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Jan. 31, 2022

Who was Carol Lane?

In fall 1947 the Shell Oil Company hired a Women’s Travel Director named Carol Lane, who served in the role until she retired in 1974. Lane’s job was to encourage women to travel, showing them the joys of touring the country by car. Lane herself traveled around the United States and Canada, speaking to women’s clubs and on radio and TV, giving travel tips and packing demonstrations. Eventually, she even awarded women who developed local travel safety programs with the Carol Lane Award.

So who was Carol Lane? To learn the answer to that question, I’m joined on this episode by historian Melissa Dollman, author of the digital dissertation, Changing Lanes: A Reanimation of Shell Oil’s Carol Lane, which was the source I consulted in writing the introduction to this episode.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The image is from the booklet Carol Lane’s Dress-O-Graph, from 1953, which is in the public domain.




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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. 

Today, we're discussing the story of Carol Lane. In Fall, 1947, the Shell Oil Company hired a Women's Travel Director named Carol Lane, who served in the role until she retired in 1974. Lane's job was to encourage women to travel, showing them the joys of touring the country by car. Lane herself traveled around the United States and Canada, speaking to women's clubs and on radio and TV, giving travel tips and packing demonstrations. Eventually, she even awarded women who developed local travel safety programs with the Carol Lane Award. So who was Carol Lane? Well, to start she was from New York, and California, and Texas, and Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, Virginia, Missouri, and Quebec. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison, the University of Kansas, Stanford University, the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City, the College of William and Mary, the University of California, Los Angeles, McGill University, the University of Toronto, Marjorie Webster Junior College, and the University of Missouri. Okay, what's going on here? Carol Lane was not a real person. She was instead a character, a living trademark, developed by Shell Oil, like the more well known living trademarks of Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker. The character of Carol Lane was played by many different women over the nearly three decades of the program, and each woman who played Carol Lane incorporated pieces of her own biography into the backstory. The first woman to portray Carol Lane was Caroline Iverson, who later went by Caroline Iverson Ackerman after she was married. Iverson had initially been hired by Shell to develop a public relations campaign focused on women. Soon after she was hired, Iverson started to take on a more public facing role shifting into some of the work that Claire Hoffman had previously been doing with the Shell Travel Service. By spring of 1948, Iverson was touring as Carol Lane and the initial corporate biography for Lane was in fact, Iverson's biography. Lane, like Iverson, was said to be the first woman to make a round trip to Alaska in a two seater plane, and the first to fly a small airplane over the mountains into Mexico City. In this iteration, Lane had earned a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin, and had been a former aviation editor of a well known magazine. As the program grew in popularity, and Lane was in high demand, another Carol Lane performer was hired. And then, when Iverson stopped touring upon her marriage, she was replaced. At this point, there were two Carol Lanes, one played by Elizabeth Baker on the East Coast, and one played by Bea Carpenter on the West Coast. Carol Lane's biography morphed with each new performer, to reflect their backgrounds and skill sets. Over time, as Carol Lane performers married or took other jobs, many more women were hired to play Carol Lane, in both United States and Canada, even more performed on the radio as Carol Lane.

Each new Carol Lane also claimed the past accomplishments of the previous Lanes, for instance, claiming they had traveled 50,000 miles in the previous year despite being new to the job. Each individual Carol Lane was claiming credit for the collective actions not just of all the Carol Lane performers but also of the support staff and managers of the program. For the most part, the Carol Lanes stuck to the name and persona, even when speaking with journalists.There were instances where their real names were revealed, such as when they came as Carol Lane to their own hometowns to speak. When Irma Cunha  returned to her hometown of Honolulu as Carol Lane in 1951, the newspaper reported, "When she first wrote this astonishing news to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Cunha of Kaneohe Bay Drive, they thought she was changing her name, and were relieved to find it was merely an alias inherited with her job." In addition to speaking engagements, the Carol Lanes, with their assistants, also wrote newspaper columns, and a number of booklets, including "Touring Can Be Child's Play" in 1950, "Carol Lane's Vacation Dress-o-Graph" in 1953, "Let's Go Camping" in 1960, and "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing Under the Hood of Your Car," or "Please Lady, I'd Rather Do It Myself," in 1970. In "Carol Lane's Vacation Dress-o-Graph," she gave such advice as, "Think of costumes rather than clothes when planning your vacation wardrobe. To achieve budget wise chic, choose new articles that coordinate in color, cut, and fabric with the clothes you already have."  The Carol Lanes also appeared as guests on local radio and TV when they came into a town to present. There were as many as five films produced for rent. Among these are "How to Pack a Bag" from 1954 or 1955, and "Traveling with Children" in 1955. The Carol Lane Project ended without fanfare, in 1974. Although there never was a press release or formal explanation of the end, it appears that the program may have been disbanded because of the oil embargo, In response to OPEC. Shell may have considered driving around the country and encouraging car travel to be bad optics in the midst of a crisis. Whatever the reason, Shell did not resurrect Carol Lane, and by 1996, the living trademarked died. Historian Dr. Melissa Dollman created a digital dissertation called "Changing Lanes: A Reanimation of Shell Oil's Carol Lane," in which she researched the living trademark of Carol Lane and identified at least 24 separate Carol Lanes. It is "Changing Lanes" that is the source material for this introduction. To help us understand more about Carol Lane, I'm speaking now with Melissa Dollman. Hi, Melissa, thank you so much for joining me.

