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Libraries & Spaces


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Born in the Netherlands, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (1876-1917) traveled to Java, Indonesia, at age 18 in response to an advertisement for marriage placed by army captain Rudolf MacLeod. Two children ensued; however, the marriage foundered and ended in divorce in 1907. Zelle sought solace and escape from domestic circumstances by immersion in Indonesian culture, especially traditional dance forms. By 1897, she had joined a local company.

In 1903, Zelle moved to Paris where she performed on horseback and supplemented her income by posing as a model for artists. Zelle’s specialty became exotic dancing, inspired by her training in Indonesian dance. Contemporaries in dance included Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, both significant figures in 20th-century modern dance which found inspiration in Asian and Egyptian cultures. In 1905, Zelle was invited to dance for Émile Guimet, owner of an oriental art museum. Guimet encouraged Zelle to adopt a more evocative stage name than Lady Gresha McLeod, the one she had been using. As early as 1897, she had written to a friend that she wanted to dance under the name Mata Hari, a Malay phrase for “sunrise.” Mata Hari made her debut at the Musée Guimet to a select audience, causing a sensation, not least of all because her performance included dancing nude.

During World War I, Zelle traveled freely across borders due to the neutrality of the Netherlands. Unfortunately her movements drew attention, and in 1916, en route from Spain to England, she was detained by Scotland Yard for questioning by Sir Basil Thomson, who was in charge of counter-espionage. Zelle was eventually released, but in 1917, radio messages between Madrid and Berlin reporting on activities of a German spy codenamed H-21 were intercepted by French intelligence, who identified the spy as Mata Hari. Zelle was arrested in her room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She was accused of spying for Germany and causing the deaths of fifty thousand soldiers. She was tried, found guilty of treason, and executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, official case documents, which were to remain sealed for a hundred years under the authority of the French Ministry of Defense, were opened at the behest of biographer Russell Warren Howe. He was able to reveal that Zelle was innocent of the charges of espionage. Her body was never claimed by any family members, and was accordingly disposed of for medical study. Her head was embalmed at the Museum of Anatomy in Paris; in 2000 archivists discovered that the head, as well as other body parts, had disappeared without record. The Frisian Museum in Zelle’s native town of Leeuwarden exhibits a Mata Hari Room and is dedicated to collecting research materials on her life.

Shown here are letters written by Zelle to Jean Hallaure, requesting assistance for safe passage to Vittel, a spa that Zelle frequented. Hallaure was a second lieutenant in the Deuxiѐme Bureau (the intelligence branch) of the French Ministry of War, with whom Zelle was romantically involved and who was ultimately responsible for Zelle’s arrest. Biographer Pat Shipman vividly recounts this episode in her book Femme Fatale: Love, lies, and the unknown life of Mata Hari (2007).

All are welcome to see the Mata Hari letters located in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection GTM.Gamms430, Box 3.

Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist

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During a recent project a student and I undertook in the University Archives photographic collection, we unearthed some images that have rarely seen the light of day. As one might expect at a Jesuit school, many of the photographs are of Jesuits. Many of those Jesuits are wearing a Jesuit-style cassock. These frocks are distinct from the traditional Roman Catholic cassock: whereas the Roman style has a long row of buttons down the front, a Jesuit cassock is more of a wrap with hooks that fasten at the collar, and a belt tied at the waist known as a cincture. While most Jesuits today opt for the black shirt and white collar or even regular street clothes, it wasn’t too long ago that the cassock was the standard.

Below are a few of my favorite images in the Archives that depict Jesuits in their cassocks, styled with various other accoutrements. The date of the photograph and any Georgetown connection, if known, is noted in the captions.


Ann Galloway, Assistant University Archivist


Felix Barbelin, S.J., ca. 1865.


Camillus Mazzella, S.J., ca. 1870. Former theology professor at Georgetown. Elevated to Cardinal in 1886.


James Curley, S.J., ca. 1870. Founder of the Georgetown Observatory and professor of physics, mathematics, and botany.


Very Reverend Anton Maria Anderledy, S.J., ca. 1883. Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1887-1892.


J. Havens Richards, S.J., ca. 1890. President of Georgetown from 1888-1898.


Michael O’Brien, S.J., ca 1890. Former philosophy professor at Georgetown.


W. Coleman Nevils, S.J., ca. 1930. President of Georgetown from 1928-1935.


Frederick Peter Garesché, S.J.


A. Goethals, S.J.

Augustine Langcake, S.J.


Daniel Cronin, S.J.


James Pye Neale, S.J. Graduated from Georgetown in 1859 and former Georgetown professor.

