's here in the center. And here again, here's Anna, and different photos of her as a young woman. In this photo, she's probably like about-- I think she's like 16 in this photo. And then this is a different research. We'll say this ages her about when she got to Cornell.
She left Cornell because of a romantic relationship that broke. Both Comstocks were engaged to previous people, not each other. It wasn't true love right off the start. But when they did get married, you can see how lovely she is and how she glowed.
When Anna enrolled, as I said, in 1874, there were about 37 women to 484 men. And there is a quote that says that the co-eds were clearly an exceptional group, and that on the average, they were a few years older than the male students. They were courageous pioneers and ready to risk criticism in order to get the best education available to them. And they did well in their classes, averaging better than 10% higher in their grades than the boys.
And the true acquaintanceship, as I said before, with the Comstocks began when Anna was attending Professor Comstock's classes. Here's a photograph of an article where it took a picture. Here is Professor Comstock, and here is Anna, and taking their class. And he was so poor he used to hide his feet under the rungs of the chairs because he didn't want her to see his poor shoes. He was quite captivated by her, but they were friends.
So you probably-- you may have heard that Anna was into wood carvings. And her mediums before wood carving was actually pen and ink, pastels, and watercolor. And here I've tried to give an example of each. Here this is the clock, that famous sundial clock that was in their yard on Roberts. This is a famous image of-- on all of the Comstocks of Cornell's books that they published, you can see this here. There is a golden spider web. And this is on all of their books that they put as a sort of a monogram. And here is the original as it is in the archives, the diagram that Anna drew. And here's paintings and some etchings.
Now, she designed the artwork for her husband's The Manual for the Study of Insects with the wood blocks because it was cheaper to use wood than to use the copper plating. And here is a picture of her tools as they are still in the archives. In this photograph, this is my hand holding one of her tools. They're actually much smaller than one would think, at least that's what I thought. I was really surprised at how small they were. And they're still sharp. I didn't cut myself, but there's a point to them.
And here are-- she would make the drawings, and then she would transfer them and make the woodcuts. And these, again, are just some different examples of some of her artwork. And she used this artwork for her husband's book, which we're going to talk about a little bit. She got the attention of Liberty Hyde Bailey, who was working as part of the Nature Study Education Department at Cornell at the turn of the 20th century. Here's a picture of the department in 1899.
And there's some different-- I have some different photographs. This right here is the school. This was what Liberty Hyde Bailey considered his ideal school house, rural school building, and it was also the home of the Cornell rural school leaflets. There's a picture up here of Anna and Liberty Hyde Bailey having a picnic. And here's the Cornell study leaflets. And what was important to this department was bringing nature study education back to children.
And the way they wanted to do that was not only to have the children to encourage them to observe nature with their own hands and their own senses, but they also wanted to help educate the parents and the teachers, like, hey, this is how you can take these kids outside, and this is-- we're going to help you to figure out how to do this. What we're going to do is we're going to write some programs. And that's what they did.
This group of people right here, they were very instrumental in the body of nature study writing that happened at Cornell University at that time. Here is a picture of Anna's book, Handbook of Nature Study, and this here is a copy of a book called Boys and Girls. As I said, Anna was recruited by Liberty Hyde Bailey and to join this department. And the work that this group did is staggering. But the bulk of it actually fell a lot to these four women and John Spencer.
Both Comstocks contributed to these works, the Boys and Girls magazine. And a little bit Anna took some of her ideas for her Nature Study from the lessons that they created, but a lot of their lessons came-- excuse me-- a lot of their lessons were in the Cornell Nature Study leaflets.
This slide right here represents-- is part of the body of work created by the people on the previous slide. What is omitted from the 1953 edition is any mention of the Boys and Girls magazine. And I discovered it quite accidentally in my research. Ada Georgia, who was featured in the previous slide here, here's Ada Georgia and Alice McCloskey. I'm going to be talking about them in a little bit. So just to keep them in mind.
Ada Georgia was completely removed from the 1953 book and only mentioned as a, quote, unquote, "assistant." In my restored edition, the quote that Anna said of Ada was that "Her devotion to the work and loyalty to me"-- to Anna-- "had made her an important factor in my life and a valued friend."
