Processing a New Donation: The Boehmer Collection

In honor of  American Archives Month the staff at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum would like highlight once again one of our most exciting collections in our permanent archival collection.  So please read and enjoy!

The archives here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum house over 6,000 items including books, documents, maps, letters, newspapers, postcards, photographs, and much more.  A recent acquisition to the museum is going to raise that number of items by at least 3,000 more.  In August of 2009 the museum received the Boehmer Collection of Photographs.  This unique and unprecedented collection of photographs is quite possibly the most exhaustive record of the Seminole Tribe for the time period of the 1930s thru the 1960s. 

William and Edith Boehmer arrived at the Brighton Reservation in 1938.  William Boehmer had been hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the teacher at the new Brighton Indian Day School.  Edith Boehmer’s official title was that of school housekeeper; however she also assisted her husband in the school teaching and worked on other community projects, including the establishment of the Seminole Arts Guild on the Brighton Reservation.  The school was built as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Indian Division and officially opened on January 9, 1939.  The students were taught the usual courses of English, math, and sciences as well as poultry husbandry, gardening, homemaking, and cattle raising.  Enrolment was small in the beginning and attendance was spotty but by 1954 when the school closed they had 100 percent enrollment and about 95 percent attendance. 

            As well as working as the school teacher and working on community development projects William Boehmer was a hobby photographer.  Over the twenty-eight year time period that the Boehmers worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Brighton Reservation (1938-1966), William took over a thousand photographs documenting the Seminole Indians.  Because he worked on the Brighton Reservation the majority of the photographs were taken there, however he did travel to the other reservations and there are photographs taken on the Big Cypress Reservation and other areas as well.  Boehmer photographed every aspect of life on the reservation including the school children and school activities, Field Days, working cattle, attending a fair in Tampa, and many others.  This collection of Seminole photographs is unique because it captured everyday activities, taken by a man who knew the people and was involved in the events taking place.  The stories and histories documented in this collection can not be found anywhere else. 

The binders containing the donation of Boehmer photographs

            The original negatives and a set of 8×10 prints are held by the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institute.  Another set of the 8×10 prints are held here in the Archives of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  One of the things that make this collection so extraordinary is the information that accompanied it.  Each photograph has an associated index card that provides a researcher with information of location, date, event, activity, or people in the photograph.  As well as creating individual index cards for each photograph the Boehmer’s also created subject file cards.  These cards list a specific person or event and will tell the researcher which photographs to look at to find the person or event.  The level of information provided to us with the photographs is incredibly rare and creates a wealth of never before realized research possibilities. 

Original index card from Boehmer Collection

             The cataloging of this wonderful collection is currently underway.  Each photograph is assigned its own individual number and it is being properly housed in archival materials.  As well as cataloging the photographs, each index card will also be cataloged and properly housed to ensure that there is no chance for any of this wealth of information to be lost.  Due to the fact that this collection is “in-process,” it is not currently available to the public.  As soon as the extensive undertaking of cataloging and housing is complete, this collection will be available to the public for research. 

Original subject card from Boehmer Collection
 

As of October 2010 the Boehmer Collection has been completely re-housed in archivally safe material.  Portions of this collection can now be viewed on a restricted basis.  If anyone would like to make an appointment to view are other archival collections please feel free to contact Tara Backhouse, Museum Registrar, at tarabackhouse@semtribe.com or Robin Bauer Kilgo, Collections Officer, at robinkilgo@semtribe.com.

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