A Guide to the Records of
Camp Chonokis
Collection No. 90-86

Camp Chonokis

Camp Chonokis was established in 1927 by Mabel Winter (later Whitney) and Ethel Pope as a summer and winter camp for girls, ages 8-18. The land for the camp was purchased from John H. Kimball of Berkeley with a contract of October 30, 1926 for $5600.00 and was located about one-half mile from the edge of Lake Tahoe at Stateline, South Lake Tahoe, California. The word "Chonokis" is an Indian (Washo tribe?) for sugar pine. Some splendid specimens of this unique tree can be seen on camp property.

Both Winter and Pope were teachers who believed that girls could benefit from a loosely structured outdoor experience after the more regimented program of their schools. The regular camp session was for six weeks during the summer; in 1945 a shorter four-week post session was offered at the urging of the government in an effort to remove children from the cities during World War II. The 1928 camp season hosted twelve campers, mostly from the San Francisco Bay area, and six counselors. By 1952, the last summer that Whitney ran the camp, there were 35 campers from all parts of California and the east coast of the U.S. The winter camps were much shorter, usually only one or two weeks, and attended by only a few campers during their Christmas vacations from school. The fee for six weeks of camp in 1927 was $275.00; the fee in 1952 was $425.00.

The camp was situated on twenty acres and consisted of a main lodge, shower house and tent cabins. In the early 1930s a log house was added. It was named "Tyschina," a Russian word meaning peace or calm. Winter built it with the idea that it would be her home after she retired from teaching. During the summer campers and counselors used it for reading, music, small parties, and meetings. A three-car garage with a craft loft on the second floor served the girls who were interested in learning hand crafts of all kinds.

Horse back riding played a major role in camp activities, as did drama, hiking, choral music (including Russian and Latvian songs), dancing, and water sports (at the lake, where Whitney owned beach property). Every year the camp put on a "rodeo" in one of the meadows and plays in the "open air theater" to which the public and parents were invited.

Miss Winter bought out Ethel Pope's interest in 1928 after only one summer of camp. By the season of 1930 she was joined by Miss Gladys G. Gorman with whom she taught high school in San Jose, California, site of a home they built in 1937. One of the most enduring traits of camp was the adoption of nicknames for one and all. Winter was known as Bliz (short for Blizzard); her business office in the main lodge was the "North Pole." Gorman was called G for her initials. Another counselor was Margaret McKenzie, "Mugs," who was a camper the first season, a counselor for three years thereafter, and never lost touch with camp through all its years.

Mabel Winter married Robert B. Whitney, widower of her sister Josephine (Jo) in 1948 and from then on lived during the off season with her new family in Amherst, Massachusetts. Apparently the demands of a large family made it too difficult to run a camp three thousand miles away because in 1953 Mrs. Whitney leased the facilities to J. Wendell Howe and Jimmee Dodson (a former camper and counselor). Camp Chonokis did not reopen after that year, although the Whitney family continued to drive across the country to spend their summers in the log house on the property. Camp Chonokis is now owned by the United States Forest Service.

Mabel Winter Whitney

Mabel Winter was born in Wisconsin on April 25, 1903 and was raised in Madison, Wisconsin where she graduated from high school in 1917. She received a special teacher's certificate that same year which allowed her to teach grammar school for one year before attending the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She received her B.A. from the University in 1922.

Winter, known as "Bliz" to all her friends, was interested in summer camps even before earning her degree. She was a camp counselor at Camp Meenahga, Wisconsin in 1921 and was a director of organized camps in that state for three years. She arrived in California by 1925 and was director of girls' physical education at Santa Maria (California) Union High School and Junior College. Her future partner at Chonokis, Ethel Pope, was also a teacher at the same school in Santa Maria. During the summer of 1926 Bliz taught swimming at the University of California, Berkeley and began making plans to open a camp of her own. Her sister Jo wrote letters in 1926 (now in Series 12) which were full of advice on what would be needed for a new camp. Jo wrote that her sister should contact Gladys Gorman, director at Camp Aga Wak, Wisconsin where Jo worked, suggesting that Gorman might have good advice for Bliz in starting her own camp. Four years later, Gorman and Bliz were partners in their own camp, Chonokis.

Winter's family was a large one. She was one of nine children of Jessie Southwell Winter (1862-1931) and William Henry Winter 1860-1923). Mabel was particularly close to her sisters Lillian Winter Reilly and Josephine Winter Whitney. Lillian was a major in the Women's Army Corp who died in 1944 (see series 12, folder 5). Jo, the youngest in the Winter family, was married to Robert (Bob) Whitney, a chemistry professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts. They had four children when she died in February, 1947 (the youngest was then six months old). Mabel and Bob married in October 1948; they then lived in Amherst during the school year, relocating to Lake Tahoe for the summer, even after 1952 when the camp ceased operations. Mabel Winter Whitney died in May, 1984.

Gladys G. Gorman

Gladys Gertrude Gorman was remembered as devoted to her friends, Wellesley College, music, teaching, her San Jose ranch, the California mountains, and Camp Chonokis.

Gorman was born in Randolph, New York, on December 21, 1892. She was a 1914 graduate of Wellesley where she participated in choir, glee club, crew, baseball, Barnswallows (a dramatic club), and the Shakespeare Society. After graduation she returned for two years of study in Hygiene and Physical Education which provided background for teaching at Wellesley, a year with the Red Cross and Y.W.C.A. in Vladivostok, and three years of work with the Y.W.C.A. in Riga, Latvia. During the summers in Latvia she organized and directed a camp and during the winters taught afternoon and evening classes, speaking German for folk-dancing, volleyball, basketball, and baseball, and Russian for gymnastics. She also spend a year working under Herbert Hoover to raise money from schools and colleges for his European Student Relief Administration.

While swimming near Vladivostok she was stung by a jellyfish; the poison destroyed one kidney but didn't diminish her energies. Gorman rested a year after returning from Europe and then enrolled at Wisconsin University for her masters degree, studying and working full time at teaching. She moved first to Oregon, then to California where she taught three years at U.C.L.A., and finally to San Jose where she substitute taught and tutored during the school year. During the summers after 1930 she was co-director at Camp Chonokis with Ethel Winter, camp owner. G as she was known at camp, was noted for her selflessness and service to others, whether refugees, students, disadvantaged youth, or campers.

Gladys collected lullabies in the language of whatever country she visited and it was she who selected the Russian name "Tyschina" for the log house at Camp Chonokis. A Camp Chonokis camper wrote, "I remember most of all her singing voice. After going to bed (tents scattered over the mountainside) there was absolute quiet for ten or fifteen minutes save for the purring of the wind in the pines--then the rich voice of G , strong, from the hilltop. Her Russian folk-songs were my favorites."

At the three-acre San Jose ranch of Gorman and Winter, Gorman planted every flower, shrub, and tree; and laid the hand-made bricks in the walls, walks, and patios. The harvest from her garden was shared with friends or sold, much of the proceeds going for the Wellesley College Development Program.Wellesley honored Gorman for her many years work for the Seven College Christmas Show Case, service to the Northern California Wellesley Club, and Personal Call Program, an alumni fund raising program. An alumna endowed a Faculty Salary Advancement Fund in her name. Gladys Gorman died on September 5, 1978.

* The Special Collections Department is grateful to Dr. Robert Whitney and to the Wellesley College Archives for helping to provide the biographical information on Camp Chonokis, Mabel Winter Whitney, and Gladys G. Gorman. Additional material about Miss Gorman is available in the Camp Chonokis donor file; please ask for assistance to examine these items.

Scope and Content

The records of Camp Chonokis were given to the Special Collections Department by the United States Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in September, 1990. The collection was originally donated to the Forest Service by Dr. Robert Whitney, who generously gave his consent to the transfer of the collection to the Special Collection Department. The collection dates from 1879-1982 (bulk dates 1921-1980) and consists of 9 cubic feet of records and approximately 1000 photographs and 16mm home movie films. There are no restrictions on use of the collection.

