The Katharine Shepard papers consist mainly of letters exchanged between Katharine Shepard and her family during her studies at Bryn Mawr College and the beginning of her professional career as an archeologist in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They also contain correspondence with close family friends.
Katharine’s letters most commonly detail her post-graduation and career travels from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. In 1935, she travelled to Britain with her parents, and in letters to her sister Peggy from this trip, she jokes about British food, their father’s mannerisms, and what it is like to be a tourist in Britain. In 1949, she returned to Europe, and writes to her mother about Italian architecture and antique sculpture in Rome, Florence, and Trivoli, and about the walks she takes through tourist sites in Scotland. In 1952, she embarked on a trip to Cuba and Central America. In these letters, she writes about the trip to Havana from Miami and the street life she finds in the Cuban capital; tropical gardens, exotic animals, and Mayan ruins, and of the people, native costume, and cuisine in the Yucatan; the American and international flavor of San Salvador; and the intersections of paganism and Christianity in Guatemala.
The bulk of Katharine’s letters are from 1930 and 1931, during her year-long study at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. The program that year was small, consisting of only 13 students, and encouraged a “hands-on” experience in the study of archaeology. As part of the program, she traveled to ruins, excavation sites, and other points of historical interest, including Delphi, Corinth (which appears as the most active dig site at the time), Olympia, and Marathon. She also traveled on her own during the program, although accompanied by friends and professors from the program; she went to Egypt over the Christmas Break, and to Crete in the spring, after classes ended. Her letters provide numerous details about each site, often including her personal impressions of the site. Classes extended beyond the traditional classroom: one class, taught by Dr. Rhys Carpenter of Bryn Mawr, met in the museum, another on the Acropolis. Katharine consistently remarks on the unique experiences she is having, being able to see, in-person, sites which she has only seen in texts before. A project on the topography of Athens lead her all around the city, and she contrasts the experience to the process for completing such a project at home. A final aspect of the program included working on an active dig, which Katharine does while in Asia Minor in June, 1931. Upon completion of the program, Katharine traveled for a few months through Europe, eventually meeting her parents in London. With a combination of family friends and classmates and professors from Athens, she traveled through Italy, to Switzerland, Munich and Nuremberg, Geneva, and finally Paris.
Because these letters are primarily to her parents, Katharine mostly discusses the specifics of everyday life in Athens. Prevalent in her letters are descriptions of meals and the types of food available, as well as descriptions of accommodations and travel conditions while travelling. She generally finds everything satisfactory, and assures her parents that she is fine. She also mentions money on a few occasions, as well as language. She is proud to note that she is picking up what she can of Greek, although it is not necessary in an English-language program, and she follows guest lectures by German-speaking archaeologists quite well. Additionally, she discusses occasionally with her sister the social situation at the school, and what life with men is like.
Dr. and Mrs. Shepard’s letters are addressed to Katharine and Peggy, and begin in the 1930’s, when they travelled to Britain. Mrs. Shepard writes in great detail about their trip to Scotland and England. Mrs. Shepard also inquires about the state of the house and other home details, and updates Peggy on Katharine’s travels in Switzerland, Munich, and Paris. Dr. Shepard writes many letters describing the sights, especially the cathedrals. In the 1940’s, Mrs. Shepard began to use a typewriter and writes to her two daughters about the social circles of Connecticut.
Alice and Peggy’s letters primarily deal with life at school, although Peggy’s continue after her school years to discuss everyday household activities, and later, married life. In the 1920’s Peggy’s letters home from school discuss her life there, her teachers, and her courses. In this period, Alice writes often to Peggy, detailing life at home in New York and its differences with Peggy away at school. Alice’s letters are cut off by her sudden death at age 16, in 1923. In the 1930’s, Peggy primarily writes about life on the farm in Connecticut and about the horses. Peggy describes her new home in Hartford in the 1940’s, and in the 1950’s, she describes married life with her husband, horses, and dogs.
Also present in the collection are letters from family friends. Leonard and Ethel Hodgson were close to the Shepards, and they write to Dr. and Mrs. Shepard often from their homes in Essex, New York, and various cities around England. From Ethel Hodgson come long letters detailing the travels she and Leonard embark upon, summer vacations, book recommendations, and life in England following the couple’s move there. From Leonard Hodgson are shorter invitations to England and a hope to sightsee together.
J.H. Morgan was acquainted with the family through the General Theological Seminary, where he worked with Dr. Shepard. He corresponds primarily with Mrs. Shepard from New York City and Chicago. His letters are highly religious, often speak of Dr. Shepard, and are highly empathetic; J.H. Morgan and Mrs. Shepard shared with each other the grief felt due to the loss of a loved one-- his wife and her daughter, Alice.
Rev. Frank North was another close family friend from the General Theological Seminary, who wrote both to Mrs. Shepard and to Katharine, but the majority of his correspondence is directed to Katharine. In the letters to Katharine, he describes his graduate studies and life at his parish on Long Island, New York, while trying continuously to arrange a get-together in New York or Chicago once she has moved to Washington, D.C.