Taking a look at some of the college’s unique (and sometimes perplexing) objects in our Special Collections

By Robyn Rime


The Special Collections in Fraser Hall Library range from college memorabilia to local historical documents to rare, fragile, and valuable artifacts. It’s easy to see why some of the items ended up at the Geneseo. Faculty publications, decades of yearbooks and campus newspapers, and posters from SUNY Geneseo events in years past all populate the College Archives. Papers and photos from the Genesee Valley and its first settlers, the Wadsworth family, span more than 150 years of the region’s history. But other items are puzzling, their provenance less directly tied to the College. Why, for instance, does the library own a collection of turn-of-the-century luggage tags? In this ongoing feature, the Scene will highlight some of the unusual, intriguing, and often unique objects in Geneseo’s Special Collections.

Autographs of Prominent Persons from the Early 20th Century

File this under the heading Cool College Trivia: Geneseo students once corresponded with world leaders. We know this thanks to a book of autographs in the library’s Special Collections that contains signatures from William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. But how?

Back in 1918, Alice Damon Rider’s library classification class at the Geneseo Normal School completed an interesting assignment. Each junior member of the class wrote to at least two “persons in the present day world” (according to The Lamron) to request their autographs.  The collection would gradually be enlarged. The resulting autograph book contains 87 signatures from politicians, writers, educators, and other public figures from the early 20th century.

Some lack the name recognition they enjoyed in 1918, such as investigative journalist Ida Tarbell, statesman Charles E. Hughes, or Booth Tarkington, at the time considered America’s greatest living author. But other names are still well known, and you can’t help but admire students garnering autographs from, among others, Will Rogers, Helen Keller, Rudyard Kipling, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Maxfield Parrish. Whatever the students’ requests contained, they were persuasive. “You are doing good work,” replied American economist Roger W. Babson (another name lost to time). “Success to you all.”

Here’s a selection of the significant signatories gathered by Geneseo’s library education students of the past.

Autograph of Woodrow Wilson

Past US President Woodrow Wilson


Two-time UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill


American poet and playwright Edwin Arlington Robinson and actor Will Rogers