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Guide to the Ina Donna Coolbrith Collection of Letters and Papers, [ca. 1865-1928]
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Ina Donna Coolbrith Collection of Letters and Papers,
    Date (inclusive): [ca. 1865-1928]
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-H 23
    Creator: Coolbrith, Ina Donna, 1842-1928
    Extent: Number of containers: 9 boxes and 1 portfolio.
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Correspondence; manuscripts of poems, including poems set to music; some accounts; clippings, including a scrapbook of Ambrose Bierce items; programs, invitations and miscellaneous papers.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Ina Donna Coolbrith Collection of Letters and Papers, BANC MSS C-H 23, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    Title: Ina Donna Coolbrith Papers: Additions,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 70/117 c

    Biographical Sketch

    Ina Donna Coolbrith was born Josephine D. Smith on March 10, 1842, near Springfield, Illinois. Her parents were Agnes Coolbrith and Don Carlos Smith, brother of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. After the death of her father, she went with her mother to live in St. Louis. There her mother married a newspaper man named William Pickett and shortly after the gold rush the Pickett family migrated to California. Ina supposedly entered California in the summer of 1851 on the saddle of James P. Beckwourth -the first white child to cross the Sierra Nevadas over the Beckwourth Pass. The family settled eventually in Los Angeles, and it was there she received her formal schooling. She began writing verses when she was 11 and saw them published in the local papers under the nom-de-plume, Ina.
    On September 9, 1858, she married Robert B. Carsley, a partner in the Salamander Iron Works, but the marriage ended in divorce three years later on December 30, 1861. After her marital tragedy, she moved to San Francisco and took for her name her mother's maiden name, Coolbrith, combined with her nom-de-plume, Ina.
    Contributing frequently to local magazines and Papers, she gained considerable recognition as a poetess. During the early years of the Overland Monthlyshe worked closely with Bret Harte, its editor, and Charles Warren Stoddard. Their association was so close they became known as the "Golden Gate Trinity."
    Miss Coolbrith made her living not as a poetess but as a librarian. From 1874-93 she worked in the Oakland Public Library; from 1897-1890, in the San Francisco Mercantile Library; and from 1899-1906, in the library of the San Francisco Bohemian Club. Three volumes of her poems appeared, however, between 1881 and 1895: A Perfect Bay and Other Poems (1881); The Singer of the Sea (1894); and Songs from the Golden Gate(1895) .
    When the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco in 1915, she was the president of its World Congress of Authors and Journalists. In the same year she was crowned poet laureate of California, pursuant to an act of the state legislature.
    In poor health during most of the later years of her life, Miss Coolbrith died in Berkeley, California, Feb. 29, 1928.

    Scope and Content

    Most of the Coolbrith papers were acquired as gifts from Mrs. Finlay Cook (Miss Coolbrith's niece) and Mrs. Milton Ray. The Thomas W. Norris Collection also included a significant amount of Coolbrith material. Other items were received as gifts from Mrs. N. Beck and Hobart M. Lovett, and purchased from Ina Graham, from D. Castro and Mary L. Bennett. Some letters in the custody of the Oakland Public Library were loaned for photocopy, courtesy of Mrs. Josephine Rhodehamel. The source of all items in the collection, other than the Ray-Cook gifts, is noted.
    The papers are in 9 boxes and 1 portfolio, and they cover the period 1865-1928. Most of them, however, date from the period after 1906 since Miss Coolbrith lost most of her possessions in the San Francisco fire. The papers consist mainly of correspondence but include also manuscripts of poems, clippings, and miscellaneous items. Letters to Miss Coolbrith are arranged alphabetically, and names of principal correspondents appear in the manuscripts catalog. An index to all correspondents is included with this report. Cards have also been placed in the catalog for other items of note. Photographs are filed separately in the portrait file (see Coolbrith -PORs. Portrait Collections)
    N.B. There is additional Coolbrith material in Archives.