Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 573

Papers of Lini M. De Vries, 1910-2009


Writings, correspondence, professional reports and papers, and photographs of Lini M. De Vries, author, public health nurse, and teacher who was a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, and later worked with rural and indigenous communities in New Mexico and Mexico.


  • 1910-2009

Language of Materials

Materials in English, Spanish, or Dutch.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the collection is open for research. Folders #8.10 and 8.17 are closed until the death of Mary Lee Baranger.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Lini M. De Vries 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.


3.55 linear feet ((8 file boxes, 1 half file box) plus 2 folio folders, 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, 29 photograph folders)

The papers of Lini M. De Vries contain correspondence, personal documents, drafts of her autobiography and other writings, public health reports, notes, and other material from her teaching and nursing careers, and photographs. The majority of the folder headings have been assigned by the processor. De Vries's own folder headings appear within quotation marks in the inventory, and can be found primarily in Series III.

Some documents have annotations De Vries or her daughter, Mary Lee Baranger, made as they were readying the papers for donation to the Schlesinger Library. The collection contains material in English, Spanish, and Dutch. In May 2016, material donated by De Vries's daughter Mary Lee Baranger (accession numbers 2009-M38 and 2012-M35) was added to the collection. This material is described in Series V, except for one photograph folder (#PD.29) which was added to Series IV.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1919-2002 (#1.1-3.17), includes correspondence, personal documents, honors and awards, Spanish Civil War ephemera, and De Vries's FBI file. The series is arranged in three subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical, 1919-1982 (#1.1-1.13), contains documents, diplomas and transcripts, clippings, honors and awards, and financial documents (mainly receipts). For most of her years in Mexico, De Vries supported herself by operating a guesthouse. When she lived in Jalapa, she began to run a shop that sold Oaxacan and Indian crafts to tourists. Some documents in this series refer to permits she needed to run such a business in Mexico. A transcript of an interview given in 1978 describes her work with Margaret Sanger, and her subsequent work and feelings about birth control. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Subseries B, Personal, 1954-2002 (#1.14-3.8), includes De Vries's telephone and address books, ephemera and printed material she collected, documents relating to her tenure on the board of the Museo de Cuernavaca, and her FBI files. The FBI files (which contain many redactions), were requested by her daughter, Mary Lee Baranger, beginning in 2000. Some pages have Baranger's annotations or identification of individuals whose names have been redacted. The records were sent to Baranger in three sets, and contain some duplication. Of particular note is the official transcript of the FBI interview with De Vries in 1946, which she describes in her autobiography. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries A, Correspondence, 1950-1982 (#3.9-3.17), contains De Vries's personal correspondence, and letters written on her behalf. Some letters relate the efforts of De Vries's friends to find an American publisher for her autobiography. Alice Rossin and Harriet Kimbro, friends and creative writers, met De Vries in Mexico and eventually became her main editors and backers in the attempt to get her autobiography published. Other correspondence specifically relating to De Vries's writings (e.g., correspondence with publishers, fan mail) can be found in Series II. Also included in this series are letters written by others on De Vries's behalf: to the United States government, recommending her for a tourist visa; to the Mexican government, etc. Several letters in Dutch detail De Vries's share of a legacy from the German government on behalf of several of her Dutch relatives who died in concentration camps in World War II. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Series II, WRITINGS, 1937-1982 (#4.1-6.26), contains drafts of De Vries's autobiography, typescript and published copies of articles, correspondence from publishers and fans, and press clippings. The typescript drafts of the autobiography were arranged based on the years of her life covered in each section. When multiple versions of each span of years exist, earlier versions are foldered first. "This is Xalapa" was a series of columns by De Vries for the English section of Ciudad, a daily newspaper produced in Jalapa in 1959 during a music festival celebrating cellist Pablo Casals. The Japanese title of the autobiography translated by Sadako Tsurami and published by Kenkyusha Limited translates as "Mexico, My Earth." The series is arranged with typescript drafts of the autobiography first, followed by published or draft articles, then correspondence and press.

Series III, PROFESSIONAL, 1938-1977 (#6.27-7.20), contains notes, reports, and schedules from De Vries's public health work in New Mexico and Mexico; notes, syllabi, and exams from her teaching jobs at Mexican universities; clippings about her work in Mexico; and employment contracts and other documents. See also Series IV, Subseries B, for important photographic documentation of the work in New Mexico and for the Comisión del Papaloapan.

