At least once a month, such artifacts find their way out of basements and attics to Eleanor Toews, Seattle Public Schools' archivist.
The yellowed program from “50 and Young,” the musical written and performed by the Lincoln High School class of 1950. A full set of report cards from one former student’s kindergarten year through graduation. A 1946 photo of the eighth-grade baseball team at Bagley School.
At least once a month, such artifacts find their way out of basements and attics to Eleanor Toews, Seattle Public Schools’ archivist.
Toews (rhymes with “saves,” she says) welcomes such gifts, which she preserves with as much reverence as School Board minutes and other official records.
“Culture is not just found in records,” she says. “It’s found in artifacts and ephemera that show what the culture was like.”
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Her office, deep in district headquarters, is a mini-museum as well as a records repository. She displays old cheerleading uniforms and banners, many photos and two wooden paddles, sent by a principal after corporal punishment was outlawed in the mid-1980s.
In the hall, she’s hung a “middy,” the sailor-like shirt that high-school girls were made to wear once a week — one teacher’s dream to erase social-class differences for at least that day. She also has a real bear’s head, a mascot of Queen Anne High found in a locker when that school closed. And a large stuffed-toy lynx that Lincoln alumni always borrow for their reunions.
Toews dons white gloves and disappears into the backroom, largely filled with paper records, some of which, by law, must be kept forever. She emerges with leather-bound, handwritten minutes of School Board meetings that date back to the 1880s. She’s received a state grant to microfilm and digitize them, and plans to make them available online.
Toews became the archives director nearly 29 years ago, after three unsuccessful interviews for library positions. But she soon realized she liked the archives job better. As archivist, she is a librarian, historian and passionate preservationist. At least as far as her limited budget allows.
No law requires her to keep the artifacts, but she views it as her duty to the community.
When the district closed two major high schools and dozens of other buildings in the ’80s, for example, artifacts and photographs flowed in by the thousands. She couldn’t turn down anything that so clearly meant so much to people, she says. “I was compelled,” she says. “There was just no choice.”