Mike Dicianna gives us another fabulous feature this Friday — enjoy!
We have all worn these from time to time. They are usually scribbled on with a sharpie with your name, sort of readable, and maybe a title or hometown. By the end of the conference or event, these name tag stickers are usually torn off your jacket, folded in half and stuck in a pocket, only to be found months later…
Perhaps the “golden age” of name tags has gone the way of cheap convenience in recent times. SCARC’s recent accession of the Governor Douglas McKay collection (MSS McKay) contains a wealth of artifacts and ephemera that highlights the elegance of personal identification of decades past. Convention attendees of the 1930s and 40s would sport some of the most decorative nametags to their gatherings. These badges were something you kept as a remembrance of attending that special meeting, convention, or in McKay’s case – the 15th Annual VFW Encampment.
Douglas McKay was the 25th Governor of Oregon, 1949 through 1952. His political career dates back to the 1930s in Salem, Oregon where he was Mayor and State Senator. All of these activities necessitated his attendance at meetings, special events and political conventions. The McKay artifacts represent this career in a tangible way. Some of the name tags include his title, Governor, but most are simply typed with his name. And yes, no scribbled sharpie names, they were typed, on a good ole’ Underwood or Royal manual typewriter.
During World War I, McKay served with the American Expeditionary Forces (the US Army) in Europe, where he advanced to the rank of First Lieutenant.
On October 4th, 1918, about a month before the end of WWI, he sustained severe injuries in battle to his leg, right arm and shoulder, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.
His involvement with veteran’s groups in Oregon is represented in the collection through convention nametags. McKay was an active member of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations. Badges from “encampments” during the 1930s were quite decorative, and became souvenirs of the events. Our collection contains examples from both of these groups.
I took the time to check the Webster’s definition of ephemera, and found it to be contradictory to a historian’s sensibilities:
ephem·era noun \i-ˈfe-mər-ə, -ˈfem-rə\ : things that are important or useful for only a short time : items that were not meant to have lasting value.
The value of the McKay artifacts to the researcher is only magnified by this rather depressing definition. We are lucky to have these items in the collection. Ephemera can help to tell the story of a person’s life. Boxes of dusty old records or scrapbooks are important tools to all researchers, but pausing to experience a box of artifacts in a collection can bring the story to life. Granted, collections as rich as MSS McKay are not the archival norm, but when you find gold…mining is in order.