Melissa Dollman  8:03  
Thank you for having me. I'm excited. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  8:05  
Yeah, and thank you for introducing me to this living trademark, Carol Lane, that I had never heard of before. Super fascinating story. So tell me how you first learned about, found out about Carol Lane and started thinking about this as a project.

Melissa Dollman  8:20  
It's it started a long time ago in these ways in these terms of writing a dissertation. It  actually predated that and I was working at the Schlesinger Library, which is at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and we had the papers of Caroline Iverson Ackerman who is the person who developed the character for Shell Oil. She had been hired by them as a PR representative to help with the the Shell Touring Service. And so we have her papers, and I was familiar with her and we had done an exhibit and I had shown her her films, from a film series we were doing. So I was familiar with Caroline Iverson Ackerman as Carol Lane. And then I remember that my friend Skip Elsheimer, who is the owner operator of AV Geeks in North Carolina; he's a film collector, has over 25,000 films, has sponsored films and such as "How to Pack a Suitcase." So I was familiar with that film. But what I became aware of is the Carol Lane that was in our collection at Schlesinger was sort of 1940s looking. She was brunette. She went on film, she fidgeted with her hands, you know, she had a very sort of Wisconsin accent, which is very, very different and what Skip had in his collection in "How to Pack a Bag, How to Pack a Suitcase" was a blonde 1950s Carol Lane and who was sort of coiffed and you know, coiffed in that kind of way, in 1950s. And so she had a different demeanor, just just a different woman. So I got very, very concerned about this, and I wrote to him, and I said, "So I've discovered a different Carol Lane," and that sort of led me down a research path where I started looking and I was finding, I found a couple more. And then I found eight. And then eventually, this turned into a dissertation project, and I found over 24 Carol Lanes through six, eight years of digging.

Kelly Therese Pollock  10:14  
And it takes digging, right because I, as I think you mentioned at some point in the dissertation, you know, the Shell Oil has a closed archive. It's not like you can go dig through their archive and see what's going on. So you've got these papers for Caroline Ackerman Iverson, you know, what, what are the other kinds of sources of materials, you have tons of different kinds of materials that that you were looking at? And how did you find them? 

Melissa Dollman  10:36  
Well, the first couple of Carol Lanes, besides Iverson, there was a sort of just one, there was a headshot in her papers, and it just said, "West Coast Carol Lane," but no name, nothing else attached. And so that was sort of the second that I found. That was in her papers. So when I first started researching, this was before went online. And I kind of was going back through through the timeline. And I was like, "Geez, that's really where it took off." Because once they went online, I started I started researching there. And just kind of seeing, like, how popular was this? How pervasive, how widespread was this campaign, this program, and so that, suddenly, like some years ago, that was I suddenly found 3,500 articles of mentioning her in different ways. And then digging through there and culling the Internet and there and doing that research, I started finding all the different faces. And then I started digging through and other kinds of resources. And so as I started kind of, triangulating information and putting, finding when someone would admit their name in public to to a journalist, I would say, "Right on Okay, and now I can start looking at who you are." And then one, Carol Lane was being interviewed in San Francisco in the San Francisco Chronicle, and she mentioned dropping into town to to to do her work, but also to see her friend, Sherry Baker. And I thought, that's interesting. So like a Sherry Baker. I'm like, "Yes, I found another one." So I really was just, you know, really just digging, digging, going down these rabbit holes, and one of them turned out I had two Carol Lanes and I looked at, I found a name that was that it corresponded to the time that I figured out this woman had been anyway, I. And then there was an author, actually a senior editor at New York Times. And I wrote to him, because he had the same last name as one of them. I said, "Listen, are one of these two women, are you related to one of these women?" and he's like, "I am, the woman on the left." So then he was able to tell me more about her. So really ended up just being rabbit hole after rabbit hole after rabbit hole for a good decade.

