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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
Born on May 3rd, 1896, Henrietta Elizabeth Baldwin grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She attended Williamsport High School before enrolling in Misses Kirke's boarding school in Bryn Mawr to prepare for the Bryn Mawr College entrance exams. She attended Bryn Mawr College from 1917-1921. On the 1961 Alumnae survey, she listed her majors as Economics, Politics, and Psychology. After graduation, she worked as a psychologist at the State Industrial Home for Women in Muncy, P.A from 1922-1947. She primarily conducted Binet tests. In 1929, She married Mr. Pierrepont E. Sperry. After college, she lived in Sunbury, Northumberland, and Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. The couple had one child, a son named Pierrepont E. Sperry, Jr, born in 1933. Henrietta spent the last years of her life in The Episcopal Church Home. She died on June 30, 1986.
Sheldon Clarke served with the 9th Balloon Division overseas during the First World War.
The Henrietta Baldwin Sperry papers are a collection of approximately 1000 handwritten letters that provide a window onto the daily life of a Bryn Mawr student in the early 20th century, including descriptions of traditions, social gatherings, and studying. She describes her courses, professors, fellow students, campus jobs, dances, meals, the 1918 flu epidemic and resulting quarantine. There is a particularly striking November 11th, 1918 letter wherein she describes the college's reaction to the armistice.
The letters are divided into three distinct categories: letters from Henrietta to her mother, Susan Baldwin; letters from World War I balloonist, Sheldon Clarke, to Henrietta; and letters from third parties to either Henrietta or her mother. Folders containing the correspondence are arranged by semesters, years, and also by recipient, with Henrietta's correspondence first, then the Sheldon Clark correspondence, then third party correspondence including correspondence to Henrietta from her mother, and finally, undated Henrietta correspondence. Folder-level scope description exists for Henrietta's correspondence under "Collection Organization."
The bulk of the collection consists of the letters Baldwin wrote to her mother, Susan Baldwin, with whom she was close and whom she considered her "chum." They are upbeat in tone. In one letter Baldwin writes, "I am, as usual, the happiest girl in the world." These letters are from 1916 to 1921 and cover her experiences at Misses Kirke's boarding school (1916-1917) and later Bryn Mawr College (1917-1921). There are also some letters from the summer after she graduated. Baldwin writes mainly of her studies, her successes and achievements, her social life, her romances, and her jobs and scholarships. She occasionally makes social commentary on current events and issues, including campus culture at Bryn Mawr, atheism and religion, the financial costs of attending college, and women's suffrage. The remainder of the collection consists of letters from one of her admirers, Sheldon Clarke. Clarke's letters begin in December, 1917 and continue until January, 1919. During that time, he served with the 9th Balloon Division overseas. He writes of his experiences abroad as a balloonist in WWI, his training, the risks of ballooning, his impressions of buildings and people abroad, and his reflections on life as influenced by war. He received a Distinguished Service Cross from General Perishing, and the Croix de la Guerre from the French Government. The third party letters are a mix of letters from Henrietta's mother, from Henrietta's friends and admirers, and from Henrietta's mother's friends.
This collection would be of value to researchers interested in women's education, women's colleges, the 1918 flu epidemic, First World War ballooners, and the impact of the First World War on college life.
In 2008, Judy Hood donated the letters from Sheldon Clarke to the Henrietta Baldwin Sperry Papers. Originally, Hood had acquired both Baldwin Sperry's correspondence with her mother and the Sheldon Clarke letters upon her mother's death, who was Henrietta Baldwin Sperry's friend. Baldwin Sperry's son procured his mother's correspondence with her mother in the early 90s and gave them to Bryn Mawr in 1993.
- Bryn Mawr College
- United States. Army. Balloon Section
- Bryn Mawr College -- History -- Alumni and alumnae
- Bryn Mawr College
- Finding Aid Author
- Allison Rodgers, Cassidy Gruber Baruth
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
The Henrietta Baldwin Sperry papers are the physical property of Bryn Mawr College Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the author's heirs and assigns.
This first folder contains letters written from Henrietta to her mother during her final year at Miss Kirk's preparatory school. These letters concentrate primarily on the time where she is applying to be a student at Bryn Mawr College and taking her final exams at Miss Kirk's.
These letters provide insight into a variety of topics, including popular games and sports, Baldwin's trips around Pennsylvania, events at Bryn Mawr College, and the war effort. Several of her trips to Bryn Mawr College included events such as the Shakespeare Fete, the Senior Class play of You Never Can Tell by Bernard Shaw, and Senior Garden Party. She makes several excursions during this time into other parts of Pennsylvania, such as Philadelphia, Valley Forge, and New Hope. Her volunteer activities for the war effort include rolling bandages and making sponges for the soldiers.
