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Guide to the Dawn Langley Simmons Papers, 1848-2001 and undated, bulk 1969-2000

Abstract

Author Dawn Langley Simmons had one of the first sex-reassignment surgeries in the United States. She was brought up as Gordon Langley Hall in England at Sissinghurst Castle, home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and adopted by the actress Margaret Rutherford. After surgery she assumed the identity Dawn Pepita Langley Hall, then became Dawn Langley Simmons after her marriage to John Paul Simmons.

The Dawn Langley Simmons Papers span the years 1848-2001, with the bulk of the papers being dated between 1969 and 2001. The collection includes material collected and created by Simmons when she was using the names Gordon Langley Hall, Dawn Pepita Langley Hall, and Dawn Langley Simmons. The collection houses extensive files of correspondence dating from the 1950s to 2000, with topics ranging from Simmons' formative years in Great Britain, her relationship with her mother, Marjorie Hall Copper, literary circles in Great Britain, later personal events such as her wedding, and Simmons' development as a writer. Significant correspondents or individuals mentioned in letters include Margaret Rutherford, Isabel Whitney, Vita Sackville-West, Sir Harold Nicolson, Nigel Nicolson, Robert Holmes, and Edwin Peacock. The collection also includes writings by Simmons in the form of typescripts and diaries; printed material and clippings, including articles and reviews by and about Simmons; legal and financial papers; an extensive collection of scrapbooks; photographs; audiovisual materials; and other material relating to Simmons' personal life and career as a writer.

Descriptive Summary

Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Creator
Simmons, Dawn Langley
Title
Dawn Langley Simmons papers 1848-2001 and undated, bulk 1969-2000
Language of Material
English
Extent
19.7 Linear Feet, 18,350 Items
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Collection Overview

The Dawn Langley Simmons Papers span the years 1848-2001, with the bulk of the papers being dated between 1969 and 2001. The collection consists of material collected and created by Simmons when she was using the names Gordon Langley Hall, Dawn Pepita Langley Hall, and Dawn Langley Simmons. Extensive files of correspondence dating from the 1950s to 2000 document Simmons' formative years in Kent and Sussex, Great Britain; her relationship with her mother, Marjorie Hall Copper; literary circles in Great Britain; later personal events such as her wedding and purchase of her house in Charleston, S.C.; and Simmons' development as a writer. Significant correspondents or individuals mentioned in letters and other materials include Robert Holmes, Sir Harold Nicolson, Nigel Nicolson, Edwin Peacock, Margaret Rutherford, Vita Sackville-West, and Isabel Whitney. The collection also includes writings by Simmons in the form of typescripts and diaries; printed material and clippings including articles by and about Simmons; legal and financial papers; an extensive collection of scrapbooks; photographs; audiovisual materials; and other material relating to Simmons' personal life and career as a writer. The writings in the collection are primarily typescripts but include a few proofs and printers' galleys. Many of the pieces are unpublished. The publication process of the 1995 autobiography Dawn: A Charleston Legend is extensively documented by a series of edited manuscripts and proofs as well as correspondence with the publisher. Collection materials also document to some extent sex change treatments begun in 1967 at the Gender Identity Clinic of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; Simmons' 1969 interracial marriage to John-Paul Simmons; and the disruption in their lives in part brought on by the negative reaction of Charleston society to their marriage.

The Audiovisual Materials Series includes video and audio tape recordings and photographs. The recordings include professionally-produced audio broadcasts discussing Simmons' transgender life and her interracial marriage - and an amateur audio tape of Simmons' wedding. Several hundred photographs document Isabel Whitney and her family as well as Simmons' family and friends. Original recordings are closed to research; listening copies are available for most items. Otherwise, staff must arrange for use copies to be made.

The largest series in the collection, the Correspondence Series consists chiefly of incoming correspondence, spanning five decades, from family and friends, from publishers concerning Simmons' writing, and from other individuals. There is some correspondence written by Simmons scattered throughout.

Brief but detailed entries in the eleven volumes housed in the Diaries Series describe Simmons' writing career, emotional states, and family matters during the time periods from 1975-1976 and 1987-1989, ending with the years 1990-1994.

The Legal and Financial Papers Series chiefly consist of documents concerning Simmons' father, Jack Copper, Isabel Whitney and her family and estate, Simmons and her husband, and Simmons' inheritance from Whitney.

The Printed Materials Series houses clippings, travel guides, flyers, and other items that document Simmons' interests, travels, and hobbies; includes early journalistic writings (chiefly columns), and a hardcover copy of her children's book, the Great White Owl of Sissinghurst.

The twenty-odd albums found in the Scrapbooks Series feature memorabilia, clippings, photos, and correspondence assembled by Simmons concerning her writing career, family, hobbies, and interest in celebrities and royalty.

The small Volumes Series consists of two manuscripts collected by Simmons: a nineteenth-century diary written by Sarah Combs, a transcript of this diary, and an early twentieth century travelogue written by a member of the Whitney family.

The Writings Series primarily consists of typescripts of works by Simmons. There are a few written pieces by other authors. Other writings by Simmons can be found in the Correspondence Series (in the topical correspondence folders for the 1950s and 1960s and scattered throughout in other files); in the William Carter Spann Series, which contains research Simmons conducted in preparation for a book on President Carter's nephew; in the Diaries Series; and in the Printed Materials Series, which contains early columns and later writings by Simmons.

Oversize Materials housed separately from the main collection include posters, cover proofs, newspaper and magazine clippings, and a few diplomas and awards.

Acquired as part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture.

Administrative Information

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

In addition, some of the materials in this collection are not immediately accessible as they require further processing before use.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. There may be a 48-hour delay in obtaining these materials.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Contents of the Collection

Consists of personal and business correspondence received and written by Gordon Hall/Dawn Langley Hall Simmons. The early correspondence consists of letters from Simmons' mother, Marjorie Hall (Ticehurst) Copper, describing her work on the household staff of Sir Harold Nicolson and his wife, Victoria Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson, in Cranbrook, Kent, England. The letters concern family news and local gossip, Lady Nicolson's death, the family affairs and writings of Nigel Nicolson, and Marjorie Copper's views of events in the United States. Later correspondence is from Simmons' friends and acquaintances. Folders of topical correspondence house letters written by Simmons to Edwin Peacock and Robert Holmes, and a few of Peacock's replies; correspondence received by Isabel Whitney, and material concerning the settlement of her estate; and Simmons' correspondence with the publisher Wyrick and Co. detailing the publication process of Dawn: A Charleston Legend, and containing older material Simmons sent to the publisher. Other folders in the topical correspondence sub-grouping house early correspondence and clippings from Isabel Whitney and Gordon Hall to Emmeline Paige, editor at the Villager, and materials that Hall gathered on Helen Invicta Hall, Natasha Simmons, and Isabel Whitney. Smaller amounts of correspondence are found in the Scrapbooks Series. Correspondence arranged in chronological order by date.

1952 May-1968 Dec.
(10 folders)
Box 1
1969 Jan.-1972 Apr.
(10 folders)
Box 2
1972 May-1972 Sept.
(6 folders)
Box 3
1972 Oct.-1973 July
(8 folders)
Box 4
1973 Aug.-1974 Feb.
(7 folders)
Box 5
1974 Mar.-1974 Sept.
(7 folders)
Box 6
1974 Oct.-1975 Mar.
(8 folders)
Box 7
1975 Apr.-1975 Oct.
(7 folders)
Box 8
1975 Nov.-1976 April
(6 folders)
Box 9
1976 May-1976 Nov.
(7 folders)
Box 10
1976 Dec.-1977 July
(8 folders)
Box 11
1977 Aug.-1978 May
(10 folders)
Box 12
1978 June-1979 Feb.
(9 folders)
Box 13
1979 Mar.-1980 Oct.
(8 folders)
Box 14
1980 Nov.-1981 June
(7 folders)
Box 15
1981 July-1981 Oct.
(5 folders)
Box 16
1981 Nov.-1983
(7 folders)
Box 17
1985 Apr.-1987 Jan.
(8 folders)
Box 18
1987 Feb.-1987 July
(8 folders)
Box 19
1987 May-1989 Dec.
(8 folders)
Box 20
1994 Apr.-1999 Mar. and undated
(4 folders)
Box 21
1999 Apr.-2000 Aug. and undated
(4 folders)
Box 22
James Williams material, 1982-1994
Box 23
Correspondence with publishers, 1978-1999
Box 23
Correspondence with Edwin Peacock, 1971-1989
Box 23
Correspondence with Robert Holmes, 1970-1977 and undated
Box 23
Isabel Whitney materials, 1874-1963
Box 23
Clippings and Natasha Simmons juvenilia, 1980s-1990s and undated
Box 23
Correspondence with Wyrick and Co. Publishers, 1989-1999 and undated
(3 folders)
Box 24
Correspondence, printed material, and photographs gathered by Hall and related to Isabel Whitney's last years, the NYC apartment, and 56 Society Street in Charleston, 1963-1968 and undated
(1 folder)
Box 24
Gordon Hall to Emmeline Paige, Villager editor, 1956-1962, 1971 and undated
(1 folder)
Box 24
Biographical and genealogical materials about Helen Invicta Hall, 1931-1967 and undated
(1 folder)
Box 24
Letters from Isabel Whitney to Emmeline Paige, 1930s and undated
(1 folder)
Box 24

Consists of eleven volumes, one for each year with the exception of 1991, kept intermittently by Simmons. Brief but detailed entries refer to daily weather, activities, emotional states, conversations and correspondence, family matters, and personal upheavals or milestones. Portions of some volumes remain unused.

Consists of documents concerning Simmons, her father Jack Copper, Isabel Whitney, and the Whitney family. The Jack Copper material includes papers issued by the United Kingdom government, such as a passport and driver's license, and some memorabilia. The Whitney family material consists of genealogical papers and the will of Martha H. Whitney, Isabel Whitney's mother. The financial papers are made up of various receipts and invoices concerning Dawn Simmons, her husband John-Paul Simmons, and Vita Sackville-West's purchase of a Ford sedan in 1959. The legal papers include publishers' contracts with Gordon Langley Hall, documents concerning the inheritance from Isabel Whitney and the purchase of 56 Society Street in Charleston, S.C. The legal material also includes paperwork on Whitney family cemetery plots. Arranged in alphabetical order by folder title.

Legal and financial papers
Box 26

Files of miscellaneous materials including publisher's proofs of two of Dawn Simmon's books; hardcover edition of The Great White Owl of Sissinghurst; a bible once belonging to Isabel Whitney with handwritten notes; early journalistic writings under the identity of Gordon Hall (chiefly columns); newspaper clippings; travel and gallery brochures; church publications; magazines; catalogues; and advertisements. Contains material on the British royal family, and the actresses Bette Davis and Charlotte Cushman. Other printed material is included in the Wyrick and Co. folder in the Correspondence Series. Most of the series is grouped alphabetically by subject. Most newspaper clippings are arranged chronologically by year. Some items are listed in the Oversize Materials series at the end of this finding aid.

Printed materials
Box 27-31

Consists of more than twenty scrapbooks assembled by Gordon Hall/Dawn Simmons over the course of several decades. The album pages feature clippings about movie stars and British royalty, articles written by Gordon Hall and Marjorie Hall, advertisements and promotional material for several of Hall's books, some correspondence, and photographs of Isabel Whitney's funeral and Sissinghurst Castle. Arranged in rough chronological order. Other photographs can be found in the Audiovisual Materials Series.

Bette Davis clippings, 1947-1950
Box 32
Bette Davis clippings, 1951-1952 and undated
Box 33
Bette Davis clippings, 1952-1953 and undated
Box 34
Bette Davis, clippings, 1953-1962 and undated
Box 35
Gordon Langley Hall, clippings, 1952-1953
Box 36
Gordon Langley Hall, clippings and correspondence, 1958-1968
Box 37
Gordon Langley Hall, clippings and correspondence, 1962-1963, Bette Davis clippings, 1989
Box 38
Gordon Langley Hall, clippings of writings on British royalty, 1955-1957 and undated
Box 39
Gordon Langley Hall, correspondence, 1960
Box 40
Gordon Langley Hall and Marjorie Hall, clippings, 1955-1957
Box 41
Isabel Whitney funeral photographs, 1962
Box 42
Joan Crawford, clippings, 1953-1959
Box 43
London Illustrated News souvenir edition, Coronation of Edward VII, 1902
Box 44
[Princess] Margaret, clippings, 1958 and undated
Box 45
Marjorie Hall, writings, 1956-1957and undated
Box 46
Me Papoose Sitter, promotional material and memorabilia, 1956-1958
Box 47
Me Papoose Sitter, promotional material and memorabilia, 1956-1961
Box 48
Newspaper notices and announcements, 1946-1948
Box 49
Peter Jumping Horse at the Stampede, promotional material, 1962
Box 50
Sissinghurst Castle photographs and postcards album, undated
Box 51
Vinnie Ream, promotional material and correspondence, 1963-1966
Box 52
Scrapbooks
Box 69-71
Scrapbook, 1958-1961
Box 72
Scrapbook, Princess Margaret
Box 73
Scrapbook, 1960-1964
Box 74
Scrapbook, Romantic Times
Box 75
Photograph album
Box 75
Photograph albums (2)
Box 76
Marjorie Hall Scrapbook
Box 77
Scrapbook
Box 77
Gordan Hall Scrapbook
Box 78

Two small manuscript volumes collected by Hall: a nineteenth-century diary written by Sarah Combs, a transcript of this diary, and an early twentieth century travelogue written by a member of the Whitney family.

Volumes
Box 53

Consists of material collected by Simmons on William Carter Spann, President Jimmy Carter's nephew. Arranged in chronological order.

Drafts of writings on William C. Spann by Dawn L. Simmons, 1977 and undated
Box 54
Prison authority evaluations, 1969-1978
Box 54
William C. Spann-Dawn L. Simmons correspondence, 1978-1981
Box 54
William C. Spann personal correspondence, 1976-1978
Box 54
Clippings, 1976-1978
Box 54

Folders house drafts and manuscripts of Simmons' writings, and a few pieces by others. Arranged in alphabetical order. Cover proofs of Dawn: A Charleston Legend have been removed to oversize housing.

The Ballad of Dawn and John-Paul, undated
Box 55
The Ballad of Dawn and John-Paul, manuscript with handwritten notes, 1969
Box 55
The Boy in Washington Square, undated
Box 55
Camilla the Husky Who was Lost in Charleston, 1995
Box 55
Children of the Moor, undated
Box 55
Draft of article on Isabel Whitney's paintings of Brooklyn Heights, undated
Box 55
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, first draft, 1991
Box 55
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, manuscript, 1991
Box 55
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, manuscript, undated
Box 56
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, editorial materials and computer disc, undated
Box 56
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, dust jacket design, undated
Box 56
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, editorial material, undated
Box 56
Photographic materials collected for publication in Dawn: A Charleston Legend, undated
Box 56
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, edited manuscript, 1992
Box 57
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, galley proof, 1995 Jan. 17
Box 57
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, manuscript, 1995 Feb. 2
Box 57
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, edited manuscript, undated
Box 57
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, manuscripts, undated
(4 folders)
Box 58
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, typescript, undated
Box 58
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, blueprint printing and empty boards, undated
Box 59
Dawn: A Charleston Legend, galley proofs, 1995 Feb.
(5 folders)
Box 59
Dawn: A Charleston Legend clippings, book reviews and publicity, 1990s
(folder 1 of 2)
Box 59
Dawn: A Charleston Legend clippings, book reviews and publicity, 1990s
(folder 2 of 2)
Box 60
Deserted Wife, undated
Box 60
An English Grandmother, undated
Box 60
The Girl Who Sculpted Lincoln (2 drafts), undated
Box 60
The Great White Owl of Sissinghurst (3 drafts), 1992-1993 and undated
Box 60
The Green Orchid: A Novel, undated
Box 60
Gulielma, undated
Box 60
Harriet Tubman article, manuscript, 1980
Box 60
History of Sussex (?), undated
Box 60
I Was a Papoose Sitter, undated
(2 folders)
Box 61
Me Papoose Sitter, play version, undated
Box 61
Lady Bird and Her Daughters, article draft, 1967
Box 61
Lady Marjorie: The Diary of a Catskill Cat, undated
Box 61
Loon Bay People, manuscript, 1980
Box 61
Madness Haunts Actress's Daughter, article draft, undated
Box 61
Margaret Rutherford: A Blithe Spirit, 1980
(2 folders)
Box 61
Margaret Rutherford's Cookbook and Other Family Secrets, undated
Box 62
The Mark of Caroline, undated
Box 62
Mother Rutherford, first draft, 1979
Box 62
Mrs. John-Paul: A Love Story, 1974
Box 62
My Tiara For a Pig, undated
Box 62
Porty's Motel, undated
Box 62
The President's Nephew: An American Tragedy, outline and notes, undated
Box 62
A Princess Recaptures New York, undated
Box 62
Romeo Was a Lady: A Biography of Charlotte Cushman, manuscript, undated
(2 folders)
Box 63
Romeo Was a Lady, undated
Box 63
Rosalynn Carter: The Woman Behind the Man, 1978
Box 63
A Rose for Mrs. Lincoln, galley, 1969
Box 63
The Sawdust Tail, typescript of corrections, 1963
Box 63
Sleep On, Dear Randall, undated
Box 63
Sleep On, Dear Randall, photocopy, undated
Box 64
Song of the Wilderness, undated
Box 64
Tapestry of the Rose: A Play in Five Acts, manuscript, undated
Box 64
Though Our Tombs Be Dark, manuscript, undated
Box 64
The Twelve Holy Nights (2 drafts), undated
Box 64
A Very Little Miracle in Harlem, manuscript, undated
Box 64
Vita's Country, manuscript (foreword and chapter one), undated
Box 64
Vita's Country, manuscript photocopy, undated
Box 64
Who Killed Aunt Fay?, manuscript, undated
Box 65
Yankee Alias Romeo, manuscript, undated,
Box 65
Notes and drafts, undated
(3 folders)
Box 65
Writings by Others, 1945-1959 and undated
Box 65

Consists of audio and video magnetic tape recordings and photographs. The recordings include BBC productions on Dawn Simmons and Margaret Rutherford, spoken renditions of Simmons' work, and a tape of Simmons' wedding. The photographs cover a wide variety of subjects including Isabel and Martha Whitney's family, Dawn Simmons' family, relatives, friends. Other photographs documenting Simmons' life are included in the Writings Series with material collected for publication in Dawn: A Charleston Legend, and in the Scrapbooks Series. The material is in rough chronological order.

[Originals CLOSED to use. Use copies for most items are available in Box 67. Otherwise, Technical Services staff must arrange for use copies to be made before contents can be accessed. Please contact Research Services staff before coming to use this collection.]

1969, Recording made by Pauline Ticehurst at Dawn Langley Simmons' wedding, (audio 1/4" tape, 5" reel)
Box 66
1979 Apr. 3, Voice recording of Margaret Rutherford - Talk on "Women's Hour," B.B.C. (audio cassette tape)
Box 66
1980, Rumer Godden, "Memories of Margaret Rutherford" (audio cassette tape)
Box 66
1985 Sept. 11, Wicker's World: "British Women in America," Program No. 50 NBSE 4084, B.B.C., (Umatic video cassette tape)
Box 66
Undated, The Pierre Berton Show: "The Boy Who Should Have Been a Girl," Program No. 1647 (audio 1/4" tape, 7" reel)
Box 66
Undated, The Pierre Berton Show: "Terrors of a Southern Mixed Marriage," Program No. 1648 (audio 1/4" tape, 7" reel)
Box 66
USE COPIES

[See listings above for titles and use copy information.]

Box 67
Photographic materials, circa 1910-1980s and undated
Box 68
Large format photographic materials, undated
Box 31
Cover proofs for Dawn, A Charleston Legend, circa 1994
Oversize Folder 1
Bette Davis movie poster; oversize newspaper clippings; magazine article about Simmons marriage; Look magazine issue; award and diploma; architect plans for door frame; publicity poster for The People with Simmons as "famous author" in wedding dress, entitled "My New Life as a Woman."
Oversize Folder 2

Historical Note

DateEvent(s)
1922Probable year for the birth of Gordon Langley Hall born, Sussex, England, illegitimate child of Jack Copper, Vita Sackville-West's chauffeur, and Marjorie Hall Ticehurst (the couple subsequently married). Other dates given by Hall: 1930, 1937
1946Emigrated to Canada, to Ojibway Reservation, Lake Nipigon, Canada; served as missionary, teacher, and midwife
1947-1949Returned to England, taught theater and art at the Gregg School, Croydon
1950-1952Returned to the U.S., worked as a society editor for The Nevada Daily Mail, Missouri
1952Moved to New York, became society columnist for the Port Chester Daily Item
Met Isabel Whitney, artist and future benefactor
1955Published Me Papoose Sitter
1957Hall's play, Saraband for a Saint, performed in Harlem, New York
1957Published Princess Margaret: An Informal Biography
1960Met Margaret Rutherford
1962Hall legally adopted by Margaret Rutherford and her husband
Hall and Whitney purchased home at 56 Society Street, Charleston, S.C.
Two weeks later, death of Isabel Lydia Whitney
Hall moved permanently to Charleston
1963Publication of Vinnie Ream: The Story of the Girl Who Sculpted Lincoln
1967Hall entered the Gender Identity Clinic, Johns Hopkins University for sex-reassignment surgery, and adopted name Dawn Pepita Langley-Hall; Hall claimed the surgery was for correction and not for change of sex
1963Publication of Jacqueline Kennedy, a Biography
1969 Jan.Married John-Paul Simmons in Charleston, first legal interracial marriage in South Carolina; second wedding ceremony performed in England
1970Publication of Rose for Mrs. Lincon: A Biography of Mary Todd Lincoln
1971Natasha Simmons born; birth certificate, created at a later date, declares Dawn Langley Simmons the birth mother
1974Ostracized from Charleston society, threatened, and attacked, Simmons and family moved to Catskill, N.Y.
1982Divorced John-Paul Simmons
1983Published biography, Margaret Rutherford: Blithe Spirit
1995Published autobiography, Dawn: A Charleston Legend
2000 Sept. 18Died, Charleston, S.C.
2004Biography of Dawn Langley Simmons published by Edward Ball: Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love

Subject Headings

Related Material

  • Isabel Whitney Papers, Gordon Langley Hall Papers, and Two Lives of Baby Doe Collection (manuscript) (Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota.)

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Dawn Langley Simmons Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Provenance

The Dawn Langley Simmons Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift from 1966-2005.

Processing Information

Processed by Daniel Breen, Lee Cloninger, Melissa Delbridge, Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, and Tania Roy, July 2007

Encoded by Lee Cloninger and Paula Jeannet Mangiafico.

Completed August 2007

All accessions from 67-352 to 2005-0035 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

Descriptive sources and standards used to create this inventory: DACS, EAD, NCEAD guidelines, and local Style Guide.