Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
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Miriam Usher Chrisman Papers, 1878-2008 (Bulk: 1938-1995)
6 boxes (3 linear ft.)
Collection number: FS 128

Abstract:
A noted scholar of the social impact of the German Reformation, Miriam Usher Chrisman was born in Ithaca, New York, on May 20, 1920. With degrees from Smith College, American University, and Yale, she served for over thirty years on the faculty of the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, becoming a well-loved professor and treasured mentor to a generation of students.

A faithful and colorful correspondent, the bulk of Miriam Chrisman's papers consist of letters written to family and friends stretching from her college days at Smith through the year before her death. The bulk of the correspondence is with her husband, Donald Chrisman, an orthopedic surgeon who was enrolled at Harvard Medical School during their courtship. Soon after the Chrismans married in November 1943, Donald left for active duty in the Navy on the U.S.S. Baldwin. The couple's war correspondence is unusually rich, offering insight on everything from the social responsibilities of married couples to their opinions on the progression of the war. Of particular note is a lengthy letter written by Donald during and immediately after D-Day in which he provides Miriam a real-time description of the events and his reactions as they unfold. Later letters document Miriam's extensive travels including a trip around the world.

Terms of Access and Use:

The collection is open for research.

Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Biographical Note
Miriam Chrisman (passport photo), 1964

Miriam Chrisman (passport photo), 1964

A noted scholar of the social impact of the German Reformation, Miriam Usher Chrisman was born in Ithaca, New York, on May 20, 1920. With degrees from Smith College, American University, and Yale, she served for over thirty years on the faculty of the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, becoming a well-loved professor and treasured mentor to a generation of students.

From birth, Chrisman seemed destined for a career in academia. Chrisman's roots in the intellectual elite of Massachusetts ran deep -- an ancestor Hezekiah Usher, imported the press and type with which John Eliot's Indian Bible was printed -- and her father, Abbott Payson Usher, was a distinguished economic historian at Cornell and later Harvard. Graduating magna cum laude with an A.B. from Smith College (1941) shortly before the onset of the Second World War, Chrisman's plans for an academic career were delayed. After marrying Don Chrisman, a medical student at Harvard, on November 29, 1943, Miriam took a series of jobs with the federal government in Washington, D.C., while Don served on active duty with the Navy aboard the Gleaves-class destroyer, U.S.S. Baldwin in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

At the end of the war, the Chrismans returned home to Massachusetts and settled in Northampton, where Donald began a practice in orthopedics at Cooley Dickinson Hospital while Miriam resumed her studies. After earning graduate degrees in education (Smith College, 1948) and economics (American University), she studied history at Yale (MA,1959, and PhD, 1962), completing her dissertation, "Church and city in Strasbourg, 1480-1548: A study of the stages of the Reformation," in 1962, just prior to joining the History Department at UMass Amherst.

During her long career, Chrisman became a leading authority on the social history of the German Reformation, the city of Strasbourg forming the intellectual locus of much of her work. The first of her seven books, Strasbourg and the Reform (1967), was quickly recognized as a landmark in its field, balancing an understanding of both high and low culture with an appreciation for the impact of the Reformation on the lives of the non-elite. In later works such as Lay Culture, Learned Culture: Books and Social Change in Strasbourg, 1480-1599 (1982) and Conflicting Visions of Reform: German Lay Propaganda Pamphlets, 1519-30 (1996), Chrisman explored the impact of print culture in German cities during the early Reformation, again with an eye on social movements and the common people. An avid world traveler, her several research trips to Strasbourg influenced her life in other ways: her experiences there and in other locations abroad led her husband, Donald, to embark on a second career in archaeology upon his retirement from medicine.

