The 2,082nd Meeting of the Society

December 12, 1997 at 8:00 PM

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club

Exploring Washington History

The Research Library of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Gail R. Redmann

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.


President Lettieri called the 2082nd meeting to order at 8:15 p.m. on December 12, 1997. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2081st meeting and they were approved.

The speaker for the 2082nd meeting was Gail Redmann of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. The title of her talk was, “Exploring Washington History: The Research Library of the Historical Society of Washington D.C.”

By definition, as members of the Philosophical Society of Washington, we are members of Washington D.C. community. Consequently we are periodically blessed or plagued with visitors from out of town who want to “see Washington.” Further, since we live here, we are expected to offer some meaningful insight to their proposed trek through the local points of interest. Thanks to Ms. Redmann and the Research Library, we now have a ready resource we can use to amaze and enlighten our visitors.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. was founded in 1894 and was originally called the Columbia Historical Society. However, its mission to collect, preserve and teach the history of the District of Columbia remains unchanged. Further, based on the presentation of Ms. Redmann, it has done its job well.

The library's collections are special and provide a rich and diverse source of information and items for use by scholars, avocational historians, local and national medial and the Society's museum exhibit staff. It holds valuable information that illuminate the local history of the District of Columbia including facts and lore on Washington's families, neighborhoods, institutions and architecture.

The Research Library houses over 14,000 books and pamphlets, vertical files holding a large collection of newspaper clippings arranged by subject, and a microfilm collection of D.C. city directories from 1822, census records, early marriage records and death notices, tax assessment records and legislative and legal documents. It also has special collections of 70,000 photographs and slides from the 1860's to the 1990's, a 19th century print collection with 530 engravings, lithographs from 1840 and woodcuts depicting buildings, birds eye views of D.C. and Civil War scenes. The special collections also include 300 historical maps showing a visual framework for the physical and social development of the District of Columbia.

As an example of the Research Libraries prowess as it impacts our own PSW, Ms. Redmann prepared a “Special Collections Register” covering the PSW publications form 1871-1913, and 1962. This register is a nine-page report providing a description of the PSW itself and an outline of the contents of 36 folders with PSW publications maintained by the Research Library. As an illustration, the register describes the Folder No. 8 contents as PSW publications from January 13 to December 22, 1883. For those of us with a mathematical bent, this includes the minutes of the founding of the PSW mathematical section headed by Asaph Hall and created to provide for a more full and open discussion of mathematical questions. For those of us with an educational bent, Folder No. 8 also contains the debate of Alexander Graham Bell and Edwin Gallaudet on October 27 of that year over sign language versus articulation in the education of the deaf. The remaining 35 folders maintained by the Research Library hold similar publications.

The Research Library's resources are not just archives that can salvage a graduate student's term paper by some notes of historical fact. Steven Spielburg's set designers for “Amistad” recently used the library's color lithographs of Washington during the 1840's as the bases for the backdrops of that popular film.

President Lettieri thanked Ms. Redmann for the society and announced the next meeting. He then adjourned the 2082nd general meeting to the 127th annual meeting at 9:28 p.m.

Attendance: 45
Temperature: 3.5°C
Weather: clear

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Spargo
Recording Secretary