THE HISTORY CENTER BLOG
It’s been a year in the making but the amazing volunteers for The History Center’s community digital history project, HistoryForge, have finished transcribing the 1940 U.S. Census for the City of Ithaca! These 19,730 census records mark the fifth complete census entered in HistoryForge. HistoryForge now has all the records for the 1900-1940 Census for the City of Ithaca. All of the information for each census is fully searchable. You can search for individuals, addresses, places of birth, occupations, industries, or any of the attributes in a census at historyforge.net.
The 1940 Census provides an important snapshot of our community at a pivotal time. It captured information about how the Great Depression impacted the American public. With many people moving to find employment, it attempted to record that migration by asking where each person had lived five years earlier. Using HistoryForge to learn more about the population of Ithaca we can see that while most (about seventy-five percent) people on the 1940 Census in Ithaca had lived here in 1935, Ithaca also attracted individuals who, five years earlier had been living in almost every state in the nation as well as a wide range of countries.
Employment was, of course, the concern of the day, and the 1940 Census attempted to gather detailed information about employment and unemployment. Exploring industries in the 1940 Census in HistoryForge reveals some of the New Deal programs that bolstered the local economy. Ithacans worked for several local Work Projects Administration (WPA) projects including construction, soil conservation, landscaping, the State Hospital, a park project, a sewer project, and a sewing project. Some also worked for the National Youth Administration (NYA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The 1940 Census was the first census to ask questions about people’s income, as well as their highest grade of school completed. This was also the first census to include a five percent sample. Five percent of the population were asked additional questions including whether they or a close family member were a veteran and the war or military service, and whether they had a social security number or old age or railroad insurance.
The 1950 Census won’t be released by the National Archives until next April. (Watch this space for an exciting exhibit/event surrounding this release!) In the meantime, HistoryForge volunteers have started transcribing the 1880 Census. The next year of transcription will give us a compelling new information for exploring Ithaca: 1880 went deep into the history of the village, while 1950 brings us closer to the modern city. The HistoryForge team is also interested in expanding beyond the City of Ithaca! To do this, we need volunteers from local communities in Tompkins County who want to transcribe the census from their town. If you would like to help in this project in any way fill out a volunteer form: www.historyforge.net/volunteer and check our upcoming Virtual HistoryForge Transcription dates.
Written by HistoryForge Project Coordinator - Eve Snyder (email@example.com)
The mid 1950s through the late 1960s was a tumultuous and violent time for civil rights workers in the US. Freedom Riders were attacked as they tried to integrate inter-city busses. Black churches were bombed, and peaceful protestors were attacked by police with fire hoses and snarling dogs. This era was also renowned for powerful civil rights organizations across America, especially in the deep south, where such notables as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worked for equality for Black Americans.
In Ithaca, the struggle for equal rights was spearheaded by the Council for Equality, Ithaca's own home-grown, grass-roots social justice organization. Founded in 1959, the organization did their work here until the late 1960s. They were an education and advocacy organization, working to inform the larger public about what life was really like for local African Americans, and, more importantly, to advocate for them. According to their mission statement, they were a "bi-racial, private, non-profit organization," which was concerned to "study, improve, and change discrimination on whatever level it is found in Ithaca." Their membership was a diverse blend of young and old, Black and White, women and men. Some were affiliated with Cornell and Ithaca College, but there were members of a local carpenters' union, at-home mothers, teachers, and more. Their work was done through their committees, primarily employment, education, and housing. At its height, the Council for Equality had more than 200 members. Beverly J. Martin and James L. Gibbs were two of its greatest luminaries. Their work impacted the lives of African Americans in Ithaca and beyond.
The History Center has created a brief video highlighting the history of this significant organization and it will premiere on Saturday September 11th at 10:30 on Facebook and our YouTube channel. Join us remotely for a watch party with archivist Donna Eschenbrenner. She will be available afterwards by Zoom for questions and conversation.
YOUTUBE VIDEO LINK
by Rebecca Doyle
William A. Higinbotham was born on October 25, 1910 in Bridgeport, Connecticut to Robert and Dorothy Higinbotham. His father’s position as a Presbyterian minister brought the Higinbotham family to Caledonia, New York in 1917, where they would live for the next 14 years. William was interested in science from a young age. He enjoyed building radios as a teenager and excelled in his high school physics class. At Williams College, he majored in physics and graduated in 1932, and, unable to find a job afterwards due to the Great Depression, he began graduate work at Cornell University. In 1937, his father died of a heart attack and by 1940, William’s widowed mother, 2 brothers, and sister joined him in Ithaca. William worked as a technician in the Cornell Physics Department but soon left for MIT, where he was invited to work at the Radiation Laboratory. While there, he designed radar display technology for military use during World War II.
