Collection Dates: [1906 -- 1930]
.5 linear ft.
This document describes a collection of materials held
Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1420
Posted to Internet: July 2003
Acquisition Note: The Fisk Papers were the gift of Walter Fisk Giersbach, grandson of Marion Ballou and Charles Leon Fisk, in 2003.
Access and Restrictions: This collection is open
This collection is open for research.
Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.
Copyright: Please read
The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on "Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished
Materials" . With his gift of this collection to the University
of Iowa, Walter Fisk Giersbach, also generously donated all copyrights to materials within it
that were created by Marion Ballou Fisk and Marion Fisk Giersbach. Mr. Giersbach
asks that the following credit line be used in acknowledgements: "Used
with the permission of the University of Iowa acting for the Estate of Marion
. With his gift of this collection to the University of Iowa, Walter Fisk Giersbach,as Executor of the Estate of Marion Fisk Giersbach,
also generously donated all copyrights to materials within it that were created by Marion Ballou Fisk and Marion Fisk Giersbach. Mr. Giersbach asks that the following credit line be used in acknowledgements: "Used with the permission of the University of Iowa acting for the Estate of Marion Ballou Fisk".
Use of Collections: The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.
Abbreviations: For an explanation of the abbreviation and dating conventions used in the finding aid, please see Abbreviations.
Scope and Contents
Charles Leon Fisk trained as a minister. While a student, during summers, he performed with the Hesperian Quartet on the Redpath Chautauqua circuit. A few years later, when he became ill and his recovery period was uncertain, his wife, Marion Ballou Fisk, polished her drawing and public speaking skills and developed a career as "Cartoonist - Lecturer - Entertainer," offering lecture programs such as "Americans in the Making," "American Beauties," "New England Folks," and "Cap'n Tommy," an illustrated sermon. She was an active tour performer from 1908 until 1926.
The present collection, presented by her grandson Walter Fisk Giersbach, offers paricularly rich insights into the work of a Chautauqua performer. Mrs. Fisk's letters to her family are full of detail, and the records include photographs, promotional brochures, notes from which she developed some of her lectures, a published article and pamphlet, and programs. Making use of transcriptions begun in the 1970s by his mother (who also performed briefly on the circuits), Mr. Giersbach transcribed much of the material in the collection, and it has thus been possible to link the full content, in digital format, of many items to this page. The original artifacts, of course, reside only in the Libraries.
Eight thousand promotional brochures for Chautauqua performers are digitized and searchable at Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century. "Traveling Culture" includes two Marion Ballou Fisk Brochures not present in this collection.
Folder 1. Letters and writings (the following items in Folders 1 and 2 are fully transcribed on the linked page)
Marion Ballou Fisk (MBF) to her parents, ALS, July 16, 1908, 6 pages, following her first program and explaining her being petrified of an audience of 1,500 and how she steeled herself to meet them and succeed. Included in the text are pen-and-ink and colored pencil drawings of the six pictures she drew. On letterhead of First Congregational Church, Sabetha, Kansas. With typed partial transcript by Marion Fisk Giersbach (MFG). For a transcription of this letter, click here; for scans of the first four pages of the letter, click here.
MBF (Killbuck, Ohio) to her mother in Cleveland, ALS, January 15, 1914, 4 pages, describing her frustration in balancing a business career and family. On her own, personalized letterhead advertising her lectures. With typed transcript by Marion Fisk Giersbach.
MBF (Camrose, Alberta) to her mother, ALS, July 10, 1917, 10 pages, following her first successful Chautauqua program in Alberta, Canada; mentions the Canadian soldiers who had gone to fight in Europe and those in the audience who had been wounded or lost arms and legs. On the letterheads of the North Side Inn in Jerome, Idaho; the Hotel Drexel, Vale, Oregon (3 sheets); and The Caledonia Hotel in Rupert, Idaho.
MBF to her mother, ALS, September 4, 1917, 10 pages, provides insights into the sights, people and difficulties she encountered on the road, including a visit to Yellowstone Park with a fellow Chautauqua performer. On letterhead of the Stark Hotel in Twin Bridges, Montana.
