© 2006 University of Chicago Library
Fermi, Laura. Papers
4 linear feet (8 boxes)
Special Collections Research Center
Laura Fermi, writer, wife of Nobel laureate, Enrico Fermi. The Laura Fermi Papers consist in large part of drafts and research data for her various writings. In addition, there is a small series of correspondence, most of it falling into the period following the death of her husband in 1954. The correspondence in the collection is primarily concerned with Mrs. Fermi's commitment to various civic activities such as conservation and gun control. With the exception of one letter from him, there is scant information relating to Enrico Fermi in these papers.
When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Fermi, Laura. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
Laura Capon Fermi (1907-1978), wife of Nobel laureate, Enrico Fermi, was a writer who took serious contemporary issues and attempted to make them understandable to a large, popular audience. In middle age, she achieved widespread recognition with her Atoms in the Family (1954), a biography of Enrico Fermi. After Atoms for the World (1957), she turned to a biography of Mussolini and then to a study of the effect of the movement of European intelligentsia to the United States during the 1930s.
Laura Capon was born in Rome, in 1907, one of four children in a family of assimilated Jews. Her father was an officer in the Italian Navy. When she was 16, Laura first met Enrico Fermi. She was not at first favorably impressed--his appearance she described as "queer," and she remarked that, "The young physicist had made no impression on me. Among my school friends there were boys who seemed more brilliant and promising to me." Two years later, in 1926, she met him again while on a summer vacation in the Dolomites. The companionship established during this summer continued at the University of Rome, where Laura was a student in general science and where Enrico had just been made a full professor of physics. Laura's initial negative impression changed, however, and they were married on July 19, 1928.
Her marriage to Enrico put Laura in close contact with a circle of scientists who were deeply involved with uranium research. Fermi's special genius in the field was given formal recognition with the award of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938. The award came at a most opportune time for the Fermis, for it coincided with Mussolini's Manifesto della Razza. Since Laura was Jewish, the Fermis decided to leave Italy and in December 1938 they used the trip to Stockholm to receive the prize as their means of escape.
From Stockholm, Laura, Enrico, their daughter Nella (b. 1931), and their son Giulio (b. 1936) went to the United States, where Fermi accepted a position in the physics department at Columbia University. In 1941, Fermi was chosen as one of the scientists for the U.S. government's atomic bomb project. The family followed Enrico to Chicago, where he headed the team of scientists who achieved the first atomic chain reaction in 1942. In August 1944 the family again moved, this time to Los Alamos, New Mexico, for work on the atom bomb. It is at this point that the material in this collection begins.
Fermi's connections with the world of science, and atomic science in particular, provided her with much material for books and articles. Her career as a writer was launched with Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi (1954), which was published just before Enrico's death in November 1954. Although Fermi had become lionized, his wife wrote of him in the more simple terms of home and family. As Fermi said when approached by the University of Chicago Press to write this biography, "My husband is the man I cook for and iron shirts for. How can I take him that seriously?" (Saturday Review, May 4, 1957). Fermi's skill and charm as an author lies in her ability to write engagingly and perceptively on the human aspects of nuclear research. In Atoms for the World (1957), her informal account of the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held in Geneva in August 1955, and in numerous magazine articles, she deals with many of the broader issues raised by her husband's and his associates' work with nuclear power.
Fermi, as an emigré herself, was also interested in the experiences of others who had come from Europe to the U.S. In 1971, she published Illustrious Immigrants: the Intellectual Migration from Europe, in which she examines the impact of the migration of European intellectuals in the 1930s on American society. As part of the research for this book, Fermi corresponded with many emigré Europeans: she also interviewed many persons who were in a position to assess the impact of the migration. Although the interview notes are rough, special attention should be directed to the William McNeill, S. William Halperin, and Helena Gamer interviews, which contain estimates of the contributions A by the immigrants of the 1930s to the University of Chicago's departments of history, German, and art history.
The Laura Fermi Papers consist in large part of drafts and research data for her various writings. In addition, there is a small series of correspondence, most of it falling into the period following the death of her husband in 1954. With the exception of one letter from him, there is scant information relating to Enrico Fermi in these papers. The correspondence in the collection is primarily concerned with Mrs. Fermi's commitment to various civic activities such as conservation and gun control.
The material has been divided into four major series.
Series I Materials related to major works
In this series are gathered together all materials pertaining to each of Fermi's book-length works, including manuscripts, research notes and materials, correspondence with publishers, royalty statements, etc. Manuscripts of her unpublished novel, "Death in Atom City" and her unfinished book, "Italian Women of the Fifteenth Century" are to be found here. Also of interest is a children's book written and illustrated by Fermi's sister, Anna Capon, Storia di un Bimbo sulla Luna. These papers also contain two file boxes of 3 x 5" cards, which record biographical information derived mainly from published sources used in the preparation of Illustrious Immigrants. These are arranged alphabetically by name; a code sheet of the reference works from which the cards were compiled is appended to this guide. There are also two file boxes of 3 x 5" cards, which record materials consulted for "Italian Women of the Fifteenth Century," alphabetically arranged.
