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This Week at MHC

Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

September 10, 2004

MHC Welcomes New Archivist Jennifer King

Photo by Todd M. LeMieux

Jennifer King

It’s hard to imagine a person better suited to the job of managing Mount Holyoke’s archives and special collections than Jennifer Gunter King, the College’s new archivist. Every step of her professional career seems to lead to the College’s collections.

King majored in history at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and had her first taste of archival work during a summer volunteering at the National Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She went on to get a double master’s degree in history and library science from the University of Maryland, during which time she interned at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art Museum and the Library of Congress. After earning her joint degree, she worked at the Library of Congress processing the papers of former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. She began using a new technology known as encoded archival description. Coincidentally, Mount Holyoke recently began using this system. King earned a fellowship in the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia, one of the preeminent collections in the world, and from there took the position of coordinator of special collections at Virginia Technical Institute.

While at Virginia Tech, King was appointed archivist of the International Archive of Women and Architecture (IAWA), an impressive collection that showcases women architects from all over the world. King explained that the archive was started more than 20 years ago by Milka Bliznakov, a retired professor of architecture at Virginia Tech, who was concerned that women’s significant contributions to architecture were often overshadowed by the famous men they worked for. King was particularly gratified to acquire the papers of American architect Eleanor Pettersen, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright’s who opened the first female-headed architectural firm in New Jersey in 1951. “The donor (not Pettersen but Pettersen’s heir and executor) was concerned about Virginia Tech’s ability to handle such a large collection, and so we arranged a special endowment for the collection,” she said. “It was a really exciting achievement to create a solution that furthered Eleanor Pettersen’s goals to promote women in architecture.”

King moved to New England in October 2003 with her husband, Brian King, who was working on a master’s degree in education at Harvard. Before accepting the job at Mount Holyoke, King worked for her mother-in-law, who runs a girls’ summer camp in Maine that was founded by her family back in the 1920s. “It was a great prelude to coming to Mount Holyoke; though different, it is also an historically significant development in the history of women’s education,” King said.

Although she has only been on the job for three months, she is already deeply involved in the ongoing Historical Architecture Survey, which is being done under the auspices of the Council of Independent Colleges, funded by a Getty Institute grant solicited by history professor Bob Schwartz. “It’s a really exceptional opportunity for Mount Holyoke,” King said. She explained that the survey targets buildings unique to Mount Holyoke and the education of women. She cited the example of Blanchard Gymnasium, which was built in 1900. “Students lobbied for this building and raised money to have it built,” King said. “They wanted a first-rate gymnasium.”

King has significant ambitions for Mount Holyoke’s collections. She wants to increase their visibility and make them more accessible to the community. She is especially enthusiastic about displaying the reassembled collection of books that belonged to the original Mount Holyoke Female Seminary back in 1837. “This is immediately appealing to students because of the history of the College,” said King.

King says that once she becomes more conversant with the collections she intends to work actively with faculty and students to generate exhibits. “I want to work with faculty to create exhibitions that focus on themes that have broad interest, that ask questions of the Mount Holyoke community and generate dialogue,” King said. “We have great resources but need outside participation and input.” One such exhibition that she is seeking support for is hosting the National Library of Medicine and American Library Association’s traveling exhibit featuring women and medicine. It will occur in conjunction with the opening of the papers of Virginia Apgar ’29, who developed the Apgar score, the index used to evaluate newborns.


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