Widely recognized for her scholarship, Chrisman was awarded the Prix d'honneur by the Societe des Amis de Vieux Strasbourg, the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale University, and received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Valparaiso University. She was twice awarded the UMass Chancellor's Medal, first as a Distinguished Faculty Lecturer in 1985 and again in 2000 for her support of the Du Bois Library. In her honor, the Society for Reformation Research established the Miriam U. Chrisman Travel Fellowship, which provides grants of $1500 every other year to support advanced graduate students in conducting research abroad. Chrisman formally retired in 1985, but continued to teach for almost a decade more.

Donald Chrisman died in 2002, with Miriam following on November 17, 2008. They are survived by two sons, Nicholas Ramsey Chrisman and David Abbott Chrisman.

Scope and contents of the collection

The Chrisman collection details the life of an affluent, well-educated, New England woman, Miriam Usher Chrisman. Beginning in the late 1930s while Chrisman was in her late teens, the collection contains extensive personal and (to a lesser degree) professional correspondence throughout her life. Of particular note are a dense series of courtship letters written during the Second World War mixing a budding romance with information from the front lines in Europe. A series of meticulous continuous account books, beginning in 1944 and stretching through the 1990s, outline the daily aspects of wartime life, along with the complexities facing a new bride in arranging the domestic sphere of her new life.

Chrisman was unusually well-traveled, as illustrated in a copious series of notes, itineraries, and receipts from both professional and personal trips. The three major research trips to Strasbourg are particularly well documented, augmented by extensive personal correspondence during that trip with her two sons. In its most recent years, the collection focuses on Chrisman's personal life, with ample correspondence demonstrating a rich, cherished relationship with her grandchildren. Overall, Chrisman comes across as a highly organized, detail-oriented person who spent significant time planning and organizing her life.


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

The collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: Miriam Usher Chrisman Papers (FS 128). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

History of the Collection

Acquired from Chrisman, 1999.

Processing Information

Processed by Rusty Annis, Yolanda Clarke, and Catherine Sebastian, December 2010.


Additional Information
Contact Information
Special Collections and University Archives
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-9275

Phone: (413) 545-2780
Fax: (413) 577-1399
Link to SCUA
Language
English
Bibliography

Chrisman's major published works (all housed in the Du Bois Library) include:

  • Miriam Usher Chrisman. Strasbourg and the Reform: A Study in the Process of Change. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967. Call no.: BR848.S7 C45
  • Miriam Usher Chrisman (editor, with Otto Grundler). Social Groups and Religious Ideas in the Sixteenth Century. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, 1978. Call no.: CB367.C66
  • Miriam Usher Chrisman. Bibliography of Strasbourg Imprints, 1480-1599. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982. Call no.: Z2184.S83 C47
  • Miriam Usher Chrisman. Lay Culture, Learned Culture: Books and Social Change in Strasbourg, 1480-1599. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982. Call no.: DC801.S77 C47
  • Miriam U. Chrisman, "Printing and the Evolution of Lay Culture in Strasbourg, 1480-1599," The German People and the Reformation, Edited by R. Po-Chia Hsia (Cornell University Press, 1988).
  • Phillip N. Bebb and Sherrin Marshall, eds. The Process of Change in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of Miriam Usher Chrisman. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1988. (Festschrift for Chrisman). Call no.: D231.P74 1988
  • Miriam Usher Chrisman. Conflicting Visions of Reform: German Lay Propaganda Pamphlets, 1519-1530. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1996. Call no.: BR355.P36 C47 1996


Series Descriptions
1878-2008
73 folders (1.5 linear feet)

Series 1 contains extensive correspondence between Chrisman and the people she held close throughout her lifetime. Beginning with a letter from Donald Chrisman's mother in 1878, this series spans Miriam Chrisman's entire life, beginning during Chrisman's college years at Smith (roughly 1937 to 1941) and ending with several letters from a niece in 2008. The earliest letters detail Chrisman's daily experiences in college and her involvement with the American Friends Service Committee in Northampton.

