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Digital Library puts Juliette Gordon Low letters online

September 30, 2018

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — To read Juliette Gordon Low’s century-old letters from the comfort of a home computer explains the Digital Library of Georgia’s work as it builds an archive of historical works important to Georgia.

On Feb. 9, 1908, Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, wrote about her visit to Princess Bamba Dhuleep Singh in Lahore, India (now Pakistan), whose great-grandfather “conquered the entire Punjab from the Indians,” Low wrote.

“She looks about 25 but is probably older. Her features are exquisite. She was white in England but since she has been exposed to the sun of India, she has got about as dark as Sophie’s child Mary.... Her home was the size and looked a little like old Habersham house at home. She had her white... horse tied to the tree in the tennis court. There was a shady nice garden with grass and shrubs and trees, no flowers. Everything was dried up as there is famine in this land because of a drought.”

The India diary, available in a 63-page PDF, was added to the Digital Library of Georgia’s Galileo collection in May after the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace applied for and received a Competitive Digitization grant. The next grant deadline for nonprofit cultural heritage museums is Oct. 15. Information is available on dlg.usg.edu under “participate” and “subgranting program.”

Juliette Gordon Low’s India diaries are part of a broad historical collection the Digital Library of Georgia is compiling for the public to use. The Digital Library, which is part of GALILEO, includes access to a historical newspaper collection with more than 1 million pages, said Sheila McAlister, director of the Digital Library of Georgia. “Right now, we have in the Georgia portal 570,000 different historical materials. Music, maps, it runs the gamut,” McAlister said.

Historical maps of the city of Savannah were added in August and are discussed in the Digital Library’s blog available from its homepage under “Connect.” The most recent additions include historic maps, surveys and plats from the city’s engineering department.

Maps of subdivisions and wards created during the Works Progress Administration of 1939 and 1940 show every ward in the city.

“This is a great snapshot of what was the city right around the Depression,” said Luciana Spracher, director of the municipal archives at the city of Savannah Municipal Archives. Some areas, such as the Benjamin Van Clark area east of Wheaton, used to have five distinct subdivisions. Residents might be interested in them, Spracher said. “They also have a use a use for people who are studying urban planning, historic preservation and landscape design,” she said.

GALILEO, available at galileo.usg.edu, was started in 2005 to pull together electronic resources and share them among Georgia’s university system. Then it expanded to public libraries, K-12 school systems, technical colleges and more. The Digital Library of Georgia hosts four different portals with materials from cultural heritage institutions.

“It is one place people can search for information from all over the state,” McAlister said. A grant received in 2002 allowed the Digital Library to launch a civil rights digital library with content on the topic from throughout the nation.

The city of Savannah archives also include photos and historic papers of interest to historians, Spracher said. A 1940s photo of an African-American nurse from its W.W. Law collection was featured in a recent exhibit at a Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., Spracher said. The Public Broadcasting Service also has used the city’s digital archives in research for documentaries. By working with the Digital Library of Georgia, the city has expanded access and usability.

Low’s India diary offers international content of particular interest to Savannah because of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, said Lisa Junkin Lopez, executive director of the birthplace. She hopes more people will write about the diary now that it’s accessible online. It should be of interest to people interested in women’s history, early 20th century travel, or to those who want to learn about Low, she said.

The digitized diary is 63 pages long and takes several hours to read all of the hand-written letters. Girl Scouts love Low’s sense of adventure, and the letters provide an exclusive first-person account of her experiences in India, Junkin Lopez said. “We know her as an intrepid traveler. It’s full of adventures. There are stories of her riding elephants and eating peacock meat and being in a train fire and getting quarantined” because of illness, she said.

Previously, the India diary was stored at the Andrew Low house, where Juliette Gordon Low lived for many years. Then the collection of letters was moved to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace home, where it was available upon request. But most people didn’t know it existed. Now anyone can see the digital images of the letters. “We were very fortunate we were able to work with (the Digital Library of Georgia). They are so supportive and enthusiastic about making a broader swath of collections available,” Lang said.

The letters about Low’s travels to India from late 1907 to April 1908 predate her founding of the Girl Scouts in 1912. It “perhaps shapes part of her thinking about Girl Scouts worldwide in helping girls overcome differences and create a sense of sisterhood,” Junkin Lopez said.

Junkin Lopez and Lang are going through other collections of Low’s original writings to prioritize what should be added to the Digital Library collection. “This is not the only trip that Juliette made,” Lang said.

“The more of it we can make accessible to the public, the better,” Junkin Lopez said.

She hopes to make available letters from Gordon Low’s 18-year-old niece Elizabeth Parker, who traveled with Low.

“When we are fortunate to have those accounts written by young women themselves, it’s incredibly important to get them out to the public,” Junkin Lopez said. “Any opportunity we have to tell our story from the girl’s perspective, it’s a real opportunity for us.”

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Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com

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