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The place for the past

Pieces of RIT’s rich history fill a vault on the third floor of Wallace Library. The shelves and files of the RIT Archives are packed with memorabilia, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, more than 10,000 photos, documents, historic portraits, posters, correspondence, RIT publications, course catalogs, audio and video tapes and many other items.

“It’s a very broad collection,” says Archivist Becky Simmons, who came to RIT in 2003 after serving as associate librarian at the George Eastman House: International Museum of Photography and Film. “Very few people realize what a wealth of items we have here.”

Eisenhart Teaching Award

Among the surprises: a hockey stick signed by all members of the 1983 NCAA men’s championship team; an oil painting by Eugene Colby, the first teacher and principal of Mechanics Institute; a lace-trimmed cap and apron from the domestic arts program of the early 1900s; shovels used at numerous ground-breaking ceremonies over the years; an 1861 poster promoting a lecture on electricity.

As RIT archivist, Becky Simmons is responsible for historical items housed in Wallace Library. She’s holding an 1896 landscape painting by Eugene Colby, first principal and first instructor at Mechanics Institute. The books on the table are the History of Women Suffrage edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage; the first volume is inscribed from Miss Anthony to Kate Gleason. The Institute Breeze was a student publication that began in 1909, and the photo shows the 1917-1918 basketball team.

Gladys Taylor, the first caretaker of the collection, had a very simple collection policy: “If it is about RIT, we want it!” First organized in 1960, the nucleus of the collection came from then-President Mark Ellingson’s office and from Alfred Johns and Al Davis, who both had long careers as RIT faculty members and administrators. “We are greatly indebted to these gentlemen and their secretaries for preserving such valuable historical material,” Taylor wrote in 1984. The collection continues to grow as contemporary items are set aside and donations of historic items are received.

The archives are available for the use of students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and researchers. A selection of 1,000 historic photos can be accessed via the Internet. For more information about the RIT Archives and the online photo collection, visit the Wallace Library Web site at http://wally.rit.edu/.