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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 587

Papers of Mary Lee, 1834-1982 (inclusive), 1915-1949 (bulk)


Correspondence, biographical and financial material, clippings and articles, book-related files, family papers, and photographs of author and journalist Mary Lee.


  • Creation: 1834-1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1915-1949


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mary Lee 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. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder of copyright and the director of the Schlesinger Library before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.

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


22.31 linear feet ((51 + 1/2 file boxes, 1 card file box) plus 1 folio folder, 3 folio+ folders, 1 oversized folder, 60 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 1 folio+ photograph folder)

The Mary Lee Papers consist of a previously processed collection (A-92), and addenda received more than twenty years later. Because there was substantial overlap and duplication, the two groups of papers have been consolidated and reprocessed with one coherent arrangement created by the archivist. There were few usable folder headings (many items were received loose or in unlabeled folders), but where possible, they have been retained and appear in quotation marks.

Series I, MARY LEE, 1892-1982 (#1.1m-39.16, 53CB, F+D.1-F+D.3), includes biographical items, school papers, financial material, correspondence, articles, book-related files ("It's a Great War!" and History of Chestnut Hill Chapel), and speeches/papers presented by Lee. The series is divided into eight subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical/personal, 1896-1982 (#1.1m-2.3, 53CB), includes a ribbon/pin from the Town of Andover's 250th anniversary (1896); a diary; an account of Hannah Cobb's wedding to William Appleton Lawrence; clippings; address books and contact cards; a sketchbook and address book from trip to Greece, Italy, France, and England; and certificates and membership cards for organizations. Folders are arranged chronologically.

Subseries B, Education, 1899-1947 (#2.4-4.2), includes progress reports, papers/essays from Chestnut Hill School and the Winsor School; an automobile repair class; and air raid warden classes during World War II. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Subseries C, Financial, 1911-1977 (#4.3-5.4), includes bills/receipts for Boston area businesses; automobile purchase and bills; income tax forms and related; income and expense statements from Lee's financial advisor, etc.

Subseries D, Correspondence, 1897-1982 (#5.5-25.2), includes letters from Mary Lee's grandfather, parents, siblings, individuals (arranged alphabetically), children, and other family and friends, each grouped chronologically. Also included are letters from Mary to family and friends. Family relationships are specified when known. Christmas cards, a Valentine card, and postcards of exceptional age and condition have been noted. Letters are arranged chronologically within each of these groupings.

Lee's alphabetical correspondence files on people, organizations, and topics include friend Maude Abbott, American Legion (membership scandal), birth control, Greek War Relief Association, New York Evening Post, New York Times, Westport (family vacation home), Widows' Society in Boston (founding member), etc. Files were kept in their original order, using original titles; most files contain correspondence. Some files were added to this group and noted by the processor.

The general correspondence includes vendors; Chestnut Hill house tenants; household issues; workers/caretakers of Westport, New York, home/farm; Putnam Camp (group-owned establishment) rentals and business issues, complaints to the town and state; letters to editor; etc. These files are arranged chronologically.

Search note: There is no correspondence index. However, the names of selected correspondents (those who appear in the Additional catalog entries) can be searched using the browser's search feature. Because the search feature is also the most efficient way to find the recurring names and issues throughout the collection, there are few specific cross-references provided in the finding aid.

Subseries E, Published/unpublished articles, 1919-1951 (#25.3-29.16), includes essays and articles written by Mary Lee. In 1925, Lee worked for the Atlantic Monthly Press, writing topical and biographical sketches/essays for a series of school readers. Essays are arranged in alphabetical order by essay title, topic, or person's name including Adventures of the Coast Guard, Boy Scouts, explorers, Thomas Jefferson, The Road Mender, and Socrates.

During the 1920s, Lee worked for the New York Evening Post, and freelanced for the New York Times and magazines, writing about celebrities arriving in the United States, mill workers, women's issues, skiing, dog sledding, New England, women's colleges, etc. The subseries is arranged in alphabetical order by publication and chronologically within.

Subseries F, "It's a Great War!" and related, ca.1926-1952 (#30.1-38.2, F+D.1-F+D.3), includes rejection letters and recommendations re: The Farce; contest information and correspondence with Houghton, Mifflin and Company; foreign publisher George Allen & Unwin Ltd correspondence; press releases and advertising; serial installments of book; reviews from the United States and foreign press; clippings on the American Legion ousting Lee from their membership; fan letters; typescript of original work, The Farce; Spanish and Dutch translations of book; and edited typescript of German translation and related correspondence.

Subseries G, History of Chestnut Hill Chapel and related, 1892, 1936-1975 (#38.3-39.9), contains material related to Lee's book, History of Chestnut Hill Chapel, including correspondence, research notes, typescript, book, advertising, and exhibition text. Lee was involved in church and local community events, including the church's annual Thanksgiving Food and Flower Sale, installation of ministers, United States Post Office anniversary celebration, and a school play based on her book.

Subseries H, Speeches/papers presented, ca.1919-1961 (#39.10-39.16), contains speeches and papers written and presented by Mary Lee, including re: her World War I experiences in France and Germany, being a journalist, "Indians" [Native Americans] in the Chestnut Hill area, John Brown, and Lee family history.

