“We cannot change the world but we can change the people in it.” The Eleanor Bumstead Stevenson Papers

Document 1: Diary Entry on Love and Marriage     |     Introduction to Documents 2 & 3
Document 2: 21 November 1924, Eleanor to Bill Stevenson     |     Document 3: 17 November 1925, Bumpy to Bill Stevenson
Document 4: Girl Trouble and Divorce     |     Document 5: “The Soldier Takes a Wife”
Document 6: Recreational Program     |     Document 7: Fair Employment Practices Council and Democracy
Document 8: Women’s Group Tea     |      Document 9: The Weaker Sex      |      Document 10: PAUW the Challenge to Education Today
Document 11: Making Use of Their Education     |      Document 12: Letter of Condolence      |     Bibliography

 Introduction to Documents 2 & 3

The following two documents are from the courtship correspondence of Eleanor Bumstead and Bill Stevenson.

William Edward Stevenson was born in Chicago in 1900 to Florence Day and Rev. J. Ross Stevenson, a Presbyterian minister and the President of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Unsurprisingly, Bill attended Princeton College, graduating from there in 1922. He then received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford where he studied Jurisprudence at Balliol College. Bill graduated from Oxford in 1925, receiving a Bachelor of Jurisprudence and a Master of Arts degrees. He was also an accomplished track and field athlete during his time at Oxford, with his career culminating in an Olympic Gold Medal in the 1600 meter relay at the Paris Games in 1924. After leaving Oxford, Bill returned to the United States, where he became a lawyer in New York. He worked first at the U.S. District Attorney’s office, prosecuting violators of liquor trafficking laws, and then in 1931 opened the private firm Debevoise, Stevenson, Plimpton, and Page (now Debevoise and Plimpton) with his partner Eli Whitney Debevoise (1899-1990). He remained at that practice until 1942 when he left to oversee Red Cross Operations in the European theatre of World War II.[1]

Eleanor met Bill on while she was on a European vacation in 1924. He was studying at Oxford at the time, but even though Eleanor soon had to return to the states, they kept up a loving correspondence for the remainder of Bill’s time at Oxford. After he returned to the States in 1925, they continued to correspond during the times when they were separated by Bill’s work. In January of 1926, they wed.[2]

The first of these two letters is from relatively early in their courtship correspondence, while Bill was still at Oxford. The second letter, from almost exactly a year later, is only a couple months shy of their wedding. The difference this time made in their correspondence is clear, with Eleanor’s earlier letter to Bill seeming much more cautious and doubtful than her later one, but both reveal the deep affection these two had for each other.

Like her diary entry, these letters also reveal Eleanor’s thoughts on relationships and marriage. The first letter contains comments in first paragraph that reflect Eleanor’s essentialist understand of gender, while the beginning of the second letter discusses what she feels is the highest calling for women and men. These views on gender and marriage remain present in much of Bumpy’s later activism. Both of these letters also offer insight into the development of Eleanor’s relationship with Bill, which would prove a defining partnership for nearly the rest of her life.



[1] Finding Guide, William and Eleanor Stevenson Papers (1809-18, 1857, 1885-1987), Record Group 30/219, O.C.A. Source.

[2] Finding Guide, Stevenson Papers, Source.