Camp Chonokis Records

Identifier: 90-86

Scope and Contents

The Camp Chonokis Records date from 1879-1982 (bulk dates 1921-1980) and consists of 9 cubic feet of records and approximately 1000 photographs and 16mm home movie films that documents the history of a girls' and womens' camp as well as the general growth of Lake Tahoe as a destination and business center.

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 G3. 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 items purchased 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.


  • 1908-1982
  • Majority of material found within 1921-1980


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Historical Note

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.

Horseback 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 G3 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 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 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 spent 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 master's degree, studying and working full time at teaching. She moved first to Oregon, then to California where she taught three years at University of California, Los Angles, 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. G3 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 G3, 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.


9.708 Linear Feet (13 boxes, 2 oversize folders)

4204 Items (Series 11, Photographs)

Language of Materials



Chonokis was a girls' camp at Stateline, South Lake Tahoe, California from 1927-1952. The camp was owned by Mabel Winter Whitney and co-managed by Gladys G. Gorman. Records include correspondence, subject files, camp brochures, enrollment forms, financial records, daily schedules, architectural drawings, sketches and paintings, photographs, 16 mm home movie film, log books of poetry and prose, and Whitney's personal files of letters, school records, and Barley Food Products (Morgantown, West Virginia) company correspondence.


Arranged 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

Custodial History

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.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the United States Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in September 1990.


Guide to the Records of Camp Chonokis
Susan Searcy
January 1991
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)