Two new exhibits have opened at Welshimer Library this fall, both curated by library student workers. 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of Welshimer, and “To Build a Library…,” curated by Grayce Wise (class of 2024), celebrates this occurrence. Isaac Wood (class of 2023) has curated an exhibit on Helen Welshimer entitled “Helen Welshimer, 1901-1954: Poet, Fictionist, and Non-Fiction Writer.”
“I’m very proud of the hard work researching and selecting items that Grayce and Isaac did for their respective exhibits,” says Katherine Banks, University Archivist. “They both showed a lot of enthusiasm for the work and have curated interesting exhibits.”
Announced in 1957 and completed in 1961, Milligan’s library was made possible through the generous donation of P. H. Welshimer’s seven thousand book collection, which was given by two of his children and part of which is still stored in the Welshimer Room on the library’s main floor. Ever since, the library has served as a place of safety, learning, and knowledge for anyone who enters its doors. Wise, however, was not satisfied with simply an overview, but wanted to dive deep into what it took to plan and build and effective library.
“It’s truly fascinating what goes into the process of constructing a building in the 1960s,” Wise says. “Furniture had to be bought, construction companies chosen, air conditioning installed, and so much more! The research I’ve gotten to do and share in the process of creating this exhibit has made me see and appreciate the library in an entirely new light, knowing the history of both how and why it was installed.”
Wood’s exhibit focuses on the daughter of the library’s namesake. After being raised by her parents P. H. and Perlea Welshimer, Helen Welshimer attended college in her home state of Ohio. She then went on to study playwriting and journalism at Columbia University. From there she began her writing career as a feature writer for newspapers before going off on her own as a freelance writer. This led to her becoming a well-known writer who frequently wrote in publications such as Christian Herald Magazines and Good Housekeeping. She interviewed famous figures such as Mrs. Einstein and Mrs. Roosevelt. Her poetry was so popular that she published four collections (Souvenirs and other selected poems, Candlelight and other poems, Singing Drums, and Shining Rain), with Souvenirs selling over 75,000 copies. Unfortunately, her life was cut short by a long-lasting illness when she was in her early fifties.
Wood says, “Writers and poets have always sparked an interest for me, so spending time exploring the life of this writer-poet with connections to Milligan was well worth it. It was fascinating to find out that she was the last person to interview Amelia Earhart before her last flight. I am sad to say that I was not able to find this interview to display; however, finding the interviews with Mrs. Einstein and Mrs. Roosevelt more than made up for that disappointment.”
Wood also says, “One thing that garnered particular interest for me was her relationship with her father. Her father seemed to be highly supportive of her daughter’s writing endeavors, from childhood until adulthood. The last stanza of a poem she wrote for her father’s sixty-first birthday reads,
I recall high laurels that you won,
And sermons preached, and kindnesses you’ve shown
To those in need, and how you stretched your hand
To erring ones who could not walk alone.
But I remember best brief pauses in
The long days work, in far-gone, happy times,
When you were patient as you gladly helped
A small girl, who sought aid in making rhymes.
This poem was such a nice window into her relationship with her dad, and I love how she shows her appreciation for him. I think it is interesting to see how artists have been supported and formed by other people in their lives. Throughout this project, I enjoyed reading Helen’s work and seeing how it grew out of certain aspects of her life.”
Banks invites everyone to come by the library and view the exhibits in their entirety on the main floor of the Welshimer Library or to view selected portions online on Milligan DigitalRepository.