Geo. C. Carver (Carver’s Cash Grocery, Melrose, New Mexico), TLS, February 4, 1918, 1 page. A visit from the Chautauqua had a lasting effect on audiences, as evidenced by this letter that notes the Melrose “Red Cross entertainment” had netted $72; her drawings were auctioned for $40.25, $18.75 of which came from a nickel-a-vote identification of “the ugliest man in the audience” by the audience. The man “elected” was given the drawing of “Uncle Zeke.” On Carver’s letterhead. With typed transcript by MFG.
MBF to her mother, ALS, February 9, 1918, 6 pages. Many of Mrs. Fisk’s letters were written on the fly and often while waiting for a train, this one from El Paso while en route through Texas. It shows her flair for description, which was utilized in her lectures. On letterhead of the Copper Queen Hotel, Bisbee, Arizona.
Printout transcripts by Walter Fisk Giersbach of the letters described above.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, June 24, 1924, 4 pages, from Lititz, Pennsylvania. Marion Fisk [Giersbach] was also "talent" on the circuit. MBF describes a thunderstorm that tested her ability to control the crowd and repeats laudatory statements about her leadership.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, June 29, 1924, 4 pages, from Lititz, Pennsylvania. MBF describes the problems of meeting with the local sponsors, or guarantors, for a program. Her discussions with the Lyceum also lead to her being offered a position as a Superintendent.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, August 10, 1924, 4 pages, from Beacon, New York, addressed c/o D Chautauqua Assn. in Chicago, and forwarded to Shirley, Indiana. This describes some inner workings of the Chautauqua on a local level.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, June 13, 1925, 6 pages, from Philadelphia. MBF goes into details of her Eastern Pennsylvania tour and visit to her son at Princeton.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, October 23, 1925, 8 pages from North Holstein, Virginia. MBF writes about the primitive traveling conditions and unexpected program changes in the back country of Kentucky. She writes on the stationery of the Hotel London in Lexington, Kentucky, which advertised rooms on the European plan for "$1.25 & up," the American plan for "$3.00 and up," and its location on the Dixie Highway. It possessed "steam heat, hot & cold running water, baths." The last sheet of the letter is on the letterhead of the Day Hotel in Whitesburg, Kentucky.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, November 2, 1925, 6 pages, from Thomasville, North Carolina, on the letterhead of the Day Hotel. MBF notes her arrangement to work as a Chautauqua Superintendent for the summer program in 1926.
MBF to her future son-in-law Walter Giersbach, ALS, December 1, 1925, 4 pages, from Cooperville [sp?], Virginia. She provides insights into life on the circuit and Chautauqua plans for the coming year.
MBF to her mother, Mary Ballou, ALS, from "Harison City, thereabouts, Pa." 10 pages. Marion Fisk [Giersbach] noted on the letter that it was written in late January 1926. MBF relates a saga of a lost boy and lost luggage.
MBF to her mother, Mary Bllou, ALS, February 12, 1926, 16 pages, from Dawson, Pennsylvania. MBF continues the saga from the previous letter.
MBF to her daughter, ALS, probably on or about February 12, 1926, 6 pages, on notepaper from Gilmer's Hotel, Pembroke, Virginia. MBF recapitulates the wedding described in the previous letter. The letter's beginning four pages (two leaves) have been lost.
MBF's transcription, on the letterhead of The Dinkler Hotels' Hotel Ansley in Atlanta, Georgia, 1 page, of an undated letter written to her by Felix Sanchez, a fellow trouper.
Mrs. C.A. Ballou (MBF’s mother) to MBF, December 5, 1926, ALS, 4 pages. Mr. C.A. Ballou (MBF’s father) to MBF, December 5, 1926, ALS, 3 pages. On the envelope addressed to “Mrs. Marion Ballou Fisk, Yardley, Pennsylvania, Care of Swarthmore Chautauqua,” Mrs. Fisk penned: “Keep – Anent giving up Lyceum and Chaut. work.” Her mother and father expressed their joy at Marion's leaving the Chautauqua Circuit. Mrs. Ballou’s letter is on letterhead of The Wakefield, Marietta, Ohio and the Hotel Roberts, Miami, Florida; Mr. Ballou’s is on a sheet of The Wakefield stationary and on the verso of an advertisement for “Bazaar … Under Auspices W.M.S. Baptist Church”.
