At the beginning of the 19th century, the absence of international regulations meant merchant mariners frequently experienced mistreatment, ranging from unfair wages to abuse on board. If not for the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), which helped to pass important legislation for seafarers’ rights, the boom of international shipping might have entirely trampled the human factor of shipping. Fittingly, SCI has signed an agreement with a leading repository for human rights archival collections, the Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives, to house the archives of one of the nation’s leading promoters of the rights of merchant mariners.
Effective September 2011, an agreement sends SCI’s archives to the academic library of Queens College’s Flushing campus, where they will benefit from collaborative initiatives and improved exposure to researchers and students. The Queens College Civil Rights Collections have attracted international attention, recently featured in a New York Times “City Room” article. SCI’s archives represent a new, major collection for Queens College.
SCI’s archives document 178 years of the Institute’s work providing pastoral and professional assistance to seafarers in the Port of New York. The collection details the development of maritime workers’ rights from the 19th century to the waterfront labor and political tensions of the 1930s and 1950s. “At its heart,” said SCI Associate Archivist Johnathan Thayer, “this collection represents the voices and perspectives of the working seafarer in New York.”
SCI continues to process records of the Institute, a collection consisting of more than 200 linear feet of paper documents, photographs, artifacts and publications collected over SCI’s history. Highlight items include 19th century journals from the chaplains of SCI’s three floating chapels, letters from long-time SCI Board member Franklin D. Roosevelt and a photograph collection dating back to the late 1800s.