Anna's early organized attempts of compiling nature lessons are seen in her syllabus of nature study lessons. And this page, these pages from the syllabus here talks about astronomy, meaning the moon and sun and the stars. And the second page of the syllabus talks about the nature study of trees in an outline form-- this one right here-- for grades K through 3.
Julia Roberts, she went on after her tenure with Cornell and the Comstocks to write a beautiful book on shelves called the Shell Book. Ada Georgia wrote a very large book, The Manual of Weeds. And again, here is the Boys and Girls.
Now, the Comstocks were working individually on their separate-- the professor with his entomology, and Anna with her nature study. And they were wanting to have their works published. So they came together, and in 1892, they established their own publishing company, [INAUDIBLE]. And I have this here. This is from the letterhead from an original piece of paper that's in the archives.
And the Comstock's publishing motto, it is-- I don't think it's on this side of the building. Here is a picture of the chalet. And the motto mirrored the early nature study movement philosophy of the time of encouraging children to study nature directly. They also wanted to provide good quality books at a reasonable cost to the consumer.
The first book that the Comstocks published was actually called The Wilder Quarter Century Book. And it was a volume of essays in honor of Professor Comstock's mentor, Professor Wilder. And it was a body of essays of original work by Professor Wilder's students.
The second book that they published in 1894 was Simon Gage's fifth edition of his book The Microscope. Simon Gage and his wife Susanna and the Comstocks were very dear friends. And together Gage and Comstock went into this venture.
There is a book by Karen Laun of Cornell University Press, and she has written a wonderful comprehensive book about the establishment and the story of Cornell University Press, including Comstock publishing. And I just wanted to mention it, because this is a whole-- each facet that I talk about today, I could completely digress into another program. And this is no exception. And that's why I wanted to refer you to this book and to Karen's work, because she has done such a wonderful job of telling this particular part of the story of the Comstocks that I felt it important to share this with you.
Now, this is the moneymaker, at least at first, A Manual for the Study of Insects. This was the book that put the Comstocks on the map together in 1895. Anna had just wanted her husband's name on the book. And he said, no, this is our book, because she drew the proofs. When I opened up the proofs, I asked for this. I requested this box from the archives. I remember when Cheryl wheeled it in, the cart, and I opened the box. And I was like-- I thought it was a big mistake. I'm like, what in god's name is this? And I opened it up, and it was the complete manuscript from 1895 of The Study of Insects. And these are the pages that were inside these paper packages. It was beautiful, just all original artwork of Anna.
Now, this is what the Comstock publishing company put out. And also, another noted entomologist at the time out of California, Vernon Kellogg, he helped the Comstocks index this book, but that was not included in the 1953 edition.
This as we move on towards the Comstocks-- into their retirement, they were still active with Cornell, as this picture shows. But they did travel a lot. Anna did continue to teach nature study. Up until the last month of her life, she was teaching her nature study curricula. And her last class actually came to her home.
John Comstock, he disappeared about 1928 after this photo, this last trip they took him to Hawaii. Actually, he suffered a stroke, the first of three shortly after they returned home from this trip. And I found this letter not in the Comstocks' holdings, but in another holding. I looked through several holdings, which I'll talk about in a little bit. And it was a surprise, and a wonderful surprise, to see this picture of them with the Hawaiian leis up to their chins. And as I said, it was shortly after they returned from home from this trip that John Comstock suffered the first stroke.
Now, the 1953 edition ends with a morose statement of surrender. And I believe that Anna would have had to have said more. It just said that this was the last of life as we knew it, and the book ends. And I remember looking at the book, and looking at the page, and looking at it. And I was like, what do you mean? What else happened?
So when I was researching and then writing, putting together my book, I made sure that I wrote an epilogue for the end of the book to tell everyone who are diehard Anna Comstock fans and entomology diehard John Comstock fans what happened to them in their last years. And I wanted to give those folks a better sense of what the final years were like, rather than to just end the document. So there is some additional research that I did to finish the tale.
