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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 613: T-365: Vt-172

Papers of Katrina Martha Swanson, 1888-2008 (inclusive), 1970-1990 (bulk)


Sermons, subject files on the ordination of women priests, church files, photographs, family papers, correspondence, audio- and videotapes of Episcopal priest Katrina Swanson.


  • Creation: 1888-2008
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1970-1990


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Katrina Martha Swanson 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. No material from the collection may be made available electronically via the internet until December 31, 2030.


31.73 linear feet ((72 file boxes, 1 oversize box) plus 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, 62 photograph folders, 37 audiotapes, 12 videotapes, and electronic records)

Most files arrived at the library in folders; folder titles were retained when possible and appear in quotation marks. The archivist created the file arrangement, as well as the folders and folder titles for materials received loose.

Series I, KATRINA MARTHA VAN ALSTYNE WELLES SWANSON, 1921-2008 (#1.1-53.4, PD.1-PD.7, E.1), includes biographical and personal material; school records; writings, sermons and speeches; subject and correspondence files from St. John's Episcopal Church; her own subject files; and correspondence with family, friends, colleagues and others. Scrapbooks Katrina constructed on her husband George's trial and her notes are in Series II, Subseries C.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1935-2008 (#1.1-3.7, E.1), includes her birth certificate; Camp Fire Girls material; engagement calendars; wedding planning material; resumes; travel files; and student papers, studies, and articles on Katrina. Many of the student papers and oral history transcripts concern Katrina's ordination in Philadelphia and her involvement in the ordination of other women priests. A fictional novel loosely based on the story surrounding the Swansons and the Church of the Ascension fire is also included (#1.4). A web site created by Swanson's widower, George, in Swanson's memory is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection service (WAX); searchable archived versions of the web site will be available through this finding aid in 2010. This subseries is arranged in alphabetical order, and chronologically thereunder.

Subseries B, Education and related, 1942-2003 (#3.8-4.11), contains report cards, correspondence, reunion information/plans, brochures, and newsletters from schools Katrina attended. Files are grouped by school in order of attendance and chronologically thereunder.

Subseries C, Writings, sermons, and speeches, 1969-2004 (#4.12-6.7), includes sermons and speeches given by Katrina while serving as deacon and then rector, as well as speaking engagements to outside groups. Carbon copies of her writings were frequently on backs of unrelated documents/stationery/blank check pages. Original file labels are in quotation marks.

Subseries D, St. John's Episcopal Church, 1921-1999 (#6.8-13.8, PD.1), contains chronological files including parochial reports, correspondence, event calendars, service programs, phone conversation notes, etc.; vestry meeting minutes including member lists, correspondence, financial reports, etc.; and subject files, including financial reports, Puerta Abieta Youth material, and sermon notes. Original file titles are indicated by quotation marks. Carbon copies of Katrina's outgoing letters were frequently on backs of unrelated documents/stationery/blank check pages. Chronological files are followed by meeting files arranged chronologically, and subject files arranged alphabetically.

Subseries E, Subject files, 1942-2004 (#14.1-37.4, PD.2-PD.4sl), contains Katrina's subject files, all of which in some way relate to women priests and ordination issues: addresses, awards, bishops, clergy couples, Episcopal Women's Caucus, Bible given in honor of her ordination as a priest, publications, etc. There is a significant section specifically titled "ordination of women," including material on the planning, aftermath and anniversaries of the Philadelphia 11; issues in different dioceses or states; and alphabetical files organized by author or title, containing newsletters, publications, and papers re: the ordination of women. Carbon copies of her outgoing letters were frequently on backs of unrelated documents/stationery/blank check pages.

Subseries F, Correspondence, 1939-2004 (#37.5-53.4, PD.5-PD.7), contains correspondence with family members (grandparents, parents, stepmother Ferne Malcolm Welles whom Edward married in 1984, and with her siblings); general correspondence arranged in chronological order, including a large collection of get-well letters and cards received while Katrina's illness worsened in 2004; and Katrina's alphabetical files, including the Philadelphia 11 priests, other women clergy, and friends. Katrina often signed her name and was referred to as "Keppy" or "Kep." Original folder titles are in quotation marks. Carbon copies of her outgoing letters were frequently on backs of unrelated documents/stationery/blank check pages.

