January 28, 2022

U.S. History: University of Rochester Libraries Begin Providing Online Access to Rare Collection of Susan B. Anthony Letters

From the University of Rochester:

It’s not every day that a library acquires a collection of materials so rare and significant that researchers from around the world are interested in studying it. But that’s exactly what happened at the University of Rochester in the summer of 2014, when the River Campus Libraries purchased a large collection of correspondence between American women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony and her close friend and colleague, Rachel Foster Avery.

An Avery family member had uncovered the collection in his parents’ home and contacted the University, where a large number of letters between the two activists had already been catalogued and preserved at Rush Rhees Library.

“This is an outstanding acquisition for the libraries and for the Rochester community,” said Mary Ann Mavrinac, Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the River Campus Libraries. “It augments what is arguably the nation’s strongest manuscript collection related to the long working and personal relationship between Anthony and Avery. We are honored to bring such historically significant letters to our libraries.”

Any time curators receive a collection of fragile, handwritten letters, one of their greatest challenges is to preserve the delicate materials so they can digitize the contents and make them accessible to others. When Bruce Holroyd, Kodak Alaris’ Worldwide Product and Integration Manager for Photo Capture Products, learned about the University’s plans to digitize the new collection, he reached out to offer his assistance. Holroyd, an expert at photo scanning, tested a few workflows at the library and decided to use the KODAK Picture Saver Scanning System PS50 with the KODAK A3 Size Flatbed Accessory (12” x 18”).

“We considered using even faster and higher resolution options but the flatbed allowed for greater flexibility in terms of input sizes for carefully handling each fragile item one at a time, and for scanning with a color correction bar,” explained Holroyd. “Color correction was needed because the letters varied so much in brightness and whiteness.” The University conservator worked directly with Kodak Alaris to agree on handling techniques for the century-old materials. The workflow enabled scanning of 1,470 images, including about 50 photographs, in just over 20 hours. The final outputs were 600dpi TIFF files.


“As librarians and archivists, we are grateful to families like this one that saved the material very carefully over generations,” said Jim Kuhn, Director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, River Campus Libraries. “Digitizing this collection means scholars will have access to what has never been publicly shared before.”

The total collection spans from the 1880s—around the time Susan B. Anthony and Rachel Foster Avery began their friendship—to 1919, about the time of Avery’s death. The University believes this is the largest collection of letters written by Susan B. Anthony to any single person.

Direct to Digitized Materials

The images are now being linked directly to an inventory of the library’s manuscript collection and others can be found in an online exhibit.

See Also: Kodak Case Study About the Digitization of Susan B. Anthony Letters

See Also: University Acquires Newly Discovered Collection Of Susan B. Anthony Letters (via U. of Rochester; August 26, 2014)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.