Yale Letters: Selected Excerpts 1935-1939

Yale Letters, Selected Excerpts 1935-1939 (downloadable PDF)



These transcriptions are excerpts from a selection of letters  that were written during Virginia’s  years at Yale University School of Art in  New Haven, CT. They are mostly to Virginia’s mother, Myrtle,  unless noted otherwise. Her family resided in Milwaukee, WI. They expose a depression-era privileged university art school experience along with a young woman’s exhausting desire to please her mother. She takes full advantage of all social opportunities,is opinionated about her teachers and studies, loves the education  and is heart-broken when they fail her last portrait with a grade of 69 after three years  of study. Her grandfather was funding her, and when he died, the parents refused to send her back to redo any classes, feeling she wasn’t studious enough. These letters describe a stubborn but engaging young woman delighted to have met Paul and resolute to get out of her mother’s hold, but never expected to not have a college degree. These letters lay the ground work for understanding her intense drive to leave a mark in the art world, not as an artist but as a promoter, art maven  and photographer.

Cast of Characters


Ginny Virginia Hammersmith (later Virginia Fontaine) b. 8 Oct 1915  d. 19 Feb.1992.
Mother Myrtle Bishop Hammersmith  b. d Milwaukee 29 Sept 1961. Christian Scientist. Home economics degree. Married Paul W. Hammersmith  30 June 1909.
Father Paul Walter. Hammersmith b.6Oct 1882.d. 4March1979. Only child of Paul and Louise Hammersmith.  Horseman,  member of  the Wisconsin Cavalry. Worked as salesman for his father’s engraving company.
Lou Mary Louise Hammersmith b.21 Jan 1912  d. Jan 2008. Christian Scientist, younger sister to Virginia.
Carol Carol Knox Hammersmith b. 19 Feb 1914, younger sister to Virginia
Bud Paul BishopHammersmith b.10 July 1925, younger and only brother to Virginia.
Grandpa Paul Hammersmith b. 17 March 1857 d. 12 Nov 1937. Founded Hammersmith Engraving..  Later Hammersmith-Kortmeyer Printing in Milwaukee.  Also co-founded Milwaukee Commercial bank which went under in 1932. Hammersmith paid the debtors back in full.
Grandma Louis Knox Hammersmith   Married to Paul Hammersmith, grandfather. Died. 20 May 1938, six months after her husband.
Elsie 2nd cousin. Cousin to Virginia’s father. Niece of grandmother Myrtle Bishop. Lived in Connecticut.
Ginny(2) Virginia Tex MacArthur. Friend during Summer Camp where Virginia was a counselor
Dick Hapgood  & Steward Dean Both courted Ginny, only to be dramatically rejected.
  Paul Paul Emile Fontaine b. 21 June 1913 d. 17 Jan 1996. Married Virginia 24 August 1940.

Yale Letters, Selected Excerpts 1935-1939 (downloadable PDF)