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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 679: T-433: Vt-222

Papers of Ruth Whitman, 1930-1998 (inclusive), 1940-1996 (bulk)


Correspondence; diaries; drafts, translations, and published writings; research notes; course materials; audiovisual tapes of readings; and other personal and professional papers of Ruth Whitman, poet, translator, professor, and feminist.


  • Creation: 1930-1998
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1940-1996


Language of Materials

Materials in English. Some materials in Yiddish, Hebrew, Greek.

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 Ruth Whitman 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.


13.55 linear feet ((32 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 5 folio folders, 4 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 11 photograph folders, 63 audiotapes, 3 videotapes, and electronic records.)
6.34 Megabytes (4 files)

The papers of poet and instructor Ruth Whitman include diaries; drafts, published and unpublished poems and writings; personal and professional correspondence; syllabi, course lists, planning notes and other teaching materials; publicity about poetry readings and appearances; clippings and reviews documenting Whitman's life and works; photographs; and a number of audiovisual recordings of Whitman's poetry readings. The collection includes correspondence by and about poet Eve Merriam, as, per Merriam's request, Whitman oversaw the publication of Merriam's book, Embracing the Dark, following Merriam's illness. The majority of audio recordings are on cassette tapes. Folder arrangement was created by the archivist. Folder and audiovisual titles appearing in quotation marks were created by Whitman.

Electronic records were received in 28 5.25" disks. Disks were imaged using FTK imager. Selected data has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL, PERSONAL, AND CORRESPONDENCE, 1936-1998 (#1.1-10.11, PD.1, T-433.1 - T-433.5, E.1-E.2), includes contacts; clippings; correspondence; diaries; interviews; journals; medical information; notebooks; travel itineraries; some biographical material about Morton Sacks, Whitman's third husband, and scant information about her children. It is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1936-1997 (#1.1-4.13, PD.1, T-433.1 - T-433.5, E.1), contains clippings, biographical sketches, interviews, personal and professional contacts, awards, resumes, health and education information, and diaries. Most diaries chronicle the relationships Whitman had with her parents, her three husbands and her children; they discuss in great detail the death of her parents, her intense and conflicted relationship with Morton Sacks (whom she called Moon). They also document her declining health and struggle with leukemia and well as her estrangement from her children. Some diaries include copious notes on traveling, detailed recollections of dreams, ideas and drafts of poems, and research notes. Audiotapes of interviews with Whitman broadcast on local public or university radio stations are also found in this subseries. The subseries is arranged alphabetically. Folder titles appearing in quotation marks were created by Whitman.

Subseries B, Correspondence, 1936-1998 (#4.14-10.11, E.2), contains letters of both a personal and professional nature. Much of the correspondence regards Whitman's writing, and includes commentary by friends and professional contacts; acceptance and rejection letters; poetry received from other poets; requests for appearances at conferences, book signings, and other events; fan letters, etc. Of particular note is her correspondence with fellow poets T. Carmi, Peter Denzer, Robert Friend, and Edmund Pennant, which often include personal anecdotes along with drafts of poems. A close friend of writer Eve Merriam, Whitman handled correspondence regarding the publication of Merriam's book, Embracing the Dark, when Merriam became ill (#6.5-6.6). Other correspondents of note include fellow poets Rosellen Brown, Jacob Glatstein, Edwin Honig, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and May Sarton. Additional correspondence with the same authors is located throughout the collection. See Series II, which contains correspondence regarding specific volumes of poetry, translations, and other writing, and Series III, which includes correspondence from university administration (and, to a lesser degree, students) as well as invitations and itineraries for various readings, lectures, and appearances. The collection contains scant correspondence with family; see (#11.8) for correspondence between Whitman and her daughters' attorneys. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent followed by primarily professional correspondence arranged chronologically.

Series II. POETRY, WRITINGS, AND RELATED, 1930-1998 (#10.12-29.7. PD.2-PD.6, T-433.6 - T-433.28, Vt-222.1 - Vt-222.3, E.3-E.4), contains drafts, unpublished and published poems, essays, reviews, nonfiction monographs, and translations (primarily of Yiddish poetry) by Whitman. It also includes poetry notebooks; reviews about Whitman's volumes of poetry; publicity; correspondence; contracts; royalty statements; drafts of individual poems; essays, reviews, and translations written by Whitman and off-prints of the same; short stories; three editions of an anthology of Yiddish poetry edited by Whitman; and an instructional text, Becoming a Poet. In several cases, the sequence of drafts is recorded. Correspondence in this series generally regards submissions, acceptances and rejections, criticisms and praise for both published and unpublished works, and permissions to publish, etc. Titles represented in this series include some of her more prominent collections of poems: The Passion of Lizzie Borden, The Testing of Hanna Senesh, Tamsen Donner: A Woman's Journey, and To Dance Is to Live. Less well-documented are her early collections of poems, Blood and Milk Poems and The Marriage Wig. This subseries also includes some audio recordings of Whitman reading from her volumes of poetry; these tapes are primarily recordings of public readings with audiences, but some appear to be Whitman reading poems aloud, alone, as part of her editorial process (#T-433.30 - T-433.44, side 1). Of particular note is the recording of a WGBH radio show, The Women's Show, featuring Whitman reading her volume of poetry The Marriage Wig (#T-433.6), about which there is scant material in the collection. Also of note in this series are the lyrics and sheet music for "Appletree Madrigals," the lyrics for which Whitman wrote in honor of the apple tree in Radcliffe Yard which held great meaning for alumnae. Additional audiotapes (#T-433.25, T-433.27 - T-433.29) contain recordings of readings in Yiddish by Jacob Glatstein and are followed by Whitman's translation. Videotapes of theater and dance performances of Tamsen Donner: A Woman's Journey based on Whitman's poem, are also included here. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by genre or topic and thereunder by title; untitled essays and loose poems are arranged chronologically. Folder and audiovisual titles in quotation marks were created by Whitman.

