This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Bernard McTigue
Interviewee: Alice Elizabeth Alexander
February 27, 1992
M: We are sitting in the garden outside of Library East, also known as the [George A.]
Smathers Library. It is 11:10 a.m., on Thursday, February 27, 1992. It is a very nice
day. [My name is Bernard McTigue, and] I am here to interview Alice Elizabeth
Alexander, also known as Lib. She is the head of the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida
History in the Department of Special Collections in the University of Florida libraries,
also known as the George A. Smathers Libraries, in Gainesville, Florida. Good
A: Good morning, dear.
M: I am going to ask a few questions first that just give people a sense of who you are.
You are a native Floridian. Is that true?
A: Yes. I was born in Tampa in 1926. We lived there for about eight years, and then
we moved to Bartow, which is a small, inland town almost due west of Tampa. [It is]
in the center of the state. My father was in the nursery business.
M: Citrus nursery?
A: It was citrus farming, yes.
M: Your immediate family consisted of how many people?
A: Just my mother and father and two girls. I have an older sister. We moved to a
house that was originally built by my maternal grandfather.
M: What was his name?
A: His name was Ulysses Lightsey. Most people called him Doc. He was a cattleman,
primarily. When he built this house, the back part was a huge barn. Of course,
when my mother was growing up there, there were all sorts of animals. The barn
has a loft with a cut-out place where you could toss the hay down to the animals. As
I was growing up and we lived there, my mother insisted on calling it the garage.
But it was still the barn, and it still is today. My sister is living there now.
M: Your sister still lives in the house built by your grandfather.
M: What year did he build that house? Do you remember?
A: Around the turn of the century, about 1901 or 1902. I am not real sure.
M: Has the house been altered, or is it more or less as it was [originally]?
A: It is more or less as it was, except my mother had siding put on it. But it has not
been altered to any great extent since that time.
My mother was born in Florida, and her maiden name was Wilson. It was a huge
family. [They] had about eight boys and five girls. Of course, I grew up in Bartow
with all this kin around. Unfortunately, I did not know my grandparents. My father
was from Georgia, and I never did know his people at all. But I had four great-aunts,
who really served as grandmothers to me. They were all characters. I guess that is
where I get some of it.
M: Can you give us a sense of their character quality?
A: I had one great-aunt whose name was Laura Virginia Stanford Wilson Swearinger
Mouchet. She was a cellist; she also played the organ and the piano and had
studied in Boston. [She] loved any kind of ballet or opera, and she tried her best to
educate her sisters. She would take them off to New York. She had one sister who
was a character like she was. She said she did not like the ballet. She said she
thought Laura was crazy. She said, ["I do not like] all those naked men jumping
But it was kind of fun growing up. The nice thing about living in Bartow and going to
school is that we were blessed with the Carnegie Library, which I just thoroughly
enjoyed. We had an old man, curmudgeon type. My most vivid recollection of the
library was Mr. Green's burning the glue. He made his own glue on a Bunsen
burner, and the smell of burning glue permeated all the books and crannies and
M: From what you are saying, it sounds like your family was an agricultural family, but
they had broad cultural horizons--at least some of them did. Is that true to say?
A: When my mother was a girl, my grandmother would take her and her sisters--my
great-aunts--off to Chautauqua every summer.
M: Chautauqua is something that might not be familiar to a lot of people. Would you
describe it? I believe it is both a place and a thing.
A: Chautauqua back then--and we would be talking about the 1930s and into the
1940s--was an enclosed enclave. You had to buy your ticket to get in, and the
gates were locked at night. But that is where I got a little smattering of opera, ballet,
and of course, music in a huge amphitheater. They had people from the New York
Philharmonic down every summer. I vividly remember what they called the
Chautauqua Salute, which was silly. In this huge amphitheater they would say, "All
right. Let's give the Chautauqua Salute," and everyone would wave a white
[To] my mother, summer was not the time to play, so I took several courses during
the summer because they had all sorts of high school programs.
M: Chautauqua is where?
A: Chautauqua is close to Buffalo [New York].
M: It is on Lake Erie, is it not?
A: It is on Lake Chautauqua.
M: It is on Lake Chautauqua, which is over in the general direction of Lake Erie.
M: All right. You went up there in the summers. Who went? Was it your mother and
your sister and you and maybe an aunt or two?
A: Yes. My father usually said, "I will stay home and take care of the house and the
business." He was not much of a Chautauqua-goer.
M: Did Chautauqua have any religious background to it, or was it strictly sectarian?
