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Mary Ritter Beard papers, 1915 - 1958
2 boxes (2.25 linear feet)
Collection number: SSC.MS.00013

Historian, archivist, and women's rights activist. The Mary Ritter Beard papers primarily document the organization and dissolution of the World Center for Women's Archives, which Beard founded, as well as the founding of both the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, both women's history archives. Materials include correspondence, writings, photographs, and books. Correspondents include Dorothy Brush; Ethel Weed; prominent Japanese activist and Diet member, Shizue Kato; Sophia Smith Collection founder, Margaret Grierson; and Grierson's companion, Marine Leland.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

Karen A. Vagts and Arlene Beard hold copyright to the papers of Mary Ritter Beard. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Sophia Smith Collection

Biographical / Historical

Mary Ritter Beard was born in Indianapolis on 5 August 1876, the third of six children and the elder of two daughters of Narcissa (Lockwood) and Eli Foster Ritter. At sixteen she left home to attend De Pauw University in Asbury, Indiana, where she studied political science, languages, and literature. She graduated in 1897 and taught high school German until 1900 when she married Charles Austin Beard, whom she had met at De Pauw. Mary Beard accompanied her husband to Oxford, and both were active politically as well as academically. Charles helped organize Ruskin Hall, the "free university" aimed at workingmen, and Mary became involved with the British women's suffrage movement. They returned to New York in 1902. Their daughter Miriam was born in 1903. The following year the Beards enrolled at Columbia University, but Mary quit soon after to take care of their child and volunteer for progressive causes.

Following the birth of her son William in 1907, Mary Beard became an organizer for the National Women's Trade Union League. From 1910 to 1912 she edited the suffragist periodical The Woman Voter, and after that worked with the Wage Earner's League. She was a member of the militant faction of the suffrage movement led by Alice Paul from 1913 to 1919, and she worked on several progressive causes. During this period, Charles taught at Columbia University, but he resigned in 1917 in protest of the firing of anti-war faculty. Charles helped establish the New School for Social Research and both Beards helped found the Workers Education Bureau, but by the early 1920, the Beards generally worked outside of academic institutions.

Following her resignation from the National Woman's Party in 1917, Mary Beard devoted her skills and efforts to writing and lecturing, rather than public political activity. Her first book, Woman's Work in Municipalities (1915) and her second, A Short History of the American Labor Movement (1920), focused on social reform and the working class. With Charles, she co-authored The Rise of American Civilization (1927), a groundbreaking text that integrated political, economic, social, and cultural histories with a progressive vision of America's past and distinctive national character. The two collaborated on several books that would become some of the most enduringly significant American history texts, but by herself, Mary pioneered the field of women's history. She was appalled by the omission of women from the historical record, and she wrote about and promoted the recognition of women's achievements in the present day and the past, in the U.S. and internationally. She authored and edited Understanding Women (1931), America Through Women's Eyes (1933), A Changing Political Economy as It Affects Women (1934), and Women as Force in History (1946), among others.

Rather than concentrating on grievances and questions of the subjugation of women, Beard's work promoted women's contributions to the formation of society and brought to light a long-neglected past. To this end in the early 1930s, she collaborated with Hungarian pacifist feminist Rosika Schwimmer to organize the World Center for Women's Archives (WCWA). Beard quoted French historian Fustel de Coulanges for the motto of the WCWA: "No documents, no history," and she envisioned an archive of women's papers and organizational records that would provide a foundation for women's history as an academic field as well as serve as a public good. Beard and Schwimmer raised funds, founded a board of directors, and collected documents from their network of women activists. The WCWA was headquartered in New York but collected on an international level. It was a well-publicized effort, and though the collection specialized in material from the pacifist movement, Beard worked to realize a broader conception for a collection representing the range of women's activities. Factionalism among WCWA supporters, shaky financial support, and an increasingly militaristic atmosphere in the U.S. and abroad forced the dissolution of the WCWA in the early 1940s.

This development was very discouraging to Beard, but fortunately, the WCWA generated momentum for developing institutions of women's history. Beard worked closely with Smith College archivist Margaret Grierson to create the Sophia Smith Collection, one of the world's largest women's history manuscript collections, founded in 1942, and she worked with Harvard historians to create the eventual Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. These two institutions received many of the WCWA documents, as did several smaller collections. Together, they carried on the WCWA mission, at least partly due to Beard's influence.

