The power of the pen

University of Dayton Library hosts Rose Rare Book Collection

Photo: William Shakespeare, 1632, second folio

by Brittany Erwin

Women (and our male allies) have been speaking truth to power for centuries, resulting in real and lasting systemic change. These powerful challenges began as an idea and were transformed into a piece of powerful, revolutionary writing. Thanks to the University of Dayton Libraries and the private collection of Stuart and Mimi Rose, visitors will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a collection of these types of rare works. Inspired by the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, “Rhetorics, Rights, (R)evolutions,” (October 4—7) the UD Libraries will hold this free and open-to-the public exhibit, “It is Time to Effect a Revolution,” September 13–October 9.

Kathleen Webb, Dean of University of Dayton Libraries tells the story behind the exhibit’s title. “[It] is a line from Mary Wollstonecraft’s most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The Libraries acquired a 1792 second American edition of this work for UD’s collection of rare books, and it will be on display.” What other treasures might one encounter? “Highlights include the 1903 thesis of Marie Curie, the first woman to receive [the] Nobel prize; The two-page manuscript of “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates, the poet whose lyrics became the basis for one of the nation’s most iconic patriotic songs; and Abraham Lincoln’s “A Proclamation [of Emancipation]”, dated 1862,” Webb says. Visitors will also discover, among other incredible works, a first-edition copy of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1955), a first-edition of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) and the first book published by an African-American: Phyllis Wheatley’s “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” (1773). Works by luminaries such as Shakespeare, Maria Montessori, and Hellen Keller will also be on display.

This marks the third collaboration between the UD Libraries and Stuart and Mimi Rose’s respective collections. For Stuart Rose, sharing his precious books and manuscripts with the public is an important undertaking, but does require the right partner. He notes that UD always treats his collection with care and deep consideration. “I’ve been doing this for over 25 years and I just think it’s important to understand the ideas in the book. And the book itself is important; the way it looks, the binding. I try to collect in as original a condition as possible, and the condition itself is so important to me. UD does a great job of showing without compromising the condition,” he explains. Visitors can thus expect to view well-preserved works within a thoughtful context.

Rose echoes that sentiment, “I love doing this with UD. They know how to treat the books, how to present the books and the [book’s] ideas.” Rose—who began collecting books when he happened upon a book sale at Sotheby’s in New York City, began bidding, and walked away with some Mark Twain and Dickens—still feels the wonder of his collection and believes others will as well. “I think people get inspired when they see the idea from someone’s head made into a book and it’s the first time [that] idea was shared,” Rose says.

Webb herself finds particular inspiration in the exhibit’s titular work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”one of her favorites on display. She says, “This book was written in 1791 and argues, among other things, that women need access to quality education in order to fulfill their duty as an educator of young children, to be an informed citizen, and to create a true partnership with her husband.” She goes on to connect past with present, “Many of Wollstonecraft’s original arguments are as appropriate today as they were in her time. This book shows that the push for women’s equality [is] a much longer history than many people realize.” This is what makes this exhibit extraordinary: the opportunity to view the very works, in their earliest iterations and in pristine condition, contextualized to demonstrate how they have shaped and continued to shape our world.

Certainly, this is the point of both the exhibit and the conference. Webb notes, “We are hopeful visitors will see the diversity of voices and viewpoints that changed the course of human history through writing and art. The conference itself features presentations and dialogue concerning feminist rhetorics and rhetorical practices as they intersect with local, national, and international human rights movements.” Yet, even if someone cannot attend the corresponding Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, the import of the pieces still resonates.

In our modern world, where new information and ideas can all be shared with the click of a button, it is remarkable to consider that these physical tomes and treatises, these ideas made manifest in ink, once led that charge. Rose muses, “[These are] things that empowered women and they are in books…there was no internet in those days and that’s how ideas were shared and when those books were printed that’s the way those ideas were first shared with the world.” The echoes of these works and the words they used to fight for empowerment and equality can still be heard today. Go and listen.

Additional Information from Dean Katherine Webb:“The UD Libraries hosts exhibitions throughout the year. All are free and open to the public.” For more information on this and future exhibits, please visit:· “If visitors are interested in attending the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, online registration closes September 15. Visit” the conference will be held Oct. 4-7.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Brittany Erwin at

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