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MC 471; T-156

Comstock, Ada Louise. Papers of Ada Louise Comstock, 1818-1982 (inclusive), 1887-1982 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 471; T-156
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Ada Louise Comstock
Title: Papers of Ada Louise Comstock, 1818-1982 (inclusive), 1887-1982 (bulk)
Date(s): 1818-1982
Date(s): 1887-1982
Quantity: 12.93 linear feet (31 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 3 audiotapes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, photographs, etc., of Ada Louise Comstock, Radcliffe College president, 1923-1943, and pioneer for women in higher education.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 135, 51-48, 74-79, 74-80, 74-98, 74-181, 74-332, 75-57, 75-282, 75-396, 77-M73, 78-M59, 78-M107, 79-M264, 81-M287, 82-M35, 83-M96, 83-M105, 83-M183, 84-M90, 85-M257, 88-M193, 89-M189
These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ada Louise Comstock Notestein in 1951. Addenda to these papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Kathleen Elliott, 1974; by Bernice Brown Cronkhite, 1974; by Frances Ruml Jordan, 1974; by Brand and Roberta Blanshard, 1974-1978; by Jacqueline Van Voris, 1974; Radcliffe College President's Office, 1975; Mrs. George Comstock, 1975; Susan Clemedtson, 1978, 1981, 1988; Barbara M. Solomon, 1979; Dr. Robert J. Loeffler, 1982; and Katherine S. Van Eerde, 1996.

Processing Information:

Processed: May 2003
By: Jane S. Knowles, Deborah A. Richards,Jessica Tanny

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in papers created by Ada Louise Comstock is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Ada Louise Comstock Papers, 1818-1982; item description, dates. MC 471, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Ada Comstock scrapbook, 1934 (SC 26), Ada Comstock records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1923-1943 (RG II, Series 2), Ada Comstock papers, 1929-1974 (RA.A/C739), Ada Comstock diaries, 1902-1968 (M-126).


A champion of higher education for women and the third president of Radcliffe College, Ada Louise Comstock was born on December 11, 1876, to S.G. [Solomon Gilman] Comstock, a lawyer, and Sarah (Balls) Comstock, a former schoolteacher. She was raised in Moorhead, Minnesota. Her father was a lawyer, state legislator, and United States Representative (1889-1891), and, as regent of the University of Minnesota, he assisted with the founding of the Moorhead Normal School. Her mother was active in founding the women's club and a strong supporter of the public library in Moorhead.
Comstock grew up in a close knit family with her brother and sister, George Madison Comstock and Jessie Comstock. She remained very close to her father until his death in 1933. An avid student, she graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. From 1892 to 1894 Comstock attended the University of Minnesota, before transferring to Smith College where she received her B.L. in 1897. While at Smith she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She completed her teacher training at Moorhead Normal School in 1898, but, dissatisfied with her training there, she attended Columbia University where she earned an A.M. in English, history, and education. In 1900 she accepted an assistantship at the University of Minnesota in the department of rhetoric and oratory.
During her time at the University of Minnesota she befriended Wallace Notestein, a professor of history who later taught at Yale University. Comstock and Notestein maintained their correspondence for forty years; they married in June 1943, after Comstock retired from Radcliffe College. The Notesteins traveled to England frequently due to Notestein's work on British literature and social history. They lived in New Haven, Connecticut.
Comstock's long life, including extensive travel and many achievements in the fields of higher education and public affairs, is reflected in the following chronology.




These papers primarily document Comstock's personal life prior to 1933 and after retiring from Radcliffe College in 1943. While there is some Radcliffe College material, particularly speeches, the bulk of her presidential papers are at the Radcliffe College Archives. Microfilm of Comstock's diaries is available at the Schlesinger Library (M-126).
Additional Comstock family collections are at Moorhead State University and the Comstock House, part of the Minnesota Historical Society. Wallace Notestein's papers are at Yale University.
Many of the folder titles are from notes within or on the original folder. These notes (indicated by quotation marks) were made either by Comstock or Roberta Blanshard, a close friend who helped Comstock organize her papers. Some of the folders include notes Comstock made about the person or topic; the notes were typed or written by Comstock or Blanshard. The collection is divided into four series.
Series I, Personal and biographical (#1.1-17.9), is organized into the following sections: biographical data; Comstock family; Wallace Notestein and the Notestein family; correspondence with friends and colleagues; and personal materials including financial, household and medical.
