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Carl and Annetta Wonnberger Papers

Identifier: 1991-14

Collection Scope

The majority of the Carl and Annetta Wonnberger collection documents the founding and development of the Cranbrook Theatre School (CTS). A predominance of material reflects Carl's contributions as he wrote the plays as well as some of the songs. Annetta's work, which focused on the costumes, make-up, and props are primarily only documented through a few sketches. Their joint administration and collective creative output of the school is mainly told through many scripts and promotional materials for the school.

The collection also reflects the couple's personal lives, particularly their courtship when they lived at a distance from each, and which is captured in the many letters they wrote each other. And correspondence and administrative materials document Carl's activities as a teacher and Head of English, as well as with the Cranbrook Writers' Guild.

Series I: Biographical (1906-1991) contains materials covering Carl and Annetta's early and graduate education, awards, school photos, and materials documenting the birth and life of their children, Nancy and JoAnn, and Carl's brother, Paul Wonnberger.

Series II: Personal Correspondence (1919-1977) contains letters between Carl and Annetta during their courtship 1927-1929, as well as letters from family and friends 1919-1980.

Series III: Professional (1929-1991) comprises of mainly Carl's correspondence relating to conferences, notably Cranbrook Writers' Conference (1935-1976); his correspondence as teacher and Head of English at Cranbrook School and his professional contributions to other educational institutions (1929-1979). There is a small amount of Annetta's correspondence (1929-1991) included. Teaching documents are predominantly course materials (1940s-1970s); and Carl's Writings on subjects related to English language and literature, education, and teaching.

Series IV: Cranbrook Theatre School (1942-1991) contains materials that document the program's administration, including applications, correspondence, press releases, planning and schedules. Financial materials, largely expenses and scholarship information, are included. Printed Materials include course marketing and performance programs. Scripts include the daily plays for the six and eight week courses as well as the performance plays for the theatre season. Teaching comprises materials on language, diction, voice, and dramatic technique.

Series V: Printed Materials (1931-1991) include Carl's editorials in the Birmingham Patriot and other coverage of his work, Annetta's work, education, drama and theatre, local events in Michigan, and other miscellanea.

Series VI: Audio-Visual (1929-1991) includes film of the rehearsals and performances, and photographs of performances and vacations.

Series VII: Artwork contains hand drawn designs, posters, and tickets for shows.

Series VIII: Realia includes a dress, badges and pins, cufflinks, and medals.

Series IX: Oversize comprises scrapbooks, photographs, and certificates.


  • 1906 - 1996



Access to the collection is largely unrestricted. Some student and faculty files may be restricted or provided as a redacted copy at the archives' discretion.


Permission to use collection materials must be requested in writing.


Carl and Annetta Wonnberger arrived at Cranbrook in September 1929 just after they were married when Carl took the position of English teacher at Cranbrook School. He became Head of the English Department in 1930, a position that he held until 1967 when he retired from Cranbrook and became Professor of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. He was President of the Michigan English Council seven times and received the Charles Carpenter Fries Award from MEC. He was Director of Cranbrook Writers' Guild from 1968-1975, President of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English from 1937-1940 and 1945-1950. He was President of the Independent Schools of the Central States in 1963 and served as a member of the Governor's Committee on the Arts for the State of Michigan from 1963 to 1975. He also received the Cranbrook Founders' Medal in 1965 and Cranbrook Alumni Plaque. The National Cum Laude Society awarded him the Cecil A. Ewing Award for service to the Cum Laude Association. He was also awarded the Jasper Yates Brinton Prize in Greek at the University of Pennsylvania. Carl wrote many articles for the Birmingham Patriot newspaper as well as for educational and theatre journals and associations. Shakespeare was his field of specialization. Carl wrote 4 textbooks in English grammar and literature, as well as 400 short plays, 17 full length plays and 12 musicals for the Cranbrook Theatre School. He also composed the Cranbrook School Fight Song. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1901, Carl graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received a master's degree from Harvard University. He also graduated from the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (Piano).

Carl met Annetta Bouton in 1927 and they were married in September 1929 on her twentieth birthday. Her parents stipulated that she not marry too young. She attended Smith College and later earned a master's degree in English Literature from Wayne State University in Detroit, and a master's degree in theatre from the University of Michigan. She taught English at Oak Park and Berkley high schools, the Detroit Institute of Technology, Wayne State and Eastern Michigan universities. Annetta was one of the founders of St. Dunstan’s Theatre with Henry Scripps Booth in 1932, and she also helped Carl start Ergasterion, Cranbrook School’s drama club. She created costumes, built and painted sets, applied make up, and played female roles in all boys productions. They lived at 2 Faculty Row with their two children, Nancy and Jo Anne.

Together, Carl and Annetta founded Cranbrook Theatre School (CTS) in 1942 with the first season held in the Greek Theater. The school continues as a summer school to this day. They founded the theatre school with a mission to train young people in poise, self-confidence, speaking, and acting. It began as a sponsored private endeavor until a formal trust was sought in 1952 leading to its adoption as part of Cranbrook School. When Carl retired from teaching at Cranbrook in 1967, Annetta became Director of CTS. Carl died in 1980. After 61 years of contributions at Cranbrook, Annetta was awarded the Founders’ Medal and the City of Bloomfield Hills proclaimed July 17, 1991 to be "Annetta Wonnberger Day" in her honor. Annetta passed away on July 5, 1997. The long service of both Carl and Annetta Wonnberger holds a lasting legacy of excellence to the teaching of English and Theatre at Cranbrook Schools.


27.85 Linear Feet (47 MS, 3 OS, 4 SB)

Language of Materials




Carl and Annetta Wonnberger were fixtures at Cranbrook for over fifty years, leaving a lasting legacy of teaching excellence at both Cranbrook Schools and the Cranbrook Theatre School. Both were recipients of the Cranbrook Founders Award (Carl in 1965 and Annetta in 1991). Head of the Cranbrook School English Department from 1930-1967, Carl was very active professionally, was a prolific writer (Cranbrook School Fight Song is attributed to him), and received numerous education and theatrical awards. Annetta Bouton Wonnberger was one of the founders of St. Dunstan’s Theatre with Henry Scripps Booth in 1932, and also helped Carl start Ergasterion, Cranbrook School’s drama club. Together, they founded Cranbrook Theatre School (CTS) in 1942, Annetta becoming sole director from 1967-1991. Carl and Annetta lived and raised their two children, Nancy and Jo Anne on Cranbrook's campus.

The Carl and Annetta Wonnberger Papers reflect primarly their professional lives, with an emphasis on Carl's career and their joint founding, administration, and creative output of the Cranbrook Theatre School. The collection preserves many scripts and promotional materials for the Cranbrook Theatre School, along with correspondence and administrative materials which document Carl's activities as a teacher and Head of English and his participation in associations such as the Cranbrook Writers' Guild. There is a significant amount of photographic material of unidentified performances and a small number of films. The artwork and posters are few in number but a rich visual documentation of the CTS. Their personal lives are captured in courtship letters between 1927-1929 and a small amount of realia and scrapbooks which document family life at Cranbrook.


The material in the collection is arranged into nine series by topic or material type and then alphabetically by name, title, or subject within each series and subseries, unless otherwise noted. Each folder’s contents are ordered chronologically.

Series I: Biographical (Box 1-2)

Series II: Personal Correspondence (Box 2-8) is arranged by creator.

Series III: Professional Documents (Box 8-15) is further divided into four subseries: Conferences, Correspondence (arranged chronologically), Teaching, and Writings.

Series IV: Cranbrook Theatre School (Box 15-34) is further divided into five subseries: Administration, Financial, Printed Materials, Scripts, (arranged by type of course, then chronologically) and Teaching.

Series V: Printed Materials (Box 34-41) is further divided into five subseries: Booklets, Books, Ephemera, News Clippings, and Periodicals.

Series VI: Audio-Visual (Box 42-46, 53) is further divided into 3 subseries: Film, Photographs, and Slides.

Series VII: Artwork (Box 47)

Series VIII: Realia (Box 48) and Series IX: Oversize (Box 49-52) are boxed accordingly for preservation purposes.


The papers were donated in multiple stages by Carl and Annetta Wonnberger's daughters, Joanne Wheaton and Nancy Vom Steeg and Joanne's daughter, Paula Jo Kemmler from 1991-2022.

Related Materials

Cranbrook School Records (1979-06) St. Dunstan's Guild Records (1995-84) Cranbrook Writer's Guild Records (1995-02

Processing History

Processed by Laura MacNewman

Guide to the Carl and Annetta Wonnberger Papers
Finding aid written by Laura MacNewman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Resource record created by Laura MacNewman

Repository Details

Part of the Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Repository