Scope and Contents
The collection is comprised of 169 letters to Richard Jewett, the bulk of which were written between June 1955 and February 1956. In these letters, Leigh Updike chronicles her life and thoughts, exploring the limitations and benefits of a long-distance relationship, with gaps occurring only when the two meet each other for a weekend or vacation. Not just a nightly recounting of her doings that day, Updike also frequently comments on social issues related to Communism, coeducation, and being a woman of the “Silent Generation” in 1950s America. For instance, on August 28, 1955, she writes: “Tonight I heard the stupidest and most maddening thing. Someone that Auntie Gene and Uncle Harry know says that he will never buy a Ford car again because it is rumored that the Ford Foundation is communistic. We may not hear much about McCarthy anymore, but his ideas certainly are still prevalent.” On December 4, 1955, she comments: “I am too proud to be classed as an American woman who can take no positive or negative steps in the area of love. And I have too much faith in American women in general to believe that they are so powerless in such a situation.”
Updike’s letters also show the dynamics of Middlebury College in the 1950s. As she returns for her senior year, she writes on September 18, 1955: “Biggest change on campus – mail boxes are now painted in snappy two-tone blue … Second biggest change – every Thursday night there will be mixed dining for freshman men and women. Boy, am I disappointed that I was too early to get in on that.”
After March, 1956, when Leigh ultimately decides not to marry Richard, the letters decrease in frequency from nightly to a few a month. She still writes, however, as she graduates and moves to Texas to become a lab and teaching assistant at Hardin-Simmons University, revealing the trajectory of a young, professional woman after college. She talks of participating in a volunteer trip to Africa in order to help the locals and spread American democracy, seemingly a precursor to the Peace Corps that apparently never materialized. The letters continue sporadically for the next few years before ending for good in April 1958.
- Creation: 1955 - 1958
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1955-06 - 1956-02
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Biographical / Historical
Leigh Updike was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on February 23, 1934, to Oscar Leroy Updike and Miriam Corson Updike. Leigh’s father, a merchant in New York City, moved the family to Maplewood, New Jersey, sometime before Leigh attended college.
Ms. Updike, a biology major, had a distinguished career at Middlebury. She was president of Mortar Board and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She was business manager of the yearbook, co-chairman of the Middlebury Conference, Secretary of the Religion Conference, a member of the Student Educational Policy Committee and Treasurer of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority. She also sang in the choir.
Richard Alden Jewett, a physics major from Arlington, Virginia, belonged to the Delta Upsilon fraternity, was involved on the Campus business staff and WRMC, and was on the Conference Policy Committee.
Updike’s relationship with Jewett began around the start of the spring semester of her junior and his senior year. Jewett graduated, began graduate work at MIT, and moved to the MIT Delta Upsilon house on Beacon Street. During the summer of 1955, Leigh worked for Camp Merry Heart in Hackettstown, New Jersey, a summer camp for disabled children.
The two were engaged sometime around October 23, 1955, but after a long period of reflection, Updike refused Jewett’s offer of marriage. After graduating in 1956, Updike worked at Camp Thorpe, another summer camp for disabled kids, in Goshen, Vermont. She then accepted a teaching and lab assistant position at Hardin-Simmons University, in Abalene, Texas, for one year. Refusing an offer of a second year, she returned to Maplewood to teach junior high science classes from 1957 to 1960, then became a laboratory research assistant at the University of Rochester for a year before teaching preschool in Indianapolis. She married Charles F. Johnson. Leigh Updike Johnson died on January 25, 2006.
Richard Jewett graduated from MIT in 1957.
Language of Materials
Letters from Leigh Updike, Middlebury College Class of 1956, to her boyfriend, Richard Jewett ’55, while he attended graduate school at MIT. From 1955 to 1956, through almost daily correspondence that reads like a diary, Ms. Updike describes the details of her life as a councilor at a summer camp for disabled children and as a college senior during the 1950s. Updike was involved in the Student Educational Policy Committee during a period of curricular change and the formative years of the Honor Code, actively participated in her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and was president of Mortar Board. A senior living in the all-female Forest Hall, Updike played a lot of bridge, generally stayed up too late writing letters, and lamented the fact that she studied less than she thought she should. Her letters offer a window into a 1950s relationship that she ultimately rejects, even as her friends and classmates become engaged and get married.
The letters are arranged chronologically in a single series.
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