Reverend Robert Higinbotham, William’s father
In 1943, he was recruited to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As leader of the Electronic Group in the Weapon Physics Division, William developed timing circuits for the first atomic bomb. In 1945, he witnessed the Trinity Test—the first drop of an atomic bomb in history. This experience, combined with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of two of his brothers to the war, took a huge emotional toll on him. Along with other Manhattan Project atomic scientists concerned about the destructive power of what they had helped create, Higinbotham co-founded the Federation of American Scientists later that year. Some of the group’s successes were the defeat of the May-Johnson Bill, which would have kept nuclear research under military control, and the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which established the US Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian-run regulatory agency that strove to protect public health and the environment from the effects of nuclear radiation. William Higinbotham held leadership positions in the Federation of American Scientists throughout the rest of his life.
The Trinity test weapon and mushroom cloud
In 1947, he began working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which was founded by the aforementioned Atomic Energy Commission, where he could pursue his scientific interests but remain free to lobby for nuclear nonproliferation. While there, he developed electronic equipment for particle accelerators and digital computers, but he is perhaps most famous for creating what was arguably the first video game. Brookhaven held annual visitors’ days for the public to see the scientific work taking place there. In 1958, Higinbotham was put in charge of creating an exhibition for the lab’s Instrumentation Division, which he was the head of. He wanted to make an exhibit that would be more exciting and interactive than the usual, rather dull ones. Inspired by a computer manual’s instructions for calculating bullet and missile trajectories, he created Tennis for Two (a forerunner to Pong) in just a few days. The game was played by two players who held separate controllers and featured real-time motion on its display, both of which were major innovations. Visitors loved the game, standing in long lines to get a turn to play. Despite this success, Higinbotham never felt the need to patent Tennis for Two. If he had, the patent would have belonged to his employer, the federal government, and it was just a bit too early for video games to take off.
Instrumentation Division Exhibit at Brookhaven and a GIF created from a video featuring a reproduction of Tennis for Two (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PG2mdU_i8k&t=3s)
William Higinbotham remained at Brookhaven until his retirement in 1984. He served as a consultant until his death in 1994, at age 84 in Gainesville, GA. Today he is remembered lovingly as the “grandfather” of modern video games and for his devotion to the cause of nuclear arms control.
Higinbotham family grave and final resting place of William
Written by Rebecca Doyle - HistoryForge Intern - Spring 2021
Bibliography and Image Sources:
The History Center in Tompkins County Announces New Exhibit:
Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods
Ithaca, NY - The History Center in Tompkins County (THC) is excited to announce its new exhibit "Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods" will open July 2nd 2021. This exhibit has multiple components: a temporary (July 2021-February 2022) physical display of six interactive exhibits at The History Center Exhibit Hall on the Ithaca Commons, selected virtual exhibits available at thehistorycenter.net/virtual-exhibits, and public access to selected interviews from the Women's Voices in Tompkins County: Oral History Collection. The physical and virtual exhibits will open to the public on Friday, July 2nd following two weeks of closure in the museum (June 13th-31st) for the installation of the new displays. Due to COVID-19 we are limiting the number of visitors in the museum and encourage guests to make reservations in advance at thehistorycenter.net/schedule.
"Women continue to break ceilings and have continuously increased representation across communities. While we appreciate the obstacles they have overcome and the achievements women have made, it is important to look back and explore the stories of those women who have been overlooked. This exhibit celebrates the lesser-known stories of these pioneers in hopes of empowering those who visit.” - THC Curator & Design Specialist Cindy Kjellander-Cantu
Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods explores the lives of women in public and private spheres across the centuries through six interactive exhibits: Haudenosaunee Influence on Women's Rights (Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation), The Overlooked History of Women Working (HistoryForge), Serial Style (Wharton Studio Museum and Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection), Women's Social Clubs and Organizations, and Overcoming Barriers to Vote: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County. These exhibits will connect visitors with the rich and varied lives of women in Tompkins County through exploring the stories, artifacts, and community legacies they left behind. Learn more at thehistorycenter.net/breaking-barriers.
The Breaking Barriers exhibit is presented and made possible by Chloe Capital. Despite recent progress, less than 2% of female funders receive venture capital investment. Chloe Capital is investing in the next generation of women entrepreneurs and innovators across the United States. The company's mission to decrease gender and diversity gaps in entrepreneurship and venture capital is a natural fit to celebrate women changemakers in Tompkins County. Find out more about Chloe Capital at www.chloecapital.com.
