Even small manuscript collections can provide a wealth of information, an insight into personal experience within the context of history. Our collection of the Marjorie W. Champlin papers consists of only four folders, but it spans fifty years of political and personal correspondence in the life of a single person. Marjorie Weeden Champlin (1921-1993) of Jamestown, Rhode Island was actively interested in the world of politics throughout her life. Through our collection of the responses she received to letters that she sent out to professors, journalists, and politicians, both local and national, we can get a sense of her views, her determination, and the attention she was paid in life and after her death.
Letter sent by Anne O'Hare McCormick on February 11, 1943 to Marjorie Champlin
Champlin was a 1943 graduate of Wheaton College where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English. The first letter in our collection is from February of that same year and shows evidence of her early desire to be a journalist. She received a response letter from Anne O’Hare McCormick (1880-1954), a foreign news correspondent for the New York Times who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for her dispatches from Europe, encouraging Champlin to look for positions with smaller, local papers to gain experience. McCormick notes, “The opportunity for young girls is better now than usual, and I am sure you will have little difficulty in finding something to do if you are ready to work hard at whatever is offered.” Champlin worked as a cryptographer at the Army Signal Corps in Washington D.C. during World War II and held positions at the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor after it had ended, but it turned out that a career in journalism was not how she wanted to spend her life. Instead, Champlin spent the rest of her time teaching and studying Shakespeare. When she returned to Rhode Island, she taught all grades from kindergarten through high school while also earning her masters in Classics at Brown University and working towards a doctorate in English at Trinity College, Harvard University, University of Chicago, and the University of Rhode Island. It is from this period of her life that she appears to have sent the largest number of letters. Despite not actively working as a political journalist, Champlin followed the news closely and had many opinions on everything from the running of political campaigns and the nuances of education reform to Medicare and the Iran-Contra Affair.
Letter sent by Acheson on February 19, 1951 // Letter sent by Eisenhower on October 20, 1952
In the 1950’s, she corresponded with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who served under President Harry Truman, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, before and after his successful campaign for the presidency. In Acheson’s letter, he references her concern for the state of world affairs, presumably as a result of the war, and also her personal connection with someone in his family named Mary, likely his daughter. Eisenhower is reluctant to discuss the specifics of his ongoing campaign, but he thanks her for her views and shares his reliance on faith in God. The letters do not contain much detailed policy, but they are more than just generalized form letters. Through the decades she wrote letters, she received all sorts of responses, personal and general, from a wide range of well-known politicians, including Presidents. Along with Eisenhower above, she also received correspondence from President George H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Governor Michael Dukakis, and more, all at varying stages in their careers. She expressed her disappointment to Bush when he lost the Republican nomination to Reagan and wrote to then-Senator Gore about Dukakis’ campaign.
Letter from Bush on June 3, 1980 // Letter from Gore on November 16, 1988
Champlin corresponded most frequently with Rhode Island Representative, Governor and Senator John H. Chafee (1922-1999) and Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell (1918-2009). To them, she voiced her opinions primarily on local issues, such as her concern for the lack of attention she felt was given to the library at the University of Rhode Island, or her belief that a college should be founded in Newport. After she died, on October 5, 1993, her brother received a letter from Chafee expressing his sympathies for her passing. Her brother, Richard L. Champlin, who started working at the Redwood Library in 1951 as a cataloger and served as Redwood Librarian from 1988-1991, printed her finished manuscript “Changing the Face of Shakespeare” after her death in 1996.
Finding aids for our manuscript collections can be accessed on our website, at the following link:
The finding aid for the Marjorie W. Champlin papers can be accessed at:
A finding aid for the Richard L. Champlin papers, can be accessed at: