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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 570

Papers of Elizabeth C. Winship, 1965-2006 (inclusive), 1983-2002 (bulk)


Letters to advice columnist Elizabeth C. Winship from her syndicated column for teenagers, Ask Beth, as well as reference materials and clippings.


  • Creation: 1965-2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1983-2002

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Researchers must sign a special permission form. Originals of redacted letters are closed until January 1, 2070. Originals of digitally redacted letters in cartons 13 and 14 are closed until January 1, 2087. Researchers wishing to use redacted digital copies (cartons 13 and 14) must make an appointment with Research Services.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Elizabeth Winship 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. Letters in #1.1-12.5 may not be photocopied or digitally reproduced until January 1, 2070.


6.79 linear feet ((12 file boxes, 2 cartons) plus 1 folio folder)

The collection consists primarily of letters from pre-teen and teenage readers, most from around the U.S. and some from abroad, seeking advice from Winship through her syndicated column Ask Beth. There are also numerous letters, often accompanied by copies of the column, largely from adult readers criticizing or commenting on her responses. There are a few copies of letters from Winship to readers, as well as reader letters that she has annotated.

Letter topics cover a wide range of problems and concerns faced by pre-teens and teenagers, as well as adults, including many sexual issues, among them dating; sex education; sexual, emotional, and physical abuse; incest; sexual harassment and rape; marital affairs; transvestism; and gender and sexual identity. Health issues are also covered extensively, including HIV/AIDS; sexually transmitted diseases; drugs and addiction; eating disorders; physical disabilities; birth control and pregnancy; scoliosis; Down Syndrome; Toxic Shock Syndrome; cancer; male circumcision; menstruation; and weight problems.

Additional questions and concerns from readers include relationship issues with parents and friends; school-related problems such as fitting in and academic achievement; dynamics of divorced and blended families; teenage suicide; celebrity crushes; bed wetting; insecurities regarding one's looks; and the pros and cons of wearing underwear.

Of note are numerous reader letters addressing issues that were highly controversial, such as masturbation; homosexuality; abortion vs. adoption; abstinence vs. birth control; and AIDS prevention. "Beth's" advice attracted many critical reader responses with arguments often framed in religious terminology. There are also a few letters from 1990 regarding the pros and cons of using the designation "Ms."

In the first 12 boxes, in general, letters are filed chronologically followed by letters grouped by topic. Folder headings in quotation marks indicate groupings that were created and described by Winship. The "sample letters," "letters answered in columns," and other folders identified by topic (including "freaks" folders, which contain letters by readers obsessed with certain issues), are Winship's selection of typical letters. However, similar letters appear throughout the collection. Folder headings that are not in quotes were assigned by the archivist.

Letters that remain interfiled in the chronological set include inquiries regarding republishing columns; requests for posters or books; letters from agencies advocating their services or resources or thanking Beth for including information about them in her columns; and letters from authors promoting their books or asking Beth for comments. Some letters of a personal nature or from acquaintances and friends, from the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and from individuals inviting Winship to attend meetings or speaking engagements have been filed separately. Five folders containing mainly printed materials (clippings, newsletters, etc.) and several professional letters are grouped at the end of the collection as kept and labeled by Winship.

The few photographs in the collection were sent in by readers. As noted in the folder headings, they will remain "uncataloged," since they are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany. Most of them are taped or stapled to the corresponding letters. They are marked either on the back or on the letter they are attached to with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Where necessary, letters in the first 12 boxes have been photocopied and names redacted to protect privacy. Reference copies are interfiled in the collection; originals have been removed and are closed until January 1, 2070.

Cartons 13 and 14 contain papers donated by Peg Winship in 2009, and were added to the collection in June 2013. They are listed at the end of the inventory. These materials were found in folders and were not physically processed or further arranged by the processor. Any original folder titles have been maintained and any titles created by the processor appear in brackets. The processor numbered the folders in both cartons sequentially in the order they were found, and divided particularly large folders. Please note that some original folder titles by topic reflect rough groupings and some of the contents of the folder may not fully correspond to the topic.

All the contents of cartons 13 and 14 have been digitized and any identifying information, such as personal names or addresses, has been redacted to protect individual privacy. These digitally redacted versions are available for use in the reading room at the Schlesinger Library; unredacted originals are closed until January 1, 2087. The digitized letters are searchable through a database, which contains information including original folder title, date of letter, and age and gender of the writer, if available. Archivists recorded subject terms for some of the letters, as well. The contents of these cartons also consist primarily of letters to the "Ask Beth" column, as well as letters from professional organizations, notes, articles, and columns. Also included are drafts of answers for the column; stock answers; responses from readers to specific columns; correspondence between Elizabeth Winship and her daughter and collaborator, Peg Winship; and print-outs of messages to "Ask Beth" through the Internet provider Prodigy, which sometimes includes Winship's annotations or answers. Peg Winship was also a participant in school workshops or functions focusing on gay and lesbian awareness and coping with the trauma of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Included are lists of questions and comments submitted by students at these workshops as well as Peg Winship's responses and notes.


Elizabeth Coolidge Winship was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on May 17, 1921, to Albert Sprague and Margaret Stewart (Coit) Coolidge; she grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Known to her friends as "Liebe," she attended Vassar College (1939-1941), transferring to Radcliffe College, from which she graduated with a B.S. in psychology in 1943. She met her husband, Thomas Winship (1921-2002), when she was a junior at Radcliffe and he was a senior at Harvard. After graduation she pursued her interest in psychology through her own research and soon began raising a family of four children -- Margaret (Peg), Laurence, Joanna, and Benjamin. In 1952 Elizabeth was hired by the Boston Globe as a book reviewer, and from 1960 through 1963 worked as a children's book editor for the newspaper. Her husband Thomas was the editor of the Boston Globe from 1965 until his retirement in 1984.

Beginning in 1963, Winship wrote an advice column for teenagers, Ask Beth, after it was suggested to her by an editor at the Boston Globe. She soon found success, due mainly to her sensible and thoughtful approach to teen questions, and partly from the lack of other advice outlets for teens on sex and relationships, particularly during the early years of her column. In 1970 the Los Angeles Times Syndicate picked up Ask Beth, which at its peak had 70 subscribing newspapers. Starting in the 1980s she was assisted in writing responses for the column by her daughter Peg Winship, who signed on as co-author in 1993. A family therapist, Peg continued the column on her own from her mother's retirement in 1998 until February 27, 2007.

In addition to her column, Winship tackled various health and sexuality issues in numerous publications. She authored or contributed to: Ask Beth: You Can't Ask Your Mother (1972), Ask Beth: Questions and Answers About the Things that Concern Girls (1972), Masculinity and Femininity (1978), Reaching Your Teenager (1983), Human Sexuality (1988), The Parents' Guide to Risky Times: A Companion to Jeanne Blake's Risky Times (1990), Risky Times: How to be AIDS-Smart and Stay Healthy: A Guide to Teenagers (1990), Human Sexuality (Heath Perspectives on Health) (1996), Perspectives on Health Human Sexuality: Annotated Teacher's Edition (1996), and I'm Pregnant, Now What Do I Do? (1997).

She regularly spoke with high school students, parents, and community groups on the topic of teenage sexual behavior and was also a consultant for a variety of family life educational programs. Winship has been the recipient of many professional accolades throughout her career. In 1978 she received a Humanitarian Award for outstanding contributions in promoting human welfare from the Massachusetts Psychological Association, and two years later was honored with the Matrix Award from the Boston Professional Chapter of Women in Communications, Inc., in recognition of her contributions to the development of adolescents. In 1982, the Massachusetts Association of School Psychologists recognized her work by giving her the Journalist of the Year Award, and the Parent Counseling Association of New England made her an honorary member in 1984. In 1998 the Boston Women Communicators honored her with its Legacy Award in recognition of her impact as a role model and successful career woman in communications.

From 1980 through 1984 Winship was a member of the Schlesinger Library's Advisory Committee, and in 1988 received the Radcliffe College Distinguished Alumnae Award.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 93-M154, 95-M59, 2009-M147

The papers of Elizabeth Winship were given to the Schlesinger Library by Elizabeth Winship in 1993 and 1995. Two linear feet of additional papers (2009-M147) were given to the Library in 2009 by Elizabeth Winship's daughter, Peg Winship, and were added to the collection in June 2013.


Donors: Elizabeth C. Winship

Accession numbers: 93-M154, 95-M59, 2009-M147

Processed by: Laura Peimer

The following items have been transferred to Gutman Library, School of Education, Harvard University:

  1. Current Research on Children: Birth through Adolescence (Volume Two: Child and Teens Sexuality) Atcom, Inc., New York: 1983
  2. Current Research on Children: Birth through Adolescence (Volume Three: Children and Teens in Crisis) Atcom, Inc., New York: 1983
  3. Winning the Battle for Sex Education by Irving R. Dickman. Siecus, New York: 1984

The following item has been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Periodicals:

  1. The tv-ts Tapestry the magazine for persons interested in transvestism & transsexualism (Issue 42, 1984)

The following item has been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Feminist Ephemera collection:

  1. How to Talk With Your Child About Sexuality: A Parent's Guide (Planned Parenthood Federation of America brochure, May 1993)

Processing Information

Processed: October 2008

By: Laura Peimer

Updated: June 2013

By: Genna Duplisea and Jaimie Fritz

Winship, Elizabeth C.. Papers of Elizabeth C. Winship, 1965-2006 (inclusive), 1983-2002 (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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