The collection has been arranged following the original arrangement of the creator, Mabel Winter Whitney, wherever possible. Although the financial series is the largest, the two most important series are Series 1, Correspondence, and Series 2, Subject Files. The correspondence was rearranged at one time by Mrs. Whitney, possibly with the intention of returning letters to their authors. No attempt has been made to integrate those letters back into one chronological or alphabetical arrangement. At times the researcher will find letters from one individual or family (such as the Van Loben Sels family) in several file folders, or one subject divided into several locations (for example, there are materials about Winter's loans in the early Chonokis days in the Correspondence, Subject, and Financial Series).

Irrespective of definitive arrangement, or lack thereof, the first two series of this collection, and to some extent, the Financial Records Series, provide a wealth of information about the creation of Camp Chonokis: its philosophy, growth, administration, and the type of girls and women it attracted as both campers and counselors. At the same time this camp serves as an example of the outdoor and recreation movement which developed in the first decades of the twentieth century.

A number of former campers became counselors; both campers and staff tended to return to the camp for a number of years, testifying to the popularity of the location, Bliz, and G . These campers kept in touch with the two directors for many years afterward, letting Winter and Gorman know about graduations, weddings, the birth of children, and careers. They also remembered the camp in their letters, recalling events and people that left strong impressions on them.

The collection provides testimony about the growth of Lake Tahoe from a one-season summer environment to a year-round resort center. The local businesses from which Winter purchased supplies and services are documented through both the correspondence and financial records, as Winter kept receipts for all itemspurchased for the camp. Winter also employed caretakers to watch over the camp in the off season; these caretakers not only reported on the condition of the camp grounds but on newsworthy items such as the weather and road conditions. The effect of World War II on the civilian population is communicated through these materials, as camp administrators struggled to balance food rationing with the demands of hungry children and staff, and gas and tire rationing with the need to transport campers to Lake Tahoe.

Summers at Camp Chonokis were always remembered with special affection by all who enrolled in the camp. One of the camp traditions was the compilation of poems and prose into yearly "Chonokis Logs." These, plus the photograph albums for each camp season, attest to the enthusiasm with which campers hiked, swam, rode and played among the sugar pines.

Mabel Winter's personal life is sketched through files not pertaining directly to Camp Chonokis. There are a number of letters from her mother and sisters, principally dating before 1930. Report cards, diplomas, teacher's certificates, and teacher's contracts provide the background for understanding how Winter came to establish Camp Chonokis. A file on the San Jose Orchestra reveals the interest which Winter and Gorman shared in music, with minutes and programs for the orchestra. There are also photographs and architectural drawings of the house in San Jose that Winter and Gorman built in 1937. But by far the most important entity in Winter's life, before her marriage in 1948, was Camp Chonokis, as evidenced by this collection of records carefully preserved for years after the last camp of 1952.

Processed by: Susan Searcy
Date: January 2, 1991

 

The Records of Camp Chonokis have been divided into the following series:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Subject Files
  3. Newspaper Clippings
  4. Daily Organizer Notebooks
  5. Camper Applications, Camp Brochures
  6. Reference Books
  7. Financial Records
  8. Architectural Drawings
  9. Chonokis Logs
  10. Art Work
  11. Photographs and Film
  12. Mabel Winter Whitney's Personal Files

Series 1. Correspondence. 1921-1982. 1.5 cu. ft.

The arrangement of letters in this series follows that of the collector, Mabel Winter. Over the years she received several hundred notes and letters from parents, campers, and counselors, apparently all of which were saved, and which were grouped in several files. Researchers wishing to locate all letters from a particular individual will have to search several locations, as this filing system was not definitive. There are also letters in the subject files; most of those concern the business of the camp. One of the largest portions of the correspondence series was devoted to letters from Margaret "Mugs" McKenzie who was a camper in the first year season of 1927 and a counselor for three years after. Also important in this series are the first four folders which document almost exclusively the business of running the camp from 1927-1928.

Box 1

1/1-2 General camp business, 1927-1928.

1/3 Correspondence and minutes of the Tahoe Meadows [Homeowners' Club]. 1927-1928.

1/4 Uniform suppliers. 1927-1928.

1/5 Inventory of equipment, text of camp brochure, and letters regarding equipment. 1927-1928.

