The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Feb. 13 2015 2:47 PM

A Forgotten History of Anti-Sikh Violence in the Early-20th-Century Pacific Northwest

When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spoke last month of a Muslim “invasion” of the United States, he stood on sadly familiar ground in American history. The “Yellow Peril” fears of the late nineteenth century are well known, but few remember the “Dusky Peril” that soon followed—the anxiety caused by South East Asian immigration to the Pacific Northwest.

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Feb. 13 2015 9:49 AM

Form-Letter Valentines for 19th-Century Lovers

In his Fashionable Gentleman’s Valentine Writer for 1828, British publisher Thomas Richardson gave readers text of sample valentines to use in conducting affairs of the heart. (Richardson published a companion volume for the ladies who wished to initiate romantic correspondence themselves.)

Feb. 11 2015 10:03 AM

An 1864 Letter to American Women, Rallying Support For A Huge Anti-Slavery Petition Drive

The Prologue: Pieces of History blog, published by the National Archives, just ran a post on anti-slavery petitions to Congress, including one from the Women’s Loyal National League which was submitted in 1864, as the months-long push to pass the 13th Amendment heated up. This page is an Address to the League’s members, asking them to consider signing. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the League’s president, and Susan B. Anthony was its secretary; both of their names appear at the bottom of the address’s text.  


Feb. 10 2015 9:19 AM

Modernist 1930s Posters Calling Skiiers to the Mountains of Europe

These graphic posters for ski tourism in 1930s Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy enticed travelers to come take part in what was then a fairly new recreational sport. While people had been cross-country skiing for centuries, especially in the Scandinavian countries, and some dedicated souls had pioneered alpine skiing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it wasn’t until the invention of ski lifts and tow ropes in the 1930s that casual alpine skiing became possible. The sport was first added to the slate of Olympic competitions in 1936.

Feb. 5 2015 9:36 AM

Biographical Cartoons of Notable Black Americans, Drawn to Promote Unity During WWII

Black artist Charles Alston produced these mockups of cartoons for the Office of War Information during World War II. The finished products were sent to black newspapers for publication, and were meant to urge their readerships to support the war effort. Alston’s other nonbiographical cartoons illustrated standard Office of War Information exhortations to conserve needed commodities, enlist, and buy war bonds.

Feb. 4 2015 10:35 AM

An Anti-Suffrage Children’s Book From 1910, Mocking “Baby” Activists

Anti-suffrage literature printed in the 1910s, as suffrage activists in the United States ramped up their campaign for enfranchisement, took a number of clever forms. Advocates like the members of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage tried to portray a desire for the franchise as foreign to women’s nature. (See, for example, the many anti-suffrage postcards that used humor to police gender roles, mocking women who wanted to vote as unnaturally aggressive and their husbands as unmanly.)

Feb. 3 2015 9:14 AM

Late 19th-Century Maps Show Measles Mortality Before Vaccines

These maps of measles mortality appeared in three late-nineteenth-century statistical atlases published by the Census Office. Experiments in data visualization, the atlases are modern in their scope and ambition. Since they were compiled in a time before the availability of vaccines for most childhood diseases (with smallpox being the exception), they are a good record of the former pervasiveness of measles.

Feb. 2 2015 1:14 PM

The Slips of Paper That Called 19th-Century Militias to Muster 

These muster notices were sent to eligible citizens in New England towns, calling them to come parade with their militia on an appointed day. Delivered on partial sheets of paper, and printed using the nineteenth-century equivalent of clip art (standard images of soldiers and eagles), the notices warned enrolled men of the need to bring the arms and uniforms required by the state.

Jan. 30 2015 10:07 AM

The Papers Late-19th-Century Chinese Immigrants Had to Carry To Prove Their Legal Status

As of the 1892 passage of the Geary Act, which extended the decade-old Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants living in the United States were required to carry identification papers at all times. Here are four examples of such papers, carried by men who worked as laborers and farmers in California; they are part of a larger Flickr group of documents issued between 1894 and 1897, and held by the California Historical Society.

Jan. 28 2015 11:55 AM

Jefferson’s Outline of the Differences Between Northerners and Southerners 

In a 1785 letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, a French writer and historian who fought on the colonists’ side during the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson outlined the dominant personal qualities he saw emerging in the population of the new country’s northern and southern states. Chastellux was working ona book about his travels through the new States; he had sent Jefferson the part of this work-in-progress pertaining to Virginia, for his review.