The legacy that they left behind at Cornell University today is-- this, here is a painting. There's Comstock Hall. IT's named-- on Cornell today is named after both of the Comstocks. This is the original Comstock Hall. There's a bunch of mix of dates, depending on which resource you look at. There was a definite mixed use of buildings, as my colleague would say. I could find 1909, 1911, 1913, 1915, all different years that said that this is when the building was initiated as Comstock Hall.
However, oftentimes, a building was built, and maybe it was empty. And we think that-- my colleague and I, we think that when the department moved into the building, then that's when they were starting to be like, oh, so then we came to this building in 1912. So generally, talking with different people, 1912 seems to be the settled on date. But I didn't find anything in the manuscript about 1912.
I mean, you're having a building named after you. Why aren't you there for the ribbon-cutting ceremony? Well, the Comstocks were actually out of the country at the time in 1912. Anna had just finished Handbook of Nature Study, and they beat feet out to go travel in Europe.
So Here in Comstock Hall today we have this photograph. And in my book, which was taken out of the 1953 edition, Professor Comstock is holding a cigar, which he questioned the propriety of that. And he also wanted his wife to have worn her glasses and not to hold them, but she's holding them. And his friend, Professor Gage, he loved that Professor Comstock has the cigar in his hand. He felt that this made the painting more Comstockian.
Now, the beginning of the hunt, this is talking very briefly about my work for my dissertation. I just wanted to show that this is my workspace when I would go down to the archives, and that I would work at the desk at my little laptop, comparing the 1953 edition with the manuscript, and then when I would take everything home, I would compare the two, 3-, 4-, 5-word increments at a time through the entire book, looking for discrepancies.
Here are the files of the manuscript divided by their chapter and redesignated with an archivist's page number. For example, such as 5-10. And when you read this in my book, you may wonder, well, what is this Karen? So if you see an unusual page number, say, 5-10, what that means, this is chapter 5 from these files folders, and its page 10.
Now, here, this is box 8. And this is the last day that I looked at box 8. And I took a picture of it. And there are some copper plates from their book How to Know Butterflies. My work for all of this careful research and work was for my dissertation, Finding Anna-- The Archival Treasure Hunt for an Anna Botsford Comstock.
I'm including this photo to show you because I wanted to show you this is what I used when I have guest lectured at archival classes. And this is what I use to show the students of the detail of notes that I took when conducting this research. I recorded everything. And the literary and archival research and the methodology of my dissertation contributed to the analysis and the conclusion of the book. And in turn, this is what fueled my impetus for this 2020 edition.
My research entailed 177 separate archival requests at last count-- don't quote me on that, Eileen-- 38 collections in the RMC and Annex. There are 12 holdings alone that I searched completely in toto for a combined volume of 26.7 cubic feet of information. And I have here all the different holdings that I looked at with their numbers. I literally combed through thousands of pages of information.
And Laura can tell you, walking back and forth, memorial statements, deceased alumni records, yearbooks, professional letters of research or business, personal effects and possessions, the library, and the holdings within the Library Annex, which the Library Annex is within Cornell University, and it's a part of the rare manuscript collection. It has a repository for over 2.5 million printed volumes and 1.8 million microfilms.
One of the most important lessons I learned when doing research like this is to record everything because appearances can be deceiving. And this is also a lesson that I try to instill into the archival students that I teach or lecture to about recording everything. This is a commonly known-- it's usually at this point that I would ask you, how many people here recognize this photo of Liberty Hyde Bailey? Probably several of you. Well, what is really interesting is in one book this photograph is Liberty Hyde Bailey is told that he's regarding a sandwich.
Here is the actual photo. The actual photo is Liberty Hyde Bailey talking to Anna Comstock. This is very important. And this is something that I came across time and time again where photographs were altered. And then when I found the original, and then I could see what exactly was changed and altered. So this was the very, very brief run through of my dissertation.
Now, let's lead into the 1953 edition of The Comstocks of Cornell. Anna began writing this at about 1914, and she finished it a few months before her death in 1930. It was first printed in 1953, and there were-- I have here on the slide three editors. That is not correct. There were two editors, and then there was more-- one of a "Hey, could you please take a look at this for me?" sort of guy.
These are the people who handled that 1953 manuscript. The first editor is Ruby Green Smith. She is the secondary editor. She was a professor of home economics. And she was also a student of Professor Comstock's. She actually got her PhD in entomology, but she went on to become a home economics professor with Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose.
