Learning Mildred: Provenance and Inclusion Materials

One of the more interesting aspects of my job as a cataloger is that I manage and maintain the inclusion files for Burns Library. The inclusion files are just what they sound like: four filing cabinets, stuffed to the brim with acid-free file folders housing the wide variety of materials found tucked between the pages or covers of books that were donated, sold, or otherwise found their way to our stacks.

These materials range from the humorous (like the coupon for one hour of uninterrupted television time referenced in my last post on the subject), to the intensely personal (bank statements and medical records), to the organic (many people press flowers or other plants between the pages of heavy books). All inclusion materials offer some insight into the previous owner(s) of the book in question, but sometimes there’s a lot more on offer than usual.

Cover of The New Roman Missal, with gilt stamp: Mildred E. Coen
The New Roman Missal by Rev. F.X. Lasance (1942), 04-7470 LITURGY AND LIFE

While recataloging The New Roman Missal by Rev. F.X. Lasance (New York : Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1942) in our Liturgy and Life collection, I pulled no less than 105 items from between the book’s thin pages. My best clue on who would have filled the missal with so many items is a name stamped on the cover of the book: Mildred E. Coen. By sorting through the massive amount of inclusion material, I was able to discover a lot about Ms. Coen.

Of the 105 items, no less than eighty have to do with prayers. Half are holy cards, 3×5 inch pieces  of cardstock with an image on one side and a prayer on the other, often issued in memory of a deceased religious figure, or in honor of someone’s investiture into the Church. (See our exhibit Pray for Us for more on holy cards in our collections). The other half are longer prayers without any images. The rest of the stack is made up of bookmarks, religious portraits, one photograph, one Christmas card, various pamphlets, and other assorted miscellany.

My search for Mildred E. Coen started on Google, but I failed to turn up much. There’s a reference to a Mildred E. Coen in the 1940 census. However,she lived in Ohio, and the vast majority of the inclusion material is from Massachusetts (primarily Watertown), with a few from Pennsylvania and scattered other states. So that’s unlikely to be our Mildred E. Coen.

My Google-Fu having failed me, I turned to the holy cards for my next clue. One of them, with a detail of “Jesus in the Temple” by Heinrich Hofmann, was issued in honor of a Rev. William R. Coen in 1949, whom I took to be a relative. There is also a poem, “The Ideal Girl,” signed “Love, Mary.” With a little searching, I found the obituary of Rev. Msgr. William R. Coen, which referenced his work in Dorchester, Mass., and his late sisters Mary and Mildred, among others.

Bingo.

Armed with proof that she had, in fact, existed, I went back to Google, and found the (slightly terrifying) website sortedbyname.com, which listed a Mildred E. Coen, dates 1917-1995, from Massachusetts. This would have made her 25 at the time of the Missal’s publishing, and appropriately listed as “late” in (I presume) her brother’s obituary. The inclusion material’s dates ranged from 1933-1965, which also fit neatly into this Mildred’s lifespan. I felt fairly confident that this was, indeed, our Mildred.

So what can we tell about Ms. Mildred E. Coen, born 1917, died 1995, from the materials she kept in her Missal? She loved prayer, for one, to judge by the amount of it she kept between the pages. She had a friend named Antoinette and another named Sister Theda; both sent her religious images with handwritten notes and prayers on the back (one of Antoinette’s is dated 1-17-35, the other undated; Sister Theda’s are from 10-18-35 and Easter 1942). Sister Theda also sent her a Christmas card, undated, referencing Mildred’s work in a shop with someone named Ruth.

A little digging through the inclusion stack turned up a picture of Antoinette, dressed in a habit and looking away from the camera. The inscription on the back reads “Antoinette Hanley, St. Francis Convent, Graymoor, Garrison, N.Y.” They must have been good friends indeed, for Mildred to keep a picture of her in her Missal.

Portrait of Antoinette Hanley, St. Francis Convent, Graymoor, Garrison, N.Y.
Found in: The New Roman Missal by Rev. F.X. Lasance (1942), 04-7470 LITURGY AND LIFE

The other thing I found interesting about Mildred E. Coen’s materials is that some of them predate the book’s publication. As mentioned above, the earliest materials date from 1933, and the Missal was only published in 1942. So Mildred must have kept them somewhere else, and later inserted them into her Missal almost a decade later.

Who Mildred really was, and how her Missal with all its inserts came to be in our collection, we’ll never know for sure. But she left enough of herself between its pages that we can make an educated guess. All her prayers and bookmarks and other miscellany will live in our inclusion files, carefully housed and described in the book’s catalog record, so future researchers will be able to sift through and draw their own conclusions about Mildred E. Coen’s life.

-Tess Amram, Associate Special Collections Cataloging Librarian, John J. Burns Library

Bibliography:

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1 Response to Learning Mildred: Provenance and Inclusion Materials

  1. John B. Walsh says:

    Loved this article!

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