1903-1984; bulk: 1930-1947

Guide to the Collection

Restrictions on Access

The Alice Gilbert Smith Bourgoin papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the correspondence and personal papers of Alice Gilbert Smith Bourgoin, daughter of J. Foster Smith and Josephine Smith of Salem, Mass. These papers primarily document her European travels following her graduation from Smith College (1919-1920), her marriage to Jean Lucien Bourgoin (1932-1950), her years in French Indochina, now Vietnam (1932-1941), and the couple's experiences during World War II.

Biographical Sketches

Alice Gilbert Smith Bourgoin (1897-1984) was born in Salem, Massachusetts on 19 January 1897, the third child and youngest daughter of John Josiah Foster Smith and Josephine Tillinghast (Chadwick) Smith. In childhood, she attended Miss Howe's School and the Salem public schools. She entered Smith College as part of the class of 1918 and graduated with the class of 1919 following a year's absence due to the death of her sister, Helen St. Claire Smith (1894-1916), of Hodgkin's lymphoma. After graduating from college, Alice was briefly engaged to William (Bill) Loomis, a friend of her brother. In November 1919, after the Armistice ending World War I, Alice joined her brother Philip Horton Smith (1890-1960) and remained with him in Europe until October 1920.

In March 1931, Alice met Jean Lucien Bourgoin (1897-1977) on a brief visit he made to her family in Salem. Alice was invited by Jean's family to visit their home La Floride in Saint-Servan, Brittany, France. The two announced their engagement in January 1932 and were married in Manila, the Philippines, on 21 December 1932. The couple settled in Hanoi, then Hue, where Jean was employed by the French colonial government. The couple had no children.

During the 1930s, Alice--sometimes accompanied by her parents or husband, sometimes alone--traveled extensively, spending time in China, France, Hong Kong, Japan, London, Mexico, and the United States. In March 1941, she returned to Salem due to her mother's failing health and remained in the United States for the duration of the war. Jean served the French government in Vietnam, was imprisoned by the Japanese and escaped, and was eventually posted to North Africa where Alice attempted, unsuccessfully, to reunite with him in 1944. She returned to the United States, and the two maintained a tense correspondence until their divorce on 19 August 1950. Alice never remarried.

Following her return to the United States in 1941, Alice lived in a series of residences in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She continued her correspondence with friends and family, wrote about her experience in French Indochina, and participated in local organizations such as the Ipswich Garden Society and the Society of Mayflower Descendants. She died in her home in Hopkinton, New Hampshire on 4 June 1984.

Jean Lucien Bourgoin (1897-1977) was born in Tahiti (then French Polynesia). Like his father Adrien Bourgoin, Jean trained as an engineer and worked for the French government. Shortly after meeting Alice Gilbert Smith in 1931, he was posted to French Indo-China as an Ingenieur en Chef des Travaux Publiques overseeing public infrastructure projects such as railways, tunnels, and dams. In 1936, he became a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur for completion of a railway line between French Indo-China and China. Jean was dismissed from his post in 1940 for his support of Charles de Gaulle and placed under house arrest, then imprisoned by the Chinese as a Japanese spy. After making his escape, Jean joined the Free French forces in Algiers, eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1945, he returned to French Indo-China as a federal commissioner, where he served until the First Indochina War (1945-1954) brought an end to the French colonial rule in Vietnam. Following his divorce from Alice in 1950, Jean remarried and had a son Stéphane (1953-). Jean died in France in 1977.

Collection Description

The Alice Gilbert Smith Bourgoin papers consist of five record cartons that date from 1903 to 1984, with the bulk of material dating from 1930 to 1947. The collection is divided into four series: Correspondence; Personal papers; Writings; and Volumes. The majority of the collection is correspondence. The collection documents Alice's youth and schooling; her travels in the United States, Europe, and Asia; her marriage and divorce; the experiences of both Alice and her husband Jean Bourgoin during World War II; and Alice's social activities and friendships.

