Processing the Helen Marshall Papers: A Q/A with the Archivist

Did you know that Queens College Special Collections and Archives is home to the Helen Marshall Papers? Donated to the Library by Donald E. Marshall in 2017, the collection is comprised of 40 boxes of papers, photographs, and memorabilia documenting Marshall’s celebrated career in politics.  

Marshall (1929 – 2017) was the second woman and first African American Borough President of Queens, elected to three four-year terms starting in 2001. Earlier, she served on the New York City Council for ten years in the 1990s and in the New York State Assembly for eight years in the 1980s. She was the first director of the Langston Hughes Library in Corona, Queens, when it was founded in 1969. Marshall was the daughter of Guyanese immigrants, growing up in Harlem and the Bronx and obtaining her BA in education from Queens College.    

Thanks to a $12,000 grant from the New York State Archives Documentary Heritage Program, Gianna Fraccalvieri, a graduate student in the Library and Information Studies Program, was recently hired as the Project Archivist to process the collection. In celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with Gianna to discuss the Helen Marshall project as it gets underway.  

Q: Gianna, you are near to completing your graduate degree in Library and Information Studies with a Certificate in Archives. What got you interested in this field? 

Gianna: I’ve always enjoyed the process of conducting historical research as a student, and working in libraries taught me that I enjoy helping others do the same. I learned about archiving as a career field through the MLS/MA dual degree program and became intrigued by the many different roles that archivists can play in facilitating exciting research experiences.  

A conference program from the Helen Marshall Papers.

Q: Now that you have had a chance to survey the collection, what have you learned about Helen Marshall so far? 

Gianna: Throughout her political career, Helen Marshall advocated for the rights and needs of Queens communities concerning a variety of social justice causes, including racial equity, women’s issues, public health and housing, improving higher education at CUNY, and much more. She was a leader on multiple fronts, often championing local initiatives in government by closely participating with community groups and organizations.  

Q: Any gems in the collection that stood out to you? 

Gianna: There are quite a few lovely portraits of Marshall in this collection, documenting the arc of her journey from early childhood to late adulthood. Photographs of Marshall with family and friends, community members, and other well-known politicians help to visually convey her dynamic influence through the years.  

Q: What do you anticipate being a particular challenge to processing this collection? 

Gianna arranging materials from the Helen Marshall Papers.

Gianna: Arranging this collection in a way that makes it as accessible as possible to researchers is one of my top priorities, but I must also consider practical limitations such as the large quantity of materials and the timeframe of the project. Processing this collection will require me to maintain a healthy balance between detail-oriented and big-picture thinking. 

Q: How do you anticipate this collection being used by teachers or researchers in the future? 

Gianna: Broadly, this collection has a high research value for scholars interested in investigating the social and political histories of New York State, New York City, and the borough of Queens between the 1980s and 2010s. Additionally, the mix of professional and personal materials in this collection provides excellent opportunities to study Marshall as a historical figure in her own right, especially regarding her position as a first-generation African American woman in politics. 

Gianna will be preserving, arranging, and cataloging the collection this spring. The project will culminate this June with the publication of an archival finding aid that will make the collection open for research. Stay tuned! 

This project (Arranging and Describing the Helen Marshall Papers) was made possible in part by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department.

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Archival Inspiration!

How can the archives inspire you?

This past October, Queens College’s Special Collections and Archives and Professor John Wegner’s Design 1 class met to cultivate inspiration for the Design course’s final project: designing a suite of menu materials for imagined New York City restaurants.

The Restaurant Menu Collection, donated in 2014, includes menus from New York, New Jersey, around the country, and even the world, dating from 1938 through 2013. However, the strength of the collection lies in its New York City menus. What sets this collection apart is its emphasis on takeout and to-go menus, “underscor[ing] food habits and trends” that “give insight into the current economic and technological advances of a given community.”

Selections from the Restaurant Menu Collection

While the collection is a valuable historical resource in itself, Professor John Wegner saw an additional use for it: as a site of creativity and a way for his Design 1 students to get inspired. “I wanted to collaborate with the Queens College Special Collections and Archives because it’s such a valuable resource for inspiration, documenting the rich visual history of our local community,” he explained. The collection speaks to a clear history of food habits across the five boroughs, but it also displays vibrant examples of business history, technological history, and, yes, design history. Questions like “How has the ordering process changed from phone calls to websites and apps?” and “What kind of customer is the restaurant trying to attract and how is that reflected in the design of the menu?” can be explored when browsing this collection.

Students from Design 1 review materials from the Restaurant Menu Collection

In Wegner’s Design 1 class, students were asked to create an identity for a brand-new restaurant concept, complete with logotype and menu design. To jump start the creative process, he scheduled a class in the library to look at the Restaurant Menu Collection in-person, saying “As a designer, I think it’s important to have a sense of place in the world, and to be in touch with the history of your community.”

In addition to reviewing and interacting with the Restaurant Menu Collection, students also learned about what archives are and how they can use the physical and digital materials SCA collects. Art librarian Scott Davis was on hand to talk about resources for graphic designers and artists more generally, all available through the Queens College Library.

See below for several selections from students’ beautiful final portfolios!

Are you interested in utilizing archival resources in your class or encouraging archival literacy in your students? SCA can work with you to provide instruction in archives at the Queens College Library. Contact for more information.

Behind the Collab: KITH x Special Collections and Archives

This past September, the anticipation for the CUNY x Kith collaboration was through the roof.

Kith apparel, a “multifunctional lifestyle brand for men, women, and kids, as well as a progressive retail establishment,” partnered with CUNY to create a range of shirts, hats, jackets, and sweatshirts emblazoned with Queens College and Brooklyn College insignia. Alumnus Jerry Seinfeld even modeled the wares in a high-profile publicity campaign before the drop, garnering attention from all corners of the internet.

The clothing is undoubtedly cool—but look closer! There’s more about Queens College history displayed on these items than first glance would reveal.

Representatives from Kith visited the Special Collections and Archives at Queens College looking for inspiration for the CUNY line in fall 2021. Archives aren’t only for your research papers (though they are great for that), they can be places of creativity, too.

The Kith collaboration is an excellent example of how expansive archives can be, and how they can serve all kinds of people and needs. The patches on the jacket above were sourced directly from a printed program for a 1952 Varsity Sports dinner honoring the athletes, preserved in the archive’s Student Publications Collection.

The artist of the original drawings, Earl Rubin, crowded the cover with lively illustrations evoking the teams that represented Queens College athletics that year. Inside, each page celebrated a different sport and cohort (the Women’s Basketball team was once…the Hoopsterettes!). Looking to evince a retro vibe for its letterman jacket, Kith used this material to throwback to an authentic mid-century look with a 21st century spin.

Cover page, Queens Page Knight athletic program
Queens Page Knight, Varsity Athletics dinner program

The Student Publications Collection is an unbeatable record of student experience on Queens College campus, stretching back to the founding of the college in 1937 through to 2014. In it, you’ll find copies of dozens of student magazines and newspapers, detailing the events, opinions, and interests of Queens College students in their own voices for almost 80 years.

Stop by the archival storage room on the third floor of the library—the jacket, born from the archives, is now part of the Queens College archives and on view!

Think you could use some inspiration? The Student Publications Collection is open for research and browsing; contact the Special Collections and Archives at to make an appointment to view any of the materials.

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