A: It started out [in 1874] as a religious background. You know the Chautauqua
pilgrims had spread throughout the country. Even Florida had a traveling
Chautauqua [which consisted of] plays [and] lectures. [It was] primarily a lecture
M: That is one part of your education. Tell us a little something about your education in
Florida and then elsewhere. Go from elementary school up through your graduate
A: There is not really that much to tell about my going to school in Bartow. I was in the
band and played the snare drum. I enjoyed that thoroughly. [I] just took the usual,
When I graduated I went to [what is now] FSU [Florida State University]. During the
time I was there it was called the Florida State College for Women. Along about my
junior year we had what we called co-ed: young men. They were probably rejects
from the University of Florida. At least that was the way we considered them. I
majored in English and had a minor in Spanish.
The fall after I graduated I went to [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill to
library school. I had to have an interview; to get into Chapel Hill at that time, you
had to have an interview with a head librarian. I had an interview with the librarian at
Florida State. She said at that time she was so glad I was going to Chapel Hill and
not staying at FSU. They had started a library program, but it had not really gotten
off the ground. I got my library degree in [North] Carolina.
The first job I got--in 1952, I think--was working at the air base in Cocoa.
M: Cocoa, Florida?
A: Yes. It was very much like a public library. [It had] general fiction, non-fiction, and
some reference. But it was primarily for the wives of the officers. I stayed there only
Stanley West was the director of the University of Florida libraries. I had met
Stanley, because I was in a sorority, and the housemother was a good friend of
Stanley's. She had mentioned me to Mr. West, and Mr. West offered me a job in
documents. [According to University Catalogs, Alexander started at UF in 1951] I
worked for [assistant librarian] Frances Apperson. Of course, Frances was in
charge [of serials], but I was in charge of both Florida documents and federal
documents. At that time, we were a full depository of books. Documents, at that
time, was located in the stack area on the second floor of Library East. There were
two of us that worked there.
As I said, I was in charge of U.S. and Florida material. There was a Mrs. [May
Roman] Grodsky, who was a White Russian, and she spoke eight languages. Of
course, she was in charge of foreign documents. We were required to do reference
services for social science. At that time the social science area was the second
floor of Library East.
M: Now, this would be about when? 1953? 1954?
A: 1953, 1954, 1955.
M: OK. Before we go on with your library career, can we just double back for a couple
of minutes? On some of your impressions growing up in Florida before the second
great boom--the first great boom being, I guess, the 1920s--what was the
environment in which you grew up? Was it very rural? Very relaxed? Very
undeveloped? Would that be a correct characterization?
A: Yes. Bartow, at that time, was quite a small town. They used to joke and say, "If
you move to Bartow, do not talk about someone that you do not particularly like,
because it is bound to be their cousin or their brother or their sister." Everybody
seemed more or less [related].
I do not really have very strong recollections of growing up. I had a work ethic
drummed into me by my mother, for example. She used to hide my books. I would
be reading a book, and it would disappear Sunday night and would not appear again
until Friday afternoon. I was supposed to study. Mother taught me the little Latin
that I know today. I had sort of a sad woman teaching Latin. So I would get home
in the afternoons and have another Latin class with Mother.
There was a group about our age. My sister is about two and a half years older than
I am--not that much--so we were very close. We fought terribly growing up. Sarah
was the one who was musical; she had voice and piano lessons. Mother tried to get
me [to play]. Finally, the teacher told her: "Faith, save your money and save my
time. She will never learn to play the piano." But I had elocution lessons and ballet
lessons. In other words, Mother thought we should grow up as genteel southern
M: Did your sister go to college as well?
A: Yes. She went to Chapel Hill. She just went to FSU for one year. My father, at the
time, did not have enough money to send both of us out of state, so that is why I
was stuck at FSU for four years. That poor man! At one time, he had my sister, me,
and my mother all writing checks on his one account. So he never knew from one
day to the next how much money he had.
The Depression came along, and of course I have no recollection at all of the
Depression. But I can remember growing up. My father started out as kind of a
salesman. He had two men in this Lake Garfield Nursery Company. There were
two salesmen. One had the southern part of Florida, and one had the northern part.
Primarily, what he was selling was citrus trees. Of course, they would actually plant
them for the buyers. He would take us with him some summers when he planted.
