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Alice Van Ess Brewer and William Dodd Brewer papers

Identifier: MS 0848

Scope and Contents

The Alice Van Ess Brewer and William Dodd Brewer Papers consist of correspondence, writings, memorabilia, biographical and genealogical material, books, and photographs. This collection is organized into six series: Alice Van Ess Papers (1920-2006), William Dodd Brewer Papers (1922-2009), Van Ess Family Papers (1853-1961), Brewer Family Papers (1812-1984), Books (1853-1930), and Photographs (1904-1992).

The Alice F. Van Ess Brewer Papers consist of correspondence (1936-1984), course records, Silver Bay Association materials, memorabilia (1937-1949), and biographical information (1920-2006). Most of the material in the series consists of correspondence with her parents, Dorothy Firman Van Ess and John Van Ess, and her husband, William Dodd Brewer. Mount Holyoke-related materials from 1937-1941 primarily consists of letters to her parents in which she discusses her involvement with the Debate Club, Glee Club, and other student organizations; dating and dances; college traditions such as Junior Prom, Founder's Day, May Day Pageant, and hazing; and her struggles to balance her coursework and social life. She also mentions the hurricane which struck New England in September 1938 and her jobs at Silver Bay, a summer camp of the Young Women's Christian Association. Materials from the Silver Bay Association consist of a newsletter from 1939, variety show schedules, a constitution of the organization, and “Baylights” yearbooks. Other Mount Holyoke material consists of course records, including papers from English (1938-1940), religion (1939-1940), and music (1940-1941) classes Memorabilia includes a certificate of membership and letter from Delta Sigma Rho (the honorary debate society), commencement programs, a Junior Show script, and lyrics to Christmas carols. Most of her other papers consist of correspondence, including letters by her father or mother between 1937-1958 describing their activities and work in Basrah, Iraq, where they were missionaries at a boys' school. The letters include references to social and political conditions in Iraq. Letters from 1943-1947 discuss joining the United States Navy, her training in Cambridge, Massachusetts, her experiences as Company Commander, summer in New Orleans, her social life and suitors, her promotion to Lieutenant and stationing in San Francisco, and her international travels. Letters from 1948-1949 during her time with the United States Foreign Service in Saudi Arabia discuss life on the base, occasionally touching on the political situation in the Near East, but primarily discussing her social activities, daily life, engagement to William Dodd Brewer, and their future plans. The remaining letters (1950-1976) in the collection primarily discuss the births of their children, family life, social activities, and travels. Letters from 1949-1951 include some details about the operation the Saudi Arabian Embassy while those from 1952-1955 mention visits to Damascus, Syrian “Liberation Day,” the 1954 Damascus International Fair, the 1952 United States Presidential election, and the Brewers’ transfer to Kuwait. Letters from 1956-1957 describe Ramadan in Kuwait and their departure from that country. In letters from 1958-1961 she expresses her opinions of U.S. presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon. Letters from 1962-1965 discuss their move to Kabul, Afghanistan, political conditions in that country, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, and William Brewer’s assignment to Washington, D.C.. Her biographical information includes her United States Foreign Service application and newspaper clippings related to her life, including her birth certificate and obituary.