Printout transcripts by Walter Fisk Giersbach of the letters described above.
Folder 3: Lecture Notes and Scripts (These short pieces are transcribed on the linked pages.)
“The R.R. Engineer’s Story.” Story written in pen and pencil, 2 pages in [MBF’s?] hand.
“A Frontier Home.” Story written in pen, 2 pages on 2 sheets in [MBFs?] hand.
“1912. Last November I spent a night in a little wood….” Story written in pencil, 6 pages, in MBF’s hand. Typescript transcript by MFG with note: “Experience of [MBF] later incorporated into lecture as The Cowboy’s Prayer.”
“Among the Sandhills, The Cowboy’s Prayer”. Another version, written in pen, 5 pages on 5 sheets, with beginning of a drawing on the verso of the final leaf.
“Negro Cemetery, Perry, Ga. Sun. Mch. 30, 1913.” Story in pen, 6 pages on 3 sheets, in MBF’s hand. Typed transcript by MFG with note: “Written by hand by [MBF]. Experiences which she may have used, or planned to use at a later time.”
“Cap’n Tommy.” Story in pen, three parts, 14 pages, in MBF’s hand.
“There now, don’t cry, don’t cry….” Story in pen, 4 pages, in MBF’s hand. Typed transcript by MFG with note: “One of the romantic things seen by [MBF] in her handwriting.”
“She was a Kentuckian.…” Story in pen, 7 pages, in MBF’s hand. Typed transcript by MFG with note: “From the notes of [MBF] in her handwriting.”
“Irish Girl.” Poem (or song), 1 page, in MBF’s hand. On the verso of the sheet is a drawing (colored pencil?) and a few lines of obscure text which ends, “The Men Must Go!”
"The Guard of Honor". 2 sheets of ledger paper, 4 pages.
"That piece makes me tired snapped Aunt Cordelia as she disgustedly threw "The Woman's Home Intelligencer" down on the table." Two sheets of The Kirkwood, Geneva, New York, letterhead, 4 pages. Fragment.
"... further as I looked up from my magazine..." 7 sheets of notebook paper, 14 pages. Fragment.
"Americans in the Making". TMs, 11 pages, including a preliminary page headed "INSCRIPTION". Text of an MBF illustrated lecture.
Schedule for 1926 “Premier Festivals for the “FA Circuit”, September 11 – December 12, 1926. Mimeograph sheet annotated by MBF [with names of traveling partners?], indications for “chalk” and “pap.”, and date changes.
"KWEER CHARACTERS I HAVE KNOWN". TMs, 60 pages. MBF's scripts and notes on some of her presentations. This typescript was prepared by her daughter, Marion Fisk Gierbach. MBF's original text does not survive in manuscript.
"The voices sang lustily as the studio size piano was attacked by the musicians...." AMs, 10 sheets, 10 pages. An unpublished and unfinished manuscript by MBF’s daughter, Marion Fisk Giersbach (1900-1991), provides perspective on why her mother ventured out as the family breadwinner. MFG also served on the Circuit while in her early twenties and speaks from first-hand knowledge. AMs and printout transcription.
Folder 5. Postcards
Twenty-four photographic postcards—many duplicate, but with notations and identifications—of Chautauqua scenes and performers.
----. 10 cards (5 images) picture performers and tent in the 1909 Sabetha, Kansas, Chautauqua, MBF’s first appearance. Three of the cards have been scanned: click here.
----. 1 card pictures the Union Pacific depot in Valparaiso, Nebraska and has MBF’s note, “April 14, 1909. Dear Momma, Here is how, when and where I have arrived for my second bureau engagement.”
----. 9 cards (4 images) picture MBF.
----. 2 cards (1 image) picture the tent for the Eureka, Kansas, Chautauqua, July 1-8, 1909.
----. 1 card is from C. Fisk, Danville, Illinois, August 21, 1906.
