Papers of Ada Louise Comstock, 1818-1982 (inclusive), 1887-1982 (bulk)
- Majority of material found within 1887-1982
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Use
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
12.93 linear feet ((31 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 3 audiotapes)
Additional Comstock family collections are at Moorhead State University and the Comstock House, part of the Minnesota Historical Society. Wallace Notestein's papers are at Yale University.
Many of the folder titles are from notes within or on the original folder. These notes (indicated by quotation marks) were made either by Comstock or Roberta Blanshard, a close friend who helped Comstock organize her papers. Some of the folders include notes Comstock made about the person or topic; the notes were typed or written by Comstock or Blanshard. The collection is divided into four series.
Series I, Personal and biographical (#1.1-17.9), is organized into the following sections: biographical data; Comstock family; Wallace Notestein and the Notestein family; correspondence with friends and colleagues; and personal materials including financial, household and medical.
The biographical material includes an interview of Comstock from 1971, memoirs of Comstock by family, friends and colleagues, including taped interviews conducted by Dr. Robert J. Loeffler, the site manager of the Comstock Historic Home in Moorhead, Minnesota. The Comstock family section is primarily correspondence with her family in Moorhead: her parents, S.G. [Solomon George] Comstock and Sarah (Balls) Comstock, her brother George Madison Comstock and her sister Jessie Comstock. Comstock and her father were very close and avid letter writers, and continued their correspondence until his death in 1933. In his letters, S.G. Comstock frequently referred to Comstock as his "Bonnie."
Transcripts of family letters were made by Robert J. Loeffler. His comments about the transcripts read: "[The first batch of] letters represent the correspondence between Ada Louise Comstock and her beloved father, S.G. Comstock, between the years 1883 and 1923 (widely scattered). The period covers her days as a young child to the time she was Dean of Smith College. In this group there are some undated letters. There is one letter during her term as the President of Radcliffe College (March 13, 1925) to her father. The next group of letters covers the period 1929 to 1970 (one in the latter year) and covers letters to her brother George Madison Comstock, and to his wife Frances Comstock. These letters are in the files of the Comstock Historic House in Moorhead, Minnesota, and, in some instances, are represented by the original handwritten letters of Miss Comstock and Mrs. Wallace (Ada) Comstock Notestein. The remaining letters, not represented by originals, were transcribed by another individual, and their whereabouts is not known at the present time."
Correspondence with Wallace Notestein, her husband, is rich in detailing their forty-year friendship prior to marrying in 1943. There is also biographical material on Notestein and his siblings, memorial articles and programs following his death, and correspondence regarding his professional affairs after his death. There are also letters between Comstock and Notestein's siblings, Frank B. Notestein, Lucy Lillian Notestein, and Margaret Notestein. In addition, there is correspondence with friends and colleagues from 1943 or later, with occasional letters from earlier years. Comstock managed her and Notestein's business affairs, so income tax returns, bank statements, household accounts, estate papers, and other personal financial papers are also included.
Series II, Professional and business activities (#17.10-21.24), is organized into the following sections: Minnesota (Moorhead State College and the University of Minnesota); Smith College; Radcliffe College, and other colleges, universities and schools with which Comstock had an affiliation; boards and committees; and clubs.
The bulk of this series concerns Comstock's work within higher education after her retirement in 1943. She advised future presidents on a variety of matters, including fundraising, alumnae relations, and the impact of women's colleges in higher education. There are clippings, correspondence between Comstock and school presidents and administrators as well as alumnae and students, and invitations and programs Comstock was invited to and/or participated in. Comstock was a supporter of the United States Navy's WAVES and the collection includes WAVES photographs from 1944 (see Series IV, #PD.5) and the booklet WAVES in Aviation at the Naval Air Training Center Pensacola, FL. (see Series Series II, #19.10-11)
The papers also document her work with various boards and committees on which she served, including the American Association of University Women, where she served as its first president; the Wickersham Committee; and the Institute for Pacific Relations. Institute of Pacific Relations materials document the "Kohlberg Affair" when Alfred Kohlberg charged Institute of Pacific Relations with harboring Communist sympathizers. Comstock was also active in several clubs including the Chilton Club, Cosmopolitan Club, and Our Society.
