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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 838

Papers of Katharine Beecher Stetson, 1826-1972 (inclusive), 1890-1937 (bulk)


Papers of sculptor and landscape painter Katharine Beecher Stetson, as well as papers of her parents, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles Walter Stetson, and Grace Ellery Channing.


  • Creation: 1826-1972
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1890-1937

Language of Materials

Materials in English, some correspondence in Italian.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Katharine Beecher Stetson 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.


14.51 linear feet ((22 file boxes, 1 folio box, 2 oversize boxes) plus 3 folio folders, 4 folio+ folders, 42 photograph folders, 2 folio photograph folders, 1 folio+ photograph folder)

The papers of Katharine Beecher Stetson document her life as an artist and mother, and as a child and caretaker of her parents: philosopher Charlotte Perkins Gilman, artist Charles Walter Stetson, and author Grace Ellery Channing. This collection also includes letters, artwork, financial documents, diaries, etc., of Grace Ellery Channing, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles Walter Stetson, and their family members. Katharine Beecher Stetson was the beloved child of Gilman and Charles Walter Stetson; this is evidenced in these papers by long, tender letters from Stetson; baby clothes painstakingly made by hand by Gilman; and photographs of Gilman and a young Katharine Beecher Stetson cavorting in California. Letters and financial documents show the extensive care Katharine Beecher Stetson gave to tending the legacies and estates of Gilman, Stetson, and her stepmother Grace Ellery Channing. These papers contain extensive correspondence between Katharine Beecher Stetson and Channing. Katharine Beecher Stetson's close relationship with a number of Channing family members is also documented. She corresponded regularly with Grace Ellery Channing's brother Harold Channing, sister Mary Channing Wood, and niece Dorothy Saunders Houghton.

Katharine Beecher Stetson's development as an artist (she worked primarily as a sculptor) can be traced through her letters to friends from Italy, where she studied beginning in 1902. She also records her attitudes toward her work in a diary kept between 1914 and 1918, which also documents her courtship with her art instructor Frank Tolles Chamberlin. Katharine Beecher Stetson's friendships with a number of other young women artists attending new art colonies like Byrdcliffe and the MacDowell Colony are evidenced through their chatty letters. Courtship correspondence between Stetson and Frank Tolles Chamberlin describes his life as an artist and art teacher in New York City, and her more peripatetic life attending art colonies and visiting friends before settling down in New York City and finally moving back to Pasadena in the early 1920s.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman material includes several poems she wrote about her pregnancy with Katharine Beecher Stetson, and a small notebook with "records of my daughter." An annotated Bible; a watercolor of Ogunquit, Maine; several rarely-seen 19th-century photographs of Gilman as a child; and a ticket from the lecture where she met Charles Walter Stetson are also included. Also an 1826 commonplace book belonging to Gilman's grandmother Clarissa F. Perkins contains autographs, poems, and a few family letters; and Mary A. Perkins's 1872 recipe book holds recipes for food and medicinal syrups.

Overall the collection shows the close ties among members of these families: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's second husband George Houghton Gilman drew up legal documents for the estate of Grace Ellery Channing's sister Mary Channing Wood. Lyman Beecher Stowe, a cousin of Katharine Beecher Stetson, helped facilitate Charlotte Perkins Gilman's posthumous publishing contracts. In addition to family members and many American artists, correspondents include American suffrage activists Alice Park, Inez Haynes Irwin, Harriot Stanton Blatch and her architect daughter Nora Blatch Barney; poet Lydia Avery Coonley Ward; and Brigham Young's daughter Susa Young Gates.

Most of this material was identified and inventoried by Linda Chamberlin (Katharine Beecher Stetson's granddaughter) and by Gilman scholar Denise Knight over the course of several years. As a whole, the material in this collection complements material and fills in gaps found in the Schlesinger Library's existing collections of Channing, Stetson, and Gilman papers.

Series I, KATHARINE BEECHER STETSON AND CHAMBERLIN FAMILY, ca.1885-1971 (#1.1-14.9, 25FB.1v, F+D.1, 23OB.1m-24OB.10m), contains correspondence received by Katharine Beecher Stetson, her husband Frank Tolles Chamberlin, and children Dorothy and Walter; sketchbooks, receipts, exhibition catalogs, and other art-related material; baby clothes handmade by Stetson's mother Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Stetson's diary from her courtship with Chamberlin; and photographs of Stetson's and Chamberlin's artwork. The series is arranged in three subseries.

