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  • Fri, November 05, 2021 5:40 PM | Anonymous

    The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a matrilineal society organized by clans. Traditionally each clan is represented and led by a woman known as a clanmother. The Women’s Nomination Belt codifies the right of the clanmothers to nominate the chiefs who represent each Nation at Haudenosaunee councils. Clanmothers also gave names to newborn, and adopted clan members and were the heads of longhouses.

    Each Nation within the Haudensosaunee has a different number of clans. The clans are named after animals from three elemental categories: water, air, and land. For the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' (Cayuga) Bear, Wolf, and Deer clans represent land, the Turtle, Eel, and Beaver clans represent water, and the Snipe, Heron, and Hawk clans represent air. Clan members are considered relatives even if they come from different Nations. For example, a Bear clan member of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' and a Bear clan member of the Seneca (Onöndowa'ga:') would consider each other family. The current Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Nation council and clanmothers represent six clans: Deer, Bear, Wolf, Turtle, Snipe, and Heron.

    Replica weaving of the Women's Nomination Belt by Rich Hamell

    Visit the ‘Art of Wampum’ on display at the Tompkins Center for History & Culture for the month of November 2021.

    Explore for a virtual version of the exhibit, and additional learning materials.

    Explore for more information about Indigenous history in Tompkins County.

  • Wed, November 03, 2021 4:57 PM | Anonymous

    Gabriel: A Novel of the American Civil War by Matthew J. Watros is a piece of historical fiction that follows the story of the author’s ancestor, Gabriel Ballard, and his experiences in the Union Army.

    Ballard, who lived in Dryden, New York with his family, enlisted in the army at the age of 19 in 1862. From there, he travelled south with his infantry to Georgia where he participated in the Atlanta Campaign in the spring of 1864, but not without making many stops along the way.

    Watros, basing his book off family letters, Gabriel’s personal diary entries, and other primary sources, creates a narrative that details everything from family life, love, war, trauma, death, and social issues during the Civil War. He forms topics of slavery and the true causes of the war into personal stories, never shying away from the uncomfortable sides of history. Being a veteran himself, Watros creates a layer of intensity and emotion surrounding the war that can only be explained by those with personal experience. He also includes visualizations to help the reader create a better picture of Ballard’s experiences - with maps and charts to clarify where Ballard travelled. Gabriel is sure to captivate any reader who is interested in seeing the Civil War from a more personal viewpoint, and it is a great reminder that both sides of the war had moral downfalls through today’s lens. 

    Buy Gabriel

  • Tue, September 21, 2021 3:28 PM | Anonymous

    It’s been a year in the making but the amazing volunteers for The History Center’s community digital history project, HistoryForge, have finished transcribing the 1940 U.S. Census for the City of Ithaca! These 19,730 census records mark the fifth complete census entered in HistoryForge.  HistoryForge now has all the records for the 1900-1940 Census for the City of Ithaca. All of the information for each census is fully searchable. You can search for individuals, addresses, places of birth, occupations, industries, or any of the attributes in a census at

    The 1940 Census provides an important snapshot of our community at a pivotal time. It captured information about how the Great Depression impacted the American public. With many people moving to find employment, it attempted to record that migration by asking where each person had lived five years earlier. Using HistoryForge to learn more about the population of Ithaca we can see that while most (about seventy-five percent) people on the 1940 Census in Ithaca had lived here in 1935, Ithaca also attracted individuals who, five years earlier had been living in almost every state in the nation as well as a wide range of countries.

    Employment was, of course, the concern of the day, and the 1940 Census attempted to gather detailed information about employment and unemployment. Exploring industries in the 1940 Census in HistoryForge reveals some of the New Deal programs that bolstered the local economy. Ithacans worked for several local Work Projects Administration (WPA) projects including construction, soil conservation, landscaping, the State Hospital, a park project, a sewer project, and a sewing project.  Some also worked for the National Youth Administration (NYA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  

    The 1940 Census was the first census to ask questions about people’s income, as well as their highest grade of school completed. This was also the first census to include a five percent sample. Five percent of the population were asked additional questions including whether they or a close family member were a veteran and the war or military service, and whether they had a social security number or old age or railroad insurance.

    The 1950 Census won’t be released by the National Archives until next April. (Watch this space for an exciting exhibit/event surrounding this release!) In the meantime, HistoryForge volunteers have started transcribing the 1880 Census. The next year of transcription will give us a compelling new information for exploring Ithaca: 1880 went deep into the history of the village, while 1950 brings us closer to the modern city. The HistoryForge team is also interested in expanding beyond the City of Ithaca! To do this, we need volunteers from local communities in Tompkins County who want to transcribe the census from their town. If you would like to help in this project in any way fill out a volunteer form: and check our upcoming Virtual HistoryForge Transcription dates.

