Mary McCarthy: Adding to the Legacy
By Ronald D. Patkus, Head, Archives and Special Collections
It is no exaggeration to say that the Vassar College Library has been collecting materials relating to Mary McCarthy since her earliest days as a writer. Of special note are several publications that document McCarthy's participation in a variety of Vassar literary projects from 1929 to 1933. The library possesses, for example, rare copies of The Sampler, which was issued by sections of English 105 and 130, and which included writings by Mary McCarthy in the Fall of 1929. There are issues of the Vassar Miscellany News, which McCarthy served as a "Star Reporter" later in her career at the college. The library also holds the unique Con Spirito, a literary review founded by McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop, Frani Blough and others in 1933 to protest the official Vassar Review.
Of course the library would have collected the aforementioned titles whether or not McCarthy contributed to them. Following her graduation, the library began to collect items specifically because they related to her. Her books were gathered and added to the shelves, and some eventually became part of the Grille Rare Books collection. Several of McCarthy's published stories and articles, such as "The Tin Butterfly" (The New Yorker, 1951) were collected for the Alumnae Collection. By the early 1970s McCarthy's literary reputation had grown to the extent that the college recognized the value of her autograph, and a letter to President Alan Simpson was set aside and added to the Autograph Collection in the library's Department of Special Collections.
Since graduating from Vassar, McCarthy maintained close ties with the college. During the 1980s discussions took place concerning the possibility of the writer's papers coming to Vassar. This was a major undertaking, and at first a deposit agreement was worked out, whereby the papers were placed at Vassar for safekeeping. Through a subsequent agreement, dated 1985, ownership of the papers was formally transferred to Vassar College. An additional group of materials came to the college in 1989.
The library has continued to collect McCarthy material in the years since her death in 1989. Many items became available following the death of McCarthy's husband, James West. The West Family donated a group of medals received by the writer during her lifetime. A number of books once owned by McCarthy, many with inscriptions or accompanying letters, have been acquired. The most important acquisition, however, consists of approximately 15 linear feet of manuscripts, typescripts, correspondence, financial records, photographs, and other items. This addition to the McCarthy papers contains many significant items, and is the focus of the exhibition currently on display. The exhibition includes materials that span 60 years (1929-1989) and which document various aspects of Mary McCarthy's involvement in both European and American literary and political circles during the 20th century.
Vassar College Library is proud to hold the papers of Mary McCarthy, and happy to make a portion of them available for public viewing in this exhibition. We hope this exhibition and other scheduled Mary McCarthy events will stimulate further research and discussion both within the Vassar community and beyond.