Whiteley, Opal

Scope and Content

The vast majority of these papers relate to Whiteley's life between 1923 and 1938. They cover the years when she lived in England and are also a useful source for information concerning her travels in India, although there is practically nothing relating to her visit to Rome and the period of her residence in Austria.

There is an extensive series of letters written to Whiteley whilst she was living in England. These letters (MS 949/1B) indicate the friendships and contacts that she made in England and maintained overseas. They also give information about her work and activities during this period of her life. The ephemera and other material collected by Whiteley provides supporting information about her concerns and interests during this period (MS 949/5-7). There is a large amount of photographic material in this collection, the bulk of which was created during Whiteley's travels in India during 1924 and 1925 (MS 949/8-9). As well as being a source of information about Whiteley herself and the places which she visited, the images also give information about the region of Udaipur, its people, architecture and social customs. The photographic material is supported by letters to Whiteley and papers and letters written by her whilst in India (MS 949/3).

There is also a significant amount of material written by Whiteley for her own use (MS 949/4). It is rather difficult to make sense of much of this material, although some of it clearly relates to her interests and research. However, these papers clearly give an indication of Whiteley's state of mind at this period.

Administrative / Biographical History

Opal Whiteley was born on December 11th 1897, in Colton, Washington, the daughter of Edward and Lizzie Whiteley. During Opal's childhood the family moved to the rural area of Oregon where she grew up. From a very young age she demonstrated an enthusiasm and affinity with nature. She was also very much involved in church activities and gained a reputation as a speaker and a teacher on the natural world.

Whiteley enrolled to study at the University of Oregon in 1916. She supported herself by giving lectures, but unfortunately could not afford to complete her studies. In 1918 she went to Hollywood in order to try and become a film actor but was this was an unsuccessful venture. Her lectures, however, continued to be popular, and she began work on a nature book for children called The Fairyland All Around Us . She covered the cost of publication by raising subscriptions, but ran out of money when she wanted to make changes to the printing plates, and these were destroyed by the publishers. Whiteley continued to work on the book by hand, to the detriment of her health.

Whilst trying to find a publisher for The Fairyland All Around Us , Whiteley met Ellery Sedgwick, editor of the American periodical The Atlantic. It was in this journal that The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart was first published. Introduced as the diary written by Whiteley during her sixth and seventh years, it was an immediate success. However, within a year of its publication there was considerable controversy about the work. Many people came to believe that it was a hoax, and that it had actually been written by the adult Whiteley.

The issues surrounding Whiteley and her work are further confused by the doubts surrounding her identity. From about the time of the publication of the Diary Whiteley began to claim that she was the daughter of Henri d'Orléans, a prince of the deposed royal family of Bourbon of France. This man, and her mother (who was identified variously by Whiteley) are referred to 'Angel Father' and 'Angel Mother' in the Diary. From this time onward she began to use the name Françoise de Bourbon d'Orléans.

Whiteley devoted much of her time to the search for information about what she regarded as her true parentage. Various influential people supported her in this search. In 1923 she used money received from Lord Grey of Falloden, who had become a close friend after reading the Diary, to travel to England. From England she went to France where she visited Françoise Marie Amélie d'Orléans, the mother of Henri d'Orléans. She, in turn, provided the funds for Whiteley to travel to the Udaipur region of India, where Henri d'Orléans died, so that she could find out more about him. From September 1924 Whiteley lived at the guesthouse of the palace of the maharana of Udaipur, under the assumed name of Françoise d'Orlé.

While she was in India Whiteley carried out extensive research into the customs, activities, life and surroundings of the areas in which she travelled. The results of this work can be partially seen in an article, The Story of Unknown India, which was eventually published by The Queen magazine. She also had plans to publish longer works on the subject of India, but these never came to fruition.

Whiteley returned to England in 1925, and in 1926 she travelled to Rome, and then on to Vienna where she spent 2 years living in a convent. In 1927 she returned to England, and for the next 20 years lived variously in London and in Oxford. She devoted herself to her writings, collecting books relating to her researches and to her Catholic faith. Her writings from this period grow increasingly confused, and many of her many friends and supporters appear to have lost touch with her from the late thirties onwards. In 1948 Whiteley was found to be unable to look after herself, and was taken into the care of Napsbury Hospital in St Albans. She died there in February 1992.


Before arrangement and cataloguing, these papers were in an extremely muddled state. No attempt has been made to reconstruct any original order which may have existed. The material has therefore been arranged into the following series:

Personal correspondence, 1919-1954 (MS 949/1); Business matters and papers relating to financial and practical arrangements, 1916-1948 (MS 949/2); India papers, including correspondence and research files, 1924-1930 (MS 949/3); Whiteley's notes and writings, 1913-1930 (MS 949/4); Newspaper cuttings, 1930-1940 (MS 949/5); Devotional material, c1930 (MS 949/6); Ephemera collected by Whiteley, 1925-1937 (MS 949/7); Photographs, 1915-1931 (MS 949/8); Negatives, 1920-1924 (MS 949/9); Papers of Mrs Douglas Woodruff, 1970-1975 (MS 949A); Research papers of Dr Carmen Blacker, 1978 (MS 949B)

Access Information

Access to the items in the collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the controlled environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room.Uncatalogued material may not be seen. Please contact the University Archivist for details.

Acquisition Information

Deposited in 1995 at the behest of the Official Solicitor's Office.

Other Finding Aids

Handlist The Papers of Opal Whiteley MS 949 by Ali Burdon and Gillian Murphy (July 2001). This full catalogue is also included in the ULRLS on-line catalogue, http://archives.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/default.aspx.

Archivist's Note

Separated Material

Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Library, University of Oregon holds photographs, correspondence, class notes, personal notes and memoranda, material relating to her Christian Endeavor work, collected printed matter, and books, 1911-1922 (ref: AX 97). Oregon State Library, Cottage Grove Public Library, and the Oregon Historical Society in Portland also hold material relating to Whiteley. There is also some material in private hands.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.

Dramatic, dramatico-musical and musical rights in Whiteley's work have exclusively licenced by the Official Solicitor for the relevant period of copyright. Please contact the Archivist for more details.

Custodial History

The local council put all of Whiteley's writings and books into storage when she was admitted to Napsbury Hospital. After her death this material came under the control of the Official Solicitor's Office. The papers currently held by the University of London were collected from Dr Carmen Blacker, who had been loaned the material by the Official Solicitor's Office. Some postcard material was transferred separately by the Official Solicitor's Office (MS 948) but this has now been incorporated into the main collection.


Opal Whiteley: The Unsolved Mystery (Putnam, 1962), Elizabeth Bradburne
Opal Whiteley: The Continuing Mystery (Thomas Harmsworth Publishing Company, 2000), Elizabeth Lawrence (née Bradburne)
The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow - The Mystical Diary of Opal Whiteley (Penguin, 1994), Benjamin Hoff