The Dorothy Burr Thompson papers consist of the personal papers of Dorothy Burr Thompson (Ph.D. 1931), a classicist interested in Greek terracotta. The collection, which ranges from 1912-1991, consists of diaries, correspondence, and professional papers.
The collection is divided into three series: “Series I: Diaries, 1912- 1969,” “Series II: Personal Correspondence, 1921-1975,” and “Series III: Professional Papers.”
“Series I: Diaries, 1912-1969” is made up of 46 diaries, beginning in 1912 and ending in 1969. The diaries largely contain descriptions of her personal life, records of her daily activities, and descriptions of her travels. Throughout the course of her life, Dorothy Burr Thompson kept a diary. Though the length and regularity of her entries varies, she rarely fails to account for any period of time longer than several months. Burr Thompson’s short but regular diary entries from the years 1912 – 1914 discuss her relationships with her friends and family, her experiences at school, and chronicle her trips. She often supplements her entries with postcards, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, and her own drawings. In the year 1914, at age 13, she writes about the Grand Tour of Europe that she undertook with her family. While abroad, she observes the beginning of WWI. At one moment during her trip from Geneva to Paris she remembers “realizing that I was really in the European war. It was a strange feeling.” In her diaries from her teenage and college years Burr Thompson’s lengthy entries are largely preoccupied her struggle to discover her “genius” and the forge relationships with those around her. She writes of her desire to attain, “worth in the world – the feeling that you have done something in the way of use or beauty or help, that you will not be forgotten – that is my youthful ambition.” In her diaries from 1919 – 1923, concerning her time at Bryn Mawr, she describes her adjustment to college life. She struggles with choosing between the study of literature, writing, mathematics, and acting and describes her developing interest in archaeology. Burr Thompson’s post-college diaries begin with an account of her two years at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (1923 – 1925). Her entries are more frequent, but shorter, than those in her previous diaries, though their preoccupations remain the same. She writes about excavations, Greece, and her growing love for the lifestyle of the people she observes there. In 1925 she writes that she is more absorbed in her work and her diary entries, though almost daily, are on average three sentences of disjointed thoughts or observations. In her 1926 – 1932 diaries, years in which she was writing her dissertation, her entries are longer and relate to her personal life and the progress of her work. In a diary which covers the years 1933 – 1938, she discusses her work as a fellow at the Agora excavation in Athens, the development of her relationship with Homer A. Thompson, the birth of their daughters, and their life in Toronto. A single diary contains the years 1939 – 1955. A little over half of the dairy consists of entries from the war years. Burr Thompson writes about once every month, sometimes once every two or three months, but her entries are usually extensive. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the diaries themselves are smaller. Though her entries are more frequent, they are shorter and more hurried. They deal mainly with daily occurrences, her travels, and her work, and sometimes include her agenda for a trip or list of her expenses. The last diary is from 1969. Burr Thompson’s diaries from this point forward are still with her family.
“Series II: Personal Correspondence” is largely comprised of letters from Dorothy Wyckoff. Wyckoff graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1921 with a degree in Latin and Greek. After graduating, she spent 1922-1923 as a graduate student in Latin at Bryn Mawr. She resigned from school and spent 1924 studying art in New York City at the Art Students League. She returned to Bryn Mawr in 1925 to pursue her masters in Geology from Bryn Mawr. After receiving her master in 1928, fellowships allowed her to spend two years studying at the University of Oslo. She returned to Bryn Mawr in 1930 and received her doctorate in Geology in 1932. She taught Geology at Bryn Mawr from 1933 until her retirement in 1966. During WWII, she organized training in photogrammetry and mapping and produced “terrain diagrams” for the Military Geology Unit of U.S Geological Survey, which were used to plan assault operations. About 74 of Dorothy Wyckoff’s letters to Dorothy Burr Thompson span the years 1921 – 1930. Two letters are undated, and one is from 1943. She sent daily letters from October 2, 1922 until November 6th, 1922 (20 letters total). Burr Thompson was ill and absent from school for the beginning of her senior year and Wyckoff was at Bryn Mawr as a graduate student taking a course in Latin Composition. From 1923 onward, Wyckoff writes every couple of months. Wyckoff describes her personal and intellectual life during the years following her graduation, during her time as a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, during her summers at camp in Vermont, and during the years she spent abroad in Oslo. One letter from 1943 is Wyckoff’s side of a discussion between her and Burr Thompson about teaching and the moral issue of colleges doing war work for the government. In some of her letters, Wyckoff includes snapshots of nature and drawings. Burr Thompson’s personal correspondence also includes six letters from Rhys Carpenter spanning 34 years. They are short notes, sent about once every 10 years. They mainly serve the purpose, in Carpenter’s words, of keeping each other “au courant,” though they are not extremely personal or detailed. The letters sometimes mention matters related to Burr Thompson’s work, her husband’s work, or Carpenter’s own work. Occasionally Carpenter includes a quotation in Greek. More of his letters can be found in the professional correspondence section. Additionally, her correspondence includes one letter from M. Carey Thomas. The letter was written in 1926 and deals with a controversy at the American School of Classical Studies. The personal correspondence section also includes a folder of five photographs of Burr Thompson, four of which were taken from her diaries. The folder contains two portraits, one at her wedding, a photo of Burr Thompson at with her newborn daughters, a photo from her time in Athens, and a portrait of the staff of the Agora excavations.
“Series III: Professional Papers” contain Dorothy Burr Thompson’s professional papers from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Boxes 5-9 are comprised of professional correspondences grouped by correspondent or subject matter, as well as research and lecture notes. They are, for the most part, arranged in the same order they came in or loosely according to subject. They are not arranged according to year. Most of the materials are in English, but there are a few letters in Greek, German, and French. Box 10 contains folders of mainly research related images of terracottas. Additionally, it includes several folders of photos, postcards, and Christmas cards from desk. Box 11 contains binders of research notes arranged by subject or by country. Box 12 houses a number of binders of notes for classes she taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, and Columbia. Other binders in box 12 include transcripts of lectures, papers and catalogues by others. Box 13 contains a series of tag photos of faience and an envelope of research related photos, negatives and slides from Burr Thompson’s desk.
Burr Thompson’s diaries and correspondence provide an extensive, intimate view into Burr Thompson’s student life, travels, archaeological work, and personal relationships. Her professional papers provide insight into her research and academic work. This collection is an invaluable resource, not only for those interested in Burr Thompson’s research on ancient terracotta art, but also for the way in which it illuminates her personal life, her experiences, and her opinions on many of the critical historical events of the twentieth century.