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December 15, 2010

Budding scholar

girl behind bookTen-year-old Magdalen Hamilton got a unique history lesson last month—from the words of a 14-year-old in 1858.

Hamilton spent a few hours in the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation at Rush Rhees Library transcribing the diary of Frances (Fanny) Seward. Fanny was the daughter of William Seward, who served as governor, senator, and secretary of state to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Magdalen, a fifth-grader at Midlakes Intermediate School, came home excited after a field trip to the Seward House, the historic home of the Seward family, in Auburn. She was even more excited when her mother, Leah Hamilton, general collections conservation supervisor for the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, told her about the library’s Seward Papers collection and about Fanny Seward’s diary.

“She was shocked that we had Seward’s original correspondence, among other ephemera,” Leah Hamilton says.

When he heard about Magdalen’s interest, Richard Peek, director of the department, suggested that she might be interested in helping to transcribe an entry from Fanny Seward’s diary. Last month, Magdalen visited Rush Rhees Library and transcribed an entry from Christmas 1858.

“I could just picture Fanny sitting there, writing in her diary. It was thrilling because it was all happening before my eyes, right there in front of me,” Magdalen says.

Leah Hamilton says the experience was a good lesson for her ambitious daughter—who hopes to someday become a Rhodes scholar.

Magdalen's transcription will be available on the library's Web site with other Fanny Seward diary entries.

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