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COLLECTION Identifier: A-97

Papers of Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, 1852-1960


Correspondence, speeches, writings, etc., of Mary K. (Mary Kingsbury) Simkhovitch, settlement worker and housing reformer.


  • Creation: 1852-1960

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch 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.


2.71 linear feet ((6+1/2 file boxes) plus 7 photograph folders, 3 folio folders, 1 folio + folder)

While this collection contains those of Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch's papers that have survived, it covers only scattered portions of her career and personal life. The Holmes and Kingsbury family papers, especially those of Ellen Holmes, Laura Davis (Holmes) and Isaac Franklin Kingsbury, are the strongest part of the collection. Spanning eight decades (from 1852 to the 1920s), these papers document the education, court-ship, family relationships, and attitudes toward the Civil War of a middle class New England family.

Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-26), includes student records from Berlin University (in German), immediate family and personal correspondence, and one folder (#8) of V.G. Simkhovitch papers. The personal correspondence, 1907-51, includes letters about Mary and V.G. Simkhovitch's golden wedding anniversary and from her retirement years, and condolence letters upon her death in 1951. While this correspondence provides some information about Simkhovitch's later years, letters seem to have been retained at random and so reveal little about friendships. Included are letters from Emily Greene Balch, Raissa Lomonosoff, Frances Perkins, Ida Davis Ripley, and Vida Scudder. Simkhovitch's correspondence is found in Series I, II, and III. Clippings (#3-5), contain the most complete biographical record of Simkhovitch and her parents.

Series II, Professional (#27-89),includes four sections in the following order: settlement houses, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), other organizations with which Simkhovitch was affiliated (arranged alphabetically), and speeches and writings.

The Greenwich House papers consist of general correspondence, correspondence about Greenwich House's fortieth anniversary (1942) and Simkhovitch's retirement in 1946, and printed materials. These records do not constitute the archives of Greenwich House. The Greenwich House records (1896-1979) were deposited at the Tamiment Institute Library, New York University, in 1986.

Simkhovitch's professional activities are only partially represented by papers in this series. Most extensive are the records of her involvement with New York City Housing Authority. The other professional activities represented here offer minimal insight into Simkhovitch's involvement; her teaching and her membership on state boards are not documented. Of interest are #44-45, which contain New York Enemy Alien Hearing Board correspondence and agendas; #56, membership lists for various social service and other organizations; and #57-58, general correspondence from the two years following Simkhovitch's retirement.

Speeches and writings (#59-89) by Simkhovitch form the most complete part of this series. Covering the period 1901-50, they document the statements and philosophy of a publicly visible social welfare advocate and include her unpublished manuscript, Green Shoots.

Series III, Family Papers (#90-127), consists mainly of the correspondence between Simkhovitch's parents, Laura Davis (Holmes) and Isaac Franklin Kingsbury. The letters from 1858-64 offer a detailed picture of the couple's courtship and of their reactions to the Civil War. Laura Holmes Kingsbury's years as a school teacher are reflected in these letters and in the later letters and samplers she received from former pupils. Other family papers of special interest include an 1852 agreement between John Kingsbury and his son Isaac (Isaac Franklin Kingsbury's father) for the upkeep of the former in return for an immediate transfer of family land (#90), and The Normal Offering, 1860, edited by Ellen Holmes (#95).

The remainder of the family papers are letters between Simkhovitch and her parents. They provide interesting insights into the Simkhovitch family's financial situation but do not give a full picture of family life.

Series IV, Photographs (#128-134), consists mainly of Holmes, Kingsbury, and Simkhovitch family portraits. It also contains portraits of Simkhovitch and several publicity photographs from her Greenwich House and committee work.


Mary Melinda (Kingsbury) Simkhovitch, settlement worker and housing reformer, was born on September 8, 1867, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She was the first of two children born to Laura Davis (Holmes) (1839-1932) and Isaac Franklin Kingsbury (1841-1919).

Simkhovitch graduated from Newton High School in 1886 and received her B.A. from Boston University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, in 1890. While in college she did volunteer work in a teenage girls' club at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, a Black congregation, and at "St. Monica(s Home for old colored women." These experiences influenced her later decisions to continue her studies in economics and political science and her choice of a career in settlement work. After graduation she taught Latin at Somerville (Massachusetts) High School for two years. In 1894 she began a year of graduate studies at Radcliffe College. The following year she spent at the University of Berlin on a scholarship from the Women's Educational and Industrial Union. Her mother accompanied her on her European travels during the summer of 1895 and remained in Berlin during the school year. It was there that Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch met and became engaged to Vladimir Gregorievitch Simkhovitch (1874-1959), a Russian student of economics. During the summer of 1896 she and her friend Emily Greene Balch attended the International Socialist Trade Union Congress in London.