    Written by HistoryForge Project Coordinator - Eve Snyder (

  • Fri, August 27, 2021 1:43 PM | Anonymous

    The mid 1950s through the late 1960s was a tumultuous and violent time for civil rights workers in the US. Freedom Riders were attacked as they tried to integrate inter-city busses. Black churches were bombed, and peaceful protestors were attacked by police with fire hoses and snarling dogs. This era was also renowned for powerful civil rights organizations across America, especially in the deep south, where such notables as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worked for equality for Black Americans.

    In Ithaca, the struggle for equal rights was spearheaded by the Council for Equality, Ithaca's own home-grown, grass-roots social justice organization. Founded in 1959, the organization did their work here until the late 1960s. They were an education and advocacy organization, working to inform the larger public about what life was really like for local African Americans, and, more importantly, to advocate for them. According to their mission statement, they were a "bi-racial, private, non-profit organization," which was concerned to "study, improve, and change discrimination on whatever level it is found in Ithaca." Their membership was a diverse blend of young and old, Black and White, women and men. Some were affiliated with Cornell and Ithaca College, but there were members of a local carpenters' union, at-home mothers, teachers, and more. Their work was done through their committees, primarily employment, education, and housing. At its height, the Council for Equality had more than 200 members. Beverly J. Martin and James L. Gibbs were two of its greatest luminaries. Their work impacted the lives of African Americans in Ithaca and beyond.

    The History Center has created a brief video highlighting the history of this significant organization and it will premiere on Saturday September 11th at 10:30 on Facebook and our YouTube channel. Join us remotely for a watch party with archivist Donna Eschenbrenner. She will be available afterwards by Zoom for questions and conversation.


  • Fri, July 16, 2021 3:47 PM | Anonymous

    William Higinbotham

    by Rebecca Doyle

    William A. Higinbotham was born on October 25, 1910 in Bridgeport, Connecticut to Robert and Dorothy Higinbotham. His father’s position as a Presbyterian minister brought the Higinbotham family to Caledonia, New York in 1917, where they would live for the next 14 years. William was interested in science from a young age. He enjoyed building radios as a teenager and excelled in his high school physics class. At Williams College, he majored in physics and graduated in 1932, and, unable to find a job afterwards due to the Great Depression, he began graduate work at Cornell University. In 1937, his father died of a heart attack and by 1940, William’s widowed mother, 2 brothers, and sister joined him in Ithaca. William worked as a technician in the Cornell Physics Department but soon left for MIT, where he was invited to work at the Radiation Laboratory. While there, he designed radar display technology for military use during World War II. 

    Reverend Robert Higinbotham, William’s father

    In 1943, he was recruited to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As leader of the Electronic Group in the Weapon Physics Division, William developed timing circuits for the first atomic bomb.  In 1945, he witnessed the Trinity Test—the first drop of an atomic bomb in history. This experience, combined with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of two of his brothers to the war, took a huge emotional toll on him. Along with other Manhattan Project atomic scientists concerned about the destructive power of what they had helped create, Higinbotham co-founded the Federation of American Scientists later that year. Some of the group’s successes were the defeat of the May-Johnson Bill, which would have kept nuclear research under military control, and the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which established the US Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian-run regulatory agency that strove to protect public health and the environment from the effects of nuclear radiation. William Higinbotham held leadership positions in the Federation of American Scientists throughout the rest of his life.

    The Trinity test weapon and mushroom cloud

    In 1947, he began working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which was founded by the aforementioned Atomic Energy Commission, where he could pursue his scientific interests but remain free to lobby for nuclear nonproliferation. While there, he developed electronic equipment for particle accelerators and digital computers, but he is perhaps most famous for creating what was arguably the first video game. Brookhaven held annual visitors’ days  for the public to see the scientific work taking place there. In 1958, Higinbotham was put in charge of creating an exhibition for the lab’s Instrumentation Division, which he was the head of. He wanted to make an exhibit that would be more exciting and interactive than the usual, rather dull ones. Inspired by a computer manual’s instructions for calculating bullet and missile trajectories, he created Tennis for Two (a forerunner to Pong) in just a few days. The game was played by two players who held separate controllers and featured real-time motion on its display, both of which were major innovations. Visitors loved the game, standing in long lines to get a turn to play. Despite this success, Higinbotham never felt the need to patent Tennis for Two. If he had, the patent would have belonged to his employer, the federal government, and it was just a bit too early for video games to take off. 

