Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
Mount Holyoke College seal
Runnette Papers, 1849-1988.
7 boxes (3.3 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 0767 (LD 7096.6 1909 Runnette)

Runnette, Helen Virginia, 1886-1988; Administrator and teacher. Mount Holyoke College graduate, 1910. Papers consist of correspondence, photographs, school information, artwork, Runnette family collection of correspondence, and memorabilia. Primarily documenting her personal and professional life, with an emphasis on her work at the Tower School for children.

Terms of Access and Use:

Access restricted to Tower School student records.

Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
South Hadley, MA

Biographical Note

Helen Virginia Runnette was born January 29, 1886 to Joseph H. and Virginia Anderson Runnette. She was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along with sisters Elizabeth Kerr Runnette, a member of the Mount Holyoke College class of 1912, and Ethel Anderson Runnette Ramsey, class of 1906. Runnette graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1910, but chose to affiliate herself socially with the class of 1909. After graduating, she taught at Briarcliffe Manor in New York, 1910-1911, and at the Lakewood School for Girls in New Jersey, 1912-1913. She took a position with Miss Tower's School for Children in Salem, Massachusetts in 1913. She attended Boston's New School of Design and Harvard's School of Education sporadically while working at Tower.Runnette had joined Miss Tower's School for Children (later Tower School) shortly after its establishment in 1912. In 1917, she became the Headmistress of the progressive children's school and changed its name to Tower School. When the school was incorporated in 1937, her title changed to Director, and she moved the school from Salem to Marblehead in 1941. Instruction at Tower stressed the development of language and writing skills and taught history through art and drama. Both boys and girls studied home economics and industrial arts together. The school's literary magazine, "The Turret", was highly regarded and was part of the collection at Harvard's Widener Library. Some issues are still held in the Mount Holyoke College library. During World War II, Runnette offered scholarships to seven British children and was honored for this with life membership to the Kinsmen of Britain. She was also a member of the Marblehead Historic Society, the Marblehead Arts Association, Mount Holyoke College Friends of Art, the Independent Artist's Group of Boston, and the North Shore Mount Holyoke Alumnae Club. In 1950, she served as a member of the White House Conference on Children and Youth and was listed in Who's Who in the East. Runnette was known as an accomplished artist and playwright with her children's plays frequently produced at Tower and published in "Plays Inc". of Boston. Many summers were spent at the Berskire Summer School for Art in Monterey, Massachusetts, and throughout her life, she designed bookplates, posters, Christmas cards, and magazine covers. She also exhibited her work in Boston and its suburbs. Runnette retired from teaching in 1956, along with longtime friend and colleague Miriam Luscomb. She had remained with Tower School for forty-four years. She died January 12, 1988 in her Marblehead, Massachusetts home at the age of 101.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Helen Virginia Runnette Papers document her personal and professional life and contain records related to the administration of Tower School and papers of the Runnette family. The collection contains material that spans the years 1849 - 1988, with the bulk of material created from 1940 - 1980. The Runnette Family Papers, a series within this collection, contains undated correspondence that may have been written prior to 1849 and photographs from the mid-nineteenth century.The most significant parts of this collection consist of Tower School Records and Runnette's correspondence. These document the administration of a small country day school from 1917 to 1956, through the great changes in the nation's social and political climates. Included are lists of school trustees, official correspondence, teaching and evaluation materials, enrollment and tuition information, and publications including applications, brochures, and the school literary magazine, "The Turret". Runnette's philosophies of education and the methods she used to realize these are reflected in the Director's notes. These are undated notebooks and loose papers upon which she wrote notes for her own use in facilitating meetings, developing curricular materials, and drafting correspondence. Of particular social and historical significance are letters written during World War II about the British children being educated at Tower while parents remained in Great Britain. Student compositions are included in this collection along with some material evaluating specific students. Diaries cover the years 1924 - 1979 and contain political, personal, and educational reflections as well as information on her health, travels, and the weather. In several instances, diary entries also overlap in date. Runnette's correspondence contains letters from family, friends, parents of students, former students, and other educators. Many letters relate to her retirement and to the death of a close friend whom she mourned greatly. Runnette's artwork consists of charcoal sketches, pencil sketches, bookplates, and other drawings.The Runnette Family Papers contained in this collection consist of correspondence, memorabilia, clippings, a Bible that contains genealogical information, and many photographs of family members including tintypes, gelatin silver prints, and more recent photographic forms. Biographical information about Elizabeth Kerr Runnette, and a letter written to her, is also contained in this collection. Further information about Elizabeth Kerr Runnette and Ethel Anderson Runnette Ramsey can be found in their collections in the Mount Holyoke College Archives.

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

Access restricted to Tower School student records.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Helen Virginia Runnette Papers, Mount Holyoke College, Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA.

History of the Collection

Additional Information
Contact Information
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
8 Dwight Hall
50 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Phone: (413) 538-2013
Fax: (413) 538-2370

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