These letters describe Baldwin receiving tutoring before entering Bryn Mawr, engaging with friends, and living in the Low Buildings. While the three letters in this file are not able to give full representation of this part of Henrietta's life, they do illuminate her goings-on before entering college.
An interesting tidbit that may appeal to researchers is the description and drawn depiction of Henrietta's marshmallow toaster.
These letters describe Baldwin's interactions with acquaintances and friends, and college preparatory courses. She attended Miss Kirk's, a preparatory and finishing school, right before being admitted into Bryn Mawr College. She prepared for her college courses by taking extra lessons at Miss Kirk's. During her time at the preparatory school, Henrietta boarded in Mrs. Richard's home, a woman who acted as a maternal figure to her while she was away from home. Henrietta portrays the intimate setting of Mrs. Richard's house, describing in her correspondence a morning spent sitting around the table with five other girls for breakfast. Two of her friends from Mrs. Richard's, Marion and Tude, also enrolled at Bryn Mawr.
This span of letters describes the first semester of Henrietta's freshman year. Topics found in these letters that may be useful to researches interested in the effects of World War I on college campuses, Henrietta's short trips across Pennsylvania and New York state, her various creative writing projects and personal essays, performances she attended, and events and traditions at the college.
Henrietta discusses students' methods of support for the war effort, including fundraisers for the New Liberty Loans, the Students Friendship Fund, as well as volunteering for the local Red Cross. Occasionally, her letters include small details of the daily impact of World War I, such as the high cost of navy blue fabric (due to the demand for Navy uniforms), seeing large crowds of "khaki and blue" in New York City, and knowing a few young men and women who signed up for (or desired to) military service in France. Henrietta also notes academic and social life. She describes the themes of several writing projects, including "The Inspiration That Didn't Come", "Going Home", and "Should the U.S. Government Fix the Price of Flour in Wartime?" An obvious fan of theatre productions as a form of social engagement, Henrietta attended several off-campus performances of The Wanderer, Hitchy-koo, and The Boomerang. Examples of student-created traditions mentioned include the Banner Show (a comedy/variety show that included jokes speculating about a possible romantic relationship between then-President M. Carey Thomas and Dean Helen Taft Manning), the Sophomore Dance (a nautical-themed social dance that featured female students cross-dressing as male sailors), and Senior Reception.
Henrietta sometimes refers to herself as Henny and to her mother as Muddy.
These letters would be useful to researchers interested in the topics of illness, the home front during World War I, and jazz dancing. Henrietta often mentions how she feels "off" and discusses the extensive amount of people during the semester who were taken to the college infirmary. Many of these patients reportedly had measles and tonsillitis, and Henrietta even mentions one girl being taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital for a burst appendix. She writes to her mother that she is lucky she has already had her tonsils and appendix removed.
Henrietta mentions more fundraising opportunities for the war, and discusses the enlisted men she's met this semester. She receives a letter from her cousin Carl in which he explains how he's sorry he couldn't say goodbye before leaving for Camp Meade in Maryland (said letter is enclosed). Henrietta has a plan to send her one of her enlisted admirers, Sheldon, a picture of her face pasted over the queen's face on a playing card. In a letter written by Maria to Henrietta's Mother, in place of Henrietta's usual letter, Maria expresses how the college wishes for freshman to raise $2,085 for the Service Corps. She remarks how "I don't see how we can even do it, but we have it to do". A fan of taking part in social events at the college, Henrietta describes enjoying her time attending the Jazz dances that take place in Pembroke East, the proceeds of which went to the Red Cross.
Researchers should note that Letter 66 does not have a date. However, from the context of the letter, the date can be inferred to be January 21st, or thereabouts.
These letters cover the first half of Henrietta's second semester freshman year. Researchers will find information on social and academic activities at Bryn Mawr. Henrietta discusses the setup of her room with her mother. She includes a diagram, outlining the position of all her furniture inside of her room. Additionally, Henrietta saw a number of plays off campus, including "Lord and Lady Algy," "Headin' South" and "General Post". One of these, "General Post," was based on the current war (World War 1) and played on the idea of "equalizing English society." Henrietta relates stories about her four suitors to her mother, presenting an opinionated, straightforward, at times humorous view of what it was like to have a relationship as a young woman during the early 20th century. She also describes her Freshman Show, in which she had a small part, and her biology class.
