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MC 309

Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1963. Papers of Mary E. (Elisabeth) Dreier, 1797-1968 (inclusive), 1897-1968 (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

Processing of this collection was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (RC-0051-79-1260)

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 309
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1963
Title: Papers of Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth) Dreier, 1797-1968 (inclusive), 1897-1968 (bulk)
Date(s): 1797-1968
Date(s): 1897-1968
Quantity: 11.26 linear feet (27 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 1 folio+ folder,1 oversize folder, 33 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 1 folio+ photograph folder)
Language of materials: Materials in English and German.
Abstract: Correspondence, day books, financial records, and photographs of Mary Dreier, social reformer, from Brooklyn, New York.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 77-M210. Accession number 2007-M43 was added to the collection in August 2016.
The papers of Mary Elisabeth Dreier were given to the Schlesinger Library by Theodore Dreier, Mary Elisabeth Dreier's nephew, in December 1977 and March 2007.

Processing Information:

Processed: October 1980
By: Donna Webber
Updated and additional material added: August 2016
By: Mark Vassar

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mary Elisabeth Dreier 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:

Mary Elisabeth Dreier Papers, 1797-1968; item description, dates. MC 309, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Mary Elisabeth Dreier (also known as Mimi, Mietze, and Tolochee), social reformer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 26, 1875, the fourth of five surviving children of Theodor Dreier and Dorothea Adelheid (Dreier) Dreier. Theodor Dreier emigrated to the United States from Bremen, Germany, in 1849; he settled in New York City, where he eventually became a partner in the local branch of Naylor, Benson and Co., an English iron firm. In 1864 he returned to Germany for a visit and married a younger cousin, Dorothea. They had five children: Margaret Dreier (1868-1945), Dorothea Adelheid (1870-1923), Henry Edward (1872-1955), Mary, and Katherine Sophie (1877-1952).
Dreier attended George Brackett's school in Brooklyn. She took classes at the New York School of Philanthropy but did not seek a college degree. A strong religious background helped motivate Mary Elisabeth Dreier to undertake reform work. In 1899 she met Leonora O'Reilly, a former garment worker who was head of a local settlement house. O'Reilly later brought both Dreier and her sister Margaret into the New York Women's Trade Union League, a coalition of women workers and middle- and upper-class women reformers founded in 1903 to organize working women and educate the public about urban labor conditions.
She served as president of the New York Women's Trade Union League from 1906 to 1914 and remained active in the organization until it disbanded in 1950. She was arrested while demonstrating during the 1909 strike of shirtwaist makers and was henceforth a leading spokeswoman for labor reform on behalf of women workers. She was the only woman on the New York State Factory Investigating Commission, which was appointed after the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911. Between 1911 and 1915, Mary Elisabeth Dreier, chairman Robert F. Wagner, vice-chairman Alfred E. Smith, and six other commissioners wrote a report that helped to modernize the state's labor laws.
The negative attitude of male trade unionists towards women workers helped turn Mary Elisabeth Dreier into an ardent supporter of suffrage and women's rights; she chaired the Industrial Section of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party. On the national level Dreier often supported Progressive Party nominees, including Robert M. LaFollette and Henry A. Wallace, although like many progressives she was an enthusiastic backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.
She served on a number of government and private committees concerned with labor and women. Later in life, however, she focused more of her attention on international issues and American foreign policy. Between the two world wars she was a supporter of Soviet-American friendship and an outspoken opponent of the regime in Nazi Germany; after World War II she opposed nuclear proliferation. She was investigated by the FBI in the 1950s.
Dreier wrote numerous poems, plays, and skits during her long life. In 1914 she wrote Barbara Richards, a novel about working women that was never published. In 1950 she published a laudatory biography of her sister, Margaret Dreier Robins: Her Life, Letters and Work.
Her income came from a trust fund left by her father; she was a generous supporter of causes, the Women's Trade Union League, numerous friends, and family members. She remained close to her brother and sisters, and to her brother's children and grandchildren, and kept up a long correspondence with relatives in Germany. She never married, but shared a home with fellow reformer Frances Kellor from 1905 until the latter's death in 1952. Thereafter she lived alone, still a busy correspondent and active in favorite causes despite increasingly frail health. She spent a good deal of time at her sister's (Margaret Dreier Robbins) home at Chinsegut Hill outside Brooksville, Florida, and at her summer home, Valour House, at Fernald Point in Maine. She died of a pulmonary embolism on August 15, 1963, at her summer home at Bar Harbor, Maine, at the age of 87.
For further biographical information about Mary Elisabeth Dreier, see Notable American Women, Vol. IV. The papers of the National Women's Trade Union League are available on microfilm at the Schlesinger Library.