The biographical material includes an interview of Comstock from 1971, memoirs of Comstock by family, friends and colleagues, including taped interviews conducted by Dr. Robert J. Loeffler, the site manager of the Comstock Historic Home in Moorhead, Minnesota. The Comstock family section is primarily correspondence with her family in Moorhead: her parents, S.G. [Solomon George] Comstock and Sarah (Balls) Comstock, her brother George Madison Comstock and her sister Jessie Comstock. Comstock and her father were very close and avid letter writers, and continued their correspondence until his death in 1933. In his letters, S.G. Comstock frequently referred to Comstock as his "Bonnie."
Transcripts of family letters were made by Robert J. Loeffler. His comments about the transcripts read: "[The first batch of] letters represent the correspondence between Ada Louise Comstock and her beloved father, S.G. Comstock, between the years 1883 and 1923 (widely scattered). The period covers her days as a young child to the time she was Dean of Smith College. In this group there are some undated letters. There is one letter during her term as the President of Radcliffe College (March 13, 1925) to her father. The next group of letters covers the period 1929 to 1970 (one in the latter year) and covers letters to her brother George Madison Comstock, and to his wife Frances Comstock. These letters are in the files of the Comstock Historic House in Moorhead, Minnesota, and, in some instances, are represented by the original handwritten letters of Miss Comstock and Mrs. Wallace (Ada) Comstock Notestein. The remaining letters, not represented by originals, were transcribed by another individual, and their whereabouts is not known at the present time."
Correspondence with Wallace Notestein, her husband, is rich in detailing their forty-year friendship prior to marrying in 1943. There is also biographical material on Notestein and his siblings, memorial articles and programs following his death, and correspondence regarding his professional affairs after his death. There are also letters between Comstock and Notestein's siblings, Frank B. Notestein, Lucy Lillian Notestein, and Margaret Notestein. In addition, there is correspondence with friends and colleagues from 1943 or later, with occasional letters from earlier years. Comstock managed her and Notestein's business affairs, so income tax returns, bank statements, household accounts, estate papers, and other personal financial papers are also included.
Series II, Professional and business activities (#17.10-21.24), is organized into the following sections: Minnesota (Moorhead State College and the University of Minnesota); Smith College; Radcliffe College, and other colleges, universities and schools with which Comstock had an affiliation; boards and committees; and clubs.
The bulk of this series concerns Comstock's work within higher education after her retirement in 1943. She advised future presidents on a variety of matters, including fundraising, alumnae relations, and the impact of women's colleges in higher education. There are clippings, correspondence between Comstock and school presidents and administrators as well as alumnae and students, and invitations and programs Comstock was invited to and/or participated in. Comstock was a supporter of the United States Navy's WAVES and the collection includes WAVES photographs from 1944 (see Series IV, #PD.5) and the booklet WAVES in Aviation at the Naval Air Training Center Pensacola, FL. (see Series Series II, #19.10-11)
The papers also document her work with various boards and committees on which she served, including the American Association of University Women, where she served as its first president; the Wickersham Committee; and the Institute for Pacific Relations. Institute of Pacific Relations materials document the "Kohlberg Affair" when Alfred Kohlberg charged Institute of Pacific Relations with harboring Communist sympathizers. Comstock was also active in several clubs including the Chilton Club, Cosmopolitan Club, and Our Society.
Miscellaneous organizations are alphabetized according to Comstock's filing system.
Series III, Speeches (#22.1-31.45), is arranged chronologically, and spans 1921 to 1966. There are speeches during Comstock's time as president of Radcliffe as well as speeches after her retirement. The speeches include manuscript and typed notes, manuscript and typed texts, and transcriptions of Comstock's notes as well as summaries of speeches by Robert J. Loeffler. Occasional book reviews written by Comstock or copies of published speeches are included among the speeches.
Robert J. Loeffler also transcribed many of the speeches from handwritten notes by Comstock. He wrote the following regarding his transcriptions: "Nearly all of [Comstock's] messages were delivered from handwritten outlines on regular unruled 5/7 white index cards. She continued this practice after her marriage in 1943 to Dr. Wallace Notestein and during her retirement years (1943 to 1973). ...all of the handwritten notecards (representing mainly talks to students on campus) were transcribed to the typewritten forms so that future researchers can more easily work with the outlines on the notecards. After all the talks were transcribed, each one was interpreted as to content and message. In many instances it was necessary to guess as to Miss Comstock's thoughts and pronouncements to the students." See folder #22.1 for the full explanation given by Loeffler.
