(Hunsicker – Mason Letters)
Correspondence of University of Pennsylvania graduates, science teacher Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her fiancé medical student James Bryant Mason, of Urbana, Illinois, 1922-1934

288 letters, 1217 manuscript and typed pp., (284 retained mailing envelopes), dated 26 June 1922 to 31 August 1934, with bulk of correspondence (284 letters) dating from 1923-1924; Also included are photographs, 3 postcards, 6 telegrams, 8 greeting cards, and 11 miscellaneous pieces of ephemera.

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Description of Correspondence:

    The 288 letters consists of the correspondence between Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker and her future husband James Bryant Mason. The couple met while in college at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mary went to Louisville, Kentucky to work as a science teacher for the State Board of Health, the correspondence continues while Mason was still at Penn studying medicine. There are several summer vacations when the two went to different places, she traveling around the country and to Canada and Cuba, and he went back home to Illinois, where he worked in a medical laboratory as a research assistant for the summer (of 1923) before returning to school in the fall. The couple married in 1925 and thus these letters are from the period of their courtship, two years prior to their marriage. The correspondence includes 91 letters written by Mary Gwendolyn “Gwen” Hunsicker to James “Bryant” Mason, and 156 letters written by Mason to Hunsicker, with 41 miscellaneous letters written to Hunsicker by family, or friends.

     The letters have much on life and studies at the University of Pennsylvania as the incoming letters to Hunsicker are written by friends from Penn, and the letters from Mason were written while he was still a student at Penn.  Hunsicker relates events in her life starting out as a medical/science teacher for the Kentucky State Board of Health. She has dreams of returning to Philadelphia to study medicine, but Mason, her future husband, was not keen on her becoming a doctor, nor her continuing as a teacher.

A detailed inventory of this correspondence follows:

91 letters, 325 manuscript pp., dated June 1923 to July 1924, written by Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker, to James Bryant Mason; Mason at first is at home in Urbana, Ill, while Hunsicker is at her family’s home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; she takes a couple of trips across the river to Trenton and Asbury Park, New Jersey, before traveling cross country on vacation visiting Colorado Springs, Colorado; Yellowstone National Park; Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Francisco, California, and some points in between; she then returns to her family’s home in Philadelphia, but stops in Buffalo, New York first; she briefly stays in Philadelphia before going away to work/teach at Louisville, Kentucky for the State Board of Health at the end of August 1923; she now writes from Louisville, to Mason, who is still in Philadelphia, where he is studying medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; by July 1924, Hunsicker returns to Philadelphia and Mason is back at home in Urbana, Ill; they spend the summer of 1924 at their respective homes; there are no further letters written by Hunsicker, so we can assume she moved back to Philadelphia where Mason was still in school and thus there was no need for further correspondence.

41 letters, 138 manuscript pp., dated 1922-1934, written by various individuals to Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker; Hunsicker was located either at her home in Philadelphia, or in Louisville. Her correspondents were mainly friends from Philadelphia, some of whom were fellow Penn students; these individuals are: her father H.B. Hunsicker, (3); as well as other friends, or associates from Philadelphia such as John W. Klopp (2); Myra (2); Reg (3); El (2); M.S. Iszard (4); E.M. English (1);  Emily (1); Ethel Boardman (1); & Muzzy (1); other writers are: Dorothy, of Flushing, L.I. (1); Ellen E. Converse, of Louisville (1); cousin Frances Harrison, of Trenton, New Jersey (1); Ethel, of Princeton, (2); Mrs. F.F. Stephens, of Columbia, Missouri (1); Grace K. Keller, of Chicago, Illinois (1); Mabel, of Trenton, (1); and her future mother-in-law Mrs. J.S. Mason, of Urbana, Illinois (1);  there are also 11 letters written to Hunsicker by a man named John Holden, of Bennington, Vermont and Cambridge, Massachusetts; there is also 1 letter written in 1934 to Hunsicker by her mother, after she was married to Mason.

