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July 3, 2020

Exploring Images of John Brown

Perhaps more than any other figure connected with abolitionist cause in America, John Brown was a polarizing presence, depicted as demon or martyr depending upon the goals of the artist and the intended audience. An image featured in the new exhibition Smithsonian’s Portraits of Pittsburgh: Works from the National Portrait Gallery emphasizes Brown’s resurrected image after the Civil War, when the Union victory confirmed for many the merits of his purpose even if they disapproved of his methods. The print reminds us that portraits are not neutral images. They are artifacts of a certain time and place, shaped by the motives of creators and sitters and geared to the expectations of specific audiences.

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June 9, 2020

Maude Y. Hawkins: Charting an Independent Path

Tempted by the lure of being their own boss, many dream of opening a business. Few will follow through, perhaps warned off by statistics detailing the high percentage of businesses that fail within their first years. Maude Y. Hawkins took this risk, seizing the opportunity to create a better work environment for herself. A small group of archival materials held by the Detre Library & Archives documents the challenges faced by Hawkins as repercussions from tumultuous events placed obstacles in her path.

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February 27, 2020

“Lifting as we climb”: The Aurora Reading Club Records

"Lifting as we climb" means to encourage and provide for others while making one’s way in the world, following the discourse of W.E.B. Du Bois’ racial uplift theory of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is what Pittsburgh’s Aurora Reading Club did at its founding in 1894 and continues to do after 124 years. With so much history and plenty more to make, the Aurora Reading Club records kept in the Detre Library & Archives continue to expand with new additions.

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