Kelly Therese Pollock  12:45  
And even with all of that, and with everything that is now digitized, and Google Image Search and everything else, there are still a few that you haven't identified, right?

Melissa Dollman  12:54  
That's right there, the Canadian ones have actually been particularly difficult, even though I have been in communication with they have sort of alumni, so to speak, associations, ex employees, who would have been around I think that's what they call them actually, had been around during the same time. And I corresponded with sort of one of their, you know, heads of their organizations. And he said, "I'll pass it around." Nobody recognized her. The two, the few that I hadn't read, sme of them, I found some of the later ones I was able to the cat came out, you know, was out of the bag, and I was able to find out what her name was. So I was able to discover, so there were a couple of them went to college, and you know, where they'd worked beforehand. But it was really just when they were in the Canadians were particularly tight lipped about letting the cat out of the bag. So I think that helped to explain that. But some of the other ones, I have, like their wedding announcement, and I can find and her obituary, so that's unfortunately, you know, these, these bookends of marriage that and same with one of the radio ones. And I'm keep trying. So actually, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you as is that the next phase of this project is to do outreach, continue to do the outreach. The part of this, this project that's missing is the audience response, you know, actually finding people who encountered her and remember her, I'm hoping that the more people kind of hear about this, then some of them will kind of come out of the woodwork and say that was my mom, or that was me, a couple of them are still alive. So and despite my best efforts to find them, it's been tough. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  14:28  
Yeah. So I'll definitely, when this goes up, put, you have a link on the digital dissertation that we will talk about, that's like a request for help. And so I'll put that link if people want and can find those. So yeah, that'd be great. So let's talk about this concept of a living trademark, and Shell wasn't the first to use it. But what's kind of the purpose of the living trademark? Is it usually multiple people playing the role? Like what what is is going on here?

Melissa Dollman  14:58  
In some cases a living trademark is actually just a company patenting a person's real name. In a really famous case, for instance, Philip Morris discovered a bellboy in New York City and one of their advertising people heard this little boy of small, a grown man, but of small stature, and they heard his voice. And they really thought that really effective means to so they loved his voice. When he put his voice on radio, they thought he was cute. They thought that he would be really and thought they might attract children. He was a very interesting character, and his name was actually Johnny. And so they took him, they took his whole character. And they put they made his character, little Johnny Philip Morris. And so in some cases, they would take a real character, and they would make that epitomize, they would think they put that character out there, as representative of, you know, what the company wanted people to think about them as being his voice was catchy. But in the case of Johnny Philip Morris, eventually the work became too hard for one person to handle. And so they started hiring other young men of similar stature, he was only about four feet tall, and they would dress them up as bellboys. And they would send them out to other parts of the country to do to cover you know, other geographical areas because it became too much. That's the same thing with Carol Lane, same thing with Betty Crocker. It's the same thing with Aunt Jemima is really the work became too much for one person to handle. And so while the company was able to say for instance, about Carol Lane, she was able to handle driving, you know, 40 to 70,000 miles a year. She wrote all these articles. She was able to write these books and visit all these locations. Wasn't she amazing? Does it isn't she representative of how amazing we are as a company? Aren't we amazing for for supporting, for creating such a high profile job for a woman? That's very much the case for Betty Crocker. You know, also, is that our aren't we amazing? Aren't we special? And but also what it did is it then hid the fact that several people had the responsibility, had the had to split this labor that is attributed to one woman, one living trademark or one, you know, bellboy, you know, Johnnie Philip Morris, is that it hid the fact these people were having to split the job, had to split the duty because it was too much for one person. But as a living trademark, it also again, they epitomized the company's ethics, kind of things they supported. Or they just thought they were cute. There was that too.

Kelly Therese Pollock  17:44  
So in the case of like Aunt Jemima, it's the picture right on the packaging of syrup like that is directly what is being sold with the Aunt Jemima image. What is being sold with the Carol Lane image? Because they're not like putting her picture up on their gas station pumps or something. So what is the goal here for Shell Oil?

