Bertha Johnston: Papers, 1872-1953 | MSS 95.1

Historical Sketch:

            Bertha Johnston was born in 1864 in Brooklyn, NY. She was the daughter of John Henry and Amelia (Many) Johnston. Her mother was the founder of the “Little Mothers Aid Society.” Her father owned a large jewelry store in Manhattan. After attending Rye Seminary and public schools in Brooklyn, Johnston continued her education at Framingham Normal School, and graduated in July, 1885. After graduation, she moved back home to Brooklyn but eventually relocated to Chicago where she attended the Chicago Kindergarten Institute. During her stay in the Midwest, Johnston became the editor of Kindergarten Magazine in 1897. In addition to her editorial duties, Johnston worked at the Helen Heath Settlement House, which was one of the federated Chicago Settlements working in association with Hull House. She relocated Kindergarten Magazine to Brooklyn in 1904, and continued publishing from that city until 1909 when it merged into The Kindergarten-Primary Magazine. She continued to write for this publication and, for five years, she also wrote a column in the monthly magazine, Everywhere.

            Johnston became interested in the suffrage movement in 1887 and continued actively promoting votes for women until equal franchise was won. She was a member of the New York City Women’s Suffrage League and the Women’s Political Union. These organizations were instrumental in placing matrons in the city police stations as well as securing admission of women into civil service. Some members of these groups addressed Congress and State Legislatures on behalf of suffrage many times.

            Johnston was a gifted writer from an early age and inherited her father's passion for literature. John Henry had a wide circle of prominent friends; these included Walt Whitman, Charles A. Dana, Theodore Roosevelt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Horace Greely, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and Joaquin Miller. In her later life, Johnston often recalled events during her childhood that featured visits from such well-known public figures. The encouragement and inspiration Johnston received from family and friends aided her in writing and publishing at a very young age. Comfortable with writing fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, biography or fairy tale, Johnston's vast bibliography covers over seventy years of poems, articles, books, pamphlets, and short stories. Her books include Home Occupations for Boys and Girls, Lyrical Lines for Lassie and Lad and The Friendly Cow.

            Johnston’s spiritual journey led her to the Brooklyn Society of Ethical Culture. She was a member of this organization since it was founded in 1907. In her later life, Johnston suffered an attack of pneumonia which left her weakened. She underwent surgery to one eye for cataract disease. Johnston was bedridden for the last year of her life and died February 21, 1953.


Scope and Content:

            The papers of Bertha Johnston cover the period from her childhood until the last decade of her life. The bulk of these materials fall within the years when she was editing Kindergarten Magazine and writing for The Kindergarten-Primary Magazine (1897-1930).

            These papers constitute 1.7 linear feet and contain business cards, articles, poems, drawings, brochures, invitations, news clippings, letters, memoranda, calendars, postcards, workbooks, publications and photographs. There records document the growth of the kindergarten movement in the United States as well as reflecting Johnston's interest in women's suffrage and spiritual questions. A small amount of material relates to Johnston's years at Framingham Normal School in the 1880's.

            Of particular interest in this collection are the articles translated or written by Johnston's while editor of Kindergarten Magazine in response a variety of educational trends. Also of interest are the photographs from the 1870's to the 1940's illustrating Johnston's life from her childhood to her elder years. Included in this collection are two books containing examples of Johnston’s handwork in paper cutting, stitching cards and weaving.


Processing Note: A scrapbook, assembled by Johnston's niece, was dismantled and items placed in acid-free folders.

Provenance: Gift of Mrs. Robert Pierson Stokes (niece of Johnston), August 1995.

Amount: Three boxes (1.7 linear feet.)