    Instrumentation Division Exhibit at Brookhaven and a GIF created from a video featuring a reproduction of Tennis for Two (

    William Higinbotham remained at Brookhaven until his retirement in 1984. He served as a consultant until his death in 1994, at age 84 in Gainesville, GA. Today he is remembered lovingly as the “grandfather” of modern video games and for his devotion to the cause of nuclear arms control.

    Higinbotham family grave and final resting place of William

    Written by Rebecca Doyle - HistoryForge Intern - Spring 2021


    Bibliography and Image Sources:

  • Thu, May 27, 2021 1:07 PM | Anonymous

    The History Center in Tompkins County Announces New Exhibit:

    Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods

    Ithaca, NY - The History Center in Tompkins County (THC) is excited to announce its new exhibit "Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods" will open July 2nd 2021. This exhibit has multiple components: a temporary (July 2021-February 2022) physical display of six interactive exhibits at The History Center Exhibit Hall on the Ithaca Commons, selected virtual exhibits available at, and public access to selected interviews from the Women's Voices in Tompkins County: Oral History Collection. The physical and virtual exhibits will open to the public on Friday, July 2nd following two weeks of closure in the museum (June 13th-31st) for the installation of the new displays. Due to COVID-19 we are limiting the number of visitors in the museum and encourage guests to make reservations in advance at

    "Women continue to break ceilings and have continuously increased representation across communities. While we appreciate the obstacles they have overcome and the achievements women have made, it is important to look back and explore the stories of those women who have been overlooked. This exhibit celebrates the lesser-known stories of these pioneers in hopes of empowering those who visit.” - THC Curator & Design Specialist Cindy Kjellander-Cantu

    Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods explores the lives of women in public and private spheres across the centuries through six interactive exhibits: Haudenosaunee Influence on Women's Rights (Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation), The Overlooked History of Women Working (HistoryForge), Serial Style (Wharton Studio Museum and Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection), Women's Social Clubs and Organizations, and Overcoming Barriers to Vote: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County. These exhibits will connect visitors with the rich and varied lives of women in Tompkins County through exploring the stories, artifacts, and community legacies they left behind. Learn more at

    The Breaking Barriers exhibit is presented and made possible by Chloe Capital. Despite recent progress, less than 2% of female funders receive venture capital investment. Chloe Capital is investing in the next generation of women entrepreneurs and innovators across the United States. The company's mission to decrease gender and diversity gaps in entrepreneurship and venture capital is a natural fit to celebrate women changemakers in Tompkins County. Find out more about Chloe Capital at

    The History Center in Tompkins County is proud to partner with the following women-owned businesses in Tompkins County to support this exhibit: AdrinA·DietraHound & MarePickleball ManiaThe Second Knob, and Hopshire Farm & Brewery

    About The History Center in Tompkins County

    The History Center in Tompkins County (THC) is a generation-to-generation education and research center focused on engaging the public with the history of Tompkins County (located in the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Nation) and the Finger Lakes region. THC helps people use the tools of history to understand the past, gain perspective on the present, and play an informed role in shaping the future. The History Center is located within the Tompkins Center for History & Culture, a collaborative visitor center and event space on the Ithaca Commons home to twelve independent non-profits and community organizations.


    Please share and forward the press release and Digital Press Kit to your community contacts and local organizations to help us get the word out!


  • Thu, May 20, 2021 4:28 PM | Anonymous

    The History Center in Tompkins County will continue to require all  visitors to wear masks in accordance with the building policies of the Tompkins Center for History & Culture. Because our museum is in a shared building with 12 other local non-profits, and our visitors include families with young children who do not yet qualify for the vaccine, and visitors who may be medically ineligible for the vaccine, we will continue to require masks inside the building for the continued safety of all our visitors, volunteers, and staff. We will not be checking the vaccination status of visitors and appreciate the continued support of our community and out of town visitors in following our building guidelines by wearing their masks while visiting the museum. 


    We are grateful that our organization was able to re-open the Exhibit Hall in August of 2020, and has been open to the public for over 10 months with strict safety measures in place to ensure safe and worry free visits for everyone! We are happy to announce that we are now accepting bookings for groups of up to 20 people, which can be reserved at during any of our open appointment slots. Please review our up to date Health & Safety Protocols and practices at We will continue to monitor both state guidance and local practice and will evaluate and update policies as needed. Any questions may be directed to Ben Sandberg at

    Thank you for supporting The History Center and continuing to explore and engage in local history with us!


