Rediscovered Artifacts Provide Insight to Erskine House Past



Hannah Johnson holds a copy of the Kodiak Woman’s Club yearbook which was recently unearthed from the Baranov Museum archives. It details the activities of the group, which started as a book club. A photo from the membership list inside is after the jump. Jennifer Canfield/KMXT photo

Jennifer Canfield/KMXT

The Baranov Museum recently discovered a collection of items that give new insight into the history of the Erskine House and sheds a light on the women’s club that may have established the first library in Kodiak.

Hannah Johnson was working at the museum one weekend when she came across a line in an album that said Nellie Erskine would invite local children to the house each week and read them literary classics. Johnson, an English major in college, was very excited. She did some more digging and discovered the Kodiak Woman’s Club. The club’s motto was "Zeal" and their purpose was "To strive for the fuller life." The group started out as a book club and expanded into a civic organization that raised funds for charity and collected books for their community library, but Johnson and Marie Acemah, who also works at the museum, aren’t sure what happened to the organization.

womans-club-year-book-insid.jpg (Baranov 1 :18 "We don’t know because we don’t have a lot of documentation about the history of it. We’re just pulling artifacts from our collections that are from the actual time period. (Probably died with Nellie. She passed away quite young.) Yes, in 1942.")

And in 1946 the A. Holmes Johnson Memorial library was established. Johnson and Acemah aren’t sure yet if there’s a connection between the club and the library as it exists today.

The Baranov Museum was already aware that the Erskine House was considered a community center before the Erskines moved into it. In 1912 Nellie spoke with a local woman who remembered the house always being the place for weddings, funerals and dances.

(Baranov 2 :12 "I think Nellie really upheld that. During the wars and such this really became a social center for soldiers and they’d have parties and that kind of thing here.")

Also discovered is a copy of an inventory list from the 30s of the club’s book collection. The inventory shows that club members were fans of British literature, though Johnson was surprised to find Jane Austen wasn’t on the list. Still, she was inspired by the list and the museum has decided to establish the Baranov Museum Literary Club.

(Baranov 3 :16 "I think we kind of liked the idea with this of having something where we could bring the community in and everyone could get together because, of course it’s a museum and that’s an awesome and important function, but just the idea of bringing back the community spirit to the building and making it more accessible.")

For now the literary club will mostly appeal to adults, but Acemah has an idea to involve children as well.

(Baranov 4 :29 "Hannah bears an uncanny resemblance to Nellie Erskine. (According to her!) I think, if you see a picture of Nellie, her figure and her face (your nose), I think there is something really similar and we’ve discussed maybe having Hannah dress up as Nellie Erskine to do reading from classics (for the children), which very well could happen. (If there’s a public outcry.)

The club will have its first meeting next Sunday on January 15th. In the meantime, museum staff will continue researching the link between the Kodiak Woman’s Club and Kodiak’s library.


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