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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1114; DVD-161

Papers of Susan Armstrong, 1912-2019 (inclusive), 1975-2019 (bulk)

Overview

Correspondence, erotic writings, diaries, and biographical information of memoirist Susan Armstrong.

Dates

  • 1912-2019
  • Majority of material found within 1975-2019

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Susan Armstrong is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library or whomever. 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.

Extent

3.63 linear feet ((3 cartons, 2 + ½ file boxes) plus 1 DVD)
The collection includes biographical information, including detailed timelines of her life created by Armstrong; schoolwork, including papers from her studies at Louisiana State University and Smith College; diaries; correspondence; a photograph album documenting an Outward Bound trip Armstrong took when in her sixties; and a DVD of her son's memorial service. Correspondents include family members and friends and lovers. Copies of Armstrong's side of the correspondence is often included, with her letters to lovers frequently describing her admiration of their bodies and the pleasure she took in being intimate with them and in particular in performing oral sex. Material related to Armstrong's sexually explicit memoir is also included, as are other writings, many focusing on her relationship with Joe Bass. The memoir, which chronicles Armstrong's conflicted relationship with her mother, her marriages, and her platonic, romantic, and sexual relationships with several men, incorporates letters she wrote and received; the collection includes transcriptions of these letters. In some cases, both original and transcribed correspondence is included and overlap exists between some folders.

The majority of the collection arrived at the Schlesinger Library in labeled folders, with titles created by Armstrong or by Donna Janis and Dawn Shamp, who helped organize and edit her memoir. Whenever possible these folders were retained. In some cases the folder headings were transcribed onto archival folders. In a few cases the archivist created folder headings, which appear in square brackets. The collection is arranged with biographical information, correspondence, diaries, and coursework appearing first, followed by materials related to Armstrong's memoir and other writings. Some of the folders are titled with individuals' names and with the pseudonyms used for them in the memoir. The Schlesinger Library's books collection holds a copy of the memoir.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

BIOGRAPHY

Shirley Sue Carriere Armstrong (known as Susan), a white woman, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1933. She had one sister. She graduated from Woodlawn High School in 1951 and attended business school. In 1952 she married Vernon McRaney, a Greyhound Bus driver. They had two children, Linda and Forrest; Armstrong's relationship with both children was frequently difficult. Armstrong was unhappy in her marriage, finding it sexually and intellectually unfulfilling. In 1960 she met Thomas Hall, a Southern Baptist minister who became a lifelong friend; with his encouragement, she began taking classes at Louisiana State University. In 1962 she began psychotherapy with a Southern Baptist minister who initiated a sexual relationship with her. The same year she decided to divorce her husband and her mother reacted by threatening to have her committed to a mental institution, apparently a legal option at the time. Although not happy about the divorce, her husband opposed this plan and the divorce was finalized in 1964. Armstrong married Ed Armstrong, a biology professor and ornithologist, later that year. They relocated to New England, where Armstrong worked as an administrative assistant with the Smaller Business Association of New England, in Waltham, Massachusetts. She subsequently worked for a publishing company, in the human relations department of a hospital, for an investment company, and for a consulting firm. In 1975 she underwent an abortion and separated from Ed Armstrong. The following year she met Joe Bass, a Black multi-millionaire and owner of a computer company; they embarked on an on-and-off sexual relationship which lasted for several years. She also had a series of relationships with other Black men, many considerably younger than herself.

Her mother, who suffered from depression for much of her life and told Armstrong she had never wanted children, committed suicide in 1980. The same year Armstrong's employer at the consulting company tried to rape her. She quit her job in 1981 and began working for Mary Kay Cosmetics, where she soon became a director. In 1984 she entered Radcliffe College's Radcliffe Seminars Program. She was offered a scholarship by Radcliffe but opted instead to enroll at Smith College, where she was admitted to the Ada Comstock Scholars Program. In 1987 she was appointed a Smith Scholar and was a guest speaker for Bonnie Strickland's course on the psychology of women at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she was voted "Most Outstanding Speaker" of the year. She graduated from Smith in 1988 and in 1993 began work as a lecturer and grant writer at Warren Wilson College, retiring in 1997. In 2001 she moved to the Givens Estates retirement community in Asheville, North Carolina. Armstrong began writing at an early age though she did not show her work, much of which was autobiographical and highly sexual in nature, to anyone until she was fifty years old. She eventually began work on a pseudonymous memoir, which was published in 2016 under the name Jasmine Carrietté as Desire Makes the Difference.

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2020-M127

The papers of Susan Armstrong were given to the Schlesinger Library by Shirley Sue Armstrong in November 2020.

Processing Information

Processed: February 2021

By: Susan Earle

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.
Link to catalog
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Sponsor
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Radcliffe College Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund.
EAD ID
sch01951

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.

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