Special Collectionscomment (0)
July 19, 2003
By Lauren Brooks
Tiny shoes worn by Chinese women back in the days when their feet were bound, missionary journals from the last century and an art gallery of people, places and things are some of the treasures that can be found in Samford University’s Special Collections department.
The Special Collections department, part of the school’s library, specializes in information on Alabama history, Alabama Baptists and Samford University.
Filled with original records and manuscripts, memorabilia and relics, church minutes, Bibles and other books, the department has a narrow focus but an exhaustive and comprehensive collection of these subjects.
The aforementioned Chinese shoes and journals are part of a collection from T.O. and Lizzie Hearn, two Alabama missionaries to China in the early 1900s.
F.Wilbur Helmbold, a librarian at Howard College (now Samford University), started the Special Collections department in 1957 with 100 books. Now the collection has about 25,000 volumes, most of which are gifts from people and estates.
“We feel honored to be chosen and entrusted with these things,” said Elizabeth Wells, the librarian and archivist who has been in the department for nearly 28 years. “People make the acquaintance of the school and people here and decide they want to send their things here. They feel it’s a secure place.”
Wells said the collection provides a rich source of information and historical evidence.
“It’s a real thrill when students and scholars come and see what we have — they get a glimpse into history,” Wells said. “Our things give a more complete look at what people were like and help teach about history, church and Alabama as a whole.”
Recently acquired were the papers and effects of Mildred Lovegren, also an Alabama missionary to China. “Through their papers and records we can see what life was like,” Wells said. “These are such rich sources of information. It gives a more complete look at what people were like.”
Wells and the staff are still sifting through the Hearns’ materials and have fun with each new discovery. Wells was especially excited about the Chinese shoes that were in one of the trunks.
“Lizzie Hearn was involved in the movement to stop binding girls’ feet. You can read about it, but now you can see it in this real, visible source,” Wells said.
“You’re able to understand more about the influence of missionaries on a culture and vice versa,” she continued. “Through the Hearns’ scrapbook we were able to see what China was like and how the missionaries taught and what they learned.”
Recognized as the world’s most complete resource on Alabama Baptists, the department also houses many original church and associational records.
When state Baptist churches close they often give their records to the collection so they will be preserved.
“We continue to get church records and associational materials. We don’t want to lose the history of our churches,” Wells said. “The legacy and work people did for God doesn’t go away.”
The Special Collections department also has the largest Irish history collection in the South. It was a gift from Albert E. Casey, an Alabama pathologist and Baptist.
This historic collection primarily focuses on Cork and Kerry counties in southern Ireland. It provides invaluable information for those doing genealogical research with ancestors from that area.
Each summer the department hosts the Institute of Genealogy to teach people how to do family research using resources and materials in the collection.
This year’s conference was held June 8–13.
Another service provided by the department is their index of The Alabama Baptist newspaper and most of the records can be accessed online. Any story can be located from the earliest article published in 1843. The collection is open to the public, Monday through Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. For more information call 205-726-2749 or visit www.samford.edu and go to the library home page.