Upon her return to the United States, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch completed one final year of graduate study at Columbia University. During this time she was active in the woman suffrage movement in New York City and in the Social Reform Club, a group that studied and promoted social welfare legislation. In 1897 she accepted a position as headworker of the College Settlement House on New York's Lower East Side; she left in 1898 to work at the Friendly Aid House, also on the East Side, where she remained until 1902.

V.G. Simkhovitch had received his Ph.D. from the Univer-sity of Halle in 1898 and had subsequently come to the United States to begin a brief fellowship at Cornell University. In 1904 he received a teaching appointment in economic history at Columbia University, where he remained until 1942. Mary Simkhovitch and V.G. Simkhovitch were married in 1899. Their son, Stephen Kingsbury Simkhovitch, was born in 1902 and their daughter, Helena (Simkhovitch) Didisheim, in 1903. After 1908, the children lived in Whitehouse, New Jersey, at Orlanova, the family's farm. Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch and V.G. Simkhovitch spent "long weekends" there.

In 1901 Simkhovitch and John Elliot formed the Association of Neighborhood Workers, a forerunner of United Neighborhood Houses of New York. In the same year the Cooperative Social Settlement Society of New York was formed and opened as Greenwich House in 1902. Greenwich House was located on Jones Street in Greewich Village and Simkhovitch, soon called "Mrs. Sim," was its first director. In addition to establishing Greenwich House as a non-sectarian settlement house, she meant to break with what she saw as the "lady bountiful" tradition of charitable settlement work by focusing on neighborhood life and becoming part of it. Arriving with their infant son, Mary and V.G. Simkhovitch began a lifelong residency at Greenwich House that lasted through its moves first to larger quarters on Jones Street and, in 1916, to its present location at 27 Barrow Street.

Greenwich House quickly grew in scope and activity, adding a music school in 1906 and one of the first "infant welfare clinics" in 1916. (Simkhovitch's brother, Dr. Isaac William Kingsbury, served as a physician for Greenwich House.) Theater and pottery workshops were begun, and their products were soon as well known as Greenwich House itself. In 1929 Greenwich House began a long social work training affiliation with Columbia University; Simkhovitch had been an adjunct professor of social economics at Barnard College, 1907-1910, and associate in the same field at Columbia Teachers College, 1910-1913. She was also a lecturer at the New York School of Social Work, 1912-1915.

Beginning in 1907 as chairman of the Congestion Committee in New York City, Simkhovitch became an active advocate of housing reform, including low cost and public housing, and an early supporter of slum clearance. She became a member of the Public Recreation Department of New York City in 1911 and served as chairman of the City Recreation Committee in 1925. She was soon recognized as a national authority on public housing and settlement work and in 1917 was elected president of the National Federation of Settlements. She was also president of the nationally focused Public Housing Conference from about 1931 until 1943. She remained locally active as well, helping to organize the Greenwich Village Action Committee (ca. 1944-1945) and the Greenwich Village Association (1946-1947).

In the 1930s and 1940s Simkhovitch served on several state boards that directed policy on housing and other social welfare issues with which she was concerned. These included the New York State Board of Welfare (1929-1943), for which she also served as chair of the Committee on Housing, and the New York State Board of Health (1929-1944). Her most extensive involvement was with the New York City Housing Authority. She was its first vice-chairman from 1934 until 1948. In 1937 she made an unsuccessful bid for election to the New York City Council. During this period she was also active in the National Urban League and was a member of New York's Enemy Alien Hearing Board.

Simkhovitch was a popular speaker on such topics as settlement work, housing, recreation, and woman's suffrage, and she published articles on housing, education, and her work at Greenwich House. She also published several books, including The City Worker's World (1917), Neighborhood: My Story of Greenwich House (1938), Group Life (1940), and Here Is God's Plenty (1942). Her last book, Green Shoots, was never published; it concerned the responses of various communities to urban problems.

Simkhovitch retired as director of Greenwich House in 1946 but remained as director emeritus; she was succeeded by Gertrude Sturgis (Mrs. Dexter P.) Cooper. She continued to live at Greenwich House until her death on November 15, 1951.

For additional biographical information, see Notable American Women: The Modern Period (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980).


