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Elisabeth Koffka Papers, 1937-1943
1 box (0.4 linear ft.)
Collection number: RG 42

Abstract:
Professor of History. Contains correspondence of Elisabeth Koffka.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open for research according to the regulations of the Smith College Archives without any additional restrictions.

Restrictions on use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the documents must be requested from the Smith College Archives. Smith College owns copyright to any published material relating to college events and activities. Provenance and copyright ownership of other materials is unknown and researchers are responsible for determining any question of copyright.

Smith College Archives
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

Elisabeth Ahlgrimm Koffka was born in Germany in 1896. Her father was a teacher at the secondary school level in Germany. Both of her parents died of cancer within 2 weeks of each other in 1928. Koffka had a younger brother, who went on to study agriculture and became a researcher of fertilizers at Gertingham University, and sister, who was a co-director of the progressive Albert-Schweitzer Gymnasium in Hamburg. Koffka herself attended a special select school in Germany, taking mathematics, Latin, history, and German language. From 1916 to 1918 she attended Marburg, Munich, and Kiel Universities studying philology. She eventually chose intellectual history as her major discipline at Geissen University and wrote a thesis on one of Kant's pupils. There she met her future husband, Kurt Koffka, pursuing work in psychology. After obtaining her PhD, she went to Berlin where she worked briefly at the Berlin branch of the Chicago Tribune. She was disinterested in politics, and in 1924 spent a single year teaching at Cornell University. Her husband, Kurt, received offers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Smith College, choosing Smith when the William A. Neilson research chair was founded. She lived in London and Paris for a number of years in the 1920s, and began writing poetry regularly.

Her relationship with Koffka was considered a scandal in the small town of Geissen; they married in 1928 after his marriage and divorce from Mina Klein. Klein agreed to a 3 year divorce from Koffka, who then married Elisabeth, divorcing her and remarrying Klein after the 3 year period ended. Koffka then obtained another final divorce from Klein and remarried Elisabeth in London. (Elisabeth) Koffka joined her husband in Northampton, MA, and was hired as a history professor at Smith College in 1929, a position which she held until her retirement in 1961. Her major teaching field was General European History.

Koffka was in Europe at the time World War II broke out, and had difficulties returning to the U.S. as she was still a German citizen; she did not obtain her American citizenship until 1940. Kurt died in November of 1941, though Koffka later stated that the great number of complications in their marriage prevented her from undergoing a significant depression. In the following years, she spent much time visiting various friends, especially the Nielson family. She had a close relationship with her dog, the spaniel Jolly. Koffka eventually stopped teaching at Smith when her salary decreased, and was offered a professorship at the University of Rochester but declined. In 1978, a group of Koffka's friends collaborated to publish a volume of her poetry written throughout her life, entitled Figures in the Carpet. Koffka died at the age of 98 in 1994.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Elisabeth Koffka Papers encompass a series of letters written to Janice Tarlin, Smith Class of 1931, a former student of Koffka's. Spanning from 1937 until 1943, the letters were written almost monthly, besides a number of wider gaps including a 4 month period following Kurt Koffka's death in 1941. Much of the correspondence addresses trips and travel, including that of Tarlin and Koffka to each other's homes in New York City and Northampton, respectively. Other frequently addressed topics include Kurt Koffka, Elisabeth's history courses, families and friends in their social circle (the Nielsons and Koehlers), Koffka's feelings about travel, isolation, and rural America, and in later letters, news and events relating to World War II. The general file at the beginning of the collection includes a copy of Figures in the Carpet, a rough transcription of an oral history conducted with Elisabeth in 1977-78, and photographs.

An index of letters is available.


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

The papers are open for research according to the regulations of the Smith College Archives without any additional restrictions.

Restrictions on use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the documents must be requested from the Smith College Archives. Smith College owns copyright to any published material relating to college events and activities. Provenance and copyright ownership of other materials is unknown and researchers are responsible for determining any question of copyright.

Preferred Citation

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

Elisabeth Koffka Papers, Box #, Smith College Archives.

History of the Collection

The Elisabeth Koffka papers were donated to the College Archives by Jeff Tarlin, the great nephew of Janice Tarlin, to whom the letters in Koffka's collection are addressed.


Additional Information
Contact Information
Smith College Special Collections
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Email: specialcollections@smith.edu
URL: https://www.smith.edu/libraries/special-collections
Language
English

Contents List
General file
1977-78, n.d.

Box 1: folder 1
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1937, August-December

Box 1: folder 2
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1938, January-December

Box 1: folder 3
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1939, February-August

Box 1: folder 4
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1940, March-November

Box 1: folder 5
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1941, January-December

Box 1: folder 6
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1942, January- October

Box 1: folder 7
Correspondence with Janice Tarlin
1943, January- August

Box 1: folder 8

Questions about this collection? Contact the archives
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