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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 447

Papers of Tove Gertrud Gerson, 1919-1993


Biographical material, speeches, correspondence, etc., of Tove Gertrud Mueller Gerson, teacher, physical therapist, YWCA administrator, and activist for peace and civil rights.


  • Creation: 1919-1993


Language of Materials

Materials in English, German, and Dutch.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Tove Gertrud Gerson 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.


1.04 linear feet ((2+1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 8 photograph folders, 7 audiotapes)

These papers provide information about Tove Gertrud Gerson's family, her education in Germany and the United States, her jobs, travels, blindness, and her interest and role in the civil rights movement.

Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-27), includes autobiographies written for college applications, six audiotapes on which Tove Gertrud Gerson discusses her life with a German radio interviewer (in German) and an American friend, Lenore M. Dickinson (in English), immigration papers, considerable material relating to her education, some financial records, writings, and photographs.

The audiotapes and related notes afford very personal insights into Tove Gerson's family, childhood, the gymnastics school, anti-Semitism and what was known about concentration camps, and her experiences in Germany before she emigrated. She also talks about her reaction to the treatment of African Americans in the United States, the Gersons' friends and social life, her speeches about Nazi Germany, her politics, how she is coping with her blindness, and why she returned to Germany.

Series II, Work and volunteer activities (#28-87), is arranged chronologically by Tove Gerson's place of residence, and chronologically within each place. It documents her employment, particularly the years in Oklahoma and Massachusetts, private practice, the speeches she and Gerhard Gerson gave (mostly in Oklahoma), and her aid to war victims, especially the help she organized for people in Holland after World War II. The series includes correspondence (some of it personal), minutes, photographs, clippings, brochures, fliers, programs, an audiotape, newsletters, and conference papers.

Of particular interest is correspondence about Greyhound Bus Lines hiring practices (#62); with Actors' Equity Association about, as Tove Gerson put it, (...the common practice not to have Negroes on the stage except...where they are needed as Negroes) (#69); about Marion Kilson's dispute with the Women's Educational and Industrial Union (#81); letters (#37,46-51) that describe war experiences and post-war conditions; and a Tove Gerson letter (#84) about abortion, migrant farm workers, and racial discrimination.

The years 1973-1986 are not covered and there are other gaps, perhaps due to the fact that one box of papers was lost in shipment.

Some of Tove Gerson's notes for and drafts of speeches, reports, and letters are in German. Other items, such as school records, diplomas, and correspondence, are in German or Dutch; some have been translated by Tove Gerson or others.

Many of the documents are not originals but photocopies made in Germany.


Tove Gertrud (Müller) Gerson, émigré social activist, YWCA administrator, gymnastics teacher, and physical therapist, was born on September 18, 1902, in Munich, Germany, the daughter of Ellen (Dyhr) and Albert Müller. She attended a private elementary school in the village of Dachau, and went on to the Humanistisches und Realgymnasium in Munich, graduating in 1919. After spending a year in Denmark with her mother's family, Tove Gerson took courses at a business school, worked as a bank clerk and secretary, and in 1924 married Gerhard Gerson, a research engineer working in Essen.

Following a four-year course at the Bundesschule für Körperbildung und rhythmische Erziehung (Essen), Tove Gerson worked as a teacher and physical education instructor. In 1938 Gerhard Gerson, who was half Jewish, left for the United States and went to work for Phillips Petroleum Co.; Tove Gerson joined him in 1939. Until she returned to Germany in 1973, Tove Gerson lived in four states and led an active professional and volunteer life reflected in the following chronology:

  1. 1939-1940: Cleaning woman, Pontiac, Michigan
  2. 1941-1942: Gym teacher, Employee, "slenderizing studio," Pontiac Michigan
  3. 1941-1942: Employee, "slenderizing studio," Pontiac, Michigan
  4. 1942-1945: Leads exercise classes for women, YMCA, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
  5. 1942-1945: Gives speeches about conditions in Nazi Germany, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
  6. 1942-1945: Becomes aware of the issue of race relations, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
  7. 1943: Opens her own studio for gymnastics and physical therapy, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
  8. 1945: Organizes food and clothing packages for Holland
  9. 1946: Occupational therapist, State Hospital for Mental Diseases
  10. 1946-1947: Staff, Woonsocket YWCA
  11. 1947-1950: Gymnastics instructor, Providence YWCA
  12. 1948-1950: Active in Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Urban League
  13. 1950: Gerhard Gerson dies while they are on a trip to Europe
  14. 1950-1953: Tove Gertrud Müller Gerson remains in Europe, Rhode Island
  15. 1953-1955: Ward clerk, Sinai Hospital, Detroit
  16. 1953-1955: Joins NAACP
  17. 1955-1956: Lives in Sweden with mother-in-law
  18. 1956-1957: Director, Adult Activities Program, Dearborn, Michigan YWCA
  19. 1957-1968: Adult Program Director, YWCA: organizes interracial Trippers (travel group) and People's Theatre, civil rights series, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  20. 1957-1958: Takes courses at Tufts University
  21. 1958-1962: Takes courses at Boston University
  22. 1968-1969: Travels in Europe
  23. 1969-1970: Works at Radcliffe College and Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

In 1970 Tove Gertrud Müller Gerson began to lose her sight. She returned to Germany in 1973. She is now blind and living in an Altersheim (old age home) in Essen.


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. I. Personal and biographical
  2. II. Work and volunteer activities

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 88-M33, 88-M40, 88-M51, 88-M77, 93-M19

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Tove Gertrud Gerson, via Lenore M. Dickinson, between March 1988 and January 1993.


The following item has been removed from the collection and donated to the John Hay Library, Brown University in November 1997:

  1. Clippings by and re: Jay Saunders Redding, 1948-66, n.d.


  1. Box 1: 1-2,7,10-18,20-28
  2. Box 2: 30-33, 35-39, 42-44, 46, 48-54, 56-57, 59, 61-65
  3. Box 3: 66-78, 80-81, 83-84, 86-87

Processing Information

Processed: April 1998

By: Bert Hartry

Gerson, Tove Gertrud, 1903-1998. Papers of Tove Gertrud Gerson, 1919-1993: 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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