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Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 3

Scope and Contents

The Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant Papers document the life and career of Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant. The papers span the dates 1903-65, but the bulk of the material covers the years 1930-65.

The papers consist of four series: I. Correspondence (Boxes 1-8); II. Writings, divided into two sections, Books and Articles, (Boxes 9-13); III. Subject Files (Boxes 14-18); IV. Personal Papers (Boxes 18-19).

All correspondence of Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant has been placed in Series I and arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Letters from unidentified correspondents can be found at the end of the series. The correspondence documents many aspects of Sergeant's life, particularly her later career and her friendships. While there is some early correspondence, most of the letters date from after 1920.

There is very little family correspondence in the collection. Letters from Sergeant to her father during World War I describe wartime conditions in Paris, her impressions of the Allied Expeditionary Force, volunteer work, and the 1918 influenza epidemic (Box 6, folders 169-71). The only other immediate relative represented in the papers is Sergeant's sister Katherine Sergeant Angell White. Letters of Katherine White and her husband E. B. White are located in Box 7, folder 198. Most of these are holiday or thank-you notes, containing some family news. In addition, there are letters from more distant relatives Nancy Stableford and Marjorie Rose Ryan, containing personal news and some notes on Sergeant family history and genealogy.

Sergeant's early life is also sparsely documented. Some information on her years at Miss Winsor's School can be found in Series III, Subject Files, Boxes 14-15. Bryn Mawr friends include Pauline Goldmark and Hetty Goldman. Goldman's letters, which begin in 1920, discuss her archaeological career, her trips to Greece, and Bryn Mawr friends. There are also letters from friends Sergeant met during her pre-war stays in France, among them Paul Desjardins, Pierre de Lanux, André and Thérèse Spire, Daniel and Marianne Halévy, and the artist Auguste Chabaud. The correspondence with Halévy centers on French literature and politics. A 1916 letter, for example, contains his unfavorable reactions to the writings of Barrés and a discussion of the Action Française. Chabaud's letters are often illustrated, and topics include his paintings, French and American art, and mutual friends.

Other important early correspondents include Felix Frankfurter, Amy Lowell, and Randolph Bourne. Frankfurter's letters, which begin in 1915, contain personal news, discussions of literature, and comments on politics. A February 1916 letter details Frankfurter's support for the confirmation of Justice Brandeis. Frankfurter also advised Sergeant on research sources for her article on Oliver Wendell Holmes. Lowell's letters are almost entirely literary in nature and include requests for information on Indian legends and advice on publishers. Lowell's death is described in a letter from her intimate friend, Ada Russell. There are two folders of letters by Randolph Bourne, all dating from 1915 and 1916. Although he was also one of the founders of The New Republic, there is little professional information in the correspondence. Bourne discusses his family and friends, his writing career, and his concerns about relationships with women. Literature, especially the work of Willa Cather, is another frequent topic.

Perhaps the most important early correspondent is the young writer Sidney Howard. The Sergeant Papers contain five folders of letters by him, almost all written before his engagement in 1921. Sergeant and Howard met in Paris during World War I, and his early letters are devoted to descriptions of aviation training, complaints about the Army and the Y.M.C.A., and literary discussions. They remained close after they returned to the United States, and letters from 1919 and 1920 describe his reactions to peacetime, his attempts to sell stories based on his war experiences, and his work on the editorial staff of Life magazine. The last substantial letter in the series, written in September 1921, is devoted to his first play, Swords, and his decision to marry Claire Eames, who appeared in it.

Sergeant became acquainted with several members of the Taos writers colony after her move to New Mexico in 1920. Correspondents from this group include Mary Austin, Dorothy Brett, Witter Bynner, Haniel Long, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Raymond Otis, Alice Parsons, and Marion Shevky. The letters discuss personal news, literary interests, politics, New Mexican folklore and ethnography, and the writers colony itself. Raymond Otis's letters, for example, contain information on the Southwest Writers Conference and his work on the W.P.A.-sponsored New Mexico Guide Book. A 1923 letter by Mary Austin refers to the Indian dance controversy that interested Sergeant. Letters from several friends describe Mary Austin's funeral in 1934. Sergeant's most extensive Taos correspondence was with the writer Haniel Long, whose letters begin in 1926 and continue until his death. The collection also contains portions of journal-letters written by Long and Sergeant during the 1930s. Topics include their friendship, life in Taos, news of friends, Writers' Editions and the Rydal Press, Long's own poetry, and other literature.

