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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 608: T-283: Vt-102

Papers of Nan Robertson, 1920-2004


Papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nan Robertson, including correspondence, reader letters, drafts, photographs, audiovisual materials, and clippings.


  • 1920-2004

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the papers are open to research. However, letters from readers who are alcoholics (#10.2) are closed until January 1, 2060. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Nan Robertson 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.


5 linear feet ((12 file boxes) plus 4 folio+ folders, 3 oversize folders, 47 photograph folders, 2 folio photograph folders, 2 slides, 20 audiotapes, 10 videotapes)

This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nan Robertson, including correspondence, reader letters, drafts, photographs, audiovisual materials, and clippings. Although the processor created the arrangement, where possible, original folder titles have been maintained and appear in quotation marks; the remaining folder titles were created by the processor. The papers are arranged in four series.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1944-2004 (#1.1-3.8, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1), contains biographical information and personal correspondence.

Subseries A, Biographical, 1945-2004 (#1.1-2.15, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1), contains awards and honors (including the Pulitzer Prize announcement); identification (passports, press passes); interviews and profiles; materials relating to her second and third marriages; papers regarding her unpublished memoir, "Listening," and a later, self-published memoir, Looking Back, completed in 2004; and papers regarding her personal travels. Files are arranged alphabetically, and therein chronologically. For additional materials relating to the Pulitzer Prize, see also Series II, Subseries C

Subseries B, Personal correspondence, 1944-1989 (#2.16-3.8), contains letters to and from Robertson, her family, and friends. Several correspondents are of particular interest, including Pat Henline, Robertson's close friend and travel companion, whose correspondence documents the women's trip to Europe in 1948 (#3.4). There are also four folders of love letters written by Robertson to her "first love," James R. Neebe, who returned the letters to her at a Medill School of Journalism commencement ceremony in 1983 (#2.16-3.2). Also of interest are notes between Robertson and Julia Child; they dined together during Robertson's travels to France in 1984 (#3.7).

Series II, PROFESSIONAL, 1948-2000 (#3.9-12.15, F+D.4, OD.2-OD.3), contains items documenting Robertson's fifty-two-year professional career as a journalist and writer.

Subseries A, Professional correspondence, 1974, 1983-1993 (#3.9-3.14), contains correspondence with colleagues and other professional contacts. Included is a set of letters from Lady Bird Johnson regarding Robertson's 1985 visit to the Lyndon B. Johnson ranch in Texas (#3.11).

Subseries B, Published articles and related, 1948-2000 (#3.15-5.19, OD.2), contains selected articles written by Robertson for the New York Times, the Times Talk corporate newsletter, and later for the Washington Post. Because all of Robertson's New York Times articles are available electronically through the New York Times online archive, the processor selected samples from the more than 1,200 pieces Robertson wrote during her thirty-three-year career with the paper. Also included are sample by-line cases, letters from readers, notes, publicity, and subject files.

Subseries C, "Toxic Shock," 1982-1992 (#6.1-8.19, F+D.4), contains papers regarding Robertson's September 1982 article, "Toxic Shock," published in the New York Times Magazine; it received the Pulitzer Prize in April 1983. Also included are numerous letters from readers, letters from colleagues and other friends, and Robertson's responses to those letters. The material is arranged chronologically and includes letters from many notable journalists, news people, and politicians, including Arthur "Punch" Ochs Sulzberger (#7.12), Tom Brokaw (#6.10), William "Bill" Geist (#7.13), Peggy Noonan (#7.14), and David Halberstam (#8.5). For items relating to the Pulitzer Prize announcement, see #OD.1, #1.13.

Subseries D, Books, 1983-1995 (#9.1-12.15, OD.3), contains correspondence, drafts, publicity, and other supporting materials for Robertson's two full-length books: Getting Better: Inside Alcoholics Anonymous (1988), and The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times (1992). Materials are arranged alphabetically and include book proposals; book tour itineraries and notes; correspondence between Robertson and her editors and publishers; legal materials regarding disputes with Alcoholics Anonymous and concerns about Robertson's publishers; letters from readers; drafts with annotations from Robertson's editor Tom Congdon; and book reviews and publicity from various newspapers and literary publications from throughout the United States.

