University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Letters to Elsa Barker

1910 - 1948

Manuscript Collection Number 350
Accessioned: Purchase, August 1996.
Extent: .1 linear ft. (47 items)
Content: Letters, menu cards, calling cards, program, sketch.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: October 1997, by Shanon Lawson.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

American author Elsa Barker was born in 1869, in Leicest, Vermont, to Albert G. and Louise Marie Barker. Her first jobs were as a shorthand reporter, a teacher, and a newspaper writer. In 1901, she was the associate editor of the Consolidated Encyclopedia Library. From 1904-1905, she worked as a lecturer for the New York Board of Education, and from 1909-1910, she served on the editorial staff of Hamptons magazine.

Throughout her life, Barker contributed poems, short stories, and articles to various magazines. Her twenty-year career as a novelist began in 1909 with The Son of Mary Bethel. Her first volume of poetry, The Frozen Grail and Other Poems (1910), followed soon after. In 1942, Barker won the Lola Ridge Award for her poem "The Iron Age." She also achieved success with three books of "automatic" writing: Letters from a Living Dead Man (1914), War Letters from the Living Dead Man (1915), and Last Letters From the Living Dead Man (1919). In this trilogy, Barker claimed to channel the words of a Los Angeles lawyer named David P. Hutch, who died in 1912. Other publications include a one-act labor play, The Scab, which was produced in New York and Boston in 1904-06, and Stories from the New Testament for Children (1911).

Barker lived most of her adult life in New York City. From 1910 to 1914, she lived in Paris and London; at some point during her residence, she apparently studied under Carl Jung. She also lived on the French Riviera from 1928-1930. When she died on August 31, 1954, she was one of the last surviving charter members of the Poetry Society of America.


Shepard, Leslie. Ed. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Vol 1. Detroit: Gale
Research Co, 1984.

"Mrs. Elsa Barker, Poet and Author." New York Times, 26 Aug., 1954: 27.

Scope and Content Note

The collection of letters to American writer Elsa Barker contains 47 items and spans the dates 1910-1948. Also included are two autographed menu cards, two address cards, a program, and a sketch. The collection is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, with letters from two unidentified correspondents and some miscellaneous ephemera at the end.

These letters, which address both personal and professional issues, are from several of Barker's friends and associates. The collection contains several letters from Count Axel Raoul Wachtmeister, a German composer who set Barker's poem "The Frozen Grail" to music, and who helped to attract German publisher Yrsa Bang to her detective novel, The Cobra Candlestick (1928). There is also a group of letters from Barker's friend Rowena, Countess of Somerset, which provides details of England during World War II. Both writers express admiration for Barker's poetry, although both are concerned for her health during the 1930s.

Others who wrote to Barker include Vance Thompson, Russell Doubleday, Leigh Hanes, Claire de Pratz, and Ernesta Stern. The collection also contains letters from two literary societies to which Barker belonged: the New York Poetry Group, and the Poetry Society. Most of the literary discussion in the letters concerns Barker's poetry, rather than her novels or automatic writings.

Contents List

Folder -- Contents

     Letters To Elsa Barker 1910-1948
F1   D'Esternaux, Ethelyn
     1948 Nov 6          TLS       1p
     [n.y.]    Apr 24    ALS       3p

F2   Doubleday, Russell, 1872
     1919 Sep 30         TLS       1p

F3   Forbes-Robertson, Ian
     [n.y.]    Jan 14    ALS       1p

F4   Fox, Alice H.
     [n.d.]              ALS       3p

F5   Guthrie, William Norman, 1868-1944
     1918 Dec 23         TLS       1p

F6   Hanes, Leigh
     1948 Apr 13         TLS       1p

F7   Harre, Thomas, Everett, 1884-
     1915 Oct 12         TLS       1p
     1929 Jul 10         TLS       1p

F8   Kiburn-Kilmer, Annie
     1931 Nov 30         TLS       1p

F9   Pratz, Claire de
     1918 Apr 13         ALS       3p

F10  Simpson, Alice Jasmine
     [n.d.]              ALS       6p

F11  Somerset, Rowena
     [1931]    Jan 28    ALS       2p
     [1931]    Dec 15    ALS       3p
     1937      Jan 2     ALS       4p
     [1940]    Nov 23    ALS       2p
     [n.y.]    Jan 28    ALS       4p
     [n.y.]    Mar 31    ALS       2p
     [n.y.]    Jul 28    ALS       4p
     [n.y.]    Sep 29    ALS       2p   
     [n.y.]    Oct 12    ALS       4p

F12  Stern, Ernesta
     1919                ALS       4p
                    Note: written in French.
     1920      Dec 6     ALS       5p
                    Note: written in French.  English note from Claire de Pratz on last page.
     1922      Nov 8     ALS       2p
                    Note: written in French.

F13  Tancred, F.W.
     1913      Jun 2     TLS       1p

F14  Thompson, Vance, 1863-1925
     1915 Apr 23         ALS       2p
     1915 Sep 1          Telegram  1p
     1915 Nov 8          ALS       2p
     [1916 Jan 8]        ALS       2p

F15  Van Eeden, Frederick
     1915 Mar 28         TLS       1p
     1916 Dec 8          TLS       1p

F16  Viereck, F.S.
     1910 May 13         TLS       1p

F17  Wachtmeister, Axel Raoul
     Contains ten letters, two of Wachtmeister's calling cards, and a program for a 1931
     German production of "Der kalte Graal," Wachtmeister's musical adaption of Barker's
     poem "The Frozen Grail."
     1916 Aug 23         ALS       4p
     1917 Jun 12         ALS       2p
     1917 Jun 13         ALS       2p
     1930 Sep 3          ALS       1p
     1932 Dec 25         ALS       2p
     1934 Dec 16         ALS       2p
     1935 Feb 13         ALS       4p
     1935 Sep 18         ALS       1p
               Note: also includes TLS from Yrsa Bang.

F17  Wachtmeister (cont'd)
     1939 Dec 9          ACS       1p
     1941 Feb 23         ALS       2p
F18  Unidentified correspondents
     1913 May 15         ALS       2p
               Note:  Written on Author's Club stationery.
     [n.d.]              ALS       2p
               Note: Signed "Estelle"

F19  Miscellaneous ephemera
     Contains two menu cards autographed by those attending the dinners, and a pencil tracing
     of an Olive Herford sketch.
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