In 1957, the Kansas University Library purchased a second-edition translation of John Barclay’s “Argenis” that was printed in London in 1636.
Shortly thereafter, a young student named Ann Hyde — along with a visiting professor, Bertram Colgrave, and the special collections cataloguer, Alexandra Mason, who would become Hyde’s lifelong friend — discovered and deciphered leaves from two different 11th century Old English manuscripts that were used as padding in the 17th century book’s binding.
Hyde and Colgrave published an article on their discovery in the journal Speculum in 1962 — one of the earliest of Hyde’s many contributions to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library over the course of more than 40 years of involvement.
“Here she is, this bright undergrad who was paired up with this Anglo-Saxon scholar,” said Hyde’s friend and former colleague, Bill Mitchell, who worked as associate special collections librarian at the Spencer Research Library. “She was extremely bright.”
Hyde retired from a long career as manuscripts librarian in 2000 and died June 19, 2014, but her contributions to the library continue. Thursday the library will announce a gift of $655,000 from her estate.
And according to Douglas County court records, Hyde made significant donations to nine other organizations. Locally, those include the Kansas Advocates for Better Care, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association, Douglas County Red Cross, and the Douglas County United Way. She also left donations for the Great Neck Public Library in Great Neck, N.Y.; the public library of Greenfield, Mass.; the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School Library in Amherst, Mass.; and the Royal Air Force Museum in London.
Mitchell said he was not surprised by Hyde’s generosity.
“She was glad to share with anyone who was receptive,” he said, referring to Hyde’s wealth of knowledge. “What she knew about Medieval manuscripts — well, I’m not smart enough to even know what she knew about Medieval manuscripts.”
In her day-to-day work at the library, Hyde catalogued manuscripts and wrote “extraordinarily complete and thoughtful and useful” records of what they were, Mitchell said. She also assisted people who were interested in using them, which wasn’t as simple as just deciphering what they said.
“These things are in different languages, languages that aren’t spoken anymore, and unknown kinds of scripts — she could figure them out,” he said. “She just had a knack. I watched her with students, helping them see what she saw in these illegible squiggles, and she could get through to them.”
This work is what Mitchell said was Hyde’s true gift to the world.
“(Hyde’s donation) is generous, but it’s nothing at all like the gift she gave the scholarly world when she was a manuscripts librarian at work,” he said.
Beth Whittaker, now assistant dean for distinctive collections and director of the Spencer Research Library, started working as a student assistant at the library while simultaneously working on a major research project in the early 1990s. Hyde helped her to jump-start her project with a deeply researched background and description of a mid-15th century document.
“I wasn’t starting from scratch; I was building on the work that she had done,” Whittaker said. “I thanked her in the acknowledgements because there was no way I would have been able to do the amount of work I did on that document without the real foundation that she laid.”
Whittaker said Hyde would become very animated when she had the opportunity to share her knowledge.
“I think she was always grateful for a chance to find someone who was interested in what she had to say, and she would just kind of light up,” she said. “I saw that many, many times, and it was really inspiring — and it comes through in a lot of the work that she left behind.”
Whittaker said Hyde and Mason had a huge impact on the library during their lifetimes. Additionally, “Sandy” Mason left a $1 million estate gift for KU Endowment to establish the Ann Hyde Fellowship for Medieval and Early Modern British and European Manuscripts.
“They did so much work, and much of it so quietly and not in a way that would draw attention to themselves,” she said. “They built an outstanding library. Between the two of them making gifts to continue that work, it’s like they’re helping us carry forward into the future and they’re continuing to care about the library and the collections and the work that we do even after they’re gone.”