The History Center in Tompkins County is proud to partner with the following women-owned businesses in Tompkins County to support this exhibit: AdrinA·Dietra, Hound & Mare, Pickleball Mania, The Second Knob, and Hopshire Farm & Brewery.
About The History Center in Tompkins County
The History Center in Tompkins County (THC) is a generation-to-generation education and research center focused on engaging the public with the history of Tompkins County (located in the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Nation) and the Finger Lakes region. THC helps people use the tools of history to understand the past, gain perspective on the present, and play an informed role in shaping the future. The History Center is located within the Tompkins Center for History & Culture, a collaborative visitor center and event space on the Ithaca Commons home to twelve independent non-profits and community organizations.
Please share and forward the press release and Digital Press Kit to your community contacts and local organizations to help us get the word out!
DIGITAL PRESS KIT
The History Center in Tompkins County will continue to require all visitors to wear masks in accordance with the building policies of the Tompkins Center for History & Culture. Because our museum is in a shared building with 12 other local non-profits, and our visitors include families with young children who do not yet qualify for the vaccine, and visitors who may be medically ineligible for the vaccine, we will continue to require masks inside the building for the continued safety of all our visitors, volunteers, and staff. We will not be checking the vaccination status of visitors and appreciate the continued support of our community and out of town visitors in following our building guidelines by wearing their masks while visiting the museum.
We are grateful that our organization was able to re-open the Exhibit Hall in August of 2020, and has been open to the public for over 10 months with strict safety measures in place to ensure safe and worry free visits for everyone! We are happy to announce that we are now accepting bookings for groups of up to 20 people, which can be reserved at thehistorycenter.net/schedule during any of our open appointment slots. Please review our up to date Health & Safety Protocols and practices at thehistorycenter.net/health. We will continue to monitor both state guidance and local practice and will evaluate and update policies as needed. Any questions may be directed to Ben Sandberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for supporting The History Center and continuing to explore and engage in local history with us!
[IMAGE DESCRIPTION] Square image with navy, light blue, and yellow frame. Text reads: Mask Update - Masks are still required inside the Tompkisn Center for History & Culture. Image of the Ithaca Kitty wearing a blue surgical mask with a speech bubble reads "Thank you for supporting worry free visits for everyone!" with a seven-toed pawprint. History Center and Tompkins Center for History & Culture logos in bottom right corner.
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Mabel Webb Van Dyke (1870-1965) was the youngest child of Frederick and Lucina Barton Webb. She studied voice at the Ithaca Conservatory of Music (now Ithaca College) and later became a music teacher, mother of two, foster mother of 21, Sunday School Superintendent, avid quilter, weaver, and also worked as a nurse for Dr. Benpamin (sic) F Lockwood of Brooktondale for 20 years. She lived in her family home on Level Green Road in the town of Caroline for nearly 80 years before moving in with her son-in-law in her 90's.
Mabel was the granddaughter of Peter Webb who was born enslaved and brought to New York as a child. Peter later bought his freedom, and raised eleven children with his wife Phyllis. A 1962 Ithaca Journal article quoted Mabel as saying "I have never hesitated to talk about my grandfather...he was a slave, but from his wonderful character I can see how we have all been helped to grow." Her grandfather's manumission papers, and notes about Mabel's life and other members of the Webb family and descendants are currently on display at The History Center in Tompkins County on the Ithaca Commons.
Learn more about the Webb family here: thehistorycenter.net/Webb-Family
Explore more resources for Black Women's History Month here: https://thehistorycenter.net/Black-Womens-History-Month
The National Park Service is conducting a study to determine the feasibility of designating the Finger Lakes region of New York as a National Heritage Area (NHA). This website is intended to familiarize the public with the feasibility study process and share what the study team has learned about this special place. As you scroll through these pages, please consider what you value about the Finger Lakes region and how it is a unique place within the cultural and historic fabric of the United States of America. The National Park Service study team needs your help to better understand the cultural heritage of the Finger Lakes and needs your opinions on the appropriateness of designating and managing a National Heritage Area if it is created.
This is a hugely exciting opportunity for our region, and if passed would have long lasting impacts in 14 counties, and for hundreds of cultural and historical institutions like The History Center in Tompkins County and Historic Ithaca. The National Park Service is offering a public comment period through June 1st, and we'd like to encourage all members of the public to take some time in the next six weeks to submit a public comment on why the history and heritage of our region deserves to be highlighted and preserved.
LEARN ABOUT NHA'S
History Center staff are available for brainstorming, and can offer support from our collections (contact email@example.com regarding research options).