Laura (Holmes) Kingsbury, her brother Charles, and their sister Ellen ("Nellie"), grew up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Ellen Holmes (1844?-18??) became preceptress of a local seminary. Laura Holmes Kingsbury graduated from Bridgewater State Normal School in 1856 and then taught in a nearby public school. The next year she began her own school but closed it to continue her studies at Bridgewater State Normal School. Here she met and became engaged to Isaac Franklin Kingsbury. Isaac Franklin Kingsbury, after graduating from Bridgewater State Normal School, reimbursed the state for his tuition and took a job in the Boston office of the Taunton Copper Company.

Isaac Franklin Kingsbury enlisted in the 32nd Massachusetts Regiment in 1862 and for the next few years wrote Laura Holmes Kingsbury (and occasionally Ellen Holmes) in Yarmouth, Mass., where she was teaching, or at her home in Bridgewater. They were married in January 1865, while Isaac Franklin Kingsbury was on furlough. Later that year, wounded and something of a local hero, Isaac Franklin Kingsbury settled in Chestnut Hill with Laura Holmes Kingsbury and began work as a weigher with the United States Customs Service. In 1872 he was appointed chief clerk of the Adjutant General's Department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and also assistant adjutant general. He resigned from the job in 1883 to become town clerk of Newton (which included Chestnut Hill) and retired in 1911. From 1870 to 1873 he had also served as a Newton selectman.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. I. Personal and biographical
  2. II. Professional
  3. III. Family papers
  4. IV. Photographs

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 144, 76-267

The papers of Mary Melinda (Kingsbury) Simkhovitch, which include Kingsbury family papers, were given to the Schlesinger Library in 1960 and 1976 by her daughter and son-in-law, Helena Simkhovitch Didisheim and Frank Didisheim.


  1. Box 1: 1-21
  2. Box 2: 22-40
  3. Box 3: 41-63
  4. Box 4: 64-82
  5. Box 5: 83-101
  6. Box 6: 102-119
  7. Box 7: 120-127


This index includes the names of selected writers and recipients. Information about persons and subjects is not indexed.

  1. No symbol = Writer
  2. * = Writer and recipient
  3. ** = Recipient

The numbers refer to folders.

  1. Anthony, Katharine Susan 20
  2. Balch, Emily Greene 5, 16*, 21, 23
  3. Baldwin, Roger 19, 26, 71
  4. Beale, Howard K. 76*
  5. Bernays, Edward L. 57**, 89*
  6. Biddle, Francis 44*, 45**
  7. Bolton, Isabel see Miller, Mary Britton
  8. Bunche, Ralph 71**
  9. Child, Bess M. 13
  10. Coffin, Henry Sloan 26, 71
  11. Dickerman, Marion 58**
  12. Field, Marshall 23, 26, 29**, 51?**, 58**
  13. Goldmark, Alice R. 57*
  14. Hamilton, Alice 71*, 83
  15. Holmes, John Haynes 25, 26
  16. Hurst, Fannie 19, 23
  17. King, Edith Shatto 27*, 30
  18. Kirchwey, Freda 21, 71
  19. LaGuardia, Fiorello H. 30**
  20. Laidlaw, Harriet B. 30
  21. Lee, Mary 26, 58**, 83
  22. Lomonossoff, George 26
  23. Lomonossoff, Raissa 13**, 18, 23, 25
  24. Miller, Mary Britton 15?, 25
  25. Nash, Henry Sylvester 25
  26. Nathan, Maud 31, 32
  27. Perkins, Frances 15, 22
  28. Putnam, George Palmer 13*
  29. Ratcliffe, Katie 18, 25, 83
  30. Ratcliffe, S.K. 13, 18
  31. Ripley, Ida D. 23, 24
  32. Roche, Josephine 26
  33. Roosevelt, Eleanor 1, 21, 30, 58**, 71
  34. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, Jr. 89
  35. Scudder, Vida D. 15, 20, 57**, 83
  36. Sherwood, Robert E. 71
  37. Shinn, Anne O'Hagen 13
  38. Strong, Anna Louise 18
  39. Truman, Harry S. 58**
  40. Van Kleeck, Mary 15*

Processing Information

Reprocessed: May 1995

By: Bert Hartry

Simkhovitch, Mary K. (Mary Kingsbury), 1867-1951. Papers of Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, 1852-1960: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
This collection was originally processed by Kathleen Marquis in July 1981 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (#RC-0051079-1260).

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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