Melissa Dollman  18:03  
Right? Indeed, her her face was they was not included. I mean, as they have an illustration of her sometimes inside, like a particular one who was really active at the time, sometimes illustrations of her would be in the back of the booklet. But eventually, they're really kind of, they really focus more on a hypothetical, like a cartoon version that didn't resemble any of them sort of she was sort of blonde is sort of maybe that 1950s, 1960s, blonde version of her. So her role, again, was to sort of elevate Shell Oil's reputation, because it was the first in her case, it was the first oil company to reach out to women as a demographic as a marketing demographic in the country, the first oil company to do that. And so she was sort of the, the, the in between, she was the center of this two way, this idealized kind of two way communication between Shell and their intended audiences. And again, she was meant to go into I mean, she would go all the way she wasn't just like New York and Boston, like she would go to Des Moines. She would go to these, these really tiny little communities. And when she would go to these communities, like she was less of a big deal in Los Angeles just because there was plenty of things to do. In Los Angeles, there just are plenty of ways for a women's club who was their major, their their main demographic that they particularly and we can go into that later. But there was plenty of things for and people and events for women's clubs to book you know, to they didn't need Carol Lane. But in some of these smaller towns, she was a big deal. She was a she was a coup for them to have this kind of person coming from New York City or from Los Angeles, talent in a way to come and to these communities and talk to them about famously how to pack a suitcase. She was she would demonstrate how to do that. And also talk about budgeting And I was just kind of encouraging wanderlust. And also tapping into what these women were already doing, the skill sets they already had.

They already knew how to budget. They knew how to, they had done a lot of also market research that women were already planning a lot of the vacations anyway for their families. And she was there to sort of help them with the budgeting sort of, or, you know, if you're going to a town and you're pulling up to a hotel, this is a way to kind of survey the motel or the auto court, to see if it's safe for you alone, traveling alone if you happen to be traveling alone, or are with your family. So she was all kinds of full of all kinds of tidbits that she would both impart to them as she would come through their town, and also, as she reported, I do think this was true, especially in the beginning. Also, it was about her collecting tips, because when she went when the campaign first started, the program was started, the first few Carol Lanes were not well, the first Carol Lane or Caroline Iverson was a world traveler, but they couldn't expect every successive Carol Lane to have that, that knowledge. And so part of what she would do is gather travel tips from the communities, especially because they had I haven't really said this, but they split the country down the middle, and another one did Canada. And so they would specialize. They would specialize doing, you know, East Coast versus West Coast, snowy climates versus beach climates, older folks versus urbanites. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  21:33  
Did Shell Oil have any kind of, I don't know, metrics or anything to figure out if this was working, how it was working? You know, they, given the the resources that they put into this, they must have thought that this was a campaign that was worthwhile, but did they have any way of measuring that?

Melissa Dollman  21:48  
Boy would I like to know! That was one of the, that was one of that's one of the heart, you know, heartbreaking aspects of, of not really having access to their corporate archives, not for trying, and they have been really lovely, when I have correspond with them with with supplying a few bits of information. One was particularly good, which was a speech that one of their PR managers had given. That was particularly useful. But I don't know. And what I know was what they tried to do, which was they did, they surveyed, the Shell's, Touring Service surveyed women. Prior to that are in collaboration with J. Walter Thompson did it you know, they helped to do that, for them, survey women drivers and such. And so that I see what they tried to do. I don't get to, I never got to see why they can't because it's one of the longest campaigns of its type that I've been able to discover. Like there's on my on my site, I have a graph where it shows both sort of, you know, length of time, it rivals a couple of not like Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima that went on and on. But as far as like, people that have served similar ilk, other living trademarks, she had just quadruple, you know, the amount of coverage, newspaper coverage and television coverage and magazine coverage, than the next person down from her as far as quantitatively. And so it must have worked because they kept doing it until 1974. They kept at it. I mean, it starts to wane a little bit, you know, in the late 60s, early 70s. She doesn't, you know, she doesn't go, you don't see as many in person events, as you did during the kind of heyday, which was the 1950s and early 60s. But she's still out there. You know, there's still a couple of them splitting the country and talking to women. So I would love to know. Well, all you find is in the early earliest days in Caroline Iverson Ackerman's papers, she does have some statistics statistics about how many people that she reached, how many magazine articles they did, were able to get the campaign into little pieces on Carol Lane. There was some statistics in there. And they were doing a great job at that. I have no more information after her personal papers, so through 1950.

Kelly Therese Pollock  24:12  
Who were the kind of women that they were targeting with this campaign?  What was the audience?

