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Mary Louis Doherty papers

 Collection 0015-LIT

Mary Louis Doherty (1896-1995) was an expatriate American and journalist who lived in Mexico most of her life, working for Mexican government officials as well as private institutions and individuals. She corresponded with Katherine Anne Porter after they met in Mexico City in 1921. Doherty and Porter lived together in Mexico City in 1931 and in Washington, D. C., in 1944. She served as one of the models for the character of Laura in Porter's short story, "Flowering Judas." The Doherty collection consists of correspondence, biographical materials, publications, legal documents, and photographs. Letters from Porter comprise a portion of the correspondence.


  • Circa 1917-1989
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1963

Language of Materials

Some correspondence and news clippings in Series 1, legal documentation in Series 4, and inscriptions on photographs in Series 5 appear in Spanish.

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the special collections reading room staff.


2.12 Linear Feet

1 Items (1 diploma in an oversized map folder.)

Scope and Content of Collection

The Mary Louis Doherty Papers, which cover the period 1920 to 1982, consist primarily of correspondence, both letters and postcards, to and from Mary Louis Doherty; legal documents related to the residency of Mary Louis and Marguerite Doherty in Mexico, including passports, wills and registration cards, as well as material related to the purchase and acquisition of land for their home in Cuernavaca. There are a few miscellaneous manuscript materials and newspaper clippings filed among the correspondence.


Mary Louis Doherty (1896-1995) is at present best known as a friend of Katherine Anne Porter and as one of the models for the character of Laura in Porter's short story "Flowering Judas." Because of her relationships with the photographers Edward Weston and Tina Modotti and her connections with important twentieth-century Mexican artists and politicians, Mary Louis Doherty is an important figure in her own right. As an expatriate American who was committed to the ideals of the Mexican Revolution, Doherty observed Mexican politics and politicians at close range during much of the twentieth century. Her training and experience as a journalist and economist enabled her to make incisive observations about Mexico in colorful, informative, lengthy letters. Her friends and family often urged her to collect her correspondence for publication. She herself must have long contemplated that endeavor; on August 5, 1922, she wrote to Katherine Anne Porter, "I am at last doing my Xochimilco letters and will send them to you and perhaps some other sketches. It would be thrilling if you could get them published now I have the time and the peace of mind to do them." Forty years later, on August 30, 1963, Porter wrote to Doherty: "You write the kind of letters that make people who read them say, 'But she should have been a writer!' and I say, 'But look at her letters, she is a writer.'"

Mary Louis Doherty was born on October 30, 1896, in Williamsburg, Iowa, where she received her primary and secondary education. In June 1918, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a B.A. in economics and journalism. She was one of seven college graduates selected in competition and trained to work out a special sales promotion experiment for watch manufacturer William H. Ingersoll's dollar-watch business which was based in New York, New York. After one year, Doherty resigned to take a position as a community organizer on Staten Island with the New York Community Councils of the City Parliament of the City of New York; during this time she took courses at Columbia University.

When the New York City Parliament was disbanded, Doherty went to Mexico City in January 1921 and took a position with the National University of Mexico. Working under José Vasconcelos, at that time Rector of the University (he became Minister of Education in October 1921), Doherty undertook work in English in connection with the first summer school of the University for students from the U.S., taught English at a Federal school in Xochimilco, performed secretarial work in English for Dr. Vasconcelos, and wrote feature articles for newspapers in the U.S. When Doherty arrived in Mexico City, she stayed with Thorberg and Robert Haberman, American Socialists, who had already befriended Katherine Anne Porter. Porter had arrived in Mexico City only a few months previously in November 1920. Porter and Doherty must have shared leftist friends in Greenwich Village who had given them introductions to the Habermans. (Porter had come to New York City from Denver, Colorado, in October 1919.)

