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Wulsin, Janet E. (Janet Elliott). Janet E. Wulsin Collection, 1918-1924: A Finding Aid

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Archives, Harvard University


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Peabody Museum Archives
Call No.: 2004.7.1
Repository: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Archives, Harvard University
Creator: Janet Elliott Wulsin
Title: Wulsin, Janet E. (Janet Elliott). Janet Elliott Wulsin Collection1918-1924:A Finding Aid
Date(s): 1918-1924:
Date(s): 1869-1933,
Date(s): 1905-1933,
Date(s): 1914-1932
Date(s): 1927-1940
Quantity: 2 linear feet
Abstract: This collection consists of letters written by Janet Elliott Wulsin to her family while she lived in Paris and China

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

These papers are a gift of Mabel H. "Muffie" Cabot, Dr. Howard E. Wulsin

Processed by:

Beth Bayley,Simmons College archives intern; edited by India Spartz, Senior Archivist
November 2004

Conditions Governing Access:


Conditions Governing Use:

Because the original letters are fragile, researchers must use copies of the letters located in Box 2. The copies are numbered identically to the originals and noted. Copying: unrestricted

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Biographical Sketch

Janet January Elliott was reared in an affluent family in Boston and New York, the daughter of railroad executive, Howard Elliott. Anxious to explore, Janet was tired of the "the superficial social life of her world in New York," and, in 1918, at age 24, she joined the Red Cross as a nurse in France to help out the war effort and to be near her fiancé, Frederick Roelker Wulsin, whom she married in 1919. Frederick was a lieutenant in the Army and, prior to his graduation from Harvard in 1913, spent time in East Africa collecting specimens for the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Frederick intended to become an explorer and scientist, and in 1921, the couple left New York for China.
The young couple spent the next four years on expeditions, using their Peking (now Beijing) house as a home base. In 1921, they traveled for several weeks to Shansi Province. The next trip, the "great trek" of 1923, was funded by the National Geographic Society and took them through the Alashan desert to Kansu Province (Gansu), to several monasteries (Labrang, Kumbum, and Choni), to Lanchow, and then back to Peking for several months. Janet became pregnant and left China in 1924, giving birth to Frederick Jr. the following spring. In the meantime, Frederick completed another expedition and returned to America in December of 1924. Janet and Frederick had two more children: Howard Elliott Wulsin and Janet January Wulsin; the couple divorced in 1929. Frederick married Susanne Emery in 1930, who, along with her husband Harry, had traveled in China with the Wulsins. Frederick had a long and distinguished career teaching anthropology at Tufts University; he died in 1961. Janet married Richard Hobart in 1932, and had one daughter, Mabel "Muffie" Hobart (Cabot); Janet died in 1963.
Source: Cabot, Mabel H. Vanished Kingdoms: A Woman Explorer in Tibet, China, and Mongolia 1921-1925. New York: Aperture, 2003.


Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of letters written by Janet Elliott Wulsin to her family while she lived in Paris and China. Janet Wulsin chronicles her experiences as a Red Cross nurse in Paris during World War I, including daily life, details about her job, and excursions outside of the city. As a newlywed, she writes of her marriage and future plans. A gap exists in the correspondence during the time she and Frederick returned to America (1920). However, her correspondence resumes when Frederick's work took them to Peking.
The Peking correspondence records Janet's daily life in the city, including social activities and Peking "society" that centered on close friends such as Julia and Fritz Deane. She also writes about Americans involved in activities such as the Rockefeller Foundation Hospital, international business ventures, and exploration (Roy Chapman Andrews). Additionally, she describes going to "tiffins" (lunches), playing mah-jongg, taking Chinese language lessons, housekeeping, entertaining, and visiting temples outside the city.
Janet Wulsin also describes the logistics of traveling by train, in a caravan of camels, hunting and specimen collecting, meeting local folk, photography, and other activities related to their exploration. Especially of interest are her observations of isolated monasteries and lamaseries rarely seen by Westerners at that time. Also included in this collection are Mabel Cabot's research notes for her book, Vanished Kingdoms: A Woman Explorer in Tibet, China, and Mongolia 1921-1925.

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