Melissa Dollman  24:18  
Caroline Everson, particularly advocated for their reaching out to women's clubs. That was their main objective from from the get go. They were fish in a barrel, essentially, she said. You know, there, she was like, they're highly organized. There are hundreds of, you know, millions of women organized into clubs all around the country, be it professional, you know, Federation of Women's Clubs, professional organizations, church groups, you know, PTA, all these different groups, you know, sometimes. Sometimes, not really, but there were also advertising clubs and while it's difficult to ascertain whether there were any women invited to those talks, you know. She also would reach out to some men. And those that was one of the ways she would reach out to men. But really it was women's clubs were the main objective. And also the early especially the early Carol Lanes were also members of women's clubs themselves. And there was this really short lived journal, early on, I guess you'd call a journal or just a trade magazine called "Agenda." And it was and she became familiar with that, because I think she was friendly with Printers, Inc, which was a company that literally prints people's materials, but also they would track PR and advertising campaigns in the industry. And so I knew she knew one of them. And it was his wife who started "Agenda" and it was specifically aimed at women's clubs' event planners, like program planners. It's just like, in through she goes amazingly, she's like Westinghouse, you know, 20th Century Fox, like all these companies are getting in and they're getting to these women through putting educational materials in here, or like how to walk them through hosting a screening, you know, how to kind of run a book club, this, which is a great, this is a this is it, this is the fish in a barrel. These are the women who we can get and you know, in large groups, and so even early on, in order for you to book Carol Lane, she would say early on, and this is kind of maintained, to be the case, throughout most of the programs, you had to have at least 100 people in order for her to come to your event. And so what you discover, sometimes a club would have that many people just you know, handy in their club anyway. But a lot of times what you'd see what was fascinating for me is in these smaller communities I was talking about, she would kind of come through a small town, and I would discover that she was coming to town in newspapers that don't exist anymore. I mean, that was also a fun byproduct, this thing how many newspapers didn't exist anymore. But what we see in those in those is announcements she was coming is that first you would see the announcement that was going to happen. And then you would see another announcement a couple of weeks later, like oh, you're not you don't your town can't accommodate this club doesn't have enough people. So then they started opening it up to women in the PTA, other groups, you know, like that it was certainly be like every woman in town was, you know, you know, supporting every group in town and everybody was coming together to support the so they could get the numbers to have this interesting, you know, semi celebrity comes to their town. But yeah, women's clubs was really the the main objective there is to reach out to them, get them excited. Also, they had they had good works they were doing. They were the ones who were participating in highway beautification campaigns and traffic safety. People were obsessed with traffic safety in the in the early 50s. And so even then, even to more attract them from from really I think starting in '52, was it, they started the Carol Lane Award for Traffic Safety. So that too, was the she would they would announce this. And it would be like in the society pages or the women's pages of the newspapers where they assumed women, that's where women's clubs would be advertising their events and their calendars. And in those same pages, that's where you would see this announcement to say, "Hey, and here's an award, you can get a $500 bond," or, you know, eventually more than that, or 250 and get a certificate and get this amazing bronze statue. And I actually have one of those bronze statues that was given out to someone. And so that was another way to connect, because they were already doing these kinds of good works. And she was like, "Why not award them as well?" And also, then then they become fans of Shell, they become patrons. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  28:45  
So all of the Carol Lanes are white. Were the audience, were these women's clubs, mostly also white as well?