De Vries's monthly reports to her supervisors at the San Miguel County Public Health Demonstration Unit in New Mexico describe the living conditions of the Mexican-Americans in 32 remote towns and villages in northeastern New Mexico, document her educational and nursing work with them, and detail her days traveling and teaching. De Vries used the abbreviation "CP" to refer to the Comisión del Papaloapan; this has been included in folder titles below. CP material is the bulk of this series, and includes notebooks from her travels which show her daily schedule and sometimes describe specific ailments of indigenous villagers; correspondence between De Vries and local and CP officials; reports; schedules; lists of objectives for the CP in the realm of public health; and plays. De Vries's folder titles refer to specific towns, regions, or to general teacher institutes. More information about her work with the CP can be found in Please, God, Take Care of the Mule, held by the Schlesinger Library. The series is arranged chronologically.

Series IV, OVERSIZED AND PHOTOGRAPHS, 1910-1982 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1, OD.1, PD.1-PD.29), contains oversized material and photographs of De Vries's life and work. The series is arranged in two subseries.

Subseries A, Oversized, 1943-1965 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1, OD.1), contains De Vries's 1943 diploma from Columbia University, a poster for a production of "Bell Book & Candle" in which De Vries appeared, a 1951 article by Elizabeth Bentley in McCall's magazine, and material relating to De Vries's teaching career.

Subseries B, Photographs, 1910-1982 (#PD.1-PD.29), includes photographs of De Vries, her family, and her work as a public health nurse. The earliest photograph, from 1910, was taken in the Netherlands on De Vries's first trip there with her mother. Two albums date from her teenage years. One of these includes photographs from a 1923 trip to the Netherlands with her mother and sister. Photographs of her Girl Scout troop are in both early albums; the girls are usually shown on trips, and often appear in bathing suits. Another album documents De Vries's nursing work in New Mexico. Many photographs have annotations that identify medical equipment (some involve maternal and child health). De Vries's work with the Comisión del Papaloapan is also well documented. Most of these photographs are identified and dated, and can be matched with her written reports of trips (in Series III) or more general descriptions in Please, God, Take Care of the Mule. Some photographs of Valerio Trujano, a town inhabited by descendents of African slaves, were published in a 1957 Ebony article on the town written by De Vries and June Barth Dow (see #6.4). Several later photographs show De Vries teaching. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Series V, MARY LEE BARANGER, 1937-2009 (#7.21-9.3v), contains research notes and files of Lini De Vries's daughter Mary Lee Baranger. In 2008, Baranger set out to write her memories of De Vries and her life. This series contains Baranger's research and draft files for her essay; many contain copies of documents held by the Tamiment Library in the Fredericka Martin papers. Draft files contain Baranger's notes, drafts, and copies of research documents. Other research is organized in topical files. Baranger's exploration of De Vries's life also included her own investigation of her relationship with her mother, as well as the relationship her mother had with others close to her. Baranger's final essay is closed for research until her death. Folder titles created by Baranger are in quotations in the inventory. The series is arranged alphabetically.

See also Women in the Silk, a videotaped interview with De Vries (shelved separately as Vt-16).


Lini De Vries was born Lena Moerkerk on July 25, 1905, in Prospect Park, New Jersey, to Elisabeth ("Betty") (De Vries) Moerkerk. A younger sister, Elisabeth, was born in 1913. Leonard Moerkerk, Betty's husband, raised Lini (a nickname for Lena), but she later learned that her biological father was Bernard Pollack, her mother's boyfriend from the Netherlands. Dutch was spoken in the Moerkerk house; De Vries did not learn English until she went to grammar school. At age 12, after graduating from grammar school, she was sent to work in a silk mill in nearby Paterson, New Jersey. Subsequently she worked in a cotton mill, a ribbon mill, as a secretary, and as a telephone operator. De Vries had an unhappy childhood and home life, and enthusiastically organized a Girl Scout troop around 1918 in order to broaden her horizons and spend less time at home.

In 1925, De Vries enrolled in a nurses training program at New Rochelle Hospital Training School for Nurses in New York. She met Wilbur Fuhr in 1926 while sick herself with rheumatic fever at New Rochelle Hospital. De Vries graduated from the program in June 1928 and married Fuhr, who owned his family's dairy business in Port Chester, New York, that same month. She mainly used the names "Lini M. Fuhr" or "Lee Fuhr." A daughter, Mary Lee, was born in 1930. Wilbur Fuhr, sickly from a bout of rheumatic fever as a child, died the next year. De Vries worked as a visiting nurse, and at the same time went to school to earn her high school degree, completed in 1932. The next year she began taking classes at Columbia University's Teacher's College toward a bachelor's degree in nursing. She moved to New York City with her daughter, and held a variety of jobs while in school. She worked as both a nurse and a social worker, including full-time employment with Margaret Sanger's birth control clinic in 1935 and 1936.

