Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 890

Papers of Betty Gram Swing, 1903-2013 (inclusive), 1920-1969 (bulk)

Correspondence, speeches and radio show transcripts, diaries, and family papers of suffrage activist and National Woman's Party member Betty Gram Swing.

Dates

  • 1903-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1969

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Betty Gram Swing is held by Elizabeth, Pam, and Bradford Swing during their lifetimes. Upon the death of the last surviving donor, copyright will transfer to 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.

Extent

13.38 linear feet ((26 + 1/2 file boxes, 1 folio box, 1 folio+ box) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 1 supersize folder, 11 photograph folders)

412 Megabytes (1 file)

The papers of Betty Gram Swing document her involvement with United States and international organizations working for women's suffrage and equal rights for women in the first half of the twentieth century. Correspondence, speeches, clippings, and printed material show Swing's work with the National Woman's Party, first as a "suffrage picket" who served jail time in 1917, and later as an advocate for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Material documenting Gram Swing's work with international women's groups, such as the Six Point Group, the Inter-American Commission of Women, the World Woman's Party, and the League of Nations Consultative Committee on Nationality, shows the tight social circles of international women's rights activists, as well as the connections between national and international campaigns. Swing's years living in Europe and her connection with international feminists led her to get involved in campaigns during and after World War II to aid and house war refugees, particularly children.

The collection is primarily correspondence, both personal and professional. It also contains Gram Swing's notes for speeches, collected pamphlets and flyers, clippings, meeting minutes, press releases, and other organizational documents. A very few letters date from 1917 to 1920 when Gram Swing was actively involved in working to pass the 19th amendment. Family papers, primarily Betty Gram Swing's correspondence with her three children, are also included. Betty Gram Swing's correspondence with her daughter Sally is especially detailed.

The material donated in 2013 was primarily Betty Gram Swing's alphabetical correspondence files, kept in letter boxes, and National Woman's Party material. Other material donated in 2017 included correspondence and other material kept by Betty Gram Swing's children and grandchildren. Some of this material was organized and used by Pam Swing in her own research on Betty Gram Swing. Explanatory notes written by Sally Swing Shelley and Pam Swing can be found in folders throughout the collection. Gram Swing's original folder titles are rendered in quotation marks in the inventory; other titles were created by Pam Swing or by the archivist.

Series I, PERSONAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL, 1903-1968 (#1.1-4.8, 28 FB, 29F+B, E.1), includes Betty Gram Swing's keepsake albums; diaries; financial journal and documents; material related to her divorce from Raymond Gram Swing; notes; budgets; recipes; and documents related to her properties. Several scrapbooks document Myrtle Gram's high school and college years. A digitized copy of Swing's high school yearbook is included (#E.1); the original is not in the collection. This series does include Betty Gram Swing's notes and correspondence with lawyers Laura and Irwin Kendall (#2.6) about her divorce from Raymond Gram Swing, and about their real estate properties and financial issues; other Gram Swing family material can be found in Series V.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1919-1969 (#4.9-10.9), contains letters sent to Betty Gram Swing from a wide array of friends and professional associates: politicians, musicians, writers, artists, academics, and activists from the United States and Great Britain. Much of the correspondence dates from the late 1930s to the 1950s, when Gram Swing was living variously in Boston, Connecticut, and Vermont, and working with the National Woman's Party to advance the Equal Rights Amendment. Letters from friends in England are rich during these years, and address fears of possible war with Germany, as well as the difficult realities of life in England during World War II bombing and rationing.

Of note is correspondence with prominent National Woman's Party activists, including Alice Paul and Doris Stevens. Many of these letters describe Gram Swing's work with the National Woman's Party, the World Woman's Party, and other organizations, to secure an Equal Rights Amendment to the United States constitution and an Equal Rights Treaty at the League of Nations and then the United Nations. Most of Gram Swing's international work was in conjunction with women she met and organizations she joined while living in England in the 1920s and early 1930s; she also worked with Irish feminists on the issue of married women's right to keep their citizenship in their country of origin.

Betty Gram Swing also corresponded with a number of United States government leaders, particularly senators from Vermont and Oregon, about issues of importance to her. She was upset by Mt. Holyoke College's decision in 1937 to hire a male president, and worked with novelist Maude Meagher and others to voice opposition. She wrote to the presidents of a number of women's colleges urging each to create a class on women's history.

