Guide to the Dawn Langley Simmons Papers, 1848-2001, 2012-2014 and undated, bulk 1969-2000
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.
- Collection Number
- Dawn Langley Simmons papers
- 1848-2001, 2012-2014 and undated, bulk 1969-2000
- Simmons, Dawn Langley
- 19.7 Linear Feet, 18,350 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
- Correspondence Series, 1874-2000 and undated
- Diaries Series, 1975-1976, 1987-1989, 1990-1994
- Legal and Financial Papers Series, 1848-1990s and undated
- Printed Materials Series, 1911-1993 and undated
- Scrapbooks Series, 1946-1989
- Volumes Series, 1878-1880, 1909-1911 and undated
- William Carter Spann Materials Series, 1969-1981 and undated
- Writings Series, 1945-1995, 2012-2014 and undated, bulk 1969-1990s
- Audiovisual Materials Series, circa 1910-1980s and undated, bulk 1979-1980s
- Oversize Materials
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 collection also contains an electronic file of an unpublished manuscript, WANTING MAGIC, by J. Theodore Ellis, including his unpublished notes, footnotes, and reflections based on the works of Hall-Simmons and related individuals, as well as professional studies of transsexualism and sexual identity. Includes a printout of selected pages of the manuscript. There is also Ellis' copy of Simmon's GREAT WHITE OWL OF SISSINGHURST.
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.
Access to the Collection
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.
Use & Permissions
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.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Dawn Langley Simmons Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
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.
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.
Files of miscellaneous materials including publisher's proofs of two of Dawn Simmon's books; hardcover edition of The Great White Owl of Sissinghurst as well as J. Theodore Ellis' copy of the book; 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.
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.
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.
Consists of material collected by Simmons on William Carter Spann, President Jimmy Carter's nephew. Arranged in chronological order.
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.
Contains an electronic file of an unpublished manuscript, WANTING MAGIC, by J. Theodore Ellis, dated 2012-2014, including his unpublished notes, footnotes, and reflections based on the works of Hall-Simmons and related individuals, as well as professional studies of transsexualism and sexual identity. There is a printout of selected pages of the manuscript.
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.]
[Use copy on audiocassette tape and CD-R available in Box 67.]
[Use copy on audiocassette tape available in Box 67.]
[Use copy not available; contact Research Services staff to arrange access before coming to use this collection.]
[Undated master preservation copy on BetacamSP available in Box 67. Use copy not available; contact Research Services staff to arrange access before coming to use this collection. ]
[Use copy on audiocassette tape and CD-R available in Box 67.]
[Use copy on audiocassette tape and CD-R available in Box 67.]
Probable 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
Emigrated to Canada, to Ojibway Reservation, Lake Nipigon, Canada; served as missionary, teacher, and midwife
Returned to England, taught theater and art at the Gregg School, Croydon
Returned to the U.S., worked as a society editor for The Nevada Daily Mail, Missouri
Met Isabel Whitney, artist and future benefactor
Moved to New York, became society columnist for the Port Chester Daily Item
Published Me Papoose Sitter
Hall's play, Saraband for a Saint, performed in Harlem, New York
Published Princess Margaret: An Informal Biography
Met Margaret Rutherford
Hall moved permanently to Charleston
Hall and Whitney purchased home at 56 Society Street, Charleston, S.C.
Two weeks later, death of Isabel Lydia Whitney
Hall legally adopted by Margaret Rutherford and her husband
Publication of Vinnie Ream: The Story of the Girl Who Sculpted Lincoln
Hall 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
Publication of Jacqueline Kennedy, a Biography
Married John-Paul Simmons in Charleston, first legal interracial marriage in South Carolina; second wedding ceremony performed in England
Publication of Rose for Mrs. Lincon: A Biography of Mary Todd Lincoln
Natasha Simmons born; birth certificate, created at a later date, declares Dawn Langley Simmons the birth mother
Ostracized from Charleston society, threatened, and attacked, Simmons and family moved to Catskill, N.Y.
Divorced John-Paul Simmons
Published biography, Margaret Rutherford: Blithe Spirit
Published autobiography, Dawn: A Charleston Legend
|2000 Sept. 18||
Died, Charleston, S.C.
Biography of Dawn Langley Simmons published by Edward Ball: Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love
- Isabel Whitney Papers, Gordon Langley Hall Papers, and Two Lives of Baby Doe Collection (manuscript) (Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota.)
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Copper, Marjorie Hall Ticehurst
- Combs, Sarah
- Holmes, Robert
- Nicolson, Nigel
- Nicolson, Harold George, Sir, 1886-1968
- Peacock, Edwin, 1910-1989
- Rutherford, Margaret, 1892-1972
- Simmons, Dawn Langley
- Simmons, Dawn Langley
- Sackville-West, V. (Victoria), 1892-1962
- Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture
- Whitney, Isabel Lydia
- Authors, American -- Biography
- Authors, American -- Southern States
- Interracial marriage -- South Carolina -- Charleston
- Mothers and sons -- Great Britain
- Sex change -- United States
- Transgender people -- United States
- Transsexuals -- South Carolina -- Charleston
- Women authors, American -- Biography
- Women authors, American -- Southern States
The Dawn Langley Simmons Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift from 1966-2005.
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.