What I vividly remember [is that] he would leave Mother a certain amount of money
for the week. He would usually be gone from Monday until Friday. Some weeks,
Mother would say, "We do not have any money this week, so we will go straight
home." Surprisingly enough, the following week she would say: "I think we have a
little money ahead. Let's go to the drugstore and have a treat." So it was sort of on
again, off again. But I was well-loved by these three great-aunts that I had.
I was quite ill at one time. In fact, they did not expect me to live. But I fooled them.
They spoiled me so. It was too late to do anything about it.
M: How old were you when you were very ill?
A: I was about eight. In fact, I had to repeat the first grade. I do not like to tell people
that because they usually are horrified. But I did. They took me to Richmond. I had
a brain tumor.
M: So they took you to Richmond to take care of the problem. Did it take care of itself?
Was the medical profession sufficiently sophisticated to take care of it?
A: No, it was not. One thing I remember about being in Richmond and my operation
was [that] I spent Christmas in the hospital. I had a Christmas tree that was about
six inches high on the table. It was a bleak Christmas.
M: Did the whole family come up to stay with you, or was it just you and your mother?
A: My mother and father went up with me. Sarah stayed with a couple down the street
who were first cousins of Mother's. Eunice and Ernest Smith took care of her.
M: This was in Bartow.
A: Yes. This was after we moved to Bartow. And I had spinal meningitis. I am
probably the only one you know who is still alive who has had their funeral planned.
M: That is very interesting. The fact that you had to go to Richmond suggests that
medical care in Florida at that time just was not up to handling a serious case like
A: No, it was not.
M: There was no hospital, obviously, on either coast that could deal with it.
A: No, there was not. And the man who discovered the brain tumor and sent me [to
Richmond] was an ophthalmologist who could tell from my eyes. This would have
been about 1933. I do not know how they selected Richmond.
M: So your family must have regarded this as a great gift when you survived. One of
the factors I would like to get into is transportation. Did your family have a car?
M: When you went to FSU each term, did they drive you up? Did you drive yourself?
Did you take a train? How did you get there?
A: A bus. There was a bus out of Tampa that went straight up to Tallahassee.
M: How long did that take?
A: It took about four hours. I remember vividly the grill at the top of a hill. I think that
was in Perry. They made the best hamburgers.
M: So you would stop along the way for hamburgers?
A: Yes. They had rest stops. My mother let me borrow her car for about the last
semester of my senior year. But I did not have a car the whole time I was in college.
M: What was Tallahassee like when you were a student there? Was it sleepy?
A: It was sleepy. It rained a lot. I can recall my father saying that he did not need to
waste money buying me clothes; if he bought me a raincoat and some galoshes and
an umbrella, that would have done. But when I was in Tallahassee, the first year I
lived in a dormitory. You had to sign in and out. My favorite occupation was to walk
into town and buy a pecan pie. There was a big cemetery on the way back to
campus. We would stop in the cemetery and divide the pie.
M: Were your friends in Tallahassee Bartow or Tampa people, or did you meet all sorts
of people from throughout Florida?
A: I met all sorts. One of the two girls I roomed with when I first went up was from
Jacksonville, and [the other] one was from Quincy. As I said, just to get away from
the dormitory, I think, was really the reason I joined a sorority. I could live in a
house and have my own room.
M: Was sorority was that?
A: Chi Omega. So I think if I had it to do over again, [I would not]. I am not an [active]
alumna. I do not believe in that sort of thing.
M: So you do not go to old sorority sister get-togethers?
A: No. I am not much of a joiner. I do belong to the church and the Smithsonian
Institution. Other than that, I do not belong to any groups.
M: What church did your family go to?
M: That was in Bartow?
M: Was that the predominant faith or sect in Bartow?
A: No. I would think in Florida, as well as in Bartow, it is Baptist that was the strongest
religion. [It] still is--in Bartow, particularly.
M: The Methodists I sort of associate--probably wrongly--with a northeastern
background. Was Bartow settled by people from the Northeast originally?
A: Most of Florida was really settled by Georgians. It is amazing. No matter what little
town or county you are investigating, [you will find that] it is the Georgia [people] that
moved down and settled.
M: Did they come after the Civil War generally or before it or both?
M: Just to get off the track for a minute, were those people younger sons or younger
members of families? Was primogenitor in effect in Georgia so that if you were not
an older son or an older daughter, you did not get the family estate [and] therefore
you left town or moved away to better land or land available? What was the
background to that?
A: I do not think that is true at all. Georgia was a very poor state at that time. I know
my grandfather, Ulysses Lightsey, came down here from Georgia, and my father, of
course, came from Georgia. In fact, all of his family moved down here. I really do
not know that much about the Alexanders. They died quite young. But I know his
two older brothers, my father, and two sisters moved into Bartow from Georgia.