Of particular note are the courtship, engagement, and newlywed letters between Miriam and her husband, Donald Chrisman. Not only do these letters reveal the couple's feelings for one another, they offer a glimpse into the conventions of courtship and marriage in World War Two-era America, even to the details of how they planned to arrange the furniture in their new home. Their letters after the wedding are equally interesting, written while Donald was deployed on the destroyer, U.S.S. Baldwin, off the European coast. This extensive correspondence hints at the feelings of thousands of wartime couples, and offers a perspective on censorship issues of the day -- many of Donald's letters were modified by the United States government to ensure they revealed nothing sensitive -- all while providing insight into the experiences of husband in the theatre of conflict and wife on the home front. Of special note is a Donald's long and unusually detailed letter written by Donald regarding his experiences on D-Day, outlined hour-by-hour, and a letter reflecting on Donald's experiences at Yalta.

After the war, the focus of Chrisman's correspondence returns to her educational pursuits, from discussing her fears at writing her first thesis to letters to her publisher for her second book. There is extensive correspondence with her two sons, Abbott and Nick, from their childhood days at boarding school and camp to their collegiate years and early adulthood. Also of note is Chrisman's correspondence home during three research trips to Strasbourg: rather remarkably, each trip resulted in a new book on the German Reformation. Finally, this series contains some correspondence between Don and his parents in his earlier years, including his acceptance into Harvard Medical School.

1938-2001
23 folders

A rambling record of Chrisman's world travels, series two begins with detailed notes of museum trips around the Mediterranean in 1952, and continues for almost five decades, including a round-the-world trip in 1972, an early visit to the newly opened Peoples Republic of China in 1982, travel to Russia in 1985, and the Spice Route in 1985. The series also contains a wonderfully detailed diary of a summer-long trip to France.

The series is arranged chronologically.

1930-2008
20 folders

Series three is a somewhat scattered collection of family memorabilia from the Chrismans' lives. Several folders of postcards and Christmas cards, mostly undated, join a small number of professional and community honors, such as an award for volunteer service from the University of Massachusetts Library and newspaper clippings of Don Chrisman's achievements. The series includes an autobiography written by Don in 1935 as well as an audio cassette of Don's father's memories of post-Civil War politics in Missouri. A large portion of the series consists of home publications and artwork made by her grandchildren. One of the most fascinating items in this series is a folder of Christmas Lists, with corresponding receipts, from 1991 through 2000.

1944-1995
43 folders

Series four consists of a continuous set of household account books from 1944 through 1985 kept by Miriam Chrisman and her husband, Don. Beginning in 1944, these accounts detail annual household budgets, rent or mortgage payments, taxes including some years' W2 forms, food, clothing, entertainment, travel, and education expenses among others. In addition to tracking daily costs, Ms. Chrisman detailed the items needed to set up a household after their marriage in extensive, meticulous lists within many of the earlier account books. She also kept detailed size, item, and cost information for both her and her husband's clothing for many years. There is limited information as well on the costs associated with operating her husband's medical practice.

As with nearly every aspect of this collection, Chrisman proves herself once again to be a highly organized, meticulous individual through the consistency and detail of these account books. As their professional lives advance, their movement into the upper middle class can be tracked by extensive line item details regarding luxury expenditures, charitable giving, and professional development costs.

Contents List
Series 1. Correspondence
1878-2008
1.5 linear feet

Correspondence: Miriam Chrisman notes
1878

Box 1:1
Correspondence: Travels in France and Spain
1927

Box 1:2
Correspondence: Father to Miriam and Eunice
1929

Box 1:3
Correspondence: Don Chrisman
1932

Box 1:4
Correspondence: To Miriam
1935

Box 1:5
Correspondence
1936

Box 1:6
Correspondence
1937

Box 1:7
Correspondence: Miriam to her family; AFSE
1938

Box 1:8
Correspondence: College: Miriam and Family
1939

Box 1:9
Correspondence
1940

Box 1:10
Correspondence: College: Miriam and Family; Courtship
1941

Box 1:11
Correspondence: Courtship
1942

Box 1:12
Correspondence: Engagement
1943 January

Box 1:13
Correspondence
1943 February

Box 1:14
Correspondence
1943 March-April

Box 1:15
Correspondence
1943 May-July

Box 1:16
Correspondence: Charleston Naval Yard, Casablanca I [August-September 25], Casablanca II [October 15-November 24]
1943 August-October

Box 1:17
Correspondence: The Wedding
1943 November- December

Box 1:18
Correspondence
1944 January-March

Box 1:19
Correspondence: Lead up to D-day
1944 April-May

Box 1:20
Correspondence: D-day
1944 June

Box 1:21
Correspondence
1944 June-July

Box 1:22
Correspondence
1944 August

Box 1:23
Correspondence
1944 September

Box 1:24
Correspondence
1944 October-December

Box 1:25
Correspondence: Yalta, Washington
1945-1946

Box 1:26
Correspondence
1948

Box 1:27
Correspondence
1949

Box 1:28
Correspondence
1950

Box 1:29
Correspondence
1951-1955

Box 1:30
Correspondence: From Father; Miriam Chrisman's professional/academic advancements
1956-1960

Box 1:31
Correspondence
1961

Box 1:32
Correspondence
1962

Box 1:33
Correspondence: Abbott, Cottonwood Gulch, Pasquany, photos
1963

Box 2:1
Correspondence: Strasbourg
1964 May-August

Box 2:2
Correspondence
1964 September-December

Box 2:3
Correspondence: Choate
1965

Box 2:4
Correspondence
1966

Box 2:5
Correspondence
1967

Box 2:6
Correspondence
1968

Box 2:7
Correspondence: Strasbourg
1969

Box 2:8
Correspondence
1970 January-February

Box 2:9
Correspondence
1970 March

Box 2:10
Correspondence
1970 April-May

Box 2:11
Correspondence
1970 June-August

Box 2:12
Correspondence
1970 September-December

Box 2:13
Correspondence
1971 January-August

Box 2:14
Correspondence
1971 September

Box 2:15
Correspondence
1971 October

Box 2:16
Correspondence
1971 November-December

Box 2:17
Correspondence
1972

Box 2:18
Correspondence: Strasbourg
1973

Box 2:19
Correspondence: Strasbourg
1975

Box 2:20
Correspondence
1976

Box 2:21
Correspondence
1977

Box 2:22
Correspondence
1978

Box 2:23
Correspondence
1979

Box 2:24
Correspondence
1980

Box 2:25
Correspondence
1981

Box 2:26
Correspondence: Strasbourg
1983 February

Box 2:27
Correspondence: Grandchildren
1988-1990

Box 2:28
Correspondence
1992

Box 2:29
Correspondence
1993

Box 2:30
Correspondence: Abbott
1994

Box 3:1
Correspondence
1995

Box 3:2
Correspondence
1996

Box 3:3
Correspondence
1997

Box 3:4
Correspondence
1998

Box 3:5
Correspondence
2004

Box 3:6
Correspondence: Arlene
2005

Box 3:7
Correspondence
2006

Box 3:8
Correspondence
2007

Box 3:9
Correspondence
2008

Box 3:10
Series 2. Travel
1938-2001
23 folders

Correspondence: Don Chrisman
1938-1954

Box 3:11
Travel: Turkey, Crete, Greece, Palermo, Naples, Paris
1952

Box 3:12
Travel: Three Mile
1955-1958

Box 3:13
Travel: World tour preparations
1971

Box 3:14
Travel: World tour, part 1
1972

Box 3:15
Travel: World tour, part 2
1972

Box 3:16
Travel: World tour, part 3
1972

Box 4:1
Travel: China, part 1
1982

Box 4:2
Travel: China, part 2
1982

Box 4:3
Travel: Russia
1985

Box 4:4
Travel: Indonesia
1986

Box 4:5
Travel: Spice Route
1986

Box 4:6
Travel: Spain
1987

Box 4:7
Travel: Pacific Northwest
1989

Box 4:8
Travel: Strasbourg
1990

Box 4:9
Travel: Florence
1997

Box 4:10
Travel: Southwest
1998

Box 4:11
Travel: Saint Barths
2000

Box 4:12
Travel: Tucson
2001

Box 4:13
Travel Diary: Scotland, London, Brussels, Italy

Box 4:14
Travel Diary: France

Box 4:15
Travel: Notes on the British Museum

Box 4:16
Travel: Passports
1964

Box 4:17
Series 3. Family
1930-2008
20 folders

Family: Alfred Mainzer Postcards
2006-2008

Box 5:1
Family: Christmas Lists
1972-2000

Box 5:2
Family: Christmas and other Cards

Box 5:3
Family: The Chronicles of Simon De Montfort

Box 5:4
Family: Don Chrisman in the News
1991-1996

Box 5:5
Family: Don Chrisman's Autobiography
1935

Box 5:6
Family: Don Chrisman's Official Matters
1942-1943

Box 5:7
Family: Ellen Thompson Weiss: Memories of Growing up at Brushwood
1930-1937

Box 5:8
Family: Gocky Newsletter and Letters from Lindsey

Box 5:9
Family: Gramps Chrisman Oral History [Listen]

Box 5:10
Family: Grandchildren, Part 1

Box 5:11
Family: Grandchildren, Part 2

Box 5:12
Family: Library Award 2000

Box 5:13
Family: Nick's School in France

Box 5:14
Family: Notes on Archiving Papers

Box 5:15
Family: Notes for Career Day

Box 5:16
Family: Obituary of Miriam's Father
1947

Box 5:17
Famly: The Peasant's Alphabet

Box 5:18
Family: Photograph Cards

Box 5:19
Family: St. John's Church Bulletin
1992

Box 5:20
Series 4. Account books
1944-1995
43 folders

Accounts
1944

Box 6
Accounts
1945-1946

Box 6
Accounts
1947

Box 6
Accounts
1948

Box 6
Accounts
1949

Box 6
Office
1949

Box 6
Accounts
1950

Box 6
Accounts
1951

Box 6
Accounts
1952

Box 6
Accounts
1953

Box 6
Accounts
1954

Box 6
Accounts
1955

Box 6
Accounts
1956

Box 6
Accounts
1957

Box 6
Accounts
1958

Box 6
Accounts
1959

Box 6
Accounts
1960

Box 6
Accounts
1961

Box 6
Accounts
1962

Box 6
Accounts
1963

Box 6
Accounts
1964

Box 6
Accounts
1965

Box 6
Accounts
1966

Box 6
Accounts
1967

Box 6
Accounts
1968

Box 6
Accounts
1969

Box 6
Accounts
1970

Box 6
Accounts
1971

Box 6
Accounts
1972

Box 6
Accounts
1973

Box 6
Accounts
1974

Box 6
Accounts
1975

Box 6
Accounts
1976

Box 6
Accounts
1977

Box 6
Accounts
1978

Box 6
Accounts
1979

Box 6
Accounts
1980

Box 6
Accounts
1981

Box 6
Accounts
1982

Box 6
Accounts
1983

Box 6
Accounts
1984

Box 6
Accounts
1985

Box 6
Account Books
1993-1995

Box 6

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
  • China--Description and travel.
  • Courtship.
  • Europe--Description and travel.
  • France--Description and travel.
  • Historians--Massachusetts.
  • Smith College--Students.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of History.
  • World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--France--Normandy.
  • World War, 1939-1945.

Contributors
  • Chrisman, Donald.
  • Chrisman, Miriam Usher.

Genre terms
  • Photographs.
  • Watercolor painting.


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