156 letters, 754 manuscript pp., dated February 1923 to December 1924 (154 letters) and August 1934 (2 letters) written by James Bryant Mason, to Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker. Mason was either at home in Urbana, Ill (Spring/Summer 1923) or in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Fall of 1923 and after), studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Hunsicker during this time was either at home in Philadelphia, before her stay in Louisville, Kentucky, and after her return to Philadelphia. Hunsicker spent some time in 1923 traveling cross country and to Canada to Jasper Park and Banff Springs in Alberta, and Toronto, Ontario. Mason wrote to her while she was on the road in Canada, and also when she toured the western states. Hunsicker made a trip to Havana, Cuba, and New Orleans, Louisiana in 1924, and Mason wrote to her at both locations. Mason went back home to Illinois in the Summer and early Fall of 1924 and wrote Hunsicker from there and other locations in the Midwest. There are also 5 small black and white photographs attached to a 1924 letter  taken by Mason from his dormitory window overlooking the Penn campus showing some of the college’s buildings; there are also an additional 5 snapshots (same size), of individuals and of Benedict Arnold’s House in Philadelphia, all labeled; plus an additional 8 photographs not labeled of a painting, outdoor landscapes, etc.; there are also 2 later letters from 1934, from Mason to Hunsicker, after they were married.

       Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker (1900-1984) and James Bryant Mason (1898-1980)

Henry B. Hunsicker was the second son of Garret T. Hunsicker (1844-1895) and his wife Maria Reiff. The Hunsicker family traces their origins back to Swiss born Valentine Hunsicker (1700-1777) who immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1717, making his way into northern Bucks County, Pennsylvania, becoming a pioneer of Skippack, Pennsylvania, where with his uncle Henry Klemmer, built the second Mennonite meetinghouse in America, which became the largest and most influential congregation in America.

Henry inherited the Hunsicker farmstead where he was born on 1 June 1873. This farmstead dated back to his 18th Century immigrant ancestor Valentine Hunsicker. Henry was the last Hunsicker to own the farmstead, as he sold it outside of the family and moved to Philadelphia where he lived, and eventually died on 30 June 1912.

Henry married Minnie Swartley Kriebel (1876-?) on 14 November 1899. They had one child, Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker. The Hunsicker family operated a hotel at 1808 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia. They appeared to have rented at the hotel themselves. In the 1920 Census there were no less than 24 lodgers, all men, but for one female. It appears that Mrs. Hunsicker ran the hotel and her husband was a superintendent at a market. In 1910, Henry was found as a superintendent at the market, but the family did not yet run a hotel. They were living at this time (1910) in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.

The Hunsicker’s daughter, Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker, was born on 26 August 1900, in Philadelphia. She was baptized at Wentz’s Church of Worcester Township, Montgomery Co., Pennsylvania, on 2 December 1900. When the Hunsicker family moved to Philadelphia they lived at 1808 Ridge Avenue. Mary attended the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1922. The college yearbook shows that Mary was active in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, the Fencing Team, Field Club, the Undergraduate Association, the Y.W.C.A., and a University Settlement Volunteer. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Mary took a temporary job teaching and working for the Kentucky State Board of Health in Louisville.

Mary married James Bryant Mason in 1925, in Philadelphia. Mason also attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied medicine and became a surgeon. He had previously lived in Urbana, Illinois, with his parents and siblings, where he graduated from Urbana High School in 1917, he then received an A.B. from the University of Illinois.

James Bryant Mason was born on 22 April 1898, in Penfield, Illinois, the son of Dr. Jams S. Mason and his wife Lena. When Mason registered for the WWI draft, he was already listed as a student in the S.A.T.C. at Ft. Sheridan. He also served in the Medical Reserve Corps in WWII. The couple presumably met while both were attending the University of Pennsylvania.

       In July of 1929, Mary was found as a passenger on a ship sailing from England to America with her husband.

In 1930, the Hunsicker family (Mr. & Mrs.) and Mary, were found living at their hotel, the Census now shows Mr. Hunsicker running the market and hotel. Mary was married and had a two-year old daughter, but her husband James Bryant Mason was not enumerated with them. The family was still renting at the hotel. Mary was listed as a public-school teacher.

When the 1940 Census was taken, Mary was found living at Perkiomen Township, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, enumerated with her surgeon husband, James Bryant Mason, and their daughter Gwendolyn, now twelve years old. They owned their home. The census states that the couple’s daughter was born in New Jersey, so it appears they spent a brief time in that state before moving back to Pennsylvania. The Masons were next found living in Arlington, Virginia, in the 1950s.

Mary Gwendolyn Hunsicker Mason died in July of 1984. Her last residence was given as Collegeville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Her husband predeceased her on 17 November 1980.

       Sample Quotations:

“Dear Bryant,

Please don’t faint at the wild paper, but I have had it for years.

I have waited three days for your letter, but at last it came this afternoon. Did you say I would get bored reading your epistles? Well then, I guess I like to be bored.

