Margaret Parton papers , 1885-1981

Overview of the Collection

Parton, Margaret, 1915-1981
Margaret Parton papers
1885-1981 (inclusive)
58 linear feet, (108 containers)  :  1-72 are manuscript boxes 73-81 are clam shell
Collection Number
Coll 036
Margaret Parton (1915-1981) was a journalist, critic, and author. She was educated at the Lincoln School of Teachers in New York City and at Swarthmore College. The collection comprises materials that deal extensively with the personal and professional life of Parton and her family at home and abroad throughout the 20th century.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time. Collection includes sound recordings, moving images, and digital files to which access is restricted. Access to these materials is governed by repository policy and may require the production of listening or viewing copies. Researchers requiring access must notify Special Collections and University Archives in advance and pay fees for reproduction services as necessary.

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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

Born of journalist parents who knew many of the people that shaped twentieth century journalism, literature, and politics, Margaret Parton (1915-1981) became a journalist, critic, and author in her own right. During her childhood Parton's parents, Lemuel Parton and Mary Field Parton, moved in circles that included Sinclair Lewis, Clarence Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, sculptor Jo Davidson, Will Irwin, and Berta and Elmer Hader. Margaret's aunt, Sara Bard Filed, was a California poet who was married to Colonel Charles Erskine Scott Wood, a noted attorney, poet, satirist, and Indian fighter (later Indian friend).

The Partons moved from San Francisco in 1926 and settled at Sneden's Landing in Palisades, New York. Margaret was educated at the Lincoln School of Teachers in New York City and Swarthmore College. Upon graduation, Ms. Parton took a number of odd jobs in New York and San Francisco. After the death of her father in 1943, she was hired by the New York Herald Tribune and wrote her first book Laughter on the Hill (Whittlesey House, 1945) which dealt with her Bohemian life style in San Francisco. In 1946 she was assigned by the Herald Tribune to cover post-war Japan, and in 1947, just as the British were ending their rule, she was transferred to India. While situated in New Delhi she covered the Ghandi assassination, the partition riots, and traveled throughout the Indian provinces of Burma and Pakistan. In 1948 she married Times of London correspondent, Eric Britter. They had a son, Lemuel, in 1950. Her 1959 book The Leaf and the Flame describes her experiences as a woman journalist and mother in India. After a brief stay in Japan in 1953, Parton and Britter separated. Margaret returned with her son to New York and went back to work for the Herald Tribune. Her coverage of the Sam Sheppard murder trial and a twelve part series on juvenile delinquency were widely praised. She also did general reporting and book reviews for the Herald Tribune until 1955 when she left for an associate editor position with Ladies Home Journal. At the Journal she covered a variety of social issues as they were coming into the American consciousness. After leaving the Journal in 1963 she married Alfred Rodman Hussey, who died in November 1964 after a long illness. Throughout the middle-sixties Parton concentrated on raising her son and writing her autobiography. In 1969, both her son and her mother died. Although Margaret was devastated by her loss, by 1972 she had completed her revised memoir, Journey Through a Lighted Room. Throughout the 1970's she worked on an unpublished biography of her mother, wrote book reviews and freelanced for Woman's Day. She died of cancer in 1981.

Margaret's father, Lemuel F. Parton, was born in Plattesville, Colorado in 1880. After graduating from the University of Colorado, Parton worked for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Herald and the San Francisco Bulletin. In between stints on these newspapers he prospected for gold in Nevada and explored South America. he married Mary Field in 1913. In 1926 he took his family to New York and in 1931 he began his syndicated column "Who's News Today," writing of the movers and shakers of the world until 1942. He died in 1943.