Porter and Doherty became fast friends, according to Doherty's later accounts, meeting every day and consorting with individuals from Mexican artistic and political circles: Roberto Turnbull, Manuel Gamio, William Niven, J. H. Retinger, Luis Morones, Samuel Yúdico, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Salomón de la Selva, Dr. Atl, Plutarco Elías Calles, Xavier Guerrero, Jorge Enciso, and Adolfo Best-Maugard. Doherty remained in Mexico until December 1921 when she left to spend the Christmas holiday with her family in Iowa. She stopped off en route in Fort Worth, Texas, where she spent time with Porter who had temporarily settled there after leaving Mexico in late summer 1921. Although Porter returned to Mexico for brief periods in 1922 and 1923, Doherty did not return there until September 1925.

Doherty spent the intervening years in various places in the United States: January to July 1922 in Williamsburg, Iowa, caring for her ailing father; August 1922 to February 1924 in Victoria, Texas, working for her uncle James McDonald; March 1924 to January 1925 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, working for the Fawsett publications True Confessions and Triple X; January to September 1925 in Chicago, Illinois, working in a variety of capacities for the director of the national committee on Boys and Girls Club work, National Farm Bureau. Doherty returned to Mexico City in September 1925. On her return she took a position in the Department of Education, working under Moisés Sáenz, then an under secretary. Sáenz became Minister of Education in August 1928. When he became Director of Public Welfare for Mexico, D.F., in 1931, Doherty followed him.

Doherty's responsibilities at the Department of Education included editing, writing English correspondence, serving as secretary to the summer school of the National University, assisting visiting foreign scholars, and serving as secretary of the Program Committee for the annual Seminar in Mexico of the Committee on Cultural Relations with Latin America (directed by Hubert Herring). At Public Welfare, Doherty supervised twenty-two social workers in the Department of Social Welfare. During this period, Doherty carried on an active social life. Among her acquaintances were Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Paca Toor, René d'Harnoncourt, Alfonso Goldschmidt, Anita Brenner, Carleton Beals, Fred Davis, Pablo O'Higgins, Jean Charlot, Diego Rivera, Roberto Montenegro, Adolfo Best-Maugard, Miguel Covarrubias, Rose Rolando, Rufino Tamayo, Maria Izquierdo, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Frida Kahlo, William Spratling, David Alfaro Siquieros, Blanca Luz, Ramón Beteta, Carlos Chavez, Elizabeth Anderson, Natalie Scott, Hart Crane, Emily Edwards, and Sergei Eisenstein.

During his second trip to Mexico, the American photographer Edward Weston engaged in a brief but decorous romantic relationship with Doherty in October and November 1926. During this period she sat for her portrait for Weston. Doherty resumed her close friendship with Katherine Anne Porter when Porter returned to Mexico in April 1930 for a stay of almost a year and a half. When Porter and Eugene Pressly, who was to become Porter's third husband in 1933, moved into a large house in the Mexico City suburb of Mixcoac in February 1931, Mary Louis Doherty was part of the establishment. She and Pressly commuted from there to their central city jobs. Shortly after Porter and Pressly left Mexico for Europe in August 1931, Doherty took Pressly's old job as economic research assistant to Eyler Simpson who was the representative in Mexico of the Institute of Current World Affairs and the executive secretary for Mexico of the Guggenheim Foundation. Doherty worked for him through July 1935, principally assisting on his monograph, The Ejido—Mexico's Way Out (1937).

From January 1936 to December 1938, Doherty was employed at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations, under Assistant Secretary Ramón Beteta, one of Moisés Sáenz's closest friends. Her duties included research in economics (agrarian, labor, trade), public relations, and assistance with editorial work, translations, and English correspondence, and interpreting. She also assisted with organization and publicity and taught in the Centro de Estudios Pedagogicos e Hispanoamericanos de Mexico. After briefly working at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D. C., in early 1939, Doherty travelled, from April 1939 to July 1940, to all of the countries of Central and South America except Venezuela in connection with her travelling fellowship in the Social Sciences from the Rockefeller Foundation. In September 1940, Doherty returned to Mexican government service, once again under Ramón Beteta, who was now Under Secretary of Finance and Public Credit in the Ministry of the Treasury; her duties were virtually identical to those she formerly performed for Beteta at Foreign Relations.

