Skip to main content

Mary Westall Collection

Identifier: MW

Scope and Contents

The Mary Westall Collection consists of five handwritten letters from Mary to her family in Asheville, North Carolina. The letters detail Mary's experience as a summer student at Cold Spring Harbor during 1916. The letters discuss her daily class experiences, instructors (including Charles Davenport), classmates, grounds and accomodations of Cold Spring Harbor, as well as family matters. The letters offer historical insight into the the culture of a young southern woman and her thoughts and experiences among Northeasterners.

The letters have been transcribed by the donor Catherine O'Shea Wetstein; biographical material related to Mary and her family, as well as a copy of a family photograph are included in the transcriptions/biographical material folder.


  • Creation: 1916 - 2021

Biographical / Historical

Mary Westall was born in Asheville in 1889 to parents James Manassas Westall and Rachel Minerva White Westall. James Manassas Westall's family was deeply committed to classical education, to the point that--even in the log cabin--the oldest children had been sent to school in the "flatlands," so that they could return to teach Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to their many younger siblings. Mary's father moved into Asheville, North Carolina shortly after the Civil War and became the city's premiere builder/contractor just in time for Asheville's late-19th/early 20th-century building boom. With cash in hand, Mary's father was able to encourage his children to pursue their intellectual interests.

Mary, the third daughter, majored in biology at Randolph Macon, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Graduating in 1910, she returned in 1914 as a lab assistant/lecturer in Biology for several years. It was in this capacity that she learned of the Cold Spring Harbor opportunity for college teachers of biology. Energized by her work at CSHL, she returned to Randolph Macon for the 1916-17 academic year; decided to pursue her PhD, and went to Columbia University for a Masters, and to Chicago, where she was among the first women to earn a PhD in Botany. She taught through the Depression at Agnes Scott College, returning to Asheville, North Carolina in the 1940s to care for her ailing mother.

Credit: [Donor] Catherine O'Shea Wetstein


1 box (0.5 linear feet)

Language of Materials



The letters are arranged in their original order: by letter number and date. The letter numbers were assigned by the donor Catherine O'Shea Westein.

Custodial History

These letters were donated to CSHL Archives in May 2021 by Catherine O'Shea Wetstein. Catherine O'Shea Wetstein is the great neice of Mary Westall. Ms. Wetstein contacted CSHL Archives in February 2021 to see if we would be interested in preserving the letters.

Related Materials

Pack Library, North Carolina maintains The Westall Family Letters

Materials Specific Details

These letters contain disparaging terms for Jewish and African American people which reflect the culture of the time period and in no way represents the views of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Mary Westall Collection
Stephanie Satalino
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Repository

Library & Archives
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
One Bungtown Rd
Cold Spring Harbor NY 11724 USA