One day last summer, Natalie Simmons was going through some boxes in the University archives at Green Library when she came across a mysterious bundle covered in old linen. Carefully unfolding the packet, she discovered a colored map about five feet wide, printed in French and marked in pencil. On the cloth was an inscription: “This Map has served as a guide from the year 1880 when we made our first trip to Europe. The lead pencil lines were marked by my dear son. We allowed him to select the route on his last trip.”
Simmons, ’04, was taken aback. She was pretty well acquainted with the story of Stanford’s founders. But like most students, she had never really given much thought to the University’s namesake. “Somehow, seeing Leland Junior’s own pencil markings made him seem less historical and more human,” she says.
Simmons isn’t the only Stanford student to find buried treasure in Green Library. In the past few years, University archivist Maggie Kimball, ’80, says she’s seen an increase in the number of students asking to dig through the old Stanford family papers and keepsakes. “Even the Daily lately has had more interest in things historical,” Kimball marvels.
Some of the increase in student interest stems from course work. Susan Wyle, a lecturer in Stanford’s program in writing and rhetoric, encourages her freshmen to consult primary sources in the family archives as part of her course, Writing the American West: The Rhetoric of Race, Culture and Conflict. She says Stanford students “are pretty fascinated with the colorful history of the Gold Rush and the railroad, the treatment of the Chinese, the death of little Leland, and Jane’s ability to keep the University going under duress.” Another faculty member who values the archives as a teaching tool, American history professor Richard White, says he usually has 10 to 20 students using the papers each year. The family letters and scrapbooks “really do capture the sensibility of the Victorian upper class and the nouveau riche in particular,” says White. “As the best students realize, they are quite foreign to modern sensibilities.”
Simmons, a biological sciences major, signed up for her summer job in the archives thinking it would provide an occasional break from her intensive research at the Medical School’s neurosurgery lab. One day she was delighted to find a small volume adorned with Leland Junior’s scribbles. Apparently he was learning to write his numbers. Another book contained the boy’s tracings of a sparrow and a man on a racehorse.
As for the cherished map, Simmons says she hopes the Stanford archivists can find a place on campus to display it. “Sometimes we come to the University but we don’t realize how much effort and love was put into creating it,” she says. “Knowing more about the Stanfords and seeing how much they put into educating their son—it made me appreciate the University more.”