University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology
Thanks to Alessandro Pezzati, Archivist
This correspondence included a complete list of all the artifacts which Elizabeth brought back.
Elizabeth also wrote a short article for the children's magazine, Discovery, published by the Museum in April 1931.
Most of the letters in this file, which stretches from 1931-1935, deal with the artifacts which Bessie brought back for the University Museum. The correspondents are Bessie and Horace H.F. Jayne the Museum's Director.
One of the first letters in the file was written on January 20, 1931, immediately following her return from her second trip to Brazil.
"Arrived Saturday and sent you three boxes of Indian things, or to be more accurate, a box, a long roll, and a crated affair.
These things are from the tribe Caraja on the River Araguaya, a Cherente basket, and a fine collection from the unkonwn or little known Tapirape tribe near the source for the river by that name in Matto Groso. With the exception of a very small basket which I sent to Dr. Nordenskiold in Sweden, and three small ones that I kept for my self, you now have the only Tapirape collection to be found. There is nothing in Rio nor Sao Paulo. This tribe has never been visited before except the time a Brazilian man found a small village of them farther down the river and a priest who visited them and later and English missionary, then the tribe disappeared and when the priest went back they could not be found. Again, the priest tried and found traces of them farther up the river and met some but did not find the viallage. This we succeeded in doing simply because the Indian Service had sent a most capable man, Colonel Alencarlence in with me, they were all afraid. With so many men and canoes I was able to bring out this collection that no one else has been able to do. I am quite proud of it and I am sure you will be pleased.
The Caraja collection was not so difficult. I was fortunate in being able to get the devil's dress or "bicho" dress.
I am enclosing a list of the objects but I am sorry to say that it is not as systematic as it should be due to the fact that twice the things got so wet that I had to throw away a number of pieces. Again, a box was broken and some things destroyed. In Sao Paulo I tried to go over them and re-pack and re-number and I fear there may be a little confusion, but if so I will be glad to stop in Philadelphia on my way West and help straighten things out. I have handled the things so much and had such experiences in getting them that I know the history of each pretty well. I also have some photographs which might be interesting in showing how various things are used or worn.
I suggest that the boxes be opened soon in order to dry them out as there was much dampness and hard to keep them from moulding. I will be at the Hotel here for a week or more yet. ---Very truly---Elizabeth"
Over the course of these letters one senses the embarrassment of Mr. Jayne as time passes and he is unable to raise the funds needed to pay Bessie. He has her artifacts, but no money. These letters are the first real acknowledgment of the gathering gloom of the Great Depression, both on Bessie's part and then on Mr. Jayne's part. In point of fact they had apparently agreed verbally to $1000,00, as the cost of the entire collection at the outset, and now there are no funds for its acquisition. To make it easy to distinguish between my connecting commentary and the correspondence between the two of them --I have kept Mr. Jayne's words in red in italic, and Bessie's words are in brown italic and my words in blue.
In a letter of April 11, 1931 Mr. Jayne says, "The real reason I haven't written to you is frankly a guilty and uneasy conscience. Before you left last year financial affairs were comparatively satisfactory, and without a proper eye in advancing clouds I promised you possible support. Since then, and even more so since your return and the arrival of your things, our resources have shrunk to a very painful extent. We have so many expeditions in progress that demand our support, that all our available funds are very concentrated in them to keep them afloat as well as possible. Because of the unemployment and general distress, we are, further, hampered by not being able to appeal for funds from our usual patrons.
I am embarrassed about the whole situation by the fact that we have talked prices. I realize you were put to considerable expense in collecting, packing and shipping the objects. But, I really do not know what you would consider a fair price either for the Bicho costume alone or for the collection as a whole.
I do not wish to appear as one who gives empty promises, but I am most reluctant to lay the matter before my Board, with the assurance that if it runs into much money, they will not act favourably upon my recommendation.
Would you, therefore, be good enough to drop me a line at your convenience and tell me the lowest price you feel you could justifiably accept either for the lot or for the costume alone? If it is beyond our present abbreviated reach, you may be certain I shall make every effort to see it successfully placed for you. I have little doubt but that Heye would take it gladly at a reasonable figure, but if he didn't there are a number of other Museums I believe I could interest.
I hate to write this letter, and as proof of my reluctance is the fact that I have put it off so long. You really must forgive me; it is unpleasant to have to admit to an enforced poverty.
Please believe me,
Horace H.F. Jayne ,Director
Bessie's response to that letter follows(undated it was written from Johnson Hall, Columbia, University):
Dear Mr. Jayne:
Of course I am sorry about not being able to get a fair price for my collection, but I certainly do not feel that you are in any way to blame. I think the present financial situation has made itself felt quite generally. My article to the Saturday Evening Post has just been returned with the statement that it was very well written and quite interesting (if there is any consolation in that) but that they were not buying much at present and nothing at all along the lines of exploration or travel. That they would not publish any more of Andrews dinosaur articles etc. So that I, too, am realizing the general depression you see.
Were it not that I can really not afford to do so I would like to present the collection to the University Museum for I really want you to have it. I collected it for the museum and would not like to see it go else where altho I suppose that is foolish. As it is I really ought to get a little something out of it for the expense was more than I had anticipated.
