Chipmunks and Children: The Photography and Life of Ruth Alexander Nichols

Document 1: 21 August 1917, Ruth Alexander to Herman Nichols   |    Document 2: 23 August 1918, Albert Britt to Ruth Alexander
Document 3: 1919 Thomas Clay O’Donnell to Ruth Alexander   |    Document 4: 23 May 1927 Jean M. Whitman to Ruth Nichols
Document 5: 20 June 1931- W. C. Vogt to Ruth Nichols   |    Document 6 & 7 Introduction
Document 6: 14 June 1950, W.H. Zippler to Ruth Nichols     |    Document 7: 20 June 1950, Ruth Nichols to W.H. Zippler
Document 8: 1953 – Better Homes and Gardens Transcript       |     Bibliography

Document 5: 20 June 1931- W. C. Vogt to Ruth Nichols

Author: W. C. Vogt

Nichols with chipmunks and gophers
Nichols with Chipmunks and gophers, from National Geographic, 1931.
Source: Series XI. Writings, Subseries 3. Writings by and about Ruth A. Nichols, Box 3. Nichols Family Papers, RG 30/372. O.C.A.

Recipient: Ruth Nichols

Date: 20 June 1931

Location: Nichols Family Papers, Record Group 30/372, Series VI: Professional Correspondence of Ruth A. Nichols Nichols, Box 1. O.C.A.

Document Type: Autograph Letter


Although Ruth Nichols’ career professional career centered on her work with children, she did not entirely abandon her earlier interest in animals. In 1931 she published an article in National Geographic magazine entitled “Into the Land of Chipmunk.”[1] The popularity of that magazine, as well as Nichols’ engaging writing and photographs, generated a fair amount of fan mail for the author. While many people respectfully praised her work, others, including the author of the following letter, focused on her identity as a woman, rather than as a photographer.

Especially interesting are how the letter is addressed and the question in the third paragraph about Nichols’ marital status.[2] While the author was not alone in being uncertain of how to address Nichols, his unsettling focus on the subject reflects sexism and, perhaps, sexual overtures from male admirers that Nichols had to deal with because of her talent as a woman in the arts.[3] Also of note is the fact that while the letter’s author praises Nichols’ work, he then spends a the rest of his letter advising her and asking for her to aid him or read his work. This kind of presumption and entitlement underscores the subtle, but no less irritating or potentially damaging, form of sexism that Nichols, as a professional woman, would have faced.

Original                       Both                    Transcription



June 20th Letter pt1
June 20th Letter pt2
June 20th Letter pt3


Olin Hotel

Denver Colo [sic]

June 20 – ‘31

Dear Miss or Mrs. Nichols,[4]

“Into the Land of the Chipmunk”
Nichol’s chipmunk photos, from the article “Into the Land of the Chipmunk” in National Geographic, 1931.
Source: Series XI. Writings, Subseries 3. Writings by and about Ruth A. Nichols, Box 3. Nichols Family Papers, RG 30/372. O.C.A.

This is to let you know that I greatly enjoyed your fine article and splendid photographs in the July issue of National Geographic Magazine. I also wish to say you know what you are talking about.

I am sure if you sent several photos and a short article to the Editor of the Christian Science Monitor[5] Boston Mass [sic]. They would publish it on the childrens [sic] or Young Folks Page. They pay about three to four dollars for each photo they use, and about nine dollars per column.[6]

I’d like very much to hear from you because I like the way you tell facts. I have some ideas that could be worked out between us that would prove of great interest to the public from an educational way and also of profit to both of us from a money stand point [sic]. I wish you would let me hear from you soon as to whether you are married or not.[7] I am not. Please forgive me for asking you this very personal question but I would like to know in order to tell you what I have in mind about taking some movies[8] of you etc.

Thought you might like to read something about my work. Please return the clippings to me.[9] 

I wish you every success. May your life forever overflow with streams of gladness and the birds always sing to you and chipmunk “chuck-” “chuck” to you.

Gophers photographed by Nichols at her summer home. Her caption reads: “The gophers are more gregarious than the chipmunks, although I have never seen more than three at a time eating together.
Source: Series XIII. Photographs, Box 12. Nichols Family Papers, RG 30/372. O.C.A.

Most sincerely yours,[10] 

[signature in ink: W. C.Vogt]

[Transcribed by Laura Feyer.]

[1] The article appeared in the July 1931 issue of The National Geographic Magazine with the title “Into the Land of the Chipmunk” and can be viewed at the following link (Ruth Alexander Nichols, “Into the Land of the Chipmunk.” National Geographic, July 1931. Web link).

[2]The identity of the author is unclear.   William C. Vogt (b. 1882) was a famous fly fisher, who wrote a book in 1928 on bait casting that was praised for its photographs. If this is the same person, it is possible that he sought Nichols’ out as a potential collaborator for future photographic projects; however, the tenor of this letter suggests that he had a less professional relationship in mind (Fins, Feathers and Fur. Minnesota Department of Conservation, Division of Game and Fish, 1922; “Eau Claire Leader from Eau Claire, Wisconsin · Page 3.” Accessed 22 June 2016. Web link.; “Bait-Casting. Muskie, Musky Fishing Book by W.C. Vogt. (06/01/2013).” Accessed 22 June 2016.Web link).

[3] Another admirer of Nichol’s National Geographic work, H. F. Atwood, also began his letter “Dear Miss or Madam”;  however the tenor of the rest of his missive is vastly different from the suggestive overtones of Vogt’s, and shows a more genuine appreciation of both Nichols’ work and intellect. Atwood’s letter reads in part:

“Ruth Alexander Nichols

                Dear Miss or Madam:-

        Your article in the July Geographic is very interesting to me […] Many years ago on the shores of Lake George I watched two families of chipmunks who when it came to the matter of provender were not on the best of terms. I arranged twelve hickory nuts in a row on the top of a wall. Ten were carried away. I cracked the remaining two and they were bad. I had watched the whole proceedure [sic] and not one of the those two nuts had been handed nor even smelled of by a chipmunk. How come?


Both of these snakes after a few minutes handling have confidence in you and show no disposition to leave you. A neighbor of mine there who has quite a sense of humor tells with much gusto of seeing a couple of boys carry- [sic] quite a large snake down our road and he asked them where they were taking the snake. One of them pointed to my house and informed him that an old duffer lived there who could tell what its name was.


Pardon me for inflicting this upon you and I can only add that should you be in Rochester before October first or in St. Petersburg, Florida from October first to about May twentieth- you will find my address in the telephone book at either place- I would like to meet you and I wonder which can tell the greater number of stories bearing upon natural history.

Very respectfully

H. F. Atwood”

(Nichols Family Papers, Record Group 30/372, Series VI: Professional Correspondence of Ruth A. Nichols Nichols, Box 1. O.C.A.).

[4] It is unclear whether or not Vogt would have known of the term “Ms.” to describe a woman whose marital status was unknown (or a woman who did not wish to be identified by her relationship to a man). The term was first proposed in a newspaper in 1901. In 1932, a year after this letter was written, Ms. appeared for the first time in the New York Times. However, the term was not in popular use until the 1960s and 70s (Zimmer, Ben. “Explaining the Origins of Ms.” The New York Times, 23 October 2009. Web link).

[5] The Christian Science Monitor was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston, Massachusetts and published by the First Church of Christ, Scientist.Edddy wanted to counteract negative publicity and advance the cause of Christian Science.  “About.” The Christian Science Monitor, 12 March 2012. Web link).

[6] These prices are fairly similar to those that Outing offered in 1919, since here Ruth is making about the equivalent of about $50  2016 dollars per photo, and in 1919 she was making the equivalent of about $40  2016 dollars per photo (“US Inflation Calculator.” US Inflation Calculator. Accessed 27 June 2016. Web link).

[7] She was a widow at the time of this letter in 1931. Herman Nichols died in 1924 and she did not marry her second husband, Brewster Sperry Beach, until at the earliest 1935 (Finding Guide, Nichols Family Papers (1884-1962), Record Group 30/372, O.C.A. web link).

[8] Given the questions of marriage and proprietary surrounding this request, it is possible that “movies” here could refer to adult films, or something else risque.

[9] It is worth noting that here Vogt is asking Nichols to pay postage to return unsolicited clippings to him.

[10] Despite the tone of the rest of the letter, according to Emily Post, the famous doyenne of etiquette, Vogt actually uses a formal opening and closing. While Post does not state how to address a woman whose marital status was unknown (presumably, she did not believe you should be writing to a woman who was that unknown to you) she does mention that “Dear Mrs. So and So,” is the second most formal way to address a letter to a woman in United States, and the most formal form of address in Britain. Post also identifies “Most sincerely yours” as a formal British closing, suggesting that Vogt possibly had spent time abroad (“27. Notes and Shorter Letters. Post, Emily. 1922. Etiquette.” Accessed 22 June 2016. Web link).