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Ruth Cornwall Woodman papers

Identifier: Ax 690

Scope and Contents note

The Ruth Cornwall Woodman collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, and miscellaneous material. Topics include Vassar college, European travels, radio scripts, television scripts, and the Pacific Coast Borax Company.

Series I. Correspondence includes personal and business letters. There is a section of letters from the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Copies of forty-six letters from Ruth Woodman to her family while she attended Vassar, and 142 letters from her son are included in the collection.

Series II. Manuscripts is composed of five subseries. The subseries of book length material includes research material, correspondence, and manuscripts on the Pacific Coast Borax Company and her travels to Turkey. The travel book on Turkey was not published. The subseries of plays includes "If Walls Could Speak." The subseries of screenplays includes "Last of the Pony Express." The subseries of radio and television includes "Armstrong Circle Theatre," "Man Talk," "Death Valley Days," "Romance of American Industry," and "The Honor of Your Presence." The subseries on article length material includes two folders of articles.

The "Death Valley Days" material comprises the bulk of the collection. This subseries is arranged chronologically by radio script date, with the television scripts and research material for a related radio script in the same folder as the original radio script date. All but two of the "Death Valley days" television scripts in the collection are revisions of earlier radio plays. The "Death Valley days" material in the collection includes twenty-nine notebooks from the summer trips, five folder of research material, a bound index of the radio scripts, correspondence from the Death Valley acquaintances, and seventy-two folders of scripts and associated material from 204 radio and television programs.

Ruth Woodman's commissioned history of the Pacific Coast Borax Company is also part of the collection. While it was published in a much reduced form, the materials in the collection includes research materials, company correspondence, and a rough draft. These materials are of interest because of the close relationship between the company and "Death Valley Days."

Series III. Miscellaneous includes one folder of newspaper clippings and articles, Woodman's 1913 diary from Vassar College, and two volumes of True Stories from Death Valley Days.


  • Creation: 1913-1916, 1930-1969


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Ruth Cornwall Woodman was born on November 26, 1894 and raised in England. She received a degree from Vassar in 1916 and was part of Phi Beta Kappa. Her first job was with the Century Company, as secretary to the editor of St. Nicholas Magazine, whose position she expected to take over within a short time. When Ruth learned that several employees who had been with the company for over thirty years expected to receive the position, she looked for other work. This search landed her in Turkey, where she worked with an American organization on a survey of Constantinople after World War I. Spending the winter of 1921-22 in Constantinople, she taught English to refugee boys and served as amanuensis to the head of the Language School for missionaries in Scutari. Ruth Woodman traveled from Constantinople to Egypt, India, and China before returning to New York City.

Woodman's first article about Turkey appeared in the New York Times Magazine Section, from which she made forty dollars. A vice president of the H. K. McCann advertising agency read it and offered her a job with the company as copywriter. She wrote magazine and newspaper copy for five years. In 1928, she began writing for radio, turning out scripts for DuPont's "Calvalcade of America" and Bob Ripley's "Believe It Or Not."

"Death Valley Days," true stories of the West, began on September 30, 1930 and Woodman was selected as its writer. The program's sponsor, Pacific Coast Borax Company, stipulated that the writer should have a first-hand knowledge of the Death Valley region and for fourteen years, as the radio program ran until July of 1945, Woodman made summer excursions to Death valley to gather material. Her first trip was in a Model A Ford, where she gathered interviews from people in Death Valley and research local newspaper files. She was accompanied by W. W. (Wash) Cahill, an employee of the company and an expert on the desert. The majority of her story material came from interviews with old-timers and from the files of mining camp newspapers.

The series was renamed "Death Valley Sheriff," airing from August 10, 1944 to June 21, 1945. The name was then changed to "The Sheriff" and aired from June 29, 1945 to September 14, 1951. After this point, the series aired in reruns under different titles, including "Call of the West," Frontier Adventure," "The Pioneers," "Trails West," and "Western Star Theatre."

In 1952, the "Death Valley Days," radio series had proved so successful that in 1952, the sponsor asked Woodman to adapt the stories for television. Woodman wrote all of the television plays for five years. When the series opened up to other writers, Woodman served as story editor, and continued to write scripts for the series. "Death Valley Days" won awards from the Governors of California, Nevada, and Utah and historical societies including the Native Daughters of the Golden West, and from the University of Washington. In 1961, Woodman received the Western Heritage Award for the best Western Documentary of the year.

During her career with "Death Valley Days," Woodman continued to write for other radio programs, including "Dr. Christian," Suspense," and "Armstrong Theatre of Today." She also continued to write for print media and sold articles to The New Yorker and Reader's Digest about people and places she was familiar with.

Ruth Cornwall married William E. Woodman and lived most of her life in Rye, New York. She had two children, William Jr. and Winthrop. The family made several trips to Europe. In October of 1961, Woodman moved away from Hollywood to Europe and lived there for a year. She kept notebooks of her travels, writing mostly about Turkey. Ruth Woodman died on April 22, 1970 at the age of 75 in Santa Monica, California.


12 linear feet (8 containers)

Language of Materials



The Ruth Cornwall Woodman Papers include radio and television scripts for "Death Valley Days," and other television scripts and miscellaneous papers, 1914-1916, 1930-1969. The collection includes scripts and associated material for 204 "Death Valley Days" radio and television programs, an index to the scripts, notebooks from summer research trips, and correspondence with Death Valley acquaintances. There is also research data and a draft for The History of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which was published in greatly reduced form. Correspondence includes copies of forty-six letters written from Vassar College, 1914-1916, and correspondence with agents and publishers.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Series I. Correspondence; Series II. Manuscripts; Series III. Miscellaneous.

Existence and Location of Copies note

Collection is also available on microfilm in Special Collections & University Archives.

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Ruth Cornwall Woodman Papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Vida Germano.
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA