The records also show camp life from the campers’ perspective and document the evolution of girlhood during the 20th century. Early campers cooked, danced, sewed, swam, rode horses, rowed canoes, and played games. As times changed, activities changed, to include waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, and rock climbing. Letters and diaries reveal pride in new skills and joy in new friendships.
On April 10, 2006, camp season began at the Schlesinger Library. The library’s latest exhibition, running from April through September, highlights material from the book, manuscript, and photograph collections illustrating the experiences of girls at sleep-away summer camps throughout the 20th century.
Documents and artifacts from more than 20 manuscript collections are on display. Featured are camp diaries, letters home, camp brochures, menus, a book on trail cookery and craftwork, and an assortment of buttons, blue ribbons, and pennants. Camp uniforms, including middies, shorts, and sweatshirts (all with name tags, of course) hang from a clothesline.
These objects are from summer camps such as Camp Walden (Denmark, Maine), Camp Moy-Mo-Da-Yo (Limington, Maine), Camp Waziyatah (Harrison, Maine), and Camp Kiwanee (Hanson, Massachusetts), among others, and from the records of the Camp Fire Girls, the Massachusetts Girl Scouts, and the Boston YWCA. The exhibition also includes items from two recently acquired collections: the Camp Alford Lake Records (Hope, Maine) and the Camp Onaway Records (Hebron, New Hampshire).
Camp records shed light on important aspects of American and women’s history. The materials illustrate the ideals of the Progressive Era (when most camps were born), the economic hardships of the Great Depression, the patriotism and sacrifices of the World War II era, and the social change of the 1960s. Many camps highlighted in the exhibit were founded by women and were and are almost exclusively women-owned and -operated businesses. These collections give insight into the complexity of the camp business, including purchasing food, transporting campers, constructing housing, providing health care, and managing staff members.