Gertrude Sanford LeGendre lived a life most people can only dream about. She was an international traveler extraordinaire, big game hunter, American spy, plantation owner and friend to the rich and famous. The daughter of New York congressman and industrialist John Sanford, Legendre became a world-class adventurer who made it a habit to see the world’s most interesting places and entertain the world’s most fascinating people.
Lucky for us, Legendre preserved many of her life’s memories through photographs, film, scrapbooks, letters and more. Thanks to the generosity of Legendre’s family, Special Collections at the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library has been given this remarkable trove, which was previously housed at Legendre’s home outside Charleston, the historic Medway Plantation.
It’s a collection remarkable for its breadth, says Harlan Greene ’74, head of Special Collections: “She lived almost the entire 20th century, participated in events that changed natural history and world history and came from a family that had been politically influential from the 19th into the 20th century. Her collection documents the international social elite, the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, fascist Italy, fashion, big-game hunting on several continents, polo, Charleston social life, 19th-century American politics and diplomacy and, of course, the role of women in the world.”
This fall, Special Collections has begun processing and partially digitizing the archive – which includes letters she wrote while a prisoner of war in Germany, manuscripts of her books and portraits of Legendre by photographers Toni Frissell and Man Ray, among others – courtesy of a $138,750 gift from the Medway Charitable Trust. Given the scope of work, such a gift is critical for proper care of the archives.
“Many donors of collections understand the commitment that comes with an institution’s acceptance of materials that will be kept ‘for all time.’ The hundreds, if not thousands, of work hours of cataloguing, rehousing, conservation and then ‘eternal’ preservation of materials in climate-controlled space demands great resources from libraries and archives,” says Greene. “Contributing to a collection’s maintenance, according to one’s abilities, allows the collections to become an institution’s priority and shows graciousness, generosity and good stewardship.”
The processing of the Legendre archive will be done alongside that of two other significant archives recently given to the College. A $193,500 grant is enabling the Rabbi William A. Rosenthal Judaica Collection, featuring the imagery of synagogues, to be processed, and a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission will allow for the archiving of papers related to both Congressman Mendel Rivers and Burnet Maybank ’19, who served as a U.S. senator, S.C. governor and Charleston mayor.
Thanks to the generosity of these gifts and the hard work of Special Collections, these archives will live on forever – something most people can only dream about.