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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 653

Papers of Cynthia Anthonsen Foster, 1825-2007 (inclusive), 1915-2007 (bulk)


Papers of civil rights, peace, and social justice activist, Cynthia Anthonsen Foster.


  • Creation: 1825-2007
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1915-2007

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Cynthia Anthonsen Foster is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


28.36 linear feet ((68 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 2 oversize folders, 11 photograph folders, 1 folio+ photograph folder, 1 object)

The collection contains correspondence, diaries, artwork, writings, photographs, printed material, etc., documenting the lives of Cynthia (Wilder) Anthonsen Foster, her first husband, Carl Anthonsen, and other members of the Wilder family. Most materials arrived at the library unfoldered and in no discernable order; the archivist created folder titles for those files. A small number of files were foldered and those titles have been preserved and appear in quotation marks. Files were arranged by the archivist.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1916-2006 (#1.1-5.2, FD.1-FD.2, OD.1, Mem.1), includes artwork, notes, writings, diplomas, awards, etc. Notes often record Foster's memories of childhood and of her involvement in various protest movements, including her involvement in the war tax protest movement. Notes also contain Foster's opinions on current events and reflect her liberal views. Her writings include speeches and introductions for speakers, mainly for Community Church of Boston events, and unpublished short stories. Artwork includes pencil, charcoal, and pastel drawings, as well as a small number of paintings, most of which appear to be studies. Files are arranged with biographical materials first, followed by an alphabetical arrangement of files.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1915-2007 (#5.3-33.1), contains correspondence between Foster and Carl Anthonsen and their family and friends. Also included are letters written to newspaper editors and politicians objecting to current social and political conditions and supporting or objecting to proposed legislation. Most of the correspondence between Foster and her parents revolves around family news and life in Ashby, Massachusetts, including gardening, domestic chores, local gossip, religious beliefs, and activities involving the First Parish Church. In 1947, Dorothy Wilder suffered a mental breakdown and drove to the White Mountains, abandoned her car, and disappeared for several days. News of her disappearance and the ensuing search for her was carried in national newspapers. Dorothy eventually returned home and while there are a few letters expressing concern for Dorothy's well-being, the event was not discussed in depth by the family. Other letters among family members indicate discord between Adeline and Dorothy Wilder and, beginning in the 1980s, Dorothy's letters contain frequent psychological analyses of the Wilder family dynamic, focusing on her relationship with her parents. Like Cynthia, Dorothy was very active in liberal causes and the two sisters frequently exchanged information on protests they had participated in and causes they had joined. Letters from Cynthia's other sisters, Alice and Virginia, are generally more focused on family news and accounts of everyday life. Despite Cynthia and Carl's liberal activism, their letters to each other rarely mention politics or current events. Instead, their letters contain accounts of their daily lives, books they read, movies they saw, and their current moods. Before their marriage, Cynthia lived in Ashby while Carl lived in Jamaica Plain but they saw each other frequently, and their letters detail their plans to see each other and reminiscences of their last visit with each other. During her teen-aged and young adult years, Cynthia dated Kenneth R. Miller, a classmate at Ashby High School. Letters from Miller include ardent love letters to Cynthia and the letters document the shift of their relationship from romantic to friendship. Files are arranged alphabetically with family correspondence first, followed by a chronological arrangement.

Series III, SOCIAL ACTIVISM, 1927-2001 (#33.2-42.3), contains correspondence, flyers, programs, etc., documenting Foster's involvement in the civil rights, anti-war, immigrant rights, and other social justice movements. Much of Foster's energy focused on activities organized by the Community Church of Boston, "a free community united for the study and practice of universal religion, seeking to apply ethical ideals to individual life and the democratic and cooperative principle to all forms of social and economic life." Among the actions Foster was involved in were the church's efforts to posthumously gain justice for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti and to honor individuals who work to right injustices through the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Award. She was also very active in the church's efforts to provide sanctuary to "Manuel Hernandez," a Guatemalan refugee who was seeking asylum in the United States in the 1980s. Foster was also an ardent supporter of racial equality and from the 1940s through the 1970s, she collected published materials, pamphlets, flyers, etc., documenting the civil rights movement and her participation in it, particularly in Washington, D.C. and in Boston, Massachusetts. In the 1970s, Foster joined the war tax resistance movement and began withholding money from her taxes in protest of the government's use of tax money to fund wars. In 1973, she was sued by the government for failure to pay the full amount of her income tax. The case went to court and a lien was put on Foster's bank account, which Foster publicly protested. Materials relating to Foster's war tax resistance activities include court documents, flyers, clippings, and correspondence, most of which document her legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, CARL ANTHONSEN, 1916-1966 (#42.4-52.7), includes writings, diaries, notes, etc., documenting the life of Carl Anthonsen. Writings include short commentaries on life in Boston, including several theater reviews, which may have been written by Anthonsen during his tenure as a low-level staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor in the early-1920s. Other writings include short stories and plays that do not appear to have been published, but were copyrighted by Anthonsen. Anthonsen's diaries contain detailed descriptions of life in Boston from 1917 to 1937. These diaries document Anthonsen's exposure to and growing belief in liberal, socialist ideals through accounts of literature he read and his involvement in socialist gatherings and protests, including those against the Sacco and Vanzetti verdict. Diaries from the 1930s document his relationship with Cynthia; entries during this period include accounts of their dates and analyses of Carl's jealousy of other men in Cynthia's life. There are no diaries from 1938 to 1953 and it is unclear if Anthonsen kept a diary during those years. Later diaries document Carl's dissatisfaction with his work as an office clerk; his inability to find an audience for his writings; his failing health; and his disappointment in current social and political attitudes, particularly race relations in the United States. All of Anthonsen's diaries contain accounts of the weather; entertainment, including books he read, movies and plays he saw, and radio shows he listened to; and current events. Diaries also document Anthonsen's love of baseball and his lifelong support of the Boston Red Sox. Anthonsen spent from March 29 to June 25, 1955, in the tuberculosis sanitarium in Mattapan, Massachusetts. His diary from that time (see #47.3) contains detailed accounts of his treatment, the food, and fellow patients. Anthonsen's final diary contains entries by him until his death on July 14, 1966, at which point the diary, including an account of his death, was continued by Cynthia. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series V, FAMILY PAPERS, 1825-2003 (#53.1-68.7), includes correspondence, writings, certificates, clippings, notes, etc., documenting the lives of Cynthia Anthonsen Foster's sisters, parents, and other family members. A majority of the files belong to Foster's sisters, Alice and Dorothy Wilder; parents, Adeline and Arthur Wilder; and paternal grandparents, Sarah (Carr) and Henry C. Wilder. Papers belonging to Foster's sisters and parents generally document daily life in Ashby, Massachusetts, particularly activities related to the First Parish Church. Among Sarah and Henry Wilder's papers are letters from Henry's brother, Albert A. Wilder, written during his service in the Civil War from Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. The letters include accounts of battles he fought in, living conditions, health problems, and news he heard on the progress of the Union Army. Also included are two letters informing his family of Albert's illness and death from dysentery. Sarah's brother, Alonzo Carr, also served in the Civil War and his letters from Beaufort, South Carolina, contain accounts of camp life, thoughts on the role of former slaves in society, commentary on Army life, and his desire to hear news from home. Alonzo's Civil War service is also documented in his diary (#53.5) and his letters to his brother, John Carr (#53.7). Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS AND OVERSIZED, ca.1850-ca.1990 (#PD.1-PD.12, FD.1-FD.2, OD.1-OD.2), includes photographs, certificates, drawings, diplomas, protest signs, etc. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online. The arrangement of the photographs mirrors the arrangement of the paper documents. Oversized folders are arranged alphabetically.