Margaret Dreier Robins (September 6, 1868-February 21, 1945), also known as Gretchen and Bimini, was the oldest of Theodor and Dorothea Dreier's five children. She began to work for various social organizations in New York in her late teens, and in 1904 joined the New York Women's Trade Union League. The following year she married fellow reformer Raymond Robins (1873-1954; also known as Ahochee) and moved to Chicago, where she continued to work for the League and became its president (1907-1922). In 1924, Margaret Dreier Robins and Raymond Robins retired to Chinsegut Hill, their 2000-acre estate in Florida. Mary Elisabeth Dreier spent much time at Chinsegut Hill; she was very close to both Margaret Dreier Robins and Raymond Robins. Margaret Dreier Robins died at Chinsegut Hill of pernicious anemia and a heart ailment at the age of 76; Dreier continued to visit the state often until 1954, when the invalided Raymond Robins died. The Robinses had no children but for many years shared their home with Lisa von Borowsky, who remained at Chinsegut Hill after the Robinses' death to care for the estate.
The papers of Margaret Dreier Robins are at the University of Florida Library in Gainesville. For further biographical information about Margaret Dreier Robins, see Notable American Women, Vol. I, and Margaret Dreier Robins: Her Life, Letters and Work by Mary Elisabeth Dreier (1950). The papers of Raymond Robins are at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison.
Dorothea Adelheid Dreier (1870-1923), also known as Dodo, was the second daughter and a painter. She studied art for several years in Europe but never gained the prominence of her younger sister Katherine (see below). The papers of Dorothea Dreier are at the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution and are available at the Archives of American Art in Washington, New York, Boston, Detroit, and San Francisco.
Henry Edward Dreier (1872-1955), known as Edward, was a New York businessman. He worked for his father's company for many years and eventually became its president. He was also president of the Lock Stub Company. In 1901, Henry Edward Dreier married Ethel Eyre Valentine (1874-1958), a suffragist who was later active with the League of Women Voters and in civic affairs (her papers are the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College). The couple had four children: Theodore, who married Barbara Loines and had three children: Theodore (Ted V, Quintus, Eddie), Mark, and Barbara; John, who married Louisa (Isa) Richardson and had three children: John (Jock), Susan, and Alexander; Dorothea, who married Peter Voorhees, and had two children: Dorothea and Peter; and Nan, who married Garrett Stearley.
Katherine Sophie Dreier (September 10, 1877-March 29, 1952), also known as Kate, was a patron of modern art as well as an artist. She studied art in New York as a youth and in Europe as an adult. In 1914, she helped establish the Cooperative Mural Workshop, and in 1916 joined the newly formed, avant-garde Society of Independent Artists. She made her most lasting contribution to modern art when she joined with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray to found the Société Anonyme, a "center for the study and promotion of modern art." As an artist, Katherine Sophie Dreier was known for a predominantly abstract style. Katherine Sophie Dreier maintained a deeply affectionate relationship with her sister Mary, with whom she shared a life-long interest in spiritualism. The Katherine Sophie Dreier papers are available at Beinecke Library, Yale University. Most of them deal with the Société Anonyme. For further biographical information, see Notable American Women, Vol. IV.