There was just nothing for them at all [in Georgia].
M: Did they all move to the same general area of Florida, or did they scatter?
A: They scattered. The majority of them went to Tampa. My father at one time was in
business with his older brother.
M: Your father went from being a salesman to owning his own nursery. Did he take
over the company he worked for, or did he start his own?
A: He took it over. The gentleman, Mr. Brown, was from the New England area. He
started Lake Garfield Nursery. This must have been right about 1920. As I said,
[Brown] had these two salesmen. He had no children, so he allowed them [the two
salesmen] to buy stock in the company. So my father ended up in business with this
other salesman. His name was Rembrandt Bryan. He had two sons, and of course
my father had two daughters. One of the sons still owns Lake Garfield Nursery,
which, as I understand it, is in bad trouble right now, as far as that disastrous freeze
of two years ago at Christmas.
Back then, what they would do as far as citrus was concerned [was] they planted
nursery stock in the ground (they used cans). Then when they would dig them to
sell, they would leave a grove. So Lake Garfield Nursery's holdings ended up
mostly groves rather than just nursery stock. So what he would do would be to
leave a grove to my sister and a grove to me. That is how I ended up backing into
the citrus business. Believe me, the citrus industry is not a happy life. If it is not
spreading decline, it is nematodes or [other problems]. Yesterday we discovered
fire ants. [There are] all sorts of plights.
M: Citrus is one headache after another, you are telling me.
A: It is. It is drought or freeze. I can remember growing up as a child when it would
rain Mother would be at the window, and she would say, "Praise the Lord." That
meant they did not have to spend money irrigating.
M: Is your family no longer involved in the citrus business?
A: Not at all. We sold every bit of it.
M: So your family got out of the citrus business when?
A: It was really after the death of both my mother and father. My father died first and
left it all to Mother. Mother's holdings then were not only stock in the company but
[also] large orange groves.
M: About how large would that be, in acreage terms?
A: I do not have a clue.
M: [Fewer] than 100?
A: Much more than 100 acres.
M: [Fewer] than 1,000?
M: So between 100 and 1,000.
M: And when did your mother die?
M: Up until fairly recently, then--this is 1992--your family did own citrus groves and you
were still in the business. Did you get out of the business more or less immediately
after your mother's death?
A: Yes. We just decided that [we did not want to fool with it anymore]. I had a sister
who married. My father took her husband into the business.
M: What was his name?
A: Lawrence Clemens. He died just last year. But he more or less ran the business as
far as our holdings were concerned. Then he got interested in North Carolina. So
we just decided to sell out, which we did. The one who bought it was one of the
sons of my father's partner. He bought our stock.
M: This was a member of the Bryan family, then.
M: They still run the business?
M: To start back toward the library side of things, your sister did not have a career and
A: That is true.
M: Well, she had a career, but [it was] more or less conventional.
A: She married and I did not.
M: She married and had a family and stayed in the family home. You did not. So one
question I had to lay the groundwork for your professional career here is, how tough
was it to convince your family, if it was tough at all, that you were going to go out
and have a career and be independent? Did you have trouble with them?
A: Not at all.
M: Your mother and father were in accord with your decision?
A: Yes. They certainly were.
M: How typical of your background, your family, and your region was your decision to
become an independent person and have a career? Obviously, your sister went to
college, too, so that was not--in terms of family--outside the pale. But what about
other people in town? Did other women go to college and have a career?
A: Yes, very much so. But the uncanny part that I have never understood about
Bartow--and it even exists today--is [that] there are so many young people who go
off to college and come back to Bartow to find a job or something like that. That is
true with [my sister's family]. My sister has four children who are no longer children.
Three of them are living in Bartow, and one of them is living in Tampa. I do not
know. That was left out of me, that pull of Bartow. I never had it.
M: [There is] that magical charm of the place, clearly, of some sort. So you decided to
have a career. Can you sum up why it was that you decided to go out and get a job
and support yourself?
A: I felt like I should.
M: But you were spoiled.
A: I know I was, but I really did not think it was fair to have them spend all that money
on me for an education and then for me to go back home and sit. They encouraged
M: They did not put any blocks in your way?
A: No. They did not think I should just do nothing--which would have been nice.
M: There are worse fates. So you got away from Bartow and got a job. Did you find at
Tallahassee, at FSU, that you were distinctive in that regard? You must have had
your mind made up fairly early on, I would think, about being independent.
