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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Marion Ballou Fisk Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1906-1930
Creator: Fisk, Marion Ballou
Extent: .50 linear foot.
Collection Number: MSC0150.09
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: About 1909, Marion Ballou Fisk polished her drawing and public speaking skills and developed a career as Cartoonist-Lecturer-Entertainer on the Chautauqua circuits. She continued to appear through the 1926 season, becoming a popular and sought after performer. This collection includes her letters to her family, photographs and promotional materials, and a group of her original pastel drawings. The collection also includes a few items related to her husband, Charles Leon Fisk (1868-1933), who was also briefly on the circuits as a member of the Hesperian Quartet.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Boxes 1 and 2.

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: The Fisk Papers were the gift of Walter Fisk Giersbach, grandson of Marion Ballou and Charles Leon Fisk, in 2003.

Preferred Citation: Marion Ballou Fisk Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

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.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Letters and Writings
  • Marion Ballou Fisk (MBF) to her parents, ALS, 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). July 16 - 1908
  • MBF (Killbuck, Ohio) to her mother in Cleveland, ALS, 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. January 15 - 1914
  • MBF (Camrose, Alberta) to her mother, ALS, 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. July 10 - 1917
  • MBF to her mother, ALS, 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. September 4 - 1917
  • Geo. C. Carver (Carver's Cash Grocery, Melrose, New Mexico), TLS, 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. February 4 - 1918
  • MBF to her mother, ALS, 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. February 9 - 1918
  • Printout transcripts by Walter Fisk Giersbach of the letters described above.
  • Letters and Writings
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 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. June 24 - 1924
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 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. June 29 - 1924
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 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. August 10 - 1924
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 6 pages, from Philadelphia. MBF goes into details of her Eastern Pennsylvania tour and visit to her son at Princeton. June 13 - 1925
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 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. October 23 - 1925
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 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. November 2 - 1925
  • MBF to her future son-in-law Walter Giersbach, ALS, 4 pages, from Cooperville [sp?], Virginia. She provides insights into life on the circuit and Chautauqua plans for the coming year. December 1 - 1925
  • 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. - 1926
  • MBF to her mother, Mary Ballou, ALS, 16 pages, from Dawson, Pennsylvania. MBF continues the saga from the previous letter. February 12 - 1926
  • MBF to her daughter, ALS, 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. Probably written on or about February 12 - 1926
  • 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, ALS, 4 pages. Mr. C.A. Ballou (MBF's father) to MBF, 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". December 5 - 1926
  • Printout transcripts by Walter Fisk Giersbach of the letters described above.
  • Lecture Notes and Scripts
  • "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." - 1912
  • "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." - 1913
  • "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". Mimeograph sheet annotated by MBF [with names of traveling partners?], indications for "chalk" and "pap.", and date changes. September 11-December 12 - 1926
  • Lecture Notes and Scripts
  • 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 Fish Giersbach. 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.
  • 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.
  • 1 card pictures the Union Pacific depot in Valparaiso, Nebraska and has MBF's note, "Dear Momma, Here is how, when and where I have arrived for my second bureau engagement." April 14 - 1909
  • 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
  • Publicity Photographs
  • Ten 8 x 10" head-and-shoulder and full-figure publicity photos of MBF.
  • Nine 8 x 10" and six 5 x 7" photographs of MBF at the easel with illustrations from her programs.
  • 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. - 1920-1921
  • Advertising
  • Lyceum Magazine, tearsheet with bylined article by MBF, Â"WonÂ't You Please Draw...?Â" on amusing suggestions she has received for illustrated lectures. April - 1923
  • Lyceum Magazine, half-page ad for Swarthmore Chautauquas, Circuit C, including MBF. July - 1923
  • Lyceum Magazine, one-third page ad featuring MBF exclusively. September - 1923
  • Lyceum Magazine, news clip of an item contributed by MBF, "The Lecture That Scared Lloyd-George Away" on an interesting character she met who had a lecture "four feet long and 18 inches wide." April - 1925
  • Illustrated program for the Swarthmore Chautauqua, September 13 to September 15. MBF is give a page.
  • Illustrated program for the Ellison-White Chautauqua, Bonner, October 5-10. MBF is given a page.
  • Bylined Articles
  • "Home Missionaries' Wives" by MBF, Cleveland, Ohio. In The American Missionary, pages 525-528, January - 1918
  • MBF. "Our Congregational-Christian Body at Work, A Group of Four Programs." Boston: Congregational Education Society, n.d.. Pamphlet priced 10 cents.
  • Original Chalk Drawings: Nine 9 x 12 inch colored drawings from MBF's lectures (on 8 sheets), drawn and captioned by her.
  • Charles Leon Fish 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 Chatuauqua. Hesperian Quartet performed. , Sunday, August 12 - 1906
  • Miscellaneous
  • Program for Swarthmore Chautauqua performance in Wilmington, Delaware. June 15-21 - 1925
  • Talent Magazine (International Platform Association). "Golden Jubilee Connection" issue, carries several articles about Chautauqua. August - 1952
  • 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 inventory.
  • Box 2:
  • Scrapbook. A 9x7 inch black paper album, 69 leaves, photographs 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. - 1916-1926

This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.