Civil rights, peace, and social justice activist, Cynthia Anthonsen Foster, daughter of Albert M. and Adeline (Tyler) Wilder, was born August 11, 1907, in Ashby, Massachusetts. She had three older sisters, Dorothy Wilder (1899-1992), Virginia (Wilder) Anderson (1901-2003), and Alice Wilder (1902-1982). She studied art at Boston University, but left the university to protest their refusal to allow an African-American student, Francis E. Syphax, to attend a school dance. She then enrolled at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In 1924, Foster joined the Community Church of Boston, "a free community united for the study and practice of universal religion, seeking to apply ethical ideals to individual life and the democratic and cooperative principle to all forms of social and economic life." In 1932, she met Carl Anthonsen at church; they were married in 1938. Carl Anthonsen, son of Olaf and Paula Anthonsen, was born September 11, 1900, in Norway. He worked as a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor and as an office clerk at a variety of institutions, including the United States War Department in Washington, DC. He died of a heart attack on July 14, 1966. While living in Washington, DC, Cynthia and Carl joined All Souls Church (Unitarian-Universalist), where they met Emery Foster, who worked for the United States Department of Education. In 1974, Cynthia and Emery were married; Emery died 1979.

Foster worked at the Bachrach factory in Watertown, Massachusetts, retouching photographs in the late-1920s, and in the 1940s, she worked at the Niepold Borghese Ware shop in Washington, DC, doing decorative painting. Following Carl's retirement in 1951 due to poor health, Cynthia worked in clerical positions at a variety of institutions before retiring in 1971. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Foster was also part of the New England War Tax Resistance, donating her possessions to peace-promoting, community, and human service organizations.

Cynthia Anthonsen Foster died on February 1, 2007, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center following a massive stroke.


The collection is arranged in six series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1916-2006 (#1.1-5.2, FD.1-FD.2, OD.1, Mem.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1915-2007 (#5.3-33.1)
  3. Series III. Social activism, 1927-2001 (#33.2-42.3)
  4. Series IV. Carl Anthonsen, 1916-1966 (#42.4-52.7)
  5. Series V. Family papers, 1825-2003 (#53.1-68.7)
  6. Series VI. Photographs and oversized, ca.1860-ca.1990 (#PD.1-PD.12, FD.1-FD.2, OD.1-OD.2)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 86-M21, 99-M97, 2003-M82, 2006-M139, 2007-M153, 2009-M73

The papers of Cynthia Anthonsen Foster were given to the Schlesinger Library by Cynthia Anthonsen Foster between February 1986 and August 2006. Additional papers were given by Foster's stepdaughter, Carol Hebb, in August 2007 and by Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives in April 2009.


Donors: Cynthia Anthonsen Foster

Accession number: 2003-M82

Processed by: Johanna Carll

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection (pending review by curator):

  1. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Newsletter, later titled Highlights. Massachusetts Branch. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1952-1977
  2. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Boston Branch. Newsletter, later titled Boston WILPF News. Boston, Massachusetts, 1980-2001.

The following item has been transferred to the Women's Newsletter and Periodical Collection (Pr-4):

  1. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Special Edition. Women's Budget. February 1996

Processing Information

Processed: March 2011

By: Johanna Carll, with assistance from Su Ciampa.

Foster, Cynthia Anthonsen, 1907-2007. Papers of Cynthia Anthonsen Foster, 1825-2007 (inclusive), 1915-2007 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
February 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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