"Dearest Marty": Letters from Sylvia Plath

Letters from Sylvia Plath to her college friend Marcia Brown Stern are on display in the Mortimer Rare Book Room through July 31, 2009.

Autograph letter from Sylvia Plath to Marcia Brown, July 1, 1951.
In the summer of 1951 both Plath and her Smith classmate and friend Marcia Brown worked as mother’s helpers on Boston’s north shore. In this 3-page letter to Marcia, Plath writes about her job and her chance to rest a bit by visiting her own home and seeing her brother there. Plath often embellished her letters with drawings.


Date Exhibit
May 14-July 31 "Dearest Marty": Letters from Sylvia Plath to Marcia Brown Stern, June 1951 to February 1963 - Mortimer Rare Book Room

Sylvia Plath and Marcia Brown met upon their arrival at Haven House in the fall of 1950, their first year at Smith. Different as they were in stature, habits, temperament, and talents, they became very close and decided to find work near each other the following summer and to room together during their sophomore year back at Smith. During the summer of 1951 they both found work as "mother's helpers" on Boston's north shore. Sylvia's poem "The Babysitters" recalls some of the adventures and adversities of that experience; many years later, Plath used Marcia as the model for Jody in her novel, The Bell Jar.

Although Plath ultimately graduated from Smith in 1955, one year later than Marcia, they maintained their friendship with frequent visits and letters. They kept in touch even when Sylvia moved to England to study on a Fulbright fellowship, then married and eventually settled there. They both write about ordinary topics-their hopes, worries, families, children. Theirs was a wonderful relationship that enriched and delighted them both. 

At Smith, Marcia majored in Sociology and Child Study, and her professional life has involved work with families and young children. She also earned an M.A. in Early Childhood Education and took additional graduate courses focusing on children with special needs, all motivated by the developmental problems of her youngest son. For many years she taught children with varying degrees of autism, and now in her retirement, Marcia volunteers at a daycare center. 

Editing Sylvia Plath's Correspondence

The seven letters on display are selected from twenty-one letters written by Plath to her college roommate and very close friend Marcia Brown Stern. They range in date from the summer of 1951 until just one week before Plath's death in February 1963, and were donated to the Mortimer Rare Book Room by Marcia Brown Stern from 1982 and 2004. Plath's letters to Stern were the focus of an interterm course offered in January 2009 by Karen Kukil, Associate Curator of Special Collections. Students learned the principles of accurate transcription and concise annotation using standard reference works and primary sources in the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Marcia Stern visited the class to answer questions and to reminisce about what it was like to have been Sylvia's friend. The transcriptions included in the exhibit are some examples of students' work.

"Dearest Marty" was curated by Lois Jenkins, class of 2009. She also selected appropriate passages from Plath's journals and photographs of both Plath and Stern to include with the letters. Transcriptions and annotations of some of the letters on display were done by members of the interterm class in January 2009. All of the letters are available in the Mortimer Rare Book Room.


Barbara Blumenthal
Mortimer Rare Book Room
(413) 585-2906