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Teaching is at the heart of what I do at Georgetown. At least it is what is closest to my heart: seeing student’s eyes light up when they see a rare Book of Hours, or turn the leafy pages of Ursula Le Guin’s Direction of the Road, or view the holograph manuscript of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, among thousands of other possibilities.

Physical handling of original materials fuels lively discussion and cultivates critical thinking. Nothing can replace the actual object: its three-dimensionality, the smell, the shade of handwriting or print, the feel of a deckled edge or the surface of the hair side of vellum as opposed to the flesh side.

Work with special collections materials creates the opportunity for a more student-centered classroom. The objects themselves take on a kind of life for those who interact with them, and the same object often has multiple uses and invites different perspectives. Instead of a lecture, students engage a variety of observation and research methods, digging up information and generating conversation. In the reading room, as a facilitator, I encourage interactive and lively discussions.

Every once in a while you connect with a student in unexpected ways. One instance is Carter White, a student in Nathan Hensley’s “Tragic Ecologies” senior capstone English class. Carter decided to curate a group exhibition focused on the environment. Carter said he wanted to “highlight environmentally themed or otherwise fascinating objects — all of them uncatalogued, many of them unique to Georgetown — pertaining to the long cultural project of mediating the Anthropocene.”

As you’ll see from the posts, they did just that. As you’ll see in the images, nature played more of a role than just the titles. These students had the opportunity to interact and think more broadly about what a ‘book’ really is (or isn’t). 

--Ethan Henderson, Rare Books Curator

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Rare Books
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May 31 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea—the biggest naval battle of World War I, involving about 250 ships of the British and German fleets.

This etching by W. L. Wyllie (British, 1851–1931) depicts an early point in the battle, called the “Windy Corner” by the British because of the number and speed of ships crossing each other’s courses to get into position. On the left is battleship HMS Warspite under heavy fire from five German dreadnoughts. She’s actually saving the badly damaged battle-cruiser HMS Warrior (right) from destruction by the Germans, drawing fire away as Warrior withdraws. (Warrior later sank after her crew was safely taken off.) Warspite recovered and went on to a long and distinguished career, earning the most battle honors of any single ship in the British Navy and also the most awards for actions in World War II before being decommissioned in 1945.

Wyllie created a sequence of twelve Battle of Jutland images, of which this is the eighth. The series was published in More Sea Fights of the Great War, Including the Battle of Jutland (London: Cassell, 1919), which Wyllie also co-authored. 

The Art Collection has a large number of artworks relating to World War I, by official war artists and by others. We also have many American and British posters: you can see some of them on exhibition web pages here (American) and here (British).

Christen E. Runge, Assistant Curator, University Art Collection

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Art Collection
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Working with manuscript collections over the years, I have become accustomed to the occasional surprising discovery—perhaps an unexpected letter addressed to someone else whose papers I have worked with, or a fragile piece of ephemera that, against all odds, survives to connect us with the past. One manuscript category that rarely fails to surprise is the personal diary. The W.H. Chesson papers, a collection of 11 composition notebooks kept primarily as diaries, is a collection full of surprises; this is about one of those surprises.

In his diaries from 1905, Wilfrid Hugh Chesson recorded an uncanny and difficult few months in his life. The story begins to unfold in the entry of April 5th: “A Markona planchette arrived for Nora. I experimented with it without success.” The planchette, a tool developed in the mid-nineteenth century to assist spiritualists in communicating with the spirit world or afterlife, had become quite popular by the end of the century. The planchette is still in popular use today in the form of the pointer used with the Ouija board, though these planchettes no longer produce automatic or “spirit” writings. Chesson and his wife had won their particular model in a magazine quiz-game, and they approached its use as something of a parlor game. While there are manuscript collections of prominent spiritualists and mediums in North America and the United Kingdom that contain automatic writing produced by hand while in a trance state, I haven’t yet found any evidence of other surviving spirit writings produced by planchette.


Wilfrid and Nora quickly became enthralled by the spirit writing accomplished using the planchette. Nora was the primary producer of such writing at first. The questions they put to the planchette ranged from where hidden treasure could be found, to whether Wilfrid should write another novel, to the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Wilfrid saved many examples of these, pasting them into his diary along with his interpretations of the writing. Before long, a number of the spirit communicants were tentatively identified as being near or distant deceased relatives. The writings became more verbose and the interpretations more complex. By the 9th of May, Wilfrid had begun to produce spirit writings himself, from the spirit he identified as “Edith,” and he even walked “with Edith” in nearby Kew Gardens. There is a break in the diary from May 17th to Christmas 1905, a period when Wilfrid became “dreadfully ill in mind body and estate,” and Nora took him on a tour of Ireland to aid his recovery.