There is also correspondence about Sergeant's decade-long involvement in the Indian rights movement, particularly in the letters of John Collier and Mabel Dodge Luhan. The correspondence files of her work for the American Indian Defense Association and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, once part of this collection, are now in the John Collier Papers at Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, and these need to be consulted for a full picture of Sergeant's activities between 1923 and 1938. The Sergeant Papers, however, do contain three folders of correspondence with Collier, most dating from his first three years as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Collier and Sergeant were close at this time, and the letters contain personal news, plans for reunions in New Mexico, and Collier's reactions to his new position. Many letters discuss Indian work, especially Sergeant's 1934 attempts to prevent the San Ildefonso Pueblo Indians from selling land to a lumber firm. This was a trying experience for Sergeant, who noted that "one of the things Indians need most to learn from white people is a love and study of nature for itself." Other Indian topics include Collier's attempt to stop the traffic in Zuñi sacred objects and his fights for increased budget appropriations for the Bureau.

Most of the letters of Mabel Dodge Luhan also concern Indian work. She was an early supporter of Collier, but they did not always agree. Several letters criticize Collier for permitting filming at a remote pueblo, and in 1933 she repeatedly asked Sergeant to investigate conditions among the Jicarilla Apaches at Dulce, in contradiction to Collier's instructions. Other correspondence between the two women, once part of this collection, can be found in the Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Sergeant studied with Carl Gustav Jung in 1929-31, and remained interested in Jungian psychology thereafter. There are about ten brief letters from Jung, commenting on articles about him and his work. A 1941 letter calls Aryanism "the flood of idiocy that is invading Europe." Sergeant corresponded with several American Jungians, notably Ellen Thayer, who chaired the Analytical Psychology Club in New York, Dr. Eleanor Bertine, and Dr. Frances Wickes. The letters contain personal and professional news and discuss Jungian personality theories. Dr. Joseph Henderson was a Jungian psychiatrist with whom Sergeant collaborated on several magazine articles. (See also Box 12, folder 293.) Several friends were deeply interested in Jungian theory, among them Nancy Hale, Mary Howell, and Alda Oertley.

Although there is no correspondence with either Willa Cather or Robert Frost, there are letters from other persons described in Sergeant's sketches in Fire under the Andes, including Charles T. Copeland, Oliver Wendell Holmes, H. L. Mencken, Eugene O'Neill, and William Allen White, and from persons treated in other articles, among them Gladys Hasty Carroll, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Edward Arlington Robinson. Correspondents who supplied information for her biographical subjects include Witter Bynner, Gladys and Van Wyck Brooks, Saxe Commins, Leon Edel, Mark De Wolfe Howe, Learned Hand, Edna Davis Romig, and Harriet Whicher. There is also correspondence from Holt, Rinehart and Winston, J. B. Lippincott and Co., and the University of Nebraska Press.

Important literary correspondents include Robert Bruère, Alyse Gregory, Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill, Julia Peterkin, Littleton Powys, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Glenway Wescott, and Thornton Wilder. Alyse Gregory's letters discuss such subjects as dinner with Arnold Bennett, a possible edition of Randolph Bourne's letters, To the Finland Station, and the U-2 incident. (Sergeant's letters to Gregory are in the Alyse Gregory Papers at the Beinecke Library.) About ten of the letters of Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill date from their trip to France and marriage in 1928. The O'Neills describe their cruise, their happiness, and Agnes O'Neill's reactions to the divorce. Other O'Neill letters concern O'Neill's writing, his failing health, and Sergeant's 1944 interview of him. For notes on this interview, see Box 16, folder 358.

Sergeant wrote at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire for several summers. Business correspondence concerning her applications for residence can be found under "MacDowell Colony." There is also personal correspondence with the manager, George Kendall, and the founder's widow, Marian MacDowell. Friends with whom Sergeant became acquainted at the Colony include musician and music therapist Paul Norduff, Bob Sward, poet May Swenson, Mark and Irita Van Doren, and Thornton Wilder.

The correspondence in Series I documents the literary career and interests of Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant. Researchers interested in the lives, friendships, and choices of single women during the first half of the twentieth century will find the Sergeant correspondence rewarding.

Series II, Writings , fills Boxes 9-13 of the Sergeant Papers and is divided into two sections, Books and Articles. The first section, Books, contains papers related to both published and unpublished full-length works and is arranged alphabetically by title, and further by type of material. There are no printed copies of full-length works in the Sergeant Papers, but copies are available in the book collection of the Beinecke Library.

The book collection should be consulted for information on Sergeant's early works, since the papers contain little significant information about them. Reviews of French Perspectives (1916) and Shadow-Shapes: The Journal of a Wounded Woman (1920) can be found in the Beinecke printed collection. Reviews of Fire under the Andes (1927) and of Short as any Dream (1929), Sergeant's only published novel, are located in Box 9, folders 218-22, and Box 10, folders 254-55.

After Short as any Dream, Sergeant did not publish another book for twenty-four years, although she continued to write for magazines. During the late 1930s and 1940s she worked intermittently on an autobiographical novel, Sabia, which she hoped would examine "a woman's life from one War to the Next" and the difficulties faced by the first generation of women college graduates. Extensive notes and outlines, character sketches, and several drafts of Parts I and II can be found in Boxes 9-10, folders 232-52.

Sergeant abandoned work on this project in the late 1940s to concentrate on two biographical studies. The first to be published was Willa Cather: A Memoir, in 1953. Papers relating to the work in the collection include notes, portions of the first and second draft, and galley corrections for the 1963 reprinting. Robert Frost: The Trial by Existence appeared in 1960. Box 4, folders 222-26 contains drafts of Parts IV and V, followed by four folders of discarded pages.

The second section, Articles, consists mainly of manuscripts and printed copies of articles by Sergeant. The articles have been grouped by subject and then listed alphabetically by title. Articles on miscellaneous topics can be found at the end of the section.

Sergeant published numerous articles throughout her career. Her first articles, "Toilers of the Tenements" (Box 13, folder 306) and "In Chains" (Box 13, folder 304), appeared in McClure's. Upon joining the staff of The New Republic, she began to write reviews of French literature and sketches of life in France. Articles on these topics are located in Box 12, folders 279-82. Her knowledge of France led to her appointment as a war correspondent for her magazine in 1917. Copies of her war articles can be found in Box 12, folders, 296-301. All published pieces have been chronologically arranged. These are followed by typescripts of undated and possibly unpublished articles, arranged alphabetically by title.

Sergeant's articles on the Pueblo Indians and on the writers colonies at Taos have been placed under the heading "New Mexico." For example, "The Journal of a Mud Hut" explores her first impressions of New Mexico, while "Christmas in the Pueblo" offers a defense of the cultural value of Indian ritual dances. Additional information can be found in Sergeant's "Portrait of John Collier," Box 11, folder 274. Other writings on New Mexican topics, including the manuscript of Sangre del Christo, an unpublished play, are in the John Collier Papers at Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

During the 1930s and 1940s Sergeant wrote many articles explaining Jungian psychology in layman's terms, particularly for women's magazines. These include "Must Great Women be Ruthless?" and "What can a Married Man do about the Other Woman?," an exploration of the anima theory. Series II also contains biographical sketches, book reviews, and miscellaneous articles, including one on women's place in society (Box 13, folder 302).