Personal correspondence ranges from brief postcards to long, chatty letters from friends. Letters often discuss books, politics, and music concerts attended. Some later correspondence addresses Gram Swing and others' (including her friend Rebecca Reyher) reactions to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Also included are letters from several men identified by Sally Swing Shelley as Betty Gram Swing's lovers while living in England.

Betty Gram Swing kept much of her correspondence in alphabetical files by correspondent surname; this organization has been retained, although separate folders were created by the archivist for those correspondents with significant amounts of letters. Correspondence is mainly incoming letters, with some carbon copies and handwritten drafts of Gram Swing's outgoing mail. In addition to the alphabetical files, Gram Swing kept other folders for correspondence relating to the National Woman's Party and the Inter-American Commission for Women (#13.9-13.13); these are included in Series IV. There is a great deal of overlap between the two sets of files. Family correspondence can be found in Series V.

Series III, SPEECHES AND WRITINGS, 1929-1966 (#10.10-12.7), contains notes, handwritten drafts, typed drafts, and transcripts of Betty Gram Swing's speeches, lectures, and radio shows. An early autobiography, possibly written to seek employment, describes her work teaching in Oregon, as well as details of the Gram Swing household management. Betty Gram Swing appeared on the radio throughout the 1930s and 1940s, to talk generally about the status of women and the Equal Rights Amendment, and to gain support for her international relief work during the years before and during World War II. Most of her work post-war involved speeches to National Women's Party branches and other political groups, often on the topic of the Equal Rights Amendment, sometimes telling the story of the fight for suffrage. The series also includes published tributes to and reminiscences about Betty Gram Swing's friends. In the 1950s and 1960s, Betty Gram Swing was involved in an Antiquarian Study Group, and did a great deal of research, writing, and presenting to the group on art history and prominent women. Notes, drafts, and final essays she prepared for the Group are included. The series is arranged chronologically.

Series IV, ORGANIZATIONS AND ISSUES, 1920-1969 (#12.8-17.2, FD.1, F+D.1, SD.1), contains correspondence, fliers, publicity, and other material related to the international, war relief, political, and women's rights organizations with which Betty Gram Swing worked. The bulk of the series is related to the National Woman's Party. A set of chronological correspondence files kept by Betty Gram Swing contain correspondence with leaders of the National Woman's Party and with the Inter-American Commission of Women. Other National Woman's Party files (#14.1-15.3), organized chronologically, also contain some correspondence, but that is mostly related to the Equal Rights Amendment campaign and the 1947 lawsuit between factions of the National Woman's Party leadership. These chronological files contain National Woman's Party publicity material, meeting minutes, etc. Series II also contains correspondence related to the National Woman's Party and the Inter-American Commission of Women; folders of correspondence with Alice Paul and Doris Stevens are a mix of activism-related and personal letters. General alphabetical correspondence also includes letters with National Woman's Party officers; those interested in these topics should consult both series. The series is organized alphabetically.

Series V, GRAM AND SWING FAMILY PAPERS, 1917-2001 (#17.3-27.8), contains correspondence between, and financial and legal documents of, the extended Gram and Swing families. The bulk of the series is correspondence between Betty Gram Swing and her three children. Also included is Raymond Gram Swing and the Swing children's correspondence with each other and with others. As the Swing children attended boarding schools for much of their education, their letters home to one or both parents begin at a young age and extend through college and beyond. Financial and estate documents, primarily relating to Betty Gram Swing and her sister Karen Gram Scott Allen, were kept by John Temple Swing, who acted as the family lawyer and executor. Letters between Betty Gram Swing and her sisters Karen and Alice are included, as are a few other Gram family letters, including an epistolary travelogue written by Betty to her whole family as she sailed to Europe in 1920 (#18.20). The series also includes correspondence from the extended Swing family, including several members of the family in Denmark. Also included are a few speeches given by Raymond Gram Swing.

Betty Gram Swing's letters to her children are chatty and newsy, full of descriptions of prominent people and family friends she encounters, and frequently discuss concerts attended or music heard, and books read. Letters also discuss Gram Swing's financial difficulties, and her peripatetic existence for a number of years in the late 1940s. Swing children's school reports, and letters between the Gram Swing parents and school administrators, detail the type of progressive education the Swing children received. One of the schools they attended in England, the Beacon Hill School, was founded by Bertrand and Dora Russell.

