Lewis Gould and Monmouth College history professor Stacy Cordery (on left) show off the papers of presidential secretary Donald Dawson along with Hewes Library archivist Lynn Daw and director Rick Sayre.
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Presidential inaugurations like the one President Barack Obama will observe on Jan. 21 are a Washington, D.C., ritual that occur every four years.
A document in a newly acquired manuscript collection at Monmouth College sheds light on the traditions and festivities that take over the nation’s capital.
The papers of Donald Dawson – one of President Harry S. Truman’s secretaries – were recently donated to the college by noted history professor and author Lewis L. Gould. Among the papers is the text from the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the United States Senate, authorizing an inauguration holiday:
“That the several executive departments, independent establishments, and other governmental agencies of the Unites States, and of the District of Columbia, in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia, shall be closed all day on Thursday, January 20, 1949, Inauguration Day, and on the succeeding day, Friday, January 21, 1949.”
These and other letters and papers relating to Dawson, who managed Truman’s successful whistlestop campaign in 1948 (when Truman overcame long odds to famously defeat New York governor Thomas E. Dewey) are now available for students and researchers at the college’s Hewes Library.
“Original source documents like those found in the Dawson collection provide a fascinating way to teach students about history,” said MC history professor Stacy Cordery, who used such documents to enrich her own writings, which include highly-acclaimed biographies of Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low.
Gould’s career at the University of Texas spanned 31 years. He retired in 1998 as the university’s Eugene C. Barker Centennial Professor Emeritus in American History. An award-winning teacher and the author of nearly two dozen books on American history, Gould has taught more than 10,000 students, including Cordery, who has frequently noted Gould’s impact on her career. The pair has been reunited, as Gould now lives in Monmouth.
“My class with Lew Gould changed my entire life,” said Cordery. “He’s the reason I’m in history. He was that incredible professor for whom every student longs. He was passionate and enthusiastic, and his knowledge just blew me away. He’s a true intellectual, yet also very humble and down-to-earth.”
The minds of Gould and Cordery were racing as they thought of the research possibilities from the Dawson collection, which features approximately 175 papers, one for each dollar that Gould spent to purchase it on eBay.
“I took a chance,” said Gould of his purchase, which also features “quite a briefcase.”
Inside are letters from such individuals as (Secretary of Commerce) Averell Harriman, (Naval Adviser) Clark Clifford, two U.S. senators and the publisher of the Washington Post.
“That could get the students interested in those men, or they could spin off of one of the subjects in the letters” such as presidential inaugurations, said Gould. “The collection has enough complexity that students will have to work things out, but not so much that they just look at a big pile and throw their hands up. It’s a window into the Truman administration. Students can play with that. They’ll be working with documents that haven’t been pre-digested by other historians.”
“This is living history,” added Cordery. “Harry S. Truman touched these papers. Each document is its own little mystery. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. When I use these types of documents in class, we work with them together, with the students asking questions of the documents. Together, we formulate ideas on the projects that can come out of them.”
They also noted that “folks outside the college” will be able to see the papers as part of their general access to Hewes Library.
The Dawson collection is a “sub-file” of a much larger group of materials that Gould has donated to the college. He was asked why Monmouth is where he’s chosen to live and to donate such important historical documents.
“There’s a lot of appeal to me,” Gould replied. “It’s a terrific situation, with a college community – the college and the town are just the right size.”
Concluded Cordery, “We’re offering undergraduates a taste of what grad students get, because of Lew. Being able to do archival work with original source documents is the kind of thing that students can put on a résumé and rocket to the top of the list. It allows them to do the type of research that can get published.”