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Thornton Wilder collection

Call Number: YCAL MSS 162

Scope and Contents

The Thornton Wilder Collection consists of letters, manuscripts and publication material, and other papers by and concerning Thornton Wilder. The collection spans the dates 1918-1983.

The collection is housed in 15 boxes and consists of ten series: Joe Etta Lee Clarke Estate Gift; Harper and Row Gift; Amy Wertheimer Papers; Joseph W. Still Gift; Foresman/Tibby Family Papers; Inez Peck Kashman Bequest; Lee Keedick Papers; Wiliam Layton Papers; Hester Pickman Correspondence; Materials from Other Sources.

Series I, Joe Etta Lee Clarke Estate Gift , is organized into two subseries: Letters from Thornton Wilder and Writings of Joe Etta Lee Clarke. Folders 1-8 contain chronologically arranged letters from Wilder to Clarke, mostly concerning suggestions for and publication prospects for the unpublished novel "Sheba House," the manuscript of which is located in folders 9-20.

Series II, Harper and Row Gift , is organized into subseries by title. Contents include galley proofs, page proofs, and errata lists; and the holograph draft of Wilder's Preface to the 1957 Three Plays. An "author's information sheet" incompletely filled out by Wilder contains his note to the publicity department: "Sorry---dont seem to be any use at this. TW." Material related to adaptations of Our Town for possible radio and television serialization is located in folders 29-42 and includes typescripts of sample episodes and comments by Isabel Wilder.

Series III, Amy Wertheimer Papers , is housed in Box 3 and consists almost entirely of letters from Thornton Wilder to Wertheimer. The two met in the summer of 1925 at Lake Sunapee, and in October of that year Wilder described their friendship as it seemed to him: "I am looking for a wise, intelligent and fairly tranquil friend. I should like it to be a lady, somewhat older than myself...." For the next two years, Wilder's frequent and lengthy letters stress the limits of their relationship and remind Wertheimer of them: "You must accept the conditions of life as things are. 1. I have never implied that I could love you." Wilder repeatedly dissuaded Westheimer from meeting him in what he considered socially compromising situations, discouraged her thoughts of divorce, and finally, in March of 1927, ended this phase of the correspondence: "I asked for a year's pause....I am much too fond of you to go thru the trials of another meeting like that Central Park one."

The remainder of the letters are filled with affectionate tributes to Westheimer as a "tower of strength" for him; news of his family, his travels, and his difficulties in writing; advice on family matters, and sympathetic and frank comments on their experiences with depression and "dark nights of the soul." In a June, 1937 letter Wilder reminds her that "The problem of living is to make a solitude that is not a loneliness" and that she is important to many. The letters of the late 1930s and 1940s contain description of his work on "Our Town" and "The Skin of Our Teeth" and of productions of these.

Series IV, Joseph W. Still Gift , is housed in Box 4, folders 67-76. The letters of the 1940s are principally concerned with the war and in particular with Still's work on planning for the future Allied occupation of Nazi Germany. Folder 68 contains a copy of his "Population Dynamics and the Problem of Planning a Lasting Peace." His report, which envisaged long-term strict control of Germany's educational system and media, drew a sharp dissent from Wilder, whose own manuscript outlines "The Wilder Plan" in contrast to "The Still Plan." For example, Wilder rejects the widely accepted faith in long-term censorship: "a gradual relaxing of supervision is necessary [in order to] see what trends appear. German attitudes should not be driven underground." Other subjects include Still's later scientific career; Wilder's works and family news; and descriptions of travel plans.

Series V, Foresman/Tibby Family Papers , consists of letters from Wilder to members of the Foresman and Tibby families. Edwin Clyde Foresman was master of Davis House at Lawrenceville, and Wilder succeeded him after his death in 1927. His correspondence with the Foresmans, both Clyde and Grace, is located in folders 77-82 and contains discussion of the last illness of Clyde; personal news; travel plans; and Davis House affairs. The two 1967 letters concern Grace Foresman's reaction to The Eighth Day and Wilder's comments on his "tribute--in reverse" to the Foresmans in the "St. Kitts" section of that novel.

Wilder also remained in touch with the Foremans' daughter Emily and her husband John Tibby. His 1935 letters contain advice concerning her mother and encouragement about her play, "The Big Town." The 1967 letters addressed to John Kerr Tibby offer analyses of Tibby's character and marriages.