The letters within this folder, which come from Henrietta's second semester of her sophomore year, discuss illness, events at Bryn Mawr College, being courted by a young man named Albert, and fundraising efforts for the war.
She discusses a local epidemic of measles, in which the state department ended up closing local boarding school. Henrietta relates how Bryn Mawr students were prohibited from going past the railroad because of the measles outbreak, with the highest reported case including ninety people.
Events that go on during the end of her freshman year include the May Pole dance and the Freshman Banquet. There was also a class meeting about the decision of President Thomas, in which the students are unhappy at her decision to only admit 88 freshmen for the upcoming year and remove three of the classes offered to students. Additionally, Henrietta describes being courted by Albert, one of her four previously-mentioned suitors. Her attitude towards him, while she enjoys the attention he gives her, is somewhat indifferent.
As a student on campus, Henrietta used several methods of making money so that she could pay off her Liberty bonds, as well as fees from the Service Corps and the Christian association. Methods of fundraising in the public included having the lead actor of "Oh! Boy" come to auction off Liberty Bonds between acts. On campus efforts to finance the war included the College Farm, where Henrietta worked fertilizing and planting potatoes. The work on the farm was dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that a fellow classmate had three of her fingers mangled in a potato planting machine. The sophomore class also performed a Minstrel Show for the benefit of the Service Corps.
This folder describes the first semester of Henrietta's sophomore year. Interested researchers will find a description of student jobs on campus, the effects of the flu quarantine on a college campus, traditions Henrietta attended her sophomore year, and the end of World War I.
Only a few days into the beginning of Henrietta's sophomore year, the school was put under quarantine due to the Spanish Influenza pandemic. No one except students and staff were allowed onto campus. Students were not allowed to leave except if their parents decided they would fare better staying at home during the outbreak. A fear of contagion spread over the campus, going as far as to put "a fine of 5 dollars if any of the students sneeze or cough without holding a handkerchief to their mouth". With the quarantine keeping students on campus, Henrietta describes alternative forms of entertainment, such as having picnics in "the fields," shampooing and styling the hair of other students (to raise money for the Service Corps), and a field hockey game between the "odd" (1919 and 1921) and "even" (1920 and 1922). During this time, Henrietta became the mail mistress for Pembroke East. She recounts to her mother that all the mail is late, since many of the post office employees have the flu. At the end of the semester, Henrietta contracted the flu; however, she recovered within a short period of time. Accounts from Henrietta's mother and father of their experiences with the flu epidemic supplement Henrietta's letters.
Henrietta briefly details the student traditions she attended during her sophomore year, such as Parade Night, the Sophomore dance, and the Banner Show. Henrietta gives an extensive description of the morning of November 11th, when the armistice agreement for World War 1 was announced. Henrietta talks about military drills and mandatory war work on campus. Henrietta's choice of work was to knit socks using the knitting machine in Merion Hall.
Folders 9-10 contain letters from the second semester of Henrietta's sophomore year.
In Folder 9, she discusses her interactions with Albert and Russell, both of whom seem heavily invested in her attention. Yet the feelings are not mutual, she maintains her cold disposition towards both men.
Henrietta recounts her day trip to Hog Island. She is impressed by the system of the shipyard, and gives an in-depth description of her tour to her mother, most likely because she was not allowed to take her Kodak camera with her. Henrietta often emphasizes the intensity of her academics and how her work is preparing her for life outside of the college. She talks about the grades she receives and discusses how her reader for English is a harsh grader. Bryn Mawr at this time was an unusual college, preparing its graduates for careers, rather than an education before marriage. Events promoting the students to work after college include the weekend vocational conference, which offered students an opportunity to interact with people from different professions. Henrietta demonstrated an interest in prison reform work, and work in courts and schools.
The letters in Folder 10 cover the second half of Henrietta's second semester of sophomore year and the beginning of the summer. Researchers would be interested in events happening at the end of the school year, including May Day and Henrietta's birthday, President Thomas' announcement about the student population, Henrietta's new job at the college bookstore, and Henrietta visiting her friend's homes over the summer.
Henrietta notes that President M. Carey Thomas announces that 26 undergraduates (those who don't have as many merits as they should have) will be asked to leave the college, since the college wants to admit 110 freshman but only has room for 74. Henrietta discusses the negative feedback from the student body, who talk about the idea of rebellion, including a plan to leave the college as an entire class.
Henrietta leaves her job as mail mistress, taking up a position at the student bookshop. She is excited for the position, preferring to work and split the earnings of the shop rather than receiving a scholarship. Henrietta also has a job as a light lieutenant, whose job is to remind people to turn off their lights when they leave their room.