Miscellaneous organizations are alphabetized according to Comstock's filing system.
Series III, Speeches (#22.1-31.45), is arranged chronologically, and spans 1921 to 1966. There are speeches during Comstock's time as president of Radcliffe as well as speeches after her retirement. The speeches include manuscript and typed notes, manuscript and typed texts, and transcriptions of Comstock's notes as well as summaries of speeches by Robert J. Loeffler. Occasional book reviews written by Comstock or copies of published speeches are included among the speeches.
Robert J. Loeffler also transcribed many of the speeches from handwritten notes by Comstock. He wrote the following regarding his transcriptions: "Nearly all of [Comstock's] messages were delivered from handwritten outlines on regular unruled 5/7 white index cards. She continued this practice after her marriage in 1943 to Dr. Wallace Notestein and during her retirement years (1943 to 1973). ...all of the handwritten notecards (representing mainly talks to students on campus) were transcribed to the typewritten forms so that future researchers can more easily work with the outlines on the notecards. After all the talks were transcribed, each one was interpreted as to content and message. In many instances it was necessary to guess as to Miss Comstock's thoughts and pronouncements to the students." See folder #22.1 for the full explanation given by Loeffler.
Series IV, Photographs (#PD.1-PD.10), includes family, friends and photographs of Comstock as president of Radcliffe College; WAVES; and group photographs of the Institute of Pacific Relations.
Comstock grew up in a close knit family with her brother and sister, George Madison Comstock and Jessie Comstock. She remained very close to her father until his death in 1933. An avid student, she graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. From 1892 to 1894 Comstock attended the University of Minnesota, before transferring to Smith College where she received her B.L. in 1897. While at Smith she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She completed her teacher training at Moorhead Normal School in 1898, but, dissatisfied with her training there, she attended Columbia University where she earned an A.M. in English, history, and education. In 1900 she accepted an assistantship at the University of Minnesota in the department of rhetoric and oratory.
During her time at the University of Minnesota she befriended Wallace Notestein, a professor of history who later taught at Yale University. Comstock and Notestein maintained their correspondence for forty years; they married in June 1943, after Comstock retired from Radcliffe College. The Notesteins traveled to England frequently due to Notestein's work on British literature and social history. They lived in New Haven, Connecticut.
Comstock's long life, including extensive travel and many achievements in the fields of higher education and public affairs, is reflected in the following chronology.
- 1900Accepts assistantship in University of Minnesota's department of rhetoric and oratory
- 1903-1904Studies in Paris
- 1907Appointed first dean of women at University of Minnesota
- 1909-1912Holds joint appointment as dean and full professor of rhetoric and oratory
- 1910Spends summer in England
- 1912Leaves University of Minnesota to become first dean of Smith College
- 1917-1918Runs Smith College in absence of President Marion LeRoy Burton but is denied title of acting president because of her sex
- 1920Becomes an American delegate of the organizing conference for the International Federation of American Women
- 1921-1923Serves as first president of the American Association of University Women
- 1922Turns down presidency of Bryn Mawr College
- 1923Leaves Smith College to become first full-time president of Radcliffe College (1923-1943)
- 1924Opens Briggs Hall, new Radcliffe dormitory
- 1927Attends Institute of Pacific Relations conference in Hawaii
- 1928Institutes tutorial system at Radcliffe, and opens Tutorial House
- 1929-1932Becomes only woman to serve on the National Commission of Law Observance and Enforcement, also known as the Wickersham Commission
- 1930Opens Longfellow Hall, new lecture hall at Radcliffe
- 1931Leads successful struggle to continue Radcliffe's certification relationship with Harvard
- 1931Travels to China and Japan to report on the Manchurian crisis for the Institute of Pacific Relations, of which she is vice-chair
- 1931Attends meeting of Institute of Pacific Relations in Honolulu and Shanghai
- 1931Opens Summer Secretarial School at Radcliffe
- 1932On the Wickersham Commission, abstains on vote to repeal Volstead Act (prohibition)
- 1932Opens new science center, Byerly Hall
- 1937Opens new dormitory, Cabot Hall
- 1937Opens Radcliffe's Management Training Program
- 1941Serves on National Committee for Planned Parenthood
- 1943Implements new Harvard/Radcliffe agreement, by which Harvard becomes officially responsible for instruction of Radcliffe students
- 1943Retires from Radcliffe, marries Yale History professor emeritus Wallace Notestein, and moves to New Haven, Connecticut
- 1949Receives honorary degree from Oxford University
- 1959Receives honorary degree from Harvard University
- 1969Wallace Notestein dies on February 2 in New Haven.
