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Theodore Dreiser Collection

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  • A black-and-white formal photograph of Theodore Dreiser in a suit and tie
    Theodore Dreiser, phot. Marceau, New York, 1900 (Ms. Coll. 30, vol. 432, item 2)
  • Sister Carrie, 1st typescript, chapter 1 (detail)
    Sister Carrie, 1st typescript, chapter 1 (detail) (Ms. Coll. 30, Box 126)
  • Dreiser, An American Tragedy (1925)
    Dreiser, An American Tragedy (1925)

Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) was an American writer and journalist. He was the leading American proponent of naturalism, which attempted to illustrate and analyze social conditions through literature. He was well known for his left-wing political positions, as well as for his non-traditional romantic and social relationships. He frequently fought against censorship in his attempt to portray aspects of political and sexual life which were considered controversial.

The Theodore Dreiser Collection contains the Theodore Dreiser papers (1890-1965), including correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs that document Dreiser's personal life and his careers as journalist, novelist, essayist, and political activist. It also includes many collections notable for their relationship to Dreiser, including friends, romantic partners, and professional collaborators. Dreiser's personal library is also part of the Collection and constitutes a substantial resource of literature and other publications from the early twentieth century.

The Penn Libraries' Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image has created a digital portal offering online access to important portions of the Dreiser Collection: the Dreiser Web Source.

The Theodore Dreiser Collection is one of a number of collections related to modern American history and literature. For more information, see the collection group American Studies: history and literature, Modern period.

A full list of manuscript collections included in the Dreiser Collection can be found below.

Collection overview and information for researchers


The bulk of the Dreiser collection is located in Ms. Coll. 30: Theodore Dreiser papers (503 boxes); this contains manuscript drafts, correspondence, and photographs.

Note: For a full listing of correspondence in the Dreiser Papers, researchers must search in the main online catalog, Franklin.

Other materials by and relating to Theodore Dreiser are cataloged in a number of different collections. Following is a separation list, sorted by extent. Note: links are provided either to archival finding aids or to search results in the Franklin catalog.

Ms. Coll 1216: Vera Dreiser papers. 31 boxes. Vera Dreiser is the niece of Theodore Dreiser and of composer Paul Dresser. This collection is comprised of materials from Vera Dreiser’s personal and professional life, as well as materials related to the musical and literary estates of Paul Dresser and Theodore Dreiser.

Ms. Coll. 1145: Burton Rascoe papers. 27 boxes. Rasco was an American literary critic, editor, and champion of new American writers, including Dreiser.

Ms. Coll. 48: W. A. Swanberg papers. 15 boxes. Comprises correspondence, research notes, typescripts, galleys, clippings, and photographs (many of which may be viewed online) pertaining to Swanberg's biography of Theodore Dreiser.

Ms. Coll. 4: Boni & Liveright and Horace Liveright correspondence. 11 boxes. Boni & Liveright published Dreiser's work throughout the 1920's. 

Ms. Coll. 1369: Harold Dies papers relating to the Dreiser Trust. 9 boxes. The Dreiser Trust managed the income and approved contracts for sale of Theodore Dreiser's published works. This collection documents Harold Dies' work with the Dreiser trust.

Ms. Coll 607: Dreiser-Markham Letters. 4 boxes. Kyra Markham, whose first name was also spelled "Kirah," was a pseudonym of Elaine Hyman, with whom Dreiser had a close romantic relationship during the 1910's.

Ms. Coll. 285: Papers, 1901-1992. 1 box. This collection concerns Robert Coltrane's scholarly work on Theodore Dreiser's work Twelve Men, including a copy of Coltrane's doctoral dissertation (Pennsylvania State University, 1992), photocopies of the original Dreiser stories first published in magazines, and photocopies of the Library of America collations for its edition.

Ms. Coll. 544: Arthur Henry papers. 1 box. Arthur Henry (1867-1934) was an author and a playwright who enjoyed a close friendship with Theodore Dreiser. 

Ms. Coll. 606: A traveler at forty : copyedited manuscript, 2005. 1 box. Final copy of manuscript of the Dreiser Edition of A traveler at forty, edited by Renate von Bardeleben, with a complete record of emendations, historical notes, and textual notes.

Ms. Coll. 19: Letters and poems sent to John Cowper Powys, 1916-1946. This collection consists of letters and poems sent by Edgar Lee Masters to John Cowper Powys; some of the letters reference Masters's difficult relationship with Dreiser.

The Library of Theodore Dreiser

Also part of the Dreiser collections is Dreiser's private library of nearly 2,000 volumes. After the arrival of Dreiser's literary archive at Penn, these volumes were a gift of Helen Dreiser. According to Roark Mulligan, who has made a detailed study of the library, this collection represents Dreiser's interests both in bibliophily, with signed first editions, and in literary realism both in America and abroad (see Roark Mulligan, "Dreiser's Private Library," Dreiser Studies 33, no. 2 (Fall 2002), 40-67).

With a few exceptions, most of the works in the library date from ca. 1900 through the 1940s. Although modern literature is a particular focus of the library, subjects vary widely and suggest Dreiser's wide interests in politics, philosophy, religion, and other topics. The library also includes editions and translations of Dreiser's own work.

The library has been kept together as a special collection within the Kislak Center, and volumes in it may be consulted there.

Acquisition history and the Theodore Dreiser Edition

The Dreiser Papers were a gift of Theodore and Helen Dreiser beginning in 1942; the Library was a gift of Helen Dreiser in 1958.

Manuscripts in the Dreiser Papers have been the focus of a long-term scholarly editing project. Beginning in 1981 with Sister Carrie: The Pennsylvania Edition, an edition of Dreiser's first novel that restored the full text of the novel before cuts and publisher censorship, the University of Pennsylvania Press published The University of Pennsylvania Dreiser Edition. The Dreiser Edition was continued (2004-2011) by The University of Illinois Press. Since 2014, The Theodore Dreiser Edition is based at the University of Winchester. The first general editor of the Dreiser Edition was Thomas P. Riggio (University of Connecticut); he is now Textual and Managing Editor, while Jude Davies (University of Winchester) is General Editor. 


Related sites

Digital collection

Theodore Dreiser Web Source