What was Chesson’s take on what he had experienced? The short answer is found in his Christmas entry: “The wisdom that comes to me out of this trial whose effect was to banish me from journalism and send me away from home for five months, is simply: Do not ask advice of strangers.”

Ted Jackson, Manuscripts Archivist

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Bell, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, moved to Washington, D.C., in 1879. He was part of the original faculty of Georgetown's Dental School, then the Dental Department of the Medical School. 

The first Circular of Information for the Department which appeared in 1901 includes his name among the clinical staff. It lists his area of expertise as Articular Speech-cleft Plate.  The Dental Department was created from the Washington Dental College. This independent school was founded in 1897 at 625 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., and was accredited by the National Association of Dental Faculties in 1899. In May 1901, the Medical School faculty voted to approve the assimilation of the college as the Dental Department of the Medical School. Classes began in the fall of 1901 with 29 students, including two from Turkey and one from Japan. The School was closed in 1990.

While looking into Bell’s connections with Georgetown, we also happened upon this pamphlet from our rare book collections. Privately printed from a paper that Bell read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1882, it discusses “the electrical experiments to determine the location of the bullet in the body of the late President Garfield.” Although in no way related to his Georgetown faculty position, Bell’s description of his attempts to save the President’s life gives additional context to the materials in our manuscript collections on Charles Guiteau and the Garfield assassination.

Lynn Conway, University Archivist

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On October 30, 1785, American statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote a letter to Catherine Shipley. Known as “Kitty,” Catherine was the youngest of five daughters of Jonathan Shipley, an Anglican bishop in St. Asaph in Wales. Shipley spent most of his time in London or at his country estate, Twyford, located near Winchester.

Bishop Shipley was one of Franklin’s closest friends in Great Britain. Franklin visited Bishop Shipley in 1771 and enjoyed conversing with his daughters. During his visit, Franklin, encouraged by the Shipley family, began writing his memoirs. At that time, Kitty was 11 years old.

In this particular letter, sent from Philadelphia in 1785, Franklin mentioned to Kitty that he was very busy at work as a member of the executive council of Pennsylvania, a position he held from 1785 to 1788. He informed her that he was enjoying time with his grandsons and his nephew Jonathan Williams, and he extended his best wishes to Kitty’s family at Twyford. Although Franklin had misplaced a letter from Kitty, he promised to write her once he found it. She was about 25 years old at the date of this letter. She never married. In 1786, Franklin wrote "The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams" in honor of Kitty.

Franklin served as a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, at the age of 81. He died in 1790 in Philadelphia.

Part of this letter is included in the online Papers of Benjamin Franklin, sponsored by the American Philosophical Society and Yale University. Only the first paragraph, ending with "Love to all the dear family at Twyford" is included in the online transcription. The bottom portion of the letter, starting with "I have received a kind letter from you," is not posted.

This letter was donated to the Booth Family Center for Special Collections by Mrs. Morton Fearey in December, 2001.The document is preserved in box 7 folder 10 of the Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection.

Scott Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

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While arbitrating family arguments and settling bets over aspects of Georgetown history does not appear as a stated area of responsibility anywhere in my job description as University Archivist, it is something that I find myself called upon to do multiple times each year.  In this vein, I received a phone call from a faculty member at a New England college who was seeking to settle a long-running argument with her husband who is a GU alum.  He had repeatedly mentioned how, as a student in the College of Arts and Sciences in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he avoided required mathematics classes by studying Greek instead.  She found this somewhat difficult to believe and asked me to investigate.  I did so and reported back that her husband was quite correct - College catalogs, like the one from 1960-1961, show that students who were on the Bachelor of Arts classical track were, indeed, able to substitute Greek for math in their freshmen and sophomore years. 

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The name of Georgetown's first student, William Gaston, is a familiar one on campus and Gaston Hall, an over 700-seat hall where convocations, lectures and honorary degree ceremonies are held, carries his name.  Philemon Charles Wederstrandt is less well known to Hoyas but he has the distinction of being the second student to enroll at Georgetown College. Born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and a distant cousin of our founder John Carroll, he arrived on December 20, 1791, at the age of 16.  He left in August 1793 and later joined the U.S. Navy.  After resigning for health reasons in 1810, he retired to Baltimore where he was one of two Georgetown students known to have helped defend the city against the British during the War of 1812, the other being Joseph Judik.  Wederstrandt moved to Louisiana and died in 1857, having outlived William Gaston by thirteen years.

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When using Library resources off-campus, we recommend starting with either the Library's off-campus access page or with the Library-provided link to the resource.

However, sometimes going through the Library isn't always possible. If a professor or colleague suggests you read