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Newton Arvin collection

Identifier: CA-MS-00036

Scope and Contents

The Newton Arvin papers contain biographic materials, clippings, correspondence, photographs, reports and other administrative documents covering Arvin's career as a faculty member at Smith College.

Dates of Materials

  • 1900 - 2001
  • Majority of material found within 1924 - 1963


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections. Series V was previously closed.

Conditions Governing Use

Smith College retains copyright of materials created as part of its business operations; 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 Smith College, 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

(Frederick) Newton Arvin was born on August 9, 1900 in Valparaiso, Indiana. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1921, he taught private school in Detroit before joining the faculty at Smith College as an Instructor of English in 1922.

Over the next decade, his career soared. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935 and was subsequently named a full professor at Smith College (1940). In 1939 he became a trustee at Yaddo, a writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. While visiting in 1946 he met and began a two-year affair with Truman Capote. Capote's 1948 novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was dedicated to Arvin. Arvin went on to win the 1951 National Book Award in non-fiction for his book Herman Melville (1950).

As Margot Cleary wrote in Hampshire Life (1991), "Newton Arvin's life was a Jekyll and Hyde affair, a mixture of professional acclaim and personal scandal." Despite a brief marriage to Mary Jordan Garrison (Class of 1931), Arvin was living as a closeted gay man. The marriage ended in 1940 with both Garrison and Arvin suffering numerous breakdowns as a result.

During Labor Day weekend in 1960, police raided Arvin's home and confiscated thousands of pictures of male models that were considered pornographic. He was charged with possession and distribution of pornographic materials and though he initially pleaded innocent, he later accepted a finding of guilty. His arrest, and the confiscation of his journals, led to the arrests of several other men in the community including two colleagues at Smith College. The Board of Trustees voted to have Arvin 'retired' in 1960 to the vehement protest of prominent faculty, colleagues and alumnae. Arvin was admitted to Northampton State Hospital for suicidal depression and remained confined for the duration of the ordeal; diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he died March 21, 1963.


0.667 linear feet (2 containers)

Language of Materials



Faculty. Professor of English Language and Literature from 1922 - 1960. Arrested in 1959 on charges of moral turpitude for possesing pictures of male models that were considered pornographic, he pled guilty to the charges and was retired from Smith College by the Board of Trustees in 1960.


This collection is organized into five series:

  1. Series I: Biographical Material
  2. Series II: Publications
  3. Series III: Awards
  4. Series IV: Correspondence
  5. Series V: Morals Case

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Newton Arvin papers were created over a period of time from a variety of sources and donated to the College Archives.

Related Materials

Newton Arvin papers (MRBC-MS-00014)

Processing Information

Please note that prior to 2018, folder inventories were not always updated when new material was added to the collection. As a result, folder inventories may not be complete and folder numbers may be incorrect.

Finding aid to the Newton Arvin collection
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Finding aid prepared by Gayla Spaulding (2001), Elizabeth Carron (2015), and Daniel Michelson (2018).
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 (
  • 2018-10-30: Containers added and finding aid updated as part of College Archives survey
  • 2022-03-022: Name and access restrictions corrected

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063