    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION] Square image with navy, light blue, and yellow frame. Text reads: Mask Update - Masks are still required inside the Tompkisn Center for History & Culture. Image of the Ithaca Kitty wearing a blue surgical mask with a speech bubble reads "Thank you for supporting worry free visits for everyone!" with a seven-toed pawprint. History Center and Tompkins Center for History & Culture logos in bottom right corner. 


    #TompkinsHistory #MuseumsforMasks #Covid19 #NYtough #IthacaisOpen #IthacaNY #IthacaCommons #DowntownIthaca #TompkinsCounty #NYhistory #NYmuseum

  • Fri, April 16, 2021 6:28 PM | Anonymous

    Mabel Webb Van Dyke (1870-1965) was the youngest child of Frederick and  Lucina Barton Webb. She studied voice at the Ithaca Conservatory of Music (now Ithaca College) and later became a music teacher, mother of two, foster mother of 21, Sunday School Superintendent, avid quilter, weaver, and also worked as a nurse for Dr. Benpamin (sic) F Lockwood of Brooktondale for 20 years. She lived in her family home on Level Green Road in the town of Caroline for nearly 80 years before moving in with her son-in-law in her 90's.

    Mabel was the granddaughter of Peter Webb who was born enslaved and brought to New York as a child. Peter later bought his freedom, and raised eleven children with his wife Phyllis. A 1962 Ithaca Journal article quoted Mabel as saying "I have never hesitated to talk about my grandfather...he was a slave, but from his wonderful character I can see how we have all been helped to grow." Her grandfather's manumission papers, and notes about Mabel's life and other members of the Webb family and descendants are currently on display at The History Center in Tompkins County on the Ithaca Commons.

    Learn more about the Webb family here:

    Explore more resources for Black Women's History Month here:

  • Fri, April 16, 2021 1:25 PM | Anonymous

    The National Park Service is conducting a study to determine the feasibility of designating the Finger Lakes region of New York as a National Heritage Area (NHA). This website is intended to familiarize the public with the feasibility study process and share what the study team has learned about this special place. As you scroll through these pages, please consider what you value about the Finger Lakes region and how it is a unique place within the cultural and historic fabric of the United States of America. The National Park Service study team needs your help to better understand the cultural heritage of the Finger Lakes and needs your opinions on the appropriateness of designating and managing a National Heritage Area if it is created.

    This is a hugely exciting opportunity for our region, and if passed would have long lasting impacts in 14 counties, and for hundreds of cultural and historical institutions like The History Center in Tompkins County and Historic Ithaca. The National Park Service is offering a public comment period through June 1st, and we'd like to encourage all members of the public to take some time in the next six weeks to submit a public comment on why the history and heritage of our region deserves to be highlighted and preserved. 


    History Center staff are available for brainstorming, and can offer support from our collections (contact regarding research options). 


  • Tue, March 09, 2021 8:25 PM | Anonymous

    Agda Osborn, a graduate of Cornell in 1920, was an integral part of the Ithaca community, helping to found multiple different local organizations. After graduating from Cornell, she resided with her husband, Robert Osborn, in the Osborn mansion on the corner of Buffalo and Aurora Street. Her home still stands today as the William Henry Miller Inn. In an article written in the Ithaca Journal soon after her death at age 99, she was described as being “known for her unbreakable spirit, selflessness and incredible volunteer service to Ithaca.” 

    Osborn was a member of the city’s first planning board, as well as the Common Council, and the Southside Community Council. Due to her heavy involvement in these organizations, one article stated that the downtown Commons owe their beginning to her. She also helped to start five local organizations that are still a part of the Ithaca community today: The Hangar Theatre, Family and Children’s Service, the Cornell Women’s Club, the City Federation of Women’s Organizations, and Historic Ithaca. Osborn was involved in Ithaca’s community in less official ways as well, illustrated by her annual Victorian tea which she held in her house for Ithaca High School sophomore English classes for over 20 years. Osborn’s legacy lives on today through the Agda Osborn Award which is presented annually by Ithaca’s Family & Children’s Services to a community volunteer.

    Learn more about Agda's life through the Agda S. Osborn Collection V-59-1-1 available in our archives. Contact regarding research options. 


    This article was written in February 2021 by Writing Intern Kate Delaney

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Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Territory


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