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De Voto, Avis MacVicar, 1904- . Papers, 1952-1968: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America


Radcliffe College
January 1971

© 1971 Radcliffe College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: A-167
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: The Avis DeVoto Collection
Title: Papers, 1952-1968
Quantity: 4 + 1/2 file boxes
Abstract: Correspondence, cookbook manuscripts, etc., of Avis MacVicar De Voto, editor specializing in cookbooks.

Processing Information:

Processed: January 1971
By: Elizabeth Owen Shenton

Acquisition Information:

Accession numbers: 69-19, 70-15, 70-77
The papers of Julia Child, Elizabeth David, Peggy Harvey were deposited with the Schlesinger Library by Mrs. Bernard DeVoto in November 1969, February and June 1970.

Preferred citation for publication:

Avis MacVicar De Voto Papers, 1952-1968; item description, dates. A-167, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.


Avis MacVicar DeVoto was born in Houghton, Michigan on May 22, 1904. At the end of her freshman year at Northwestern University, in June 1923, she married Bernard DeVoto who had been her English instructor. The DeVotos remained in Evanston for four years and then moved to Cambridge where Mr. DeVoto was a member of the English Department at Harvard until 1936. With the exception of four years in Lincoln, Massachusetts (1932-1936) and two years in New York City (1936-1938) where Mr. DeVoto was editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, the DeVotos lived in Cambridge. Bernard DeVoto was an historian, literary critic, editor and author of numerous books, including The Year of Decision, Across the Wide Missouri, The Course of Empire and several on Mark Twain (See Who Was Who, 1951-1960). He was the editor of "The Easy Chair" for Harper's Magazine from 1935 until his death in 1955. There are two DeVoto sons, Gordon and Mark. Mrs. DeVoto was an editor, specializing in cookbooks, for Alfred A. Knopf from 1956 to 1958. She held the post of House Secretary in Lowell House at Harvard for the next five years and then worked in the Deans' Office at Radcliffe until her retirement in June 1969.
Mrs. DeVoto handled much of her husband's correspondence during his lifetime, and it was her reply to a letter from Julia Child in Paris addressed to Bernard DeVoto that initiated the correspondence. An Easy Chair column decrying the ubiquitous, dull, stainless steel American paring knife had struck a sympathetic chord in Mrs. Child who decided to contribute a sharp, carbon steel French knife to the DeVoto menage. A close friendship bloomed across the Atlantic, but it was not until two years and some 120 letters later that the two met in Cambridge.
Paul Child was cultural attache with the U. S. Foreign Service until his retirement in 1962; he and his wife lived in Paris, Marseilles, West Germany, Norway and Washington, D. C. While one can follow the evolution of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in these letters, they cover a wide range of topics - McCarthyism, the reaction of Europeans to the Communist hysteria in the United States, the specter of security clearance, the pitfalls and successes of a career in the Foreign Service, as well as pungent comments about the national temperament and character of the French, the Germans, Norwegians, English, not to mention their food. The letters are written by literate and articulate observers, not only of the international scene but also of the local Cambridge community. It would be expected that the social historian of the future will find valuable material concerning attitudes and values in the decade of the 1950's.


The Avis DeVoto Collection covers the period 1952-1968.
Series I. Julia Child. 1952-1968. Correspondence traces the evolution of Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from its inception to its publication. A wide range of other topics is covered in the letters: McCarthyism, the problems of security clearance, pitfalls and successes of a career in the U. S. Foreign Service, the national temperament and character of the French, Germans, Norwegians, English. Newspapers, magazine clippings. Photographs.
Series II. Elizabeth David. 1957-1964. Correspondence between Avis DeVoto, Alfred A. Knopf and Mrs. David covers primarily the problems of editing Mrs. David's Italian Cooking, originally published in England, for American consumption. Discussion of the many differences between British and American measurements, cooking terms, etc.
Series III. Peggy Harvey. 1956-1958. Correspondence between Avis DeVoto, Mrs. Harvey and William Koshland of Alfred A. Knopf, about the editing of Mrs. Harvey's cookbook, Season to Taste (1958).
Among the correspondents are: Julia Child, Paul Child, Avis DeVoto, Bernard DeVoto, Simone Beck, Alfred A. Knopf, William Koshland, Judith Jones, Louisette Bertholle, Dorothy de Santillana, Benjamin Fairbank, Paul Brooks, Elizabeth David, Peggy Harvey.



Additional catalog entries

Beck, Simone
Bertholle, Louisette
Brooks, Paul, 1900-
Child, Julia
Child, Paul
David, Elizabeth, 1913-
De Voto, Avis MacVicar, 1904-
De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955
de Santillana, Dorothy
Fairbank, Benjamin
Harvey, Peggy
Jones, Judith
Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984
Koshland, William, 1906-
Anti-communist movements
France--Social life and customs
Germany--Social life and customs
Great Britain--Social life and custom
Norway--Social life and customs
United States. Department of State