…I came home had lunch and went over to school to masquerade at commencement in a cap and gown. Hot!! It was 96 in the shade. And we all assembled between College Hall and Houston Club in the boiling hot sun. It makes me sizzle to think of it now. Then we marched over to the gym and after we had all marched in and were seated, the faculty came in. The deans of the various schools read out the names of the graduates. You stood up as your name was called and remained standing until the list was competed. Then the dean presented the students as a whole to Penniman and the various degrees were conferred, after which we “switched” our tassels.

Guess what – wonders will never cease, Daddy and Mother went to commencement and daddy really had his picture taken, but dear knows how it will turn out because it was so hot and he perspires terribly…

…I went over to school and returned my hood at Houston for which act I was given my deposit. Then I went over to the Graduate School and got my diploma. After that I stopped in at the Lab to take some of my books to take them home. There was a letter on my desk from Dr. Park of the New York City Laboratories saying I could have a position there, but not so much ‘cold cash’ to start, however he spoke of an opening down at Louisville, KY, 150/month teaching a group of women lab work. This latter one sounds very nice but I don’t think I will consider it, in fact I think the job is too big for me, what I need and need very much is practical experience.

If I would go to Columbia for graduate work next year and then perhaps I could get a position at Penn the following year thus practically covering expenses. The year at Penn I could work for my PhD, but I don’t know, it is all still sort of misty in my mind. What do you think? I guess the fall will bring forth what I am going to do…Gwen”


1025 Third Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, Friday Afternoon


Dear Bryant,

Arrived down here about 2:”30 Standard Time (they do not have day light saving down here). The lady who runs the place is very nice, not very old, or not very young. And I have heard the worst from here that I am to begin to teach right away, can you imagine that. I asked her if she had any idea where I was to begin and what I was to teach and she said she thought it was Wasserman and blood chemistry. The most terrible things and the people aren’t all in the same stages of the course, can you imagine anything worse. Miss Converse said that Dr. South’s bark was worse than her bite so you can imagine what Dr. Smith is like. I wish I had Miss Sherwood, the girl who had the job before I had it because she said that Dr. South was lovely to work for – brrr!!!

Now dear about your coming down. I asked Miss Converse if she knew a place in the vicinity where a friend of mine could stay over one or two week ends and she said she wouldn’t mind your being here if you didn’t, as she said I was the only extra person here at the present time and she has some vacant rooms. Now you just please yourself whatever you want to do. I thought of the Y.M.C.A. they always have rooms if you wouldn’t want to come here.

By the way, I work from 8:30 -4:00 and a half day Saturdays so you can make your plans accordingly.

This afternoon Miss Converse took me around the town and showed me all the sights. There are some lovely parts to the city.

I want to write a letter to mother and it is nearly dinner time, so I guess I will say Good0-bye, Gwen

Miss Sherwood told Miss Converse that she thought if I stuck it out a month that I would stay – so here is hoping.”

“1025 Third Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, Saturday


Dear Bryant,

I went to the Lab this morning and everything is all right I think. I don’t know what all I told you in the last letter, but this is the state of affairs. They have been giving two courses 6 months each - every year. Now they are going to give two courses a year - 9 months each.  And because Miss Sherwood who had the course the last two years suddenly decided to go to Yale, I have to finish up two weeks left over from last term.

I did not meet Dr. South – she has gone away over L. Day.

I think I’ll like it, but I’ll have to work like everything. I imagine there will be about eight or ten in the class.

Bryant, I received your letter and I’m just dancing around to know what kind of a bird your sending me. You are a very foolish boy to make the statement or rather ask the question “really and truly want me.” I think you’re the limit. There are two places near here where you can stay Miss Converse just told me about. She thought they would be about 1.00 or 2.00 per night. I will find out definitely and let you know. By the way if I do not get my meals here any time I am to tell Miss Converse, so you let me [know] what all you intend to do.

Bryant when you come don’t bring any heavy things along, thinking that you are going to the N. Pole. But it’s a nice sort of town.

I went to the movies – by way of celebration and am going on Monday with a Ruth (C. something or other) who works at the Lab and seems very nice. She only lives about a square down the street from here

      I can’t wait until this weekend, heeps of love, Gwen…”


“1025 Third Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, Tuesday Evening


Dear Bryant,

I am sorry that you will not be able to come before Friday, but I will meet you at 6:25, but if I am not there please wait as I will get there as soon as I can you see I have that class…

Oh Bryant, you would never know me. I have a desk and everything. The everything comprising a chair and a waste basket, but even at that I am rather fortunate. Perhaps you remember the desk in the hall right near the elevator – well that is mine – i.e. all but four or six drawers which have nothing in them but a lot of junk.