Subseries A, Personal and artistic, ca.1885-1949 (#1.1-3.10, 25FB.1v, 23OB.1m-24OB.10m), includes Katharine Beecher Stetson's sketchbooks, exhibition catalogs, notebooks, financial documentation, baby clothes, writings, and artwork. Writings include poetry; two treatments for film scripts;, and a handmade magazine made while a teenager, "The California Dragon" (#1.5). Art-related material includes sketchbooks, notebooks with tallies of studio expenses, receipts for art supplies and studio rent, photographs of artwork, exhibition catalogs, and two illustrated calendars. A diary covers the years of her courtship with Frank Tolles Chamberlin. A number of pieces of Katharine Beecher Stetson's childhood clothing, most of it handmade by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, are also included. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Correspondence, 1889-1971 (#3.11-13.7, F+D.1), includes letters received by Katharine Beecher Stetson from family, friends, fellow artists, and about her art, Charles Walter Stetson's artwork, and the 1935 death of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There are some letters written by Katharine Beecher Stetson in this subseries; letters she wrote to her immediate family members can be found throughout the collection, filed with other material belonging to each family member. Letters from stepmother Grace Ellery Channing between 1907 and 1909 describe her life in Italy with Charles Walter Stetson; letters Channing wrote in 1916 and 1917 describe her exploits as a war correspondent in Europe. Letters from father Charles Walter Stetson are primarily from when he was living in Italy: these are long letters that describe his paintings, his conversations with friends, his health, etc. A number of letters Charles Walter Stetson sent to Katharine Beecher Stetson when she was a young child (before 1900) contain drawings, caricatures, puzzles, and showcase his fondness for her. Only a few letters from mother Charlotte Perkins Gilman are present, and several of these are postcards.

Courtship letters from Frank Tolles Chamberlin describe his life as an artist and art instructor in New York City, and time spent at the MacDowell colony. There is surprisingly little discussion of politics or war, save for Chamberlin's description of the streets of New York City on Armistice Day. After their marriage in 1918, the couple were rarely apart for long. Letters between them at the end of 1935 and in 1937 were written while Katharine Beecher Stetson was in Connecticut working with the estate of her mother, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and in Massachusetts in 1937 during the illness and death of Grace Ellery Channing. Stetson's side of this correspondence is in Subseries C (#13.17-14.5). Several folders of correspondence deal with estate matters: lawyer Edward Higgins worked to close both George Houghton Gilman's and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's estates. He later assisted Katharine Beecher Stetson in the sale of some of Charles Walter Stetson's paintings. Correspondence with cousin Lyman Beecher Stowe and uncle Harold Channing are often about financial issues.

Letters with Anna Trumbull Waller document their close friendship - Katharine's letters to Anna sent from Italy describe in great detail her daily existence, her feelings about developing as an artist, etc. A number of correspondents are other young female artists whom Katharine Beecher Stetson may have met at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: Marjorie Watmough, Aileen Webster, Gustine Hurd, Margaret Fowler, Gertrude and Florence Monaghan, Henrietta Seelye, Katharine Vessey, Florence Wilkinson. Several of these women also spent time at Byrdcliffe. Katharine Beecher Stetson also corresponded with contemporary American art figures Louis Prang, Ralph Radcliffe and Jane Byrd Whitehead, Belle Boas, Charles Lummis, and Marian MacDowell. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, followed by several folders of general correspondence filed chronologically.

Subseries C, Chamberlin family, ca.1915-1939 (#13.8-14.9), includes letters received by Frank Tolles, Dorothy, and Walter Chamberlin, as well as photographs of Frank Tolles Chamberlin's artwork. The correspondence is primarily from family members: the Chamberlin children received letters from their grandmothers, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Grace Ellery Channing, as well as their grandfather Houghton Gilman, and their mother Katharine Beecher Stetson. Letters to Frank Tolles Chamberlin are primarily during Katharine Beecher Stetson's trips in 1935 and 1937, and describe financial constraints as well as Channing family estate matters.

Series II, CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN AND FAMILY, 1826-1935 (#14.10-16.12, FD.1, F+D.2-F+D.3), includes a scattering of Gilman's personal documents: printed material, notes, letters, publicity, receipts, poetry, her Bible, etc.; husband George Houghton Gilman's correspondence and other material; Gilman's mother Mary A. Perkins's recipe book, and her grandmother Clarissa F. Perkins's commonplace book. Other letters written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be found in Series I, Subseries B and C. Most of the letters to Houghton Gilman are from Channing family members about their estate and financial matters. The series is arranged with Charlotte Perkins Gilman material listed alphabetically, followed by that of other family members.

