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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 686: T-267: MP-69

Papers of Jean Elizabeth Wolfe, 1865-1997 (inclusive), 1980-1996 (bulk)


Papers of physical education instructor and medical illustrator Jean Wolfe document her family history, twenty-six years at summer camps for girls, professional work, medical issues, and her complicated relationships with women.


  • Creation: 1865-1997
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1980-1996

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted except #6.1 and T-267.34 -- T-267.46, which are closed until January 1, 2018. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Jean Elizabeth Wolfe 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.


7.17 linear feet ((15 file boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 5 folio folders, 1 folio+ folder, 28 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 3 folio+ photograph folders, 1 oversize photograph folder, 120 slides, 72 audiotapes, 10 motion pictures, 1 object)

The papers of Jean Wolfe include correspondence, photographs, clippings, diaries, home movies, and notes relating to her family history, girls camps, her psychological and medical issues, and her professional work as a physical education instructor and a medical illustrator.

Jean Wolfe began her correspondence with the Schlesinger Library in 1992, when she was contacted to see if she would participate in an oral history describing her life as a lesbian in the early-mid 20th century. Although never officially interviewed, Wolfe sent in two preliminary audiocassette tapes describing her early years. Those tapes were not accessioned, but transcribed by the library and returned. In 1996 she compiled one carton of carefully annotated materials that covered the first thirty years of her life and sent it to the Schlesinger with ten accompanying audiocassette tapes to be accessioned. After Wolfe's death in May 1997, her local church, in accordance with her will, packed up her remaining records and sent them to the Schlesinger. Many of these records also contain extensive annotations by Wolfe, but were found loose and unsorted often in untitled or illegible folders. The ten audiocassette tapes from the first accession (T-267.37 -- T-267.46), the earlier tapes (T.267.34 -- T.267.36), and their transcript (#6.1) are closed until January 1, 2018. Folder titles were created by the archivist, with annotations by Wolfe included in quotes.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1867-1996 (#1.1-7.12, FD.1-FD.4, 16F+B.1-16F+B.2, PD.1-PD.14sl, PD.32f+-PD.33o, T-267.1 -- T-267.46, MP-69.1 -- MP-69.4, Mem.1), includes address books, collected autographs, awards, birth certificate, last will and testament, notes, a hand-carved pipe, paintings on canvas, yearbooks, and home movies. This series also includes records from time Wolfe spent at Pendle Hill, a Quaker residential study center based on the spiritual and social principles of the Religious Society of Friends, located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. Folders are arranged alphabetically by topic.

Series II, FAMILY, 1865-1977 (#7.13-10.1, PD.15-PD.21, PD.34f+-PD.35f), includes diaries, photographs, clippings, wedding invitations, and funeral registries relating to Wolfe's parents (Arthur and Ethel Wolfe), her maternal grandparents (David and Katie Harper), and her paternal grandparents (George and Ida Wolfe). Folders are arranged alphabetically by family last name.

Series III, CAMPS, 1938-1996 (#10.2-10.10, PD.22-PD.28, MP-69.5 -- MP-69.8), includes photographs, newsletters, home movies, and correspondence from several girls' camps in the New England and mid-Atlantic regions including Blazing Trails Camp (Denmark, Maine), Silver Lake Camp (Hawkeye, New York), and Camp Eagle Island (Upper Saranac Lake, New York). Folders are arranged alphabetically by camp name.

Series IV, PROFESSIONAL, 1948-1993 (#10.11-11.10, FD.5, F+D.1, PD.29sl-PD.31, PD.36f+, MP-69.9 -- MP-69.10), includes illustrations, brochures, clippings, and correspondence related to Wolfe's career as a medical illustrator specializing in eye surgery at the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania (1960-1985). This series also includes programs, bulletins, yearbook, home movies, and correspondence relating to Wolfe's early career as a physical education instructor (1947-1952). Folders are arranged alphabetically first by profession, then by topic.

Series V, MEDICAL AND LEGAL, 1970-1997 (#11.11-15.17, T-267.47 -- T-267.72), includes diary-like notes and writings, correspondence with psychiatrists and medical doctors, and correspondence and records from a lawsuit Wolfe filed against the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. This series also includes letters Wolfe wrote to her internist, Dr. Anna-Marie Chirico (1925-2007), a faculty member at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It was not until after Chirico's retirement in 1987 that Wolfe began writing deeply intense letters to her. Diagnosed with depression and even hospitalized on several occasions, Wolfe attempted to work out her emotional distress through writing letters (called "emotional writings" throughout finding aid) or talking on audiocassette tapes meant for her doctor. In the 1990s, Wolfe realized these letters would be invaluable for writing an autobiography and asked Chirico to return them, which she did. Folders are arranged alphabetically by topic.

Some 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 [*].


