The Ebell Magical History Tour: Where History Lives

from Phyllis Hansen, Ebell Historian

February 1, 2021

Archives. Amelia EarhartUp at the tippy top of our campus, in its own private aerie, the past comes alive. This is the home of the Ebell Archives, a world apart that holds the essence of who we have been as an organization up to who we are now.

Here lie our roots, at least the majority of them. A small fraction of our early documents dating to our inception in 1894 reside in a special box at the Huntington Library where they were donated some decades ago. We have begun to access these and keep digital records to make our own archives’ story complete.

In what once served as a studio apartment on the third floor in a connecting bridge to the theater, is our Archives office. Club archives committee members, volunteers, researchers and staff utilize the office to study, digitize, transcribe, file, organize and just discover.

A few steps down and through another doorway is an adjoining windowless room filled with row after row after row of shelving and archival storage boxes, all meticulously organized and labeled as to their contents according to best practices in historical preservation.

archives. Kay Lachter

Archives Director Kay Lachter inspects archives

It is a wonderland for those who love perusing and absorbing the stories found through ephemera, old photographs, hand-written records of the past and early publications. Before the club closed when the pandemic took hold, Archives Director Kay Lachter, one of our past presidents, welcomed those wishing to study, research, assist or simply view these treasures—by appointment.

One can spend hours on end in these hallowed stacks viewing, for example, scrapbooks filled with exquisite professional portraits of past members or the slick Ebell Magazines of the 1930s filled with literary articles, ads and photographs. A systematic study of the club through the years can be found in the annual yearbooks that were published, detailing activities and membership rolls.  If old meeting minutes, back in the day when Robert’s Rules of Order were a brand new concept, intrigue you, there are seemingly endless examples, from Board meetings to committee meetings to the old study departments that were once the foundation of our club.

We have been treated to some of the extensive research in these archives during our recent Charter Day presentations, pre-pandemic, much of it thanks to the incredible work by past president Loyce Braun.

archivesOf particular interest to me, as historian, is a comprehensive overview of club history from 1894 to 1950 by Mrs. Charles Rathman. No one has undertaken such a review in the 70 years since. Our priorities have changed in recent times, however, recognizing the importance of preserving these records long-term in the digital era.

Member and archives committee member Judith Thompson is using some of this pandemic time-out to continue transcribing old hand-written documents, discovering some fascinating articles from the early 1900s in the process. Before the club closure last spring, Carolin Wild was making great strides in the digitization of our treasures, starting with the yearbooks. Some files are currently being digitized through a grant with LA As Subject and will be shared with the Digital Public Library. There is a huge task ahead of us to continue the digitization. When we reopen, volunteers with such experience will be very appreciated.

In closing I would like to share a passage from a speech by Club President, Mrs. William Read, on the opening of the doors of our Wilshire Blvd. campus upon its completion in 1927. I find it appropriately describes our archives, and our history, in 2021. “The work is monumental, it is honest, it is lovely almost beyond words; it will endure.”