In this final installment, appropriately titled "Gentle Thursdays," Jennifer Tato (right) talks about the process of uncovering a long-forgotten student tradition. Her article and some of the photographs she discovered are available here.
By Jennifer Tato
Researching in the archives. That phrase made me really anxious and hesitant to begin a research project in the Penn State Library. Whenever I heard the word research, I would shudder and think of someone working on pages upon pages about a boring subject. The moment I stepped into the archives I could not think of what was so boring about it after all. The archives have everything! It was in that moment that I got excited to begin my work. I did not know what I was going to be researching at the time, but I knew it was going to be an adventure. I think it was when my English teacher, Laura Brown, proposed Gentle Thursdays as a potential research project to me--that's when I dove full throttle into research at the archives. I spent a lot of time in there uncovering the history behind Gentle Thursdays, which was considered as a "day of sharing" amidst the 1970s anti-war sentiments. This event was a well-known and celebrated student tradition; it brought together everyone in State College by simply caring and giving. The reason it really captured my attention was because, during a time of violence and hopelessness, the student body and community came together to share and to create a peace-oriented, accepting environment. I knew instantly I wanted to propose to bring this tradition back for my project, the only problem was that Gentle Thursdays was canceled in the early 1980s because of substance abuse. Therefore, I knew bringing this student tradition back would mean having to reform the event.
Piecing together all of this information about Gentle Thursdays was the best part of my experience. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and I was the one that needed to make sense of it.
The puzzle pieces were the boxes of pictures handed to me at the archives. I wore blue rubber gloves so as not to damage these delicate old photographs. Other pieces were newspaper clippings of the event and little weekly booklets from the 1970s that gave information about events and courses that were happening on campus. These were all the resources available to me in the archives, along with the archivists, who proved to be my heroes when it came to finding more information on participators at the events. Overall I would have to say that my all time favorite and most memorable part of this research project was getting in contact with Dr. Thomas Benson. He is a Penn State scholar and Professor of Rhetoric, or as I know him, the famous Gentle Thursdays still-life photographer. I had an interview with him about my project, and he was so helpful and ended up giving me the contact information of one of the three student founders of Gentle Thursdays, Jon Lange. I was able to interview him as well over the phone, and I was simply ecstatic. These two people and the archivists gave me all the resources I needed to make my research project a success. I would highly recommend the archives to anyone who is interested in a specific topic, the archivists are more than helpful, and in the end you could stumble upon a piece of history that no one has ever uncovered before!