Tahlequah Daily Press

Community Briefs

April 14, 2014

NSU preps for Seminary Hall anniversary

TAHLEQUAH — As Northeastern State University prepares to observe the anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee National Female Seminary in Tahlequah on May 7, 1889, NSU’s Archives plays a key role in the preservation of the history of those 125 years.

School records, bulletins, class schedules, yearbooks, student newspapers, and other archival materials document the building’s evolution from a Cherokee high school for young women to a co-educational state normal school for training teachers for the public schools. As the state institution grew, its first building remained the focal point of a teachers college and ultimately of NSU.

“Seminary Hall is interesting, but it’s what people did in and around the building that makes it historically important. From material on our shelves it’s possible to identify most of the significant events involving the building from its construction to the present,” said Brenda Bradford, NSU’s interim archivist. “We have documents about a Swiss-born stone mason who helped lay the building’s foundation and recorded his views about the turbulence of a tribal election that occurred during its construction.”

There’s an old photograph of an abandoned cabin built by the Caleb Covel family before the Civil War; the tower of Seminary Building can be immediately behind the ramshackle cabin. It was between Seminary Hall and the Science Lab Building. Caleb’s grandson, Owen Covel, enrolled when Northeastern was a normal school and was active in extracurricular activity, Bradford said.

The archives also houses the program for the May 7, 1889, dedication of the Cherokee National Female Seminary, accounts of the ceremony, a photograph of the event, and an extensive collection of images of the building through fourteen decades.

NSU’s archives was established in 1983. Earlier, the records of the school’s past were stored in the John Vaughan Library’s Special Collections Department. In the first years of NSU’s history as a state school, there was no established procedure for maintaining the institution’s records. In fact, the school had no library at all during its first year.

Faculty members interested in history organized and began preserving historical documents and artifacts several years after Northeastern was established as a normal school. Their interest initially was in preserving the history of the region and its Native Americans inhabitants. For years, the materials they collected moved around campus finding a home in various locations until the space was needed for other purposes. When the John Vaughan Library was constructed in the late 1940s, a large area of the first floor was designed as a museum where the documents and artifacts were preserved and displayed.

They remained there until the mid-1970s, when most of the artifacts were given to the Cherokee Heritage Center at Park Hill, and the documents were housed in a locked section of the stacks. A few years later, they were moved into the library’s Special Collections Department. Finally, in 1983, an archives was established; one of its functions was to preserve the records of the institution, which had been stored in administrative offices across the campus.

“Northeastern was fortunate that many important documents were retained after they ceased to be of administrative value,” Bradford observed. “There are a few periods where the historical record gets pretty thin.”

NSU’s archivist mentioned the almost complete absence of records from 1918 and 1928. In many years of NSU’s first half century, student newspapers and yearbooks were not published; in one year in the late 1920s, no Tahlequah newspapers have been found. Few school bulletins or other documents remain from the World War I era.

“Ironically, since the archives was established, we’ve had the opposite problem,” she said.” As new administrators clean out the file cabinets they inherited, we get reams of materials to inventory, organize, catalog, and preserve.”

The advent of the digital age has created challenges for archivists since many important documents are no longer printed. “New methods of gathering the digital material are essential, and the technology is changing so rapidly that preservation is a growing concern,” Bradford said.

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