Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 830

Papers of Anita Parkhurst Willcox, 1887-1990 (inclusive), 1918-1976 (bulk)

Scrapbooks, trip diaries, writings, memoirs, and artwork of artist, pacifist, feminist, and target of anti-communist propaganda Anita Parkhurst Willcox.

Dates

  • 1887-1990
  • Majority of material found within 1918-1976

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Anita Parkhurst Willcox 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.

Extent

6.42 linear feet ((7 + 1/2 file boxes, 2 folio boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 1 photograph folder)

The collection documents Willcox's personal and professional life and includes drafts of her unpublished book Between Jobs and Babies and her memoir, One Woman, which was edited by her granddaughter. Also included are diaries of Willcox's foreign trips, including to Europe and Africa, to Cuba in 1916, and to China in 1952; letters and clippings related to Willcox's appearance before the Eastland Committee and a Connecticut school's rejection of her murals; and correspondence between Willcox's parents, between Willcox and her husband Henry during World War I, and from Willcox to her children during World War II. The collection also includes the scrapbooks Willcox assembled in the 1970s. These contain her published artwork, pencil drawings, watercolors, pastels, pen and ink sketches, other artwork, photographs, biographical clippings, and diary entries. The bulk of the folder titles were created by the archivist; Willcox's original titles, when used, appear in quotation marks.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1893-1978 (#1.1-5.3, 9FB.1v-10FB.2, 11F+B.1v, PD.1), consists primarily of scrapbooks compiled by Willcox, as well as artwork she created for their covers. The scrapbooks document her work for Gage Brothers and Co.; her artwork for various magazines; her experiences in France and Germany during World War I; and her trips to India and China. Scrapbooks include magazine covers; caricatures published in magazines; sketches, drawings, and paintings of her family and of her travels; photographs, including her family and her childhood home; report cards; her wedding announcement; the record of her service during World War I; and autobiographical writings expressing her sometimes conflicted feelings about her marriage and her children, and her efforts to balance her familial obligations with her personal goals. The books also provide a detailed look at her perceptions of India after that country achieved independence, and of China in the early 1950s, as well as the difficulties she faced upon her return from China. Some books include explanatory introductory statements and reflections Willcox made when compiling the books and reexamining her life. Some overlap exists between scrapbooks, with the same images appearing in several. She designed three scrapbooks about her years at the Art Institute of Chicago and in France and Germany; these have identical content but distinct covers. She also created two scrapbooks on Henry Willcox's grandfathers, which she gave as gifts to two of her granddaughters; these have identical content but different covers and inscriptions. The series also includes photographs of Willcox and her husband in Beijing in 1971 with Guo Morou (president of the peace conference they attended in 1952) and Zhou Enlai (premier of the People's Republic of China). Also included is correspondence, including letters from Henry Willcox during the early years of their marriage. For additional correspondence, see Series II. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, WRITINGS AND CORRESPONDENCE, 1887, 1906-ca.1990 (#5.4-8.2, 9FB.5-9FB.6), includes drafts of Willcox's books Between Jobs and Babies and One Woman; Willcox's statement on why she wrote Between Jobs and Babies; a publisher's report on the book; and a painting probably intended for its cover illustration. The series also includes clippings and correspondence related to Willcox's appearance before the Eastland Committee, as well as the statement she prepared and her summons to appear; clippings and correspondence regarding the murals Willcox offered to do for a Connecticut school and the subsequent outcry; and diaries and descriptions of her trips to Australia, Cuba, New Zealand, Morocco, Mexico, Africa, and China. Also included are essays by Willcox and others on the China trip, and a diary for the lecture tour she and her husband made after their return from China. The series also includes essays by Willcox on what she termed "social problems"; diaries for trips to Cuba, Africa, and other countries; and sketches; poems written by her father; and letters to friends and family members. Many of these letters address the sometimes difficult relationship Willcox had with her children and also acknowledge difficulties in her marriage. Of particular note are letters to her children in which she discusses birth control, sexual intimacy, and her wedding night (#6.13). This material was grouped together by Willcox, who prepared indices describing it. For additional correspondence, see Series I. The series is arranged alphabetically.

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

BIOGRAPHY

Commercial artist and pacifist Anita Parkhurst Willcox was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1892, the only daughter of Henry Williams Parkhurst and Annie Hall Horine Parkhurst. She had two brothers. Her father, an engineer, suffered a stroke when she was nine and died when she was thirteen. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1909 to 1913. She began her commercial art career drawing illustrations of hats for Gage Brothers and Co., a Chicago millinery company, and moved to New York City in 1913. Her work included covers for Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, McCall's, and Screenland, as well as posters for the YMCA. She became known for creating the "New American Woman" image – idealized pictures of young, fashionable, beautiful women.