Melissa Dollman  28:52  
That was one of the things that I wanted to really investigate here was what sort of audiences, because there's the assumption that because, you know, it doesn't take very long to sort of get into conversation about, you know, women or, you know, households moving to the suburbs, and women are doing more driving and, you know, over the course of the 50s, the 70s you know, the ratio of men to women drivers becomes like 60/40 and then they you know, increasingly after that. So, you know, conversations can kind of get, you know, bogged down in that sort of backup, not bogged down, you know, like concentrated in that part of the  conversation. And so as I started researching that and sort of trying to punch holes into the supposition that of course they're all white, of course they're all white suburban women can move to the country or the suburbs and have cars and are doing more driving and all that's true. But what I was finding was that any the very, very, very few people who've written about Carol Lane, usually in passing, a paragraph here or a sentence there, kind of just talk about her talk about her audiences in the sort of general terms or as readers you know of her booklets. So what I did is I saw the newspapers in, they do have, they do include in New York Age and Black owned newspapers. And so I would do a concentrated search in there. And what I would find is very little, but she would, they would put the advertisements for the call for proposals for the Carol Lane Award. You would see some of that in the kind of women's or travel sections of the Black owned newspapers. You would find some of her kind of PSAs about winter driving. They usually come in cartoon form, or some, you know, she did have this cartoon version of Carol Lane as well, as I mentioned, but also a kind of cartoon PSA campaigns. And you would find them in there. But when I mapped out all of the locations where she went, and what I did was I mapped out sort of where, you know, at least a third of all of the newspaper articles that I found are mapped out. So where did she visit? And also where did Shell focus on newspaper campaigns in a particular area? And so that, of course, and then through that, I would look at some of the census track information about cities where she went. And then like, you know, you can even get down to street level. But what I did to compare and try to tease out more that also is I, I mapped the Green Book, the Negro Travelers, you know, Green Book, I had mapped those out from 1947, which is the year the campaign started and another year 56, I think it was, and so what I was able to do was overlap, wherever the locations where Blacks and other people of color were welcome to stay, and how close sort of on that street or neighborhood level did it come to? Did it match up with where she would visit with folks? And so to me, that was a way to sort of get at was she speaking in Black communities or communities that were the least open to and hospitable to, you know, travelers of color. And so what I was finding was not a lot. I also, she also advertised in this Navajo language newspaper, and like a monthly that was out in the 1950s. And that inspiring, so some of the cartoons about, you know, winter travel and kind of stuff, then, but no calls for women's groups in that. And what I discovered also was that she would kind of speak about Native American communities, but not really to them. She wouldn't visit sort of in the diaspora, even sort of locations around Indian lands, reservation, she wouldn't really get very close. She would just kind of like to go to Cherokee, North Carolina, and talk about how great and interesting Cherokee is including these, you know, cultural events you can go to, but she wasn't really talking to the people themselves. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:52  
So, I talked about this digital dissertation that you've done. So I have never seen a historian before do a digital dissertation. So this was new to me. And, and I wanted to talk sort of how you came up with this idea, and why you thought that this was the way to present this dissertation, and I suppose what a digital dissertation is, for people who don't know.

Melissa Dollman  33:14  
Sure, there's increasingly you know, I'm, you know, we're talking a still rather a miniscule percentage, but increasingly, throughout the country, and throughout the world, people are starting to to this is becoming a more acceptable and acceptable way to expose people, beyond your core committee, dissertation committee, to your ideas. And because because even if someone's interested, it may not occur to them that they could go into a university, your nearest university catalog and go and search through dissertations in the course catalog. You know, it's not, it's not known to necessarily thinks that way. Unless you're really, really interested in researching a topic. And so this is a way for it immediately to become kind of a public history project. It isn't sort of sequestered away in a monograph. Of course, now, all monographs are digital, again, so you can find them that way. But of course, in the old days, they were bound and put in a library and have to go find him that way. So again, increasingly, people are doing it this way. But what is one of the reasons, for instance, it was important to me is I used a form of research called prosopography. And it means that you are collocating data from all kinds of sources about a people. And what you need in order to really sort of juxtapose these disparate, disparate bits of information from different sources, is to put them in a relational database, which means a database that you can search, keyword search, and when you put different terms together, they will come together and you can see sort of like, oh, this person was traveling in this area during this period of time. And, or they were, you know, so there's all kinds of data you can bring together and that helps you sort of sort through and get at really under recognized under researched populations that kind of like Carol Lane, and the people who played her. And so I was going to need to show show the public a relational database anyway. And as I kept going and showing the maps, I was like, why, rather than just, you know, wanted interactive maps, I wanted this interactive census track tool. I wanted people to be able to look at the same exact evidence that I was looking at, so they could come to, they could question the assumptions that I came to, or conclusions that I came to. They could, you know, contact me and say, "I don't know about how to know about that, or isn't that interesting?" But also, it's an exhibition space. And so while prosopography requires that you create a database for everyone to look at, and sort of see if they come to the same conclusions, so does showing, displaying the evidence that you're relying on also alongside the argumentation. And that's always been of interest to me, because, you know, for instance, people will write, you know, books, cinema studies books about a certain genre. And they will, especially if it's an under represented genre, and they will often have a companion site, so that you can go and watch films, as your you know, before after you read this essay, I have always that was kind of like a segue, like an interesting way that people were going with that. And I thought, well, let's just take it further and take that a step further. And let's just put them let's put the evidence alongside the textual analysis so that people can again come to their own conclusions. But also, of course, even though much of the material much many of my examples are in the public domain, and I can freely add them, some of them are I use under fair use. And so in order to, to publish this, even through ProQuest, and stuff, they as rightly, are funny about whether you have rights to certain things, even though I've seen many people who are just throwing that idea aside, and I'm very much a proponent of fair use.

