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Betty Schwartzel collection of Dian Fossey correspondence, photographs, and clippings

Identifier: SSC-MS-00386

Scope and Contents

The Betty Schwartzel collection of Dian Fossey correspondence, photographs, and clippings documents the life and career of Dian Fossey through her personal, newsy correspondence sent to Betty Schwartzel and her family from about 1967 through December 1985. In this dense correspondence, Fossey discusses both personal and professional matters with Schwartzel, who acted on Fossey's behalf in stateside financial and other matters beginning at least in the mid-1970s.

The 19 photographs in the collection are all color snapshots from around 1969, with typed captions apparently written by Fossey taped on the back. The subjects of the photographs are mostly gorillas, with and without Fossey herself, but they also include a photograph of a Tutsi man who, according to the caption, returned a gorilla who had been captured by Batwa poachers.

The collection also includes a small amount of correspondence related to Schwartzel's work on Fossey's behalf to settle some financial matters in the late 1970s, as well as correspondence between Schwartzel and attorneys who worked on Fossey's estate after her murder.

Approximately 1/3 of the collection is clippings about Dian Fossey kept by Betty Schwartzel.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1964-1995
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1969 - 1985


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Betty Schwartzel has assigned the copyright in her works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. The photographs in particular are marked as copyrighted by Dian Fossey. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Betty Schwartzel, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical Note

Dian Fossey was a reknowned primatologist who specialied in close, long-term field study of mountain gorillas. She was perhaps best known popularly for her 1983 book Gorillas in the Mist and the 1985 film adaptation starring Sigourney Weaver.

Born in 1932 in San Francisco, Dian Fossey was raised by her well-to-do mother and step-father, Hazel and Richard Price (her parents were divorced). Fossey studied animal husbandry at the University of California at Davis for two years and graduated from San Jose State in 1955 with a degree in occupational therapy. For eleven years, she worked in a children's hospital in Louisville, KY.

In 1963, she went to Africa, and by 1966, she had moved there permanently. She became Louis Leakey's"gorilla girl," and eventually was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, setting up camp in Zaire (then the Congo) and later Rwanda. Fossey fought poachers in and around her base camp, Karisohe, and amidst increasingly tense relations between the local tribe and Fossey regarding the mountain gorillas, Fossey was found murdered on Christmas Eve of 1985. The case was never solved.

Betty Schwartzel, who also used the name Mrs. Gerard A. Schwartzel, was a close friend and trusted partner to Fossey throughout her time in Africa. By the late 1970s, Schwartzel was managing Fossey's stateside financial affairs, keeping a bank account in Fossey's name, and corresponding with Fossey by letter multiple times per month.


0.438 linear feet (1 legal document box)

Language of Materials



The collection documents the professional and personal life of Dian Fossey, a scientist studying gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire).


Although folders have been added, the materials in this colleciton remain organized largely as they were received from the donor. The personal correspondence, in particualr, remains in the chronological order in which it was aranged by Schwartzel, who sometimes had to discern what year it was sent after the fact.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the Smith College Special Collections in 1999 by Betty Schwartzel.

Related Materials

Dian Fossey Archives at Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Atlanta. Additional papers at McMaster University Libraries, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The records of the Digit Fund are in Colorado.

Finding aid to the Betty Schwartzel collection of Dian Fossey correspondence, photographs, and clippings
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Madison White, Christie Peterson
2018, 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2018-10-11: Updated to conform to DACS
  • 2021-02-09: Collection foldered & folder-level listing added; collection-level description updated

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063