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Mina Kirstein Curtiss Papers, 1913-2005
33 boxes (11 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 250

Abstract:
English professor, translator, and author. The bulk of the Curtiss papers focus on her writing career including correspondence with publishers and researchers, research material, artwork, and edited typescripts. Other materials include an oral history, photographs, diaries, and extensive correspondence with many eminent figures from the literary world as well as Smith College associates, friends and family members. Correspondents include Dean Acheson, Jacques Barzun, Jill Ker Conway, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, William Allen Neilson, Orson Welles, and Rebecca West.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection, with the following exceptions: researchers must obtain permission from the Morrow family to examine the Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Constance Morrow Morgan correspondence. The John Houseman correspondence is photocopies of letters that are part of the John Houseman Papers in the Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. For copies and information about copyright, please contact UCLA.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to unpublished works in this collection created by Mina Curtiss with the following exception of Lynne Robbins has retained literary rights to "Slices of Life." Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note
Mina Curtiss at Chapelbrook, Ashfield, Massachusetts, n.d.

Mina Curtiss at Chapelbrook, Ashfield, Massachusetts, n.d.

Mina Kirstein Curtiss was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 13, 1896 to Louis Kirstein, an optician, and Rose Stein. She had two younger brothers, Lincoln Kirstein, founder and general director of the New York City Ballet, and George Kirstein, publisher of the Liberal Weekly. The family moved to Rochester, NY in 1901 and remained there until 1912, when they returned to Boston and Louis Kirstein became a partner in Filene's Department Store. Curtiss was schooled at home by a governess until 1912, when she was sent to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend Miss Capen's School. She graduated from Smith College in 1918 and went on to earn an MA in English from Columbia University in 1920.

Prior to attending Columbia, Curtiss worked as a research clerk for Military Intelligence in Washington, D.C., from 1918 to 1920. She lived at the headquarters of the National Woman Suffrage Association where she became friends with Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt. Curtiss married Henry Tomlinson Curtiss in 1926 only to be devastated by his untimely death a year later, in 1927. In 1933 she published The Midst of Life, a book that took the form of a series of letters to her dead husband. From 1922 to 1934 and again from 1940 to 1942, Curtiss was a beloved and highly regarded professor of English at Smith College, returning in 1976, at the age of 81, as Visiting Professor of English Language and Literature to teach a course on writing biography. From 1935 to 1939, she worked with Orson Welles and John Houseman in researching and writing scripts for the Mercury Theatre of the Air. In 1942, she created a program for the Des Moines Register and Tribune radio station, based on soldiers' letters home. This evolved into a book, Letters Home, edited by Curtiss and published in 1944. In 1942 Curtiss also joined the Office of War Information and, with Houseman, developed a short wave radio program for the BBC entitled "Answering You," in which celebrities responded to questions submitted by BBC listeners.

Rather than return to teaching when World War II ended, Curtiss opted to pursue a career in writing, authoring books, journal articles, and book reviews for national and international audiences. She was also fluent in French, and translated and edited works by several noted Frenchmen, including Edgar Degas, Philip Halevy, Marcel Proust, and Alexis Leger (also known as Saint-John Perse). She once said in an interview, "I fall in love with whatever I'm working on," and this passion, combined with a rigorous intellect, made her a tireless, tenacious, and meticulous researcher. Having read Proust and translated his letters for publication in the United States (The Letters of Marcel Proust, 1949), Curtiss was inspired to go to Paris to seek out Proust's family and friends still living, and to unearth more of his correspondence. This research led to publication in 1978 of Other People's Letters: A Memoir and to an interest in the composer Georges Bizet, which Curtiss pursued with characteristic vigor.

Following publication of Other People's Letters: A Memoir in 1978, Curtiss continued to write. She submitted several manuscripts for publication ("Winter Letters," a sequel to Midst of Life; "The Past and I" and "Slices of Life," sequential autobiographies; and "Plato: Archbishop of Moscow," a biographical sketch that evolved from researching A Forgotten Empress: Anna Ivanovich and Her Era, 1730-1740), and to her disappointment all were rejected. Despite a severe heart condition that left her bedridden for the last several years of her life, with the help of her secretary Curtiss continued to edit and modify the manuscripts in hopes that they would eventually go to press.

