Archives & Manuscripts

The subject matter of the more than 600 archival and manuscript collections at Union ranges widely. College records, faculty and alumni papers, and regional material such as the papers of selected scientists who worked with the General Electric Company when it was headquartered in Schenectady predominate. Material related to other subject matter, such as the U.S. Civil War, is also abundant. Below is a brief but representative sample of the collections, linked to finding aids or websites when available. 

Union College Records

  • Joseph Hinchey Papers

    This collection is comprised of the papers of Joseph Hinchey (Union College Class of 1947) in his role as a member of the Board of Trustees of the College (1986-1998), of which he served as Chair (1994-1998).  Most of the material dates from the late 1980s and early 1990s and includes professional correspondence, reports, commencement programs, material related to the restoration of the Nott Memorial  and the search for a new College President (1989-1990), campus planning, and information about the College’s Navy Program (1988-1994) and the Engineering Visiting Committee (1986-1987). Also included are descriptions of the College and miscellaneous material such as photographs and newspaper clippings. 

  • Ramée Architectural Plans for Union College

    This collection consists of the surviving plans for the Union College campus, drawn by French architect Joseph Jacques Ramée (1764-1842) in 1813 at the behest of Union College President Eliphalet Nott. Ramée’s designs, drawn in collaboration with Nott, reflect the evolution of their ideas. The original design featured a Central Building containing a President’s residence, chapel, gallery, society room, classrooms, and two libraries. This concept changed drastically, the central building disappearing to give way to a more intricate layout of individual, though often connected, buildings. A detailed watercolor painting believed to be Ramée’s completed design includes a central “Round Building” and extensive French-style gardens. The collection also contains plans for the grounds and sketches and structural drawings for the Central and Round buildings, the colonnades, the President’s house, a steward’s house, an unidentified oval structure, and North and South Colleges. The plans include front and back elevations, sections of the columns and capitals, plans of joists and sketches of the proper brick size for columns. Some of the drawings have Ramée’s labels and additional notes by Union College Treasurer Jonathan Pearson, who reassembled and reviewed Ramée’s drawings in the 1850s. The collection represents one of the fullest documentations of an early American architectural design, the most ambitious and innovative design for an American school up to that time and a model for later campuses. The several dozen sheets of drawings, ranging from thumbnail sketches to detailed working drawings and watercolor renderings are available in their original form, reproductions, and digitized form.

Union Faculty Papers

  • Thomas Werner Papers

    This collection consists of the papers of Thomas C. Werner, Union College Professor of Chemistry (1971-2007). The bulk are from the years 1961 to 2006 and represent his department, research, and service interests in the form of correspondence, meeting records, and various project proposals, grants, and reports.  A significant portion of the collection relates to the history of chemistry and of the Chemistry Department at Union, but the largest pertains to Werner’s service on the Union College Board of Trustees and on a wide variety of committees including the Academic Affairs Council and the Faculty Executive, Planning and Priorities, Administration and Finance, Bicentennial Steering, Academic Reputation, Library, Benefits, and International Study committees.  The collection also contains material from the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and papers relevant to the Steinmetz Symposium, a program which Werner helped implement. Access to some materials is restricted.

  • Anne Dunbar Potts Perkins Correspondence

    This collection consists of over 700 letters written by Anne Dunbar Potts Perkins (1835-1922), wife of Maurice Perkins (Union College Professor of Chemistry, 1865-1901). They date between 1895 and 1904 and are primarily addressed to her son Roger, who had recently graduated from Union and was continuing his education and beginning his medical career. Mrs. Perkins lived in housing at the center of campus for nearly sixty years and was the creator of a College garden which still bears her name. Deeply involved in campus life, Mrs. Perkins documented matters such as Union College athletics, student pranks, fraternity life, faculty and staff news, new campus construction, and changes in the curriculum including an increased emphasis on engineering. The letters also mention various then-contentious College matters such as the appointment of the unpopular Charles Pond as assistant treasurer and bill collector and the College’s dire financial situation at the time, which led to the selling off of land, a proposed move to Albany, various housing problems, and worries on the part of faulty about job security. The letters cover a wide variety of other topics including family life, health concerns, religion, servant problems, social events, local and international news, literature, travel, Mrs. Perkins’ garden and plant room, and her own teaching and intellectual activities. The ten bound volumes of letters, which are mostly typed, also include some letters to Mrs. Perkins and to other family members, and occasionally contain pressed plants and poems for the family’s Christmas magazine. The collection is a treasure trove of information on life at the turn of the century and an educated woman’s perspective on Union when it was still an all-male institution.

