1963 - 1964. 69 letters, 1 postcard. Some letters include enclosures, mostly clippings. There are several loose clippings, perhaps alienated from letters, and two undated letters, one from Vance and one from Dorothy. There are five black-and-white snapshots with typed descriptions, apparently of the Austin's residence in Bogota. The material is in excellent condition, with no mold, stains, or insect damage. Item #46607
This archive consists of 69 letters and 1 postcard, all addressed to Sean Austin during the period September 1963 to May of 1964, when Sean was a student at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. 42 letters are from Sean's parents, H. Vance Austin (ca. 1910-1993) and Dorothy Hampton Austin (ca. 1912-1991), and often include salutations to "Pam and Bob," perhaps Sean's siblings. The letters from Vance have extraordinary research value for their political and cultural content.
27 of the letters are from Kay Buchholz, a young woman who is a friend of Sean's recount Kay's early months in college in Wisconsin, and provide a portrait of the concerns, attitudes, and activities of a young American woman in the early 1960s. There is one brief letter to Sean, in English and Spanish, from Kathy Chamorro, a young Colombian woman.
H. Vance Austin was the Director of the Peace Corps in Colombia, and his letters to his son, usually accompanied by hand-written notes by Mrs. Austin, offer a wealth of detail about a Peace Corps program for establishing economic co-ops, and conditions in Colombia in the early 1960s generally.
In a letter of October 20th, 1963 gives some idea of the culture shock he and his wife are experiencing. "If there are speed laws, no one has told the drivers of public vehicles... Recently two buses were racing and the ensuing accident cost the lives of 6 passengers. ...no laws seem to be being enforced because of it."
In a letter dated November 27th, Vance comments on the co-op program, and his frustrations with Colombian work and business practices. "...all the money in the US Treasury would not do any good... if we don't impose some US techniques on them..." Further along he writes, "...they can have their feudal system if they wish, but they can't have that and have a modern economy..."
Vance points out in January, 1964, "we've now been here for more than five months... come down and see Colombia and us.." he entices Sean, Pam, and Bob with a detailed, colorful, single-spaced description of the country. Some letters from a friend of Sean's, Kay Buchholz, addressed to Colombia, indicate that he visited the country in 1964.
Content documenting Vance's fascination with the country, - and with his frustrations - is present throughout the collection. In April, 1964, commenting on another Peace Corps official's exhortation about "letting the people in the barrio know that the people of North America really love them..." Vance observes, "...unless we can change some of their ways... what good is it to just love them..." He continues: "they don't want to keep books... or have their co-op managers and officers live up to a decent standard of ethics and honesty..."
The next month, he describes the type of problem he faces: "The manager of a co-op that owned farm machinery for use of it's members... bot (sic) the machinery from the co-op... and now is... renting the machinery to the members - his own private business now, while continuing as the manager of the co-op. Generally, c-operative leaders see nothing wrong with these deals. So -- we got problems. We've still got hope, too!"
Vance Austin does not solely address matters having to do with his work in the letters. A religious man from a religious family, he also writes on occasion about Civil Rights, and domestic U.S. politics, and on a more personal note, about the possibility of Sean seeking conscientious objector status in the draft. In one of his last letters, he talks about a subject Sean is researching, apparently for a thesis or dissertation. Vance says: "This is a subject that has been shunned by most doctors and psychiatrists as well as by the general public. For reasons that aren't clear at all, homosexuals have been the worst treated sick people in the world today. ... the punishment is simply inhuman! But I suppose you know all this and also that by your very study of the subject you become suspect in the eyes of some."
The collection is a rich and fascinating record of a particular time and place, and the challenges of people facing the reality of a world that was rapidly and irreversibly changing.