Mary Field Parton, Margaret's mother, was born in 1878 in Cincinnati and raised in Detroit by a strict Protestant father. Later, Mary revolted against her upbringing and attended the University of Michigan. She taught school in Ovid, Michigan for two years and after being influenced by Eugene Debs during a lecture, moved to Chicago where she worked in one of Jane Addams' settlement houses. She began working as a labor reporter around 1908 when she became acquainted with Clarence Darrow. According to Margaret Parton, they had a brief affair and remained life-long friends. The letters between Darrow and Mary Field which are mentioned in Journey Through a Lighted Room are in the Newberry Library in Chicago. Mary Field covered many labor trials, including the McNamara trial in Los Angeles. In 1913 she married Lemuel Parton and in 1915 Margaret was born. Mary continued to write; between the 1920's and 1940's she wrote fiction and many magazine articles. Her books include a biography of Mother Jones (1928?) and Your Washington (1938). Mary Field Parton died in 1969.

Martha and Robert W. Bruere were neighbors of the Partons in Sneden's Landing, New York. Robert Bruere was a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "brain trust" and an author, researcher, and industrial relations expert. He was an associate editor of The Survey. In 1933-1934 he was the Chairman of the Cotton Textile, National Industrial Relations Board of the National Recovery Administration. In 1938 he was Chairman of the Maritime Labor Board. Martha Bensley Bruere was a magazine writer and illustrator.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Margaret Parton Papers deal extensively with the personal and professional life of an American family at home and abroad throughout the twentieth century. The creative as well as the professional pursuits of the Parton family are represented by diaries, correspondence, dispatches from India and Japan and articles on growing social awareness in the United States.

The Parton Papers consist of one large general correspondence series followed by manuscripts and other material of Margaret Parton; writings of other family members, including Margaret's parents, Mary Field Parton and Lemuel F. Parton; and papers of non-family members, such as neighbors Robert and Martha Bruere.

The correspondence spans nearly 100 years (1885-1981) and is largely of a family nature. However, it does provide insight into the interrelationships of the Parton family. Arranged chronologically, the correspondence falls naturally into separate sections, such as correspondence between Lem and Mary Parton, ca. 1910 to 1920; the family's trip to France in 1923; Margaret's letters with her parents, 1932 to 1943, with Margaret and her mother corresponding between 1946 and 1952 while Margaret was in Japan and India; and a large series of letters to Margaret from her son and husbands, including a number of letters from Eric Britter, 1948, Times of London correspondent in India, and future husband. Letters from Sara Bard Field, wife of Charles Erskine Scott Wood and aunt to Margaret, span over 70 years (1900-1974). The correspondence between Alice Field Newkirk and her husband, Walter (1902-1936), includes letters from Alice's European tours (1909, 1924, and 1927) and letters from Walter who was a graduate of MIT and an engineer in the early years of auto industry. The letters between Robert Bruere and his wife, Martha Bensley Bruere, are of a personal nature but include descriptions of Mr. Bruere's western tour that dealt with labor and IWW unrest (1918) and his work for Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration (1933-1934).

The selected name index, found at the end of the inventory, includes dates of letters from notable people such as Lincoln Steffens, Fremont Older, Theodore Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Elmer and Berta Hader, and Inez Haynes Irwin (Mrs. Will Irwin), to facilitate their location.

Following the correspondence is the section of material of Margaret Parton. It includes her diaries; journals; manuscripts of books, articles, and non-fiction works; miscellaneous notes; and personal information.

The diaries are arranged chronologically and span the years 1926-1981. Included with the diaries are typed journal entries and diary inserts.

The book length manuscripts include material on two of Parton's published works: Journey Through a Lighted Room and Leaf and the Flame. After working for seven years on various forms of her autobiography, Parton completed Journey Through a Lighted Room in 1972. The early versions were intended both as a biography of her mother and an autobiography. There are five manuscript versions of the book as well as research notes. Leaf and the Flame, published in 1959, is a book on India in diary form. There are two versions of the manuscript with an additional early version not in the form of a diary. Included with the manuscript material for Leaf and the Flame are all the remaining manuscripts, clippings and notebooks from Parton's work for the New York Herald Tribune in India (1947-1952, 1954). Also included is her work for The Reporter magazine, 1950-1952.

Three projected books Parton worked on during the 1970's are also included in the book length manuscript series. They are: a biography of Mary Field (1974); Mother/Daughter Diaries, a project juxtaposing the diaries of Mary Field Parton and Margaret Parton; and the Lem/Christie Letters (1976). The latter concerns the correspondence (which can be found in the correspondence series, August-December 1968) between Lem Britter, Margaret's son, and Christy Wilson, a girl he met at camp.

