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Janet Speakman Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG5-353

Scope and Contents

The collection largely contains correspondence of Janet Speakman, a lifelong member of Swarthmore Monthly Meeting. The significant correpondence dates between 1922-1939 when she worked in civilian relief in France and Russia and later traveled through pre World War II Europe.


  • Creation: ca. 1918-1971

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Friends Historical Library believes all of the items in this collection to be in the Public Domain in the United States, and is not aware of any restrictions on their use. However, the user is responsible for making a final determination of copyright status before reproducing. See

Biographical / Historical

Janet Speakman (1895-1971) was the daughter of William William Speakman (1865-1930), a prominent Philadelphia ophthalmologist, and Anna Travilla Speakman (1866-1945), an active member and acknowledged minister in the Society of Friends. William and Anna Speakman were married in 1890 and lived in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and Buck Hill Falls; they were among the founders of the Buck Hill Falls development in the Poconos. They sold their home in Swarthmore in 1918 and moved to Philadelphia.

Anna Travilla Speakman was the daughter of Jonathan Travilla, a Chester County farmer and merchant, and Martha Ellison Newport, a Quaker minister. Martha's sister, Mary Travilla (1860-1947), also was an acknowledged minister and lived in Buck Hill Falls and Pasadena, California. She died in the Hickman Home in Nether Providence, Pennsylvania.

Anna Travilla and William W. Speakman had two daughters, Martha Travilla Speakman (1892-1977) and Janet Speakman (1895-1971). In 1925, Martha married L. Hollingsworth Wood (1874-1956), Quaker lawyer and social reformer. Martha graduated from Swarthmore College in 1914 and worked in Hull House and AFSC Relief in France after WWI. Her husband was active in peace, civil rights, and education - a New York attorney, clerk of New York Yearly Meeting (Hicksite), and a founder of the ACLU, AFSC, and National Urban League. They were members of Croton Valley Monthly Meeting and had one child, James Wood, born 1927.

Janet Speakman earned a degree as a registered nurse in December 1921, training in Meadville General Hospital. In February 1922 she began a six month tour in a maternity hospital is France. In the fall of 1923, she went to Russia for a year of relief work with the American Friends Service Committee. On her return to the U.S., she worked at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia, but was bored and restless. Janet visited Russia a second time in 1926, traveling with a delegation led by Christian evangelist Sherwood Eddy. Earlier she had studied music and voice in Philadelphia, and on her return to the United States she prepared a slide presentation on Russia and worked as a private duty nurse for several years. Her father's health was failing, and Janet nursed him until is death in February 1930. In 1930 she visited Cuba. She studied social work in New York City in 1930-1931, residing in the International House on Riverside Drive, and worked briefly as a caseworker.

She attended National Conference on Social Work in 1935 in Montreal, Canada. In the mid 1930s, she traveled widely in Europe for about 15 months and became interested in socialism, peace efforts, and spiritualism. In July August 1937 she traveled with the American Seminar organized by Sherwood Eddy. In 1937-1939 travels included several months in Germany and Italy. In the summer of 1939 she witnessed Hitler rallies, and she ended her travels in Italy, intending to travel to Yugoslavia.

On her return to the United States at the end of 1939, Janet suffered emotional and health issues. She lived in the family cottage at Buck Hill Falls from about 1940-1942 and also The Winslow, 45 East 55th Street, New York City. In 1944 her mother visited her sister Mary Travilla in Pasadena, California, and Janet joined them in late 1944.

Anna Travilla Speakman returned to Buck Hill Falls in the summer of 1945 in failing health and was hospitalized in September. She died on October 27, 1945, at Stroudsburg General Hospital, apparently after complications following surgery. Janet was convinced there had been medical malpractice and spent the rest of her life in a fruitless effort to prove a fraud which had cheated her out of the inheritance of a cottage at Buck Hill Falls. Concerned about her mother's death, she disengaged from family and friends and spent her last years residing in the Women’s Temperance Union Home, a boarding house near the Sun Ship Works, Chester, Pennsylvania.


4 linear ft. (8 boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection largely contains correspondence of Janet Speakman, a lifelong member of Swarthmore Monthly Meeting. The significant correpondence dates between 1922-1939 when she worked in civilian relief in France and Russia and later traveled through pre World War II Europe.


Arranged in 5 series

Custodial History

Donated by James Wood, nephew of Janet Speakman who handled the estate of his aunt which included 19 cartons that had been in storage. The papers were delivered to Friends Historical Library by Field Horne, 19 November 2021

Immediate Source of Acquisition

James Wood, Acc. 2021.040

Related Materials

Travilla-Speakman Family Papers, RG5/352

Separated Materials

Travilla family and William and Anna Travilla Speakman Papers were processed as a separate collection, RG 5/352. Redundant unsent letters written to random public figures were discarded.

Processing Information

Papers were received in 9 cartons which had been retrieved from Janet Speakman's storage after her death and were then retained in storage until donated to Friends Historical Library. As received, three cartons of Travilla-Speakman Papers were largely sorted and identified. These were processed as a sepaarate collection, RG5/352. The remaining 6 cartons contained Janet Speakman's correspondence in no order, some water damaged and mixed with publications and ephemera from her travels. Much of the late correspondence was redundant and included drafts and letters not sent. A small number of papers with mold and water damage were discarded. The early letters reflecting her work and travels up to 1940 were sorted and are described in Series 1. Series 2 contains post 1940 coorespondence sorted largely correspondent. Late correspondence not mailed has been returned to the donor.

Janet Speakman Papers
Susanna Morikawa
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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