1/6-16 Letters from "Mugs" (Margaret McKenzie). 1930-1982.

1/17 Letters from the Van Loben Sels family. 1928.

1/18 "Kamp Keepsakes." ca 1920s.

1/19-26 Letters from former campers. ca 1930-1981.

Box 2

1/27-28 Cooks and caretakers.

1/29-31 Counselors.

1/32-33 "Men on staff."

1/34-37 Letters from parents, 1940-1945.

1/38 "People connected with camp." Includes 1949 list of former campers and Bliz's wedding announcement. 1934-1976.

1/39 "People connected with camp." Letters regarding loans for camp operations. 1929-1930.

1/40 "People connected with camp." Mary J. Coulter letters. ca 1936.

1/41 "People connected with camp." Transportation at Christmas, 1936; Knox Johnson's cattle, 1930; lake level, 1934; and canoe, 1929.

1/42 "People connected with camp." Camp reunions.

1/43 "People connected with camp." Tyschina cabin builders. (See also Series 8, Architectural Records.) 1931-1936.

 

Series 2. Subject Files. 1927-1981. 1.5 cu. ft.

Series 2 contains materials arranged by Winter by subject and which dealt with the camp operation. Some of the subjects included construction of camp buildings, lists of campers and addresses, menus and recipes used at camp, inventories of equipment, and reunions. One interesting file describes a brief business venture in the selling of pine cones and forest greenery to floral supply houses in 1944-1945. There is also a file on the Winter/Gorman house in San Jose (although this should technically been included in Series 12, Whitney's personal files). These files are arranged alphabetically by the names on the files.

Box 2

2/1 Articles by G (Gladys Gorman).

2/2 Building floor plans and camp layout.

2/3 Camp Directors' Association. 1929-1947.

2/4-6 Camp handbook. ca 1927-1930.

2/7 Christmas presents (samples for campers to make). Filed in Box 10.

2/7b-11 Dramatic scripts (for plays presented at camp).

Box 3

2/12 Essay, "Lake Tahoe." Author unknown, probably Mabel Winter or Gladys Gorman. n.d.

2/13 Health problems. 1929-1949.

2/14 Historical Society (Lake Tahoe). 1976-1981.

2/15 Lake Valley Community Club. 1938.

2/16 "Last minute directions." 1930-1951.

2/17-19 "Last Supper" booklets. 1928-1952. (Names and addresses of campers and staff).

2/20-21 Lists of campers and tent assignments. 1930-1952.

2/22 List of library books. Filed in Box 9.

2/22b Menus. 1942, 1949, n.d.

2/23 Nature. 1929, n.d.

2/24 Old inventories. 1947-1953.

2/25 Pine cone business. 1944-1945.

2/26 Rationing. 1942-1945.

2/27 Recipe cards. Filed in Box 9.

2/27b Reunion invitations. 1936-1942.

2/28 San Jose house. 1936-1945.

2/29 Staff meetings. 1927; 1944-1950.

2/30 Staff salaries. 1938-1952.

2/31 Swimming, canoeing, water day. 1922-1947.

2/32 Torky's (the horse) birthday party. 1943.

2/33 Tyschina (cabin) guest book. 1935-1942.

2/34 West, Harvey: new boat house. 1947-1948.

2/35 Winter sports. 1930-1936.

 

Series 3. Newspaper Clippings. 1935-1974. 2 folders.

This small series contains newspaper clippings about former campers and staff members, such as wedding and death announcements. Also included are a copy of the Pony Express Courier, devoted to Virginia City, Nevada, 1937; and Drama of the Comstock, a newspaper edited and published by Paul Smith, ca 1937. These newspapers were used to help plan the camp's yearly outings to Virginia City.

Box 3

3/1 Newspaper clippings about campers and staff. 1935-1974.

3/2 Pony Express Courier, 1937; and Drama of the Comstock, ca 1937.

 

Series 4. Bliz' Daily Logs. 1936-1952. .5 cu. ft.

While in camp, Mabel Winter kept logs of scheduled activities for each day, including work assignments for her staff. Each camp session was entered into a separate log book; these are arranged chronologically.