Oh, I have started my children on systematic studies – and how they love them???!!!

And I have some new classes, sanitary inspectors and nurses, quite a combination – I will be teaching everything but Hebrew by the time I get out of KY.

You would just have the best time, if you could see me ‘asserting my rights.’ After I do these things I wonder where I ever scraped up the courage to do them.

Got a letter from [Nuino] yesterday, she also sent me Dr. Bergey’s Bacteriology, the famous key, yards of which some of us poured over last spring…

Don’t forget to come on the 6:25 Gwen”


11 Morris, U of PA Dorms, Fri.

Dear Cuk [nickname for Gwen?]

Yes, I had an invite to a frat smoker. But it was a kike frat, I didn’t show up. It was the Phi Kappa Alpha. Didn’t you take Zoo in your freshman year? If so have you got your notes handy? I was out to the ‘Hotel’ a couple of days this week and borrowed some of your books. Thanks…

If I join a frat I bet you’ll know in plenty of time…Football game this Sat. I will play in the band again. I’m getting to be quite a fixture around here, which will be all O.K. as long as I don’t get stationary. I’m going on a field trip this P.M. & chase the pretty butterflies...S’ Long, Reg”


“11 Morris, U of P Dorms, Wed. Noon


Dear Cuk,

I’ve got some French to do but I’ll take 45 minutes off & write to you. We were supposed to have the big flour fight tonight but it has been postponed till the 23. On the 27 Bill & Ox are coming down for the Penn-Center game. Bill is going to sleep with me and Ox is going to sleep on the nice, soft, woolly floor. Didn’t you get my second letter? I sent it up. Yep, I’m a regular U of P band & we’re on the field every game. The tough part is that all games are home, so we don’t travel any this year. But next year!

I just pulled a b+ on my first Eng. Composition. Hum! Nope, I haven’t seen any of the said boys you mention. I have a class in the Hygiene Building, a lecture given by a little bald-headed bird. I don’t know his name. For French, Prof Fountainerie; Eng 40, Griffin; Eng 1, Shaaber; Zoo, Reynolds; Solid Geometry, Miller; Latin, Mohler, & that’s about enough. I have 9 hrs of chem the second term. Mother & Dad, & Ethel & Mr. Moore & France are going to come down for the Penn-Cornell game on Thanksgiving. France is studying Latin, & he starts his letters “Dear Caesar,” and signs off “Cicero.” This Friday night we’re gonna have a football rally & the band is goin’ to lead a snake dance all around Phila. My hair is growin’ in swell. Well, time is up so S’long, Reg”

“[23 Jan 1924]University of Pennsylvania, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Wednesday Noon


Dearest Gwen,


I’m the world’s most worst when it comes to letter writing – but honestly, I’ve been living in such a whirl – here – there – and everywhere. Have taken on special work with Dr. Lenke in connection with the Pathology of tuberculosis. Went over to see him and asked when the 2nd year class began work on this topic. At once he offered to give me private instruction from 11 – 1 A.M. every day except this Sat, so I’m gathering up a heap of information – Phipp’s Institution expects to cooperate with me in helping to finance this problem. Somehow, I see myself becoming so deeply involved that I wonder how I’ll ever come out whole. Dr. Opie one of the big guns at Phipps is all interest. So much for the work part.


Yesterday went out to 1808 Ridge Ave. Mother wanted some cheese for a bridge party that she is staging this afternoon and Pa Hunsicker go it for me, so I spent a couple of hours chatting with your parents. Saw the sample for your new suit…You’ll be too sporty for me this summer. I’m going to save my money and perhaps go abroad one year from this summer. Sort of a happy climax to the grabbing of a PhD degree.


Got a phone call about a week or so from Bryant calling up about the Wood’s book. I had to call it in. Gerry Miller brought it in and comes again for it a week later. This week is the last week of first term work. The big class comes in on February 4th, at which time your truly becomes queen of the soup kitchen. We are going to have to run both labs this y ear, the class is so large. I tried to renig but Dr. B. said ‘you the most qualified for the job’ so what’s a fellow goin’ to do when they put it that way…


Well my dear its exactly two P.M. which means the class will soon be rolling in. Heaps of love will write soon again, as always, devotedly yours Mim”



“3539 Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 6:25 P.M., February 10, 1923 [1924?]