Agda Osborn, a graduate of Cornell in 1920, was an integral part of the Ithaca community, helping to found multiple different local organizations. After graduating from Cornell, she resided with her husband, Robert Osborn, in the Osborn mansion on the corner of Buffalo and Aurora Street. Her home still stands today as the William Henry Miller Inn. In an article written in the Ithaca Journal soon after her death at age 99, she was described as being “known for her unbreakable spirit, selflessness and incredible volunteer service to Ithaca.”
Osborn was a member of the city’s first planning board, as well as the Common Council, and the Southside Community Council. Due to her heavy involvement in these organizations, one article stated that the downtown Commons owe their beginning to her. She also helped to start five local organizations that are still a part of the Ithaca community today: The Hangar Theatre, Family and Children’s Service, the Cornell Women’s Club, the City Federation of Women’s Organizations, and Historic Ithaca. Osborn was involved in Ithaca’s community in less official ways as well, illustrated by her annual Victorian tea which she held in her house for Ithaca High School sophomore English classes for over 20 years. Osborn’s legacy lives on today through the Agda Osborn Award which is presented annually by Ithaca’s Family & Children’s Services to a community volunteer.
Learn more about Agda's life through the Agda S. Osborn Collection V-59-1-1 available in our archives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org regarding research options.
This article was written in February 2021 by Writing Intern Kate Delaney
Martha Van Rensselaer, was one of the first two full time female professors hired by Cornell University. Born in 1864, she was inspired by her mother’s involvement in the suffrage movement. After working as a school commissioner in Cattaraugus County, she was passionate about improving the lives of rural farming families. This led to her accepting an invitation in 1900 from Liberty Hyde Bailey of Cornell to create a program specifically for rural women in the area. After more than 20,000 women enrolled in the program, Cornell realized how important home economics courses were and went on to offer these courses full time in 1908. Van Rensselaer worked alongside Flora Rose, who had been employed by Cornell in the previous year, to co-run the Department of Home Economics. The department flourished under their guidance and by 1919, the department expanded into the School of Home Economics.
Van Rensselaer worked diligently to ensure the knowledge she was teaching students at Cornell was accessible to women everywhere. She co-wrote A Manual of Home Making, in 1919 which was widely read. She also often held talks for the Ithaca community, the contents of which were often written about in the Ithaca Journal which aided in further circulating her ideas. Van Rensselaer was also very active outside of the education realm, illustrated by her work as director of the Home Conservation Division of the United States Food Administration during World War I. She was a member of the 1930 White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, which advocated for the education and health of children in the United States. Due to her involvement in so many national level organizations she was named one of the twelve most important women in America in 1923 by the @League of Women Voters.
Back home in Ithaca, Van Rensselaer lived with her co-director, and life partner Flora Rose for 25 years until her death in 1932. Van Rensselaer and Rose’s relationship was well known, marked by one colleague's reference to them as “Miss Van Rose”. After her death, Cornell dedicated a building in the college of Human Ecology to her, and at it’s naming ceremony, Rose described Van Rensselaer as having “indomitable zeal, unswerving purpose, courage, a great interest in people and an understanding and respect for them”.
Learn more about her life through our Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour.
In a community famous for its educators, Beverly Jane Martin was a standout. Respected teacher, principal, community leader, and social justice warrior, Beverly Martin lived all her life in the same house on Second Street in Ithaca. She attended the Ithaca City Schools and received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Cornell, the latter in Elementary Education. Upon graduation she began teaching 6th grade at Central Elementary School, the start of a long, illustrious career spanning 36 years. Ms. Martin eventually served there as principal, and later became Director of Affirmative Action for the district, a position that was expanded to Director of Affirmative Action and Intercultural Relations Services. She was a member of numerous local and national organizations, including Club Essence and the Council for Equality, and was a lifetime member of the NAACP and the National Urban League. She served on the boards of a variety of community organizations, such as GIAC, the Southside Community Center, and United Way of Tompkins County. Ms. Martin was the recipient of many local and national awards for her dedicated service to education, and in 1991 received the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission Award. She was beloved by her students and was an influential mentor to several young teachers embarking on their careers.
In 1992, the year before she died, Central Elementary School was renamed the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in her honor. When accepting this well-deserved tribute, she said, “To have a school named after you in your lifetime really takes your breath away.”
Explore Black history in Tompkins County and learn about leaders and innovators of color from our shared history.
Research assistant to The History Center in Tompkins County, Louise Matosich wrote a Then & Now column for the Ithaca Journal in 2007 remembering her friend Beverly. Read for a personal account and joyful memories of Beverly J. Martin. Originally published Saturday, February 24th 2007.
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