----. 1 card advertises Edmund Vance Cook.
Folder 6. Publicity Photographs
Ten 8 x 10” head-and-shoulder and full-figure publicity photos of MBF.
Folder 6. Publicity Photographs
Nine 8 x 10" and six 5 x 7” photographs of MBF at the easel with illustrations from her programs.
Folder 7. Promotional Brochures
MBF promotional brochure, 8-panel, 8x11”, published by Affiliated Lyceum Bureaus (Coit, White Entertainment, Mutual, Alkahest, Dixie, Ellison-White, and Coit-Alber)
MBF promotional brochure, 6-panel, 8x11”, Affiliated Lyceum Bureau; photos and copy different from above.
MBF promotional brochure, 6-panel, 8x11”, Affiliated Lyceum Bureau.
MBF promotional brochure, 4-panel, 8x11”, Affiliated Lyceum Bureau, no sponsor listed, but art as above.
MBF promotional brochure, 6-panel,
8x11”, Affiliated Lyceum Bureau, announcing MBF for the 1920-1921 season.
Folder 8. Advertising
Lyceum Magazine, tearsheet from April 1923 issue with bylined article by MBF, “Won’t You Please Draw...?” on amusing suggestions she has received for illustrated lectures.
Lyceum Magazine, half-page ad from July 1923 issue for Swarthmore Chautauquas, Circuit C, including MBF.
Lyceum Magazine, one-third page ad from September 1923 issue featuring MBF exclusively.
Lyceum Magazine, news clip of an item contributed by MBF for April 1925 issue, “The Lecture That Scared Lloyd-George Away” on an interesting character she met who had a lecture “four feet long and 18 inches wide.”
Illustrated program for the Swarthmore Chautauqua, Sept. 13 to Sept. 15. MBF is given a page.
Illustrated program for the Elison-White Chautauqua, Bonner, Oct. 5-10. MBF is given a page.
Folder 9. Bylined Articles
“Home Missionaries’ Wives” by MBF, Cleveland, O. In The American Missionary, January 1918, pages 525-528.
MBF. “Our Congregational-Christian Body at Work, A Group of Four Programs.” Boston: Congregational Education Society, nd. Pamphlet priced 10 cents.
Folder 10: Original Chalk Drawings
Nine 9 x 12” colored drawings from MBF’s lectures (on 8 sheets), drawn and captioned by her.
Folder 11. Charles Leon Fisk Items
Promotional brochure for the Hesperian Quartet, featuring Charles [Leon] Fisk, William Bennett, Carl Thomson and Winfield Gaylord; no apparent sponsor or agent; four-panel brochure is torn and shows wear.
Photoprint of Hesperian Quartet, 4 x 5 ½”.
Newspaper clipping for Wathena Chauauqua,
Sunday, Aug. 12, 1906. Hesperian Quartet performed.
Folder 12. Miscellaneous
Program for Swarthmore Chautauqua performance in Wilmington, Del., June 15-21, 1925.
Talent Magazine (International Platform Assn, Aug. 1952). “Golden Jubilee Connection” issue, carries several articles about Chautauqua.
Computer disk with Walter Fisk Giersbach’s
transcriptions of his mother’s “Memories of Chautauqua,” transcriptions
of his grandmother’s letters as inventoried above, and notes for this
Box 2: Scrapbook
A 9x7 inch black paper album, 69 leaves, photgraphs captioned in white ink. Principally 1916-1926, but with later materials added. Snapshots, publicity photos of lecturers and musicians, newspaper obituaries and memorials, postcards of performers, letters, testimonials, and programs. Publicity stills include Heather May Butler & Her Ladies Band; Edmund Vance Cook, Mather Hilburn, "Uncle John" Nester, Frances Ensworth, Fred Baker, Morini Olsen, Janet Young, Jay Babcock, and Leonetta Warburton. Numerous photos of Arthur Coit and Louis J. Alber, superintendents and managers, both formal and at picnics and playing games. Snapshots of the crewmen including their driver Ike (referred to in MBF's 1925 letters) and the Lleras (both publicity stills and photos of the 1925 Halloween party described in her letters.