Series V also contains a typescript carbon of a 1922 Wilder essay on the poet Shelley, which he apparently sent to Emily Foresman in 1934; and a family history of the Foresmans and Tibbys by John Kerr Tibby.

Series VI, Inez Peck Kashman Bequest , is housed in folders 88-92 and contains letters from Wilder to "Inez and Bill" concerning his health and his travel plans; newspaper clippings about Wilder; and photographs of Wilder from a 1966 visit with the Kashmans.

Series VII, Lee Keedick Papers , is located in Box 5. The correspondence, consisting of originals from Wilder to Keedick and office file carbons of Keedick's replies, spans the dates 1928-1939 and documents the details of several lecture tours for which Keedick was Wilder's agent and promoter. After the 1927 success of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Wilder was in demand as a lecturer, and much information on his appearances and popular reaction can be found in the 1928-29 letters, located in folders 93-101.

Wilder gradually reduced the number of his public appearances throughout the 1930s, a change reflected in the Keedick letters, and the correspondence ends in November 1939 with Wilder's refusal of another tour: "I'd love the towns and hotels and trains--if there were no lectures."

The series also contains newspaper clippings and printed material concerning Wilder's work, and folder 117 holds copies of Keedick's publicity flyers for Wilder's lectures.

Series VIII, William Layton Papers , is housed in Box 6 and consists almost entirely of letters written to Layton by Wilder during the 1940s and early 1950s. Topics include military work and Wilder's views of World War II; details of productions of Wilder's plays, with commentary on staging and on Tallulah Bankhead; Layton's own interest in acting and directing; and news of mutual friends and Wilder's travel plans.

Series IX, Hester Pickman Papers , consists of two versions of "Circe's Isle" by Hester Pickman and one folder of correspondence about Wilder's suggestions and his own interpretation of the Circe myth.

Series X, Materials from Other Sources , has been organized into three subseries: Letters by Thornton Wilder; Other Correspondence; and Writings and Other Papers. Each subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or by title of work. Letters by Thornton Wilder contains single letters or small groups of letters: recipients include Kendall Bragg, Clyde Lasswell, Seymour Lawrence, Sol Lesser, Marcia Nardi, and Jack E. Reynolds.

Folders 147-148 hold letters to the columnist Leonard Lyons; subjects include comments about the columns and Wilder's promises to contribute material; Wilder's opinions of actors and other Broadway figures; and a Dorothy Parker anecdote. Wilder's letters to Bruce Simonds, located in folders 160-162, contain comments on music, Wilder's works, the marriage of Simonds and Rosalind Brown Simonds, and are accompanied by annotated typescripts of two "Three Minute Plays for Three Persons."

Wilder's 1926-1927 correspondence with the Townsons provides many details of his employment as Andrew Townson's tutor during a European tour, as well as Wilder's attempts to suggest further educational avenues for him.

The Writings subseries includes a typescript carbon of the script for "Shadow of a Doubt;" a corrected typescript carbon of the first "Our Town" script; and a holograph draft of a Wilder lecture on Thoreau. Accessions since 1997 of individual items and small groups of material related to Wilder are listed in order of acquisition at the end of the series.

Oversize material is housed in boxes 10-13. Restricted Fragile material is housed in boxes 14-15.


  • 1918-1983


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile in boxes 14-15 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies or photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Thornton Wilder Collection is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Thornton Wilder Collection was acquired through gifts and purchases from various non-Wilder family sources to complement the Thornton Wilder Papers (YCAL MSS 108).

Associated Materials

For manuscript material related to Thornton Wilder donated by Wilder and members of the Wilder family, see the Thornton Wilder Papers, YCAL MSS 108.


11.67 Linear Feet (16 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection consists of letters, manuscripts and other publication material, and other papers related to Thornton Wilder. Included are extensive letters to his close friends Amy Wertheimer and William Layton; letters of literary advice to Joe Etta Lee Clarke and Hester Pickman; and materials concerning his publicist, Lee Keedick, and his publisher, Harper and Row.


A biographical timeline is provided in the register for the Thornton Wilder Papers (YCAL MSS 108).

Guide to the Thornton Wilder Collection
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
June 2002
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.