In addition to teaching and pursuing a career in writing, Curtiss was generous to causes in which she believed, to the extent that her finances allowed. In 1964, she donated most of the land that comprised Chapelbrook, her farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts, to the Trustees of Reservations, before selling the house and remaining acreage privately. She also founded the Chapelbrook Foundation the purpose of which was to provide funding to writers over the age of forty, to enable them to complete works in progress that might otherwise have gone unfinished. Curtiss also donated manuscript material to libraries and repositories, and works of art to museums.

In 1984, Smith College alumnae Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her sister, Constance Morrow Morgan, organized a campaign among Curtiss's former students to raise funds for a tribute to her. The response was overwhelming and led to establishment of the Mina Curtiss Fund, thanks to which a vase of fresh flowers, replaced on a regular basis in perpetuity, graces the Browsing Room in the William Allan Neilson Library at Smith College. Curtiss herself was an avid gardener and, not long before she died, suggested that the tribute take this form.

Mina Kirstein Curtiss died in Connecticut on October 31, 1985.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Mina Kirstein Curtiss Papers consist of 11 linear feet and date from 1913 to 1986. Types of material include biographical information, including an oral history; personal and professional correspondence; photographs; journals and diaries; financial records; clippings; and typescripts of writings. The papers are arranged in six series: Biographical Material, Photographs, Correspondence, Teaching, Writings and Subject Files.

The bulk of the papers dates from 1933 to 1985 and focuses on Curtiss's writing career. It includes correspondence with publishers and researchers, research material, artwork, royalty statements, and typescripts. The typescripts are edited in Curtiss's hand and provide insight into her creative and analytical processes. Correspondence is also extensive and reflects the many friendships Curtiss developed while teaching, and in researching and writing her various books and attempting to see them through to publication. Many of the correspondents are people of note. The correspondence also well illustrates Curtiss's analytical approach to her topics of research.

Although the diaries and journals in this collection are limited in scope, they do reveal something of their author's passionate nature and discerning intellect, as well as some of her struggles and disappointments.

The photographs are also of interest, offering a glimpse into Curtiss's childhood and early family life, as well as life at Chapelbrook, the Curtiss home in Ashfield, Massachusetts.

The financial records document the acquisition of art and antiques, and the necessity for Curtiss to sell certain pieces later in her life, when she faced financial difficulties. They are also evidence of Curtiss's generosity in donating books, manuscript material and artwork to appropriate institutions when she was financially secure.


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

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection, with the following exceptions: researchers must obtain permission from the Morrow family to examine the Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Constance Morrow Morgan correspondence. The John Houseman correspondence is photocopies of letters that are part of the John Houseman Papers in the Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. For copies and information about copyright, please contact UCLA.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to unpublished works in this collection created by Mina Curtiss with the following exception of Lynne Robbins has retained literary rights to "Slices of Life." Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Preferred Citation

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

Mina Kirstein Curtiss Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

Alternative Formats Available

The previous owner of the collection prepared a microfilm edition of biographical clippings and correspondence that replicates approximately two-thirds of the collection. It is available through interlibrary loan and is accessible through an index of events and proper names.

History of the Collection

The Mina Kirstein Curtiss Papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1986 by Kirstein's brothers, Lincoln and George Kirstein. Sallie Gottfried gave additional material in 1987, as did Lynne Robbins, co-executor of Mina Curtiss' estate, in 1988. In 1999, former student Delia Marshall donated a series of letters by Curtiss, spanning the years 1976 to 1985.

Custodial history:

The John Houseman correspondence is photocopies of letters that are part of the John Houseman Papers in the Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

Processing Information

Processed by Burd Schlessinger, 2000.


Additional Information
Contact Information
Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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

Email Reference Form: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/emailform.html
URL: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/

Language
English.