  • Byron A. Nichols Papers

    The papers of Byron A. Nichols reflect his four decades as Union College Professor of Political Science (1968-2008). Chairing the department from 1991 to 1998, he also served on many committees including: the College Governance, Bicentennial Steering, Academic Affairs, Faculty Executive, and House System Implementation committees; the Subcommittee on Intellectual Life Outside the Classroom for the Middle States Accreditation Committee; the Resource Allocation Sub-Council; the Minerva House Council. Additionally, he was the director of many College programs such as the Alumni Symposium and the Steinmetz Honors Program, while also actively endorsing and participating in various terms abroad. This collection consists of papers from Nichols’ many activities including his personally conducted surveys and studies; Political Science Department material; correspondence; committee records; papers related to the inauguration of Presidents Roger Hull and Stephen Ainlay; information on a variety of campus issues such as the Union College hockey controversy of 1978; awards, scholarships, and prizes; addresses and presentations. Also included are syllabi for a number of his courses, such as Moral Dilemmas of Governing; Introduction to Global Issues; Latin American Politics; Religion and Politics; Wealth and Power Among Nations; and his First Year Preceptorial. 

  • Jonathan Pearson Diary

    The diary of Jonathan Pearson (1813-1887) housed at Union College begins in 1828 and ends in 1875, a period during which Pearson played a wide variety of roles at the College. A graduate of Union’s Class of 1835, he was hired by the College a year later as a tutor and eventually served it as a Professor (1839-1887), Librarian (1839-1886), and Treasurer (1854-1883). The diary, containing over 900,000 words, starts when Pearson was apprenticed as a store clerk and continues through his years at Union as a student, administrator, and teacher of numerous subjects including chemistry, natural history, agriculture, botany and arithmetic. Pearson kept his “thinking book” diligently, often recording his distress at what he saw around him. The diary contains much comment on the College administration, curriculum, discipline, library, classrooms, and dormitories. It also reveals his involvement in civic affairs and his concerns about epidemics, natural disasters, religious sectarianism, political misconduct, speculation, imperialism, slavery, secession, and war. Occasionally, Pearson included travel accounts, comments on the weather, poetry, parodies of fraternity ceremonies, character sketches, bibliographical lists, anecdotes, word games, and small sketches. Several long gaps exist. One major one, from 1846 to 1854, coincides with a time when the President, the Board of Trustees and even Pearson himself underwent severe scrutiny about financial matters culminating in a formal inquiry by the state legislature. An invaluable source of information about the College and the development of American higher education in the 19th century, the diary also exists in microfilm and in a two-volume transcribed, edited, and annotated edition published by the Union College Press in 2004.  

Union Alumni Papers

  • John Bigelow Papers

    This collection consists of the personal and professional papers of John Bigelow (1817-1911; Union College Class of 1835), author, abolitionist, newspaper editor, minister to France during the American Civil War, New York Secretary of State, co-founder of the New York Public Library, and life-long public servant.  The papers include a correspondence file of more than 20,000 letters, working documents, notes for his published writings, scrapbooks, diaries, and artifacts such as Bigelow’s typewriter and death mask.  The papers, the bulk of which date from 1833 to 1911, reflect the full range of pursuits in which Bigelow – known during his lifetime as New York’s “First Citizen” – was engaged over the course of what he himself called “an active life.”  The correspondence file includes letters from politicians, professional associates, social connections, literary figures, artists, library leaders, family members, and friends such as William Cullen Bryant, Samuel Clemens, Andrew Carnegie, John Hay, Frederick Law Olmsted, Theodore Roosevelt, William Seward, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charles Sumner, and Samuel Tilden.  The collection also includes diaries and the miscellaneous papers of some of Bigelow’s immediate family members.  Over 4000 titles from Bigelow’s personal library are also held in Special Collections.  Background information on the collection and a digital index to the correspondence file are available at http://schaffer.union.edu/bigelow

