Frost finds home in Eau Claire

Extensive Robert Frost collection donated; collection to be housed in university archives


Joan Schmidt reads Robert Frost work that she donated to UW-Eau Claire. The Robert Frost collection at McIntyre Library is open to UW-eau Claire staff, faculty, students and the community. © 2014 Emily Albrent.

Poet Robert Frost recently made his mark on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

Last week, a large, rare collection of Frost’s work including manuscripts, poems written by Frost, Christmas cards as well as books about the poet himself were donated to the university. The materials have found a home in the McIntyre Library’s special collections and archives department.

Eau Claire acquired this collection by the donation of Joan Schmidt, whose husband, Frederick Schmidt, studied Frost’s work and also was a “dear friend” of Frost’s.

Joan Schmidt said her husband was a lover of nature and books and spent much of his time at the library.

“One day the librarian said, ‘Fritz there is somebody I would like you to meet up in my study,’ and there sitting in a rocking chair facing the other way was Robert Frost,” Joan Schmidt said.

The friendship started from there  and soon grew. When Frederick Schmidt came back from fighting in the war, Frost had a surprise for him.  Frost wrote a poem about him and his troubles in the war called “One Step Backward Taken.”

Joan Schmidt said she loves Frost’s poetry for his simplicity.

“I always had trouble in school when teachers dissected the reading, and some people follow a different drummer, some people don’t see it that way,” she said.

Greg Kocken, head of McIntyre Library’s special collections and archives department said he wanted to make sure the Frost collection would be beneficial to the student body. He said the overall consensus was the collection would not only add to the education of students, but to the university as a whole.

“It really is a wonderful collection, it is one of our gems,” Kocken said. “It raises the profile of the library and also helps instructors to think a little more critically of the library resources.”

He said it puts Eau Claire on the map for researchers and since announcing the collection, three Robert Frost scholars as well as the granddaughter of Frost himself have contacted him. Kocken said the materials are open for anyone to view, not just scholars.

“Everything within the special collection and archives department in the library is open to the public,” Kocken said. “That includes students, staff, faculty and even members of the Eau Claire community.”

He said many English instructors are planning on using the Frost collection in their classes.

Max Garland, English professor at Eau Claire and 2013-2014 Wisconsin poet laureate said this collection would add a lot to the university.

He said outside of the east coast at places like Dartmouth College (N.H.), Eau Claire has the biggest collection of these kinds of Frost manuscripts.

“To me it’s so easy to access poetry online, but to me it humanizes it to actually hold the book that he held, it makes it seem more real,” Garland said.

He said he will be using the collection in some of his classes and wants to stress to students that not only was Frost a poet, but a public figure. Frost was someone you could rely on to talk about war and peace.

The collection would benefit any university, but Joan Schmidt said she originally did not want to give the collection away.  She said there were some strings attached. She said the promise was the university would work to have a Frost day every year focusing on “Fritz, Frost and nature.”

She said the excellent condition in which the books in the archives are kept also was a factor of why she wanted to place Frost’s collection in Eau Claire’s care. The books are kept in a temperature and humidity controlled room, which not many universities have.

But even then, she said it was hard to let go.

“When I was signing my name, I can’t even talk about it still without welling up, it was just as if Fritz and Frost were walking away for the last time,” Joan Schmidt said. “But I knew of any place, this university is the best home.”