But I thought also, I want to just just jam images, and, you know, newspaper articles and videos and all the stuff I can find in here as evidence. And I want people to, you know, so to me, I was like, there's no question. This needs to be an exhibition space, it needs to be a space for me to show some of the more experimental argumentation I do through video, and have, you know, and allow people to look at the same tools. And so using ESRI, the platform that I did, which is known historically, it's for mapping, it's a it's a platform for mapping and doing other kinds of topographical analysis, that kind of stuff. And so I also thought that would be really fun idea, too, because Carol Lane disseminated travel guides, tabulated travel guides. I was like, "Wouldn't that be fun to use, ESRI, tabulated and platform story, story, map, story journaling kind of platform, which replicates at least sort of a little bit stylistically, the idea of a tabulated guide. And so once that occurred to me, I was like, "Yes, I think there's no question." So there are challenges that I didn't face a lot of pushback in my committee. Everyone was sort of on board. It's certainly being done now more often. So I was able to supply best practices that Duke University and other universities have formulated. So you can give that to your committee and say, "This is being done. And also here is that best practices, I'm abiding by best practice, best book, but best practices for the reviewers and for the creators, you know, what you should expect to see when you encounter a properly made digital dissertation."

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:58  
So how do you know then kind of when you're done, you know, like, if you're writing a dissertation, you know, like, it's gonna have these five chapters and okay, I've drafted this chapter, and I'm done. You know, it feels like something like this, because it's such a, I mean, it's a massive project in its a hugely detailed, beautiful, I should add website. So you know, how do you how do you sort of get to the point where you go, "Okay, I've added all the things I'm going to add, and I've made the arguments I'm going to make," like, it's just sort of a different structure than I think people who are usually writing dissertations think about.

Melissa Dollman  39:30  
I mean, when your chair tells you to stop. Generally speaking, I mean, just today I was I went in and tinkered a little bit, even today in anticipation of, you know, then the fun part, of course, is that as anyone who has who has submitted the final dissertation and it has already made its way to ProQuest and you can already or you know, you maybe you've made a hard copy to give to your mom and there still are dropped commas, you know, there are still things that nobody caught, you know. And so the fun part about this is that I can catch those little things now, and I can go in and make those little changes. But also, I mean, my chair said, "You're done when you're done. You know, when you have you felt like you have said, what you need to say at this point." Before you go on, for instance, my continual, you know, research in this project, but also my continuing research on living trademarks generally, which is still an area I'm still thinking about, and still tripped out about them, and still kind of contemplating, like, how they were, how they were considered by the public and all of those questions. Now I can kind of stop and say, "This is what I know right now, I'm gonna move on." I'm gonna tell you if this is going to everything I didn't know about it right until this point. And even sort of this was interesting that I don't know, a couple months, maybe after I was finished with this has been submitted and accepted. And I was waiting for my graduation date to arrive, and a person got a hold of me. And he said, "You know, I'm in one of those films, I came across, he goes, I randomly researched the title, of this film, I found it on your website." He's like, "I'm the little boy in that film." And so that was another, you know, reason, so I'm so that section, I actually need to still flesh out that little section, again, with his additional details. He was able to identify the location, and the name of the adults and that the other child was his sister. And that if you look in the background, this shot my mom's back there, because she pulled us out of school that day to, to go do this shot the shoot for Shell. And so it'll never be done done, you know, because I'm going to continue to research and do outreach to potential audiences who received her and ready to catch her. And so it'll never be done. But I had to be done enough to have them all look at it and sign off as of July 31 of last year.

Kelly Therese Pollock  42:02  
So we could probably keep talking for hours. But people should just go look at the website because it is out there. And they can go look at it and look through all of it. But are there things that you wanted to make sure we talked about that we haven't touched on yet?

