Digging up clues to CMC’s history

CMC Archivist Sean Stanley reveals rare discoveries

CMC Archivist Sean Stanley holding up photos from the school archive

Sean Stanley has found many treasures while poring through CMC's collection of artifacts.

March 29, 2021

CMC Archivist Sean Stanley thinks of himself as an archeologist, uncovering Claremont McKenna’s history as captured in rare recordings, a trove of early student newspapers, and correspondence that date back to before the College’s founding in 1946.

CMC Archivist Sean Stanley holds up photographs of CMC's early history
“I’m happy to play a role in telling CMC’s history,” Stanley said.

Sifting through the College’s vast collection of letters, publications, blueprints, as well as visual and audio recordings, Stanley is striving to tell CMC’s story in honor of this year’s 75th Anniversary, featuring a countdown that begins on April 17 and leads to the celebratory launch on July 1.

Among Stanley’s discoveries are several blueprints and architectural plans for the CMC bookstore and McKenna Auditorium, including early proposal plans for the Green Social Hall, which Stanley believes was an original design for McKenna Auditorium and The Hub.

In addition, he was delighted to find a wire recording of a speech by Edward Lyman, an early member of the CMC Board of Fellows, recorded during the CMC Founders Day Convocation honoring the second-year anniversary of the founding of the College. “This recording format is long obsolete and is the first time I saw one of this type in person,” said Stanley.

Thanks to a donation from Louis Knafla ’57, Stanley has a run of early student newspapers (The Analyst, Analyst-Scripture, Associate, and CMC Memo) from 1947-1965 to pore through. “They add great insight into early campus life,” he said.

Some of the most crucial documents and correspondence date back to the late 1920s, when, Stanley said, there was a push to found a men’s college, “but the Great Depression halted that process.” Once the economy recovered, there was another effort, which was thwarted by World War II. “The third time was the charm,” according to Stanley, and in 1946 the plan to open the College was realized.

Currently, Stanley is making his way through the Jack Stark ’57 GP’11 Collection. Stark, who was CMC’s third president, led the College from 1970-99, including the fundamental institutional transition that made CMC coeducational in 1976, three decades after its founding.

Stanley is ideally suited to sleuthing for the clues to CMC’s history. He grew up in Covina and earned a BA in history from Cal Poly Pomona. While pursuing his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University, he began working part-time for Claremont Heritage, a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving the history of the Claremont community.

“That job introduced me to working in archives,” Stanley said. His interest was piqued, so when he learned that Claremont McKenna and Pomona colleges were looking to reorganize their archives, he leapt at the opportunity. Since January 2020, Stanley has split his time between CMC and Pomona.

His goal is to make sure the collections are inventoried, uploaded, and made searchable so that students, faculty, staff, and outside researchers can efficiently locate the items they’re seeking via the open-source application, ArchivesSpace.

He then reorganizes items into larger general collections, such as the CMC Photograph Collection, or kept together as a unique archival collection, such as the Jack Stark ’57 GP’11 Collection, for instance.

Adding another dimension to his work is that everything Stanley touches - from letters to blueprints, to photos - must be handled delicately, and with an eye for how to preserve and store them for the future.

Assist the Archivist

As CMC Archivist Sean Stanley processes the College’s historical materials, he needs help filling in some gaps, especially from CMC’s early history.

“There’s one thing I want to implement more, and that is a call for alumni to reach out with materials, such as flyers, menus, and personal photographs they wish to donate to the archive. They don’t even need to be physical, if alumni – or their families – want to digitize and send us the files.”

Items could be archived as part of CMC’s 75th anniversary celebration and would help expand the range of CMC’s institutional collection.

Interested in submitting or donating items? Please contact Sean Stanley via phone (909) 607-6532 or email sean.stanley@claremontmckenna.edu.

Topping his priority list right now are items to process for the celebration of CMC’s 75th anniversary, contained in an estimated 300 boxes. Stanley said he has “triaged” those he considered most crucial to the effort, such as the ones containing photographs that need to be digitized and categorized. Items found will be featured in a series of digital archives to be shared during the College’s 75th Anniversary celebrations.

Although he’s consulting a spreadsheet that was created to guide him through the contents of the boxes, Stanley has discovered some intriguing surprises.

“I knew that one of our professors had conducted interviews in 1969-71 with early faculty members, trustees, and staff for an oral history project about CMC,” Stanley said. “I was expecting to find the interview transcripts because they were listed on my spreadsheet, but when I was going through the box, I realized that we also had reel-to-reel tapes of those interviews that weren’t listed. I’m excited to get those digitized from an obsolete technology to a medium that we can store and archive for people to listen to.”

To sneak a peek at some of CMC’s in-process collections, visit https://claremont.as.atlas-sys.com/repositories/12

—Anne Bergman

Anne Bergman

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