This past Spring semester, the Local History Department was excited to work with intern Miranda, history student from Mississippi University for Women.
As part of her internship, Miranda processed the William J. Love Papers (MS 446). Below are her recollections of what it means to process a collection and what she learned about Mr. Love along the way.
I processed the William J. Love Papers as part of my spring internship at the Billups-Garth archive. It was the first collection I had ever processed. I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed when it was presented to me. The collection contained letters, slides, photographs, business papers, memorabilia, and scrapbooks, all pertaining to the life of William J. Love and his family and close friends.
I had never heard of William J. Love before processing this collection. I did not know any of his family or any contributions he made to the town. However, over the course of several months, I became very familiar with William and his legacy.
William J. Love was born in 1890 and was raised in Columbus. He joined the military during WWI. While he was stationed in France, he wrote letters to his sister and parents in Columbus. Many of those letters are housed in the collection. He married Grace Love in 1923. They had one child, Anna Grace.
He worked for the Columbus Compress and was an elder at the First Presbyterian Church. There is more to his biography, of course. However, I will let those who are curious about William’s life come to the archive and find out more about him themselves.
I thoroughly enjoyed processing this collection. It felt as if I was taking a trip through time. The scrapbooks in the collection contained tons of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and photographs relating to Columbus and surrounding areas in the 1960s. Letters between William and his French friend and business associate, Yves Gayet, described what life was like for occupied France during WWII. There were even photographs of downtown Columbus during a Ringling Bros. circus in 1903, complete with elephants!
I spent a lot of time sorting and organizing this collection. There was one particular day that stood out to me above all the others, though. After reading decades of letters between William and Mr. Gayet, both business and personal, I found one letter that affected me in a way for which I was not prepared. It was the last letter in the collection that William ever wrote. It was what I call a “catch up” letter, because it was apparent that William and Mr. Gayet had not been in contact with one another for quite some time. William informed him of what had been going on in Columbus and in his personal life: who had died, how he had been spending his time, etc. There was a sense of finality in the letter. William told Mr. Gayet that he had developed some health problems. He did not make them sound too serious, but he obviously felt they were worth mentioning. The letter was postmarked 1968. William died the following year.
As I read the letter, knowing that William would die soon after the letter was read, I began to get emotional. At the time I had been working on the collection for about a month. I had read background information about William. I had read his letters, journals, business papers. I had seen his relationship with Mr. Gayet progress over a span of thirty years or more. I had seen the world through the eyes of William J. Love. I felt like I knew him, even though I had never met him; even though he died twenty years before I was born. I did not expect to become so attached to this project.
After three months of studying William’s life, I finally finished the collection, complete with a finding aid. It was a glorious feeling to know that I was able to preserve this piece of history for the town of Columbus. I hope other researchers and historians will appreciate the contributions of the Love family to both local and world history.