Annie Turner Wittenmyer
This past summer, Dr. Lisa Guinn, assistant professor of history, spent a week in Des Moines researching the Annie Turner Wittenmyer Manuscript Collection at the State Historical Society Archives. The research was funded by the Upper Iowa University Summer Scholarship Stipend.
Wittenmyer was an agent of the Iowa Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. She also founded the Soldiers' Orphan Home in Davenport, Iowa, and is most famous for creating diet kitchens in military hospitals where soldiers received special diets that catered to their illness. Guinn is currently working on an article that will combine elements from her dissertation with new information from the Wittenmyer Collection. Guinn's dissertation is a social history of The Girls' Home, a day school and residential home for destitute girls in St. Louis, Mo., in the 19th century. Her dissertation looks at the methodology of the women who ran the Girls' Home specifically focusing on educational aspects. In many ways, the Girls' Home was different from other similar organizations in the 19th century, according to Guinn. While most organizations of this sort focused on moral education for girls, the women at the Girls' Home focused more on elementary and industrial education, a much more practical aspect. The goal was to place these girls in a paid occupation to help the girls and their families to rise out of poverty. The women routinely referred to the notion of paid labor as a reflection of "independence" for the girls.
"What drew me to Annie Tuner Wittenmyer was her emphasis on wanting women who worked in the volunteer organizations during the Civil War to be paid for their labor," said Guinn. "I am hoping to draw a connection between Wittenmyer and the women of the Girls' Home, both of whom emphasized paid labor, as a start to a larger discussion of how paid labor can lead to independence for women in the 19th century."
The Wittenmyer Collection consists of eight containers of correspondence to and from Wittenmyer covering the period 1861-1901. Many of the letters came from volunteer nurses and kitchen staff seeking placement in either a military hospital or one of the diet kitchens. The letters are handwritten and in many cases difficult to read.
"For some this may be tedious work, but as a professional historian, I am in my element in an archive," said Guinn. "Primary sources, such as these letters, are a crucial aspect of a historian's work. In a collection such as this, where there is no index by name, a historian must painstakingly read each letter and determine its value for research purposes.
"The summer faculty stipend is so important to scholars here at Upper Iowa. Upper Iowa is primarily a teaching university and unfortunately research often takes a backseat to teaching. The summer stipend allows financial support for faculty to take time in the summer to commit to research and scholarship, which is so much a part of our profession in academe," she added. "Hopefully, this new research will offer a great reward in a publication that will generate a new debate within the discipline of history."