During the start of her summer vacation between sophomore and junior year, Henrietta travels along the Northeast visiting friends from Bryn Mawr. Over the trip, she travels to Camp Merritt, goes to dances, attends a dinner event for the mayor, and takes a day trip to New York City.
This folder contains letters from Henrietta's first semester junior year. The major themes of this file are Henrietta's responsibilities in the Book Shop, events on campus, and her battle against bronchitis.
Henrietta details the responsibilities of the bookshop. Henrietta and the other two students (Miriam Brown and Cecile Bolton) who run the store are in charge of ordering stock, counting income and keeping track of the 'credit' slips. Henrietta enjoys her new job a lot, saying that she "would feel lost without it". Events that Henrietta attended includes the senior reception and the "League of Nations" rally in her Chapel. She was also on campus for the Alum conference for the Endowment fund. All the residents of Pembroke West (including Henrietta) had to move to Pembroke East and take their meals into another hall.
During Henrietta's first semester of her junior, she contracts bronchitis and stays in the infirmary to be treated. Later in the semester, she contracts another illness and stays in the infirmary again. One of the nurses and Henrietta pass the time by making fun of a recent lecture on "How to Choose the Right Husband."
At the end of January, the college went into quarantine due to the flu epidemic. Henrietta addresses the rules regarding Bryn Mawr College's quarantine protocol. Researchers should note that there is a gap in time and there are no letters for the month of November.
The content of this file are from the second semester of Henrietta's junior year. She discusses her engagement with her studies, big college events she attends, and her relationship with some boys from Haverford.
Henrietta discusses how much she enjoys her studies, especially psychology and politics. As she has studied politics for two years, she considers herself as qualified as her male peers and wants to vote in the next presidential election.
Several large events occur during this semester. Henrietta goes to the "Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Gymnasts of America" meet at Haverford. Henrietta also describes the Valentines dance hosted by her friends. She also becomes heavily involved in May Day, and prepares for months for her performance in a Masque written by Ben Johnson. Outings that Henrietta attended includes the combined Swarthmore and Haverford Glee Club performance at the Asher in Philadelphia and a trip to Valley Forge with friends. Henrietta also attends "Crimson Alibi", "Poldekin", and "Huckleberry Finn"
Henrietta becomes involved with some boys from Haverford, and begins to develop a crush on one of them. She states that her cold heart is "thawing out in [her] old age."
This file covers the second part of Henrietta's spring semester and the summer between junior and senior year is filled with adventures at Eaglesmere and New Lisbon. She also develops her relationship with the Haverford boys.
She goes to a house party in her spring semester, staying in a cabin on the North Branch Rancocas River near New Lisbon. Henrietta goes into further detail about her relationships with the boys from Haverford; Morris, Gil, Bob, and Tom. She notes the sadness that she feels about her Haverford friends graduating soon, and her experiences going to the Junior Dance with Morris. There is a humorous incident with Bob, wherein Bob comments that "he had read somewhere in a poem of the fragrance of a woman's hair but he had never believed it till now". In reality, Henrietta admits in the letter she just hasn't washed her hair in a month and was extremely embarrassed.
Rather than spend a summer at home in Westport, Henrietta passes her time in Eaglesmere, Pennsylvania. Here, she tutors and leads a dance class. These letters include a drawing of the cabin done by Henrietta.
This folder begins Henrietta's first semester of senior year. She discusses her courses for this semester, her developing relationship with Jim and Tom, and her thoughts on marriage and children.
Henrietta's courses reflect her decided major of Psychology, taking Social and Group Psychology, as well as other classes including Greek Sculpture, Italian Renaissance Painting, Gothic Architecture, and Biblical Literature – New Testament Biography.
These letters emphasize Henrietta's relationships with two young men, Jim and Tom. Jim appears to have no interest in any girl besides Henrietta, so all of his focus is on her. Tom, on the other hand, is quite family-oriented. His mother is hopeful that Tom will become interested in Henrietta, rather in his current girlfriend, whom she views as low-class.
Henrietta often writes to her mother about a number of her friends who have gotten married, engaged, or have already had their first child. Henrietta, however, shows no real interest in getting married yet. She disregards marriage at this time in her life, rather choosing to enjoy her care-free existence. Seeing some of her friends, such as Mart, getting married and having children gives her a moment of reflection, where she states that "It made me more satisfied than ever with my happy, carefree life – surrounded by friends and joyous happy faces… no tired, grouchy husband – wearied with trying to make ends meet! No foul-finding muddling in–laws! No unpaid grocery bills!" She will only marry once the situation in which she currently lives, with her friends at school, is no longer desirable.