A: I took education because I did not know how the moneys would be and if I could go
on to graduate school. So I took education and actually practice-taught at a small
town near Bartow. I taught both English and Spanish. I was thinking if I could not
go to graduate school I would probably end up teaching. Then my father was able
to swing the money for Chapel Hill.
M: In terms of the chosen profession, did you go into librarianship because teaching
and librarianship--as opposed to at that time medicine or the law--were both
"women's work?" How did you come to choose librarianship?
A: I know this sounds ridiculous. I have always loved to read, and it was not until I
started working in libraries that I discovered that there are very few librarians who
read books. And you know, library science is so much how-to. At one time I went
back to Chapel Hill and got another degree because I wanted out of library work. I
really did. I think if I had not gotten the job with [the University of Florida at the P. K.
Yonge Library of] Florida History, I would have gotten out. It was pretty dead.
M: I assume your degree would have been in history or something like that when you
A: No. It was in dramatic arts.
M: Was it really? We will have to address that when we get back to the library work.
You are right, I think, in your observations about how unbookish so many librarians
are, and that what drove many people to librarianship, which is reading and content,
they often discover too late is not there. So maybe what we will do is end here for
this segment, and next time [we will] go on about your library degree and how it
changed your perception of libraries and how you found your niche here at the P. K.
Yonge Library of Florida History. Thank you very much.
A: All right.
M: I think we left you getting ready to give up librarianship and tip-tap on the boards on
A: On Broadway, indeed.
M: What made you decide to think about going to take up a theater arts degree?
A: I was so sick of library work.
M: What exactly made you sick of it?
A: So much of library work is how-to. So I just decided I would get a degree in
dramatic arts. I discovered dramatic arts was just as much how-to as anything: how
to design a set, how to ply furniture, how to work the light board.
M: Where did you study?
A: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
M: How long did you stay there?
A: I was there a year.
M: What year was that?
A: I would say that was about 1958, give or take a year. The only part I had was in The
Rainmaker. You remember in the seduction scene they have to take down her hair.
I got the part because I had long hair. That was my dramatic career from trotting
M: Did you meet any board trotters who later became famous?
A: Well, you know Andy Griffith is the Carolina Players idol because that is where he
graduated. Of course, he was long gone when I was there.
M: But there was nobody there who later [became famous]. I mean, there was no
Robert DeNiro or Ernest Borgnine or somebody like that.
A: No, or the actor from FSU, Burt Reynolds. No, there were no celebs to speak of.
M: So you came back to libraries after that year?
A: I went back home.
M: Back to Bartow?
A: Yes. I had moved all my furniture up there, and then I moved it back. So Stanley
called me and wanted me to come and teach library science.
M: This is Stanley West, who was then director of the UF Libraries.
A: Yes. That was a terrible experience. I do not know who was more bored--me or the
students. I refused to teach cataloging, but I taught everything else.
M: What students took this course? Was this a general course for undergraduates?
A: Yes. It was mostly for school librarians. At one time they tried to set up a library
science school here, but it did not fly. Gradually the College of Education took it
M: How long did the library science school remain extant, then?
A: I would say about ten years.
M: From when to when?
A: Probably from the mid 1950s into the 1960s.
M: That late?
M: Then they just gave it up and left it to FSU to do?
A: Yes. Then they turned over children's literature to the English department and
turned over undergraduate library courses to the College of Education--strictly for
school librarians. So you could graduate with an A.B. in English and library science
or math and library science.
M: So you came back to teach. How long did that last?
A: Just for a year. I could not stand it anymore.
M: In that time did you decide that there was a specialty in librarianship that you wanted
to do other than teaching?
A: No, I did not. I was still real sick of library work.
M: So you were doing this with a certain degree of resistance.
A: Yes. Well, Mr. West informed me that I owed him a favor, so that is how I ended up
back here. Then I quit. At one time I went to the University of Miami and stayed
down there a year.
M: To study?
A: No. I was in the library serials department.
M: What year was that?
A: That was probably in the late 1950s. I came back. This sounds sort of peripatetic. I
quit down there, too. They did not even have a library there when I was there. They
did not have such a thing as a computer as far as a catalog. The catalogers only
filed in the catalog once a year because the catalog department was all the way
across campus from the library. So there I was, back in Bartow again.
