The Papers of Caroline Worth Pinkham

So far this semester, I have had the pleasure of processing four collections within “Series 1. Papers of UTS Faculty and Students” of the Union Theological Seminary Archives.  The creators of the first three of these collections had some things in common: all were born in the early-to-mid-19th century, male, and had long careers as pastors in the Presbyterian church.  All were also prominent citizens of their time: George Washington Blagden occupied the pulpit at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts and Thomas Samuel Hastings preached at West Presbyterian Church in New York City and served as president of Union Theological Seminary during the Charles Briggs heresy trials.  Phillips Brooks was famed for his preaching in his time and has been remembered long since, as he is memorialized in multiple published biographies and sculptures in Boston, Massachusetts and Alexandria, Virginia, and several schools bear his name.  In many ways, these may be the kinds of collections one would expect to find within the UTS archives and when I was assigned my next collection, I was ready to pick up where I had left off and add another Presbyterian pastor to my processing roster.

Enter Caroline Worth Pinkham.

Pinkham_HeadshotUTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 1, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Born near the close of the 19th century in Flushing, New York and not a pastor, but, as I was to learn, the first woman to receive the Ph.D., from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary in the History and Comparative Study of Religion, Pinkham lived a long and fascinating life, which is chronicled in her papers.  Raised with economic advantages and terrifically well educated, she held several jobs before marrying and moving to Lucknow, India, where she lived for several years in the early 1920s.  Back in the United States, Pinkham earned undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degrees over a period of time while living with her husband in New Jersey, South Bend, Indiana, and Portland, Maine.  She was also a published author many times over, beginning at age 15 with the publication of her vacation tale “The Devil’s Hole in Bermuda” in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Sunday, August 4, 1912 ) and ranging from academic writing such as her master’s thesis and dissertation to work intended for a more general audience like her A Bungalow in India: Intimate Glimpses of Indian Life and People (1928).

Processing Pinkham’s collection was quite simple from the perspective of an archivist, as it arrived well-organized and in an access-ready order.  Most of the work to be done involved skimming the collection for information for a biographical note and rehousing.  The collection consists simply of a manuscript for an unpublished autobiography and manuscripts for a number of other books.  The content of that material, however, is incredibly rich and paints a vibrant portrait of a thoughtful, perceptive woman who engaged in 20th-century life with brio.  The collection also is enlivened by a large number of photographs as well as other ephemera, such as postcards, cancelled stamps, greeting cards, programs, and news clippings.

Daily Life

IMG_5308UTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 1, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

One aspect of what makes Pinkham’s manuscript for Victorian Echoes, An Autobiography so special is that early on she begins weaving in excerpts from diaries that she kept during the time that she writes about.  For example, she includes a diary entry from when she was 18 in which she said, “A day to remember: I traversed the numerous buildings of Barnard and Columbia.  I was overpowered by their massiveness and splendor.  They surely were great bulwarks of knowledge” and then reflects, “Now in my sunset years I might add to my early diary that little did I know then that one day I would attend classes at Barnard, and eventually be the first woman to get the Ph.D., from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary in the History and Comparative Study of Religion” (Box 1, Folder 6).

As the autobiography continues, the retyped diary component becomes predominant and regular entries describe Pinkham’s day-to-day life: as a student at the Packer Collegiate Institute (“At school I had the pleasure of dissecting a poor sheep’s brain.  If I don’t understand the working of a brain now, my own cerebral hemisphere must be a hollow cavity”), what she wore (“After two hours hunting for a coat, I have managed to get one at Nuttings.  It is a navy blue corded serge.  Style demands that I should wear a mustard shade, but that color makes me feel bilious just to look at it.”) and ate (After German Club I went to H.S.’s at the Mohawk.  We made fudge.  I have never tasted richer confectionary!  We used maple sugar, cream, chocolate, marshmallows, vanilla, and a pound of butter”), the lectures (“In the evening we three heard Dr. H. at Plymouth Church speak on The Russian Revolution  We also heard him speak on the present war.  He seems to be reaching the heights of his predecessor, Henry Ward Beecher.  He hurled his condemnation on those Americans who do not show moral indignation at the indignities that Germany has inflicted”), sermons, and performances (“Mother took me to the Hippodrome.  There was one startling act after the other; Sousa’s band, marvelous acrobats, dancers and skaters”) that she attended.

FullSizeRenderUTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 1, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

She also speaks compellingly of events and political issues occurring around her and farther away:

“A beautiful illustration of Gidding’s theory of Like-mindedness came up today, It was horrible in character.  Five thousand women and children crowded City Hall Park, and cried for food.  Stable articles, such as potatoes, bread and milk have soared to such heights within the last few days that Eastsiders of N.Y. find themselves starving.  It was not a reasonable crowd.  The two fundamental instincts, hunger and the desire for preservation, had been hit.  It seems criminal for carloads of food to be rotting, because of lack of transportation.  Warehouses are stored with food which the owners refuse to sell at reasonable prices”  (Box 1, Folder 6)

Pinkham also has an uncanny ability to describe changes that she senses as they happen.  In October, 1917, she notes:

“Everywhere you go, in everything you do, you find traces of the war.  Our music is changing from silly love-sick tunes to popular martial strains.  There are exalted themes even in posters and magazine illustrations.  Perhaps because of the very horrors of war, we are turning to higher and more beautiful themes” (Box 1, Folder 7).

Following her graduation from school, Pinkham held a series of jobs in offices that she describes in her autobiography.  A quotation from her diary in 1919 during her employment at Sperry Gyroscope Company displays her keen sense of observation, which seems to have informed her writing:

“It is interesting to watch the different types of men at the office.  There are hustlers and bustlers, dreamers and procrastinators, and some who are well rounded individuals.  They all have to be handled with gloves.  Each has to be catered to.  Neither wants to feel that his work is not receiving the same amount of attention.  The busier the man the less critical he is of trivialities.  The real high mighty mites do not show their authority.  They unconsciously command attention.  It is not difficult to pick out the true executive” (Box 1, Folder 7).

“Oh, the joy of a real companion for a husband.”

When she was 22, Pinkham met her future husband, a former aviator in the United States Air Service called Lloyd Francis Pinkham, at a September, 1919 dance at the Pershing Club, which was club operated beginning in 1918 to provide hospitality and accommodations to officers.  She wrote of him in her diary, “He said that he saw me in the subway with Mother.  He decided that I must be going to the Pershing Club.  With all of the activities that go on in N.Y., how did he know that?  He rushed to the Y.M.C.A. in Brooklyn, where he was staying, showered, changed his clothes, and sped to the Pershing Club” (Box 1, Folder 7).

IMG_6001UTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Less than a month later, Lloyd had left to return home to Maine before embarking on a stint of world travel and beginning work for Standard Oil in Madras, India.  Included in the autobiography manuscript during this period, in the chapter “Courtship,” is the correspondence between Pinkham and Lloyd, which continues until Lloyd’s proposal in 1922.

IMG_5999 UTS1: Caroline Worth Pinkham Papers, 1867-1984, box 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Both write of happenings large and small in their respective locations and soon after, begin to fall in love.  Lloyd wrote:

“Today I was very much pleased to receive Christmas and New Years Greetings from a very good friend of mine.  Oh!  You could never guess?  She is a very sweet little dancer, whom I used to ‘trip the light fantastic’ with at the Pershing Club, when I was a young chap and not burdened with business cares.  I believe that she is a voter in your home town, is registered as having no occupation in particular, but really does teach a Sunday School class on the Q.T.  She eats ice-cream and cake, attends lectures on the Philippine Islands, a very interesting conversationalist, an accomplished violinist, uses a royal typewriter, is very thoughtful and considerate of her friends and on the whole she is one of these true blue, fourteen karat young ladies that would just cause one to know her ‘to find something about everything to be glad about’” (Box 2, Folder 1).