The collection is arranged in four series:


The Mary Elisabeth Dreier papers arrived at the Schlesinger Library in no particular order. Mary Elisabeth Dreier had attempted to sort them while partly blind and they had subsequently been repacked. They have been divided into three series, each arranged chronologically except where noted. There are some professional papers, but most of the collection consists of correspondence with family members and friends. Most of the papers date from the 1920s or later. Additional material (accession number 2007-M43) was added to the collection in August 2016. This material is located in Series IV (#309-352).
SERIES I, PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL PAPERS, 1797-1963 (#1-178), includes day books, which give some indication of Mary Elisabeth Dreier's daily activities; however, except for a short run in the 1950s, they exist for only random years, and she did not write every day. Most of the poetry in #14-18 was occasional, written for various holidays or addressed to relatives or friends; the poems in #17 are addressed to KFC, the initials of a nickname of Raymond Robins. Mary Elisabeth Dreier's financial records are fairly complete. They include information on taxes and investments, people Mary Elisabeth Dreier helped support, and organizations to which she regularly contributed. The New York Women's Trade Union League material contains very little from Mary Elisabeth Dreier's early years or the years of her presidency with the League. There is almost no information about the 1909 shirtwaist makers' strike which Mary Elisabeth Dreier led and during which she was arrested. There are several personal accounts of work and living conditions by women who worked in the garment industry (see #45). The correspondence with executive secretary Elisabeth Christman provides a good picture of the League's last 15 years, when it was beset with the financial problems that finally forced it to dissolve. The professional materials (#71-76) also contain little information about Mary Elisabeth Dreier's most active years. The correspondence between Frances Kellor and Mary Elisabeth Dreier spans the length of their fifty-year relationship. The letters document the close and affectionate nature of their friendship; there is some discussion of their work, especially in the early years. The major portion of this series consists of correspondence, arranged alphabetically. Mary Elisabeth Dreier often established personal friendships with people she worked with, and so there has been no attempt to distinguish personal and professional correspondence. Most of the letters are to Mary Elisabeth Dreier; the occasional letter from Mary Elisabeth Dreier is interfiled with the appropriate correspondent. Major correspondents have their own folders; these are followed by general alphabetical folders.
SERIES II, DREIER FAMILY PAPERS, 1813-1963 (#179-283), contains papers of various members of the family, mainly their correspondence with Mary Elisabeth Dreier and with others. Many of the early Dreier letters (pre-1900) are in German, as is Mary Elisabeth Dreier's correspondence with German relatives. Most of the letters in this series are to Mary Elisabeth Dreier from her family; letters from Mary Elisabeth Dreier are interfiled with those from the appropriate correspondent. Mary Elisabeth Dreier's correspondence with Margaret Dreier Robins reveals a close and loving relationship between the two sisters. There is little discussion of the New York Women's Trade Union League or of other professional interests; most of the letters deal with family matters and mutual friends. Later letters illustrate Margaret Dreier Robins's increasing dependence on Mary Elisabeth Dreier as the health of Margaret Dreier Robins and Raymond Robins began to fail. Mary Elisabeth Dreier also maintained a long and deeply affectionate correspondence with her brother-in-law Raymond Robins. They created the "Order of the Flaming Cross"; she calls him "Knight of the Flaming Cross" (KFC) and he calls her "Lady of the Flaming Cross" (LFC). The Raymond Robins papers contain numerous clippings about his disappearance in the 1930s (at first attributed to kidnaping, but in fact due to amnesia). There is also a folder of correspondence between Mary Elisabeth Dreier and Raymond Robins's sister, Elisabeth Robins, an actress and writer who for many years made her home in England. Mary Elisabeth Dreier's correspondence with Lisa von Borowsky deals mainly with the activities of the Robinses, their health problems after Raymond Robins was paralyzed in an accident in the 1930s, and the care of the estate after Raymond Robins died. Correspondence with both Raymond Robins and Lisa von Borowsky also refers to the establishment of Chinsegut Hill as a nature reserve.