Series III, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1920-1998 (#PD.1-PD.49), includes images of Robertson, her family, friends, homes, professional activities, social functions, and travels. Photographs are arranged alphabetically by subject and include images of Robertson's parents and grandparents in the 1920s and 1940s (#PD.1-PD.2, PD.4-PD.5); Robertson as a baby (#PD.2); Robertson's husbands (#PD.6-PD.7, PD.11-PD.12); and friends, including Pat (Henline) Novak (#PD.16, PD.21). Of particular interest are images showing Robertson's recovery from toxic shock syndrome. Captured by a People Weekly photographer to accompany an article regarding Robertson's illness (December 13, 1982), images show her struggling in physical therapy; her damaged hand in a brace; and recovered at home with her cats. Also of interest are portraits of Robertson poolside (#PD.25); riding a motor bike in New York City in 1976 (#PD.28f); and drinking with a friend on Chicago Beach, ca.1941(#PD.13).

Series IV, AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS, 1982-1992 (#T-283.1 - T-283.20, Vt-102.1 - Vt-102.10), contains audiocassettes and videotapes arranged in two subseries by format, beginning with audiocassettes.

Subseries A, Audiocasettes, 1982-1992 (#T-283.1 - T-283.20), includes interviews with Robertson following publication of "Toxic Shock," Getting Better, and The Girls in the Balcony; journalists Diane Rehm and Dan Rather were among the interviewers.

Subseries B, Videotapes, 1988-1992 (#Vt-102.1 - Vt-102.10), includes interviews with Robertson following publication of "Toxic Shock," Getting Better, and The Girls in the Balcony. Also included are a selection of Robertson's lectures and a promotional video for The Girls in the Balcony. All videotapes are VHS unless otherwise noted.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Nan Robertson was born Nancy Robertson on July 11, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, to Frank and Eva (Morrish) Robertson. She had one older sister, Jane, born in 1923. Robertson attended Northwestern University and earned a bachelor of science degree from the Medill School of Journalism in 1948. Following graduation, she moved to Paris and then Germany, and worked as a copy-editor and reporter with Stars & Stripes, covering post-war occupation and reconstruction efforts. In 1950, she married Allyn Baum (1924-1997), a college friend who was also living and working in Germany as a news photographer. The two were divorced by 1960.

While in Europe, Robertson worked for a number of American newspapers, including the Milwaukee Journal, the New York Herald Tribune (Paris edition), and the American Daily (London), before moving to the New York Times in 1955. Although hired as a women's news reporter, Robertson soon became a general assignments correspondent, covering culture, politics and government, and daily news in New York, Washington, and Paris. While working in the city room in New York, Robertson befriended Stanley Levey (1914-1971), a mentor and labor reporter for the New York Times who Robertson later described as her "greatest love." The two married in 1961, but Levey died of a sudden heart attack in 1971. After his death, Robertson remained close to Levey's son, Robert, and daughter-in-law, Jane (Freundel) Levey, who helped care for her into older age.

In 1983, Robertson won the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for Toxic Shock, a New York Times Magazine account of her own nearly fatal struggle with toxic shock syndrome. Although Robertson lost the tips of eight fingers from the disease, she continued to write for the New York Times until she retired from the paper in 1988. That same year, she published her first full-length book, entitled Getting Better: Inside Alcoholics Anonymous. The book examines AA and describes Robertson's personal struggle with alcoholism. She later wrote The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times, published in 1992. That book chronicled the fight for workplace parity by female employees of the New York Times. In 1994, Robertson accepted a visiting professorship at the Journalism School at the University of Maryland before fully retiring in 1999. That same year, she married William "Bill" Warfield Ross (1926-2006), who she described as her "late blooming love." The two traveled around the world together in 2000, and Robertson wrote about the adventure in a special piece for the Washington Post entitled, Delivering the Goods. Robertson died of cirrhosis in Rockville, Maryland, on October 13, 2009.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1944-2004 (#1.1-3.8, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1948-2000 (#3.9-12.15, F+D.4, OD.2-OD.3)
  3. Series III. Photographs, 1920-1998 (#PD.1-PD.49)
  4. Series IV. Audiovisual materials, 1982-1992 (#T-283.1 - T-283.20, Vt-102.1 - Vt-102.10)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 99-M24, 99-M29, 99-M39, 2000-M181, 2006-M143

The papers of Nan Robertson were given to the Schlesinger Library by Nan Robertson between 1999 and 2006.

Processing Information

Processed: October 2009

By: Mary O. Murphy

Robertson, Nan. Papers of Nan Robertson, 1920-2004: 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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