Discover Five Decades of Columbus Women Traveling the World
Posted December 4, 2023

About the Author

By Veda Faust, Professional Writing Intern

This blog post was written by Veda Faust, an Ohio State University student conducting a professional writing internship at the Ohio History Connection. During her fall semester, she worked with the Archives Services department on an upcoming exhibit. The new exhibit features material from a recently acquired collection; AV 364 Women’s Travel collection. Veda got to work closely with this collection as she read through the diaries, watched the travel film, and drafted labels and panel text for the exhibit. The exhibit will debut in 2024 and will be featured on the first floor of the center.

Below are photographs of the three central figures of AV 364: the Women's Travel collection. Their diaries, slides, and other materials are being featured in an upcoming exhibit.

Helen Bresee

Helen Bresee (pictured on the right, in 1938) was a high school teacher from Columbus, Ohio. She led the women’s travel group and wrote extensively about her travels. Additionally, she taught and lived in Chicago for many years and won an award post-retiring for her work with the Hendersonville Humane Society.She wrote most of the diaries in the collection.

Helen Chrysler

Helen Chrysler graduated from Denison University and Gahanna Lincoln High School. She was a high school biology teacher. Helen played the organ for her church and the Clintonville Women’s Club. She creat  the scrapbooks and slides that are featured in the collection. She also wrote some of the diaries.

Harriet Dieter

Harriet Dieter was the principal of Kingsdale Elementary School. She was interested in photography and presented the slides from her travels at her church, school, and the Women’s Club. She received a grant to fund her travels to educate her students through her photos. She passed away on a trip to Tibet with the travel group, although there isn’t any information on the cause.

About the Collection

The Ohio History Connection has recently received a collection of personal diaries, slides, and tapes that chronicle the travels of a group of women from the 1930s to the 1980s. Among the items are boxes of postcards and travel brochures from cities worldwide. The ephemera largely comes from three individuals in the collection: Helen Chrysler, Harriet Dieter, and Helen Bresee. Helen Chrysler, a biology teacher, pieced together scrapbooks. Harriet Dieter was the photographer of the bunch. She was a history teacher, and in the 1960s, she received a grant to fund her travels for the purpose of educating students through her photos. Another teacher, Helen Bresee, led the women’s travel group. Bresee wrote extensively about her travels and authored the diaries in the collection. With the help of these objects, we can see the world through their eyes and learn about travel in the 20th century.

Around the World in 1936

On July 2nd, 1936, Helen Bresee, her friend Fran Olsen, and Fran’s husband Gilbert, set sail on a 14-month journey around the world. They traveled mostly by ship. They departed on a cruise liner headed from San Francisco to Japan. From Japan they traveled through Korea, China, and then French Indochina. Afterwards they sailed through Indonesia and made their way to India. From India they sailed to Egypt, crossing through the Suez Canal, and visited Italy, Hungary, Germany, France, and Great Britain before returning home to New York.  and sailed home from England once they reached Western Europe. This trip is the feature of the upcoming exhibit based on the collection.

Included in the collection is a video titled “Around the World: 1936”. It is an hour-and-a-half-long black-and-white film video converted to VHS. The film was narrated by Fran Olsen, who began her leg of the journey in New York and joined up Helen in San Francisco for the remainder of the trip. The video summarizes the groups trip and provides footage of their stops captured during the trip.

Their travels came at a turbulent time in world history, a time of political turmoil and economic recession. Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected in the United States to continue fighting the Great Depression. Tensions were high in Europe, and in Asia, Japan was on the precipice of invading China. In Bresee’s accounts, one can feel the impending Second World War. On May 25th, 1937, Bresee wrote, “German [Nazi] troops and a band were marching up and down” at the Kaiser’s Palace, and “outside there was a little garden in which the Kaiser and his chancellor made the decision about the last war.”

At the end of the video, the grainy New York City skyline appears and the Statue of Liberty welcomes them warmly as they return. In a transatlantic drawl, Fran’s last words are, “The world is very round.”

Helen Bresee's Diaries

Helen Bresee’s diaries documented her many travels around the world. The photos and diaries are moving to behold; threads peak out from the binding, and the worn covers reveal yellowed paper inside. She wrote in them daily, describing activities like shopping for clothes, collecting her mail, and getting seasick. We learned what she ate and drank and what she liked and disliked: She was fond of pineapple juice but found Italian food too garlicky. In one entry, she says, “For lunch today we stopped in a place selling bakery goods which looked delicious. I had two toasted sandwiches, two glasses of tomato juice, and a chocolate eclair. This cost 70 cents but it was a change from Italian cooking.”

The earliest diary in the collection is from Helen Bresee’s 1931 road trip. Helen and her friend Gladys Stubben, nicknamed"Stubie," drove nearly 5,000 miles from Ohio to neighboring Eastern states and Canadian provinces. They visited 13 states and 5 provinces in total. On the last page of the journal, Helen wrote a list of the countries or states she visited, along with how much she spent. The two spent $161 during their four month journey. That's roughly $3,400 in November 2023!

Other Diaries at the Ohio History Connection

The Ohio History Connection is home to many travel diaries and documentation of Ohioans’ day-to-day lives. Many of the travel diaries depict travels eastwards for missionary conversion. One example is the diary of Mary Caroline Smith, who writes of her similar “round-the-world voyage, departing Philadelphia Jan. 10, 1851, sailing to San Francisco and Shanghai, returning through the Indian and Atlantic Oceans to New York Feb. 28, 1852.” (Mary Caroline Smith journal, MSS 2348, Ohio History Connection)

Bresee’s dairies contrast the earlier travel diary by Mary Caroline Smith, who often mentions the lord and missionary work. Bresee’s travels are for satisfying genuine curiosity and interest in different cultures. Perhaps that is why Bresee’s journals are so resonant: She travels for pleasure.

To Learn More

To find more collections related to Ohio’s rich history you can search the Ohio History Connection catalog:

To view AV 364, or any other collection in the Library and Archives, please consider booking a research appointment at the following link:

For further information on the library please visit

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