Stanley West called me. He had had somewhat of a falling out with the woman who
was the librarian of Florida history, and she had just stormed out. So Stanley
insisted I come and just sit. I said: "But you need a historian for that job. I have not
had any history since a survey course when I was at the University as a
sophomore." He said, "Oh, but you are a native Floridian." I said, "That does not
really mean a thing, Stanley." So I came in 1962, and I am still right here.
M: So this is thirty years that you have been with Florida history. I guess we should
give it its formal title, the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History in the Department of
Special Collections in the [George A.] Smathers Library. When you came to the
library, was Mr. Yonge or any of his descendants alive?
A: When I first came here, which was in the early 1950s , I was in both state and
federal documents and worked for Miss Frances Apperson. Mr. Yonge was alive
then, and he was here.
M: This is Julian [Chandler] Yonge [Director, P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History]?
A: Yes. He was a character. He wore hearing aids, which he kept turned off most of
the time because people annoyed him. He was here, I would say, up until about
1954-1955. Then he retired, and he was quite ill. [Julian C. Yonge retired as
director of the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History in 1958] His home was
Pensacola. That is where the collection came from. Dr. [Rembert Wallace] Patrick,
who was head of the history department, was real good friends with Mr. Yonge. At
that time Julian was the only one collecting in Florida; there were no archives or
anything like that set up. So Dr. Patrick is the one who persuaded Julian to give the
collection here. He agreed if he could come with it. And he did.
M: When was that?
A: That was in 1944. When I came to Florida history, my only continuity was with Dr.
Patrick, who had an office in the library. Some things he remembered and some
things he did not. Dr. Patrick was instrumental in getting the [David Levy] Yulee
[U.S. senator, 1845-1851, 1855-1861] papers. Things like that he would know, but
just the workings of the library he did not have a clue [about]. The woman who left
here went to the University of South Florida.
M: What was her name?
A: Margaret [Louise] Chapman [Assistant librarian, P.K. Yonge Library of Florida
History]. She is now dead. She died about ten years ago.
M: Was Mr. Yonge an employee of the University, or was he merely given housing with
A: He was an employee.
M: He was, in fact, a salaried employee.
A: Yes. He usually turned his salary back to the library to buy materials and books and
the like. He edited the Florida Historical Quarterly for years. In fact, he was doing
that when he lived in Pensacola.
M: Was Mr. Yonge a native Floridian?
M: The collection is named after who?
A: His father.
M: What does the P. K. stand for?
A: Philip Keyes Yonge. He was on what was then the Board of Control, which is now
the Board of Regents, for a good thirty years. [Yonge was a charter member of the
Board of Control, beginning in 1905, and left the board in 1934. Ed.] The [College
of Education] lab school was named after P. K., too. Julian thought it only
appropriate that he name it after [his father]. Julian was never in very good health.
He tried to go to Suwannee to school. He had to go back to Pensacola, and that is
when his father interested him in collecting Floridiana. In fact, the WPA [Work
Projects Administration] did a catalog of Julian's library when it was in Pensacola.
M: Did he have a career other than as a collector?
M: So he had some independent means to support his collecting, then, and himself.
M: Did he have any descendants?
A: No. He never married.
M: So the collection is, in many ways, his descendant, his baby, as it were. Now, you
came in and were fresh to the collection. You were not all that happy with
librarianship [then], but you have been there thirty years [now]. Obviously,
something clicked. What was it?
A: I do not really know, except that I more or less had my own little empire. I was
determined--I promised myself after three or four years of this floundering--that I was
going to organize that library so anybody could come in and run it. Of course, Mr.
Yonge just had manuscripts stacked on the floor. Some of his cards were in
tobacco cans. He would have a tobacco can of Seminole Indians or a tobacco can
on land information.
So I started with the miscellaneous manuscripts as box one, and we are now up to
about box eighty-six. Of course, the reason so much of our material will never be on
LUIS [Library User Information Service, Florida's State University System electronic
card catalog] is that Mr. Yonge had his own cataloger. Between them, they decided
what was important to list in the general catalog and what was important to keep just
in the library. We have a complete shelf list, but no one else knows about the
collection [unless they know about] the shelf list. That is why I tried to get the
catalogers to use the shelf list.
M: Well, we know about catalogers. Now, you came in and started organizing
according to library standards what was a very personal collection, even though [it
is] housed in an institution. What was the use of that collection before you arrived or
in your first years? Was it primarily [used by] local history faculty?
A: Primarily, yes.
M: Dr. Patrick, I suppose, was chief among them.
A: And this research gift of the Yulee letters. Her husband was in work in Florida
M: This is Irene Thompson's recent gift of the Yulee letters?
