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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 900

Papers of Gloria Sweeden, 1963-1979


Letters written by Gloria Sweeden to her mother, Helen Fisk Gavin, while Gloria was a college student and during the early years of her marriage to Virgil Sweeden.


  • 1963-1979

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Erin Gloria Sweeden 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.


.83 linear feet ((2 file boxes) plus 1 supersize folder)
The collection contains letters written by Gloria Sweeden to her mother, Helen Fisk Gavin, while Gloria was a college student and during the early years of her marriage to Virgil Sweeden. Letters address college life, student unrest in the 1960s, the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and life as an American living abroad in South Korea. Letters also document the close relationship between Gloria and Helen. Gloria frequently sought Helen's advice, vented her frustrations to her, and expressed her love and gratitude for her. Letters also contain information concerning Gloria's gynecological visits, particularly the concern that she may have cervical cancer due to her exposure to stilboestrol (Diethylstilbestrol, commonly known as DES) in the womb. Letters are arranged alphabetically, then chronologically.

Letters from Gloria while at the University of California, Santa Barbara include complaints about roommates and dining hall food, explanations of her evolving philosophical viewpoint including her exploration of existentialism, and her dissatisfaction with the intellectual content of her classes. Letters written while living in San Francisco describe the counterculture in the Haight-Ashbury district, Gloria's living conditions, her struggles to find a job, and her involvement in the Haight-Ashbury Research Project. Throughout Gloria's college experience, she writes of the student protests on campuses across California and her support for the movement, although she does not appear to have participated in any protests. Letters also reflect Gloria's doubts about her future career path and the value of college degree. Among her concerns are the influx of students into the California university system and the rising costs of pursuing a degree in the 1960s.

Letters from 1973 to 1974 document Gloria's life as a newlywed living in South Korea with her husband, Virgil, while he served out his conscription in the Army. Letters include Gloria's impression of living conditions; accounts of hobbies, including needlework and photography; reports on Korean politics and military presence in Seoul; and descriptions of sightseeing trips, including several to Buddhist temples. Gloria also recorded her interactions with Korean people, most notably with students she tutored in English, and frequently compared life in Seoul with life in the United States, often noting a lack of comforts she was accustomed to having in the United States. In her role as a military wife, Gloria also notes regulations on military personnel and families, particularly in regards to military currency and the Post Exchange (PX).

In 1973, Helen visited Gloria in Seoul and during an excursion to a Buddhist monastery, she met a young Korean girl named He Soog, who served Helen's meals and acted as a guide in the area. After commenting that she would love to take He Soog home with her, local officials decided that Helen should take He Soog back to the United States with her. Unsure of her ability to care for a young girl and hampered by Korean officials' objections to the arrangement since He Soog's father was still living, Helen decided against adopting He Soog. Letters include information Gloria gathered concerning the adoption process, support for Helen and her decision, including suggestions for alternate ways Helen could help He Soog, and anger towards members of Helen's family who objected to the adoption.

Upon returning to the United States, Gloria and Virgil moved to Oregon, living on a trailer on Virgil's grandparents' farm. Letters from this time include descriptions of farming, tensions between Gloria and Virgil's grandmother, Gloria's frustration with living in a rural location, and her hopes that she and Virgil will move to a more populated area. In 1975, the Sweedens moved to Eugene where Gloria began working as a library assistant and Virgil attended the University of Oregon. Gloria's letters contain descriptions of her work, Virgil's classes, and their social activities, including dining out and going to concerts.


Erin Gloria Sweeden, daughter of Howard, a police officer, and Helen Fisk Gavin, a nurse, was born in Los Angeles, California. She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco State University before graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1971. In 1972, she married Virgil Sweeden, a photographer. When Virgil was drafted in 1973, Gloria moved with him to South Korea. In 1974, the Sweedens returned to the United States, settling in Oregon.

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2016-M118

The papers of Gloria Sweeden were given to the Schlesinger Library by Erin Gloria Sweeden in June 2016.

Processing Information

Processed: January 2017

By: Johanna Carll
Link to catalog
Sweeden, Gloria. Papers of Gloria Sweeden, 1963-1979: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

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.

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