The Interior Lives of Women

March 26, 2018

The thing I love most about working in Archives and Special Collections is the opportunity I get to glimpse into the lives of individuals and get a sense of their thoughts and feelings. I’m particularly interested in learning about the interior lives of women, especially as women are often underrepresented in the archival record, including in Stanford’s own collections. I did a (very rough, very inexact) examination of about 2300 collections held by Stanford’s Manuscripts Division, looking specifically at collections 1 box or more. Looking only at collections centered around a particular individual or family, the rough math worked out to about 72% of collections centered on men, 22% centered on women, and 6% centered on families. Again, these numbers aren’t exact, but the collections are undoubtedly dominated by men.

With that said, I’d like to highlight some moments from the lives three women represented in our collections: Edith M. Garretson Davies, Nellie Kono, and Marilyn Lyttle.

Edith M. Garretson Davies, Collection M2276 - Edith M. Garretson Davies personal archive, 1933-1966

The first, Edith M. Garretson Davies, took a number of cross country car trips in the 1930s with her husband Emlyn "Em" Davies. Stanford holds her travel diaries, trip expense booklets, and address books with notes on European hotels and restaurants. Among the descriptions of the landscape and road conditions, what Edith and Em ate for dinner that night, and how much the campsites cost are glimpses into an unhappy marriage.

On one trip she writes, “Em resorted to his habit of insulting and filthy swearing. I sat out on the road bank after he pushed me out of my seat after 5 miles driving on an open highway. [...] While sitting on the road he slept in the driving seat, probably needed it. What fools women are to marry when they have more unmarried [...]” And on another day she notes, "We quarrelled, I nervous over Em driving. Em was a bad driver, having driven only 2 or 3 months. He began swearing. I left the car, walked to White Plains Station, took train home." She reveals that she considers herself to be of a higher class than her husband, whose family is made up of “servants and shopkeepers.” As far as I can tell, the two never divorced, and one wonders if Edith ever found happiness in her marriage as time went by.

Page from Edith's diary

Nellie Natsu Kono, Collection M2275 - Kono family personal archives, 1928-1945

Nellie Natsu Kono (née Tanabe), was a Japanese-American woman born in California, married to Heitaro Kono. Stanford holds the Kono family papers, including Nellie’s diaries from 1939-1940, kept while the family lived in New York. Her entries are brief, often only a single line like “Got up at 9,” but they can often be heartbreaking. On June 27, 1939, she writes, “[...] When I came home 5:30, started having pain. Left home 6 and around 7, had a baby boy. 7 ½ lbs. Named him Satoru.” Just over a year later, on July 2, 1940, she writes “Satoru was fine all day, but when I put him to bed, he fell off the bed and was gone at 11:15 p.m. Lost our beloved boy Satoru.” This very short entry about the death of her son is devastating; I nearly cried when I first read it as I was cataloging the collection.

Page from Nellie Kono's diary

Marilyn Lyttle, Collection M2323 - Marilyn Lyttle correspondence, 1953-1955

Marilyn Lyttle was married to a U.S. Navy Intelligence officer, Raymond W. Lyttle. Raymond’s work led the Lyttles to live in Japan in the 1950s with their three children, Ronnie, Birt, and Linda. Stanford holds correspondence sent by her back to her family in the United States. Much of Marilyn’s writing is about her children and their personalities, her husband’s work, and her day-to-day life in Japan, but Marilyn also writes about her own hobbies. In one letter she writes about a bowling league she was in: “Ah yes, our team sort of collapsed in bowling. It’s just to [sic] hot. Besides we were so far behind we didn’t have a chance for anything but booby prize. We’ll probably start again in September cause it’s lots of fun.” Other letters reveal that she’s taken painting classes and flower-arranging classes as well, finding enjoyment in her life abroad, though she often mentions wanting to return to the United States.

Page from a Marilyn Lyttle letter


 I hope these small glimpses will encourage you to seek out more women's voices in the historical record.