Born October 3, 1925, in Newark, New Jersey, Jean Elizabeth Wolfe was the only child of Arthur H. and Ethel (Harper) Wolfe. Her father Arthur (1884-1969) was an industrial engineer who managed various companies including Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Growing up in Newark, he worked on the family farm with his father, George H. Wolfe (1843-1928), mother, Ida (Young) Wolfe (1856-1927), and younger brother, Fred E. Wolfe (1887-1964). Jean Wolfe's mother Ethel (1889-1977) also grew up in Newark, with her parents David E. Harper (1856-1943) and Katie (Belles) Harper (1856-1943). David Harper was a mason contractor who played a leading part in the development of downtown Newark, including building New Jersey's first concrete paved road during World War I. He was also a co-founder of the first Motor Truck Club in New Jersey and sat on numerous bank boards of trustees.

Jean Wolfe's early childhood was spent in the company of her parents and maternal grandparents, with neighborhood boys her only peers. Growing up as "one of the boys," she cut her hair short, dressed in knickers and neckties, played football, boxed, and had "snowball wars." In 1934 at the age of nine, Wolfe was sent to her first overnight camp at Camp Lenoloc in New York. While at Camp Lenoloc, she formed a bond with Dr. Hazel "Rusty" Wacker, the director of the camp's waterfront and a physical education teacher. Wolfe credits Rusty as the one who inspired her to develop a deep, life-long love of camping, physical education, and water sports. From 1934 to 1960, Wolfe spent every summer at various girls camps including Eagle Island (New York), Blazing Trail (Maine), Silver Lake (New York), Quanset Sailing (Massachusetts), Onaway (New Hampshire) and others. She served in every capacity from junior camper to camp director.

In 1943 Wolfe entered Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, to earn a degree in physical education. After graduating in 1947, she worked as an instructor at Pembroke College at Brown University, teaching swimming and personal exercise in the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education under the supervision of Bessie Huntting Rudd. From 1950 to 1952, Wolfe was head of the physical education department at the Kimberley School, a private girls' school in Montclair, New Jersey.

Although she enjoyed teaching physical education, Wolfe desired to earn a living as an artist. Doubting that she could fit into the "super-feminine" world as an abstract-expressionist New York City artist, she decided to go back to school to earn a degree in medical art. She attended the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, earning her degree in 1955. From 1960 to 1985, she worked at the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine as an instructor of medical art, specializing in ophthalmology. In 1965, she curated and published a brochure on her ophthalmological illustrations called "Highlights of Surgery."

After leaving the Scheie Eye Institute in 1985, Wolfe struggled to make a living outside the professional world. Diagnosed with various medical conditions and severe depression, Wolfe battled alcoholism and an addiction to prescription drugs. A self-described "mid-century gentleman butch," Wolfe's lesbian relationships with women were tumultuous, and towards the end of her life, she felt very much alone. Often writing or speaking her feelings on audiocassette tapes, Wolfe struggled to find a sense of balance in her life. "My heart has been a blow to which I haven't had time to adjust. I was a woodsman, Maine guide, sailor, canoeist, hiker -- lost it all and all the people who were part of it... I am totally alone and isolated. I have no family anywhere and no friends who are more than Xmas cards from far away" (circa 1995). Jean Wolfe died on May 7, 1997.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1867-1996 (#1.1-7.12, FD.1-FD.4, 16F+B.1-16F+B.2, PD.1-PD.14sl, PD.32f+-PD.33o, T-267.1 -- T-267.46, MP-69.1 -- MP-69.4, Mem.1)
  2. Series II. Family, 1865-1977 (#7.13-10.1, PD.15-PD.21, PD.34f+-PD.35f)
  3. Series III. Camps, 1938-1996 (#10.2-10.10, PD.22-PD.28, MP-69.5 -- MP-69.8)
  4. Series IV. Professional, 1948-1993 (#10.11-11.10, FD.5, F+D.1, PD.29sl-PD.31, PD.36f+, MP-69.9 -- MP-69.10)
  5. Series V. Medical and legal, 1970-1997 (#11.11-15.17, T-267.47 -- T-267.72)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 96-M41, 96-M98, 97-M128

The papers of Jean Elizabeth Wolfe were given to the Schlesinger Library by Jean Elizabeth Wolfe in 1996; and by her estate in 1997.


Donor: Estate of Jean Elizabeth Wolfe, 1997

Accession number: 97-M128

Processed by: Jessica Tanny

The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. Wolfe and Harper family photograph albums, loose photographs, and two publications about Ocean Grove, New Jersey, were transferred to the New Jersey Historical Society.

Processing Information

Processed: September 2011

By: Jessica Tanny, with assistance from Camille Torres.

Wolfe, Jean Elizabeth, 1925-1997. Papers of Jean Elizabeth Wolfe, 1865-1997 (inclusive), 1980-1996 (bulk)
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Mary Mitchell Wood Manuscript 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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