Box 3

4/1 1936, 1939, 1942.

4/2 1943-1945.

Box 4

4/3-6 1946-1952; n.d.

 

Series 5. Camp Applications and Brochures. 1927-1952. .25 cu. ft.

This series includes applications filled out by campers who attended Camp Chonokis, and brochures describing the camp. Information included on the applications included name of camper; address; name of parent and their business address; date of birth; school last attended and grade; and fees for camp, riding, or post-season lodging. The applications are arranged chronologically overall by camp year and alphabetically by camper name within each camp session.

Camp brochures were issued yearly and for the most part contained the same information from one year to the next. The brochures described the camp's physical setting and facilities, philosophy, activities, staff, health precautions, fees, list of items to bring to camp, and list of parents who would provide references. Photographs illustrated each brochure. The brochures are arranged chronologically.

Box 4

5/1-12 Applications. 1929-1952.

5/13-16 Camp brochures. 1927-1952.

5/17 Sample enrollment and medical forms.

 

Series 6. Reference Materials. 1917-1943. 24 items.

The items in this series were collected by Winter and Gorman to provide assistance in the raising of poultry, care and training of horses, planting and care of home gardens, and care and use of the automobile during World War II. All but the latter were issued by the United States Department of Agriculture; the automobile manual was published by General Motors.

Box 4

6/1 Poultry books. 1927-1943.

6/2 Raising Horses. 1918-1931.

6/3 Gardening. 1917-1925.

6/4 Farm and Home Care. 1925-1933.

6/5 "The Automobile User's Guide with Wartime Suggestions: How to get the Most out of Your Car and Make it Last Longer."

 

Series 7. Financial Records. 1927-1980. 3.5 cu. ft.

This extensive series contains records of checks written on Camp Chonokis accounts in 1927, and receipts for items purchased for the camp from 1927-1974. The receipts document not only the financial aspect of running the camp, but also the materials and services needed to sustain a happy camp experience. Food, supplies, equipment, horses, cabins and tents are documented in terms of amounts and kinds purchased. Also included are El Dorado County property tax statements from 1949 to 1980. The receipts are arranged by year; the tax statements are in the last two folders of the series.

Box 4

7/1-2 Bank statements, canceled checks. 1927.

7/3 Receipts. 1927.

Box 5

7/4-5 Receipts. 1928.

7/6-9 Receipts. 1929.

7/10-11 Receipts. 1930.

7/12-13 Receipts. 1931.

7/14 Receipts. 1932.

7/15-17 Receipts. 1934. [No receipts for 1933 were found when the collection was received by the Special Collections Department.]

7/18 Receipts. 1935.

7/19-20 Receipts. 1936.

7/21 Receipts. 1937.

Box 6

7/22-27 Receipts. 1939 & 1940. [No receipts for 1938 were found.]

7/28-30 Receipts. 1949-1941.

7/31-35 Receipts. 1941.

7/36-39 Receipts. 1942.

7/40-44 Receipts. 1943.

Box 7

7/46-49 Receipts. 1944. [7/45 was skipped during numbering of folders.]

7/50-54 Receipts. 1945.

7/55-58 Receipts. 1946.

7/59-60 Receipts. 1947.

7/61-63 Receipts. 1948.

7/64-65 Receipts. 1949.

7/66-67 Receipts. 1950.

Box 8

7/68-70 Receipts. 1951-52.

7/71 Receipts. June 1952-Sept. 1953.

7/72 Receipts. 1953-1954 (Year of Lease).

7/73 Receipts. 1955.

7/74 Receipts. 1956-1957.

7/75 Receipts. 1958-1959.

7/76 Receipts. 1964-1968 [receipts for 1960-1963 missing when received].

7/77 Receipts. 1969.

7/78 Receipts. 1970.

7/79 Receipts. 1972-1973.

7/80 Receipts. 1974.

7/81 Camp tax receipts. 1949-50 to 1951-52.

7/82 Camp tax receipts. 1952-53 to 1956-57.

7/83 Camp tax receipts. 1957-58 to 1961-62.

7/84 Camp tax receipts. 1962-63 to 1968-69.