She married engineer Henry Willcox in 1918. In March of that year, two weeks after her wedding, she went to France to work with the YMCA in support of American troops in World War I. She worked in canteens and, with artist Neysa McMein and Jane Bullard, developed and performed a vaudeville show for troops on the front lines. She returned to New York in March 1919, resuming her work as an artist and reuniting with her husband. They had four children between 1921 and 1926: Roger, Warner, Sally, and Ann, and in 1930 they adopted her brother Roger's daughter, Dolores, after his wife died in childbirth. The family lived first in Staten Island and then in Greenwich Village in New York City. Willcox's mother, with whom she had a strained relationship, lived with them until her death in 1939. After the birth of her daughter Sally in 1923, Willcox spent several months in bed with puerperal fever and, during this period of enforced inactivity, became increasingly aware of the disparity between the idealized images she created in her artwork and her own life as a wife, mother, and working woman. In 1925, she gave up her work as a commercial artist and wrote the unpublished book Between Jobs and Babies, which examined the changing nature of women's roles in 20th century America. She also worked on a memoir, One Woman, which was ultimately edited by her granddaughter and published in 2010. She continued sketching and painting, developing a particular interest in murals, and engaged in freelance work.

During the Depression, Willcox designed posters for the League of Industrial Democracy and drew caricatures for Collier's. She underwent an abortion in the mid-1930s. Her experiences during World War I had made her a committed pacifist and she was plunged into depression by World War II; her depression was apparently compounded by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1940. During the war, she and her husband served as air raid wardens and she also worked with Lunchtime Follies, a group which held musical revues in defense plants to entertain factory workers. (Their first show was Irving Berlin's This Is the Army.) Towards the end of the war, Willcox designed posters for Americans United for World Organization, advocating the formation of the United Nations. In 1949, the Willcox family founded the first inter-racial cooperative community on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, in Norwalk, Connecticut. In 2010, this community, called Village Creek, was declared a National Historical Monument.

Willcox traveled widely, with her international trips including a visit to Cuba in 1916, and travel through India in 1948 and 1949. During this trip she made a number of sketches, including of the attendees of the first All India Conference after the cessation of British rule, and of a peace conference held on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. In 1952, she and her husband represented the Quakers at the Asia and Pacific Rim Peace Conference in Beijing, China, with Willcox sketching the conference delegates. Due to their participation in this conference, they were considered communists by the United States government and by many of their neighbors, although neither of them were members of the Communist party. Upon their return to the United States, their passports were confiscated and Henry Willcox was forced out of the construction company he had founded, due to government officials' refusal to engage the company while he was affiliated with it. Willcox's opportunities for freelance work were also severely impacted. In 1953, Anita and Henry embarked on a cross-country lecture tour, to share their experiences in China. Upon their return they continued to face harassment and mistrust: murals she had designed as a gift for the Honey Hill Elementary School in Norwalk, Connecticut, were rejected, as some city officials denounced the hanging of work by an alleged communist. In 1977, the one mural she had completed was hung in the John D. Magrath School in Norwalk.

In 1955, Willcox was called before the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, also known as the Eastland Committee. The ostensible purpose for her summons was that she had posted bail for Harvey Matusow, an FBI informant and paid witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee, who recanted his testimony and was jailed for perjury. The committee also questioned her about her trip to China and did not permit her to read the statement she had prepared explaining her actions and beliefs. The following year, Henry Willcox was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and questioned about the trip to China. Transcripts of these hearings are available online. However, no further direct action was taken against them, and after a prolonged court case which reached the Supreme Court, their passports were returned in 1959. (This case was brought by twelve people including Willcox and her husband, Paul Robeson, and the civil rights lawyer Leonard Boudin.) Upon the return of their passports, Willcox and her husband promptly resumed international travel, traveling to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and to Ghana in 1963, where Willcox created murals for the law library of the University of Ghana. They also returned to China in 1971, where they were reunited with Guo Moruo, the president of the peace conference they attended in 1952. Henry Willcox suffered from bouts of tuberculosis throughout his life and he died in 1973. Anita Willcox died at Village Creek in April 1984. One of her last drawings was a self-portrait, intended for her obituary.

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged in two series:
  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1893-1978 (#1.1-5.3, 9FB.1v-10FB.2, 11F+B.1v, PD.1)
  2. Series II. Writings and correspondence, 1887, 1906-ca.1990 (#5.4-8.2, 9FB.5-9FB.6)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 88-M16, 88-M174, 90-M17

The papers of Anita Parkhurst Willcox were given to the Schlesinger Library by her children, Roger Willcox, Ann Seidman, and Sally Cartwright, between January 1988 and February 1990.

Separated Materials

Donors: Roger Willcox, Ann Seidman, and Sally Cartwright

Accession number: 88-M174

Processed by: Susan Earle

The following items have been removed from the collection and offered to the Schlesinger Library Printed Materials Dvision (pending review by curator):
  1. What We Saw in China, by 15 Americans, 1952

Processing Information

Processed: January 2016

By: Susan Earle, with assistance from Dan Bullman.
Link to catalog
Title
Willcox, Anita Parkhurst, 1892-1984. Papers of Anita Parkhurst Willcox, 1887-1990 (inclusive), 1918-1976 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
EAD ID
sch01505

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.

Contact:
3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-8647