Melissa Dollman  42:15  
I would really like if people were to actually go to the it's called "The Carol Lanes" tab. And really look at the mini biographies that I wrote for every Lane that I was able to identify. And even when you go over to the "Who Was Carol Lane" tab, and you see some of the other living trademarks that I was able to do, you know, like, with the time constraints that I had, do a little bit of a, you know, a medium deep dive into the various Mary Gordons who played who was a fiction, or is a fictional living trademark for  Trans World Airlines, and, and parse through all of the different Aunt Jemima performers who were out there and who have been sometimes misidentified and such you know, and get them sort of in one place. And other I just sort of going I started finding all these different living trademarks and doing little mini mini biographies. But really the deep dives into the Carol Lanes and all of their, all of their interests, all of what they all have their personal professional experiences, special professional experiences, and how this seemed to be sort of a a stop in the middle of their professional careers. They stopped and played this character for a while and then went back to journalism or in one case, she went on to be the first weather girl and so to speak  in just one station in Texas, maybe even in Texas. I'm forgetting my own details now. But I really that I was inspired by Marilyn Kern-Foxworth with one of the earliest, I think the earliest investigations of all the Aunt Jemima performers. And so she came up in the 90s. And she really inspired me to incorporate these biographies, mini biographies of the different because this is about them, like I this is dedicated, in part to them, all the people who because it's not not a remembered program, you know. In fact, it just any kind of any reporting about this program just stops hard in 1974. And a couple years later, they interview Elizabeth Baker and I got to speak to her daughters about her  her professional career after that. After Carol Lane, there was a little blurb in like "Petroleum News" 1977 And the blurb was, "What Ever Happened to Carol Lane?" And it was like a paragraph really. And it was really more about Elizabeth Baker herself and what happened to her in her career. But she kind of, you know, sums it up sort of, you know, OPEC, energy crisis. And it just drops off and all you hear about Carol Lane after this is when she's mentioned her, well, obituaries. It was how I was able to identify her as a couple that mentioned her having worked for Shell in this capacity, showed up in an obituary. And people who received one of her awards, you know, that would have been significant enough for them to that have been mentioned in a woman's, you know, biographical sketch in her obituary. And then those blurbs you sometimes see in newspapers like "Twit, you know, what happened 25 years ago this week?"  Honest to God, some of those small towns Carol Lane coming through town 25 years ago was a big deal, big enough deal for them to remember it again. And so or at least for someone to say, "That's interesting. What the heck is this?" You know, and to include it today, because it's, again, not a remembered campaign. So, but to go back to your question, and really just look at those biographies, because that's maybe the part I'm most proud, about which I'm most proud because their professional and personal and educational experiences are what informed, what populated, Carol Lane's corporate biography that went out to newspapers. So when Carol Lane would come to your town, and it would say, a graduate of Ole Miss, or a graduate of, you know, University of Wisconsin Madison, they're not talking, I mean, that's Carol Lane gets to be all of those people. You know, okay, she gets to be everyone gets to incorporate all of those different Carol Lane performers, infuse their personal experiences into her corporate biography. And so if I didn't know about them, I couldn't suss through the corporate biography and figure out what part of this is BS. What part of this you know, what, where did they come up with this? When they go? It's because that was that woman's life, you know, this woman lived at the Barbizon or whatever, like, that becomes part of Carol Lane's biography. And I just thought that was really interesting. So what the public got was this, conglomeration this, you know, composite character, who was really several women whose labor was hidden by the fact that it was, you know, her, her personality had to be subsumed into this fictional character.

Kelly Therese Pollock  47:07  
So how can people find this digital dissertation? 

Melissa Dollman  47:10  
They can go to  That is a URL redirect to the giant, giant, giant URL that as it forces you to, to accept if you use their platform, so that is simplified,  URL directs to that project.

Kelly Therese Pollock  47:29  
I'll put that in the show notes, too. So Melissa, thank you. This was really fun. It's a super fun part of history that, you know, like you just said, is just hidden. You know, it's forgotten. People don't know about it. But it's so fascinating. And it's so great that you have found these women's lives and are highlighting them. 

Melissa Dollman  47:50  
Thank you. It's been many years of my life, and I feel like I know them better than some of my distant relatives.

Kelly Therese Pollock  47:59  
Excellent. Well, thank you.

Melissa Dollman  48:00  
Thank you for having me. 

Teddy  48:03  
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on Twitter, or Instagram @unsung__history, or on Facebook @UnsungHistoryPodcast. To contact us with questions or episode suggestions, please email If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.

Transcribed by

Melissa DollmanProfile Photo

Melissa Dollman

Melissa Dollman, PhD (American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) was raised all over the United States, but spent much of her childhood in South Dakota, and teens and adulthood in California. She has driven solo, or ridden along on, many cross-country and regional road trips with family, friends, and strangers. She still struggles with efficiently packing a suitcase.

Her professional experience includes having been:

an audiovisual archivist,
adjunct faculty,
teaching assistant/research assistant,
and exhibit developer,
for cultural heritage institutions including:

Women In Film Foundation,
UCLA Film and Television Archive,
Academy Film Archive,
Schlesinger Library at Harvard University,
State Archives of North Carolina,
North Carolina State University,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
and the Southern Oral History Program at The Center for Study of the American South.

She is of European and Yankton Sioux/Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate descent, and is currently a project manager for the Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project.