M: Her husband being?
A: Arthur Thompson.
M: The late Arthur Thompson?
A: Yes. [Thompson was a professor of history at the University of Florida who was
particularly interested in Florida and southern history. Ed.]
M: Now, the Yulee papers are but one major collection within the library of Florida
history, one example of its growth and its importance to the history of the state.
How did the collection grow both in terms of size and content while you have been
head of it?
A: As far as the growth within the manuscript [collection is concerned], it has been
primarily political [papers]. Of course, with the advent of the state archives, I was
restricted to some extent from collecting. We have never had much of a budget until
you came along. We really had no money at all, so there were many manuscripts
that I was just unable to touch. In fact, Mr. West went to that big collection that was
on the block, the Streeter auction. I had picked about twelve items that I really
wanted. He said everything just went for so much money. He said, "I sat there on
M: Americana really took off with that auction in terms of price and has taken off ever
since pretty much, as we know.
You have your own interest in Florida history professionally in the political papers
that you have acquired. You have acquired, among others, the papers of Charlie
Bennett [U.S. Representative, 1949-1992], the papers of Lawton Chiles [U.S.
senator, 1971-1989; Florida governor, 1991-present], the papers of Paula Hawkins
[U.S. senator, 1981-1987] (even though she is a Republican).
A: And, of course, Spessard Holland [governor of Florida, 1941-1945, U.S. senator,
M: Not to mention Spessard Holland. Do you see that area of growth continuing?
A: Not really. This day and time, at least the way I understand it, there is so much that
is not written down. So many of the representatives [or] senators weed--wash--their
collections before they send it down, so it really is not worth it.
M: That is going to have an important impact on history, obviously, for the future, not
just on collecting, but on research.
A: And, of course, I am particularly proud of the map collection.
M: Yes. Would you talk a little about the map collection?
A: We have been very fortunate in acquiring maps. Two different donors have given us
money primarily for maps. I myself gave some money a long time ago, before I
gave up on the foundation. The maps date from about 1500 right on up to the
1920s. I made sort of an agreement with Dr. [Helenjane] Armstrong [librarian, map
library] in the map room that I would not collect into the twentieth century to any
great extent. We have all the historic maps. The only things that she has that are
really historic are the Samdburn maps, of the insurance company. She has all of
those that she got from the Library of Congress. I also think she has that on
microfilm. Of course, with all this historic preservation, they have been in great
M: The maps are of Florida, but they also include representations of the Caribbean,
where that is part of the picture. Do they not?
A: They do. At one time Florida went all the way up to North Carolina and then west to
the Mississippi [River]. I have maps of what I call the border states. I do not
imagine Georgia or Alabama or Louisiana would be too pleased to be called a
border state, but to study the early Spanish history of Florida you have to have
material on these other states.
M: Now, you were also instrumental, were you not, in developing the collection of
copies of archival materials from Spain? Talk a little bit about the work you have
done with AGI [General Archive of the Indies, in Seville] and other entities in Spain
and Mexico and Cuba in supplying researchers here with microfilm of documents
relating to the history of Florida from those archives.
A: Mr. Yonge, even long before I came, had tried to start acquiring Spanish
documentation. The only thing he was really ever able to get were some of the
Popellis that were in the Library of Congress. He never ventured as far as Spain. I
credit Sam[uel Charles] Gowan [associate director of libraries] with some of the
Spanish program, because he kind of pushed. You know, I am of the temperament
[that] I need pushing. We received two big grants from NEH [National Endowment
for the Humanities]. Bruce has been to Spain about six or seven times.
M: This is Bruce Chappell, your assistant for the last ten years or so?
A: Yes, the archivist. I went the first time with the guys, and we stayed the full three
M: Which "guys" were those?
A: This was Bruce and a Canadian named Loren McWaters. [He is] a real smart guy.
He was here working on his doctorate. I do not have the paleography, nor is my
Spanish that good, so I worked primarily with the maps. They have some
magnificent manuscript maps, and we were able to get copies of the majority of the
ones that we were interested in. Rosaria Para was very gracious to us.
M: She is the archivist of AGI.
A: Yes. By the way, the Spaniards thought it was hysterical the way Bruce and I
referred to the archive as the AGI. It never occurred to them to call it anything but
M: There being only one archive in Spain, from their perspective. I suppose we should
say for the record that that archive is in Seville.
M: But you also had projects gathering up materials relating to Florida in Mexico and
elsewhere in Spain, did you not?