In December 1943, Doherty and her sister Marguerite (Peggy) who had joined her in Mexico in 1936, left Mexico for the United States. Both worked in Washington, D. C., during World War II. Mary Louis Doherty worked first (January-July 1944) at the Office of the Coordinator for Cultural Relations, Library Service Division, U.S. Office of Education, and later (November 1944-December 1945) at the U.S. Foreign Economic Administration as a Foreign Economic Specialist, Bureau of Areas, Pan American Branch, Mexico Division. This period is also notable because, in the summer of 1944, she and her sister Marguerite shared a house in Georgetown with Porter. By February 1946, the Doherty sisters were back in Mexico.

In December 1946, Mary Louis returned to work for Ramón Beteta, who was now Minister of Finance and Public Credit at the Ministry of the Treasury. During her tenure in this position, Doherty served as a member of the Mexican delegation to the United Nations trade conference in Havana, Cuba (November 1947-April 1948). From January 1953 to April 1956, Doherty worked as an economic analyst and translator in Mexico City, Comision de Valores (Mexican Securities and Exchange Commission). For the remaining years of her working life, Doherty worked as English secretary to former Mexican President Miguel Alemán, translating English legal contracts and business dealings into Spanish. At the time Thomas F. Walsh met Doherty and her sister Marguerite in Mexico City in the mid-1970s, they were essentially retired. In 1982, Doherty and her sister moved their permanent residence to Cuernavaca where they had long maintained a weekend getaway home. After the death of Marguerite Doherty in October 1987, Mary Louis Doherty remained in Cuernavaca where she died on May 17, 1995.


The materials have been divided into six series.

  1. Series 1: Correspondence
  2. Series 2: Postcards
  3. Series 3: Katherine Anne Porter Letters to Mary Louis Doherty
  4. Series 4: Legal Documents
  5. Series 5: Photographs
  6. Series 6: Notepad

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Mary Louis Doherty Papers are part of the gift of Maria A. Walsh that was conveyed to the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries on June 26, 1992. The collection was donated in memory of Thomas F. Walsh, a professor of English at Georgetown University and Katherine Anne Porter scholar. Professor Walsh met Mary Louis Doherty in the summer of 1976 when he was beginning the research which culminated in his last work, Katherine Anne Porter and Mexico: The Illusion of Eden (1992). Professor Walsh and his wife became intimate friends with Miss Doherty and her sister Marguerite (Peggy) with whom she shared a Mexico City apartment. The Walshes visited with the sisters every summer after their initial contact, and Mrs. Walsh's relatives in Mexico kept in touch with the Doherty sisters when the Walshes were not in Mexico.

In March 1982, the niece and one of the nephews of the Doherty sisters came to Mexico City in order to move their aunts to a nursing home in Cuernavaca; this action was necessitated by the condition of their health and the difficulty of living in Mexico City. The niece and nephew cleared out the Mexico City apartment, moving what was not abandoned or given away to the Cuernavaca house owned by the Doherty family. At about this time, John Doherty, the brother of Mary Louis and Marguerite, sent Professor Walsh the collection of postcards which constitute Series II of the Mary Louis Doherty Papers.

John Doherty asked Professor and Mrs. Walsh to handle the Mexican affairs of his sisters; they cleaned and rented the Cuernavaca house. John Doherty also put the dispensation of his sisters' effects into the hands of the Walshes. Some of the items were discarded and some, including the materials in Series I and III of the Mary Louis Doherty Papers, were kept by Professor Walsh. Prior to donating these materials to the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries, Mrs. Walsh contacted the Doherty family in May and June 1992. The daughter and sons of John Doherty, who died in 1991, have given their blessing to Mrs. Walsh's donation.