The William Dodd Brewer Papers consist of correspondence (1930-2003), writings (1932-1982), memorabilia (1922-1994) and biographical material (2009). Correspondence from 1932-1943 consist of letters to his parents, discussing his time at Litchfield School, Taft School, and Williams College. Letters from 1944-1945 exchanged by Brewer, his parents, and his sister, Joan Brewer, discuss his experiences in Italy, France, and India with the American Field Service. He describes his platoon and daily life in wartime as well as his impression of the cities he visited. Letters from 1946-1947 discuss his academic and social life in graduate school at Tufts University and his plans to join the United States Foreign Service. Letters from 1948 discuss his settling in in Beirut, Lebanon, his day-to-day work responsibilities, the financial situation in the country, the opening of a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) office in Beirut, his social life and travels, and his engagement to Alice Van Ess. He writes to his parents in 1949 of his wedding and honeymoon cruise, as well as his impressions of Jiddah. Letters from 1950-1984 discuss his professional activities, social life, travels, and family news. In letters from 1950-1951 he describes his diplomatic duties in Saudi Arabia and mentions the Korean War and the Haj Muslim pilgrimage in Beirut. Letters from 1952-1954 discuss the Brewers’ move to Syria, unrest in the country, the establishment of a new civilian government in 1954, and the 1952 United States Presidential election., Letters from 1955-1956 discuss the Brewers’ move to Kuwait and give his impressions of the activities of United States oil companies in the Saudi-Kuwaiti Neutral Zone while those from 1962-1965 discuss the Brewers’ move to Kabul, Afghanistan, a vacation in Pakistan, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the family’s plans to move to move to Washington, D.C. Letters from 1970-1972 discuss his assignment to Mauritius, his impressions of the island, a tour of the nation’s archives. Letters from 1973-1977 discuss their transition to Khartoum, Sudan, health concerns, and their return to the United States. Remaining letters discuss daily life and health. His writings include creative writing from Litchfield School, circa 1932; an English paper from Taft School, circa 1937; political science and history papers from Williams College, 1940-1943; outlines, rough drafts, and published speeches including “The Basis of US Policy Toward the Middle East” and “United States Interests in the Persian Gulf” from the 1960s and 70s; reprinted publications from 1951-1981, primarily in reference to the Middle East and Northern Africa, including “Yesterday and Tomorrow in the Persian Gulf” and “The Libyan-Sudanese ‘Crisis’ of 1981: Danger for Darfur and Dilemma for the United States;” and also creative writing, including reflections on a trip to Sudan and several poems. Memorabilia includes his baby book from 1922; term reports, report cards, athletic schedules, physical examination reports, and show programs from Litchfield School, Ridgefield School, Taft School, and Williams College. Materials from the United States Foreign Service and the State Department consist of a 1960 pamphlet about Afghanistan; foreign policy meeting brochures; information about the Fleming Award; a copy of the May 1960 Foreign Service Journal; a copy of the March 1960 Foreign Service News Letter; various press releases; a 1967 Department of State publication about United States Policy in the Near East Crisis; and several of his Foreign Service personnel security questionnaires, biographical record sheets, audit reports, and earnings and leave statements. There is a copy of his will, as well as a house inventory from 1948. His papers also include articles from 1968-2003 about emirs in the Mideast and a 1977 article about his appointment as “diplomat in residence” at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; a 1969 sound recording from the television series Great Decisions; and a transcribed copy of his Oral History interview for the Association of Diplomatic Studies from 1988, as part of the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program. This interview focuses more in depth on Mideast relations, the political situation, and Brewer’s diplomatic role in the countries to which he was assigned. There are several of his resumes from varying years, and his expired diplomatic passports from 1947, 1962, 1966, 1970, and 1976. Finally, there are his yearbooks from Taft School, 1940; Williams, 1944; and 50th reunion, 1994. His biographical material consists of his 2009 obituary.

The Van Ess Family Papers consist of correspondence (1932-1949), writings (1926-1943), memorabilia (1931-1949) and Biographical Material (1853-1961). Correspondence mainly consists of letters of condolence for the deaths of John Van Ess, Jr. in 1943 and John Van Ess in 1949. Writings consist of both sermons and speeches given by John Van Ess from 1926-1943 primarily given at St. Peter’s Church in Basrah, Iraq. A Firman genealogy includes information about family members from 1599-1961. There also includes several sketchbooks and comics drawn by John Van Ess, mostly undated, and his personal portfolio containing sketches, poetry, and several letters, all concerning John Van Ess, Jr.’s death and funeral.

The Brewer/Dodd Family Papers consist of correspondence (1874-1981), Memorabilia (1812-1984), and Biographical Material (1825-1984), as well as genealogical material, F. Brewer Co. documents, tax records, memory books, and journals. Materials in the series relating to Arnold Brewer include correspondence, biographical material, and memorabilia. There includes letters from him to his parents and relatives during World War I. The most notable item is his journal from World War I, in which he notes the specific dates and cities of his movements through France from May 12, 1917 to April 30, 1919. He then writes a page for each city, describing the conditions of the billets, his interactions with soldiers and civilians, and his experiences on the warfront. The papers also include “Me N’ You” menu cards from 1895-1906, his birth certificate and obituary, and his 1894 baby book. Materials in the series relating to Cornelia Dodd include correspondence, biographical material, and memorabilia. There are letters from her to her parents from 1902-1922. There is a series of exchanges between her and Arnold Brewer from 1919-1945. There also includes her birth certificate and her 1920 marriage certificate to Arnold Brewer. In the memorabilia are her 1911 memory book from Miss White’s School containing recollections, pressed flowers, and programs; a 1912 Dodd Daily Devotions book; two 1917 journals, one containing recipes and the other containing newspaper clippings and poetry; a 1920 reminder calendar; and 1950-1963 travel books from trips to Kabul, France, Jiddah, Italy, Beirut, and Damascus. Other Dodd Family papers consists of correspondence, including the Dodd family letters, 1874-1910, primarily from “Cousin Neelie,” Daisy E. Dodd, and various others, including congratulatory letters about the birth of Arnold Brewer. Other Brewer Family papers include the bills dating back to 1812 from the North District School House, located in Middletown, Connecticut. Included in the memorabilia for this series are financial and tax records dating from 1899 to 1926 from F. Brewer Co., Middletown, Connecticut. There also includes extensive Brewer family genealogical information, including family trees and genealogical materials dating back to 1605.

Books include four cookbooks (The Complete Domestic Guide, 1853; Miss Parloa's New Cook Book and Marketing Guide, 1880; The Century Cookbook, 1897; The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, 1930), two of which were Cornelia Brewer’s personal cookbooks but all likely belonging to various members of the Brewer family. ; an 1896 illustrated and descriptive souvenir edition of the Middletown, Connecticut “Tribune;” and two Bibles from 1821 and 1832 which belonged to the Brewer family.

Photograph dating from 1904-1992 include both loose photographs and albums. Photographs of Alice Brewer from 1917-1930 were taken in Iraq, Kuwait, Italy, Switzerland, and France. There are portraits and snapshots of her and her Mount Holyoke classmates from circa 1937-1941 along with several albums documenting her time at Mount Holyoke. Photographs of William Brewer include albums from his school years at Litchfield School and Taft School, 1935-1941; his photographs from World War II of people, buildings, and landmarks; and albums from his time in the United States Foreign Service, 1947-1977, including articles and photographs of people, buildings, and scenes from Jiddah, Damascus, Kuwait, Kabul, Nuristan, and Mauritius. There are then albums of Alice and William in Lebanon, Jiddah, Cyprus, and Damascus, 1950-1955; several albums of their three children, 1950-1965; and photographs of family and friends. The series also includes albums complied by William’s father Arnold Brewer including his boyhood in 1904-1922; photos of people, buildings, and landmarks from cruises to France, Italy, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Greece, and Switzerland from 1950-1953; and photographs of his wife Cornelia and his three grandchildren, 1969-1971.


  • Creation: 1812 - 2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1902 - 1992

Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Use of the collection is governed by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S.C.)

Biographical Note

Alice Firman Van Ess, a student, secretary, United States Naval Lieutenant and United States Foreign Service assistant was born December 26, 1919 in Basrah, Iraq. The daughter of American educational missionaries Dorothy Firman Van Ess and John Van Ess, she attended schools in India, Switzerland and New Jersey before graduating from Northfield (Massachusetts) Seminary in 1937. She went to Mount Holyoke College from 1937-1941, earning a B.A. in religion. She attended a business school after graduating and worked as a secretary until 1943, when she joined the United States Navy and served as a Lieutenant in the Supply Corps. She was stationed in New Orleans and San Francisco. She entered the United States Foreign Service in 1947 and was posted to the United States Consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. A year later she was transferred to the United States Legation in Beirut, Lebanon where she met William Dodd Brewer, a Foreign Service officer of the American Legion.

William Dodd Brewer, a student, soldier, diplomat, and ambassador was born in Middletown, Connecticut on April 4, 1922 to Arnold Brewer and Cornelia Dodd Brewer. He attended The Litchfield School in Litchfield, Connecticut; Ridgefield School; and Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut; and graduated from Williams College in 1943. After college, he served in the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. and then in the American Field Service, C Platoon, 485th Company. He saw action at the Rapido River and Monte Cassino in Italy and also served in Austria and India. He attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, graduating in 1946, and joined the United States Foreign Service in 1947.

The Brewers married in 1949 in Basrah, Iraq, and had three children. Together, they travelled on his assignments to Beirut, Lebanon (1947-1949); Jiddah, Saudi Arabia (1949-1951); Damascus, Syria (1952-1955); Kuwait (1955-1957); Washington D.C. (1957-1962); Kabul, Afghanistan (1962-1965); Mauritius (1970-1973); and Khartoum, Sudan (1973-1977). The Brewers returned to the United States where he was the Diplomat in Residence at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Massachusetts for the 1977-1978 school year. After his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1978, the Brewers moved to Los Angeles, California where he was a professor at Occidental College. They then moved to Falmouth, Massachusetts after his retirement in 1986. In 2005, they moved to Hingham, Massachusetts. She died in Weymouth, Massachusetts on February 26, 2006 at the age of eighty-four. He died on February 10, 2009 in Hingham, Massachusetts at the age of eighty-six.


23.29 Linear Feet (44 boxes)

Language of Materials



Brewer, Alice Firman Van Ess. 1919-2006; student, secretary, United States Naval Lieutenant, United States Foreign Service assistant. Mount Holyoke College graduate, 1941; Brewer, William Dodd. 1922-2009; student, soldier, diplomat, ambassador. Williams College graduate, 1943. Papers consist of correspondence, course records, writing, memorabilia, biographical information, and photographs. Materials include letters from her years as a Mount Holyoke student, letters by her parents, Dorothy Firman Van Ess and John Van Ess, discussing their activities as educational missionaries in Basrah (now Basra), Iraq, and correspondence and photographs concerning their work for the Foreign Service and family life. Van Ess and Brewer Family papers include correspondence, memorabilia, biographical information, books, and photographs. Letters between Arnold and Cornelia Brewer span from 1919-1945.

Genre / Form



Alice Van Ess Brewer Papers, 1937-2006
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Autumn S. Winslow.
© 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA