For decades scholars have researched the development of gender roles through childhood letters. In 1982 a survey¹ of “Dear Santa” letters was conducted to see if toys were instrumental in determining the formation of gender roles. The outcome? Boys and girls do not differ in the number of possessions they ask for in their letters to Santa, but their preferences are markedly different.
The Schlesinger Library has several “Dear Santa” letters in our collections. Whether you read them for amusement or to determine a more symbolic meaning is entirely up to you.
Eleanor Stabler Brooks
Eleanor Stabler Brooks (1892–1986) graduated summa cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1914 with a degree in biology. Her daughter Margaret Brooks Morse (1917–1997) also graduated from Radcliffe College, receiving a degree in English Literature in 1938. (Eleanor Stabler Brooks Papers)
Educator, lesbian feminist, writer, and activist Charlotte Bunch (1944–) grew up in New Mexico, one of four children born to Marjorie Adelaide (King) and Charles Pardue Bunch. She first became active in the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s. Since then, Bunch has taught courses on feminism at colleges and universities; participated in international conferences concerning women, peace, or Christianity; edited feminist books and journals; and worked to develop a lesbian/feminist ideology. Her many organizational affiliations have included the Methodist Student Movement, the New York City Commission on the Status of Women, the American Friends Service Committee, the National Congress of Neighborhood Women, and the National Gay Task Force. In 1996, Bunch was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her substantial, ongoing contributions to the global empowerment of women. (Charlotte Bunch Papers)
Edith Culver Hagar
Active in volunteer work, raising money for local hospitals, and participating in garden clubs, church groups, and women's clubs, Edith Culver Hagar (1901–2001) was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Henry and Estella Culver. She received her degree from Radcliffe College in 1922. (Edith Culver Hagar Papers)
Patricia Miller King
Patricia Ann Miller King (1937–1994) was born in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest child of Amy Beatrice (Trecie) Heyliger and Donald Knox Miller. Although a French medievalist by training, King had been involved with the Schlesinger Library since her graduate school days, when she worked at the Women’s Archives (the predecessor to the Schlesinger Library) as a research assistant. In 1973 she was hired as director, and over the next 20 years, she worked diligently to expand the Schlesinger Library and its holdings. In a 1993 letter, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote to King, “The Schlesinger Library has played a central role in lifting what my father seventy years ago called, ‘the pall of silence’ that historians had placed over the achievements and services of American women—and you, dear Pat, have played a central role in driving the Library forward into greater achievements and services of its own.” (Patricia Miller King Papers)
(Click on the above letter to see a more readable version.)
Elva Jean Spiess Marshall
Elva Jean Spiess Marshall (1922–) graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1944 and went on to earn a certificate in city planning from the same university in 1945. During the 1940s and early 1960s, Marshall worked as a planning draftsman, preparing maps, charts, and illustrations for reports, and she eventually became a city planner in both Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Pasadena, California. She began working for the Castle Press in 1966 as a proofreader and copy editor in addition to doing design and layout work. Marshall eventually became editor for the Castle Press and the company’s sole book designer in 1980, designing more than 50 books, many of which won design awards. She is an accomplished artist in watercolor and printmaking. (Marshall-Spiess Family Papers)
Elizabeth Lowell Putnam
Political activist, philanthropist, and pioneer in prenatal care, Elizabeth Lowell Putnam (1862–1935) chaired the executive committee of the Massachusetts Milk Consumers’ Association, the Department of Public Health, and the Committee on Prenatal and Obstetrical Care of the Women’s Municipal League of Boston; was president of the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality (later the American Child Hygiene Association); and founded and endowed the Fearing Research Laboratory for research on toxemia of pregnancy. A political conservative, Putnam worked against the Child Labor Amendment, the Sheppard-Towner Act, women’s suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, and prohibition and was an active member of the Republican Party, serving as national president of the Coolidge Women’s Clubs of America. She was active in civil defense during World War I and in planning the Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary celebrations. Putnam, also a published author, was the first woman to serve as president of a state electoral college (1920). (Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Papers)
(Click on the image to see a more readable version of a typewritten letter (1925) about one of the many charitable projects Putnam helped to organize and fund. This one was to fulfill the Christmas wishes of impoverished children by answering their “Dear Santa” letters.)
¹Richardson, John G. and Carl H. Simpson. “Children, Gender, and Social Structure: An Analysis of the Contents of Letters to Santa Claus.” Child Development, vol. 53, no. 2 (April 1982), pp. 429-436.