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Collection American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870 to 2006

About this Collection

This electronic presentation features selected materials from the physical American Colony in Jerusalem Collection. The full collection in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress represents well over 16,600 items stemming from the history of the American Colony, a non-denominational utopian Christian community founded by a small group of American expatriates in Ottoman Palestine in 1881.

The collection focuses on the personal and business life of the colony from the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, through World War I and the British Mandate, and into the formation of the state of Israel.  It includes draft manuscripts, letters, postcards, telegrams, diaries or journals, scrapbooks, printed materials, photographs, hand-drawn maps and ephemera. Most collection items are in English, with some material in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Swedish.

Items in the collection begin in 1786 and date to 2007. The bulk of the materials date from 1870 to 1968.  Included are items related to the leadership of the colony by members of the Spafford, Vester, and Whiting families.  There is information as well pertaining to the colony’s Swedish members and other residents, as well as neighbors, friends, diplomats, dignitaries, associates in Jerusalem and sponsors in the United States.

Documented are the colony’s business, educational, and philanthropic enterprises, including the American Colony Photo Department, the Vester and Co.–American Colony Store, the American Colony Nurses, the American Colony School of Handicrafts, the Christian Herald Orphanage, and the Anna Spafford Baby Home. American Colony member Bertha Vester’s diaries, written from home in Palestine and during trips to the United States between 1922 and her death in 1968, record personal life in the Vester family, internal politics of the American Colony, and  first-hand views of Turkish, Arab, Jewish, and British colonial society and modern world events.

About the Collection

The materials in the collection were initially retained by Bertha Vester in connection with her writing of the memoir Our Jerusalem (1950), and later by her daughter-in-law Valentine Vester and others at the American Colony Hotel. The collection is a gift to the Library of Congress from the board of directors of the American Colony of Jerusalem, Ltd., which is made up of American, British, and Swedish descendants of the early colonists.

Items available in electronic format include all items from the collection which were originally displayed as part of the Library of Congress exhibition on the American Colony in Jerusalem presented at the Library January 12 to April 2, 2005.  These items constitute the entirety of Part I of the physical American Colony in Jerusalem collection housed in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.  Included are miscellaneous single photographs, a Spafford family photographic album, a photographic album of an orphanage administered in Palestine by the Christian Herald, and two photograph albums featuring photographs by Lewis Larsson and the American Colony Photo Department: one of the 1915 locust plague in Palestine, and one of the World War I era in the Middle East.

Also available electronically are special features about the American Colony community, a timeline of the American Colony, and overviews about the Bertha Vester diaries and the Locust Plague of 1915 photograph album (see Special Presentations). The forty-eight Vester diaries were written during the period when she was one of the leaders of the American Colony between 1923 and 1968. They vary in size and content, and were written in Jerusalem as well as during travels to the United States and other areas of the world. The Bertha Vester diaries make up a section of Part II of the physical collection.

The physical collection as a whole includes Bertha Vester’s working files used in the writing and manuscript preparation for Our Jerusalem; the Bertha Vester diaries; files regarding American Colony members, including Swedish and American members; business and legal files regarding the colony’s operation and the Vester & Co.-American Colony store; chronological files beginning with the Spafford family in the United States and documenting the history of the colony; papers of John D. Whiting related to antiquities and other topics; papers of Valentine Vester; and miscellaneous oversize materials.

A finding aid for the American Colony in Jerusalem Collection is available in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress and online in electronic format.  Additional closely related materials exist in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.