Neither of the Beards avoided controversy in their writings or public stands. Though both were well-respected historians, they increasingly drew criticism for their pacifist and progressive politics in the years surrounding World War II. Charles Beard died in 1948, and Mary Ritter Beard died on 14 August 1958. Both Beards have had enduring reputations as incisive historians, and they are recognized for their pioneering work in social history. Mary Beard especially has been celebrated for her work to promote women's history.

Nancy Cott has written about Mary Beard as an activist, historian, and pioneer in the field of women's history in several articles and books, and she edited a volume of Beard's correspondence, A Woman Making History: Mary Beard through Her Letters (1991). Ann Lane's Mary Ritter Beard: A Sourcebook (1977) was edited and re-released in 2000 as Making Women's History: the Essential Mary Beard. Barbara Turoff's biography, Mary Beard as Force in History, was published in 1979.

Scope and Contents

The Mary Ritter Beard Papers are a small but significant collection of Beard's correspondence, writings, and materials from the World Center for Women's Archives (WCWA). Beard destroyed most of her personal papers. Nonetheless, what remains provides fascinating insight into one of the most significant American intellectuals of the twentieth century. Margaret Storrs Grierson, Smith College Archivist, established the Sophia Smith Collection (SSC), one the largest repositories for primary sources in women's history, in consultation with Beard. The documents in this collection pertain primarily to the years surrounding the demise of the WCWA and the founding of the Sophia Smith Collection.

A small amount of biographical material includes photographs and clippings. The correspondence spans the mid-1940s to early 1950s. Letters exchanged between Beard, Dorothy [Dick] Brush, and Ethel Weed pertain to a proposed book on Japanese women's history. The project began as a collaboration between Brush and Beard. Beard ultimately authored Woman as Force in Japanese History (1953). Ethel Weed provided research assistance and served as a liaison between Beard and Shidzue Kato, a prominent Japanese activist and Diet member involved in the drafting of the Japanese Constitution following World War II.

Correspondence between Beard, Margaret Grierson, and Grierson's companion Marine Leland offers special insight into Beard's personal life. The correspondence details Beard's professional life in the 1940s and 1950s as well. She deposited the materials from the defunct WCWA at Smith, Radcliffe College (at what would become the Schlesinger Library), and elsewhere, and the correspondence documents Beard's efforts to continue the mission of the WCWA. Beard and Grierson collaborated to establish the Sophia Smith Collection and sought each other's advice in their efforts to preserve and promote women's history. There is a microfilmed copy of Beard's outgoing correspondence that includes correspondence in the Beard Papers and other collections of the Sophia Smith Collection. See the Appendix at the end of this finding aid for a list of correspondents.

The writings of Mary Beard include printed magazine articles and speeches. A typed and printed syllabus and bibliography prepared for the American Association of University Women analyzes the "Changing Political Economy as it Affects Women." There are also typescripts and research materials from various projects undertaken by Beard in the 1940s, including notes on women in American history and a study of the representation of women in the Enclyclopedia Britannica. A significant amount of material was generated from the Japanese women's history project. The collection contains third party correspondence concerning research and the manuscript, typescripts of sections of the project, and research materials, including clippings about Shidzue Kato [see also incoming correspondence from Ethel Weed for notes from an interview of Kato]. The Papers contain printed copies of several of Beard's books, including those coauthored with Charles Beard.

The last section of material concerns the World Center for Women's Archives. The materials in Beard Papers pertaining to the WCWA consist of correspondence, which includes letters to the general membership regarding the dissolution of the WCWA and letters between Mary Ritter Beard and donors to the archive; a file of general material; and a report from Dora Ettinger about women in Germany that was intended to become a WCWA document.

This collection is organized into four series:

  1. I. Biographical Materials
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Writings
  4. IV. World Center for Women's Archives

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

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

Karen A. Vagts and Arlene Beard hold copyright to the papers of Mary Ritter Beard. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Preferred Citation

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

Mary Ritter Beard Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

Additional Formats

Portions of correspondence, including correspondence from other collections, are also available on microfilm; in Sophia Smith Collection and through interlibrary loan.