Series IV, Photographs (#PD.1-PD.10), includes family, friends and photographs of Comstock as president of Radcliffe College; WAVES; and group photographs of the Institute of Pacific Relations.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Brothers and sisters--United States
Cambridge (Mass.)--Social life and customs--20th century
Clubs--New York
College presidents--Massachusetts--Cambridge
Courtship--United States
Deans (Education)--United States
Fathers and daughters--United States
Love-letters--United States
Moorhead (Minn.)--Social life and customs--20th century
New Haven (Conn.)--Social life and customs--20th century
Oral histories
Women--Education (Higher)--Massachusetts
Women college presidents--Massachusetts--Cambridge
Women deans (Education)--United States
Women--Societies and clubs
Women's colleges--United States
Abbott, Senda Berenson, 1868-1954
Adams, Charles
Ainsworth, Dorothy S. (Dorothy Sears), 1894-1976
Alger, Louisa
Alice Stone Blackwell Fund Committee
American Association of University Women
American Woman's Association
Anderson, William
Angell, Florence
Aydelotte, Frank, 1880-1956
Bacon, George
Baker, Christina Hopkinson, 1873-1959
Baxter, James Phinney, 1893-1975
Beach, Eugene
Bemis, Samuel Flagg, 1891-1973
Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959
Blanshard, Brand, 1892-1987
Blanshard, Frances Bradshaw
Blanshard, Roberta Yerkes
Borden, Elizabeth B.
Bowes, Frances
Bridgeman, Phyllis G.
Briggs, Le Baron Russell, 1855-1934
Briggs, Lucy Barnard
Bromage, Mary Cogan
Brown, Huntington
Buckley, Mary
Bullock, E. Ashton
Bunting-Smith, Mary, 1910-1998
Burkhard, Arthur
Burr, Allston, 1866-1949
Burr, Elizabeth Randolph, 1910-
Burton, Helen
Cabot, Ella Lyman
Cabot, Richard C. (Richard Clarke), 1868-1939
Cadeau, Alice M.
Calabresi, Anne
Cam, Helen Maud, 1885-1968
Campbell, Mildred, 1897-1991
Cannon, Cornelia James, 1876-1969
Carrie Chapman Catt Memorial Fund
Chase, George Henry, 1874-1952
Clark, Grenville, 1882-1967
Clemedtson, Henning
Clemedtson, Susan
Coburn, Anne Cutter
Coffin, Catherine Butterfield, 1892-1982
Colegrove, Bee
Comstock, George Madison
Comstock, Jessie
Comstock, Sarah Balls
Comstock, Solomon Gilman
Conant, James Bryant, 1893-1978
Conant, Kenneth John, 1894-1984
Cooper, James
Cooper, Louise
Copley, Elizabeth
Cronkhite, Bernice Brown, 1893-1983
Cronkhite, Leonard
Davie, Margaret
Davis, Herbert
De Vane, Mabel Phillips
De Villiers, Anne
Dean, Vera Micheles, 1903-1972
Dennett, Raymond, 1913-1961
Dodd, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph), 1907-1971
Dunham, William
Earle, Anne
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Evans, Elizabeth C.
Fairbanks, Wilma
Fernald, Robert W.
Fisher, William Edgar, 1872-
Flattery, Jean S.
Foster, Elizabeth Read.
Galbraith family
Galpin, Ginny
Game, Clyffard
Gildersleeve, Virginia Crocheron, 1877-1965
Gilbert, Helen Homans, 1913-1989
Gilman, Florence
Gilpin, Samuel
Glass, Meta, 1880-1967
Gordon, Mary
Goss, Harriet B.
Gower, Ethel M.
Gray, Francis Calley, 1790-1856
Grierson, Margaret Storrs
Griswold, Mary Bishop, 1873-1970
Haggart, Marge
Hague, Hilda
Haight, Elizabeth Hazelton, 1872-1964
Haight, Mary
Harken, Anne
Harper, Isabel Vincent
Hart, Columba, 1903-1991
Haskins, Clare Allen, 1881-1970
Haskins, Edna
Hauge, Gabriel
Henning, Basil Duke
Hogarth, Grace
Horner, Matina
Hull, Josephine, 1877-1957
Humphreys, Elisabeth
Hunneman, Robert T.
Hunt, Harriet
Institute of Pacific Relations
International Alliance of Women
International Assembly of Women
Jones, Howard Mumford, 1892-1980
Jordan, Frances Ruml, 1899-1980
Jordan, Sara Murray, 1884-1959
Jordan, W. K. (Wilbur Kitchener), 1902-1980
Kane, Amanda
Keller, Helen, 1880-1968
Kohlberg, Alfred, 1887-1960
Kurtz, Thomas C.
Lamont, Thomas W. (Thomas William), 1870-1948
Lincoln, Eleanor Terry
Loeffler, Robert J., 1922-2006
Lohmann, Helen
Longfellow, Alice M. (Alice Mary), 1850-1928
Lootz, Eunice
Lord, Ethel
Lord, Frank
Lowell, A. Lawrence (Abbott Lawrence), 1856-1943
Lyman, Susan Elizabeth
Mackall, Henry C. (Henry Clinton), 1885-1979
Mackall, Margaret Robertson
Maguire, John M.
Manning, Helen Taft, 1891-1987
McBride, Katherine Elizabeth
McClenahan, Ann
McClenahan, Robert, Jr.
McClenahan, Robert, Sr.
McClenahan, Sallie Hews Phillips
McElwain, Mary
McGeachy, Mary Agnes Craig
McNair, Lucille W.
Meehan, Alice
Mendenhall family
Mensel, Mary
Mitchell, Mildred
Mitchell, Stewart, 1892-1957
Moody, Howard
Moorhead State Teachers College
Moors, J. F. (John Farwell)
Morand, Ruth Phelps
Morrow, Elizabeth, 1873-1955
Neale, Elfreda, Lady
Neale, J. E. (John Ernest), 1890-1975
Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946
Neumaier, John J., 1921-
Newcomer, Mabel, 1891-1983
Nicholas, Herbert
Notestein, Frank B.
Notestein, Lucy Lilian, -1890
Notestein, Margaret
Notestein, Wallace, 1878-1969
Nucleus (Cambridge, Mass.)
Oakes, Anna
Owre, Franc
Pankhurst, E. Sylvia (Estelle Sylvia), 1882-1960
Park, Marion Edwards, 1875-1960
Parkman, Francis
Phillips, Clara Hunt
Poirier, Leslie
Porter, Anne
Price, Madeline
Price, Nellie A.
Radcliffe College. Alumnae Association
Radcliffe College--Presidents
Richardson, Helen
Robertson, Rhodes
Rodewald, Elizabeth Bacon
Rusness, Oscar B.
Sarton, May, 1912-1995
Saturday Morning Club (New Haven, Conn.)
Smith College--Employees
Scales, Laura
Schlesinger, Arthur M. (Arthur Meier), 1917-2007
Schumacher, Elizabeth
Sewell, Dora
Sherman, Rose, 1873-1952
Smith, Helen
Solomon, Barbara Miller
Sprague, Marjorie
St. Johns, Jim
Stedman, Edith G. (Edith Gratia), 1888-1978
Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946
Stewart, Marguerite A.
Stuart, John Leighton, 1876-1962
Sutherland, Lucy Stuart, Dame
Syverson family
Taeusch, Betty Jenney
Taeusch, H. William
Thomas, Georgine Holmes, 1848-1940
Thomas, M. Carey (Martha Carey), 1857-1935
Thompson, Kitty
Thorpe, Richard W.
Timings, Kenneth
Tozzer, Alfred M. (Alfred Marston), 1877-1954
Tozzer, Margaret
Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim
Tuesday Club (Boston, Mass.)
Tuttle, Holly
Tweedsmuir, Susan, 1882-1977
Tyler, Genie
Tyler, Morris
Ullian, Frieda S.
United States. Naval Reserve. Women's Reserve
United States. Wickersham Commission
University of Minnesota--Employees
Unsworth, Elizabeth
Valentine, Alan Chester, 1901-1980
Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Van Eerde, Katherine S. (Katherine Sommerlatte), 1920-2006
Van Vliet, Leotta
Van Voris, Jacqueline
Van Waters, Miriam
Vane-Percy, Irene
Webster, Deborah
Wedgewood, Rebecca Eaton
Whiting, Ella Keats
Wickersham, George W. (George Woodward), 1858-1936
Wickersham, Mildred
Williams, Anne
Williams, Margaret
Wolfers, Arnold, 1892-1968
Woodward, E. L. (Ernest Llewellyn), 1890-1971
Woolley, Mary Emma, 1863-1947