Glenn Herrick, professor of entomology at Cornell, and he was secretary to the publishing company, the Comstock publishing company, and he was also Anna's cousin. He was the primary editor. This was the person I said that we just threw a note to see what he would find out if you have a question.
Now, also important in the story are Simon Gage, who I mentioned earlier, being one of the Comstocks' close friends. Another is George Lincoln Burr. He was a professor of history and personal secretary to the President Andrew D. White. He was also a close personal friend. He lived with the Comstocks for many years off and on in their own home. And Woodford Patterson, he was secretary to Cornell in 1917 to 1940. And he was university publisher from 1917 to 1941.
What this slide is showing very quickly is that there were at the time the Comstocks passed, when both of them had passed, there had been publications about their lives previously printed. And here are some examples. But what happened after their death is in 1937 Glenn Herrick decided he wanted to try to publish the manuscript again. So he ran the idea enthusiastically past Simon Gage and Burr. And they were like, this is great. I'm going to write a preface. Let's get this. They are wonderful people, wonderful contributions. Let's get this document out there.
But Herrick wanted to make some changes. And Burr said, no, don't touch a manuscript, especially if the person is deceased. Well, they decided to take what they had-- this had been an exchange of letters, about 21 letters over the course of a year between these gentlemen, when they finally agreed on what they were going to submit for publication. Simon Gage, who was then the president of Comstock publishing company, said, OK, let's throw this document over to Woodford Patterson, and let's see what he has to say.
So they sent it out, and the letter-- the takeaway from this box is that Woodford Patterson, he was the final nail in the coffin that actually had stopped the project. He read Mrs. Comstock's manuscript. And he said he felt that the publication of the manuscript would be a blunder. He felt that the manuscript was a desultory recital of loosely related occupations. He felt that the story was a trickle of miscellaneous reminiscences, among other things.
Among other things includes what he did with a purple china marker. Now, a purple china marker, those are those wooden pencils that you can peel away, and then you can pull the shaving off. That's a china marker. He took one of those, and he crossed through Mrs. Comstock's manuscript. And he wrote "out" at the top of almost all the pages. And at first, I thought he wrote "gut," but then I kept looking and looking, and it was like, no, he wrote "out." And this is what he did to-- there are chapters-- to the different segments in the manuscript.
What I want to compare here-- want you to take a look at here is the disparities between the pages about Anna Comstock's life and her early life and the pages of the manuscript about John Henry Comstock's life. John Henry dictated his portion of the manuscript to Anna after he retired. This is the part that I said she started typing this about 1914. This is what it was at his retirement, after his retirement that he dictated this to her. This, again, is a close-up of what she wrote of her own life. Here is a close-up, again, of his chapter of the book, about Professor Comstock. Again, let's just look back-- Anna's life and Professor Comstock's.
What had happened is that great sections of the manuscript were deleted-- not deleted-- deleted from the 1953 book. I am hesitating to use the word destroyed. Let me jump ahead to this slide. What was omitted, what you're looking at, what was omitted was over 320 pages of the manuscript were omitted from this 1953 publication. Cornell personalities were omitted, everyday life tasks, current events, Anna's present tense style of writing, and also missing from the original manuscript is chapter 14 about nature study education at Cornell.
And at the time, the chapter that that is about, 1911, 1912, '13, '14, those four years were really on fire for the Comstocks and for Cornell. Anna Comstock had just finished her Handbook of Nature Study. John Walton Spencer, one of the gentlemen who worked with her in the earlier slides, he died. Liberty Hyde Bailey suddenly retired. John Comstock retired. There was a lot going on. And she was not afraid to speak her mind.
And I found evidence in Herrick's diaries that he burned papers. I looked at Herrick's diaries from 1919 when he began them until 1963 when he stopped. And there are only two instances where he wrote "burned papers" or "burning papers." They are both around the time after the publication of the book.
