Access to Collection
Scope and Contents
Title: Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain collection,
Identifier/Call Number: M1835
Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives
Language of Material:
9.0 Linear feet
(17 manuscript boxes, 3 flat boxes)
Date (inclusive): 1898-1975
Language of Materials:
French, English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Bantu
Special Collections and University Archives materials are stored offsite and must be paged 36-48 hours in advance. For more
information on paging collections, see the department's website: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/spc.html.
Access to Collection
The materials are open for research use. Audio-visual materials are not available in original format, and must be reformatted
to a digital use copy.
All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the
Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94304-6064. Consent
is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission
from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubserv/permissions.html.
Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research
and educational purposes.
Glass recordings have been transferred to the Archives of Recorded Sound, located in the Music Building on the Stanford University
Campus. They have retained the same call number, M1835.
Scope and Contents
The collection contains Suzanne's most brilliant works and those of her siblings and husband Jean Comhaire. The collection
includes manuscripts with field notes; newpapers (La Voix des Femmes, Le Temps, L’Universitaire Colonial); published and unpublished
articles; photographs of Haiti and her trips to Congo, Nigeria, Mali and other unidentified places; old maps of Haiti, the
city of Port-au-Prince, the valley of Marbial, Kenscoff; songs and musical scores; phonographs of recording of voodoo ceremonies;
personal and work related correspondence before, during and after World War II; and approx 500 photographs taken during Comhaire-Sylvain's
Also included is material from Jean Comhaire, Georges Sylvain, Pierre Sylvain, and Madeleine Sylvain-Bouchereau.
Suzanne is Haiti’s first black female anthropologist. She studied in Kingston and Port-au-Prince before she obtained her Bachelor’s
degree and Doctorate in Paris. Besides her interest in Haitian folklore and social issues of the condition of women in Haiti
and Africa, her research focused on the origins of Creole language; an idiom considered juvenile and worthless at that time.
She had chosen a difficult path but her quaint work, disregarded by her peers, sparked the interest of famous Polish anthropologist
Bronislaw Malinowski. The latter invited her in London where she became her research assistant while studying at London University
and later at the London School of Economics. She also conducted successful research at the British Museum that resulted in
her major work regarding the African roots of Haitian Creole.
Suzanne traveled the world and conducted field research in Kenscoff and Marbial (Haiti), Kinshasa (Congo), Lomé (Togo) and
Nsukka (Nigeria) worked with renowned anthropologists such as Melville Herskovits and Alfred Metraux who entrusted her and
her husband Jean Comhaire with a mission of the UNESCO in Haiti. Suzanne has also taught at the New School for Social Research
in New York and was appointed member of the United Nations trusteeship council for Togo and Cameroon under French administration.
Suzanne came from a very special family, her uncle Benito Sylvain was one of the founding fathers of the Pan African movement
and her father George Sylvain (1866-1925) was an important figure of the resistance against the American occupation in Haiti.
Suzanne was the oldest of a family of seven who impacted Haiti in a positive way. Her sister Yvonne Sylvain (1907-1989) was
the first female gynecologist and obstetrician of Haiti. Madeleine Sylvain Bouchereau (1905-1970) was one of the founders
of the Feminine League for Social Action (Ligue Feminine d’Action Sociale) which fought for women’s legal rights such as education,
equality for married women and suffrage) while her brother, the poet Normil Sylvain (1900-1929) was the founder of La Revue
Indigène. Finally, her youngest brother Pierre Sylvain (1910-1991) was a botanist who published several reports on coffee
production in Ethiopia.
This collection was processed and listed by Fatoumata Seck and Elizabeth Horn. Regina Roberts, Sara Sussman, and Tim Noakes
assisted in overseeing the project.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Congo (Democratic Republic)
Tales--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Women --Social conditions.