I have just this minute gotten back from your house and am going to sit down and write you a letter. Got out to your house at 2:25 this afternoon and at three o’clock dinner was served. I have never eaten a better meal Gwen, you know what wonderful things your mother has, and there as a huge turkey done to a turn and all the fixings to go with it…

…You know I don’t think you told your family you weren’t going back to Louisville this next year, at least so they told me. I didn’t give away the fact that you were going to be in Philadelphia next year. Gwendon why do you want to take up organic chemistry? You speak of entering medical school too, which makes me feel bad. Sweetheart for goodness sake if you really care the least bit about me or expect to marry me please don’t talk about going to medical school every anymore, for it hurts me down deep. Don’t you think it would be better if your going to school this summer to take some course in English? I’ll tell you why I don’t want you to ever take medicine Gwen, in the first place dear you have so many wonderful & glorious womanly qualities that make you adorable, and you could never use them if you practiced medicine, the practice of medicine is for the old maid type who cares not for the joys of life as a rule. Then there are so many things of life which a doctor comes in contact with, that I’d rather give my right hand than have you know about. The grind is hard oh so hard, and dear I’m selfish enough for you not to want you to enter into that sort of thing. These are reasons such as I would tell you if you were just a friend of mine. The real reason is that I want for us to get married just s soon as we can. Oh, Gwen I have been nearly crazy this last month because you couldn’t be here just the sight of you and one of your golden smiles, oh me do you know this song ‘Fast a wearying for you.’

If it could be humanly possible for us to do it I should like to marry you next fall darling. Write to me and tell me what you think because I’m terribly in earnest. In any case sweetheart please promise me when you answer my letter that you won’t go back to Louisville next year, at least please be in Philadelphia. You can’t begin to conceive how much it means to me to have you near me…

Yesterday we had Dr. Abbott’s examination. It was by far the most exhausting examination I have taken in years. I was worn out by the time the 6th question was reached. The questions were not hard as you can see but they were so long – ‘a discuss question’ is a terrible thing anyway. I verily believe that he is wanting to flunk a whole bunch tho the class never razzed him nor did they ever act toward him save with the utmost courtesy. I wrote a good paper but I shan’t be a bit surprised if I get a low grade or fail! …

Goodbye until next time, Love…Bryant…”

“June 30, 1923

Dearest Gwen,

Your dandy letter came this morning and of course it followed trued to form, that is it gave me all the dope on how you have been ‘misbehaving’…

You asked about the ‘Lab.’ I am decidedly there. Oh yes Gwen there has been some very interesting work with Rabies and type C Botulinus (which B I understand Dr. Graham isolated). He has been trying to grow this Type C in grains (corn, oats, etc.) to get a line on whether farmers need fear its growing in their feed bins. Well, yesterday he had me fee 3 guinea pigs with liquid from a bottle of corn and then inject into these pigs types A, B, & C antitoxin (1 type in normal saline. I pass them a Berkefeld filter & inject – rabbits are given ether and a hole is punched in the skull with a drill then this virus is injected hypodermically into the membranes of the brain. I don’t just get his object on the rabies as yet.

I made a couple of Autogenous bacterium today. My we were rushed from morning until night today, had to work all afternoon and Sat. afternoon is supposed to be free.

I will have about an hour work tomorrow morning. He hasn’t fired me as yet so maybe I’m getting by all right – the work isn’t nearly as difficult as I had anticipated.

Well Gwender I guess that’s enough about my work for a while…

Gwender I’ve raved on for some few pages and I hope you get half the pleasure in reading them that I have derived from writing them to you. Love, Bryant”

“July 3, 1923

Dearest Gwen,

Your letter came yesterday morning and it was a surprise for I didn’t anticipate the pleasure until this morning…

Oh yes Gwender, I’d have you know that I’m down as a Research Assistant, now aren’t you proud of me?

Oh, I got the glass domes to stick, took putty to stick the glass to glass, then painted the edges, for this will hold cement, and then put a layer of cement down, so that I have about 2 dozen specimens to fix that way now, which is going to be some job.

I’m very interested that they’re going to get in a bunch of monkeys next week I think. The animal keeper is much concerned as he told me that about once a week all of the monkeys get out – they crawl up into the rafters and you need 14 men and a little nigger boy’ to catch any one of them…

I find that father was a bit off on the pay raises as 60c is about as much as I can get – that is what a research associate gets. I don’t know whether I can get promoted to an associate or not & you have to work so hard that you are dead tired when night comes, which is the worst drawback of the whole business…Love Bryant”