Series II, MARION (DOVE) LEE, FRANCIS WILSON LEE, AND CHILDREN, 1863-1949 (#40.1-49.12), includes biographical/personal material and correspondence related to Marion and Francis "Frank" Lee. The subseries also contains correspondence of Lee children: Alice, Guy, Isabella, Susan, and Guy's daughter Jeanne "Nanot." For letters written by Mary Lee to her siblings, sister-in-law, and niece, see Series I, Subseries D. The series is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical/personal, ca.1865-1949 (#40.1-40.16), includes birth announcement, school papers, address books, bills/receipts, legal documents, testimonial, and funeral announcement.

Subseries B, Correspondence, 1863-1948 (#40.17-49.12), includes correspondence from Marion's parents (often Marion addressed as "Marnie"); Marion's sister Edith (often Marion addressed as "Dovelet" or "Marny"); Frank from sister Alice; between Frank and Marion; from children: Alice, Guy, Isabella, Mary, and Susan. The largest collection of letters in this subseries are from their children Guy and Mary.

The end of the subseries includes letters to Marion and/or Frank from other family and friends; from Marion to children; and correspondence to and from Alice, Guy, Isabella, Susan, and Guy's daughter Jeanne "Nanot."

Series III, OTHER FAMILY, 1834-1974 (#49.13-52.7), includes family genealogy, biographical/personal material, and correspondence for extended family members of both the Lee and Dove families. The series is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A, Dove Family, 1834-1974 (#49.13-50.5), includes notes and research on the Dove family, correspondence of Marion's mother Susan Cotter Dove, letters to Dove family members from Marion Dove Lee, and sister Edith "Nelly" McHenry correspondence.

Subseries B, Lee Family, 1836-1951 (#50.6-52.7), includes family history notes and tree; Elizabeth Brown Cutting scrapbook and correspondence; Francis L. and Sara Lee correspondence and material from the Varieties Theatre in Boston (run by Francis), including plays, stage prop knife, and programs; Henry Lee memorial booklet; Frances "Fanny" Rollins Morse correspondence and biographical material; Harriet (Lee) Morse correspondence; Mary Lee Ware correspondence, memorial program, and will; and other family correspondence.

Series IV. PHOTOGRAPHS AND OVERSIZED, ca.1853-1970 (#PD.1-PD.37, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1), includes photographs, posters, proofs, and sketches. The series is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A, Photographs, ca.1853-1962 (#PD.1-PD.37), contains photographs of Mary Lee (#PD.1-PD.11), her family, trips, unknown children, and images from her Chestnut Hill Chapel book. Filed with photographs unless otherwise noted

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 [*].

Subseries B, Oversized, ca.1900-1970 (#FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1), includes pencil sketch, article proofs, and posters.


Mary Lee was born in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1891, the eldest child of Francis Wilson and Marion (Dove) Lee. Lee had a brother, Guy (1894-1953) and three sisters: Isabella (1895-1970), Susan (1897-1972), and Alice (1899-1988). Her early education took place at the Chestnut Hill School and Miss Winsor's School in Boston; she later received a stenographer's diploma in 1913 from Bryant & Stratton Business College in Boston. Lee attended Radcliffe College, graduating magna cum laude in 1917, with a B.A. degree in government, history, and economics. After graduating, Lee joined the American Red Cross as a secretary in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1917. She then joined the Base Hospital Number 6 (Massachusetts General Hospital Unit) staff of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.), and was shipped to France, working at a hospital in Petit Lycée de Talence outside Bordeaux. To move closer to the war effort, Lee transferred to the headquarters of the American Air Service in Paris as a secretary in January 1918. Her office was responsible for buying airplanes from the French government for use by United States pilots. In the fall of that same year, Lee joined the American YMCA as a canteen worker in the Zone of Advance at the First Air Depot at Colombey-les-Belles, near Toul. She became ill and after several weeks in a hospital, went on sick leave to the Riviera. After the Armistice, a recovered Lee went to Germany with the Army of Occupation, serving in different places in the American Bridgehead, across the Rhine River from Koblence. She eventually ended up with the First Division and returned home in July 1919, marching with them in parades in New York City and Washington, D.C.

After the war, Lee returned to Radcliffe College, receiving her M.A. in government, history, and economics in 1920. She moved to New York City, working as a member of the city staff of the New York Evening Post for three years as the only woman among six reporters. With her knowledge of French and German, Lee was often sent to the harbor to meet boats, interviewing famous people including Arthur Balfour, Lord Beatty, Stanley Baldwin, Margot Asquith, Lady Astor, among others as they arrived onshore. While in New York, Lee lived in Greenwich House, a settlement house, doing social work in her evening hours and on weekends. In 1923 she traveled to Greece, Italy, France, and England, with her mother and one of her sisters, studying archaeology and acting as foreign correspondent for the New York Evening Post. She left the job after the 1923 collapse of the newspaper.

