Marie de Forest and Jane Morgan

Processing the Jane Morgan Papers

Elizabeth Atlas in 2012Hello! My name is Beth Atlas. I was one of the student assistants working on processing the manuscript collections of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics in 2012 under a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. During my time at History San José, I processed the Jane Morgan Papers. Jane Morgan was the author of the book Electronics in the West: The First Fifty Years (Palo Alto, CA: National Press Books, 1967), the first comprehensive history of electronics in the western United States. This has been my first internship as a graduate student in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and also my first experience processing an archival collection.

Jane Morgan Papers
A sample of items from the Jane Morgan Papers during the arrangement process

I definitely had my work cut out for me with Morgan’s papers. One of the concepts of archival processing that was emphasized in my academic coursework was to maintain the “original order” of items, which means keeping items as best as possible in the order in which they are initially found. An early issue that I encountered during my survey of the collection was that the items were not in any apparent order. Many of the papers, news clippings, notes, photographs, pamphlets, and newsletters had been haphazardly put into boxes for storage with little regard for related items. Because of this, the arrangement phase of processing took much longer than expected. Still, taking this much time to organize the Jane Morgan Papers was necessary in order to create a logical arrangement that would facilitate any future research use of the collection. The purpose of archiving is not only to preserve significant items, but also to ensure that those items can later be retrieved by those seeking them.

The disorganized way in which Morgan’s papers were stored for so many years does not reflect the organized and extensive research she performed in the creation of Electronics in the West. Morgan’s book was well researched because she put in so much effort to ensure that the information included was as accurate and complete as possible. The extensive “Reference Files” series reflects this effort,as it is full of research notes, pamphlets, company newsletters, and news clippings related to the topics covered in her book. In addition to the secondary sources she used, Morgan consulted with many of the actual people featured in the book. Through interviews, telephone conversations, and correspondence, she was able to reap valuable historical information directly from the same men who started it all. Although several of the people included in Electronics in the West had passed away by the time Morgan began her research, she sought out their widows, family members, and friends in order to help tell their individual stories.

Marie de Forest and Jane Morgan
Marie Mosquini de Forest and Jane Morgan in Palo Alto
(Jane Morgan Papers, History San José)

While most of Jane Morgan’s papers are dedicated to reference files and book production materials, there are several items of personal importance to Morgan. Included in this category is Morgan’s correspondence with Marie Mosquini de Forest, the fourth wife and widow of inventor Lee de Forest. The two women began corresponding while Morgan was working on a biographical article about Lee de Forest in the early 1960s. Even after the publication of this article, Morgan maintained her relationship with Marie and the two began a friendship that would last for several decades. Their correspondence reflects the friendly nature of their relationship, as it contains the letters, post cards, handwritten notes, and holiday greeting cards sent by Marie to Morgan, who also saved copies of her return letters.

Jane Morgan, Marie de Forest and Connie Perham
Jane Morgan (center, in striped dress) at the Electronics Research
Laboratory Historical Landmark Dedication Ceremony, May 1970
(Jane Morgan Papers, History San José)

Another set of interesting items found was a group of photographs from the historical landmark dedication ceremony of the Federal Telegraph Electronics Research Laboratory on May 2, 1970. These photographs feature those in attendance at this ceremony, many of whom were involved in the history of electronics in the San Francisco Bay Area. By 1970, many of the original pioneers had passed away, but their widows, colleagues, and friends were still able to honor their contributions to the field of electronics. While the house that was the site of the laboratory is no longer standing, the legacy of the electronics pioneers remains.

This legacy has been perpetuated through the work that I, as well as the other interns, staff, and volunteers completed in 2012. Our work has also upheld the goal of the Perham Foundation, which was to educate people about the history of electronics and the men who made it possible. Processing the papers of Jane Morgan, a person who also wanted to tell the story of electronics, has allowed me to make a contribution to this effort. I have really enjoyed working on this project and also my time at History San José. I hope that future researchers will benefit from the work that I have done to make the Jane Morgan Papers accessible for years to come.

A guide to the Jane Morgan Papers is available through the Online Archive of California; the catalog records I created are searchable through PastPerfect Online.