Series II Articles, Short Stories, Book Reviews, and Speeches
The articles and short stories in this series are all, as far as can be determined, unpublished. The most common themes found in these works are related to atomic energy and immigrant life. The book reviews are arranged alphabetically by the author of the book reviewed, and illustrate Fermi's interests in conservation, Italian literature and history, and the impact of science on everyday life. These themes recur in the series of speeches, which are arranged by date.
Series III General Correspondence
Publishers' correspondence and letters used as source material for a book will be found in Series I under the title of the book concerned. Series III consists of letters from family members and friends, including the Amaldis and the Rasettis. Of particular interest is a postcard sent by Bruno Pontecorvo to Laura Fermi from the U.S.S.R., to which he had defected in September 1950 (6:7). The letters for the years 1944-1947 are almost exclusively letters from family and friends still in Italy. The later correspondence contains few personal letters, concentrating instead on Laura Fermi's civic activities, requests for speeches, plans to honor Enrico Fermi, etc.
Series IV Miscellaneous
This series contains insurance policies, deeds, passports, and similar items.
Certain items acquired with this collection pertain more directly to other collections in the Department of Special Collections. A list of Enrico Fermi material acquired with these papers, and now located in the Enrico Fermi Papers, will be found in the Department's files. Newspaper clippings concerning Enrico Fermi are in the Archival Biographical files. Two photographs, "Enrico and Laura Fermi in the Bébé Peugeot" and "Lab in the Physics Building in Rome," have been located in the Archival Photofiles under "Enrico Fermi." Additionally, a holograph copy of II Paradiso Terrestre, by Anna Belli, has been added to the Codex Mss collection.
The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:
Enrico Fermi. Papers
Series I: Materials related to major works
Subseries 1: Atoms for the World
|Box 1 Folder 1|
Atoms for the World
Subseries 2: Atoms in the Family
|Box 1 Folder 2|
Letters used for biographical material.
|Box 1 Folder 3|
Movie rights. Contract and correspondence with Carlo Ponti. July 1972 - February 1974.
|Box 1 Folder 4|
Television special. Correspondence. April 1968 - January 1972.
|Box 1 Folder 5|
Publishers correspondence. May 1954 - August 1977.
|Box 1 Folder 6|
|Box 1 Folder 7|
Subseries 3: Death in Atom City (unpublished)
|Box 1 Folder 8|
Notes and manuscript fragments. Holograph.
|Box 1 Folder 9|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 1-3. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 1 Folder 10|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 1-3. Chapters 4-7. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 1 Folder 11|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 8 - 11. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 1 Folder 12|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 8 - 11. Chapters 12-16; Epilogue, "A Word of Explanation." Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 1 Folder 13|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 8 - 11. Final draft. Chapters 1-4. Typescript.
|Box 1 Folder 14|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 8 - 11. Final draft. Chapters 5-8. Typescript.
|Box 1 Folder 15|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 8 - 11. Final draft. Chapters 9-13. Typescript.
|Box 1 Folder 10|
"A Word of Caution"; Chapters 8 - 11. Final draft. Chapters 14-16; Epilogue, "A Word of Explanation." Typescript.
|Box 1 Folder 17|
Publishers correspondence. March 1964 - September 1971.
Subseries 4: Galileo and the Scientific Revolution
|Box 2 Folder 1|
Galley proofs with holograph revisions. Fragment.
|Box 2 Folder 2|
Publishers correspondence. December 1957 - May 1959.
|Box 2 Folder 3|
Publishers correspondence. June 1959 - October 1960.
|Box 2 Folder 4|
Publishers correspondence. November 1960 - September 1977.
|Box 2 Folder 5|
Subseries 5: Illustrious Immigrants
|Box 2 Folder 6|
Miscellaneous notes. Holograph.
|Box 2 Folder 7|
Notes [of interviews?]. Holograph.
|Box 2 Folder 8|
|Box 2 Folder 9|
Correspondence, Decker- György
|Box 2 Folder 10|
Correspondence, Halasz- Lowinsky
|Box 2 Folder 11|
Correspondence, Mayer- Praeger
|Box 2 Folder 12|
|Box 2 Folder 13|
Correspondence, Ulam- Zeisel
|Box 2 Folder 14|
Notes of Interview, Adams-Horner
|Box 2 Folder 15|
Notes of Interviews, Janowitz- Pollack
|Box 2 Folder 16|
Notes of Interview, Rabinowitch-Zygmund
|Box 3 Folder 1|
Biographical information, Arendt-Bettelheim
|Box 3 Folder 2|
Biographical information, Frankfort-Persico
|Box 3 Folder 3|
Biographical information, Rheinstein-Weiss
|Box 3 Folder 4|
Biographical information, Holborn-McNeill
|Box 3 Folder 5|
Chapters 1 and 2. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 6|
Chapter 3. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 7|
Chapter 4. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 8|
Chapter 5. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 9|
Chapter 6. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 10|
Chapter 7. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 11|
Chapter 8. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 12|
Chapter 9. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 13|
Chapter 10. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 14|
Chapter 11. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 15|
Chapter 12. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 3 Folder 16|
Reference Notes. Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 4 Folder 1a|
Illustrious Immigrants, 2nd edition. First copy. Extensive holograph revisions to the text.
|Box 4 Folder 1|
Publishers correspondence. April 1964 - April 1972.
|Box 4 Folder 2|
Subseries 6: Italian Women of the XVth Century (unfinished)
|Box 4 Folder 3|
Miscellaneous notes. Holograph.
|Box 4 Folder 4|
Biographical notes. Holograph. Medea Aleardi - Hlisabetta Malatesta.
|Box 4 Folder 5|
Biographical notes. Holograph. Gentile di Galeotto Malatesta Caterina Visconti.
|Box 4 Folder 6|
Miscellaneous reading notes. Holograph.
|Box 4 Folder 7|
|Box 4 Folder 8|
|Box 4 Folder 9|
|Box 4 Folder 10|
|Box 4 Folder 11|
Chapter entitled "Eve on the Battlefield." Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 4 Folder 12|
Chapter entitled "Eve on the Battlefield." Typescript (photocopy) with holograph revisions. Lacks first page.
|Box 4 Folder 13|
Chapter entitled "Female Slaves in XVth Century Italy." Typescript with holograph revisions.
|Box 4 Folder 14|
Chapter entitled "Female Slaves in XVth Century Italy." Typescript (carbon) with holograph revisions. Includes bibliographic references.
|Box 4 Folder 15|
Chapter entitled "Italian Women of the XVth Century." Typescript with holograph revisions; Untitled. Holograph. 3 leaves.
Card file, Bibliography
Subseries 7: Storia di un Bimbo sulla Luna
|Box 5 Folder 1|
|Box 5 Folder 2|
Holograph. With illustrations by L.F. 44 leaves.
Subseries 8: La Storia dell'Atomo
|Box 5 Folder 3|
|Box 5 Folder 4|
Publishers correspondence. June 1969 - May 1971. Royalty statements.
Subseries 9: The Story of Atomic Energy
|Box 5 Folder 5|
List of corrections. Typescript.
|Box 5 Folder 6|
|Box 5 Folder 7|
Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei - Il Messaggero.
|Box 5 Folder 8|
Arnoldo Mondadori - Nicola Zanicelli.
Series II: Articles, Short Stories, Book Reviews, and Speeches
Subseries 1: Articles and Short Stories
|Box 5 Folder 9|
|Box 5 Folder 10|
|Box 5 Folder 11|
|Box 5 Folder 12|
|Box 5 Folder 13|
|Box 5 Folder 14|
Subseries 2: Book Reviews
|Box 5 Folder 15|
|Box 5 Folder 16|
Subseries 3: Speeches
|Box 6 Folder 1|
|Box 6 Folder 2|
Series III: General Correspondence
|Box 6 Folder 3|
1944 [Letter (holograph) from Enrico Fermi]
|Box 6 Folder 4|
|Box 6 Folder 5|
|Box 6 Folder 6|
|Box 6 Folder 7|
|Box 6 Folder 8|
|Box 6 Folder 9|
|Box 6 Folder 10|
|Box 6 Folder 11|
|Box 6 Folder 12|
|Box 6 Folder 13|
|Box 6 Folder 14|
|Box 7 Folder 1|
|Box 7 Folder 2|
|Box 7 Folder 3|
|Box 7 Folder 4|
|Box 7 Folder 5|
|Box 7 Folder 6|
|Box 7 Folder 7|
|Box 7 Folder 8|
|Box 7 Folder 9|
|Box 7 Folder 10|
|Box 7 Folder 11|
|Box 7 Folder 12|
|Box 7 Folder 13|
[1977?] [Family correspondence]
|Box 7 Folder 14|
Partially dated and undated
|Box 7 Folder 15|
Series IV: Miscellaneous
|Box 8 Folder 1|
|Box 8 Folder 2|
Deed of Sale and correspondence relating to Fermi's house at 5327 University.
|Box 8 Folder 3|
Correspondence relating to purchase of apartment at 5532 South Shore. Lease to apartment at 1163 E. 54th Place.
|Box 8 Folder 4|
Miscellaneous Correspondence and Personal Documents
|Box 8 Folder 5|
Asher, Inez. Atoms in the Family (an adaptation).
|Box 8 Folder 6|
List of Displaced German Scholars. London: Autumn 1936. Marked "Strictly Confidential." Photocopy.
|Box 8 Folder 7|
Archaeology - Mathematics/Medicine, pp. 55-108.
|Box 8 Folder 8|
"Ricordi un po' vaghi di Hutwil." Typescript (carbon). 29 leaves.
|Box 8 Folder 9|
|Box 8 Folder 10|
Diary containing excerpts of prose and poetry, 1934-1957.