Not only is it the cost of shipping, handling etc. but the Carajas are getting the idea of asking big prices now for things. They wanted 20 mil reis (2 dollars) for almost every little trinket and could seldom be induced to take less, while for larger things they demanded 50 mil reis(5 dollars) so you see that in itself ran into money. The Tapirape things I was able to get for beads and cloth. A few things were spoiled by rain and when I got to Sao Paulo I had to throw them away. This was inevitable in all that traveling in canoes and row boats and trucks for so long.
I really do not think I ought to separate the collection. Do you suppose the Board would be willing to give $450-$500 for the entire collection? That would help pay the expense of collecting them (I wanted $1000) for it but I understand the situation and if you think you could raise that much I would rather take it and let you have the collection than send it elsewhere. I am sure we are all hoping to see this depression lift and things get back to normal once more.
Elizabeth K. Steen
On April 20, 1931, Dr. Jayne wrote an introduction to Mr. Grovesner suggesting that he place one of Bessie's articles in the National Geographic Magazine. In the same letter Mr. Jayne suggests that they will pay $500. for the entire collection, but that they must postpone payment for a year. He says:
I should very much like to have your things, but I am really embarrassed to have to throw myself on your charity for their acquisition. Nor do I wish to do so unless it is wholly agreeable to you. I believe with my sponsorship perhaps half again as much could be pried loose from Mr. Heye and I shall try my hand at the pricing if you wish, and if this fails there are other strings to my bow. Let me hear from you how you feel about the situation and believe me,
Horace H.F. Jayne, Director
On March 25, 1932 Elizabeth writes to Jayne acknowledging the depth of the depression for the first time.
Dear Mr. Jayne:
I have been attending the University of Chicago this fall and winter as there was a big man here from Australia whose methods I was interested in . I have also given a few lectures on the side which has helped out my finances a bit and now I am ready to return to the University of California.
It seems that the depression has just recently struck out there. I just received word that all the Building and Loans in San Jose have closed their doors. Now this is a blow for I had my savings account there and this means that I am not able to draw out any money. They think they can fix it to let me have $50 a month, but that is all and not sure about that.
Now that won't buy a ticket to California even if I get it so I was just wondering whether you might not have a little extra cash on hands. If so it would come in handy just now. I don't need all the amount, just $150 or $200.00 would be plenty.
I know you have expeditions in the field though, and probably money coming in pretty slowly so you may not have much to spare and if not, please don't feel the least bit obligated. You remember that you suggested that in a year you might have a little more money on hand, but I don't think that either of us realized at the time just how long this depression was going to last.
Now, Mr. Jayne, if you still need more time it is quite alright. I understand and I will get along. I may get another lecture date soon so - no hurry. Very Sincerely yours, E.Steen
In one of Elizabeth's last letters to Jayne, dated April 8, 1935, she explains something of the problems that have beset her since her return from Brazil in 1931. In fact, I found this letter to be so sad, that my heart sank even reading it now over 65 years later!
Dear Mr. Jayne:
Just a note to give you my address and explain why I am here in this little town on the edge of the desert instead of finishing my work for the doctors degree at Berkeley((unsure of word)as I came out to Berkeley to do.
About three years ago, while at Berkeley, I had a sudden and severe heart attack. The doctors think it was caused by some infection I picked up on my Brazilian trip. It seems the only cure is to wear it out (if it doesn't wear me out in the process). I was in bed over a year then they sent me here. I am gradually getting stronger and am able to get about a bit and am trying to go on with my studies.
The cold damp climate of Berkeley doesn't agree with me. Heat seems to be most beneficial. In fact I would like to return to Brazil but funds are very low. Hospitals, doctor bills, nurses etc. are naturally expensive. Had I not made some money lecturing just before I took sick I don't know what I would have done.
I hope you are enjoying the best of health and that the Museum is doing well. Possibly you have some money for me by this time for the little collection. If so it couldn't come at a better time.
Sickness is very very discouraging, but I haven't given up hope yet of at least partial recovery. The doctors say I will not have many years, but that is all right if I can just get able to do something worth while in that time.
Very Sincerely yours,
Elizabeth K. Steen
Apparently the letter had the same effect on Jayne as it had on me since the next few correspondences are about his efforts to place the collection. In a letter Jan. 24, 1936 Elizabeth further drops her price to $350.00 and there follow two a Western Union Telegrams, one from Jayne to Steen and one from Steen to Jayne:
Dear Mr. Jayne:
I am leaving in a few weeks for another ethnological expedition into Central Brazil.
Again, I am going alone and financing my own trip. I am finding it hard to do, for my funds are pretty well depleted from my recent sickness, so I feel that I just must get something fro the collection which I sent to you. You offered me $350., I believe, at one time for just the devil mask and suit. Will you give me $450.00 for the entire Tapirape and Caraja collection including the devil mask? If not, what will you give?
Please let me know as soon as possible, for I should be in Brazil by the first of April to get my supplies over the rapids and falls while the waters are high in March.
Apparently this letter really tugged at Mr. Jayne's heart strings and he consulted Heye who agreed to buy the collection which resulted in the Western Union from Steen:
SOLD COLLECTION PLEASE SEND THEM TO MR. HEYE AT MUSEUM, ELIZABETH STEEN.
Ultimately the entire collection, as a part of the Museum of the American Indian, became part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. I believe that the collection is being moved as I work on this project.
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