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Alice Van Ess Brewer Papers, 1937-2006
1 box (0.42 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 0848 (LD 7096.6 1941)

Brewer, Alice Firman Van Ess. 1919-2006; student, secretary, Naval Lieutenant, United States Foreign Service assistant. Mount Holyoke College graduate, 1941. Papers consist of correspondence with her parents from 1937-1940, course records, documents concerning the Young Women's Christian Association summer camp at Silver Bay, New York, memorabilia, biographical information, and photographs. Primarily documenting her social and academic life as a Mount Holyoke College student. Also includes letters by her parents, Dorothy Firman Van Ess and John Van Ess, discussing their activities as educational missionaries in Basrah (now Basra), Iraq.

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Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
South Hadley, MA

Biographical Note

Alice Firman Van Ess, a student, secretary, United States Naval Lieutenant and United States Foreign Service assistant was born December 26, 1919 in Basrah (now Basra), Iraq. The daughter of American educational missionaries Dorothy Firman Van Ess and John Van Ess, she attended schools in India, Switzerland and New Jersey before graduating from Northfield (Massachusetts) Seminary in 1937. She went to Mount Holyoke College from 1937-1941, earning a B.A. in religion. She attended a business school after graduating and worked as a secretary until 1943, when she joined the the United States Navy and served as a Lieutenant in the Supply Corps. She was stationed in New Orleans and San Francisco. She entered the United States Foreign Service in 1947 and was posted to the United States Consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. A year later she was transferred to the United States Legation in Beirut, Lebanon where she met William Dodd Brewer, a Foreign Service officer of the American Legation. They married in 1949 and had three children. She accompanied her husband on assignments to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Washington D.C., Afghanistan, Mauritius, and Sudan. The Brewers returned to the United States after his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1978 and lived in Los Angeles, where he was a professor at Occidental College. They moved to Falmouth, Massachusetts after his retirement in 1986. In 2005, they moved to Hingham, Massachusetts. She died in Weymouth, Massachusetts on February 26, 2006 at the age of eighty-four.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Alice F. Van Ess Brewer Papers consist of correspondence, course records, Silver Bay Association materials, memorabilia, biographical information, and photographs. These documents chiefly date from her years as a student at Mount Holyoke College, 1937-1941. Most of the material in the collection consists of correspondence with her parents, Dorothy Firman Van Ess and John Van Ess. The letters by Brewer, who signed herself "Kitty," date from September 28, 1937-December 11, 1940. She discusses her involvement with Debate Club, Glee Club, and other student organizations, dating and dances, college traditions such as Junior Prom, Founder's Day, May Day Pageant, and hazing, and her struggles to balance her coursework and social life. She also discusses the hurricane of September 1938, and her summer jobs at Silver Bay, a summer camp of the Young Women's Christian Association. Letters by Brewer's parents were written in Basrah, Iraq, where they were stationed as missionaries at a boys' school. These letters date from December 18, 1937-January 19, 1941 and discuss topics such as missionary work, religion, and the pre-war atmosphere in Iraq. Brewer's course records consist of papers from English (1938-1940), religion (1939-1940), and music (1940-1941) classes; these academic papers include poetry, short stories, essays, and a composer's manuscript folio. Materials from the Silver Bay Association consist of a newsletter from 1939, variety show schedules, a constitution of the organization, and Baylights yearbooks. Her memorabilia includes a certificate of membership and letter from Delta Sigma Rho (the honorary debate society), commencement programs, a Junior Show script, and lyrics to Christmas carols. Biographical information includes her United States Foreign Service application and newspaper clippings related to Brewer's life, including her obituary. Photographs consist of portraits and snapshots of Brewer and her Mount Holyoke classmates, circa 1937-1941.

This collection is organized into six series:

  • Correspondence (1937-1941)
  • Course Records (1938-1940)
  • Silver Bay Association Materials (1938-1941)
  • Memorabilia (1937-1949)
  • Biographical Information (circa 1940-2006)
  • Photographs (circa 1937-1941)

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:


Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Alice Van Ess Brewer Papers, 1937-2006, Archives and Special Collections, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA

History of the Collection

Processing Information

Processed by Autumn S. Winslow, 2006

Additional Information
Contact Information
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
8 Dwight Hall
50 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Phone: (413) 538-2013
Fax: (413) 538-2370

Email Reference Form:

Search Terms

The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. To find additional materials use these headings to search this web site, the Five College Library Catalog, or other library catalogs and databases.

The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • Brewer, Alice Van Ess, 1919-2006.
  • Dating (Social Custom).
  • English language-Study and teaching (Higher)-Massachusetts-South Hadley.
  • Iraq-Social Conditions-20th Century.
  • Missionaries-Iraq.
  • Mount Holyoke College-Student life-1937-1940.
  • Mount Holyoke College-Student papers-1938-1940.
  • Mount Holyoke College-Students.
  • Mount Holyoke College-Traditions.
  • Music-Instruction and study-Massachusetts-South Hadley.
  • Religion-Study and teaching (Higher)-Massachusetts-South Hadley.
  • Student activities-Massachusetts-South Hadley.
  • Young Women's Christian Association (Mount Holyoke College).

  • Van Ess, Dorothy Firman, 1885-1975.
  • Van Ess, John, 1879-1949.

Genre terms
  • Letters.
  • Photographs.

Questions about this collection? Contact the archives
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