The Smithsonian Archives


The correspondence in the Smithsonian file was primarily between Elizabeth and Waldo L. Schmitt, Curator of the Division of Marine Invertebrates. It covers six years from 1930-1936. Elizabeth carried a "box of snakes" to a Dr. Lutz of a Museum in Rio. A Miss Cochrane, a herpetologist, sent them.

The letters vary in length and significance. Some are simply friendly discourse. This is clearly reflected in these letters written shortly after her return from her 1930 trip.

In a letter from Schmitt Feb. 2, 1931, he says "I was in New York the day you returned, but did not know of it until I was reading Sunday morning's paper on my homeward journey. Also, I was acknowledging your Hotel Natal note."

Her response to his note says, "You ought to see the funny little monkey I brought back with me. He is the finest little pet I ever had, but much care and I don't know how I can cart him around with me everywhere I go. Fear I will have to put him in the Bronx in the hospital, they say they take very good care of them there, but I don't want to part with him.

I have returned too late to enter this semester in California. Have half a notion to take a little work here with Dr. Boaz since I must be here for some time any way. Of course they will think it is strange that I don't hurry to California, but I will go as soon as I can.

Hope to stop off in Washington D.C. and say "hello" when I go west if I can. How are you and how goes the work this year? Give my best regards to Mrs. Schmidt and tell Dr. Miller that I have a tiny bit of information for him.

In a P.S. she says, "Forgot to say that Dr. Lutz sent a fine box of mounted specimens of the "barbeiro" bug that carries the parasite that causes the chagas disease which produces goiter, feeble mindedness etc. Her great-nephew who is a Doctor teaching at Loma Linda University immediately picked up on the possibility that Chagas was what she ultimately died of. He is looking into this possibility trying to locate her medical records from so long ago.

Dr. Lutz simply gave me this and asked me to give it to the people that would most appreciate it. Could you tell me whom that would be? I had thought of the department of Tropical diseases of the Medical School in the University of California, but perhaps you could suggest a better place..

On March 5, 1936, Schmitt first comments on the fact that Bessie has not yet been able to collect for her artifacts which she "sold" in 1931. Schmitt then mentions that he has not been able to run down any information on "those anesthetic bullets". He suggests that if one were collecting specimens perhaps tear gas would be sufficient to one's purposes. There is always exchange of greetings to mutual friends in these letters which are really quite warm.

In a letter dated Feb. 7, '36 Bessie says, "My health has greatly improved and I feel quite like a human being once more. I have been studying navigation this winter -- Just the Morse International code and enough theory to possibly enable me to get an amateur operators license. I should have been writing some articles, but I just have to Make myself write. It's awful punishment."

 In another letter was the clue that lead me to Bessie's two living nieces. She says, "My brother has been here from Michigan for two days, but is leaving this morning for LA. and then on. He doesn't approve of another Brazilian trip for me, but then he never did like the idea." It was the clue that he might have died in Michigan that lead me to a Thomas Steen born Apr12, 1887 (Bessie was born a year earlier) and Died Nov. 1978 in Berrien Springs, Michigan, (the location of the college Bessie graduated from--was a huge clue.)

In the same letter Bessie says, "I am getting ready as best as I can. I've had to take things pretty slowly of course. I am trying to learn a bit about river navigation if I can find anyone to show me and a little about using the sextant etc.

I do wish I could see you and ask a bit of advise about some phases of my trip before you return east.

"I am ready for another trip to Brazil, but haven't quite my equipment yet. If the people who have promised me things would come across I would soon be on my way but if any more do like an oil company in San Francisco did I'll have to give it up. They promised me gas and oil for an outboard motor for my trip then the company changed personnel and the new management cancelled it. Tough Luck!

I never did find those anesthetic bullets. Think I'll lure them (animals) into a trap by "catnip" (for the Jaguars) and other equally fantastic methods for the rest of the wild animals."

In a letter of response Dr. Schmitt says:

"Its very desirable to know something about mapping, and I can appreciate your desire to master the use of the various navigation instruments.

What you need to do is to team up with some wealthy young woman who is looking for adventure. Perhaps some time if you have some spare change lying around, you might put some intriguingly worded ad into one of the more swanky magazines seeking a companion and mentioning that you have had considerable experience in South America, referring to your two previous trips. Don't say too much, just enough to stir one's imagination and you might get takers. Naturally, you should have references exchanged, and if prospects are bright you would be willing to give a talk on your experiences, illlustrated by movies. It might be worth the flier. Goodness knows there are enough idle rich around waiting for a chance to go on a properly directed or donducted exploring expedition. It may not be worth the price of the ad, but in cases like that I am often ready to try anything once. The more money one can raise, the more successful the expedition will be."


In a letter to Schmitt on April 25, '35 she says of her films, "I haven't done anything with them just stored with my trunks since I took sick." She speaks wistfully about returning to Brazil.

"I really do want to go back to South America. I know I am not strong enough to undertake strenuous things but if I go by boat up the rivers via mouth of the Amazon I think I could and the hot climate would be beneficial I believe and I would just love it and there were so many things I wanted to do down there yet."


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