Internship Reflection — Part 4

Last fall I started my internship with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. During this internship, I began a digital project on the founder of the museum, Warren M. Robbins. The goal of this project has been to create a digital edition for the papers of Warren M. Robbins, founder of the National Museum of Art. In previous posts, I have described the trip to Smithsonian Archives to photograph materials from the collection, as well as some of the steps taken to organize some of the material and begin the development of the site, which has since progressed and the initial prototype can be found at http://warren-robbins.e-cavanaugh.org.

Currently, I have been focusing my work on transcribing more of the materials that I photographed from the Smithsonian’s Archives. During this process, I’ve been able to learn some interesting information about Warren Robbins. In my first post, I mentioned that a cursory look at the materials showed that Robbins and Maya Angelou were good friends. In fact, there were nearly 50 documents, mainly correspondence, related to the both of them.

These documents reveal that Maya Angelou was invited to apply to become a member of the Cosmos Club in 1993. Founded in 1878, the Cosmos Club was originally created as a men’s only club, only allowing women entry starting in 1988. This change occurred after the Washington D.C. Human Rights Office declared that there was probably cause that the club was violating anti-discrimination laws by restricting entry to men only. This social club allows entry to distinguished individuals in the fields of science, literature, art, and public service.

On September 30, 1993, Warren Robbins wrote a letter to the Admissions Committee of the Cosmos Club, in support of Maya Angelou’s application. In this letter he states, “She will contribute a richness to the Club by her very presence on its rolls and in its rooms and I am delighted that she has accepted our invitation to be considered for membership.” This letter was then followed by Maya Angelou’s application, listing her many accomplishments, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as her role in the arts and as a civil rights leader.

Maya Angelou was not the only artist Robbins wrote a letter of support to the Admissions Committee of the Cosmos Club for. Previously, in 1989, he also wrote favorably of Lila Asher, an instructor of the Art Department at Howard University and the owner of a studio for sculpture, painting, and prints. He spoke favorably of her teaching integrity, especially during stressful interracial times, “impart[ing] in her students strong universal value reflecting the expanding awareness of the Western aesthetic tradition as it encompasses increasingly in these times, the traditions of non-Western cultures.”

As I continue to transcribe the materials from the Robbins collection, I hope to find additional connections between the individuals and organizations mentioned within. It is also my hope that I will be able to successfully illustrate these connections within this digital project, so that others may also discover it.

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