Peter Gram Swing (1922-1996) was an accomplished musician, musicologist, and conductor, who founded the music department at Swarthmore College. He attended Harvard College, although he served in the Navy in World War II in the middle of his collegiate years. His letters to Betty Gram Swing are sparse.

Sally Swing Shelley (1924-2006) attended Smith College (BA, 1945), and then worked briefly as a journalist for the Boston Globe and the Associated Press, before moving to Paris in 1946, where she become a foreign correspondent for the United Press until 1950. In September 1947, Sally met Jean Paul Sartre at the Cannes Film Festival, and they became lovers for a time. After returning to the United States, she married Italian Marcello "Cecio" Spaccarelli in 1950, and worked for Voice of America. Their son, Sidney, was born in 1954, and they divorced in 1955. In 1957, Sally Gram Shelley became Chief Information Officer for UNESCO. In 1960, she married engineer James McKibbon Shelley. In 1972 she joined the United Nations Secretariat, working as Chief of Education Information Programs, Chief of the Non-Governmental Section, and finally as Director of the Department of Public Information. Sally's letters to her mother are very frequent and extremely intimate, as are Betty's back to her. Mother and daughter frequently discuss menstrual cramps and hormonal mood shifts, sexual pleasure, and romantic relationships. During the months leading up to Betty Gram Swing's divorce from Raymond Gram Swing, Sally's letters comfort her mother and express her own distaste for Raymond Gram Swing's actions. Sally's letters home from Paris (#19.5-19.6) describe her social scene and outings in depth, and discuss her feelings for and tortured relationship with Sartre (#19.5-19.6). A few telegrams Sartre sent to Sally Swing Shelley are included here; other letters he sent her (as well as more of Sally's letters to Betty while in Paris) are held by the Morgan Library.

John Temple Swing attended Harvard College and Yale Law School (1953), and then spent a year in the Army. While stationed in Missouri, he met and married Janet Adams Gewirth. John Temple Swing practiced law in Connecticut, he then worked for the Council on Foreign Relations for many years. He organized the family finances, and was the executor of Betty's estate, as well as her sister Karen's. Most of his files on family estate matters appear to have been created at and kept at his place of employment. John Temple Swing's letters to Betty Gram Swing are most detailed during a summer trip and employment in Washington State, and when he was stationed in Missouri.

Betty Gram Swing's sister Karen Gram married physician James Foster Scott in 1940; he died in 1946. Karen Gram Scott was quite close to her nephew Peter Gram Swing and his family. Toward the end of her life, she married Tom Allen.

Raymond Gram Swing's parents Alice Mead Swing and Albert Temple Swing are represented by memorial programs. Letters sent to Raymond Gram Swing from the Swing children as well as from feminist friends are included, as well as several speeches by Raymond Gram Swing, mostly related to women's rights and the war effort.

Material is arranged alphabetically by family member; correspondence is filed under the name of the recipient.

Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1921-1946, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.11), includes photograph albums that document Betty Gram Swing's children and life in England in the 1920s and early 1930s. Several photographs of Gram Swing's friends and fellow suffrage and women's rights activists are also included.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

Related collections are available at the Schlesinger Library: the papers of Doris Stevens (MC 546) and Alice Paul (MC 399) hold much correspondence with Swing, and the papers of Swing's sister, Alice Gram Robinson (MC 905), include a photograph of Swing.

BIOGRAPHY

Betty Gram Swing was born Myrtle Eveline Gram on March 16, 1893, the fifth of seven children born to Danish immigrants Karen Jensen (1863-1947) and Andreas Peter Gram (1855-1922). The Gram family lived on Elm Tree Fruit Farm in Omaha, Nebraska; they moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1904. Myrtle Gram attended Jefferson High School, where she was involved in student government and her younger sister Alice was editor of the school newspaper. She enrolled at the University of Oregon in the fall of 1912, but had to leave school in the middle of her first year so she could earn money for the Gram family. She first worked as a teacher in a rural Oregon town, and the next year began a job in Portland teaching "delinquent" children in the Juvenile Court system. After three years of this difficult work, Myrtle Gram decided to move to New York City to study art and theater. It was during this transition period that she began to use the name "Betty."

In January 1917, the National Woman's Party began a sustained picketing effort in Washington, DC, to force President Wilson to support passage of the 19th amendment. Betty Gram and her sister Alice Gram, were arrested along with other National Woman's Party members on November 10, 1917, charged with obstructing traffic, and sent to the Occuquan Workhouse in Virginia. The arrested women were beaten and forced to do prison labor, and many were placed in solitary confinement; the suffrage activists began an eight-day hunger strike. The Gram sisters and 22 others were released after 17 days in jail.

After her release from prison, Betty Gram remained heavily involved in the National Woman's Party's radical suffrage activism. She worked as the advertising manager of the Party newspaper, the Suffragist, and later became a paid national organizer. She burned President Wilson's speeches in front of the White House in January 1919, and was arrested and jailed in Boston on February 24, 1919, for picketing President Wilson while he was visiting that city. She engaged in another five-day hunger strike while in Boston's Charles Street jail. After the 19th amendment was passed by Congress in June 1919, Betty Gram continued to travel across the United States for the National Woman's Party, campaigning to get individual states to ratify the Amendment. She managed a very close, but ultimately successful, ratification campaign in New Jersey. Most crucially to the process, she worked on the campaign in Tennessee, which was the final state vote needed for the amendment to be ratified.

After ratification was achieved in August 1920, Betty Gram moved to Berlin to study voice. She met and married journalist Raymond Swing in 1921; at marriage each took the other's name, so they became Betty Gram Swing and Raymond Gram Swing. The Gram Swings moved to England, where their three children were born: Peter Gram Swing (1922-1996), Sally Gram Swing (later Shelley) (1924-2006), and John Temple Swing (1929-2013). Raymond Gram Swing was head of the Wall Street Journal's European staff, and later ran the New York Evening Post's London bureau. Betty Gram Swing continued to be politically active for women's rights, making alliances with British feminists, and serving on the Executive Council of the Six Point Group, which worked for women's labor and political equality.

In 1934 the Gram Swing family returned to the United States, first settling in Washington, DC. While living there, Betty Gram Swing served on the National Council of the National Woman's Party, and was involved in work with Doris Stevens and the Inter-American Commission of Women. As Chairman of the National Woman's Party's Ways and Means Committee, she lobbied Congress on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. In the late 1930s, Gram Swing organized a yearly "Pickets Dinner" to gather the group of National Woman's Party activists who had been involved in the suffrage picketing campaigns.

The Gram Swing family later lived in Westport, Connecticut, and had a second home in Newfane, Vermont. Betty Gram Swing joined the Boston Women's City Club in 1943, and was politically active in both Massachusetts and Vermont, working for the National Woman's Party (including as the Northeast Regional Chairwoman) for years, and also on behalf of English and Chinese refugee children during and after World War II. At the First General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946, Betty Gram Swing and Lady Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence successfully lobbied for establishment of a United Nations sub-commission on the status of women, which later became a full commission. Gram Swing considered this her most important achievement after suffrage. The Gram Swing children mainly attended boarding schools; in the United States they attended the progressive Putney School, which was close to their Vermont home. Both sons attended Harvard College, and Sally attended Smith College. Betty Gram Swing and Raymond Gram Swing divorced in 1944. Betty Gram Swing died on September 1, 1969, in Norwalk, Connecticut.

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged in six series:
  1. Series I. Personal and biographical, 1903-1968 (#1.1-4.8, 28 FB, 29F+B, E.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1919-1969 (#4.9-10.9)
  3. Series III. Speeches and writings, 1929-1966 (#10.10-12.7)
  4. Series IV. Organizations and issues, 1920-1969 (#12.8-17.2, FD.1, F+D.1, SD.1)
  5. Series V. Gram and Swing family papers, 1917-2013 (#17.3-27.8)
  6. Series VI. Photographs, 1921-1946, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.11)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2013-M218, 2017-M125

The papers of Betty Gram Swing were given to the Schlesinger Library in December 2013 by her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Sherman Swing and her grandchildren Pam Sherman Swing and Bradford Gram Swing; and in June 2017 by Pam Sherman Swing.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Alice Gram Robinson Papers (MC 905).

SEPARATION RECORD

Donors: Elizabeth, Pam, and Bradford Swing

Accession number: 2013-M218

Processed by: Jenny Gotwals

The following periodicals have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Books Department:
  1. Equal Rights, 1932-1953
  2. International Women's News, 1946

Processing Information

Processed: February 2018

By: Jenny Gotwals, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.
Link to catalog
Title
Swing, Betty Gram, 1893-1969. Papers of Betty Gram Swing, 1903-2013 (inclusive), 1920-1969 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Sponsor
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Alice Jeannette Ward Fund.
EAD ID
sch01542

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.

Contact:
3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-8647