The correspondence between Alice and her parents (1903-1941), and Alice and her husband Jean (1931-1950), is particularly rich. The correspondence between Alice and her parents begins with a handful of early childhood letters and continues steadily until J. Foster Smith's death in 1936 and Josephine T. C. Smith's death in 1941. Letters from Alice to her parents document her studies and social activities while at Smith College (1914-1919), her travels in Europe (1919-1932), and life in Hanoi and Hue, French Indochina, following her marriage (1932-1941). Financial and legal documents, as well as print brochures and maps, also provide insight into the couple's life and travels. Alice kept intermittent household accounts and diaries that provide additional details of, and context for, her life during this period. When in Hanoi and Hue, Alice struggled to acclimate to both married life and her role as the wife of a colonial official. Her letters describe chronic ill health--which she attributes to the local climate--and her feelings of isolation and homesickness. She describes her activities managing the household, interactions with servants, and gardening. She also writes of Jean's frequent work-related travel. She reports critically on French customs and culture, as well as the cultures and peoples she encountered while living in Indochina and traveling throughout Asia. A few narrative pieces by both Alice and Jean, about their experiences in Indochina, may be found in Writings. In the latter years of Alice's residency in Indochina, as war broke out in Europe and Asia, she increasingly includes references to the international political and military situation.

Regular letters from J. Foster (1860-1936) and Josephine Smith (1866-1941) to Alice describe family activities, social and business matters, and the couple's travels in Europe and Asia. Letters from Jean to Alice, written in both French and English, report on his work and travels in Indochina and during the war, including descriptions of his wartime activities and requests for money. Correspondence and other papers from 1941-1945 document Alice's efforts to send money to her husband in French North Africa, as well as the couple's negotiations around whether or not Alice should join Jean in North Africa. Alice did travel briefly to Algiers in 1944 but returned to the United States without seeing Jean. Scattered correspondence from Alice's friends and acquaintances include discussion of personal and family life, the arts, and politics. A much smaller volume of material from the 1950s-1990s capture some details of Alice's latter life, family relationships, and friendships following her divorce from Jean in 1950.

Researchers looking for materials related to gender, sexuality, and the family will find Alice's extensive correspondence detailing her marital unhappiness to be of particular interest. Letters indicate that Alice was deeply ambivalent about her marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood, and that the lack of children was a lasting source of tension for the couple. During the early years of her marriage, Alice was candid with her father, particularly, about her belief that the marriage had been a mistake. Annotations on several documents in the collection by family historian Philip Chadwick Foster Smith, Alice's nephew, indicate that in March 1934, while in London, Alice may have had an abortion. Letters exchanged by Alice and Jean between their separation in 1941 and their divorce in 1950 document Alice's deep ambivalence about whether she wished to reunite with Jean, and on what terms, as well as her repeated attempts to discover what his wishes were regarding their postwar relationship.

Acquisition Information

Bequest of Philip Chadwick Foster Smith, 2001-2002.

Restrictions on Access

The Alice Gilbert Smith Bourgoin papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1903-1977

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains letters to and from Alice S. Bourgoin and her family and friends. The bulk of the correspondence is between Alice and her parents, and between Alice and her husband Jean during their frequent separations. Some of the correspondence is in French. Additional correspondents include Philip Horton Smith and his wife Elinor; playwright Elmer Rice; Lt. Gordon Kaemmerling, a Harvard classmate of Alice's brother Philip who died in France (6 June 1918); Jacqueline Marchal (Jean Bourgoin's sister); a friend, Mrs. A. F. de Ledesma, living in London; and newsletters from George and Harriet Irwin, missionaries working in South Vietnam (1960s). A photocopy of a single letter to Alice from F. Scott Fitzgerald is tentatively dated and filed at 22 May 1929.

Topics include Alice's travels, social visits, domestic activities, family news, life in Hanoi and Hue, Alice's ambivalence about her marriage, events leading up to and during World War II, Alice and Jean's divorce, and scattered correspondence from the final decades of Alice's life. Due to their fragile, acidic condition, telegrams have been kept together in paper enclosures and filed at the beginning of each calendar year.

