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Curtis-Iselin family papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00675

Scope and Contents

The Curtis-Iselin Family Papers are an extensively annotated set of materials concerning Sally Curtis and Lewis Iselin. There is also considerable material and research pertaining to their friends and family. Well-researched family histories of both sets of extended families are augmented by such primary source material as Marie deNeufville Iselin's 1904 diary and photographs from Edith Roelker Curtis. Biographical material about Lewis and Sally Iselin spans from their childhoods to their later years, featuring correspondence, clippings, and photographs about their personal lives and professional careers. Drafts, publications, and photographs document Sally Iselin's publishing career; an oversize scrapbook details her work as fashion editor of Woman's Home Companion. These materials lend insight into the couture industry at mid-century. The collection also contains Sally's diaries, one from childhood, another from the war years, and one from 1950. Correspondence comprises the largest set of documents. It extends from 1933 to 1945 and consists primarily of letters exchanged between Lewis and Sally Iselin while he served for the Navy. There is a lesser amount of correspondence between the Iselins and other family and friends. There are courtship letters between Sally and Lewis from the 1930s, and the World War II letters particularly reveal the strains of wartime on family life. In addition, these letters provide a lens into the social dynamics of the "upper class." Sally and Lewis Iselin's daughter, Edith Byron, conducted substantial research on the family history. This is reflected in the many notes and histories that annotate the papers.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1904 - 2000
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1935 - 1945


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 they own copyright, the Curtis-Iselin family has assigned the copyright of their works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. 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 the Curtis-Iselin family, 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 / Historical

The Curtis-Iselin Family Papers document the lives of Sally (Curtis) Iselin and Lewis Iselin, Jr. Sally Cary Curtis was born in Nahant, Massachusetts on June 16, 1915 to Charles Pelham and Edith Roelker Curtis. The Curtises were both descendents of elite New England families and were identified with Boston's Back Bay elite; their acrimonious divorce in 1934 was the source of scandal. Sally attended a series of girls' preparatory schools before attending Radcliffe College in 1934. In Cambridge, she met Lewis Iselin, Jr., who, in that year, left Harvard University to study at the Art Students League of New York. Sally too left Radcliffe without completing her degree. Like Sally Curtis, Lewis Iselin, Jr.--known as "Skinny"--belonged to a wealthy, privileged family. He was born in New Rochelle, New York on June 22, 1913 to Lewis and Marie deNeufville Iselin. Lewis and Sally married in 1935 and had a daughter, Edith (Byron), on July 14, 1937. A boating enthusiast, Lewis enlisted in the naval reserve and was commissioned an ensign in 1940. He was called to active duty in 1941 and spent the war as Lieutenant Commander on a number of ships, receiving the Legion of Merit. The couple's second daughter, Sarah Cary (Morrison), was born on July 4, 1941.

During the war, Sally worked as an editorial assistant for the foreign news division of the fledgling magazine Newsweek . This was the start of a career in magazine publishing that included positions as assistant editor at Town and Country (1945-48), reporter for Life (1948-50); and fashion editor at Woman's Home Companion (1956). She also published freelance pieces and took up photography, which she exhibited later in life. Sally's most prominent work at these publications centered on the fashion industry, as she supervised fashion shoots and wrote articles on French couture. Couture was also a personal passion of Sally's, and she later donated designer pieces to the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After the war, Lewis Iselin pursued an artistic career. He gained considerable renown for his portrait sculpture and received commissions that included the U.S. Military Cemetery in Paris and Whitney Museum of Art. He also exhibited widely, from small galleries to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The family's leisure activities echoed the pastimes of their elite forebears. They were avid sailors, art collectors, and active in New York City's society life. The couple maintained a house in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan and an apartment in Paris. In 1971, they relocated to Camden, Maine. Lewis Iselin died on August 10, 1990. Sally Curtis Iselin died on March 18, 1998.


10.667 linear feet (12 containers)

Language of Materials



Artist; Journalist; Military spouse; Photographer; Sculptor. The papers primarily concern Sally Curtis and Lewis Iselin, but there is also considerable material and research pertaining to their friends and family. Biographical material spans from their childhoods to later years, featuring correspondence, clippings, and photographs about their personal and professional lives, including Sally Iselin's publishing career. Correspondence comprises the largest set of documents, dating from 1933 to 1945, primarily letters between Lewis and Sally Iselin while he served for the Navy. Their daughter, Edith Byron, conducted substantial research on the family history, reflected in the many notes and histories that annotate the papers.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Curtis-Iselin family papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection by Edith Byron in 2011 and 2012, and by her son, Alex Byron, in 2019.

Related Materials

Related material can be found in the Edith Roelker Curtis Papers. The Lewis Iselin Papers are at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. Sally Iselin's sailing logs were donated to Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT

Processing Information

Accessioned by Amanda Izzo and Kathleen Banks Nutter, May 2011 and January 2012, and Renee Pelletier and Madison White, August 2019.



Finding Aid to the Curtis-Iselin family papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Madison White
2012, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:21-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-12-04: Updated and added new accession
  • 2021-08-17: Added content description from accession inventories

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063