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COLLECTION Identifier: A-167

Papers of Avis DeVoto, 1929-1990


Correspondence, cookbook manuscripts, etc., of Avis DeVoto, editor specializing in cookbooks.


  • 1929-1990


Language of Materials

Materials in English or French.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. Folder #56 is closed; extremely fragile. Use digital images.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Avis DeVoto is held by Mark DeVoto. Upon the death of Mark DeVoto copyright is transferred to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in the papers created by Julia Child is held by the Julia Child Foundation. Copyright in Paul Child's photographs published in any of Julia Child's books during her lifetime is also held by the Julia Child Foundation. Copyright in all other Paul Child photographs is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in the papers created by Elizabeth David 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.


4.75 linear feet ((6 file boxes, 2 half file boxes, 2 folio boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 2 photographs folders, 1 folio+ photograph folder.)

The Avis DeVoto papers consist of correspondence, draft manuscripts, recipes, etc., the bulk of which document her work as the editor of several cookbooks including Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volumes I and II), Simca's Cuisine, New Menus from Simca's Cuisine, and Season to Taste. Additional material received between 1988 and 2012 (accession numbers 88-M185, 89-M7, 90-M22, 90-M35, 2012-M210, 2012-M220, 2012-M237) was added to the collection in April 2015. These materials are housed in #41f+-92. Folders added in April 2015 are listed in intellectual, not sequential order. The papers have been arranged in three series.

Series I, Julia Child, 1952-1988 (#1-36, folio boxes 2af-2bf, 41f-47, 71-92), includes correspondence tracing the evolution of Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from its inception to its publication. A wide range of other topics is covered in these letters: McCarthyism, the problems of security clearance, pitfalls and successes of a career in the United States Foreign Service, the national temperament and character of the French, Germans, Norwegians, English. Newspaper and magazine clippings and photographs are also included. Correspondents include Julia Child, Paul Child, Elizabeth David, Avis DeVoto, Bernard DeVoto, Simone Beck, Alfred A. Knopf, William Koshland, Judith Jones, Louisette Bertholle, Dorothy de Santillana, Benjamin Fairbank, and Paul Brooks. The bulk of the correspondence in this series is from Julia Child to DeVoto, although letters from other correspondents (including publishers and co-authors) that are related to the publication of Child's cookbooks are also included. Most letters from Paul Child are of a personal nature and describe the Child's professional activities and their experiences during their times in various cities in Europe and the United States.

Series II, Elizabeth David, 1957-1986 (#37-39, 48), includes correspondence between Avis DeVoto, Judith Jones, Alfred A. Knopf, and Elizabeth David primarily about issues with editing David's Italian Cooking, originally published in England, for American readers. Letters discuss the many differences between British and American measurements, cooking terms, the differences between brown and white eggs, etc.

Series III, Avis DeVoto, Peggy Harvey, and others, 1929-1990 (#40, 49-70), includes a check register; correspondence, notes and clippings; recipes; photographs; etc., belonging to Avis DeVoto. Correspondence with Judith Jones, Alfred A. Knopf, and Susan Sheehan regards Volume II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and other manuscripts under review by Knopf as well as a biography of Knopf being written by Sheehan. Correspondence between Avis DeVoto, Peggy Harvey, and William Koshland of Alfred A. Knopf, relates to the editing of Harvey's cookbook, Season to Taste (1958). Correspondence between DeVoto and Simone Beck regards work on her cookbooks Simca's Cuisine (1972) and New Menus from Simca's Cuisine (1979). Other correspondence documents DeVoto's work as an editor with other authors, publishers, etc.; DeVoto's work with the Breadloaf Writers' Conference; and personal relationships with a number of people including food writer M.F.K. Fisher and William Raney of Bobbs Merrill Publishers.


Avis MacVicar DeVoto was born in Houghton, Michigan, on May 22, 1904. At the end of her freshman year at Northwestern University, in June 1923, she married Bernard DeVoto who had been her English instructor. The DeVotos remained in Evanston for four years and then moved to Cambridge where Bernard DeVoto was a member of the English Department at Harvard until 1936. With the exception of four years in Lincoln, Massachusetts (1932-1936) and two years in New York City (1936-1938) where Bernard DeVoto was editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, the DeVotos lived in Cambridge. Bernard DeVoto was an historian, literary critic, editor and author of numerous books, including The Year of Decision, Across the Wide Missouri, The Course of Empire and several on Mark Twain (See Who Was Who, 1951-1960). He was the editor of "The Easy Chair" for Harper's Magazine from 1935 until his death in 1955. There are two DeVoto sons, Gordon and Mark. Avis DeVoto was an editor, specializing in cookbooks, for Alfred A. Knopf from 1956 to 1958. She held the post of House Secretary in Lowell House at Harvard for the next five years and then worked in the Deans' Office at Radcliffe until her retirement in June 1969.

Avis DeVoto handled much of her husband's correspondence during his lifetime, and it was her reply to a letter from Julia Child in Paris addressed to Bernard DeVoto that initiated the correspondence. An Easy Chair column decrying the ubiquitous, dull, stainless steel American paring knife had struck a sympathetic chord with Julia Child who decided to contribute a sharp, carbon steel French knife to the DeVoto menage. A close friendship bloomed across the Atlantic, but it was not until two years and some 120 letters later that the two met in Cambridge.

Paul Child was cultural attache with the United States Foreign Service until his retirement in 1962; he and his wife lived in Paris, Marseilles, West Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. While one can follow the evolution of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in these letters, they cover a wide range of topics: McCarthyism, the reaction of Europeans to the Communist hysteria in the United States, the specter of security clearance, the pitfalls and successes of a career in the Foreign Service, as well as pungent comments about the national temperament and character of the French, the Germans, Norwegians, English, not to mention their food. The letters are written by literate and articulate observers, not only of the international scene but also of the local Cambridge community.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Julia Child, 1952-1988 (#1-36, Folio Box 2a-Folio Box 2b, 41f+-47, 71-92)
  2. Series II. Elizabeth David, 1957-1986 (#37-39, 48)
  3. Series III. Avis DeVoto, Peggy Harvey, and others, 1929-1990 (#40, 49-70)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 69-19, 70-15, 70-77. Accession numbers: 71-117, 72-29, 88-M185, 89-M7, 90-M22, 90-M35, 2012-M210, 2012-M220, 2012-M237 were added to the collection in April 2015.

The papers of Avis DeVoto were given to the Schlesinger Library by Avis DeVoto in November 1969 and February and June 1970. Additional papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Avis DeVoto in September 1971 and March 1972, and by her son, Mark DeVoto, between November 1988 and December 2012.


  1. Box 1: 1-14
  2. Box 2: 15-36
  3. Folio boxes Folio Box 2a and Folio Box 2b: The French Chef Cookbook
  4. Box 3: 37-40
  5. Box 4: 42-52
  6. Box 5: 53, 56-63, 65
  7. Box 6: 66-70
  8. Box 7: 71-81
  9. Box 8: 82-92

Processing Information

Processed: January 1971

By: Elizabeth Owen Shenton

Updated and additional material added: April 2015

By: Mark Vassar


DeVoto, Avis. Papers of Avis DeVoto, 1929-1990: 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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