by Lara Zielin
On a sunny summer day this past August, Bentley archivists carted 17 boxes of material out of the Ann Arbor home of Betty Bishop. Inside the boxes were letters from Bishop’s family, including her great-great-aunt, Helen Frances Warner, who attended U-M’s Medical School in the 1870s. But many of the letters were folded so carefully, and were so fragile, that Bishop herself hadn’t even read them.
“I wanted conservationists at the Bentley to have them first,” she says, to ensure the letters could be preserved, and no damage would be done to them.
It’s not the first time Bishop has placed her family’s materials in the hands of the Bentley—and it probably won’t be the last.
Bishop represents the third generation in her family with deep U-M ties. Bishop received her B.A. in psychology in 1972 from U-M. Her grandfather, William Warner Bishop, did his undergraduate work at U-M and received his master’s degree here in 1893. He was the University Librarian and was instrumental in the creation of the Library Science Program, now the School of Information. Bishop’s father, William Warner Bishop Jr., received his B.A. in 1928 and his J.D. in 1931, and was a law professor. The Bentley holds the papers of both Bishop’s father and grandfather.
“The Bentley is the archive for our family in many ways,” says Bishop. “I’m the end of a family line, and I want to make sure these materials are in a good home where they’re safe and well cared for.”
Bishop says she is also glad that the Bentley has the collections of several organizations of which she is a part—including the Ann Arbor Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the U-M Alumnae Council, and the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor.
“All the organizations I belong to have their records tucked away at the Bentley, and we love it,” Bishop says. “It means having access so that when we need them we can get them. The materials will be safe, clean, organized, and they won’t get thrown out.”
To help ensure the long-term care of Bentley materials, Bishop has established a bequest through the Library. “I’m giving the Bentley a fair bit of tangible stuff, so it’s nice to also give something to look after it with.” The bequest allows the Bentley to put the support to use where it’s needed most.
“I want to see the good work the Bentley does continue into the future. I don’t know what kind of records the Library will be keeping in the next few years. It’s hard to dictate now what you’ll need in the future, so I kept the bequest language more general.”
Among the many feet of boxes that contain her family’s long history and connection to U-M, Bishop says some of her favorite things are photos of her grandfather and grandmother. “I never knew my grandmother, and I was four years old when my grandfather passed.”
There’s a photo of her grandfather holding a fish on Georgian Bay in Canada that she’s particularly fond of. “I only remember him as an old man, so it was nice to have pictures of him when he was younger.”
Bishop says that she feels comforted by the fact that her family history is “safely tucked away in many boxes.” Soon, she adds, “to be many more.”