August/September 2012

Nancy Snell Griffith

Nancy Griffith keeps busy wherever she happens to land. Recently she retired as the Archives and Special Collections Librarian at Presbyterian College and we’d like to share some information on her career and her many accomplishments.

Those of us in Clinton are familiar with the three books she published during her time here — Clinton: A Brief History; All Beautiful the March of Days: A History of First Presbyterian Church, Clinton, SC, 1855-2005; and Presbyterian College [part of Arcadia Publishing’s College History Series]; – but there are many achievements of which you may not be aware.

Born in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, Nancy is a graduate of Dickinson College and Syracuse University. Early in her career she compiled and published three bibliographies, two on notable personalities, Albert Schweitzer and Edward Bellamy, and another listing sources available on the topic, “Humor of the Old Southwest.” Prior to coming to PC, she served as director of the Regional Studies Center at the Mabee-Simpson Library in Batesville, Arkansas, where she processed and organized a number of special collections for Lyon College.

Throughout her career Nancy contributed numerous entries for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, published online by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. She also submitted more than 15 biographies of baseball greats for the Society for American Baseball Research [SABR] Biography Project. Also to her credit are numerous articles for the Independence County Historical Society Chronicle published between October 1992 and October 1999. Nancy received the 1998 Heritage Award given by the Independence County Historical Society in Arkansas, and also received awards from the Arkansas Historical Association for Best Published Biography and Best Edited Document in 1994, and the Walter Brown Award for Best Article in 2001, all published in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly.

So when Nancy Griffith arrived at PC in January 1998 as the first lady of the college, she was a skilled archivist, a librarian, a published author, and an avid baseball fan. She accepted a part-time position at the James H. Thomason Library in 1999 with the charge of evaluating and organizing the contents of Room 212 on the upper level of the library.

When Thomason Library opened in 1974, the Jones South Carolina and the Smyth book collections were housed in Room 212 and in the Dillard Elliott room next door. Also located in this area was a variety of uncataloged materials, including college catalogs, yearbooks, audio/visual tapes, and anything deemed pertinent to the history of the college that had been brought to the Library. The books were well organized, but there was no overlying scheme to the organization of many of the other materials.

What a stroke of luck for PC and Thomason Library! Nancy made order out of chaos, so much so that a wonderful resource was created and made available for students, faculty, community, and worldwide research. Not only were the items in that room made accessible, but special collections within those materials were organized, then other collections related to the college were sought in order to preserve the history and collective memory of Presbyterian College.

In the early 2000s, Ernest J. Arnold, a 1936 PC alumnus, was in the process of locating a permanent home for an extraordinary collection primarily made up of materials pertaining to the life of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as several other prominent Southern generals who were related to the Jackson family by marriage. These items were collected by Stonewall Jackson’s nephew and namesake, Thomas Jackson Arnold, whose daughter, Isabel Arnold [no relation to Ernest] safeguarded the collection through the 1960s. Upon her passing in 1972, Isabel entrusted the collection to her friend, Ernest Arnold, who had worked for her at Montreat as a young man, and shared her concern for the care and protection of the collection. Ernest maintained the collection for over 25 years. In his later years he approached several repositories in an attempt to keep the materials together but had not found an institution that would accept the entire collection.

When Nancy Griffith arrived on campus, Ernest, a member of the PC Board of Trustees for many years and a major donor to PC’s Russell Program in Media, Technology, and Society, approached Nancy and others at PC with his proposed gift. As a result of the generosity of the Arnold family and other donors, and the effort and determination of Nancy Griffith to keep the entire collection together, today the Thomason Library has a three-story addition with a spacious Archives and Special Collections area which houses this special collection.

Over the past several years, Nancy processed the Jackson-Arnold Collection, a large, exceptional collection of books, documents, maps, certificates, photographs, textiles, portraits, furniture, and other historical objects. Processing a collection involves researching, appraising, grouping materials into record series, preserving, and describing each item for later access by library patrons. We estimate that over ten thousand individual items were handled during the processing of this collection.

Our friend and mentor Nancy Griffith joined her husband President John Griffith in retirement in July 2012 and is currently collaborating on a history of Presbyterianism in South Carolina from 1925-1983, as well as enjoying more time with family.

Posted by Teresa Inman, Archives & Special Collections Librarian