Five College Archives and Manuscript
                        Collections
Home >> Sophia Smith Collection >> Bessie Boies Cotton Papers, 1881-1983
Smith College seal
Bessie Boies Cotton Papers, 1881-1983
5 boxes (1.5 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 36

Abstract:
YWCA overseas official. The bulk of the Bessie Boies Cotton Papers focus on her work in the YWCA, particularly during her time in Russia, and the courtship between Cotton and her husband, Thomas. Cotton's papers provide valuable insight into the work of the YWCA in Russia from 1917 to 1919 as well as the conditions in Russia during the Revolution and World War I. Although Cotton worked with several women's rights organizations and groups devoted to promoting peace, there is little evidence of that work in this collection. Material includes correspondence, diaries, reports, writings, family histories, memorabilia, and photographs.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to unpublished works created by Bessie Boies Cotton. Copyright to materials created 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 must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note
Bessie Boies Cotton in YWCA war work uniforn, n.d.

Bessie Boies Cotton in YWCA war work uniforn, n.d.

Bessie (Elizabeth) Boies Cotton was born on April 5, 1880 in Hudson, Michigan to banker, insurance investor, and state politician John Keep Boies and teacher Mary Worthington Colton Boies. Orphaned at age eleven, she spent much of her childhood with her uncle and aunt, Frank and Abbie (Colton) Childs on a farm outside of Hudson. She attended the Mary Burnham School in Northampton, Massachusetts, and then entered the Lake Erie College for Women in Painesville, Ohio, to prepare for college. After graduating from Smith College in 1903 with a degree in history, she taught at Lake Erie College for three years. She attended the University of Chicago, earning an M.A. in history in 1908. Boies attended some graduate classes at Columbia University during the 1908-09 academic year.

Boies joined the staff of the National Board of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in 1909, serving until 1940. By 1913, she was placed in charge of the department of personnel for the YWCA's Department of Method. In 1915, she was assigned to set up YWCA facilities at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. In January 1917, Russian women within the Kerensky Provisional Government invited the YWCA to help working women, recently granted full civil rights, to prepare themselves for their new role in society. Boies and one other secretary established an association in Petrograd and in Moscow and worked with women's groups in other cities. They operated a shipboard exhibition along the Volga River in 1918, demonstrating improved nutrition, child care, and agricultural techniques to villagers. The combination of political upheavals as the Bolsheviks seized control, the threat of German invasion after March 1918, and Allied intervention in northern Russia in support of the anti-Bolsheviks led to the evacuation of all Americans from the Bolshevik-controlled portions of the country. Traveling through Stockholm, Boies made her way into northern Russia where she set up box-car canteens for U.S. troops in Archangel.

While in Russia, Boies met Thomas Cotton, a YMCA worker, whom she married in 1919 and divorced in 1938. They had two children, John Boies Cotton and Deborah Boies Cotton Leighton.

In 1921, Bessie Cotton was appointed foreign staff secretary, responsible for seeking out candidates for foreign service, planning their training, and supervising their work. Cotton was especially interested in women's rights, and supported organizations that promoted the welfare of women and children. She continued to work as a consultant for the YWCA up until 1945. She died in Los Angeles, California, on April 23, 1959.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Bessie Boies Cotton Papers consist of 1.5 linear feet and relate to her professional and personal life, dating from 1891 to 1983. The bulk of the papers date from 1910 to 1935 and focus on Cotton's work in the YWCA, particularly during her time in Russia, and the courtship between Cotton and her husband, Thomas. Cotton's papers provide valuable insight into the work of the YWCA in Russia from 1917 to 1919 as well as the conditions in Russia during the Revolution and World War I. There is little material documenting the last twenty-five years of her life, or her relationship with her family after her marriage. Although Cotton worked with several women's rights organizations and groups devoted to promoting peace, there is little evidence of that work in this collection. Types of material include correspondence; diaries; reports; magazine articles and newspaper clippings; family histories; financial records; membership lists; pamphlets; memorabilia; and photographs.


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.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to unpublished works created by Bessie Boies Cotton. Copyright to materials created 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 must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Preferred Citation

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

Bessie Boies Cotton Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA

Additional Formats

Selections from the Bessie Boies Cotton Papers can be viewed in the Web exhibit "An Ever-Widening Circle of Friendship": YWCA Overseas Secretaries from China to Liberia.

History of the Collection

Deborah Boies Leighton donated her mother's papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1983.

Processing Information

Reprocessed by Kara M. McClurken, 2002.


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.
Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Series Descriptions
(1897-1983)
.25 linear ft.

This series provides a synopsis of Cotton's professional and personal life through family histories, chronologies taken from her diaries, resumes, memorials written at her death, and newspaper and magazine clippings. Cotton's granddaughter, Elizabeth Leighton, wrote a biographical account of her grandmother's career in Russia, which is also included in this series. Other materials include memorabilia, genealogy notes, and a few financial records, including a letter of credit for her YWCA work in Russia.

(1881-1951)
.25 linear ft.

This series comprises a quarter of the collection, the largest portion being letters between Bessie Boies and her future husband, Thomas Cotton, describing their activities in the YWCA and the YMCA, particularly their work in Russia in the late 1910s. The series also includes letters to, from, and about members of Cotton's family, as well as condolence letters written upon the death of Bessie Boies Cotton. Folders in the family subseries include letters written to and from Bessie Boies Cotton, while letters between other family members are listed in a separate subseries. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent within each subseries and then chronologically within each folder.

(1910-57)
.25 linear ft.

This series consists of the diaries of Bessie Boies Cotton spanning the years 1910 to 1919 and 1924 to 1957. Cotton used the diaries as both journals and appointment calendars, and the diaries reveal snapshots of Cotton's activities in both her personal and professional life. Several of the diaries with the title, A Line A Day, allowed Cotton to write daily entries for multiple years on a single page; these diaries are therefore not strictly chronological.