In 1935, De Vries joined the Communist Party. In January 1937 she volunteered to go to Spain with the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy, which provided medical care for the international brigades and Spanish anti-fascist fighters during the Spanish Civil War. De Vries was only in Spain for a few months, but went on a lecture tour throughout the United States upon her return, in an attempt to raise funds and support for the cause.

De Vries then took a public health nursing job in New Mexico in order to expose her daughter, who suffered from rheumatic fever, to a warmer climate. From 1938 to 1940, De Vries worked for the San Miguel County Public Health Demonstration Unit, traveling to small villages of Mexican-Americans who spoke little English, teaching public health, performing nursing duties, and setting up training programs whereby school teachers could learn to teach public health ideas and methods to their students. After Mary Lee's health worsened, De Vries found a job as a maternal health consultant with the Department of Public Health in Puerto Rico. She then became the administrator of the Works Progress Administration Health Service for the island. In Puerto Rico, De Vries met Louis Stoumen, a traveling photographer 12 years her junior.

World War II provided an excuse for De Vries to move back to the United States, where she first worked for the Federal Works Progress Administration, overseeing public health programs throughout the southeast. She then moved back to New York City, and completed her nursing degree at Columbia University in 1943. After graduation, she took a job as Director of Epidemiology in Chicago's Venereal Disease program. She married Louis Stoumen in New York City in January 1944; De Vries began to use the name "Lini Stoumen." Mary Lee's health was deteriorating again, so the family moved to Los Angeles. De Vries worked in the Venereal Disease Control Section of the Los Angeles County Health Department, and then was Supervisor of Medical Services and Nursing for the Agricultural Workers Health and Medical Association of Southern California. De Vries and Stoumen's daughter, Toby, was born in 1946. The couple separated in 1948 and divorced in 1949.

Beginning in 1938, De Vries was tailed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) due to her Communist Party membership and her work in the Spanish Civil War. Her employers were continually contacted by agents, the Bureau gathered information on her whereabouts and her friends, etc. In 1946, De Vries agreed to talk to the FBI, hoping to put to rest their efforts. She denied being a member of the Communist Party and refused to tell them the names of any friends or Party members. In 1948, De Vries was publicly outed as a Party member by Elizabeth Bentley, who wrote several tell-all articles and a book about her time as a Communist. When her job with the Agricultural Workers Health and Medical Association of Southern California was over in 1948, De Vries found it extremely hard to find work due to Bentley's assertions and the continued FBI harassment. She learned her name had been put on a blacklist distributed to employers. Mary Lee started college at the University of California at Berkeley in the fall of 1947; and was planning to attend Barnard College in the fall of 1949. Feeling unable to financially support either Mary Lee or Toby, De Vries decided to move to Mexico in December 1949. She did not need a passport to travel there (her passport had not been renewed after her time in Spain), and Mexico had offered itself as a refuge for Spanish Civil War fighters.

Upon arriving in Mexico, De Vries (who began to use the name "Lini De Vries" around this time) lived in Cuernavaca, and supported herself and Toby by nursing and teaching English. She moved to Oaxaca in 1952 and taught English and public health at the University there. In 1956, she became Director of Health Education for the Comisión del Papaloapan, a public-works program in the Papaloapan River basin in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Most of the inhabitants of the region were indigenous, spoke little Spanish, and desperately needed access to modern health care. De Vries visited villages and schools, assessed conditions, and taught teachers and villagers basic public health measures to improve their lives. Several times a year she conducted teacher workshops (centros pedagógicos), where teachers from many villages would learn how to incorporate public health messages and teaching into their classrooms. De Vries wrote plays that teachers and their students could put on to teach each other and others in their villages about topics such as germs, the circulatory system, fertility, etc.

