Wife of Former Mizzou Chancellor Donates Haskell Monroe Collection to MU Libraries

Jo and Haskell Monroe

Offerings include 2,000 documents on ordinary people’s lives during the Civil War

Haskell Monroe, former Chancellor of the University of Missouri, was a man of many passions, but historians, teachers, students, and the general public may remember him best for his collection of more than 2,000 documents, photos, books, diaries, letters, etc., that tell the stories of ordinary people during the Civil War. (https://library.missouri.edu/confederate)

Stories in the collection include “My Dear Husband,” which is an enslaved Texas woman’s love letter to her spouse, written in 1862. Or “A Confederate Girl’s Diary,” which is about a young woman in Louisiana and her struggle to understand the situation of war as she experienced it.

There are accounts from southern merchants, a woman who worked in the hospitals in New Orleans, stories about a soldier walking through the deep South, or documents about the Civil War in and around Columbia, Missouri, and so much more.

Stories in the collection include “My Dear Husband,” which is an enslaved Texas woman’s love letter to her spouse, written in 1862. Or “A Confederate Girl’s Diary,” which is about a young woman in Louisiana and her struggle to understand the situation of war as she experienced it.

Fed Ardis was a man that was enslaved; upon emancipation, he lived the rest of his life in the South.

Fed Ardis was a man that was enslaved; upon emancipation, he lived the rest of his life in the South.

The collection, donated in 2018 by Haskell’s widow, Jo Monroe, to the University of Missouri Libraries, is being summarized, classified, archived and published online by a village of people, including Rachel Brekhus, humanities/social science librarian; Matt Gaunt, fundraiser; Jay Sexton, professor of history and chair of the Rich and Nancy Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy; Brendon Floyd, a history PhD student and Haskell Monroe graduate fellow for the Kinder Institute; and undergraduate students, Catherine Hutinett and Abigail Mann (graduated). Two more undergrad students will work on the project Fall 2021 semester.

 

Gathering of Historical Documents

Haskell (1931-2017) and Jo spent most vacations touring the South and visiting libraries, sans a few trips to see family.

“While Haskell had accumulated a large quantity of materials through many years, the “Life on the Homefront” project didn’t begin in earnest until Haskell returned to full-time teaching in the early 90s and continued beyond for the first decade of the 2000s,” Jo says.

“I’ve lost track of all the places we’ve been,” adds Jo. “We went to many state archives, state libraries, and county historical societies. I remember spending a lot of time particularly in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida … primarily in the South, but not entirely.

“I enjoyed it. Haskell would have a list of books that he wanted to look at or journals or other publications, and the library staff, of course would pull them out, and then we would go through double-checking the index and the articles. After reading each article, we would select the relevant items to be copied and documented. We spent a lot of hours in that familiar smell of library special collections reading rooms.

This is a picture of the "Mistress of Airy Mount," near Oxford, Georgia. She was a member of the inaugural graduating classes of Wesleyan College and experienced Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864.

“It was good to be a part of what was going on. There were lots of books done on battles and generals and such, but not a lot about the homefront. It was the homefront that kept the civilization together.”

It was good to be a part of what was going on. There were lots of books done on battles and generals and such, but not a lot about the homefront. It was the homefront that kept the civilization together. - Jo Monroe

One of Jo’s favorite stories is one about soldiers standing outside a house where a young woman was giving birth. One soldier in particular took a post by the front door and refused to let anyone in. The baby was born healthy, and the new grandmother went out to thank the soldier for the protection. He then told her that his wife was back home giving birth about the same time.

“It’s an amazing story,” adds Jo. “I imagine there are hundreds and thousands like that out there. This is just one example from one diary."

Floyd says voices like the childbearing woman are important, historical, and educational. “We hear about (Generals) Grant and Lee and the big experiences,” he says. “These other lived experiences are important to understand. It gets us beyond the big narrative. A project like this, attached to the University of Missouri, will bring further interest to it.”

 

Two Years and Counting

Floyd, who studies radical Irishmen throughout the Irish rebellion of the 1790s as part of his dissertation, got involved in the Haskell Monroe project as part of a fellowship package, which he took charge of under the direction of Sexton and Brekhus when he was accepted into the PhD program. He has spent two years on the project, and will soon enter the third year.

This adventurous narrative is an example of the mobility of people during this era. Growing up in Lowndes County, Alabama, these two brothers travel to California to mine for gold, find their way down to Panama, only to return home to fight for the Confederates.

What is unusual about this donation, is that it comes with $25,000 a year funding for Floyd and the scanning of materials.

“We often receive collections, but rarely receive funding along with them to facilitate scholarly work,” says Gaunt. “Thanks to Jo’s generosity, we’ve been able to create the fellowship, which is the key to the Libraries’ partnership with the Kinder Institute and the Department of History.