Let me go back to this slide. At the time of the night when Herrick decided to take up the publication of the book again in 1953, all of these people who could have had any stock of what was said in the book, who could have disputed anything that he had to say, or anything he wanted to change, or omit, or edit, all of the people who had any emotional interest in the Comstocks were dead. They were all gone. And it was at this time-- I was also reading the book 1984 by George Orwell, and the quote, "Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past," really rang through with me as I was reading this. Remember when I said at the beginning, who tells your story and what was left is that Herrick is left to tell Anna's story. And he took all the parts out of it that mattered to Anna, that was Anna's voice.
Now, this is what I did. This is what I fixed. I rekeyed the entire manuscript, the 718 pages. I brought it back to a first person tense, present tense. The paragraphing style in this book is Mrs. Comstock's. The verbiage in this book is Mrs. Comstock's. You can see on the screen example, the slide. She would say, "He told us plain truths about our inefficiency and lack of skill, but told them so sweetly and so tactfully that we felt honored rather than disgraced." Compared to the other, which was how Herrick edited the book. "He criticized our work so kindly and tactfully that we felt honored rather than disgraced." That is not Anna's language. So I retained the colloquial words and phrases. I retained her language that connected the timeline of her life.
An interesting point that I discovered was that Mrs. Comstock did not regularly call her husband Harry as is in the 1953 book. In the manuscript, in her manuscript, I found Mrs. Comstock refers to her husband in the formal almost 800 times compared to the informal first name of only 42 times. That is essentially flipped in the 1953 edition that Herrick has changed that respect that she held for her husband flipped from the formality of Mr. Comstock to Harry. That is just not her style. That was not her language.
I did try-- I tried to touch as little of the manuscript as possible, but I did fix repeated misspellings, like the word magnificent. She always misspelled the word magnificent. When you're reading the book, you'll see what I did is something that was not included in the 1953 edition. I put in brackets so that you could read along, and when you came to the brackets, you could either skip that part and read what's beyond the brackets so that you know this is what was in the 1953 edition, or you could read the whole thing together. And you can see the difference with her language, without her language.
Oh, excuse me. That is I used those descriptive brackets for the sections that were initially omitted. The square brackets were around the words that me or that Herrick previously clarified, like, for example, abbreviations of states or nicknames, like Mrs. Comstock would call George Russell a friend who they adopted as like another-- as a son, they called him Jim, because George Burr lived in the house. They didn't want to confuse the two Georges.
In my book, there are-- to the graciousness of Cornell University Press, there are 25 photographs in my book. When you open up the 1953 book, Comstocks of Cornell, this is the first thing that you see. This is the Comstocks of Cornell, and all we're seeing is Professor Comstock. I really impressed upon the press to please, please have that when you open up Comstocks of Cornell, their autobiography, you are opening up a book that has both of them in it.
I have-- so I have this, the opening photograph is the Comstocks. I have at the beginning of each chapter I explain a little bit about what that chapter held in the manuscript so you know what you're looking at. And I call these my editor paragraphs, just kind of like me having a dialogue with you, the reader, to say, this is what I found. This is what you're going to see, or what you're not going to see, or keep this in mind, that sort of mental tact.
And in the 2020 edition, these are Mrs. Comstock's original chapter titles. The 2020 edition, again, I restored the last 238 pages. My book is 532 pages, including the index, compared to the 286. I have five different appendices, and a bibliography, and an extensive index so that a researcher in the Comstocks, either Comstock, they can use my resources to aid their own research. And they can see what I've done and where I have gone.
I also found-- very quickly, I found other different sorts of tidbits. I found there was an embezzlement case of the Comstocks, that there was a contentious rivalry between Anna Comstock and Alice McCloskey, that Professor Comstock was nervous and depressive, and that the work of many people is slipping to obscurity.
I want to end here because I can see time is growing short. And I wanted to allow some time for questions. I encourage you that the question time will run out, please email me at my Cornell email. Get your pen. email@example.com. I'd be thrilled to answer any questions I don't get to here.
But I just wanted to show-- just leave with just some random images of the Comstocks around Cornell. This is the professor's desk. This is Anna's desk. This is yours truly. This is the windows of the stained glass windows at the Unitarian Church in downtown Ithaca that was installed by the Russells. This is my new pup, Anna. I had to include her. And this is, of course, the grave site of the Comstocks. Here's some other last images.