7/85 Camp tax receipts. 1969-70 to 1979-80.

 

Series 8. Architectural Records. ca 1931-1936. 40 items.

This series contains architectural drawings for Camp Chonokis structures and for the Winter/Gorman house in San Jose which was designed by architect John Hudson Thomas of Berkeley, California. Some of the drawings suggest that Winter and Gorman had a strong hand in the design of these buildings, as there are a number of drafts of room layouts and prospectives. These items are stored in the manuscript map case.

 

Series 9. "Chonokis Logs." 1927-1952. 6 vols.

During the first year of Camp Chonokis, the staff and campers began a tradition which continued every season thereafter. Throughout the camp session the girls wrote poetry, prose, and songs about their camp experiences, and drew pictures. These were compiled into yearly "Logs" which were printed and bound and made available to each camper and staff member. (The Log for 1927 was handwritten and also included photographs.) The Logs are arranged chronologically and placed on the shelf following Box 10. Also included in this series is a combination scrapbook/winter log in a beautiful wood cover. Entries in this book are hand written and take the form of a journal of events during winter camps from 1941-1952, including weather charts.

 

Series 10. Sketches and Paintings. n.d. 58 items.

While at camp, a number of the girls and staff members drew or painted pictures of wildflowers, scenes of Lake Tahoe, and camp buildings. These were either done as pencil sketches or water colors. Unfortunately, few of the artists are identified. These items are stored in the manuscript map case.

 

Series 11. Photographs and Film. ca 1921-1970. 1.5 cu. ft.

Winter and Gorman fully documented each camp season, the Lake Tahoe region, and Virginia City, Nevada with their box camera and later with a 16 mm home movie camera. From these pictures they compiled yearly scrapbooks and identified people, places, and events by name and by date. There are additional, unmounted photographs as well, and images from Mabel's Wisconsin camping experiences. The photo albums, loose photographs, and film have been transferred to the Special Collections photo archives.

 

Series 12. Mabel Winter Whitney's Personal Files. 1879; 1908-1944. .5 cu. ft.

Series 12 contains personal materials of Mrs. Whitney, unrelated to her ownership and operation of Camp Chonokis. More than half of these papers consist of correspondence from friends and relations, particularly her mother, Jessie Southwell Winter (1862-1931), sister Josephine (Jo) Winter Whitney (1906-1947), and sister Lillian Winter Reilly (1895-1944). These letters and carbon copies of letters from Mabel to her mother reveal that Mabel became interested in working with children's camps during her college years, as she worked at Camp Meenahga in Wisconsin as early as 1921. In 1926 Mabel was teaching in California and considering the possibility of starting her own camp. Her sister Jo wrote enthusiastic letters full of advice on getting started, including one letter in which she mentioned that Miss Gorman, director of the Wisconsin camp in which Jo worked, could give good advice. By 1930 Miss Gorman was co-director of Camp Chonokis.

Another group of letters came from Mabel's Uncle Jerry (Jeremiah Thompson) and contain extensive references to a company called Barley Food Products of Morgantown, West Virginia. Thompson and Winter jointly owned stock in this company from 1916-1920, finally selling at a loss in 1920.

This series contains most of Mabel's report cards from grammar and high schools, her diplomas from high school and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, her teacher's certificates and contracts from Wisconsin, and alumni magazines from the University. There are also minutes and programs from the San Jose Orchestra, 1937-1942.

Box 8

12/1-4 Correspondence from friends and relatives. 1879; 1921-1929; 1940-1943.

12/5 Correspondence related to the death of Mabel's sister Lillian Reilly. 1944.

12/6-7 Correspondence from Jeremiah Thompson regarding Barley Food Products. 1916-1920.

12/8 Report cards, high school graduation certificate. 1908-1917.

12/9 Teacher's certificates and contracts. 1917-1918.

12/10 University of Wisconsin graduation program book, diploma. 1922.

12/11 Wisconsin alumni magazines. 1924-1927.

12/12 "Kamp Keepsakes." [From Camp Meenahga, Wisconsin]. 1921.

12/13 San Jose Orchestra. 1937-1942.

12/14 Copper name plate and 1918 penny.