Some of the letters between Mary Elisabeth Dreier and Henry Edward Dreier or Theodore Dreier and Mary Elisabeth Dreier discuss Mary Elisabeth Dreier's and other family financial matters, including the purchase and sale of stocks and bonds and their increase and decline in value over time. Discussion of national and world politics, particularly regarding United States president politics and World War II, is scattered throughout correspondence with her brother Henry Edward Dreier and his wife, her sister Margaret Dreier Robins and her husband, and her sister Katherine Sophie Dreier, but most of the correspondence is devoted to an exchange of family news. (See also correspondence with nephew Peter Voorhees (#32 and 33) and Series IV for additional correspondence with Katherine Sophie Dreier.) Other correspondence with Katherine Sophie Dreier (mostly incoming) documents her sister's work with the art organization Société Anonyme (of which her sister was a founder) and her friendships with various artists, including Marcel Duchamp. Correspondence with nephew Theodore Dreier and his wife document his time as a student at Harvard University and the founding of the experimental school Black Mountain College (to which Mary Elisabeth Dreier provided financial support), founded by Theodore Dreier, John Andrew Rice, Frederick Georgia, and Ralph Lounsbury in 1933 after their departure from Rollins College. Mary Elisabeth Dreier faithfully corresponded with her siblings and in-laws and their children and grandchildren until she died, and the letters reveal the interest of a loving sister and doting aunt. The long run of correspondence between Katherine Sophie Dreier and Mary Elisabeth Dreier again illustrate the concern and affection Mary Elisabeth Dreier felt for her family. Katherine Sophie Dreier was especially close to Mary Elisabeth Dreier; her letters report fully on her work and political attitudes (with particular focus on United States politics and pre- and post-World War II politics in Europe), with occasional references to family tensions. Other topics discussed in Katherine Sophie Dreier's letters include her friendships with various artists, including Marcel Duchamp, and her work with the Société Anonyme, founded by Katherine Sophie Dreier and others. Many of the letters discuss spiritualism and Katherine Sophie Dreier's efforts to examine its effects on her day-to-day life.
SERIES III, PHOTOGRAPHS, ca.1854-1968, n.d. (#284-304), includes photographs of Mary Elisabeth Dreier, her family, and her friends. Very few of the pictures are dated, and some are not identified. Of particular interest is the photograph of Mary Elisabeth Dreier's grandfather Heinrich Eduard Dreier (#301) and of Mary Elisabeth Dreier's parents with two of their children and several other relatives in the same folder. The arrangement of this series parallels that of Series I and II. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database.
SERIES IV, ADDENDA, ca.1880-1965 (#309-352), includes address books, biographical material, correspondence, photographs, guest books, writings, etc. Biographical material consists of a small number of clippings and related material regarding Mary Elisabeth Dreier, a short biography of Leonora O'Reilly, suffragist and trade union reformer and a friend of Dreier, and a biography of her sister Margaret Dreier Robbins. Most of the correspondence is personal in nature, and most is with her sister, artist Katherine Sophie Dreier, and her nephew Theodore Dreier. Correspondence with Katherine Sophie Dreier is mostly outgoing but does document her sister's work with the art organization Société Anonyme (of which her sister was a founder), her friendships with various artists, including Marcel Duchamp, as well as Mary Dreier's work with the Women's Trade Union League and for women's suffrage (see Series II, Subseries D, for additional correspondence). Correspondence with her nephew Theodore Dreier relates to family news, his time as a student at Harvard University, and his work at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, to which his aunt was a frequent donor and of which he was a founder. Other correspondence is between Theodore Dreier and a number of friends and organizations to whom Mary Elisabeth Dreier had left bequests in her will. Over the two years following her death in 1963, Theodore Dreier contacted beneficiaries (family members, friends, and organizations) of her will to distribute funds as requested. Also included in this series are two guest books from her summer home, Valour House, at Fernald Point in Maine, filled with messages from and photographs of the many friends and family members that she entertained there over the years, including Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Very little material in this series documents Dreier's professional life with the exception of several photographs of a suffrage parade, members of the Women's Trade Union League, and conditions in the factory at the Recording and Computing Machines Company, and an interview transcript regarding her time with the New York State Factory Investigating Commission (1911-1915). Other photographs are of Mary Elisabeth Dreier at various stages of her life, with friends and family, and of her German ancestors. Original folder titles were retained. This series is arranged alphabetically. It represents accession number 2007-M43 and was added to the collection in August 2016.



