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Viola Chittenden White collection

 Collection
Identifier: C-03

Scope and Contents

The Collection encompasses the thoughts and feelings, work and friendships of Viola White in her voluminous journals. Her letters, both professional (related to publication of her literary oeuvre and to her work as Curator of the Abernethy Library) and personal, reveal her thoughts and desires regarding her work and family. Manuscripts of her essays, books, and poetry, some of a very personal nature, both published and unpublished are included in the manuscript files. A revealing picture of a very private woman with a penetrating intelligence emerges in the collection.

Journals

Approximately 50,000 pages of journals (1918-1974). A few of the earliest volumes (1918-1939) were written in small bound volumes or in small ring binders (now without covers or binders, in most cases). Subsequent journals are written on ordinary folded stationery. Dr. White wrote on subjects many and various in a highly poetic prose, entirely ready for publication. The journals are consecutive, but are not daily and plainly are inspired more by thoughts and impressions than by daily occurrences, her observations of flora and fauna through the seasons being foremost. It was the author’s hope that eventually the journals in their entirety might be published.

Correspondence

Correspondence numbers approximately 450 letters, both business and personal, including a small number of letters between Viola and her parents. Much of the correspondence regards publishing of her books. Probably the thickest file is of the correspondence with Charles Branford Publishers, which includes a contract with the firm to publish From Crow to Crow (subsequently renamed). There is much correspondence with Dike Blair of the Vermont Bookstore in Middlebury, and with W. Storrs Lee, who published Partridge in a Swamp from Viola’s journals after her death.

Manuscripts

In addition to two typescript copies of Partridge in a Swamp, the manuscript collection includes five of book length, two essays, poetry, short stories and journal manuscripts, one of which is a parody of Dr. White’s book, Not Faster Than A Walk.

Dates

  • 1915-1974

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email: specialcollections@middlebury.edu

Biographical / Historical

Viola Chittenden White was born on August 3, 1890 in Hancock, NY and grew up in Brooklyn, NY where her father was political editor for the New York Herald. She graduated from Wellesley in 1911, earned an M. A. from Columbia in 1931 and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in 1934, where she wrote the first doctoral dissertation on Herman Melville. She was attracted to social work and was a resident at Denison House College Settlement, followed by employment with the Newton Welfare Bureau in Boston. Later she became a librarian for seven years at the Brooklyn Public Library. She pursued, at the same time, her studies in American literature and learned to write (as is amply demonstrated in her journals), helped along by a summer’s residency at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH. In 1933, she joined Middlebury College as Curator of the Abernethy Library of American Literature. She was already a published poet: Horizons, published by Yale University Press in 1921, and Hours of Judgment, published by Brimmer Company in Boston in 1923. She was the first woman to be a Yale Younger Poet. Blue Forest followed in l929, published by The Four Seas Company. In 1939, she published Not Faster Than A Walk and in 1956 A Vermont Diary.

In her pre-Vermont days, Viola had been affiliated with the Socialist Party, the Pacifists, and had worked for The Socialist Review in New York. She was a feminist and an advocate of Women’s Rights. Her literary judgments, in contrast, were conservative. She did not care much for the Post World War I writers, and concentrated on 19th century writers, in the tradition of Julian Wills Abernethy, himself. Her financial means for the Abernethy Collection were limited, and within those means she selected judiciously and with perception, as Howard Munford wrote of her, “though, perhaps, within parameters somewhat restricted by her literary tastes.” She acquired many treasures including Henry Adams’ own copy with his holograph corrections and additions, of The Education of Henry Adams, Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio, a signed copy of Robert Frost’s first book, A Boy’s Will, among many others. In 1940 she acquired Thoreau’s personal copy of the first edition of Walden with holograph notes. She compiled an inventory of the entire Abernethy Collection issued in 1940, and a second included the memorabilia of Henry David Thoreau and appeared in The Concord Saunterer, published by the Middlebury College Press. Dr. White retired from Middlebury College in 1956.

Viola White died on January 24, 1977. After her death, her good friend, Storrs Lee, compiled and edited a selection of her journals, published in 1979 by The Countryman Press of Taftsville, Vt., titled, Partridge in a Swamp. The title alludes to a 1936 entry in her journal: “Why do I hide my life like a partridge in a swamp?” Viola White was by nature a solitary, a self-taught naturalist and environmentalist who filled her journals with observations and occasional drawings. She found companionship in the world of nature. “Here was poetry at every turn in her path…she learned the secret hiding places of the rarest woodland gentian and bittersweet, the finest display of marsh marigolds, trilliums or cardinal flowers….on the road at dawn and the moment her duties of the day were completed at the library, she was off at a lope into the countryside, a daily adventure, rain or sunshine…,” Storrs Lee. Dr. White insisted that she was composing a record of ideas, but any journal is autobiographical, and she included events and personal happenings, triumphs and disappointments as well as her reflections upon them.

In the early 21st century, the journals have value as history, as well as a record of a scholarly and literary life. Viola White’s personal views of momentous events during most of the twentieth century add special interest, as does her view of her work and life at Middlebury College.

Extent

15 Boxes ; 7.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Viola C. White to Middlebury College, Marian Munford, Executrix. A portion of the journals was on deposit in the Abernethy Collection beginning in 1969. The entire collection passed into the hands of the College upon execution of Dr. White’s Will in l977.

Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Contact:
Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States