Carton 1SH 1A3V
Correspondence, 1903-1932
Carton 2SH 1A3W
Correspondence, 1933-1936
Carton 3SH 1A3X
Correspondence, 1937-1940
Carton 4SH 1A3YFolders 1-52
Correspondence, 1941-1977

II. Personal papers, 1916-1984

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains the personal papers of Alice and Jean Bourgoin. Travel and financial paperwork document the couple's life in French Indochina, as well as their frequent international travels during the 1930s and early 1940s. Print material includes maps and brochures. A handful of documents from the latter decades of Alice's life include deeds for properties in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and membership documents for the Society of Mayflower Descendents. This series also contains Alice's obituary and condolence letters upon her death in June 1984. Disbound passport documents from the 1920s may be found interfiled with other loose papers; passport booklets from 1927-1964 are filed in Miscellaneous Volumes.

Carton 4SH 1A3YFolders 53-57
Personal papers, 1916-1932
Carton 5SH 1A3ZFolders 1-15
Personal papers, 1933-1984

III. Writings, n.d.

This series contains drafts of writings by Alice and Jean, primarily narrative descriptions of their life and travels while living in French Indochina. Alice's writings are personal, perhaps fictionalized, essays about domestic life in Hanoi, at least some of which she submitted for publication. Jean's writings include a description of a visit to tin mines in China and a narrative account of his escape from China during the war, written in a mix of French and English, that includes hand-drawn maps.

Carton 5SH 1A3ZFolders 16-18
Writings of Alice Smith Bourgoin, n.d.
Carton 5SH 1A3ZFolder 19
Writings of Jean Bourgoin, n.d.

IV. Volumes, 1919-1964

This series contains bound volumes including a Smith College yearbook, travel diaries, and household records. Diaries for 1919-1920 describe Alice's time in France with her brother Philip Horton Smith. Her diary from 1929 describes a trip to Spain and Morocco with a friend, Polly Thayer, and her diary from 1939 describes a trip by car through the United States and Mexico with Jean. A telegram booklet contains carbon copies of telegrams sent by Alice during 1943-1944 documenting her attempts to send Jean money and her efforts to rejoin her husband in North Africa.

A. Diaries, 1919-1939

Arranged chronologically.

Folder 20Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Travel diary, 14 November 1919-2 April 1920
Folder 21Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Travel diary, 3 April-6 November 1920
Folder 22Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Travel diary, 2 March-25 July 1929
Folder 23Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Travel diary, 8 March-12 May 1939

B. Miscellaneous volumes, 1919-1964

Arranged chronologically.

Folder 24Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Smith College yearbook, 1919
Folder 25Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Passports, 1927-1964
Folder 26Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Notebook, ca. 1930s
Folder 27Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Kitchen record books, 1933
Folder 28Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Record of correspondence, 1934-1940
Folder 29Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Day pad [appointment calendar], 21 September-26 October 1939
Folder 30Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Motor trips, n.d. (after 1935)
Folder 31Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Day pad [appointment calendar], 1942
Folder 32Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Telegram booklet, carbon copies, 1943-1944
Folder 33Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Address books (2 volumes), n.d.
Folder 34Carton 5SH 1A3Z
Household inventory, Argilla Rd. (Ipswich, Mass.), n.d.

Preferred Citation

Alice Gilbert Smith Bourgoin papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Bourgoin, Alice Gilbert Smith, 1897-1984.
Bourgoin, Jean Lucien, 1897-1977.
Marchal, Jacqueline Bourgoin.
Rice, Elmer, 1892-1967.
Smith family.
Smith, Elinor Colby Mahoney, 1909-2003.
Smith, J. Foster (John Josiah Foster), 1860-1936.
Smith, Josephine Tillinghast Chadwick, 1866-1941.
Smith, Philip Horton, 1890-1960.


Smith College--Students.


China--Description and travel.
Europe--Description and travel, 1919-1944.
France--Description and travel, 1919-1944.
Hong Kong (China)--Description and travel.
Indochina--Description and travel.
Indochina--Social life and customs.
Japan--Description and travel, 1919-1944.
Mexico--Description and travel.
Morocco--Description and travel.
Prisoners of war.
Sexual attraction.
Vietnam--Description and travel.
Vietnam--Social life and customs.
Voyages and travels--Diaries.
Women's diaries.
Women travelers--Diaries.
World War, 1939-1945--Indochina.
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, French.
World War, 1939-1945--Prisoners and prisons.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Three folders of photographs and negatives have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives.