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Blanche Matthias papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 45
Scope and Contents

The Blanche Matthias Papers contain correspondence, writings, photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, and printed material documenting aspects of the literary career and personal life of the Chicago art critic and world traveler. The papers span the dates 1901-83.

The papers are arranged in five series: Correspondence, Subject Files, Writings, Photographs, and Family Papers, plus one box of Oversize material.

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-3), contains both professional and personal correspondence. The collection includes a few letters concerning Matthias's work as an art critic in Chicago, most dating from the 1920s. Letters from such individuals as Alexander Greene, Max Grove, Walt Kuhn, Doris Ribera, John A. Spelman, Vincent Starrett, and Walter Ufer praise Matthias for the quality of her criticism or thank her for her remarks about their work. Others like Vernon Howe Bailey, C. J. Bulliet, and Mary F. Roberts request critical material for future publication. The publication of her poetry in little magazines is discussed in the letters of Gene Derwood, Charles J. Finger, Eugene Jolas, Dion O'Donnell, Samuel Pessin, J. H. Rutherford, and Ernest Walsh.

The bulk of the correspondence is with personal friends, many of whom moved in artistic and literary circles, including Evelyn Ames, Andrey Avinoff, Caroline Singer Baldridge, Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge, Fanny Butcher, Frederick Mortimer Clapp, Una Call Jeffers, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Alex Shoumatoff, Carlos Suarez, and Noel Sullivan. Most of the letters discuss personal news and mutual acquaintances.

The most informative correspondents are Caroline Singer Baldridge and Una Call Jeffers. A series of letters written between 1931 and 1936 by Caroline Baldridge from Persia (Iran), Shanghai, Paris, and New York contains numerous comments on her husband's career, mutual acquaintances and literary figures, intellectual life, and politics and international relations. An April 1931 letter, for example, contains a description of life in Persia and the difficulties westerners encountered there. In Shanghai, where Roy Baldridge painted portraits of the city's ten most important financiers for Fortune magazine, Caroline reports on Japanese aggression against Mukden, the incompetence of the Nationalists, and a short visit with Pearl Buck. While in Paris she notes that they "have been a social flop--totally" because they did not drink enough, did "not loathe America," were not Communists, and were more interested in international affairs than the love lives of Lincoln Steffens and Ella Winter. Also included are comments on Richard and Alice Lee Myers, James and Nancy Pott, Gaetano Salvemini, Indian mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti, and the death of Margery Latimer Toomer. From New York City she writes about the Artists' Guild, Roy Baldridge's position with the National Recovery Administration, the Communists' manipulation of the Scottsboro Boys case, and the hypocrisy of the Communists and Fascists. She states in a January 1935 letter that "writing people [are] curiously immune to political ideas, change or idealism" and calls them "defeatists" for their lack of faith in President Roosevelt and democracy. She also writes about such people as Franchot Tone and Joan Crawford, Felix Frankfurter, Roger Baldwin of the ACLU, and mutual friends like Frederick Mortimer (Tim) and Maud Clapp.

The number of letters written by Una Jeffers to Blanche Matthias are indicative of the close relationship between the two families. The letters reveal much about the daily lives of the Jeffers from the late 1920s to 1950. Mostly written from Tor House in Carmel, California, they contain information on the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, family life, social life in Carmel, and mutual friends. Una mentions Robinson's work on Cawder (1928), Dear Judas (1929), Be Angry at the Sun (1941), and the unsuccessful efforts to perform The Tower Beyond Tragedy in the late 1930s. Several letters discuss his 1941 speaking tour and the papers include the guest list for a party given in Jeffers's honor by Blanche and Russell Matthias in New York City. In addition, the collection contains notes written for Russell Matthias by Una Jeffers on Ireland, probably dating from the time of the 1929 trip of the Jeffers, a description of their house written in 1931, and numerous references to children Donnan and Garth, particularly during World War II. Other letters mention friends and celebrities who spent time in the Carmel area, including Bennett Cerf, Charlie Chaplin, Tim and Maud Clapp, Muriel Draper, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Steinbeck, and Noel Sullivan. Additional information about Robinson Jeffers and the Jeffers family can be found in the correspondence of Frederick Mortimer Clapp and Noel Sullivan.

The papers contain seven folders of Georgia O'Keeffe correspondence. The letters are personal in nature, discussing mutual acquaintances and possible meetings. O'Keeffe rarely writes about her painting. On one such occasion in March 1952, she remarks that she loves winter and is working "on the winter landscape out the window."

Although Blanche Matthias was acquainted with Margery Latimer Toomer and Mabel Dodge Luhan, the papers do not contain any of their correspondence. Latimer is mentioned, however, in the letters of Caroline Baldridge and Zona Gale, and Luhan in the letters of Baldridge and Una Jeffers.

Other letters address a variety of subjects. Blanche Matthias long maintained an interest in oriental religion, a subject addressed by such correspondents as Andrey Avinoff, Claude Bragdon, Frederick Mortimer Clapp, Swami Chetanananda, Bernardine Fritz, Una Jeffers, Frances H. Leggett, Nancy Wilson Ross, Ruth Fuller Sasaki, and Carlos Suarez. The correspondence of Kay Boyle and Emanuel Carnevali concerns Blanche's monetary support for the Italian writer. James H. Pott, son of an American doctor and "a very high class Chinese woman," discusses his life as headmaster of St. Paul's High School in Anking, China, his activities, and his marriage to "a charming chinese lady." Caroline Baldridge's unfavorable characterization of Nancy Pott is found in a 1932 Paris letter. Dale Kramer wrote for information about Tennessee Anderson and the Chicago literary scene during the 1920s, while Laurie Lisle and Sarah W. Peters had questions about Georgia O'Keeffe.

Series II, Subject Files (Boxes 4-5), houses a variety of material on friends collected by Matthias. The Evelyn Ames files, for example, contain an article offprint, copies of her poems, newspaper clippings, snapshots, and several greeting cards. The material on Frederick Mortimer Clapp includes information on gnostic sects, typescripts of poems, a review of one of his books, and memorial tributes, while that on Charles J. Finger includes copies of his publications and several issues of All's Well, the little magazine he edited in the 1920s. The Georgia O'Keeffe files hold exhibition catalogs, articles and newspaper clippings, and reproductions of her paintings; those of Roy Baldridge contain drawings and Christmas cards.

Writings> of Blanche Matthias are found in Series III (Box 6) and Oversize (Box 16). The most significant writings have been mounted in two scrapbooks. The first (Box 6, folder 162) holds book reviews, exhibition reviews, poetry, articles, and a short story, "The Guardian of the Pagoda," published between 1921 and 1936. The second scrapbook (Box 16, folder 272) contains copies of articles published in the Chicago Herald and Examiner in 1922-23 and The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World in 1925-31. They concern the Chicago art scene in general and such artists as Andrey Avinoff, George O. (Pop) Hart, Walt Kuhn, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Stanley Wood. There is also a copy of The Wish to Sing, a collection of poems privately published by Matthias in 1974.

Photographs, Series IV, are housed in Boxes 7-12. The series consists of seven photograph albums of three trips taken by Blanche and Russell Matthias between 1917-22 and three boxes of loose photographs, many of which were taken during their 1919-20 world tour. The first two albums document the Matthiases 1917 journey to the Philippines, China, and Japan. Among the specific locations photographed are Manila, Pagsanjan, and Surigao plus the islands of Cebu, Luzon, and Mindinao in the Philippines; Canton, Hangchow, Nanking, Peking (Beijing), and Shanghai, China; and Kyoto, Miya-jima (Itsuku-Shima), Nagasaki, Nara, Nikka, and Tokyo, Japan. Another three albums contain 1919-20 photographs of Japan, China, Singapore, Java, Burma, India, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, and France. The last two albums hold photographs taken on a 1922 trip through the Mediterranean to Greece and Egypt. Although many of the pictures are of typical tourist scenes which sometimes include Blanche and Russell, the albums also contain photos of friends and the peoples of the countries they visited. The bulk of the loose photographs (Boxes 10-12) are of sites in East Asia, India, the Middle East, and Western Europe. The series also contains postcards and photographs of friends.

Series V, Family Papers , is alphabetically arranged by subject and contains travel correspondence, diaries, illustrated cards, memorabilia, passports, ship passenger lists, and a variety of other papers. The correspondence consists almost exclusively of letters written by Blanche Matthias during her travels, plus a handful of letters by Russell and a few letters of introduction. Blanche did not possess great descriptive skills, but it is possible to glean useful information from the letters. In a March 30, 1917 letter, for example, Blanche discusses prostitutes, gambling, and opium in Macao, and the filth, smells, and crowds in Canton. The letters of the 1919-20 world tour contain numerous references to friends like Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge and James H. Potts, plus descriptions of a cholera epidemic in Shanghai, a typhoon in the South China Sea, the beauty of Java, and a luxurious train ride from Rangoon to Mandalay. On their trip through India between November 1919 and February 1920, they visited Darjeeling, Calcutta, Benares, Agra, Delhi, Lahore, Peshawar, the Khyber Pass, Jaipur, Bombay, Madras, Trichinopoly, and Madura. Blanche discusses such subjects as Hindu burial ceremonies, Muslim hatred of the British, the terrible trains, and a camel caravan. The trip concluded in Italy and France, where Blanche writes of strikes in Naples, the bad manners of Italian opera goers, the devastation at the Italian front, gambling in Monte Carlo, and a visit to Belleau Wood. A final group of letters describes a summer 1938 trip to Great Britain, the Netherlands, and France.

The series also includes diaries for four overseas trips, the bulk of which consists of typescripts of existing correspondence. In addition to duplicate material, however, new information is provided for the 1917, 1937, and 1938 trips of the Matthiases. A 1917 diary reports on the worsening of relations between the United States and Germany and American entry into the war, sights in the Philippines, and a Chinese theater performance in Shanghai. The 1937 and 1938 diaries include typescripts of several letters not found in the correspondence. Several 1938 letters, for example, contain references to the foreboding in England and France over the possibility of war.

Other items in Family Papers include illustrated cards collected by young people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, memorabilia from travels in the Far East, passports and international drivers' licenses, and a group of ship passenger lists.

One box of Oversize papers contains material from Series II, III, and V. The most important item is a scrapbook of Blanche's newspaper articles covering the period 1922-31.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in Box 17 may only be consulted with the permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Blanche Matthias Papers 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 Papers were donated to Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library by Blanche Matthias between 1967 and 1980 and by her estate in 1984.

9.25 Linear Feet (17 boxes)
Related Names
Matthias, Blanche
Language of Materials