Bath houses, race, and gender: My year as a CAP Fellow

Written by: Blair Zaid

Primary Source: Campus Archaeology Program Blog, April 19, 2016.

This blog post is a quick review of my work for this year as a CAP graduate fellow. I had two major projects, first investigating the presence of bath houses and privies in the Sacred Space and second researching Myrtle Craig (MSU 1907), the first black female graduate of MSU. These two projects shed some interesting light on Phase II of MSU’s history, a period of opportunities and challenges that affected the growth of MSU in the 20th century.

As it turns out, investigating the privies and bath houses of old campus is in fact, a dirty job. The archives at times reveal mundane quips about sanitation and at other times heated debates on the construction and maintenance of campus lavatories. Something that was seen as an after thought in the mid-19th century became the center of board meetings by the end of the century. The drama concerning who could have private wash rooms and bathrooms in their faculty home or office was quite startling. One spot in particular, between old Abbot hall and the armory, seemed to be a preferred location for bathing houses from at least 1870 until way into the 1930s. This archival project was informative as I dove into a different time period than my usual CAP activities. It allowed me to practice some of the essential tools of archival research; taking accurate and descriptive notes, outlines for necessary information, and a clear set of goals, lest you be terrible lost in the sea of potential projects! Hopefully this information will allow us to investigate this area and time period in a more strategic way to enhance our understanding of this important phase of MSU’s history.

During my investigations of Phase II I stumbled across archival materials about Myrtle Craig. This was just in time for Black History Month so I decided to dig a little deeper and see what connections we could find between her life on campus and what we already knew from CAP work. I began exploring the MSU archives for tidbits about life on campus and remembered that the early 1900s was a definite turning point for women in general. I consulted with Amy Michael as she has produced years of work on gender on campus to see how we could gain a deeper understanding of the complexities between race and gender on campus and what could the artifacts tell us about these complexities. As we stated in our earlier blogs, women were highly restricted to certain areas of campus, but when you had the federal laws of racial segregation, the limits and resources available to Myrtle were problematic to say the least. A chance encounter with Dr. Denise Maybank, Vice President for Student Affairs and Services, led to creating a display about Myrtle, race, and gender on campus for the Student Services building. With the addition of CAP intern Jasmine Smith, who has an interest in museum displays, we created a display that details the time line of Myrtle’s life on campus and the opportunities and challenges of the race and gender in the first decade of the 20th century. This project combined all of our strengths and produce a visualization of the early complex history between MSU and its African American student body.

This summer I will keep looking into bath houses on and around the Sacred Space and working with CAP excavations as needed. I look forward to learning more about Phase II, its impact on MSU and the push towards a more inclusive experience for Spartan country.

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Blair Zaid
Blair (Starnes) Zaid is a doctoral student in both African American and African Studies and Anthropology here at MSU. Her research focuses on the African Diaspora expansion of the Kongo Kingdom of 15th century west central Africa. Her interests include historic archaeology, community engagement, increasing diversity in archaeology, and raising a toddler. This will be Blair’s third year as a CAP fellow and like her previous project of creating a type collection for CAP, her research this year will continue to revolve around the CAP artifact collections.