And I just would like you to think that, who do you want to tell your story? And how are you wanting your legacy to be left behind? It's not always or often going to be in your own hands. And unfortunately, this is more the norm than not. Anyone can record their story, and anyone can change it, including yours.
So when you read Anna's story, I hope you feel the celebration of her life that I do. And I hope you feel the resonance and celebration of her voice, because this is truly what I wanted in editing this book and editing her manuscript. I hope you enjoy it. I hope it helps you for many years to come. And it was my pleasure and privilege to work with all of archivists and librarians at the RMC, and with my friend and colleague Ed Cobb, and my family, and Bob Dirig, and many, many more. I thank you all, and I hope you enjoy reading Mrs. Comstock's story of her life. Thank you so much for tuning in.
EVELINE FERRETTI: Thank you so much, Karen, for a wonderful, wonderful presentation and that insider view into a wonderful legacy at Cornell, and in the life sciences in general. There was one question, one question from Mark. One of the questions that we've just gotten is from Mark, who asks, what was the house in the previous slide? You had a couple of houses there, but I believe it was the slide towards the end of your talk there.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: What was the house?
EVELINE FERRETTI: Whose house?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: The yellow house? The house is actually-- that's the Hermitage. That is the house that they use up by Taughannock Park up on Cayuga Lake. That is the house that is owned by the Rice family. It's been in their family for generations. Glenn Herrick inherited the house from the Comstocks, and then he sold it to Professor Rice. And it's been in the Rice family for over 90 years. And that is where the Comstocks used to go to escape from Ithaca, and where they used to go to write. Mrs. Comstock wrote most of the Handbook of Nature Study at that house.
EVELINE FERRETTI: All right. Thank you. Just I should have actually mentioned earlier, if you do have questions, I typed it earlier, but if you do have questions, go ahead and type them into the chat, and I will read them. This is Eveline Ferretti. I will read them as they come in.
So the next question is from Christopher. This is a very interesting story. The biographical forensics is an amazing story. At the beginning you mentioned that there are many Anna Comstock fan clubs around the country. Not only that, but there is a wonderful children's book about her written by an accomplished writer, the Anna Comstock story. So she still is a large influence across the generations.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Yes. Yes, she is. She's still very relevant today, and that is another reason why I chose to take on researching about her. And the more I dug in, the more I learned. What was interesting in looking at all those different types-- those books that are written about her or about them, I felt like I was reading the exact same thing over and over and over. There was nothing new. There was nothing fresh.
And I thought, wait a minute. This isn't right. This is not one of these pieces of information is different. And that really got me thinking. What is going on here? And that is when I decided to go and take a look at the manuscript proper. And my eyes were blown wide open when I saw those purple Xs across the manuscript.
And this, you will see, Anna is a little spicier in this book. There's different-- the word I'm thinking is politically correct. That's what we use now, but she was a little bit elitist. She was a little bit racist. It's surprising, but it was her time. Also, remember, she was a professor's wife. She had clout, and it was her clout that she used, yes, to help other people, and other women, especially. But there's a lot more to her than what's out there. It's nothing scandalous. It's just interesting. It's her true voice.
EVELINE FERRETTI: And this next question is from Lynn. What was the Comstocks' relationship to Comstock Knoll at the Cornell Botanic Gardens?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Oh, that, they bought that land originally to build a house. And the Handbook of Nature Study, the tale is oft told that her husband didn't want her to print it. Liberty Hyde Bailey didn't want her to print it. They were like, why? There's all this other nature study information. Why print this?
And it was John Spencer had the idea in like 1910 and 1909-1910, they both first had an idea of he wanted to have a handbook of nature study. And I think-- and she also liked that idea. And so what happened is she decided that, I'm going to do this. And her husband is basically like, that's great. Where are we going to get the money?
So they sold the knoll to Cornell. She wanted-- she had bought the land secretly from her husband. And she used George Burr. His name, when you look at the original land documents, it's where the Cornell Botanic Gardens are. It's where the Herb Garden is. If you look at the original real estate documents, it says Burr. So she bought the land through Burr's name. And then they sold that land to help fund the publishing of The Handbook of Nature Study.
And what was great about it is that that money that that book-- the royalties from that book funded the Comstocks for the rest of their lives. They lived off the royalties, especially then when he became ill and infirm. It allowed them a living.
