Bessie Boies Cotton papers
Scope and Contents
The Bessie Boies Cotton Papers consist of 1.5 linear feet and relate to her professional and personal life, dating from 1891 to 1983. The bulk of the papers date from 1910 to 1935 and focus on Cotton's work in the YWCA, particularly during her time in Russia, and the courtship between Cotton and her husband, Thomas. Cotton's papers provide valuable insight into the work of the YWCA in Russia from 1917 to 1919 as well as the conditions in Russia during the Revolution and World War I. There is little material documenting the last twenty-five years of her life, or her relationship with her family after her marriage. Although Cotton worked with several women's rights organizations and groups devoted to promoting peace, there is little evidence of that work in this collection. Types of material include correspondence; diaries; reports; magazine articles and newspaper clippings; family histories; financial records; membership lists; pamphlets; memorabilia; and photographs.
Dates of Materials
- Cotton, Bessie Boies, 1880-1959 (Person)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.
Conditions Governing Use
The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to unpublished works created by Bessie Boies Cotton. Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."
Biographical / Historical
Bessie (Elizabeth) Boies Cotton was born on April 5, 1880 in Hudson, Michigan to banker, insurance investor, and state politician John Keep Boies and teacher Mary Worthington Colton Boies. Orphaned at age eleven, she spent much of her childhood with her uncle and aunt, Frank and Abbie (Colton) Childs on a farm outside of Hudson. She attended the Mary Burnham School in Northampton, Massachusetts, and then entered the Lake Erie College for Women in Painesville, Ohio, to prepare for college. After graduating from Smith College in 1903 with a degree in history, she taught at Lake Erie College for three years. She attended the University of Chicago, earning an M.A. in history in 1908. Boies attended some graduate classes at Columbia University during the 1908-09 academic year.
Boies joined the staff of the National Board of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in 1909, serving until 1940. By 1913, she was placed in charge of the department of personnel for the YWCA's Department of Method. In 1915, she was assigned to set up YWCA facilities at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. In January 1917, Russian women within the Kerensky Provisional Government invited the YWCA to help working women, recently granted full civil rights, to prepare themselves for their new role in society. Boies and one other secretary established an association in Petrograd and in Moscow and worked with women's groups in other cities. They operated a shipboard exhibition along the Volga River in 1918, demonstrating improved nutrition, child care, and agricultural techniques to villagers. The combination of political upheavals as the Bolsheviks seized control, the threat of German invasion after March 1918, and Allied intervention in northern Russia in support of the anti-Bolsheviks led to the evacuation of all Americans from the Bolshevik-controlled portions of the country. Traveling through Stockholm, Boies made her way into northern Russia where she set up box-car canteens for U.S. troops in Archangel.
While in Russia, Boies met Thomas Cotton, a YMCA worker, whom she married in 1919 and divorced in 1938. They had two children, John Boies Cotton and Deborah Boies Cotton Leighton.
In 1921, Bessie Cotton was appointed foreign staff secretary, responsible for seeking out candidates for foreign service, planning their training, and supervising their work. Cotton was especially interested in women's rights, and supported organizations that promoted the welfare of women and children. She continued to work as a consultant for the YWCA up until 1945. She died in Los Angeles, California, on April 23, 1959.
1.355 linear feet (6 containers)
YWCA overseas official. The bulk of the Bessie Boies Cotton Papers focus on her work in the YWCA, particularly during her time in Russia, and the courtship between Cotton and her husband, Thomas. Cotton's papers provide valuable insight into the work of the YWCA in Russia from 1917 to 1919 as well as the conditions in Russia during the Revolution and World War I. Although Cotton worked with several women's rights organizations and groups devoted to promoting peace, there is little evidence of that work in this collection. Material includes correspondence, diaries, reports, writings, family histories, memorabilia, and photographs.
This collection is organized into five series:
- I. Biographical Materials
- II. Correspondence
- III. Diaries
- IV. YWCA
- V. Photographs
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Deborah Boies Leighton donated her mother's papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1983.
Selections from the Bessie Boies Cotton Papers can be viewed in the Web exhibit "An Ever-Widening Circle of Friendship": YWCA Overseas Secretaries from China to Liberia.
Reprocessed by Kara M. McClurken, 2002.
- Cotton, Bessie Boies, 1880-1959
- Cotton, Thomas Lucius, 1891-1964
- International cooperation
- Leighton, Deborah Boies
- Significant others
- Soviet Union -- History -- Revolution, 1917-1921
- Women -- Societies and clubs
- Women’s societies and clubs
- World War, 1914-1918 -- War work -- Young Women's Christian associations
- Young Women's Christian Associations -- Middle East
- Young Women's Christian Associations--Russia
- Bessie Boies Cotton papers
- Finding Aid
- Kara M. McClurken
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (https://github.com/harvard-library/archivesspace-preprocessor)
- 2005-09-23: mnsss151 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
- 2017-07-26T17:48:11-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
- 2022-03-02: Integrated description of oversized materials
Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063