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MC 910

Saxon, Hortense, 1902-1989. Papers of Hortense Saxon, 1922-1929: 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 910
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Saxon, Hortense, 1902-1989
Title: Papers of Hortense Saxon, 1922-1929
Date(s): 1922-1929
Quantity: .63 linear feet (1 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 photograph folder)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence of Hortense Carter Saxon, an African American woman who worked as servant and housekeeper. Also includes employment agency receipts, two bank passbooks, a health booklet, and two photographs, presumably of Saxon.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 2005-M24
The papers of Hortense Carter Saxon were acquired by the Schlesinger Library in April 2005 from Dan Casavant Rare Books.

Processing Information:

Processed: May 2017
By: Jehan Sinclair, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Hortense Carter Saxon as well as 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:

Hortense Saxon Papers, 1922-1929; item description, dates. MC 910, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Hortense Carter Saxon was an African American woman who worked as a servant and housekeeper. She was born on June 28, 1902, in Norwich, Connecticut, to Solomon and Bettie Carter. Saxon's father died when she was young. She grew up in Connecticut with her mother, a laundress from Essex County, Virginia. Hortense Carter Saxon and Robert A. Saxon, an itinerant porter, had a son (Howard Carter Saxon) at a young age, around 1918. In the 1920 United States census, Hortense Carter Saxon and her son, Howard, are listed as inmates at the Connecticut Industrial School for Girls, a reformatory institution for delinquent girls located in Middletown, Connecticut.
Saxon worked in New York City in domestic service. She lived in Far Rockaway, Queens, as well as in Harlem. While in Harlem she boarded with two friends of the family, Lottie and Arthur Washington. Around 1927 she was a housekeeper for doctor Eleanor Bertine, one of the first Jungian analysts in the United States and a founder of the New York Association for Analytical Psychology. While working in New York City, Hortense Carter Saxon sent money, clothing, and other goods to support her mother, who was the primary caretaker of her son until the 1930s. She also supported her young cousin Roland Ellis, who boarded with her mother in Hartford, Connecticut. Hortense Carter Saxon's aunt Annie Cannon also lived with Bettie Carter intermittently and helped take care of Howard and Roland.
Saxon kept in contact with friends and relatives from both her side and Robert A. Saxon's side of the family. Throughout the 1920s, Hortense Carter Saxon maintained romantic relationships with multiple men, some of whom were married. Around 1930, she married Robert Saxon and moved to Queens, with their son, Howard. Hortense Carter Saxon eventually returned to Hartford, Connecticut, and lived the rest of her life there. In a 1986 newspaper article she is described as "a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends." In Hartford, Connecticut, she was a member of St. Monica's Episcopal Church and their Ladies Auxiliary. She was also a member of Trellis Temple No. 663, Improved Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks of The World, and served as president of their Purple Cross Unit. She died on February 24, 1989.


The papers of Hortense Carter Saxon include correspondence between Saxon, her family and friends; employment agency receipts; bank passbooks; a health booklet; and two photographs. These materials document the daily life and relationships of working-class African Americans in Connecticut and New York. Reoccurring themes within correspondence include financial difficulties, work and employment, daily errands and outings, health, and social activities. Correspondence provides glimpses into social life and courtship. It also demonstrates the daily personal and financial hardships ordinary African Americans faced during this time period. Materials also offer insight into Black family life and the extensive familial and community networks used for financial and social support.
Materials are arranged alphabetically. Some names found in the correspondence are difficult to read. Names that appear in brackets were interpreted by the archivist and may not reflect correct spelling. Individuals indicated as "boyfriend" are men whose letters have a romantic tone or who are referred to as "daddy," a 1920s slang term for a boyfriend or lover, especially one who is rich.
Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Adultery--New York (State)
African American children
African American families--Connecticut
African Americans--Social life and customs--20th century
African American women--Connecticut
African American women household employees
African American women--New York (State)
Courtship--New York (State)
Dating (Social customs)--New York (State)
Working class African Americans--United States
Harlem (New York, N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century