A: A long time ago, when Mr. Yonge was here, there was a professor who worked in
Mexico and [who] gave Julian three reels of microfilm from the Mexican archives.
Bruce has made a survey of the Mexican material, and there is just nothing there for
us that is left.
M: So we have pretty much cleaned that out.
M: That is maps [for our] archives. You have also collected books, of course, for the
A: And, of course, microfilm by the score.
M: By the score. And the great Florida newspaper project. You had something to do
with that, I believe, as well.
A: Yes. We tried to interest FSU and the University of South Florida. [We wanted] to
divide the newspapers of the state among us. But they were not at all anxious to
participate. So right now we are filming approximately sixty-five small Florida
newspapers. These would be weeklies, primarily. But [with] the larger papers, it is
so much cheaper for us to buy a positive copy from Bell and Howell of the Miami
paper or the Jacksonville or the Tallahassee or even the Gainesville [paper]. So we
do not film any really large [collections of newspapers]. I guess the largest we film is
the Stuart paper.
M: When did you begin the Florida newspaper project?
A: Really when I first started. Julian came over with his collection, and in the collection
were bound newspapers, primarily of Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Tallahassee, and
Pensacola. He would haul out a volume and give it to the researcher. They were
literally falling apart. I know Mr. Yonge would have been horrified, but I broke the
bindings and had them all microfilmed.
M: When did you start doing that?
A: I started on that about 1965. What I always wanted--and I have never gotten
funding for it--is to have someone with a mobile microfilm camera go around the
state and complete these runs. I have done a project writing to both public libraries
and newspaper offices, and it is amazing the number of newspaper runs that still
exist that we do not have. Some of them I have been able to borrow and have
microfilmed. In fact, Bob Harrell, the microphotographer, was in yesterday, and he
is going to borrow some papers from the Bristol newspaper to fill in gaps that we do
not have, of some the early 1920s newspapers. The lady called and said she had
them and [asked if] we would like to film them.
M: Terrific. Would you say, then, that what you have developed here is probably the
most comprehensive collection of Florida newspapers in the state? Is that a fair
A: Not just the state. When Mr. Yonge was here, he would write the Huntington library
[San Marino, California], the Library of Congress, Newberry [Library, Chicago] and
ask for any Florida papers to be microfilmed. So that is one way the microfilm
collection was built.
M: So it is the best collection, then, in the country.
A: Yes, it is. Of course, we have microfilm [of other things as well]. I try to buy theses
and dissertations that were done at other universities that concern Florida. Of
course, we always buy the census. We have good holdings for the British period,
the colonial office records.
M: In microfilm?
M: Looking back on your thirty years here, is there any project that you wanted to get
off the ground that you never quite got off the ground? In other words, is there any
major aspect of development of this collection that you feel that you have missed out
A: I really think the newspaper thing, preserving those back runs, is one of the most
important ways we could go. Of course, there are other newspapers cropping up in
the state that I think are important. For example, Sam Proctor [distinguished service
professor of history, University of Florida] has talked to me about a newspaper from
High Springs that he thinks we ought to microfilm. He has given me the guy's name
and said the man was very interested. I think it started about two years ago. At one
time, there was another Gainesville paper that I have on microfilm. But it lasted only
about ten years.
M: So you see the newspaper project as your greatest achievement, and any gaps in
that is the great loss.
M: So you would leave that as a priority for the future.
A: Yes. And what I hope the next person can do--I think we talked about this--is hit up
the educational television stations for tapes. But that is way down the road apiece
until we have some sort of audiovisual setup.
M: In the greatly restored Smathers Libraries, we will have all that equipment--state-of-
the-art, of course. Irony should be taken into account here and there. To close up,
you are back at Library East, also known as the Smathers Library.
A: [I have] come full circle.
M: You had started out with the Yonge Library in Library East. What room was it in
when you arrived?
A: It was where the system is now. It is on the first floor [at the] south end of the
building. We had a safe and a vault there, and some of the rare books Mr. Yonge
not only had in the vault, but he had them in his safe, which he locked.
M: At home [in a] personal safe?
A: [No.] He kept it in the library.
M: OK. Do we still have that safe?
A: Yes, but it is ruined. I did not know what the combination was, and I had to get a
guy over here to drill a hole in it to get the books out. I could not just leave the
books in the safe.
M: Well, [this is] further evidence of why an oral history program can be a useful thing
for all sorts of reasons. Thank you very much.
A: You are most welcome.