We often receive collections, but rarely receive funding along with them to facilitate scholarly work. Thanks to Jo’s generosity, we’ve been able to create the fellowship, which is the key to the Libraries’ partnership with the Kinder Institute and the Department of History. - Matt Gaunt

“We really were fortunate to land Brendon (Floyd) as the Monroe Fellow. He and his team of undergraduates have put in an incredible amount work, and his vision for the project took us to the next level. Brendon saw this as something more than just research for university professors and PhD candidates. He saw it as a teaching resource that could reach any age group.”

Brekhus says one of the biggest advantages is having the bibliography online, connecting with Google scanning (known as the The Hathi Trust Research Center) to create a massive digital library that reaches people anywhere in the world.

“So, they exist in a way that someone wouldn’t have to travel here to make use of this collection,” Brekhus says. “Mizzou is a member organization of the trust. We can create collections that can be searched.

“It has the ability to group things together, and you can  … become a part of the library of sources (through Zotero) and add more sources to it.”

She adds, when you link to the scanned copies of 19th century materials in Hathi Trust, which are now in the public domain, there are even online tools like Hypothesis that will allow a history class to work together and create shared annotations to those sources.

“They can then discuss and react to the primary source, ask their teacher and one another questions about parts that are harder to understand, and see the answers, line by line, together, on the web.”

Written by William M. Leftwich, this book is a testament to the complication of the Civil War and how fractured religious life in Missouri.

Ongoing Past Original Mission

“The original mission of the project is complete,” adds Floyd. “The original goal was to take this bibliography produced over the late 80s and 90s and organize and publish. Once I got into this, we saw a huge potential for it to be more than what it was originally designed to be. I can see years and years and years of work ahead, but really it comes down to the vision of (Jo).

 “What I really love is … the creative process and the source material,” he says. “And I really love the fact that Mrs. Monroe has the vision to build this (broader scope) from it. This is the spirit of Haskell Monroe…. I feel we are doing this right.

“And part of the excitement is being able to add to the vision and see it through. That’s been really exciting for me.”

Floyd, a former teacher, says this is not only great for educators of all levels – to be used as a teaching tool for students, but also has a much vaster base as a free platform for anyone to use.

“One of the things I love about the project is that it feeds both into my passion for education, and also my passion for history.”

The history department was chosen for this project, not only because of the project’s topic, but also because Haskell was a professor of history, even while chancellor.

“Haskell loved to teach,” says Gaunt. “And I just want to say his students loved him. I work with some people who had Haskell as a teacher and they still really have fond memories. Even as a chancellor he was teaching a 7:40 a.m. class. He was a chancellor who never lost track of the undergraduate experience because three mornings a week that was the first thing he was being exposed to.”

Haskell was also involved in the university’s first ever $150 million fundraising campaign. “He brought us into the modern era of fundraising,” Gaunt says. “In addition to being chancellor and teacher, he was also a fundraiser.”

 

Haskell’s Passion for People

But overall, it was Haskell’s passion for ordinary people, their lives, their stories, that drove him. “If you would have met Haskell, the first thing he would have asked you was ‘Oh, tell me about your day. Tell me about yourself. Where are you from, what do you like to do…?,” recalls his wife, Jo. “He was always interested in people and their interests.”

Jo says it was a natural decision to provide this gift to Mizzou. “We love the University of Missouri,” Jo says. “And Haskell adored the library there. He’d be proud of what is being accomplished so far. I think he would be absolutely overwhelmed of the breadth of it, of what has been done. His dream was to publish a printed bibliography that could be used as a reference source by visiting a library, and to see what has been done – I think would be absolutely stunning to him, and beyond his imagination.”

Bethany A Story of the Old South is a narrative written by Thomas E. Watson that crafts a frictional romantic South and attempts to describe the conditions of the South leading into and during the Civil War.

Praise and Enlightenment

“Jo Monroe was central to providing resources,” adds Sexton. “And the library staff really needs to be commended: Matt Gaunt for all his work, and Rachel Brekhus. She’s been working on the project for a long time, before even when Brendon came on. You appoint the right people to do a job, and the job takes care of itself. Brendon Floyd has just been dazzling, taking ownership, showing initiative, and also supervising the work of undergraduates …. I think it’s a model for how the university, especially in the humanities, might do research projects moving forward by engaging our alumni, engaging different units in the university, and engaging faculty, graduate students – and undergraduates. I think it’s just a really good (success) story.

“It’s obviously more important than ever as we’re making our way through our own moment of racial reckoning that we return to the past with this sort of sober, clear-eyed view of what happened and why and how ordinary people experienced these massive transformations of the Civil War era,” says Sexton.

“You know the rise and fall of slavery in the South was just the defining phenomenon of the era, and individual people and different groups of people – immigrants, African Americans, white Southerners who owned slaves, non-slave holding whites … how all of these people experienced these transformations. It is something students should know more about, and these resources will provide a window into how the America of the past experienced a moment of profound transformation. It’s a massive contribution that Jo and Haskell have made, and we’re just lucky to be a part of it.”

To see the Haskell Monroe Collection: Life in the Confederacy, visit https://library.missouri.edu/confederate.