Container List

Additional Index Terms

Family records
Labor laws and legislation--New York (State)
Labor unions
Social reformers
Strikes and lockouts
Textile workers
Working class
Women's rights
Allen, Florence Ellinwood, 1884-1966
Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964
Balch, Emily Greene, 1867-1961
Baum, Pearl Handelman, 1905-1986
Blossom, Bertha
Blossom, Fred, 1865?-1941
Borowsky, Lisa von, 1904-2001
Brown, Jane
Cabot, Richard C. (Richard Clarke), 1868-1939
Christman, Elisabeth, 1881-1975
Coit, Eleanor G.
Commager, Henry Steele, 1902-1998
Cook, Nancy, 1882-1941
Davis, Jerome, 1891-1979
Davis, Mildred Greta Rood, 1899-1984
Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962
Dickerman, Marion, 1890-1983
Dreier, Dorothea A., 1870-1923
Dreier, Ethel Valentine, 1872-1958
Dreier, Henry Edward, 1872-1955
Dreier, John C.
Dreier, Katherine Sophie, 1877-1952
Dreier, Theodore
Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968
Eaton, Cyrus Stephen, 1883-1979
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Fast, Howard, 1914-2003
Fisher, Welthy Honsinger, 1879-1980
Flexner, Eleanor, 1908-1995
Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965
Franklin, Miles, 1879-1954
Gawthorpe, Mary
Gompers, Samuel, 1850-1924
Green, William, 1870-1952
Henry, Alice, 1857-1943
Herrick, Elinore Morehouse, 1895-1964
Hill, Dorothy
Hillman, Bessie
Hughes, Charles Evans, 1862-1948
Humphrey, Hubert H. (Hubert Horatio), 1911-1978
Hurst, Fannie, 1889-1968
Ickes, Harold L. (Harold LeClair), 1874-1952
Ickes, Jane Dahlman
Ives, Irving McNeill, 1896-1962
Javits, Jacob K. (Jacob Koppel), 1904-1986
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
Keating, Kenneth B. (Kenneth Barnard), 1900-1975
Keller, Helen, 1880-1968
Kellogg, Paul Underwood, 1879-1958
Kellor, Frances, 1873-1952
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Kenyon, Dorothy, 1888-1972
Kirchwey, Freda, 1893-1976
La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947
Laidlaw, H. B. (Harriet Burton), 1873-1949
Lamont, Corliss, 1902-1995
Lamont, Margaret, 1905?-1977
Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963
Lerner, Max, 1902-1992
Lewis, William Draper, 1867-1949
McWilliams, Carey, 1905-1980
Melish, William Howard
Miller, Frieda S.
Mishnun, Eleanor
Morford, Richard
Morgenthau, Henry, 1856-1946
Morgenthau, Rita, Wallach, 1881-1964
Morris, Newbold
Mumford, Lewis, 1895-1990
Murrow, Edward
National Women's Trade Union League of America
Nestor, Agnes, 1880-1948
Newman, Pauline
O'Brien, Agnes
O'Day, Caroline Goodwin, 1875-1943
O'Gorman, Alice, 1891?-1965
Paret, Bertha
Paret, Thomas
Pauling, Ava
Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994
Pepper, Claude, 1900-1989
Perkins, Frances, 1880-1965
Perutz, Helen
Polier, Justine Wise, 1903-1987
Robins, Elizabeth, 1862-1952
Robins, Margaret Dreier
Robins, Raymond, 1873-1954
Roche, Josephine A. (Josephine Aspinwall), 1886-1976
Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
Saarinen, Aline B. (Aline Bernstein), 1914-1972
Schneiderman, Rose, 1882-1972
Smith, Hilda Worthington
Smith, Jessica, 1895-1983
Société Anonyme
Stearley, Garrett
Stearley, Nan Dreier
Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946
Strong, Anna Louise, 1885-1970
Swartz, Nelle
Swing, Raymond Gram, 1887-1968
Switzer, Mary Elizabeth, 1900-1971
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Van Kleeck, Mary, 1883-1972
Van Loon, Hendrik Willem, 1882-1944
Voorhees, Dorothea Dreier, 1909-1988
Voorhees, Peter, 1902-1964
Wagner, Robert F. (Robert Ferdinand), 1877-1953
Wald, Lillian D., 1867-1940
White, William Allen, 1868-1944
Williams, Albert Rhys, 1883-1962
Williams, Lucita Squier, 1889?-1980
Wise, Stephen Samuel, 1874-1949
Women's Trade Union League of New York
World Congress of Mothers