The Zelma Corning Brandt papers consist of correspondence, notes, writings, and diaries, in addition to miscellaneous photographs, publications, and other reports. The material dates from 1906-1989, although the vast majority dates from 1960-1989. Brandt’s correspondence forms the bulk of the collection, with letters primarily exchanged between friends, political leaders, and other contacts from around the world. Because of her meticulous record keeping, Brandt’s correspondence is remarkably complete; she kept carbon copies of her sent letters, in addition to all those received, so the record is two-dimensional. Her longevity allowed her correspondence to cover a range of periods, thus creating a full narrative that traces the development of international and domestic affairs.
Brandt maintained core groups of friends in India, Ghana, England, Romania, Mexico, and the American Southwest, in addition to smaller pockets in Hungary, Chile, Egypt, France, Italy, China, and many other countries. Letters from these correspondents are often familiar, addressing daily events and sharing personal anecdotes; however, these letters also cover an ongoing discourse on national development, possible routes towards modernization, effectiveness of the government, etc., especially from her contacts in India and Africa.
Due to Brandt’s social activism, the collection also contains nearly three boxes of organization-specific correspondence. Approximately half of this material relates to financial appeals, which Brandt nearly always responded to personally. The other half records Brandt’s personal correspondence with organization leadership, especially in the case of American Indian affairs, women’s groups, and the Gray Panthers. Through these letters, Brandt is seen devoutly organizing and advocating for these different groups in countless small but significant ways.
As a prolific traveler, Brandt’s papers also include detailed, if hard to decipher, travel notes. The collection contains many copies of her official reports for the United Nations, but her travel notes extend beyond the auspices of the UN and primarily serve as her own personal reflections. Diaries from her early childhood forecast Brandt’s future role as a world traveler and observer.
Apart from her letter writing, Brandt also wrote privately, and the collection contains childhood diaries in addition to her later travel notebooks, poems (written in English, German, and French), and short stories. Often, she would write her thoughts on scraps of papers, seemingly to digest a situation with more clarity. These personal reflections compliment Brandt’s travel observations and organizational aspirations by further developing the strong-willed, generous spirit exhibited by those other writings
In addition, the Zelma Corning Brandt papers also contain travel photographs and photographs of family and friends, and publications and reports from various organizations.