Letters to Rosamond
For most of her life, Rosamond Gifford was a resident of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. However, she was also received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Radcliffe College, attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and was fluent in French.[i] Clearly, her residency in Boston never limited her worldview, or indeed, the array of individuals who corresponded with her. The Rosamond Gifford papers, 1930-1954, is composed of letters primarily dating from 1931-1946. During this time, Gifford received letters from a Harvard college professor advising her on thesis work for Radcliffe College, former classmates from the Waltham School for Girls, and friends who became soldiers and Red Cross nurses during World War II. Rosamond herself wrote to her family from France while touring abroad and studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. I have decided to highlight some of this correspondence for my blog post this week.
The first of these comes from George L. Lincoln, a professor who worked in the Department of Languages and Literature at Harvard. The letter is dated November 3, 1931, when Rosamond was an undergraduate in her junior year at Radcliffe College. The letter is brief, consisting primarily of several book recommendations for Rosamond’s thesis about French religious history, including The Holiness of Pascal by H.F. Stewart, but there is a note at the end that reads: “It seems to me that this thesis – if favorably commented upon by C.H.C.W. – might well be the basis for your HONOR Thesis next year.” This is an interesting comment, notable in that Lincoln later serves as an academic advisor for Gifford in letters sent between 1931 and 1933, before Radcliffe College and Harvard merged their classrooms, which would not happen until over ten years later.[ii] For Radcliffe women, interaction with Harvard faculty was often conducted through different channels, whether this was separate classes taught later at night, or corresponding with professors about their academic work through postal mail. Despite these interactions, female undergraduate and graduate students would receive degrees only through Radcliffe at this time.
Radcliffe was not the only women’s school where Rosamond studied. The Gifford collection also includes a ‘Round Robin’ correspondence between Rosamond and former classmates from the Waltham School for Girls (the list of names includes Eleanor “Batesy” Bates, Vi Campbell, Rosalie Norris, Janet Lewis, and Marion Chick). It began on January 22, 1940 with a letter from the organizer and ringleader of this endeavor, Eleanor “Batesy” Bates, who opens her letter with a cheery, ““Dear Round Robinites” and encloses her hopes that 1940 will bring forth a “new and rejuvenated Waltham Round Robin.” In this set of correspondence, Rosamond and her classmates discuss their lives with a refreshing degree of frankness. The letters include inexplicable nicknames and private jokes, slang, political talk, gossip about other classmates, and discussion of professional careers (writing, welfare work, teaching, and librarianship among them). I have included some favorite excerpts below:
“Oh, yes, I saw Gone With the Wind in New York two weeks ago, and liked it so much I sat through it a second time – ten hours in the movie before I left, but I had brought sandwiches with me, and went out during intermission.” – Eleanor “Batesy” Bates
“I do not get around much as my time is so taken up with writing and study, to say nothing of my son, husband and housework.” – Vi Campbell.
“Will be awfully glad to see you all if we decide to visit Waltham this year en masse so do let me know the place. It would be fun to have a cigarette in North Hall, instead of behind the gym just once.” – Janet Lewis
After World War II, there aren’t many more letters between Rosamond and her various correspondents, but Rosamond continued to live at 340 Commonwealth Ave. until her death in 1997. The Rosamond Gifford collection was a delight and a surprise to stumble across and have the opportunity to explore. Although I have shared words from Rosamond’s various correspondents, I would like to end this post with an excerpt from a letter written by Rosamond herself, dated July 16, 1936, while she was traveling abroad on an Anne Radcliffe fellowship for her graduate studies in France:[iii]
We arrived here contrary to your expectations on time, July 13, and depart the twentieth for a dozen days mad scramble through Normandie and Bretagne…From here we went to Ajaccio, one of the most charming cities I ever was in. The atmosphere exhales Napoleon and the house where he was born is most satisfactory. It is located on a little square with a garden, and the interior retains for the most part the original decoration of delicate eighteenth century designs. The main square is lined with palms and slopes down to the harbor which is surrounded by more red mountains – which were glowing in the evening light as we sailed away. I loved Corsica, best of the whole trip.”
She signs the letter, “Ever and ever so much love, Tibbles.”
[i] “Rosamond Gifford, 87, Philanthropist, taught French.” The Boston Sunday Globe, July 20, 1997.
[ii] Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Yards and gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe history. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 216. Radcliffe would not officially merge with Harvard until 1977.
[iii] “Radcliffe Gives 42 Fellowships.” Daily Boston Globe, May 12, 1935.
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