Soon after marriage, Pinkham writes of Lloyd teaching her to drive:

“He said today that he wanted me to be able to do everything he did. – Oh, the joy of a real companion for a husband” (Box 3, Folder 3).

Pinkham and Lloyd’s love was lasting.  While his career (at The Remington Cash Register Co. following their return to the United States) took them to live in South Bend, Indiana and Portland, Maine at various points, Lloyd remained supportive of Pinkham’s academic ambitions.  In 1934, she noted that “L writes, ‘Sweetheart, I am very proud of your intellectual attainments, and I too, would not rest content until you have completed what you set out to do.  I am right behind you in whatever you set out to accomplish.  All my love to the best wife a fellow ever had.”  In 1935, Pinkham records an excerpt from a letter from her husband, which includes:

“While other folks find it difficult to take two credits, my wife steps out and takes eight, lives in another State, and drives fifty miles back and forth each day.  I am quite aware of the mental effort and push it requires to accomplish that, and also get the rank that you do in your studies.  You have such a keen insight into things that I always like to get our observations and deductions on my problems.  I sure could not live without you” (Box 4, Folder 11).

Americans in Colonial India

After marrying Lloyd, Pinkham returned with him to India, where they lived during 1922-1925.  For this period, included in the autobiography manuscript material is a set of letters from Pinkham to her parents in which she describes her life in India, as well as larger events of the day.

For example, in 1923  she wrote:

“There has been a great rejoicing among the natives for the past few days, due to the fact that the Government has released Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi” (Box 3, Folder 7) and, in further depth: “Great masses of Indians are becoming educated and want to run India.  They are, of course, not fully educated because of the years of suppression, and if they do get Home Rule will probably make a sad mess of it at the beginning.  There is a lack of unity among the Indians.  The Muhammedans are always rising up against the Hindus and vica versa.  Because of this fact, England for many years has been able to pit one against the other, so to speak, and rule on the side line, but things are changing.  There is really not the opportunity to invest in things out here, because times are so changeable.  If the Indians demand home rule, I am inclined to think that Europeans will be able to reside only in the largest cities and then just for commercial purposes.  If the Englishman goes in India, the American will have to go too, I think” (Box 3, Folder 5).

Combined with the courtship correspondence between Lloyd and Pinkham, these letters to her parents constitute a spectacular source of primary source material of expatriate American life in India during the early 1920s, a time when organization against British colonial rule was increasing.

“Reams of paper and a pencil make me happy beyond words.

There are many other aspects of the autobiography and embedded diary that are of great interest, such as Pinkham’s reflections on spiritual matters, both internal (e.g., on Mar. 17, 1926, “St. Paddy’s Day! I have tolerance for Catholics.  When it comes to the things that really count in life, they are true.  People should not have religious prejudice.  Why should Catholics and Protestants slight each other?  God alone is perfect.  Help me to keep away from narrow religious fanaticism!  Whether to worship through Christ or the Virgin, what does it matter?”) and external (e.g., in 1935: “Many Protestant denominations have much to learn in regard to women and their status.  Woman is indeed the conservor of the race.  I think this world would be a better place if women had a share in the management of world affairs.”)

Towards the end of my processing of the collection, I realized that beyond her connection to Union Theological Seminary, Pinkham shared something else in common with the pastors whose papers with which I have worked already.  Each of the creators of these collections are writers of sorts, whether they used the skill primarily in preparing sermons, remarks, words to hymns, or, like Pinkham, to reveal themselves in narrative or fiction.  One of the unexpected pleasures of accessing materials at the Union Theological Seminary Archives is getting to read the words of people who took such joy in expression.  As Pinkham put it in a letter to her future husband in 1922: “Reams of paper and a pencil make me happy beyond words.


2 thoughts on “The Papers of Caroline Worth Pinkham

  1. Thank you Beth and all the staff at the Burke Library – it was a pleasure and privilege interning this past semester. I hope that researchers take note of this collection as it is incredible!

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