Boxes 14-17 hold Series III, Subject Files . The series has been arranged alphabetically by subject. It should be noted that the series contains a variety of material, such as newspaper clippings, obituaries, and articles about many of Sergeant's correspondents. For example, there are two folders of papers concerning John Collier, including poetry and other writings by him and printed items on his career as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The folders on Carl Jung contain Sergeant's notes on his work, copies of several of his articles, and clippings. Sergeant's detailed notes on her 1940s interviews with Eugene O'Neill are located in Box 16, folder 358, and provide information on his cycle plays.

The largest amount of material in this series concerns Miss Winsor's School, which Sergeant attended 1894-99. Most of these papers were gathered by another alumna, Ethel Pearson, and given to Sergeant as research background for a possible article on the school's founder, Miss Mary Winsor. The material can be found in Box 14, folders 331-33, and Box 15, and includes reminiscences of Miss Winsor's School by alumnae, arranged alphabetically by correspondent's name, draft notes, index cards, and several printed items and articles.

Series IV, Personal Papers , is housed in Boxes 18-19 and contains a variety of materials, including biographical sketches, notebooks, royalty statements, and photographs. Notes on the history of the Sergeant Family can be found in Box 18, folders 394-95. There are also three folders of papers concerning Sergeant's early visits to France.


  • 1903-1965


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant Papers are 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

These papers are the 1965 bequest of Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant.


Organized into four series: I. Correspondence, 1903-1965. II. Writings, 1910-1963. III. Subject Files, 1913-1965. IV. Personal Papers, 1910-1965.


7.75 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, writings, subject files and personal papers documenting the personal life and writing career of Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant and such subjects as the Taos writers colony, the Indian rights movement, popular psychology, and life in Paris during World War I. Major correspondents include Randolph Bourne, John Collier, Alyse Gregory, Sidney Howard, Haniel Long, Amy Lowell, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Thornton Wilder.


Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, eldest daughter of Charles Spencer and Elizabeth Blake Shepley Sergeant, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on April 23, 1881. She attended Miss Winsor's School in Boston 1894-99 and was graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1903. Between 1903 and 1913 she made several extended visits to France, attending lectures at the Sorbonne and meeting a number of artists and authors. Her volunteer social work in Boston and New York inspired her first article, "Toilers of the Tenements," published in 1910 by McClure's. The editor, Willa Cather, befriended and encouraged her. In 1914 Sergeant became one of the original contributors to The New Republic, specializing in French literature and culture. Her first book, French Perspectives, was published in 1916. She returned to Paris the following year as a war correspondent for The New Republic. While touring a battlefield in October 1918, Sergeant was severely injured by a land mine and hospitalized for several months. She recounted the experience in Shadow-Shapes: Journal of a Wounded Woman (1920).

On the advice of her doctor, Sergeant moved to New Mexico in 1920, where she came in contact with the Taos writers colony and the Indian rights movement. She worked with the American Indian Defense Association, both as a volunteer and on assignments for its executive secretary, John Collier. She published more than a dozen articles on New Mexico and the Pueblo Indians, mostly in The Nation and The New Republic. Sergeant returned to New York at times, particularly to work on a series of profiles of prominent Americans. Fourteen of these were collected in her 1927 book, Fire under the Andes, which included her first essay on Robert Frost. Her only novel, Short as any Dream, appeared in 1929.

Sergeant studied with Carl Jung and Toni Woolf in Zurich from 1929 to 1931. In the mid-1930s she was employed by John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and reported on Pueblo social conditions and reactions to the Wheeler-Howard Act. She also joined Writer's Editions. Sergeant sold her New Mexico house soon after this, however, and returned to New York, eventually settling in Rockland County. In both the 1930s and 1940s, she continued to publish magazine articles, including profiles of authors and popular treatments of psychological topics. She also began work on her two full-length biographical studies. Willa Cather: A Memoir was published in 1953. Despite her ill health and failing eyesight, in 1960 she published the well-reviewed Robert Frost: The Trial by Experience. Sergeant had planned to follow this with an autobiography, but she did not live to complete it. She died in New York on January 26, 1965.

Guide to the Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
July 1986
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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