Access to Collection
Scope and Contents
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain papers
Identifier/Call Number: M1835
9 Linear Feet
(17 manuscript boxes, 3 flat boxes)
Date (inclusive): 1898-1975
Language of Material: French, English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Bantu
Physical Location: 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.
While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not
an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission
or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.
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 the research and writing of anthropologist Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, as well as material from her
siblings and husband Jean Comhaire. Her papers include 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La Voix des Femmes, Le Temps, L’Universitaire Colonial); published and unpublished articles; photographs of Haiti and her trips to Congo, Nigeria, Mali and other unidentified places;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; phonograph recordings
of voodoo ceremonies; personal and work related correspondence before, during and after World War II; and approx 500 photographs
taken during Comhaire-Sylvain's research.
Also included is material from Jean Comhaire, Georges Sylvain, Pierre Sylvain, and Madeleine Sylvain-Bouchereau.
Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain was 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
Music -- Haiti
Haiti -- Maps
Tales -- Congo (Democratic Republic)
Women -- Social conditions.
Congo (Democratic Republic)