The next series, articles by Parton, is sorted alphabetically by title of article or its subject. The articles include manuscripts and clippings of work done for the New York Herald Tribune, Ladies Home Journal, and Woman's Day. Also included are a few journalistic book projects. Of interest are the subjects Japan, Sam Sheppard murder trial coverage, and United Nation Organizing Conference. Articles for Ladies Home Journal cover a wide range of social issues as they were rising above the surface of American consciousness. They include illegitimate children, refugees, Peace Corps, heroin addict mothers, and single mothers. Parton also wrote articles on the personalities Marilyn Monroe and Lyndon Johnson. In addition, there is much information on travel, as Parton covered Morocco, Scotland, Iran and other areas of the world. She also wrote extensively on her home environment, being a single working mother in the 1950's, and her personal life. At the end of the article series are manuscripts and clippings from the Herald Tribune and tearsheets from Ladies Home Journal. The series of Margaret Parton's writings conclude with her fiction and poetry, written mainly in the 1930's.

Following Parton's professional and literary ventures are three boxes of her school work, then artwork by Parton and others (such as Jo Davidson and C. E. S. Wood), and, next, miscellaneous personal information, including awards, notes and autograph books.

The final series of Margaret Parton's section of the collection is that of tape recordings. There are forty tapes of various sizes, many of which include family gatherings and interviews with Mary Field Parton on her youth and early professional and home life. Margaret's mother also discusses her relationships with Clarence Darrow, her father, Emma Goldman and others. Also of note are two stenographic tapes of an interview with Ida Raush Eastman (1964). Four records follow the tapes. Note that the Lem referred to in this section is Lem Britter.

The section of papers relating Mary Field Parton includes her diaries and manuscripts. The diaries are arranged chronologically and span the years 1911-1963. The manuscripts are divided into fiction, written in the 1920's-1940's, poetry, and non-fiction. Included in the latter section are Mary Parton's manuscripts concerning the McNamara trial (63/2) and labor articles from such publications as The Masses.

The papers of Lemuel Parton, which follow Mary's, consist of three manuscripts, a journal of a 1924 trip to the Arctic, notes, printed matter, and his newspaper column, "Who's News Today." The column, also called "Who's Who in the News," consists of dispatches, 1931-1936, and press clippings, 1937-1942. The articles are organized alphabetically by the personality Parton wrote about. Subjects include most of the public officials in the United States and Europe during the depression and military build-up prior to World War II, such as Hitler (1931) and Mountbatten (1941). There are also clippings from the column, "Edwin Hill, the Globetrotter of Hearst Metronome News," which Parton ghosted.

Other family members represented in this collection are Alice Field Newkirk, Alfred Rodman Hussey, and Lemuel Britter.

Papers of non-family members include Martha Bensley Bruere's research on prohibition (1928) and the Forest Service (1930's), and Robert Bruere's research on chain store taxation. There are also manuscripts by Lucy Freeman on women's operations and Lucille Swan on China (1930).

The family is documented extensively through scrapbooks and photograph albums. The photos range from the turn of the twentieth century through 1981, and include a large number of photographs from India and Japan, as well as family snapshots. Lem Britter's photographs, mostly of nature, are also with the collection.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Journalists--United States
  • Women authors, American

Personal Names

  • Bruère, Martha Bensley, 1879-1953
  • Bruère, Robert W. (Robert Walter), 1876-1964
  • Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945
  • Field, Sara Bard, 1882-1974
  • Hussey, Alfred Rodman, -1964
  • Newkirk, Alice Field, d. 1965
  • Parton, Lemuel, -1943
  • Parton, Margaret, 1915-1981
  • Parton, Mary Field
  • Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967
  • Wood, Charles Erskine Scott, 1852-1944

Family Names

  • Parton family

Geographical Names

  • United States--Social life and customs--20th century

Form or Genre Terms

  • Diaries
  • Manuscripts for publication
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Works of art