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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 786

Papers of Sylvia Berkman, 1909-1989


Letters of Berkman's mother, Gertrude Berkman, as well as family photographs and writings of Wellesley College English professor Sylvia Berkman.


  • 1909-1989

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Sylvia Berkman 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.


1.67 linear feet ((4 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 1 oversize folder, 9 photograph folders)

The bulk of the collection consists typescripts of stories by and letters from Gertrude Berkman to her daughters Tessie and Sylvia, detailing her concerns about them, money, their health, her work, and her relationships with her sons Ruben and Leo. Also included are family photographs, some of ancestors taken in Russia; letters to Gertrude from a friend, Mrs. Earl Smith; college papers, stories and book reviews by Sylvia Berkman; reprints of articles signed to Sylvia Berkman from other writers; and photocopies of typescripts of The Gardens of Flora Baum by poet Julia Budenz who evidently sent copies to Sylvia Berkman.

Series I, Photographs, 1910-1985, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.9), includes photographs of relatives, family houses, Sylvia and friends at Pembroke and Radcliffe colleges, Tessie, and friends of Sylvia. Many are unidentified. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

Series II, Gertrude Berkman, 1909-1934 (#1.1-2.6), contains typescripts of stories and correspondence with publishers; letters to her daughters Tessie and Sylvia detailing her concerns about them, money, their health, her work, and her relationships with her sons Ruben and Leo; and letters to Gertrude from a friend, Mrs. Earl Smith.

Series III, Sylvia Berkman, 1910-1989 (#2.7-4.11, FD.1-FD.2, OD.1), includes undergraduate and graduate papers; stories and book reviews; research material for and reviews of her book on Katherine Mansfield; reprints of articles signed to Berkman from other writers; and photocopies of typescripts of The Gardens of Flora Baum by poet Julia Budenz who evidently sent copies to Sylvia Berkman.


Sylvia Berkman was born in 1907, graduated from high school in Blackstone, Massachusetts, and received her A.B. from Pembroke College in 1928, and advanced degrees from Radcliffe College (A.M. 1937 and Ph.D. 1942). Between 1928 to 1936 she worked first for the Harvard University Press and later the Merrymount Press in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1944 she joined the English faculty at Wellesley College where she remained until 1972. A visiting lecturer at Stanford University (1959, 1966), she was also a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute (1964-1965) and a member of the Corporation of Yaddo, beginning in 1966. She was the author of Katherine Mansfield: A Critical Study, 1951; and Blackberry Wilderness, 1959, a collection of short stories. Her short stories also appeared regularly in magazines. She died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1992.

Sylvia Berkman was the daughter of Gertrude Berkman, a writer who published occasionally in a newspaper column and who wrote short stories. Gertrude was Jewish and was probably born around 1874 and immigrated from Russia in 1892. She married Jacob Berkman; they were later divorced. There may have been an earlier marriage to a man named Horn (or Horne) and two sons: Ruben and Leo. Gertrude and Jacob had two daughters: Tessie D. (1905-1976) and Sylvia. Tessie became a social worker, served as editor of Abstracts for Social Workers, and conducted the first national study of social work practice in psychiatric hospitals and clinics. She was on the faculties at New York University School of Social Work and Hunter College School of Social Work, and in retirement spent time in Maine.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Photographs, 1910-1985, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.9)
  2. Series II. Gertrude Berkman, 1909-1924 (#1.1-2.6)
  3. Series III. Sylvia Berkman, 1910-1989 (#2.7-4.11, OD.1, FD.1-FD.2)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 93-M161

The papers of Sylvia Berkman were given to the Schlesinger Library by her estate in October 1993.


Donors: estate of Sylvia Berkman

Accession number: 93-M161

Processed by: Anne Engelhart

The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. Tessie Berkman award and certificates were given to Smith College
  2. 2 books in Cyrillic (one a fragment) were transferred to the Slavic department, Harvard University Library, for review

Processing Information

Processed: February 2014

By: Anne Engelhart

Berkman, Sylvia. Papers of Sylvia Berkman, 1909-1989: 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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