After living in New York City as a journalist for almost 5 years, Lee moved back to Chestnut Hill in 1925 to live with her mother. Lee wrote historical and biographical sketches for school readers published by the Atlantic Monthly Press and began writing a book based on her wartime experiences. She spent two years writing the book, working between the family home in Chestnut Hill and their summer estate in Westport, New York, where the Lee family had been vacationing for 90 years. The book was completed in 1927, initially titled, The Farce. It was rejected by numerous publishers, until she changed the name of the book to "It's a Great War!" and entered it into a best war novel competition, sponsored by the American Legion Monthly and Houghton, Mifflin and Company. She won half of the $25,000 prize (divided between her and a male author) and the novel was published the following year, selling over 30,000 copies in the United States and England. It was translated into Polish, Spanish, and Dutch. The book was also translated into German, but not published due to the rise of the Hitler regime. Lee received hundreds of fan letters from veterans, civilians, and even prisoners, congratulating her on having written the truth about the war. She claimed the book was not a diary (diaries were forbidden while serving overseas), but that everything in it was true, except that some events happened to her and others to people she knew during the war. The book was also mentioned as a potential for the Pulitzer Prize in the spring of 1930. She did not receive the award, but it was rumored that year's announcement was late because of the committee arguing over her book.

Lee continued to freelance between 1927 and 1940, contributing to the New York Times' special features section and Sunday Magazine and other publications, writing articles on dog sledding, skiing, horseback riding, and a series on women's colleges. During 1936 and 1937, Lee wrote The History of Chestnut Hill Chapel, published in 1937 by the History Committee of the First Church in Chestnut Hill. A history of the church, the book was also an early history of the Chestnut Hill district of Newton, Massachusetts. It provided opportunities for Lee to present papers and deliver speeches to groups interested in local history. During World War II, Lee worked with the Greek War Relief Association, serving as executive secretary for two years, and received the Royal Hellenic Order of the Phoenix medal from King Paul of Greece for her work. She also supported the war effort by working as a day laborer at Hood Rubber Company in Watertown, Massachusetts, making de-icers for D-46 planes and with the Red Cross in Westport, New York. Throughout her life, Lee was involved in community causes, serving as the first director of the Widows' Society in Boston, member of the Radcliffe College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, National Birth Control League of Massachusetts, and other organizations. She was also physically active, skiing, hiking, and horseback riding until late in her life, before passing away in 1982.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Mary Lee, 1892-1982 (#1.1m-39.16, 53CB, F+D.1-F+D.3)
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical/personal, 1896-1982 (#1.1m-2.3, 53CB)
  3. ___Subseries B. Education, 1899-1947 (#2.4-4.2)
  4. ___Subseries C. Financial, 1911-1977 (#4.3-5.4)
  5. ___Subseries D. Correspondence, 1897-1982 (#5.5-25.2)
  6. ___Subseries E. Published/unpublished articles, 1919-1951 (#25.3-29.16)
  7. ___Subseries F. "It's a Great War!" and related, ca.1926-1952 (#30.1-38.2, F+D.1-F+D.3)
  8. ___Subseries G. History of Chestnut Hill Chapel and related, 1892, 1936-1975 (#38.3-39.9)
  9. ___Subseries H. Speeches/papers presented, ca.1919-1961 (#39.10-39.16)
  10. Series II. Marion (Dove) Lee, Francis Wilson Lee, and children, 1863-1949 (#40.1-49.12)
  11. ___Subseries A. Biographical/personal, ca.1865-1949 (#40.1-40.16)
  12. ___Subseries B. Correspondence, 1863-1948 (#40.17-49.12)
  13. Series III. Other family, 1834-1974 (#49.13-52.7)
  14. ___Subseries A. Dove family, 1834-1974 (#49.13-50.5)
  15. ___Subseries B. Lee family, 1836-1951 (#50.6-52.7)
  16. Series IV. Photographs and oversized, ca.1853-1970 (#PD.1-PD.37, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1)
  17. ___Subseries A. Photographs, ca.1853-1962 (#PD.1-PD.37)
  18. ___Subseries B. Oversized, ca.1900-1970 (#FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 51-26, 82-M124, 82-M144, 83-M169, 83-M262

The papers of Mary Lee were placed on deposit in the Schlesinger Library in 1951 by Mary Lee; she donated them to the library in June 1960. Additional papers were given to the library by her estate in 1982 and 1983.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Papers of Mary Lee, 1913-1964 (inclusive), 1913-1920 (bulk) (SC 76).


Donors: Mary Lee

Accession number: MC 587

Processed by: Stacey Flatt

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Books and Printed Material Division:

  1. Wat Een Oorlog, by Mary Lee [translation of "It's a Great War!", N.V. Johan Mulder's Uitg. MY, Gouda, 1931
  2. ¡Vaya una guerra!, by Mary Lee [translation of "It's a Great War!", Editorial Juventud S. A., Barcelona, 1931

Processing Information

Reprocessed: June 2009

By: Stacey Flatt

Lee, Mary, 1891-1982. Papers of Mary Lee, 1834-1982 (inclusive), 1915-1949 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
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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