Oberlin College Archives


PAPERS, 1908-(1934-1959)-1974


The papers of John Herbert Nichols consist mainly of the files of Camp Pemigewassett. The documentation covers his career as a counselor, owner and director from 1933 to 1963, although items as early as 1908 and as late as 1974 are included in the collection. In addition to the camp material the papers include biographical files and records documenting his military service and interest in Oberlin community activities. The records are divided into two subgroups designed to reflect the discrete nature of the material. Subgroup I consists of Nichols' personal papers which indicate several of his interests and activities. Subgroup II is comprised entirely of his Camp Pemigewassett administrative files. There are virtually no records in his papers relating to his professional career as a physical educator, administrator, or referee for collegiate sports.

The four series used in subgroup I provide a rough outline of his life which proceeds in chronological order. The biographical file, which includes a sporadic sampling of his published writings and talks, aids in completing the over-all picture of his life. The biographical file includes numerous versions of bibliographies of his writings and resumes. Portions of his collection are illuminated when viewed in the context of his lifetime achievements.

The second series is comprised of notes and printed reference articles from Nichols' medical training in the mid-1910s at Rush Medical School at the University of Chicago. His notes, both typescript and longhand offer a comprehensive account of what it was like to study in medical school during this period. The typescript notes are particularly useful in reconstructing the gist of the lectures delivered by the faculty. Documents on medical licensing, and a few articles excerpted from medical journals, complete the picture of medical training. Unfortunately there is no documentation on Nichols' officiating for Amos Alonzo Stagg or his contact with Dudley B. Reed while a student.

Military service records collected by Nichols during his tenure as a civilian consultant planning athletic programs for a soon-to-be-demobilized military offer a glimpse into the intricacies and bureaucracies of the government in the months before the end of World War II. Records include field guides for officers, policy manuals, and government information stressing the impact of morale on the troops. A few notes made by Nichols for presentations he gave aid in deciphering his role in the planning process.

The final series in the first subgroup documents his interest in Oberlin community, and his involvement in a number of civic enterprises. Agencies represented include the Allen Memorial Hospital, Oberlin Chamber of Commerce, the Oberlin branch of the American Red Cross, and Oberlin United Appeal and Welfare Council. Included are minutes, reports and memorandum.

The files of Camp Pemigewassett comprise the second subgroup and account for the bulk of the collection. The files of the camp span from 1908 to 1974, with the bulk of the material falling into the twenty-five year period from 1933 to 1959. The records of Nichols' involvement with the camp prior to 1933 do not appear to be extant. By far the most significant part of the collection is the camp correspondence. The correspondence illustrates the relationship of the camp directors, the recruitment of campers and counselors, interaction with parents regarding their sons, and the general administration of such an enterprise. The correspondence, when viewed in the context of the other documentation, namely applications, counselor contracts and reports, printed material, and visual material, provides a dramatic portrayal of life at one of the nation's leading summer camps.

Applications to summer camp roughly cover the period from 1944 to 1961. The applications include biographical information such as birth date, parents, and special interests. Related correspondence found with the applications or in the correspondence series further illuminates the recruitment and retention of campers. Camp Pemigewassett built up a steady and loyal contingent of second and third generation campers, and continued to foster a strong tie to Oberlin College.

Consisting of over six feet, the incoming and outgoing correspondence between the partners combines business dealings within the context of friendship. Included is a portion of their correspondence with C.L. "Stubby" Stearns who managed affairs during the off season. The general administrative correspondence is voluminous and primarily concerns interactions with parents and the recruitment of boys for camp.

Counselor records found in series 3 serve to illustrate the affiliation Camp Pemigewassett had with Oberlin College. Many of the counselors were Oberlin College students. As such many familiar names appear in the counselor applications and contracts. The correspondence with counselors shows the large number of counselors who signed on for a return engagement, indicating the popularity of the camp. The correspondence and contracts offer insight into the many different levels of counselors and their degrees of advancement. Final reports submitted by counselors evaluate the boys they shepherded through the summer.

Subject files provide evidence of the bureaucratic intricacies involved in the administration of a summer camp. Topics covered include travel arrangements to camp, Nichols' effort to get a valid medical license in New Hampshire, proposed purchases of other camps, and expressions of sympathy following the death of camp founder Edgar "Doc Gar" Fauver. An organizational chart from 1950 gives evidence of the numerous activities offered by the camp and the broad responsibilities shared by the staff.

Evidence of the scope of camp publications is given in the printed material series, which includes a scattered sampling of the material produced by the camp. Included is a 1973 brochure for the camp (some earlier brochures are to be found in the alumni files of John Herbert Nichols and Dudley Billings Reed in archive record group 28), various incarnations of the newsletter, and four editions of the camp song book. The bulk of the camp songs were authored by Dudley B. Reed, and indicate the changing emphasis across time between the version printed in 1922 and the edition printed in 1958.

The Camp Pemigewassett material concludes with visual material in a variety of formats. The visual material, which depicts the camp as well as camp life, includes motion pictures, negatives, and photographs. The camp is depicted from its founding in 1908 through approximately 1965, although the majority of the items cover the period 1935 to 1950. Photographs and negatives are roughly sorted in categories, and include picture of camp life, camp personnel, and the founders of Camp Pemigewassett. The 16mm motion pictures are from the late 1940s and were used as publicity to be mailed to prospective parents who requested the film. The films were also shown at camp reunions in cities throughout the Midwest and at other presentations about the camp.


Subgroup I. J. H. Nichols Personal Papers, 1908-65 (1.2 lin. ft)

This subgroup provides only a bare bones outline of the life of John Herbert Nichols. There is little or no documentation on his professional career as a physical educator and administrator. His effort to pass compulsory public school physical education in the 1920s and his career as a collegiate official are not covered either. What is to be found here is a sampling of his writings and talks complete with a biographical file which offers a fuller bibliography and vita. Other records cover his medical school training, military service during World War II, and his interest in the Oberlin community. The subgroup is organized into four series: 1. biography, writings and talks; 2. medical school material; 3. military service records; and 4. Oberlin community.

Subgroup II. Camp Pemigewassett Records, 1908-1974 (10.8 l. f.)

Subgroup II, Camp Pemigewassett Records contains the bulk of the collection. Included in the six series is correspondence between the directors, correspondence with parents, applications for camp, correspondence with camp counselors, song books, motion pictures and photographs. The six series are as follows: 1. Applications; 2. Correspondence; 3. Counselor Records; 4. Subject Files; 5. Printed Material and 6. Visual Material. The series are arranged alphabetically, within the series chronological and alphabetical.


The John Herbert Nichols collection was received in four major accessions between 1970 and 1980. The first accession consisted of Camp Pemigewassett records found among discarded physical education department material in the former Warner Gymnasium. These records were originally filed in the records of the physical education department (9/6) but were subsequently moved to the John Herbert Nichols papers (30/131) when the physical education department collection was rearranged by Assistant Archivist Lisa Pruitt in 1989. In 1977 a second lot of physical education records which had been overlooked in 1970 were found on the 4th floor of Warner Center and transferred to the archives by John Burns. Following Nichols death in 1979, five cartons were brought to the archives from his home in 1980 as per the instructions of John H. Nichols. In May 1980, Werner Bromund, chemistry professor brought in a carton of motion pictures, negatives, and photographs about Camp Pemigewassett which he found in Nichols' basement. The nature in which the material trickled into the archives may help to account for the gaps that exist within the collection.


For related material on physical education at Oberlin College the researcher is advised to consult the following collections: Records of the Oberlin College Physical Education Department (9/6); "John Herbert Nichols, M.D.: A Life of Leadership in Physical Education and Athletics," Ph.D. dissertation (Ohio State) by Curtis W. Tong (in the College Library).

For material related to Camp Pemigewassett the researcher is advised to consult the following collections: Alumni Files of Dudley B. Reed and John Herbert Nichols (28).

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Last updated: 27 June 1996