SERIES III, CHARLES WALTER STETSON, ca.1874-1929 (#16.13-19.12, FD.2, F+D.4), includes correspondence, poems, account books, diaries, exhibition catalogs, photographs of Stetson's artwork, and biographical clippings. Also included are a wallet Stetson used at the time of his death, and locks of his daughter Katharine Beecher Stetson's hair. Diaries in this series complement the collection of Charles Walter Stetson's diaries held by the Schlesinger Library (93-M76). Most of the correspondence is from other artist friends: sculptor Gutzon Borglum writes from London describing the cost of living and of studio space. Family correspondence includes two letters from his father Joshua Stetson, and several from Katharine Beecher Stetson when a child. Of note are Stetson's letters to his Providence friend and doctor Edward Balch Knight: some of these detail Stetson's time living and working in Pasadena, and some describe his life in Italy. Several folders contain Stetson's handwritten poems, including a manuscript for publication (#19.9), and directions on how to illustrate some poems with Stetson's own artwork (#19.8). The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, GRACE ELLERY CHANNING AND CHANNING FAMILY, 1859-1937 (#19.13-22.11, FD.3), includes Grace Ellery Channing's correspondence and financial records, letters and writings of brother Harold Channing, medical notes and recipes of her father William Francis Channing, and a few documents pertaining to her grandfather Reverend William Ellery Channing. The bulk of the series is letters written to Grace Ellery Channing. There are a large number of letters from Katharine Beecher Stetson, most between 1934 and 1936 when Grace Ellery Channing's health was failing. Some of these letters have notations on the envelopes about the contents of the letters. Other letters from Katharine to Grace can be found in the Grace Ellery Channing additional papers. Several folders of correspondence pertain to the 1934 death of Grace Ellery Channing's sister Mary Channing Wood and the subsequent work to her estate. In addition to personal correspondence, there are letters documenting the mounting of the Charles Walter Stetson memorial art exhibit, which Grace Ellery Channing organized after Stetson's death, and was presented at several museums in 1913 and 1914. Channing family material includes two typescript novellas by Harold Channing, as well as letters from cousin Lyman Beecher Stowe refusing to publish them. Harold Channing (1869-1946) was frequently committed to institutions because of alcoholism and mental illness; he drifted from one casual job to another, eventually settling down as a gardener in California. Of particular interest is a recipe book (#22.9) and medical diagnosis notes and prescriptions (#22.8) belonging to Dr. William Francis Channing. The series is arranged with Grace Ellery Channing's material listed first, alphabetical by title, followed by material belonging to other members of the Channing family.

Series V, PHOTOGRAPHS, ca.1860-1972 (#PD.1-PD.45), includes formal and informal portraits of Katharine Beecher Stetson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles Walter Stetson, Grace Ellery Channing, their families and friends. Photographic formats include a daguerreotype, tintypes, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, cyanotypes, salt prints, albumen prints, and silver gelatin prints. There are several images, including tintypes, of Charlotte Perkins Gilman as a young girl. A number of photographs show Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Katharine Beecher Stetson, and the Channing family in Pasadena and other Southern California locales during the 1890s. Several photographs of the MacDowell Colony in Petersborough, New Hampshire, show buildings under construction and early residents in their art studios. Other photographs show the artist colony Byrdcliffe and Katharine Beecher Stetson's art school in Rome. There are also a number of photographs of Katharine Beecher Stetson, Frank Tolles Chamberlin, and Charles Walter Stetson in their art studios. Katharine Beecher Stetson visited Hillside Inn, a water cure facility in Wyoming, New York, in 1916 with the poet Lydia Avery Coonley Ward. Photographs (#PD.43) of the trip show a Greek pageant, groups eating on the veranda, and dancing on the lawn. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Sculptor and landscape painter Katharine Beecher Stetson was born March 23, 1885, in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of feminist philosopher Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) and artist Charles Walter Stetson (1858-1911). Charlotte Perkins Gilman suffered from severe postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, and the infant Katharine was cared for in part by her grandmother Mary A. Perkins. Gilman and Charles Walter Stetson's marriage deteriorated, and in October 1888 Gilman took Katharine with her to California, where she stayed in Pasadena with her friend the writer Grace Ellery Channing (1862-1937). Katharine spent much of her childhood in Pasadena and also in Oakland, California, where she lived with Gilman between 1891 and 1894. In April 1894, when Katharine was nine years old, her parents formally divorced, and Charles Walter Stetson married Grace Ellery Channing in June. Katharine Beecher Stetson returned to Providence that May to live with her father and new stepmother, but they all returned to Pasadena in December 1894.