Additional materials donated by the children of John Doherty were added to the collection in September and December 1995, August 1996, and October 2009. Maria A. Walsh donated additional correspondence and postcards and a diploma in 2018. Peg Neal donated additional correspondence in 2020.

Related Material

There is a file of Mary Louis Doherty correspondence in the Papers of Katherine Anne Porter: Series I, Box 26, Mary Louis Doherty, 1922-66.

There is also a file of Doherty correspondence in Series II of the Papers of Thomas F. Walsh.

Processing Information

In mid-September 1991, Professor Walsh, his wife, and a friend spent an afternoon going through Professor Walsh's files and research materials connected with Katherine Anne Porter. At this time, the friend took some of the Mary Louis Doherty papers, including the ten Katherine Anne Porter letters, from the Walsh home in order to have them appraised. The Doherty materials were arranged in chronological order; Professor Walsh had previously placed the Porter letters in chronological order. In late October 1991, item-by-item descriptions of the Porter letters and a collective description of the Mary Louis Doherty manuscripts were prepared.

In May 1992, Mrs. Walsh decided to donate all of her husband's papers relating to Katherine Anne Porter to the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries. Between May 18 and 29, 1992, Mrs. Walsh and an assistant prepared a preliminary inventory and description of the papers for professional appraisal on June 1, 1992. During this period, Mrs. Walsh discovered additional Mary Louis Doherty papers among Professor Walsh's papers. These additional materials were filed in correct chronological order among the previously described Mary Louis Doherty papers; item-by-item descriptions for these materials were also prepared.

The entire collection was packed into boxes on June 24, 1992, the day on which it was transported to the University of Maryland. One box contained the letters of Katherine Anne Porter to Mary Louis Doherty and most of the Mary Louis Doherty papers that had been reorganized and described for the June appraisal.

The Mary Louis Doherty postcards were removed from Walsh's working card file during the period of June 29 to July 25, 1992, when the collection was processed. At that time, item-by-item descriptions were prepared for the postcards. They now constitute Series II in the Mary Louis Doherty Papers. The photographs that were enclosed in Cyrus Merriam's March 19, 1949, letter to Doherty have been moved to Series VIII of the Thomas F. Walsh Papers. Photocopies of these photographs have been placed with Merriam's letter. Paper clips have been removed from the materials and letters have been removed from envelopes and flattened. Photocopies have been made of all newspaper clippings, and the clippings have been discarded. Any bibliographical information which might have been lost in the photocopying process has been transcribed onto the photocopies.

Additional materials received in 1995 and October 2009 have been incorporated into the collection. Two new series, Legal Documents and Photographs, were created in December 1995 to accommodate the additional materials. Additional photographs, correspondence, a notepad, and postcards were incorporated into the collection in April 2018. Additional correspondence was incorporated into the collection in March 2022.

Guide to the Mary Louis Doherty papers
Processed by Ruth M. Alvarez.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 1995-12: Revised.
  • 1996-08: Revised.
  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine, April 2007.
  • 2009-10: Revised by Maureen Cech.
  • 2017-04-18: Finding aid title, finding aid status and agent links revised; related accessions related; finding aid filing title and description rule added by Maya Riser-Kositsky, April 2017.
  • 2017-05-10: Related materials note revised, general note deleted, language of materials note and top containers added by Maya Riser-Kositsky, May 2017.
  • 2017-10-23: Finding aid reviewed and minor edits made by Caitlin Rizzo.
  • 2018-07-20: Finding aid revised by Liz Caringola to incorporate accession 2018-0058-LIT.
  • 2018-11-18: Added related accession and minor edits made by Perri Pyle.
  • 2022-03-11: Liz Caringola incoroporated accession 2021-0015-LIT into the processed collection.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742