EVELINE FERRETTI: The next question is from Deborah. What is the connection between Anna and the girls of the area? The Girl Scout camp, for example, outside of Ithaca is named for her.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: That land was originally Liberty Hyde Bailey's property. And he had that land donated for-- let me see. I want to get this right. He had that land donated for the purpose of the camps. And Anna wrote him a letter saying, thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this.
And I just think that they named it after her because she was like an Ithaca celebrity. They knew her and her work, and they named that land that was then donated to be for children's nature education in Ithaca, they named it after her. And I visited there. And apparently, I didn't know this until I went there, but apparently the story goes she lit the first fire in the fireplace in the lodge there.
EVELINE FERRETTI: That's fun. The next question from John-- what do you think is the most important thing you learned about who Anna Comstock was that had been obscured or lost to history due to Herrick's emissions from the book's first print edition?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: I know which John is asking, John. And I will tell you. What really surprised me was her depth of emotion. That really surprised me. And she was flippant. That surprised me.
She would-- she loved to go to the football games at Cornell when they would play in the Arts Quad. And her husband refused to go with her. And Jim Russell-- when he was living with them, and she'd yell and scream. And he refused-- Mr. Comstock refused to go because she felt that she was making an emotional spectacle of herself. And so she had to kind of tone it down.
So I was surprised at her emotion. And I felt that there was a lot of different parts of her that were suppressed. I think the hand-- the Confessions to a Heathen Idol, it's based off of her diaries. I think that is probably the best book we have into the insight of her true thoughts and her inner self. And it's very deep, and it's very private. And it is not the nature study educator that she would put a face on for. It was a very different woman. I'd say that was the most surprising to me.
EVELINE FERRETTI: So this question sort of relates to that. It's from Kristen, and she's asking, do you have any suspicions about what was on the pages that Herrick burned?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: To tell you the truth, I think that she probably said something about Liberty Hyde Bailey resigning. There was a lot of antagonizing events going on about that time with Liberty Hyde Bailey and the President of Cornell at the time. And I think that that could be part of it. I think Professor Comstock's retirement could be part of it. Because she would like get a touch political, and then pull back. And I think in this, I think she really-- I think she went all out.
Now, Herrick idolized Professor Comstock. And there is the documents that support that Anna was considered second-- her and her work was considered secondary to Professor Comstock's work, and that is why he should have been elevated and she should have been suppressed. And keeping that in mind, I think that anything that Anna could have been criticizing or talking about that may have been-- not negative, but along that line. I think that is what-- I think she just really opened up in that chapter about Liberty Hyde Bailey and the circumstances of her husband and his work. And I just think Herrick was like, nope, nobody's ever going to see this.
EVELINE FERRETTI: All right. And then John has another question, a follow-up question following up on that. Any plans for a new edition of Confessions to a Heathen Idol?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Oh, I'd love to. I would love to do one. You hearing this, Cornell University Press? I'd love to. Yeah. And I also would like to do one on John Spencer. There's nothing about John Spencer. And he is slipping, slipping through the vapors of time. And that man was beloved by literally tens of thousands of children across the United States. But he was not college educated, and he was a farmer. And he was looked down upon by several people in the nature study department.
And Anna just kind of bolstered him along. They were neighbors, if you will. John Spencer, Anna Comstock, Martha Van Rensselaer, Alice McCloskey, they all came from Cattaraugus County area. So they kind of knew each other there, the same ilk.
EVELINE FERRETTI: A question from Christopher again. What do you suppose it is that makes Anna Comstock so popular with nature enthusiasts, particularly when you consider that her story has, as you show, been redacted in so many ways?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: I read once that to everyone that Anna met, that she was quiet, and kind, and loving, and generous. And I just think those qualities of her character, they really were palpable to people, especially at a time where she was a professor's wife. And she would go to these small rural communities, and she'd teach nature studies. She'd teach the teachers nature study. She would reach out to the people at their level.
She wasn't-- she didn't put on airs. She could work a room, like she could work a room like, say, with Liberty Hyde Bailey, and other professors, and the faculty meetings, and stuff like that. But she could also flip, and she could be down to Earth. And I think it was that that really resonated with a lot of people.