This folder contains letters from the first semester of her senior year. The major themes of this file are the events at Bryn Mawr, Henrietta's relationships with Tom and Jim, and some health issues.
Henrietta attends many events over her senior year, including the senior reception to the freshman, the college Christmas party, and President Thomas's receptions. Henrietta further describes her relationship with Tom, with whom she is quite infatuated, and Jim, who remains adoring of her. These relationships highlight the relative agency held by Henrietta: she talks about men frankly and is able to have platonic relationships, as well.
An odd health phenomenon that Henrietta often discusses in this file is the loss of feeling in her big toes. Her process of revitalizing the feeling illuminates early twentieth century medical practices, as the doctor prescribes her nitroglycerin and strychnine in order to help her combat the effects.
This file discusses the first part of Henrietta's second semester of her senior year. The topics of these letters include the scarlet fever epidemic, Henrietta's health struggles, and her personal relationships.
These letters illuminate the impact of the scarlet fever epidemic at college. Since the college was under quarantine during the first half of this semester, Henrietta was unable to go dancing, enter any hotels or shops. She did, however, attend a conference on "Clinical Psychology and Trade Tests in the Industry." As with the previous folder, Henrietta discusses the loss of feeling in her big toes, as well as the "medications" (strychnine, neoferrum, and nitroglycerin) she has taken to relieve the symptoms. Due to the use of nitroglycerin in explosives, Henrietta is teased by her friends Jim and Tom about being a "dangerous girl."
Henrietta's relationships with Jim and Tom feature prominently in this selection of letters. Researchers may find the social dynamics surrounding male-female relationships during this time to be of interest. For example, Henrietta brings Tom to the dining hall at Bryn Mawr, and then worries that this may have been misconstrued, since typically, the only men that students bring to the dining hall are brothers or suiters, and Tom is neither. Her personal agency is also a topic of interest, as she tells Jim that she is "in love with no man- never had been- and probably wouldn't be for years and years."
These letters provide an intriguing comparison between Henrietta's male and female friendships, as she details a new friendship she begins with a first year student named Mary Louise White, who has just lost her mother. Henrietta describes Mary Louise's attitude towards her as a "College-girl 'crush'- but as a girl who has just lost her Mother would be apt to come to one who is sympathetic."
She gets ready for her graduation, sending out her Garden Party invitations and attending President Thomas' Senior Lectures.
This is the last file containing letters during Henrietta's academic career at Bryn Mawr. She discusses in these letters her senior graduation plans, her deteriorating relationship with Jim, and her growing romantic interests in Tom, the graduation presents she received from people, and her visit to the State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Henrietta describes the end-of-senior-year activities in depth, such as the Junior-Senior supper, the Senior Bonfire celebration, a luncheon hosted by President Thomas, Commencement and Garden Party.
Henrietta's relationship with Tom further develops over the course of these months. While it seems that both parties have romantic feelings for one another, neither cares to admit it. Tom often over the semester comes to visit her at her dorm room or picks her up so she can spend the weekend at his home. She herself talks of how they both "get along famously together" and seems quite infatuated with him. Henrietta's mother, aunt, and uncle all approve of this relationship. She further loses interested in spending time with Jim, regarding his behavior as overbearing and clingy.
Researchers might find Henrietta's description of the State Penitentiary of note. After a tour from the warden of the prison, she stated that "Every one of 1676 inmates I saw seemed very contented" and the prisoners were allowed to walk around and do whatever they wanted.
After her graduation in 1921, Henrietta spent the summer in Eaglesmere, Pennsylvania with Tom McConnell's family and a few other friends. Henrietta's secret engagement to Tom features prominently in these letters. Notably, Henrietta goes on a date with another man, saying that it is "a part of our camouflage." Since Henrietta married Pierrepont E. Sperry in 1929, it can be assumed that the engagement between Tom and Henrietta was broken off.
These letters also describe the summer activities of Eaglesmere: dance lessons, canoeing, swimming, hiking, and tutoring.
Sheldon writes from France, Germany and Belgium. He writes about his impression of France and the French, German shelling, his impression of war as a whole. He also writes about the payrate for those in the air service which was high because it was considered a high risk position.
In these letters, Sheldon writes passionately about: -the Belgian condition during the war -becoming a balloonist -his impression of English officers -reflections on life in wartime -experiencing shell shock. -his impression of American troops. -descriptions of his work going up in a balloon. -his impression of Paris