- 1973Dies in New Haven
- Accepts assistantship in University of Minnesota's department of rhetoric and oratory
- Studies in Paris
- Appointed first dean of women at University of Minnesota
- Holds joint appointment as dean and full professor of rhetoric and oratory
- Spends summer in England
- Leaves University of Minnesota to become first dean of Smith College
- Runs Smith College in absence of President Marion LeRoy Burton but is denied title of acting president because of her sex
- Becomes an American delegate of the organizing conference for the International Federation of American Women
- Serves as first president of the American Association of University Women
- Turns down presidency of Bryn Mawr College
- Leaves Smith College to become first full-time president of Radcliffe College (1923-1943)
- Opens Briggs Hall, new Radcliffe dormitory
- Attends Institute of Pacific Relations conference in Hawaii
- Institutes tutorial system at Radcliffe, and opens Tutorial House
- Becomes only woman to serve on the National Commission of Law Observance and Enforcement, also known as the Wickersham Commission
- Opens Longfellow Hall, new lecture hall at Radcliffe
- Leads successful struggle to continue Radcliffe's certification relationship with Harvard
- Travels to China and Japan to report on the Manchurian crisis for the Institute of Pacific Relations, of which she is vice-chair
- Attends meeting of Institute of Pacific Relations in Honolulu and Shanghai
- Opens Summer Secretarial School at Radcliffe
- On the Wickersham Commission, abstains on vote to repeal Volstead Act (prohibition)
- Opens new science center, Byerly Hall
- Opens new dormitory, Cabot Hall
- Opens Radcliffe's Management Training Program
- Serves on National Committee for Planned Parenthood
- Implements new Harvard/Radcliffe agreement, by which Harvard becomes officially responsible for instruction of Radcliffe students
- Retires from Radcliffe, marries Yale History professor emeritus Wallace Notestein, and moves to New Haven, Connecticut
- Receives honorary degree from Oxford University
- Receives honorary degree from Harvard University
- Wallace Notestein dies on February 2 in New Haven.
- Dies in New Haven
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ada Louise Comstock Notestein in 1951. Addenda to these papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Kathleen Elliott, 1974; by Bernice Brown Cronkhite, 1974; by Frances Ruml Jordan, 1974; by Brand and Roberta Blanshard, 1974-1978; by Jacqueline Van Voris, 1974; Radcliffe College President's Office, 1975; Mrs. George Comstock, 1975; Susan Clemedtson, 1978, 1981, 1988; Barbara M. Solomon, 1979; Dr. Robert J. Loeffler, 1982; and Katherine S. Van Eerde, 1996.
By: Jane S. Knowles, Deborah A. Richards,Jessica Tanny
- Brothers and sisters--United States
- Cambridge (Mass.)--Social life and customs--20th century
- Clubs--New York
- College presidents--Massachusetts--Cambridge
- Courtship--United States
- Deans (Education)--United States
- Fathers and daughters--United States
- Jordan, W. K. (Wilbur Kitchener), 1902-1980
- Love-letters--United States
- Moorhead (Minn.)--Social life and customs--20th century
- New Haven (Conn.)--Social life and customs--20th century
- Oral histories
- Parkman, Francis
- Women college presidents--Massachusetts--Cambridge
- Women deans (Education)--United States
- Women's colleges--United States
- Women--Education (Higher)--Massachusetts
- Women--Societies and clubs
- Comstock, Ada Louise. Papers of Ada Louise Comstock, 1818-1982 (inclusive), 1887-1982 (bulk): A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- EAD ID
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