Series III. TEACHING MATERIALS, LECTURES, READINGS, APPEARANCES, AND RELATED, 1960-1996 (#29.8-33.5, PD.7, T-433.29 - T-433.64), contains correspondence; posters and publicity materials regarding public poetry readings; schedules for readings and courses; notes; syllabi, lists, lectures, and other course materials; and some audiotapes of public readings (some of which were broadcast on local public or university radio stations). Whitman also recorded (on cassette tape) several sessions of a Radcliffe seminar she led, "Contemporary Women Poets" (#T-433.42 - T-433.62). These tapes feature Whitman reading poetry of featured poets as well as instructing class and leading discussion. This series also documents Whitman's instrumental role in the Poetry in Schools program. The series is arranged alphabetically according to activity: lectures and readings are arranged chronologically thereunder; teaching materials are arranged alphabetically thereunder. Folder and audiovisual titles appearing in quotation marks were created by Whitman.

Series IV. PHOTOGRAPHS AND OVERSIZED, 1963-1985 (#PD.8- PD.11, FD.1,- FD.5, F+D.1-F+D.4, OD.1), contains posters, programs, and photographs used to promote books and speaking engagements. Also included is oversized material removed from other series. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


The oldest daughter of Meyer David and Martha H. (Sherman) Bashein, Ruth (Bashein) Whitman was born on May 28, 1922, in New York City. Whitman began her prolific writing career in childhood: she wrote her first poem-a love poem-at age nine, according to the Boston Globe. That same year she published her first poem. She earned a BA in Greek and English from Radcliffe College (1944) and a MA in Classics from Harvard University (1947). While enrolled at Radcliffe, Whitman eloped with Cedric Whitman, a fellow Harvard student who became a renowned classicist and professor at Harvard. The couple had two daughters, Rachel and Leda, before their marriage ended in 1958. Shortly thereafter Whitman married Firman Houghton (1919-1985); the couple had one son, David, before getting divorced in 1964.

After publishing her first volume of poetry, Blood and Milk Poems (1963), Whitman started teaching poetry at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in 1964. Beginning in 1969, she lectured on poetry at the Radcliffe Seminars and served as a poet-in-residence at Tufts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts. Whitman published eight volumes of poetry, specializing in narrative poems written in the voices of women from the past including The Passion of Lizzie Borden (based on the nineteenth-century Fall River alleged murderer); Tamsen Donner (one of the Donner party who died in the Wasatch Mountains while traveling to California in 1864); The Testing of Hanna Senesh (based on Hanna Senesh, an Israeli parachutist who was executed after trying to rescue Hungarian Jews in 1943); and To Dance Is to Live (inspired by the life of dancer Isadora Duncan).

Whitman's volume, Hatshepsut, Speak to Me, describes the problems with sexual identity, love, work, and motherhood that she and Hatshepsut share. In the poem, Whitman converses with Hatshepsut (the only woman pharaoh in ancient Egypt) as if she were her contemporary and tries to learn how to use her strength without fear. Whitman was a founder and president of Poets Who Teach, Inc. From 1980-1995 she served as poetry editor of the Radcliffe Quarterly. She was named Radcliffe Seminars Distinguished Instructor in 1984. In 1966, she married painter Morton Sacks, whom she fondly called by his childhood nickname, "Moon." Following a long struggle with leukemia, Whitman died in Rhode Island on December 1, 1999.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical, personal, and correspondence, 1936-1998 (#1.1-10.11, PD.1, T-433.1-T-433.5, E.1-E.2)
  2. Series II. Poetry, writings, and related, 1930-1998 (#10.12-29.7, PD.2-PD.6, T-433.6-T-433.28, Vt-222.1 - Vt-222.3, E.3-E.4)
  3. Series III. Teaching materials, lectures, readings, appearances, and related, 1960-1996 (#29.8-33.5, PD.7, T-433.29-T-433.64)
  4. Series IV. Photographs and oversized, 1963-1994 (#PD.8-PD.11, FD.1,- FD.5, F+D.1-F+D.4, OD.1)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 90-M140, 91-M101, 95-M101, 2000-M131, 2002-M148, 2009-M197

The papers of Ruth Whitman were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ruth Whitman between 1986 and 1995 and by her widower, Morton Sacks, between 2000 and 2009.

Related Materials:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Eve Merriam Papers, 1840-1978 (inclusive), 1930-1978 (bulk) (78-M146--78-M151); Eve Merriam Additional papers, ca.1930-1992 (MC 650); Eve Merriam Additional papers, 1960-1984 (inclusive), 1978-1984 (bulk) (84-M79); and Eve Merriam Audiovisual collection, 1964-1992 (T-72, Vt-184)


Donors: Ruth Whitman and Morton Sacks

Accession numbers: 90-M140, 91-M101, 95-M101, 2000-M131, 2002-M148, 2009-M197

Processed by: Marilyn Morgan

The following volume of poetry has been removed from the collection: An anthology of modern Yiddish poetry: bilingual edition / selected and translated by Ruth Whitman Wayne State University Press, 1995.

Processing Information

Processed: October 2013

By: Marilyn Morgan with assistance from Emily Underwood and Samuel Bauer.

Updated and additional materials added: July 2017

By: Pablo Morales Henry

Whitman, Ruth, 1922-1999. Papers of Ruth Whitman, 1930-1998 (inclusive), 1940-1996 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Rosa Raisel Fund, the Class of 1958, and the Ardis B. James fund.

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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