(1913-81)
.25 linear ft.

This series focuses mostly on Cotton's work in Russia, but also includes material related to her 1935 visit to the Middle East and the Memorial Fund set up in Cotton's memory after her death. Her official reports to the Department of Method from 1913 to 1916 and her 1935 report on the YWCA in the Middle East provide a detailed look at the work that Cotton performed for the YWCA, along with her opinions about the purpose and goals of the association. The personal reports, as well as the articles and publications, reveal the trials and frustrations that she faced while in Russia. Also included in this series are newspaper clippings tracking the political and social climate in Russia in 1919, as well as official certificates written in Russian related to Bessie Boies Cotton's work there. (The latter includes translations in English written by an unknown author.)

(1902-87)
.5 linear ft.

This series contains hundreds of photographs primarily documenting Russian life and culture during the late 1910s. While many of the photographs are not identified, they portray a wide range of Russian people and landscapes, including the work of the YWCA in Russia during Cotton's tenure there. The series also includes photographs of Cotton and her husband, her trip to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, her return to Russia in 1928, and her trip to the Middle East in 1935. Materials removed from Cotton's photo album are identified.

Contents List
Finding Aid


Box 1
SERIES I. BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS
(1897-1983)


Biographical notes, resumes, genealogy, memorials, etc.,
1959, n.d.

Box 1: folder 1-5
"A Woman's Mission to Revolutionary Russia: Bessie Boies Cotton and the YWCA" by Elizabeth Leighton,
1983

Box 1: folder 6
Newspaper clippings and magazine articles,
1918-19, 1928-29, n.d.

Box 1: folder 7
Memorabilia,
1917-18, 1957

Box 1: folder 8
Note:
Story written by Abby Childs,
n.d.

Box 1: folder 9
Newspaper clippings about Boies C. Hart,
1917, 1946

Box 1: folder 10
Financial material,
1917

Box 1: folder 11
Address book,
n.d.

Box 1: folder 12
SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE
(1881-1951)


Family



Boies, Edna,
1894-95

Box 1: folder 13
Boies, John K. and Mary W.,
1901, 1917, n.d.

Box 1: folder 14
Childs, Abbie Colton,
1917

Box 1: folder 15
Cotton, Deborah,
1935

Box 1: folder 16
Cotton, Thomas,
1918-19

Box 2: folder 1-4
Hart, Herman,
1894-95, 1918

Box 2: folder 5
Other family



Boies, Mary C., to her mother,
1881, 1887-88, n.d.

Box 2: folder 6
Childs, Abbie Colton, to her mother, Jenny,
1881-89

Box 2: folder 7
Cotton, Thomas to family,
1918

Box 2: folder 8
Hart, Herman to Jane Colton,
1889

Box 2: folder 9
Friends and associates



General,
1912, 1922, 1948, 1950, 1951, n.d.

Box 2: folder 10
P. E. Meyer,
1901

Box 2: folder 11
Third party



Unidentified,
1879, 1919, 1927

Box 2: folder 12
Letters of condolence re: death of Bessie Boies Cotton,
1959, n.d.

Box 2: folder 13
SERIES III. DIARIES
(1910-57)


Vols.
1-4, 1910-15

Box 3: folder 1
Vols.
5-7, 1916-19

Box 3: folder 2
Vols.
8-11, 1931-57, n.d.

Box 3: folder 3
SERIES IV. YWCA
(1913-81)


Official reports,
1913-16, 1935, 1937

Box 4: folder 1
Personal reports,
1917-19

Box 4: folder 2
Magazine articles, YWCA publications, and newspaper clippings,
1917-19

Box 4: folder 3
Russia: newspaper clippings and magazine articles,
1917, 1919

Box 4: folder 4
Note:
Certificates (in Russian),
1917-20, n.d.

Box 4: folder 5
Note:
Russian group lists,
1958

Box 4: folder 6
Bessie Cotton Memorial Fund,
1959-63, 1981, n.d.

Box 4: folder 7
SERIES V. PHOTOGRAPHS
(1902-87)


Bessie Boies Cotton and family,
1902, 1918-19, 1974, n.d.

Box 5: folder 1
YWCA



Panama-Pacific Exposition,
1915

Box 5: folder 2
YWCA exhibition boat,
1918

Box 5: folder 3
Western Front: Archangel,
1918

Box 5: folder 4
YWCA staff, activities, and headquarters,
1917-19, 1921, n.d.

Box 5: folder 5
Russian Revolution,
circa 1915-19

Box 5: folder 6
Russian political leaders (Catherine Breschkofskaya, Tolstoi, Stalin),
1917, 1931, n.d.

Box 5: folder 7
Russian trip,
1928

Box 5: folder 8
Middle East trip,
1935

Box 5: folder 9
Russian people and landscapes,
n.d.

Box 5: folder 10
Unidentified,
n.d.

Box 5: folder 11
OVERSIZE MATERIALS



Russian Daily News (7 issues),
Nov 1917

Flat File
Passport, Elizabeth Boies,
Apr 1918

Flat File
Insurance certificate (in Russian),
Dec 1920

Flat File
Maps of Moscow, (two black and white, one color),
n.d.

Flat File

Search Terms
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.

Subjects
  • Cotton, Bessie Boies, 1880-1959
  • Cotton, Thomas Lucius, 1891-1964
  • Soviet Union--History--Revolution, 1917-1921--Sources
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- War work -- Young Women's Christian Association
  • Young Women's Christian Associations--Middle East--History
  • Young Women's Christian Associations--Russia--History


Questions about this collection? Contact the archives
Home | Help | About | Search