The Stetsons traveled to Europe in 1897, and lived for a time in Boston as well. In 1902, they moved to Rome, where they could live more cheaply than in the United States. Grace Ellery Channing wrote articles and other stories for publication, and Charles Walter Stetson sold paintings to American tourists, but they also required financial support from Grace's sister Mary Channing Wood. Katharine Beecher Stetson began formal artistic training while living in Italy. She returned to the United States in 1905 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she met a number of young women artists. Charlotte Perkins Gilman lived in New York City with her second husband George Houghton Gilman between 1900 and 1922, and Katharine Beecher Stetson lived with them off and on while in the United States. She also kept an art studio in New York City between 1907 and 1909, and spent the summer of 1907 at Byrdcliffe, an artist colony in Woodstock, New York, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Katharine Beecher Stetson returned to Rome, where Charles Walter Stetson was enjoying artistic success despite poor health, but was back in New York in 1911 when he died after an unsuccessful operation.

In the summer of 1914, Katharine Beecher Stetson went to the MacDowell artist colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. While there she studied with architect, sculptor, and painter Frank Tolles Chamberlin (1873–1961), who designed Adams Studio and several other buildings at MacDowell. Chamberlin taught at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York City, and spent summers at MacDowell. Katharine Beecher Stetson and Chamberlin courted for several years, and were married in 1918. Their daughter Dorothy was born in October 1918, and a son, Walter, in 1920. The Chamberlin family moved permanently to Pasadena, California, in 1919, where both continued creating art. Frank Tolles Chamberlin taught art at the Otis Institute, the Chouinard Art Institute, the Jepson Institute, and the University of Southern California School of Architecture.

In September 1934, following the death of George Houghton Gilman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman moved to Pasadena to live near Katharine Beecher Stetson. Gilman was in poor health, and killed herself in August 1935. Grace Ellery Channing died in April 1937. Katharine Beecher Stetson continued to manage the legacy of her parents throughout her life. Frank Tolles Chamberlin died in 1961, and Katharine Beecher Stetson died in February 1979.

More biographical information on Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be found here (177) and on Grace Ellery Channing here (83-M201) as well as in Notable American Women.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Katharine Beecher Stetson and Chamberlin family, ca.1885-1971 (#1.1-14.9, 25FB.1v, F+D.1, 23OB.1m-24OB.10m)
  2. ___Subseries A. Personal and artistic, ca.1885-1949 (#1.1-3.10, 25FB.1v, 23OB.1m-24OB.10m)
  3. ___Subseries B. Correspondence, 1889-1971 (#3.11-13.7, F+D.1)
  4. ___Subseries C. Chamberlin family, ca.1915-1939 (#13.8-14.9)
  5. Series II. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and family, 1826-1935 (#14.10-16.12, FD.1, F+D.2-F+D.3)
  6. Series III. Charles Walter Stetson, 1829-1935 (#16.13-19.12, FD.2, F+D.4)
  7. Series IV. Grace Ellery Channing and Channing family, 1859-1937 (#19.13-22.11, FD.3)
  8. Series V. Photographs, ca.1860-1972 (#PD.1-PD.45)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2011-M45, 2011-M123, 2011-M130, 2013-M4, 2013-M161

The papers of Katharine Beecher Stetson were acquired from her son, Walter S. Chamberlin, in 2011, and from her granddaughter, Linda Chamberlin, in 2011 and 2013.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, 1846-1961 (177), the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, 1846-ca.1975 (MC 588); the Grace Ellery Channing Papers, 1806-1973 (83-M201); the Grace Ellery Channing Additional Papers, 1884-1976 (MC 626); and the Charles Walter Stetson Papers, 1881-1888 (93-M76).


Donor: Linda Chamberlin

Accession number: 2013-M4

Processed by: Jenny Gotwals

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:

  1. Political Economy for Beginners by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 3rd edition, London, MacMillan & Co., 1874: extra-illustrated and with annotations by Stetson

Processing Information

Processed: January 2016

By: Jenny Gotwals, with assistance from Denise Knight, Linda Chamberlin, and Dan Bullman.

Stetson, Katharine Beecher, 1885-1979. Papers of Katharine Beecher Stetson, 1826-1972 (inclusive), 1890-1937 (bulk): 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 Alice Jeannette Ward Fund and the Class of 1968 Archival Processing Fund.

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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