  • Fox Family Papers

    This collection consists of papers pertaining to the family of Norman Fox (1792-1863), who enrolled at Union College in 1813 but left without completing his degree, later serving in the militia and in the New York State Legislature and becoming a minister and businessman. The inclusive dates are 1800 to 2007, but the bulk of the collection dates to the mid to late nineteenth century. The collection is divided into three series: 1) The Fox Family; 2) The Society of the Descendants of Norman Fox; 3) Photographs.  The Fox Family series is divided into sub-series by family group and contains a wide range of material including personal and business records, correspondence, newspaper clippings, legal documents, financial records, publications, books, scrapbooks, diplomas, school papers, certificates, military papers from the Civil War and World War 1, memorabilia, and other ephemera. Of note are the lists of Union students and officers from 1813 and 1857-1858, an 1820 election ballot, family reunion and genealogical research, a Civil War sword, two cartridge pouches taken from confederate soldiers after battles, and a plaster relief of the profile of Norman Fox. The Society of the Descendants of Norman Fox series includes reports, meeting minutes, newsletters, letters, programs and membership material. Because part of the collection sustained water damage, photocopies have been made for preservation purposes.

Schenectady Regional Papers

  • Robert Fleischer Papers

    This collection consists of the papers of Dr. Robert Fleischer (1930-2011), General Electric research scientist and, later, Union College research professor in the Geology Department. It reflects his years at GE’s Global Research Center, where his 32-year tenure began in 1960, as well as his activities at Union, which he joined in 1997. His investigations ranged widely and included research on fission tracks, nuclear tracks in solids, radon, and various types of radioactivity in the environment at the 1945 Hiroshima bomb site and elsewhere.  The collection includes research files, correspondence, lab notebooks, graphs, lecture notes, copies of publications,  transparencies, awards, and other professional papers. In addition to the scientific materials, the collection also contains travel and various account records, miscellaneous photographs, and information related to the Geology Department at Union. 

  • E.F.W. Alexanderson Papers

    This 58 cubic foot collection consists of the professional and personal papers of Dr. Ernst Frederick Werner Alexanderson (1878-1975), a Swedish-born scientist who pioneered the development of radio and television in the 20th century. A prolific inventor, holding over three hundred patents, Alexanderson studied topics such as railway electrification, power transmission, electric ship propulsion, analogue computers, aerial navigation, magnetic amplifiers, motor control, electronic power conversion, and high frequency alternators used for radio transmissions and color television. Among his professional papers are documents related to his forty-six year career with General Electric and his work for the Radio Corporation of America, including correspondence, technical papers, publications, reports, research notes, drawings, blueprints, and patent materials. On the personal side, the collection includes scrapbooks, photographs, awards, diplomas, notebooks, receipts, booklets, invitations, tributes, publicity material, newspaper clippings and various personal artifacts. The materials date from 1896 to 1975, although most date from 1902 through his retirement from GE in 1948. 

Miscellaneous

  • Butler Family Papers

    This collection largely consists of correspondence between William Butler (1831-1864) and his family during the American Civil War.  The bulk of the letters were written by Butler to his siblings between 1859 and 1864 and describe his time in the 69th Regiment of the New York State Militia, a volunteer unit composed of Irish immigrants, in which Butler rose to the rank of Major before he died in the war in 1864. Topics include troop movements and the preparations and aftermath of battles as well as the everyday concerns of a Civil War soldier, including clothing, money and liquor. Also included are other letters addressed to Butler, his regiment and members of his family. Additional family records in the collection contain a wide array of legal documents that date into the 20th century, such as: an indenture agreement; military records; citizenship records; homestead papers, receipts, and various kinds of deeds. Also included in the collection are newspaper clippings about the collection and some Butler family photographs. 

  • Oral History of American Jews

    This collection consists of transcriptions of approximately thirty oral histories of American Jews born in Eastern Europe prior to 1914. Collected in the mid-1970s by Lucille Brown (Assistant Cataloger in Schaffer Library) and Stephen Berk (Professor of Holocaust and Jewish Studies), the interviews are arranged by the name of the interviewee and his or her place of birth.  Areas represented include Galicia, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Odessa, Poland, Rumania, the Ukraine, Vienna, and White Russia (Belarus). Also included is a box of cassette tapes containing some of the original interviews.  Access to the materials is by permission only.