LA CROSSE, Wis.— Three women are preserving first-hand accounts of how the pandemic altered countless lives. A student, professor, and archivist at UW-La Crosse have made it their mission to ensure this past year is forever documented.
It began with Professor Kate Errthum, who taught her English class virtually last year.
“I thought as long as I can get them engaged and writing,” she said. “I was happy they were writing.”
In the spring semester of 2020, Errthum assigned her students to write in a journal, documenting what the pandemic was like for them.
“This student, his dad picked up from an airport in Thailand and he made him strip down in the front yard and hosed him off,” Errthum said, as she read one student’s journal entry.
Errthum and UWL Murphy Library archivist, Laura Godden, came together to archive the students’ journal entries.
“Archives preserve the records that historians use in the future,” Godden said.
Then, UWL graduate Elisabeth Primrose came onboard.
Primrose worked as a student archivist her senior year, working closely with Godden. Not knowing she and Errthum had already begun the process, Primrose proposed a project that would preserve the COVID-19 experience from the first-hand perspectives of the UWL community.
“The idea came to me after learning about a lot of other archives across the nation, doing very similar project,” Primrose said.
Momentous moments in history often go undocumented. These three women worked together, to make sure that wouldn’t happen this time.
“When this pandemic first started, people were very interested in the Spanish Flu and how people dealt with that situation,” Godden said. “When I started looking through the records here at UWL, I didn’t find very much.”
The women have been collecting photos as well. One powerful image shows the word “help” written on a campus dormitory window.
“A student wrote it in sticky notes, or something,” Primrose said. “We assume this is the quarantine dormitory, where students would have to isolate if they had COVID.”
The goal is for this personal information to be valuable to future researchers, much like the World War II recollections from UWL students that were written 75 years ago.
The UWL COVID-19 Archiving Project is still taking place.
To send in an entry, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.