Mawr College Library Special Collections
Mary Meigs Papers
Part I: Description
Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library
Copyright © 2004 by Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College
Mary Meigs, ca. 1990 on the set of The Company of Strangers (Box 7, Folder 10)
Total Boxes: 17
Linear Feet: 9.1
Gift of Mary Meigs, 2002.
Ownership & Literary Rights
The Mary Meigs Papers are the physical property of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, of unpublished works by Mary Meigs are held by Bryn Mawr college (gift of the author). Literary rights, including copyright, of other authors belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.
Mary Meigs Papers, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research.
Mary Meigs was born on April 27, 1917 in Philadelphia to Edward Browning Meigs and Margaret Wister Meigs. She spent most of her childhood in Washington, DC, but returned to the Philadelphia area to attend Bryn Mawr College. She graduated in 1939 and served in the U. S. Navy during World War II as a WAVE. After her service in the military, Meigs spent her life as a painter, honing her talents under the guidance of close friends and fellow artists Henry Poor and his stepdaughter Anne Poor. Through the Poors, Meigs met author and women's rights activist Barbara Deming, and was instantly captivated by her. They spent a number of years together during the 1950's and 1960's, but their relationship eventually foundered, partially due to Meigs' timidity and Deming's unrelenting political activism.
During this time Meigs moved to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where she befriended the social commentator Edmund Wilson and his circle of friends. Among them was the revolutionary Canadian author Marie-Claire Blais, with whom Meigs became romantically involved; Meigs, Blais, and Deming lived together for six years.
In the 1970's Meigs turned her attention to writing. She moved to Quebec in 1975, and in 1979 she began to write an account of her life entitled Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait , describing her life as a lesbian and an artist. The book was a success, and she wrote other autobiographical books: The Medusa Head (1983), The Box Closet (1987), and The Time Being (1997). In 1990, she appeared in the Canadian movie The Company of Strangers, a film about a group of elderly women stranded in the wilderness and how they survive this ordeal. Her book, In the Company of Strangers (1991), describes her experiences during the filming of the movie. Throughout her later life Meigs, increasingly prominent as a writer, became a spokesperson for elderly lesbians, battling against prejudices of age, class, and gender. She died on November 15, 2002.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COLLECTION
Organization of the Collection
The collection is divided into four sections: Correspondence, Writings, Artwork, and Other Materials.
Correspondence, is organized into Outgoing Correspondence, Incoming Correspondence, and Third Party Correspondence. Each subseries is arranged alphabetically. Outgoing Correspondence consists of nearly three hundred letters written by Meigs from 1954 to 1995; most of the letters are addressed to Anne Poor, or to former companions Barbara Deming and Ruth Barratt. Incoming Correspondence contains over six hundred letters received throughout Meigs' life, dated from 1942 to 1999; they include letters from Henry and Anne Poor, Edmund Wilson, and fellow Bryn Mawr alumna Hortense Flexner King. Third Party Correspondence consists of a small group of letters, including correspondence between Meigs, Elena Wilson, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University concerning the donation of Edmund Wilson's papers after his death.
Writings, is organized into Journals, Manuscripts, and Other Writings. Journals contains thirty-six handwritten journals dated 1977 to 2000 recounting daily experiences, reflections, and dreams; they describe Meigs' life as her first and subsequent books are published. Manuscripts is organized by book: The Box Closet, In the Company of Strangers, Lily Briscoe: A Self Portrait , The Medusa Head, and The Time Being. Documents for each book are organized into Materials, Notes / Drafts, Translations (when applicable), Published Excerpts, Correspondence with Publisher, and Reception. Materials consists of research gathered for the writing of each book. Notes / Drafts contains successive manuscripts, from notes and first drafts to printed proofs. The collection includes Translations into French for two of Meigs' books, Lily Briscoe, Un Autoportrait, and Femmes dans un Paysage, the French version of In the Company of Strangers; these works were translated by Michelle Thériault and Marie José Thériault, respectively. Published Excerpts contains selections published prior to or shortly after the publication of each book. Correspondence with Publisher contains chronologically cataloged correspondence, mostly from Mary Schendlinger of Talon Books, Ltd. of Vancouver. Reception contains chronologically arranged reviews and fan mail written in response to Meigs' works.
Other Writings contains Meigs' minor literary works and is organized into Essays, Letters to the Editor, Reviews, and Public Appearances. Each subseries is cataloged alphabetically. Essays contains short writings published by Meigs during the 1980's and 1990's on topics such as homosexuality, aging, and nature; correspondence concerning the publication of many of these works is included. Letters to the Editor contains three letters in defense of lesbian writers. Reviews contains six book reviews written by Meigs, two of which were published in the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin. Public Appearances contains speeches, interviews, and flyers announcing public readings by Meigs.
Artwork, is divided into Artwork, Gallery Opening Notifications, and Reception. Artwork contains three groups of unpublished illustrations: for Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, and the epic cycle of the legend of Cuchulainn in Jean Markale's L'epopée celtique d'Irlande. Gallery Opening Notifications contains memorabilia from the 1950's to the 1970's concerning Meigs' art exhibitions, including both gallery and newspaper announcements. Reception contains articles and fan mail relating to Meigs' artwork.
Other Materials, contains Marie-Claire Blais, articles in French concerning Blais' artwork; Barbara Deming, a collection of memorials written shortly after Deming's death in 1983; Edmund Wilson, an article written by Wilson published in The New Yorker that mentions Meigs and his social circle; and Miscellaneous Articles.
PART I: Collection Description
PART II: Box and Folder List
Processing and description by Kristin Masters.
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