Sophia Wittenberg Mumford papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. 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
Sophia Wittenberg Mumford (1899-1997) was born on October 8, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian émigrés, William and Elizabeth Wittenberg. Known as Sophy, she was the fourth of five children born in this close knit family. She began her career as a secretary for Emerson Co., the firm of efficiency expert J. Harrington Emerson. She was released a few months later when Emerson's wife read her palm and decreed it would be wise for her to find a new job. She soon found a position in the sales department of an office furniture company's branch office. A better career opportunity presented itself through her brother-in-law, Sidney Fleisher. The literary magazine, The Dial needed a competent stenographer and he was asked by the Business Manager's wife if he knew of anyone. He mentioned the opening to Sophy at dinner that evening. She immediately applied and was offered the positon. Hard working and well liked, she eventually became an editorial assistant in charge of proofreading.
Sophy met Lewis Mumford while working at The Dial. He was much more interested in her then she with him, but he pursued her doggedly. She finally relented and they were married on September 30, 1921. After their marriage, Lewis began to focus solely on his writing and she became their primary means of financial support. She continued working at The Dial until 1925, when their son Geddes was born. Their daughter Alison followed 10 years later.
Despite no longer working outside the home, Sophy served as Lewis's typist, offered editorial comments on his work, and at times conducted correspondence on his behalf. She was active in the Duchess County branch of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and served on its National Committee's Policy Board. She also served in active capacities in the Amenia Home School Club and in the League of Women Voters.
Her life was not without tragedy. She suffered through Lewis's extramarital affairs throughout their marriage. She buried both of her children, Geddes was killed on September 13, 1944 in Italy, while serving in the Army during World War II, and Alison died from cancer on September 11, 1993. Lewis's physical and mental faculties began to decline in the 1980s, which finally culminated in his death on January 26, 1990, and took its toll on her emotionally and physically. She had a contemptuous relationship with her daughter Alison, who blamed her parents for her emotional difficulties later in life.
Sophia Mumford passed away on April 22, 1997 at the age of 97.
The Sophia Wittenberg Mumford Papers document the important role Sophy played in her husband's career. Lewis Mumford began to deposit his papers at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966. After Sophy died in 1997, the remaining papers were gathered and transferred to the library. The majority of the material in this collection supplements the Lewis Mumford Papers (Ms. Coll. 2) housed at the University of Pennsylvania Kislak Center for Special Collections, and includes drafts of his writings, correspondence, family material and photographs.
Their intertwined lives are evident throughout the collection. Correspondents who initially wrote to Lewis befriended Sophy as well and began to write to the both of them. She often developed relationships with the wives of Lewis's friends and established lasting friendships with Miriam Gabo, Helen Morse, Ursula Niebuhr, Anne Cori, Ruth Hubbard and Aline MacMahon Stein.
Also highlighting the details of their lives are Sophy's diaries, which began as travel journals but soon evolved into her documenting her and Lewis's daily activities. She began to type/copy her handwritten diaries in 1978 so that they, in their "old age, could read them more easily than [they] could the fading ink and early scrawl." She edited while she typed, purposely left out material, pasted paper over entries to render them unreadable and destroyed pages, especially entries regarding Alison. Handwritten diaries do not exist for 1974 (the typed copy remains), 1978-1991. As Lewis's health began to decline in the 1980's, long entries were no longer possible but she did type brief notes.
A large majority of material relating to their son, Geddes is found in the Lewis Mumford writings subseries (Series 4, Subseries A) as well as the family series (Series 2). Lewis pulled material relating to Geddes for research while writing Green Memories. Particularly heartbreaking are the letters written to Geddes before they were notified he had been killed in action. Drafts and typescripts of Green Memories are included here as well.
The writings series also contains drafts, notes, and typescripts of some of Lewis's books, including The Culture of Cities, My Works and Days and Sketches from Life, along with the published version of several articles. Also included is a draft of his never published or produced play The Bridge and "Pan Stories," which Lewis wrote for Alison in 1946 while he was in England. An annotated copy of Donald Miller's biography, Lewis Mumford: A Life can be found in this series as well. Outraged by Miller's "assault on Lewis and the misrepresentation of their marriage," Sophy penciled in comments refuting Miller's claims throughout the book.
All material is arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder unless otherwise noted. Some brittle and damaged newspaper clippings were replaced with copies obtained from ProQuest historical newspapers [electronic resource].
Bequest of Sophia Wittenberg Mumford, 1997.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Kristine McGee
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 May 15
- Access Restrictions
The bulk of this collection is open for research use; however, access to original audio/visual materials and computer files (located in Series VII. Audiovisual) is restricted. The Kislak Center will provide access to the information on these materials from duplicate master files. If the original does not already have a copy, it will be sent to an outside vendor for copying. Patrons are financially responsible for the cost. The turnaround time from request to delivery of digital items is about two weeks for up to five items and three to seven weeks for more than five items. Please contact Reprographic Services (email@example.com) for cost estimates and ordering. Once digital items are received, researchers will have access to the files on a dedicated computer in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Researchers should be aware of specifics of copyright law and act accordingly.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.