As well as being the compiler of Cumming Letters, 1794 to 1954 - Calendar, Mary Ann Cashin was much respected as a librarian and retired as associate director of Reese Library Augusta State University in 1998. Married to Georgia's premiere historian; Edward J. Cashin, for 38 years, she still makes her home in Augusta, Georgia.
The transcription of the interview is intended to be a verbatim transcription with the exception of tag questions and backing-and-filling. The audio file; attached to the web site http://www.aug.edu/~liblsc/Archives_Month_2008/mp3/Cashin_Interview_18Sep08.mp3
, and the archived recording at Special Collections Reese Library Augusta State University 2500 Walton Way Augusta, GA 30904, are intended to be the primary document. A Microsoft Word 2008 version of this file may be downloaded from Word Download
SC- stands for Special Collections interviewer MAC - Mary Ann Cashin
SC: This is an Oral History interview with Mrs. Mary Ann Cashin, September the 18th, 2008. Mrs. Cashin, thank you so much for coming. We have all these questions, we're dying to know the answers to so the first being: How did Reese Library acquire the Cumming Letters?
MAC: We acquired them in 1982, I believe. And often my late husband Edward would..., people would call him and ask him if he could use certain old books, certain collections that type of thing. And Edward was not one to save them himself and he would direct people to Special Collections at Reese Library. And Joe Cumming, Joseph B. Cumming, who was a descendent of the Cumming family, was a friend of ours and he and Edward would get together and pick each other's brains a lot. He was a wonderful old man who had..., he was very young, he was probably in his late eighties but very young in his thinking, very free and we always respected him so much. And he called Ed and wanted to know what to do with these 390 mostly letters and Edward suggested that they be given to the Special Collections at Reese Library so, I remember the day. I was working in the library and Nancy Connolly, Nancy Cumming Connolly, who was Joseph B. Cumming's daughter, came. It was raining and she came in the rain with these boxes of letters and just casually said "here they are." And I started going through them to catalog them and I realized what a treasure they were. How the oldest ones went back to the 1700s and so I started trying to put them in order. I never had any formal training in how to do it but, it needed to be done I thought. So I started going through them and putting them in chronological order, and then started reading them and I began feeling like I got to know the family and just fell in love with the family. So it happened from there, I have a... I told Joseph B. Cumming what I was doing and he was glad that I was making sense of them and when I finished the calendar I took a copy of the calendar to him and I have a note here from him where it's dated February 12, 1983 and he says. "Mary Ann, Calendar terrific. Magnus opus. Magnificent work. Congratulations on expert job. I would like to get Xerox copies of pages" and he lists the pages he wanted Xerox copies of so I did that. So that's how it came about.
SC: What made you decide to prepare a calendar over, say something like a container list or some other type of finding aid?
MAC: I don't know exactly what's meant by a container list. I guess a list of things that are in the container? [SC: Uh Huh] I guess I just thought it was a wonderful collection and they told a story of a very interesting family. I'm not an historian and yet I got a real sense of this family and wanted to tell the story of the family.
SC: Did you have a favorite letter do you remember?
No, I have some favorite characters. Julien, I really liked a lot. He was very interesting. Very artistic, free spirit, creative person who had a hard time finding himself in life. I remember the letters show that four of his brothers went off to the Civil War and he was kind of floundering and thinking he should go and the family saying well one of the brothers should stay home. Finally he did go and I think the Civil War, being in that, kind of gave him a purpose in life. He had a problem with alcohol for a while I liked him but I like different members.
SC : Well who else besides Julien?
MAC: Well...I. Oh, I know I like Katherine Hubbell because she was the Yankee. She was from New York. She met her husband Joseph Bryan and right before the Civil War, I think they got married in New York and then right before the Civil War they came down to Augusta, and then the War broke out. And here Joseph Bryan went to the war and Katherine was left in the Cumming house with her mother and father in-law. And she would hear them talking about the war and of course their perspective was pretty different from hers. Her brother also fought in the war for the Union side so she had a very hard time during this time. And I remember her husband from the battlefield would write letters to his parents saying "Please be kind to Katherine" and the parents wouldn't like that because it kind of insinuated that they weren't being kind to her and they felt that they were so that was a real cultural dilemma there. And also it was interesting how Katherine Hubbell followed her husband at times to the battlefields and would take her little baby along and a maid, I imagine a black maid, and she would stay with her husband for a period of time. And of course that was very difficult and then Katherine well...that comes later I might mention that later.
SC: What details can you remember about the project to microfilm the letters?
MAC: What I remember is we had a collection of microfilm letters from University of South Carolina previous to this and the Bryan family, Cumming family, Hammond family were prominent in these letters and the University of South Carolina found out that we had these additional 390 letter and found out that I had done a calendar and they approached us, I forget the gentleman's name, but they approached us and asked if we would mind if they microfilmed the letters and my calendar and then I said not at all if you give us a copy of the entire microfilm set and they did.
SC: Was it intended that Reese Library would be the only library that would end up with a print copy of the print calendar because I've checked World Cat and we're it. We have the only print calendar.
MAC: No, I had no intensions of that and I imagine University of South Carolina has a print copy because they made a microfilm copy of it, of the calendar so I don't think we minded anybody making a copy of the calendar.
SC: So, you're perfectly comfortable with us digitizing the calendar and making it into an electronic aid.
MAC: Uh Huh. I think it's a good idea. I think information, the more it's spread and the more people enjoy it, the more we learn and the more other historians can add onto this knowledge and that's how we grow. And that's one thing I admired, Edward and I both admired, in Joseph B. Cumming, he was very much for the truth getting out. Three-hundred ninety letters are bound to have some family secrets in them and they do. There is no perfect family, as you know. And he didn't mind at all, these secrets coming out. He thought the truth should be known and I think a good historian is that way. A good historian will tell the facts as he/she sees them so I think it's great that you're doing this.
SC: Well before we wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts or reflections to leave with us?
MAC: None, other than, I'm not an historian. I was married for almost forty years to one who was I think, a great historian and I learned a lot from him through osmosis and as I say as a professional librarian, I never really learned how to do archive work. I just did it because nobody else was doing it and it needed to be done and I enjoyed it and I enjoyed going through these letters so much but if other historians find mistakes, something...sometimes the handwriting was difficult to read and I interpreted it as I saw it. I think it will be good for them to make note of those mistakes so that we can continue learning.
SC: Mrs. Cashin, we really appreciate you meeting with us today. Thank you so much for giving us some insight into this collection. This is the end of the oral history interview with Mrs. Mary Ann Cashin September 18th 2008.