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Katharine Sergeant White papers

Identifier: BMC-M56

Scope and Contents

The Katharine Sergeant White Papers contain the papers of Katherine S. White, Bryn Mawr class of 1914, first fiction editor of the New Yorker, and wife of E.B. White. The collection, which ranges from 1928 to 1977 (with the bulk of the materials coming from 1945-1977), consists of correspondence and other materials which document White's career at The New Yorker (as well as the history of the magazine) and her retirement years in Maine.

The collection is organized into two series: “Series I: Correspondence” and “Series II: Other Materials.”

“Series I: Correspondence” is organized into four subseries: “The New Yorker Correspondence,” “Garden Correspondence,” “Personal Correspondence,” and the “Linda H. Davis Correspondence.” The first of these subseries, “The New Yorker Correspondence,” contains Katherine White’s incoming and outgoing correspondence with contributors, editors, and staff writers for the New Yorker. It is organized alphabetically by correspondent. This subseries documents nearly 50 years of her personal and professional relationships with E. B. White (her husband), William Maxwell, James Thurber, Harold Ross, Vladimir Nabokov, Ogden Nash, John Updike, Marianne Moore, Jean Stafford, May Sarton, Clarence Day, Elizabeth Bishop, Janet Flanner, and John Cheever, and many others. The letters within this collection reveal the writers: family life, work in progress, illnesses, luncheon dates, friends met, travels, and holidays enjoyed, and add up to a unique history of The New Yorker, as well as a superb record of White’s own career. Her correspondence with the writers whose work she edited shows her as a nurturing and maternal friend, not merely critic and editor. The second subseries, “Garden Correspondence,” relates primarily to White’s gardening series, Onward and Upward in the Garden, which appeared occasionally in The New Yorker between 1958-1970, after she had retired as an editor. This correspondence is organized by date and comprises letters White received from hundreds of readers responding to Onward and Upward articles, many of whom received a personal response. As such, the subseries contains both incoming letters and carbon copies of many of White’s responses. These letters document white’s passion for gardening, including correspondence with gardening supply stores, seeking seeds and gardening supplies of all sorts for her gardens at her Maine home. These letters preserve the latest period of White’s life and provide a detailed glimpse into her retirement years in North Brooklin, Maine. The third subseries, “Personal Correspondence,” has been divided into “Callie Angell Correspondence,” “E.B. White Correspondence,” “Charles S. Sergeant Correspondence,” and “Bryn Mawr College Correspondence.” Callie Angell was White’s granddaughter, and their correspondence provides insight into White, the grandmother, rather than White, the New Yorker editor. “E.B. White Correspondence” consists of a large number of letters between White and her second husband, E.B. This group of correspondence represents only a small portion of the private correspondence between K.S. and E.B. Most of their private correspondence is in the E.B. White Collection at Cornell University. “Charles S. Sergeant Correspondence” consists of a few letters written by Katharine Sergeant to her father, Charles S. Sergeant Esq. during her undergraduate years at Bryn Mawr College (1910-1914). These letters paint the portrait of a studious young woman, already passionate about writing, especially poetry, and seeking intellectual and creative challenges. The letters in this group are organized chronologically. “Bryn Mawr College Correspondence” comprises a relatively large group of letters from various people associated with Bryn Mawr College. White was devoted to her alma mater, and she frequently communicated with the Alumnae Association, the Friends of the Library, and the Marianne Moore Fund, to each of which she contributed financially. The Bryn Mawr College Correspondence also contains the extensive correspondence between herself and the library staff of Canaday Library, which documents the gift of her correspondence and papers to Bryn Mawr College. All of the letters in “Personal Correspondence” have been organized chronologically. “Linda H. Davis Correspondence” contains the correspondence of Linda H. Davis, author of Onward and Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White. The letters in this subseries are further divided between Davis’ correspondence with E.B. White, Katherine S. White’s husband and noted author. These letters are in response to Davis’ inquiries and span a period of seven years, from 1977 (the year Katherine S. White died) to 1984. These letters are organized chronologically. “Linda H. Correspondence” further contains Davis’ correspondence with prominent New Yorker writers and staff that had a close relationship with White. The letters have been arranged alphabetically by correspondent’s last name. Among these correspondents are John Cheever, sometimes called the “Chekhov of the suburbs”; Nadine Gordimer, South African writer and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature; Pauline Kael, New Yorker film critic; Mary McCarthy, writer and political activist; Joseph Mitchell, best known for his portrait of homeless man Joe Gould; and Mollie Panter-Downes, an English novelist and New Yorker columnist. Also notable are Elizabeth Lawrence, a fan of Katharine White’s New Yorker gardening column who began a correspondence with White which spanned 150 letters; and Vera Nabokov, wife, editor, and translator of writer Vladimir Nabokov. “Series II: Other Materials” is arranged into four subseries: “Writings by Katharine Sergeant White,” “Miscellaneous Garden Materials,” “The New Yorker Photographs & Drawings,” and “Miscellaneous New Yorker Materials.” The first of these subseries, “Writings by Katharine Sergeant White,” contains mostly materials related to White’s New Yorker column, Onward and Upward in the Garden. It also contains an original, incomplete manuscript containing unpublished short stories and lists of personal books to be donated to Bryn Mawr. “Miscellaneous Garden Materials” contains various reference materials on gardening topics collected and used by Katherine White while researching for and preparing her Onward and Upward in the Garden pieces. The subseries includes newspaper clippings, photographs, pamphlets, garden catalogs, and printed articles. “The New Yorker Photographs & Drawings” contains photographs of New Yorker writers and staff, John Cheever, Marianne Moore, Vladimir Nabokov, James Thurber, and E.B. White. This subseries also contains original artwork by New Yorker artists, including several cartoons referring to Bryn Mawr College, including one by James Thurber, and an original wash drawing caricature of Katherine S. White by Peter Arno. “Miscellaneous New Yorker Materials” contains various materials related to White’s time at the New Yorker, including editorial department internal memos, clippings and reviews, and obituaries of writers, contributors, and staff of The New Yorker.