It is said that-- I read that Alice McCloskey could speak even more plainly and down to Earth with folks, but she had trouble projecting herself with people that she felt were-- I don't-- I cringe at using the word superior, but academically higher, if you will, academically more advanced. The word's escaping me. And Anna wasn't like that. She felt that everyone was on an even plane. And she talks to everyone like they were on an even plane.
And part of that work that she did was all those different people that I showed at the beginning, they all went off. They either died, or they went off on their own volition. And she took all of their work, and she brought it all back together into one volume. Granted, yes, it was underneath her name, but she did pull it all together. And she did rewrite great portions of it. And I just think that she just put her arms around everybody and everything she did. And she just drew them into her. And that is why I think she resonates with people.
EVELINE FERRETTI: Karen, we have one final question for you. And that is--
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Sure.
EVELINE FERRETTI: What is your next adventure? What is your next adventure?
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: What is my next adventure?
EVELINE FERRETTI: Correct.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Well, I'd really love to get back into the archives. I miss everybody. I'd really like to go through John Spencer's papers. I'd like to bring that man, his voice back. I'd like for people to see what he did, and the children that he touched, and the lives that he touched. He made a difference to these poor kids living in squalor. And he made them feel like something. He made them feel a part of the community.
And I really would like to bring that man's story to the forefront. I think it would be great to bring all of the stories of these people to the forefront and give them their voices while I can. We all have value. This has value. Even though it's in the past, what comes after us has value, but what came before us also has value. So I really want to keep digging into those archives and seeing what treasure lies there. That, I think, I'd like that to be my next adventure.
EVELINE FERRETTI: Well, that's great.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: With or without a face mask.
EVELINE FERRETTI: That's great, because RMC has one more comment for you, and that is that RMC misses you, too, Karen.
KAREN PENDERS ST. CLAIR: Aw! Yeah. And I just wanted to say real quickly. Glenn Herrick dedicated this book, Mrs. Comstock's manuscript-- he dedicated it to the entomologists and to students, but entomologists first.
And I dedicated my book to my friends and colleagues at the Rare Manuscript Collection and the library system at Cornell, because I feel that the work that a librarian and an archivist does is exceptional. This is this is how we record our history, and this history that's been recorded, it's still there for us to look at. It's not there to be forgotten or just kept in a box. It's meant for us to go through and look at. And I wanted those folks to know that I say it with just absolute love and appreciation for all who work in this sort of a field.
This is important because it's contextual. We look to the past to help us define the present. And we help define our present to understand our future. It's great stuff, important work.
SARAH WRIGHT: Well, thank you so much, Karen, for sharing that intimate dive into your research and for bringing Anna's voice to the forefront. That was absolutely fascinating.
And before we sign off, I'd just like to remind everyone in the audience that there are a number of more library book talks that are taking place this semester, including the next talk that's being co-hosted by both the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library and Owen Library on Monday, October 26, which will feature Professor Derrick R. Spires and his new book, The Practice of Citizenship, Black Politics, and Print Culture in the Early United States. You can find the details about that and all of the library book talks at Cornell University on our web page, the URL, which is going to be put into the chat in just a moment.
Thank you. Thank you, everybody. And again, thank you. Thank you, Karen. This was wonderful.
SPEAKER: This has been a production of Cornell University Library.
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Decades after her death, Nature Study movement leader Anna Botsford Comstock is finding her true voice. The original 1953 publication of her autobiography, “The Comstocks of Cornell,” has long been considered the definitive account of her life and that of her husband, entomologist John Henry Comstock, but it was, in fact, heavily edited—with important parts omitted and with several discrepancies from the original memoirs.
Academic writer and book reviewer, Karen Penders St. Clair has restored Comstock’s voice in her edited “The Comstocks of Cornell: The Definitive Autobiography” (Cornell University Press, 2020), which includes previously missing sections of Comstock’s descriptions of Cornell’s early days and her and her husband’s life and work. In this Chats in the Stacks book talk presented in October 2020, St. Clair—who received her doctoral degree from the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell—discusses the process of editing the book and her painstaking research into Comstock’s papers in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.