In 1957, De Vries moved to Jalapa, Veracruz, to teach at the Universidad Veracruzana with noted anthropologist Gonzalo Beltran. She taught public health to anthropologists and medical students, and established a summer school for foreign students at the university. In 1963, she returned to Cuernavaca, where she established another summer school for foreign students at the Universidad de Morelos. She was named director of that school the next year. In 1967 she founded the Institute for Mexican Studies, primarily meant to educate foreign students. She then became involved in Centro Intercultural de Documentación, or CIDOC, an institute founded by noted philosopher and anarchist Ivan Illich. De Vries was assistant director of its Institute for Contemporary Latin American Studies. She was later involved in other educational opportunities in Cuernavaca, mainly those involving foreign students and participants. These included the Instituto Fenix de Cuernavaca, and Cemanahuac, an educational community where De Vries was dean of students for a time. De Vries often taught classes on Mexican history as well as public health. In addition to teaching, De Vries opened her home as a guesthouse, and ran a small shop in which she sold Oaxacan crafts to foreign visitors.

De Vries wrote an autobiography which was published (in various versions) in both Spanish and English. El Sótano ("The Cellar"), recounting her life from childhood through 1925, was published in Mexico in 1959 by the Universidad Veracruzana's Ficcion series. The same publisher brought out España 1937 (Memorias), an account of her experience in the Spanish Civil War, in 1965. In 1969, CIDOC published De Vries's The People of the Mountains: Health Education Among Indian Communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, which described her work with the Comisión del Papaloapan. Another volume, describing De Vries's life in Mexico from 1949 to 1962, was published in 1972 in English in Mexico by Minutiae Mexicana as Please, God, Take Care of the Mule. This won the Book of the Year award in Mexico, and was translated into Japanese (along with a section on the Spanish Civil War) in 1974. A complete volume, describing her life from 1905 through 1962, was published in the United States in 1979 by Vanilla Press as Up From the Cellar.

In 1962 De Vries became a Mexican citizen by presidential decree, in honor of her work with the Comisión del Papaloapan. She was an active member of her community in Cuernavaca, and a member of the board of directors of the Museo de Cuernavaca. She was finally successful in being granted a visa to enter the United States in 1970, and she returned several times after that. Lini De Vries died on March 27, 1982, of several strokes following surgery, in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She is buried at Fair Lawn Memorial Cemetery.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1919-2002 (#1.1-3.17)
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical, 1919-1982 (#1.1-1.13)
  3. ___Subseries B. Personal, 1954-2002 (#1.14-3.8)
  4. ___Subseries C. Correspondence, 1950-1982 (#3.9-3.17)
  5. Series II. Writings, 1937-1982 (#4.1-6.26)
  6. Series III. Professional, 1938-1977 (#6.27-7.20)
  7. Series IV. Oversized and Photographs, 1910-1982 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1, OD.1, PD.1-PD.29)
  8. ___Subseries A. Oversized, 1943-1965 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1, OD.1)
  9. ___Subseries B. Photographs, 1910-1982 (#PD.1-PD.29)
  10. Series V. Mary Lee Baranger, 1937-2009 (#7.21-9.3v)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 74-157, 74-195, 74-201, 74-224, 75-21, 75-375, 76-195, 81-M244, 81-M273, 81-M281, 82-M12, 82-M79, 82-M155, 82-M251, 83-M56, 83-M208, 83-M264, 85-M264, 2000-M53, 2001-M188, 2002-M35. Accession numbers 2009-M38 and 2012-M35 were added in May 2016.

The papers of Lini M. De Vries were given by Lini M. De Vries, her daughter Mary Lee Baranger, her friend Harriet Kofalk Kimbro, and the New Jersey Visual Arts Foundation between July 1974 and March 2012.


Donor: Lini M. De Vries

Accession numbers: 74-157--75-375

Processed by: Jenny Gotwals

The following items have been removed from the collection and added to the Schlesinger Libary's book collection.

  1. Marcel Acier, ed. From Spanish Trenches: Recent Letters from Spain (New York: Modern Age Books, 1937).
  2. De Vries, Lini M. España 1937 (Xalapa, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1965).
  3. De Vries, Lini M. Mekishiko: waga daichi (Tokyo: Kenkyusha Press, 1975)

Donor: New Jersey Visual Arts Foundation

Accession number: 82-M155

Processed by: Jenny Gotwals

The following items have been removed from the collection and is cataloged separately:

  1. Vt-16, Women in the Silk

Processing Information

Processed: November 2008

By: Jenny Gotwals

Updated and additional materials added: May 2016

By: Jenny Gotwals

De Vries, Lini M. Papers of Lini M. De Vries, 1910-2009: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Radcliffe College Class of 1950 and the Radcliffe College Class of 1956.

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.

3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA