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Helen Calder Robertson letters


Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Helen Calder Robertson (1894-1982) was a member of the Class of 1916 who took her A.B. in French and Modern History. She lived all four years in Rockefeller Hall and was an active member of the Christian Association. After graduation, she was a Volunteer Manager at the Eye Clinic at Rhode Island Hospital from 1916-18. She later worked for the Red Cross Home Service, from 1918-19. She was the author of Three Histories of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island 1722-1956.

The Helen C. Robertson letters contain the personal correspondence of Helen Robertson, Bryn Mawr class of 1916. The collection, which ranges from 1913-1916, primarily consists of Robertson's correspondence during her time at Bryn Mawr.

The collection is housed in one box holding four folders. Each folder houses Robertson's correspondence, which has been kept in the order in which it was received, chronologically by academic year.

The letters were written to Robertson's family and are detailed and informative, providing valuable insight on a range of topics: student life; faculty rapport; descriptions of faculty members and coursework; dorm life (Robertson lived in Rockefeller all four years); Christian Association; Self-Government; visiting lecturers; traditions, etc. It should be noted that before the letters were given to the Archives, pages and/or paragraphs not pertaining to Bryn Mawr were removed. In some cases, the pages were cut apart and segments were cut out of a page. The result is that the bulk of the letters are fragments, many undated and/or unsigned. However, it was possible to date many of the fragments by the content (events, etc.), in which case the date was penciled in, in brackets.

These letters contain a wealth of information on a wide range of topics. They provide a personal, detailed view of student life at Bryn Mawr during the early twentieth century. It offers especially valuable insight into the Christian Association, which was among the most popular student groups on campus for many years.

Folder 1: January- April 1913 Folder 2: September 1913- May 1914 Folder 3: October 1914- June 1915

Digitized copies of the Helen Calder Robertson letters are available to view on Triptych at

These letters were donated to the Archives by Margaret Gilman McKenna, A.B. 1942, whose mother, Margaret Williams Gilman, A.B. 1914, was a close friend of Robertson's.

Bryn Mawr College
Finding Aid Author
Cassidy Gruber Baruth
Finding Aid Date
2018 October 22
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17)

Collection Inventory

Folder 1, January 1913-April 1913.
Scope and Contents

In this selection of letters from the end of her first year of college (January-April 1913), Robertson talks about class elections for the President, Vice-President, Secretary, swimming captain, and stage and business managers for the Freshman Show. The Freshman Show itself is a prominent theme. Robertson discusses her attempts to write a song for the event, and then the performance itself. Her letters from April detail lectures given by Samuel Arthur King (lecturer in English Diction); Don Roscoe Joseph (Associate Professor in Physiology); Alfred Noyes (English poet); Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (a leader of British Antarctic Expeditions); and Dean Walter T. Sumner (Episcopal Cathedral, Chicago).

Folder 2, September 1913- May 1914.
Scope and Contents

Robertson's letters in this folder cover a wide variety of topics from her sophomore year of college (September 1913-1914). She provides detailed descriptions of professors, including Bryn Mawr giants Constance Applebee and Theodore De Laguna. These descriptions illuminate student-faculty relationships, and provide insight into student perspectives. She also discusses various activities of the Christian Association, such as a reception for the first years. A few prominent speakers came to campus in 1913-1914. Robertson describes a visit from Umeko Tsuda, who spoke on the education of Japanese women. Later in the year, suffragist Anna Howard Shaw gave a lecture under the auspices of the College Suffrage League. Together, these lectures highlight some of the issues dominating campus. Some of the other notable topics in Robertson's letters include the Lantern Night, the Faculty Hockey Game, exams, and May Day.

Folder 3, October 1914- June 1915.
Scope and Contents

The letters in this folder are from Robertson's junior year at Bryn Mawr (October 1914- June 1915). The Christian Association remains a prominent feature in Robertson's letters. In one of her letters, she describes discovering that a fellow student is Jewish, and her own discomfort with asking her to join the C.A. Later letters describe a retreat taken by the Association. A good deal of time is spent describing her school work and exams. Robertson briefly mentions the war effort, noting that students are knitting wildly for the Red Cross. She discusses in detail a lecture given by author Charlotte Perkins Gilman on "Women and Economics."

Folder 4, September 1915- May 1916.
Scope and Contents

Folder 4 contains letters from Robertson's senior at Bryn Mawr (September 1915- May 1916). The primary themes of these letters are the academics and traditions of her senior year. Robertson describes Parade Night, which in the early 20th century was a much more involved tradition than it is today. She also talks about the French and German oral examinations taken by the seniors, and the traditions surrounding these exams (i.e. oral songs). She also continues to offer anecdotes of professors and faculty at Bryn Mawr, describing going to tea with Constance Applebee, stories about Samuel Claggett Chew, and M. Carey Thomas' lectures in chapel. She further describes the athletics competitions between the classes, noting that 1917 was the winner. Robertson makes brief mention of Julia, a maid in Rockefeller. This is noteworthy, as maids, who were often African-American, are very infrequently mentioned in the College Archives as a whole. To round off her senior year, Robertson writes about May Day, Garden Party invitations, and the last day of lectures.

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