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Marian Stoll Letters to Elizabeth Morison

Identifier: MSN/MN 5024

Scope and Contents

With two exceptions, the 102 personal letters making up this collection were directed by Marian Stoll to Elizabeth Morison between January 1928 and July 1938. They were written from 1) France (41 letters, March 1928 to October 1933; 2) Greece (22 letters, November 1933 to September 1935; and 3) Connecticut (38 letters, October 1935 to July 1938. They are densely written, and are primarily concerned with Stoll's own personal, financial, and professional affairs. Among the topics commonly raised are: her art dealings, including the difficulties she faced earning a living from her art, and the impact of the Depression on her finances and lifestyle; her health and illnesses; and literature and theater of the day. She also describes current political and military events, some personally witnessed, as well as descriptions of the places she lived in or visited. The letters are very conversational, even gossipy, with much discussion of the whereabouts and activities of friends and acquaintances. Persons most frequently mentioned include Samuel Eliot Morison, mutual friends Julian and Juliette Huxley, and Alexander Woollcott. The two additional letters include one written by Stoll to Samuel Eliot Morison (7 May 1935), and another written by an unidentified author to Elizabeth Morison.


  • Creation: 1928-1938


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Marian Stoll (1879-1960) was an American textile artist. She was born on 15 February 1879 in Waterbury, Connecticut, the daughter of Roswell Buck (1841-1915) and Minnie Donaldson (b. 1856). By 1900 Stoll was attending classes in the Department of Fine and Applied Art at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry, in Philadelphia. In 1902 she married Hugo Leon Stoll (1879-1961), an electrical engineering student at the school. Passport records from 1903 indicate Stoll's profession as "artist." From 1908-10 and 1911-16 Stoll lived in Germany, mainly in Munich, where she continued to study and practice embroidery. She also made two prolonged visits to Vienna, where she became familiar with the fine Austrian wools she would long favor in her work. Marian and Leon Stoll divorced in 1911 or 1912; they had no children. In February 1916 Stoll moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where she worked as a clerk for the Agence internationale des prisonniers de guerre (AIPG), organized by the Red Cross in the early months of World War I. In October 1920 she settled in Oxford, England.

In Oxford Stoll began to gain a measure of recognition as an artist. As she later summarized her mature aesthetic: "After having done a good deal of professional embroidery in Vienna and in England, I came to think I might be able to paint in wool. So I set out to test my hypothesis. For a long time now, I have felt that a needle with wool was just as respectable and legitimate a medium for serious painting as any other, and so I have deliberatley gone after painters' objectives, such as light effects, recession, volume, aerial perspective, atmospheric quality, texture etc. . . . it ought to become obvious that wool used in this way has possibilities far beyond certain much admired media—for instance, it is a hundred times more flexible than tapestry work, whose legitimacy has never been questioned. And it is tied to no formal stitch; it's as free and supple as oils, aquarelle or pastel—what more could one ask?" (Georgiana Harbeson Brown, American Needlework, New York, 1938, 185). Some critics were impressed. Of a show of Stoll's embroideries held at the Oxford Arts Club in 1925, a critic wrote, ". . .all of one's preconceived ideas about the purpose and function of needlework and all reflections on traditional embroidery took flight in the first glance around this amazing exhibition." Even so, her search for financial support remained a difficult one. Of great assistance to her at this time was Lady Ottoline Morrell, a well-known patron of the arts with whom Stoll became friends. Lady Morrell lived in Bloomsbury and kept a country home in Garsington, near Oxford, in which she entertained artists, writers, and philosophers. Through her relationship with Morrell and regular visits to the Garsington house, Stoll made acquaintances with several literary and artistic elites. Her list of private clients steadily expanded to include luminaries like Siegfried Sassoon, Aldous Huxley, John Masefield. Lytton Strachey, Lady Gwendolen Churchill, Bertrand Russell, and Alexander Woollcott. By the late 1920s, Stoll had gained further success, exhibiting in Paris, New York, Chicago and Brussels as her art grew in popularity.

It was during her time in England—and thanks to Morrell—that Stoll met Elizabeth "Bessie" Morison (1886-1945), wife of historian Samuel Eliot Morison, then a professor of American History at Oxford. Stoll and the Morisons developed a close relationship, detailed in this collection, that would last for many years.

In 1928 Stoll left Oxford for Paris. Then, due to mounting financial difficulties, she moved to Greece in 1933. Stoll explained to Morison that "we're all at the mercy of the crisis and mine isn't the only career ruined by a long shot." But amid the Great Depression, life in Greece proved costly as well, so—likely at the urging of Elizabeth Morison—Stoll returned to the United States in 1935. Demoralized, despondent at having to leave Europe without her wools, facing a bleak economic future, Stoll relied on the Morisons for moral and financial support. They paid the costs to have her wools and belongings shipped from Europe to the United States and found her housing in Connecticut. Despite these initial difficulties, Stoll's fortunes did improve. Through Alexander Woollcott, an old acquaintance from Garsington House, she was introduced to Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Eleanor was an avid embroider and an admirer of Stoll's work, which she first encountered in Woollcott's New York City apartment. As a result of the meeting an exhibit was organized at the Arden Galleries in New York. Stoll later reported to Morison that the show was "a huge success," with large and enthusiastic crowds. Stoll sold a number of works, and subsequently wrote to Morison that "there will be enough to get me out of the red." In 1939 her career received an additional boost when she was asked by the Society of Designers and Craftsmen to display her work at the New York World's Fair.

Stoll's professional life expanded in subsequent years. In addition to continuing work on her embroidery, she wrote articles about her art and artistic expression for publications like Studio Magazine. In 1940 she was profiled in Life. As her popularity increased, Stoll's financial status did as well, in no small part because of her own investments in "very sound stock." She would spend the remainder of her life living and working in Connecticut. She died on 17 May 1960, in Waterbury, Connecticut.


.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



A collection of 100 manuscript personal letters written by American textile artist Marian Stoll to her friend Elizabeth Morison, all dated between 1928 and 1938. The letters describe aspects of her professional life as well as her experiences living in Paris, Athens, and later, the U.S.


The letters are arranged chronologically, with multiple items per folder.

Related Materials

Other letters written by Marian Stoll are contained in the Alexander Woollcott Correspondence (MS Am 1449) at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, and in the Ottoline Morrell Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Marian Stoll Letters to Elizabeth Morison
Debra Dochuk and George Rugg
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556