Katherine Sergeant White began working at The New Yorker in 1925, shortly after the magazine’s inception. She became the magazine’s first fiction editor and was a crucial figure in creating and shaping the style and content of the magazine. This collection highlights her career at The New Yorker, illuminating her close relationships with many of the literary geniuses of the day. It provides insight into White’s prowess as an editor, but also illuminates her abilities as a talented writer. The Linda H. Davis correspondence portion of the collection offers further detail to White’s life story, from the perspective of her husband and many close colleagues. This collection would be of value to anyone interested in Katherine Sergeant White, The New Yorker, Onward and Upward in the Garden, E.B. White, etc.


  • Creation: 1928 - 1977
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1945 - 1977


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Katharine Sergeant White papers are the physical property of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.

Biographical / Historical

Katharine Sergeant White was the first fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine and one of the most important figures of the twentieth-century American literary world. Katharine Sergeant was born in Winchester, Massachusetts in 1892, the youngest of Bessie and Charles Spencer Sergeant's three daughters. In 1914, White graduated from Bryn Mawr College, where one of her older sisters, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, had received a degree in 1903. She married her first husband, Ernest Angell in 1915, and with him she had two children, Nancy and Roger. Katharine and Ernest were divorced in 1929, and in the same year Katharine married her second husband, New Yorker staff writer E. B. White (author of Charlottes' Web and co-author of Elements of Style).

White's career at The New Yorker began in 1925, when she was hired as a part-time reader of manuscripts for the then-fledgling magazine. Six months later, she was promoted to editor of the Fiction Department, a position she held until her retirement in 1961. As the first fiction editor of the magazine, White not only exerted an unparalleled influence on the course of the development of the magazine, but on contemporary American literature itself. Katharine Sergeant White has been credited with "discovering" many of the great writers of the century, such as John O'Hara and Vladimir Nabokov. She was also an ardent sponsor and promoter of the work of new writers, among them Mary McCarthy, John Cheever, John Updike, Irwin Shaw, Ogden Nash, Theodore Roethke, and Shirley Hazzard.

White died in 1977 at the age of 84.


20 linear ft.

Language of Materials



Katharine Sergeant White, the first fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine, was born in Winchester, Massachusetts in 1892. In 1914, White graduated from Bryn Mawr College. She married her first husband, Ernest Angell in 1915, and with him she had two children, Nancy and Roger. After a divorce in 1929, Katharine married her second husband, New Yorker staff writer E. B. White. White's career at The New Yorker began in 1925 and continued until her retirement in 1961. As the first fiction editor of the magazine, White not only exerted an unparalleled influence on the course of the development of the magazine, but on contemporary American literature itself. This collection documents White's career at The New Yorker, the history of the magazine, and her retirement years in Maine, primarily through correspondence, her writings, and other materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Katharine Sergeant White. Linda H. Davis Correspondence donated by Linda Davis.

Katherine Sergeant White papers
Miriam Specter, Isabella Bartenstein, Melissa Torquato, Cassidy Gruber Baruth
2006 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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