Scope and arrangement
The Bessie Schönberg papers contain material documenting her life and entire career in dance. The papers include correspondence, examples of her writing, lecture and teaching notes, the papers of numerous organizations with which she was affiliated, personal papers and ephemera as well as print material that she collected, financial documentation and two oral history manuscripts.
Taken together these materials give an in depth portrayal of Ms. Schönberg in her many roles as a teacher, mentor and advisor to institutions but also as a friend, wife and person in the world.
The bulk of the papers relating to Ms. Schonberg's years as Director of the Dance Program at Sarah Lawrence College were separated from this Collection after Ms. Schonberg's death. They are available to researchers at the Sarah Lawrence College Archives and are comprised of some ten linear feet of material including correspondence, institutional records and photographs.
The Bessie Schönberg papers are arranged in eight series:
Series I (Personal Documents and Biographical papers), while small, includes some valuable biographical material, including official documents such as Schönberg's birth certificate and personal items, such as a collection of handwritten Christmas menus that she created with her husband Dimitry Varley.
Series II (Correspondence) comprises the bulk of the collection and is subdivided into family, other individuals, and institutions. The six boxes of correspondence exchanged between Ms. Schönberg and Mr. Varley spans their entire relationship. In the early years of their marriage, and during various summers or other periods when Ms. Schönberg was teaching or Mr. Varley's work called him overseas, their separation is accounted for in a usually daily correspondence. The letters reveal much about the tone and nature of their marriage. The early letters discuss their relationship, later, their home and garden. They share news of their daily activities as well as of the people in their professional and social circles. Ms. Schönberg frequently discusses her work with her husband and solicits his advice. Scattered throughout are her feelings, often strongly expressed, about her colleagues in the dance community as well as her students.
There is one box of correspondence from other family members, which includes letters from her father and mother as well as from her sisters, Gertrude Bierschenk and others.
The nine boxes of professional and personal correspondence with individuals and dance company representatives are organized by last name. Because dance companies are included in this series, they are filed under the last name of the artistic director. Depending on the amount of material they may be filed all together or, when the volume is more substantial, subdivided. In the case of Merce Cunningham, for example, Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation is separated from Merce Cunningham as individual. But all are filed under (C). Paul Taylor is another example in this category. When the company is not named for the artistic director however, or when it is ambiguous as to whether the correspondence is from an individual or the company as a whole, this system may be become a little more opaque. The dance company Sounddance, for example, is filed under Artistic Director Sandra Stratton and the New York Baroque Dance Company is filed under Catherine Turocy. Whenever possible cross-references will appear in the Folder list. When there are two artistic directors, such as in the case of Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis, correspondence may appear under either N or L depending on the nature of the correspondence. There is also a section alphabetized by first name when the last name was unknown.
These general correspondence files show the scope of Ms. Schönberg's contacts. She was highly regarded and deeply loved by an enormous number of people and seemed to cultivate a wide range of strong and intimate connections. The letters attest not only to the professional assistance she offered to so many choreographers, but to her friendship, hospitality, generosity and warmth. The letters from both well and little known choreographers, dancers, teachers and others are filled with gratitude for being seen, being heard, being challenged and being loved.
There is also one box of outgoing correspondence containing copies and drafts of Schönberg's letters to family other than Dimitry as well as two sections of correspondence to other individuals, one filed by last name and one by first when the last was unknown. Also included is a folder containing the general Christmas letters that she sent out in later years.
Series III is an alphabetical collection of correspondence and papers from institutions other than Dance companies (colleges, professional organizations, etc.) with which Schönberg was professionally connected. It is subdivided into two sections. The first includes institutions with which she had extensive and lasting connections as an advisor, teacher or board member. This sub series includes the most substantial and widest range of material, and therefore often documents much about the institutions themselves beyond Schönberg's particular role there.
The second section contains papers from institutions where her role was more limited. While the types of material are the same, the volume is considerably less and the different types of papers are inter-filed (unlike section one in which the volume of papers made more organizational subdivisions necessary).
Includes incoming and outgoing correspondence, contracts, teaching notes, print materials. Additional teaching notes can be found in Series IV) [Correspondence is counted by items.]
Series IV contains miscellaneous teaching notes that were not immediately placeable in the notes of any one institution. Also, some 19 small notebooks with teaching notes, exercises and responses to student work. Additionally, there are notes for lectures, award presentations and for speeches at special events that Schönberg moderated.
Document box within storage box filled with small notebooks, mostly from teaching. Many refer to specific institutions but may not have been used exclusively for work there. Also contain some drafts of letters and personal notes, shopping lists etc.
Series V is comprised of two boxes of Schönberg's appointment books and calendars. Organized chronologically these seem to contain increasing amounts of notes and information of interest in the later years.
Series VI contains the financial papers and is made up mostly of bank and investment information as well as bills, medical expenses and information regarding charitable contributions made by Schönberg and her husband.
Series VII includes awards and articles written about Schönberg as well as two oral history manuscripts. The oral history done for the Dance Division is an in depth life history documenting nearly 30 hours of recorded interview and comprising nearly 500 pages. The Columbia University oral history was done with a particular focus on the Bennington summer school.
Series VIII is a collection of print materials that Schönberg saved. The first subseries is comprised of unpublished and manuscript material sent by individuals. These may be of interest in their own right although the particular connection to Schönberg insofar as content is less clear. The second subseries is also print material that she deemed worthy of saving, including bibliographies, poetry and student papers, but does not represent the substantial work of any single author.