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Vera Connolly papers, 1907-1960 (Bulk dates: 1916-1956). 

Creator: 
Connolly, Vera L., 1888-1964.
Phys. Desc: 
12 linear ft. ( 27 boxes, 1 oversize box)
Call Number: 
MS#0276
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

Vera Leona Connolly was a journalist and editor for many of America's popular magazines, particularly woman's journals such as "Good Housekeeping", "The Woman's Home Companion", and "Woman's Day", from the 1920s through the 1950s. Describing herself as a "crusading journalist--a stirrer-upper," Connolly wrote articles that publicized and criticized social problems in the United States, including juvenile delinquency, lax adoption regulations, ineffective narcotics law, sweatshops, and the poor living conditions on Indian reservations. She encouraged her readers get involved by writing to government officials and volunteering time, and some of her articles sparked investigations and court cases that lead to significant changes. Connolly also wrote extensively about marriage and family throughout her career, but supported the rights of unmarried women and unwed mothers as well. Connolly was born in 1888 at a military post in Benicia, California. Her father, an Army captain, traveled widely throughout Europe and Southeast Asia and often brought his wife and two children, Vera and Donald, with him. For several years he was stationed on the Round Valley Reservation in California, and Connolly later said that the poverty and malnourishment she witnessed there led to her decision to help disadvantaged groups. The family eventually settled in Angel Island, San Francisco, where Connolly began writing stories and worked on her high school's newspaper. She went on to study English at the University of California for two years, but left after her father died of a bullet wound sustained in battle. Finding herself financially responsible for her handicapped mother, the 18-year-old Connolly moved to New York City to work as a reporter for the New York Sun. By 1913 she was Associate Editor of "Delineator Magazine", and from 1917 to 1918 she ran a department at the Christian Herald called "Adventures in Neighboring," which featured upbeat articles about community improvement in rural areas. Connolly became Associate Editor of "World Outlook" in 1919 and worked for several months at "McCalls". In 1920, with enough editing experience to know what the magazines were looking for, Connolly began writing articles on contract. Over the next two decades she would publish hundreds of pieces in popular magazines, particularly "Good Housekeeping". During the 1920's and early 1930s, Connelly focused on family and juvenile courts, youth crime waves, and prison conditions. She visited over 200 jails to see prison life in person. Connolly also visited sweatshops and wrote "Paid in Sweat" to expose the working conditions in the clothing industry. In 1928, William Bigelow, editor of "Good Housekeeping", sent Connolly on a year-long investigation of Indian reservations in the Western states. She returned to write four articles that accused the Indian Bureau of severe neglect, particularly at government boarding schools. The series, which relied heavily on Connolly's observations and the words of the Indians themselves, elicited hundreds of responses from shocked readers, as well as letters of denial and protest from Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke. The protests led to a Senate investigation and the appointment of a million dollars to feed Indian children, and may also have forced Burke's resignation. Connolly's third article, "The End of the Road," was entered into the Congressional Record. She considered the series one of her greatest accomplishments. Connolly continued to write articles on social problems throughout the 1930s and 1940s. She attacked narcotics laws in "The Dope Menace" and warned potential adoptive parents in "Bargain Counter Babies." In 1933, her article "the Light in the Mountains" on rural mountain schools resulted in the Perpetual Vera Connolly Scholarship. She was especially interested in juvenile delinquency and discipline, and "Get the Children Out of the Jails," published in "Woman's Home Companion" in 1945, led to legislation restricting the jailing of children in several states. A later article, "No Straps, No Paddles," was reprinted by the U.S. Department of State, translated into many languages, and distributed in fifty-five countries to provide an example of how troubled and traumatized children could be treated without physical punishment. Connolly was also disturbed by rising divorce rates and wrote extensively about solutions to marital problems. During the earlier years of her career, Connolly also published short stories and serials in fiction magazines such as "Black Cat" and "The Cavalier". Her work ranged from animal adventure stories to mysteries, but many of her pieces were similar in theme to her articles. Her cautionary tale "The Incident" was based on interviews with two teenage runaways, and stories such as "The Spell on the Rice" focused on women trapped in unhappy marriages. She also experimented with poetry, musicals, and radio scripts, submitted movie concepts to film studios, and published a young adult novel entitled "Judy Grant, Editor". Fiction remained a secondary interest, however, and Connolly eventually dropped most other projects to focus on journalism. In 1937 Connolly became one of the founders and the Associate Editor of "Woman's Day", where she was responsible for the column "Just Between Neighbors" and a tear-out section for children called "Children's Day." Two years later, she was asked to found and edit a woman's page for "The Christian Science Monitor". She moved to Boston and created "Today's Woman," an eight-column page that covered the achievements of woman around the world and delved into issues especially important to women. Connolly returned to New York and to contract writing in 1942, and wrote for "Collier's" and "Women's Home Companion". She also published in "Nation's Business", "This Week", and the "Saturday Evening Post", and served again as Associate Editor of "The Delineator" from 1945 to 1950. Her articles continued to have a powerful impact; "The Man who Refused to Die," published in "Redbook" in 1952, told the story of veteran Sam Harrison's determination to have a job despite having lost all but two fingers. The article was celebrated by disabled veterans, some of whom formed "Sam Harrison Clubs" to help others in similar situations. CBS made the story into a half-hour radio drama, and the U.S. Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped reprinted and distributed the article to hospitals and rehabilitation centers. By the mid-1950s, woman's magazines had begun to turn away crusading pieces in favor of entertainment articles, and Connolly found it increasingly difficult to publish her work. She stopped publishing in 1955. Connolly died in New York in 1964.

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection relates to Connolly's work as a contract and freelance writer and contains correspondence with editors and agents, extensive research notes, and many drafts of her published and unpublished work. It also includes clippings and scrapbooks of published articles, reviews and reactions to her work, and a small amount of biographical information