Series II, GEORGE SWANSON, 1938-2003 (#53.5-62.10, PD.8), includes biographical and personal material, work-related files, trial scrapbooks and related, and correspondence.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1938-1996 (#53.5-53.11, PD.8), contains flyers/announcements for personal appearances and preaching, articles by Swanson on the family's 1966 experience living in Botswana, and resume. Material is arranged in alphabetical order.

Subseries B, Work-related, 1962-1996 (#53.12-55.1), includes correspondence, directories, reports, and newsletters from each church where George was rector. Files are arranged by church in the order that George served for them and chronologically thereunder.

Subseries C, Trial notebooks and related, 1986-1998 (#55.2-61.2) contains papers relating to a controversial church fire, contested insurance settlement, and subsequent related trial of George. In May 1986, George's church, the Church of the Ascension in Jersey City, New Jersey, nearly burned to the ground. In the time following the fire, Katrina and Reverend John Lanthrop organized a "presentment" against John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark, charging him with intimidating the Church to get its fire insurance settlement. George and other church members were required to testify at evidentiary hearings. Bishop Spong held an ecclesiastical trial and accused George of lying under oath. The parish asked a federal court to require the Church insurance company to pay the insurance settlement. A New Jersey State court was asked to enforce the state law regarding Episcopal parishes. The Ecclesiastical Court of the Diocese of Newark convicted George and he was suspended from his duties. His conviction was eventually overturned and all charges were dismissed. The partially repaired Church of the Ascension was deconsecrated and bulldozed in 1993.

This subseries includes the "presentment" to Bishop Spong, transcripts of Bishop Spong's board of inquiry, George Swanson's statement with exhibits, scrapbooks constructed by Katrina of every letter, clipping, statement, etc., accumulated during the seven-year controversy with the Diocese of Newark, and files on Katrina's notes during the trial and appeal. Quotation marks indicate original folder titles.

Subseries D, Correspondence, 1947-2003 (#61.3-62.10), includes letters from George's family, followed by colleagues and friends. Two subject-related correspondence files include letters related to George's time in Botswana, letters of support during George's trial, and correspondence with Bishops Spong and Sumner. See also Series I, Subseries C for letters addressed to both George and Katrina.

Series III, EDWARD AND CATHARINE WELLES, 1888, 1915-1991 (#63.1-72.13, PD.9), contains biographical and personal material, sermons and writings by Catharine and Edward, and correspondence.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1888, 1927-1991 (#63.1-66.4), includes material on Catharine and Edward's wedding; appointment books; joint memorial service; Edward's work-related files; clippings; family genealogies and reunions; and research files on the ordination of women priests. Files are arranged in alphabetical order by individual or topic and chronologically thereunder.

Subseries B, Writings/sermons, 1915-1975 (#66.5-68.11), includes stories, trip accounts, and speeches by Catharine, and writings, sermons, notes, and letters to the editor by Edward. These files are arranged by author and chronologically within.

Subseries C, Correspondence, 1925-1987 (#68.12-72.13, PD.9), is arranged with Catharine with her parents/family first; Edward with parents/family; between Edward and Catharine; with their children (Katrina often signed her name and was referred to in letters as "Keppy" or "Kep"); Catharine with friends; Edward with friends and colleagues; and to both Catharine and Edward. Files are arranged chronologically within each grouping.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, ca.1907-2004 (#PD.10-PD.62), includes portraits of Katrina throughout life, the Welles family, Katrina and George with their family, George, and both sets of parents and siblings.

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, OVERSIZED, MEMORABILIA, AND AUDIOVISUAL, ca.1945-2004 (#F+D.1, OD.1, 73OB.1m-73OB.10m, T-365.1 - T-365.37, Vt-172.1 - Vt-172.12), includes a welcome booklet for Katrina's parents while visiting India; Camp Fire Girls dress, banner and beaded necklaces; audiotapes of oral histories and interviews; and videotapes of interviews and services conducted by Katrina.

Subseries A, Oversized, ca.1947, 1967 (#F+D.1, OD.1), serves as the shelflist for oversized items listed in previous series.

Subseries B, Memorabilia, ca.1945-1952, ca.1970-1981, 1999 (#73OB.1m-73OB.10m), contains buttons; Camp Fire Girl gown, bead necklaces, banner, beanie, and armband; and women and the church banner. Buttons found with documents are listed separately within their relevant series.

Subseries C, Audiovisual, 1974-2004 (#T-365.1- T-365.37, Vt-172.1 - Vt-172.12), contains audiotapes of Katrina's ordination ceremony, as well as radio and oral history interviews. Also briefly represented on audiotapes are three other members of the "Philadelphia 11," Swanson's father (Reverend Edward R. Welles), her husband George Swanson, and the House of Bishops' debate and vote on ordaining women priests. Titles in quotation marks are those of the donor. Video interviews with Katrina regarding her ordination, a wedding performed by her, an anniversary film on the Episcopal Women's Caucus, and a sermon are also in this subseries.


Katrina Martha van Alstyne Swanson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 1, 1935, the eldest child of the Right Reverend Edward R. (1907-1991) and Catharine Bedlow Fish (van Alstyne) Welles (1906-1983). She had a sister Harriet and two brothers, Edward III "Ted" and Peter. She was the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of Episcopal priests. Swanson graduated from high school in Kansas City, Missouri, and from Radcliffe College in 1956. In 1958, she married George Swanson, who was ordained an Episcopal priest the following year. The Swansons moved to Coalinga, California, to George's first parish and they had two sons, Olof and William. The family spent a year in Botswana, Africa, on an exchange program in 1966, where Katrina gradually came to accept and champion the ordination of women as deacons, priests and bishops. The Swanson family moved to a parish in Kansas City, Missouri, in the late 1960s and on July 29, 1974, Katrina became one of the first eleven women priests in the Episcopal Church. Swanson was ordained by her father, former Bishop of West Missouri, the Right Reverend Edward Randolph Welles, II, in a controversial and irregular ordination in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From that moment on, this group of women were known as the "Philadelphia 11." Katrina served a short time as assistant priest of St. Stephen's Parish in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1975 to 1977. In 1978, she became rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Union City, New Jersey, while George had become the rector of the Church of the Ascension in Jersey City, New Jersey, the year before. She was the first woman Episcopal rector in the tri-state New York metropolitan area, instituting bilingual, Spanish and English services, and starting an after-school program for children between ages 5 and 18. In 1986, a controversial church fire occurred in George's church, followed by a contested insurance settlement, and subsequent related trial of George, all of which was not resolved until the early 1990s.

Katrina and George retired in 1996 to Manset, Maine, where they raised vegetables, flowers, and bees. They traveled the world while George performed as a banjo-playing folk singer, attending the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia; Nagano, Japan; and Sydney, Australia, among other places. After her death in August 2005, Katrina’s family and friends held a Weekend for Liberty and Justice (July 27-30, 2006), ending with her burial near a bench given in her memory at St. Saviour’s Parish in Bar Harbor, Maine. Helene De Boissiere-Swanson, William G. Swanson, and George G. Swanson founded the organization Katrina's Dream in her honor, to promote the full inclusion of women in society.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Katrina Martha van Alstyne Welles Swanson, 1921-2008 (#1.1-53.4, PD.1-PD.7, E.1)
  2. Series II. George Swanson, 1938-2003 (#53.5-62.10, PD.8)
  3. Series III. Edward and Catharine Welles, 1888, 1915-1991 (#63.1-72.13, PD.9)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, ca.1907-2004 (#PD.10-PD.62)
  5. Series V. Oversized, memorabilia, and audiovisual, ca.1945-2004 (#F+D.1, OD.1, 73OB.1m-73OB.10m, T-365.1 - T-365.37, Vt-172.1 - Vt-172.12)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2006-M216, 2007-M75, 2008-M107

The papers of Katrina Martha van Alstyne Welles Swanson were given to the Schlesinger Library by her widower George Gaines Swanson between 2006 and 2008.


Donor: George Swanson

Accession numbers: 2006-M216, 2007-M75, 2008-M107

Processed by: Stacey Flatt

The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. Women and Holy Orders, by Charles Raven, reprint 1974, with introduction by George Swanson
  2. Women and Holy Orders, by Charles Raven, 1929
  3. Why Me, Lord?, by Betty Bone Schiess, 2003

Processing Information

Processed: March 2010

By: Stacey Flatt

Audiovisual materials processed by: Melissa Dollman

Swanson, Katrina Martha, 1935-2005. Papers of Katrina Martha Swanson, 1888-2008 (inclusive), 1970-1990 (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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