History of the Collection

The Beard Papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection in the early 1940s after the dissolution of the World Center of Women's Archives and were collected by Margaret Grierson from her professional and personal association with Mary Beard.

Processing Information

Reprocessed by Amanda Izzo, 2001.

Appendix: The Letters of Mary R. Beard, 1934-1955

Microfilmed from the holdings of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.


  1. Mary R. Beard to Dorothy Brush, 1946-1956
  2. Mary R. Beard to Mrs. Chamberlin, 1940
  3. Mary R. Beard to Margaret S. Grierson, 1941-1956
  4. Mary R. Beard to Eva B. Hansl, 1947
  5. Mary R. Beard to to Alice Lachmund, 1941-1950
  6. Mary R. Beard to Marine Leland, 1947-1951
  7. Mary R. Beard to Margaret Sanger, n.d.
  8. Mary R. Beard to Ethel Weed, 1946-1952


  1. Mary R. Beard to Nancy Cox-McCormack Cushman, 1940-1952


  1. Mary R. Beard to Eva B. Hansl, 1941


  1. Mary R. Beard to Florence Rose, 1937-1939


  1. Mary R. Beard to Mary Compton, 1946
  2. Mary R. Beard to Miss Nelson, 1951
  3. Mary R. Beard to Margaret Sanger, 1951-1952


  1. Mary R. Beard to Dr. Maffett, 1940


  1. Mary R. Beard to Margery Steer, 1950-1955


  1. Mary R. Beard to Mary van Kleeck, 1935


  1. Mary R. Beard to Mrs. Blaisdell, 1934

Additional Information
Contact Information
Smith College Special Collections
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Contents List

Biographical clippings
1933 1958

Box 1: folder 1
Letter re: Charles's death

Box 1: folder 2
1946 1954 undated

Box 1: folder 3


Brush, Dorothy
1946-56 undated

Box 1: folder 4-5
Chamberlain, Katharine Beecher Stetson, (daughter of Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

Box 1: folder 6
Hansl, Eva, (includes typescript of American Heritage Women's Activities with suggestions by Beard)

Box 1: folder 7
Lachmund, Alice

Box 1: folder 8
Leland, Marine

Box 1: folder 9
Grierson, Margaret, (includes letters to Grierson and Marine Leland)
1941-56 undated

Box 1: folder 10-13
Sanger, Margaret

Box 1: folder 14
Weed, Ethel

Box 1: folder 15
Microfilm: The Letters of Mary R. Beard, 1934-1955. Microfilmed from the holdings of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College (housed in microfilm collection)

Box M39

[see Appendix for complete list]


Belgum, Florence Richter, (includes biographical sketch of Emelie Richter and Niebohrn[?])

Box 2: folder 1
Bromer, Annie, re: Speaking of Women, an international magazine for peace

Box 2: folder 2
Kato, Shidzue

Box 2: folder 3
Lachmund, Alice

Box 2: folder 4
May, Edith Hooper, re: Speaking of Women, includes speech and magazine foreword

Box 2: folder 5
Wagner, Elin

Box 2: folder 6
Weed, Ethel (includes notes re: Shidzue Kato and women in Japan)

Box 2: folder 7

Published magazine articles

Box 2: folder 8
"A Study of the Encyclopedia Britannica in Relation to Its Treatment of Women": research material and report
1942 undated

Box 2: folder 9
Speeches: transcripts, notes, and advertisement
1933-37 1947 1950

Box 2: folder 10
"What Colleges Teach Young Men or Women": submitted magazine article and correspondence

Box 2: folder 11
Women in Long History: typescript, cir

Box 2: folder 12
"Changing Political Economy as It Affects Women": syllabus and bibliography for the American Association of University Women, (includes typescript and publication)

Box 2: folder 13
Women as Force in History: publicity, cir

Box 2: folder 14
American women's history typed notes [from Dictionary of American Biography?]

Box 2: folder 15
Notes and research material, (includes "Proposal for the Organization of a Women's Reseach Institute)
1936 1948-49 undated

Box 2: folder 16
Women in Long Japanese History/Force of Women in Japanese History

Correspondence, third party re: Japan material

Grierson, Margaret to Dorothy Brush

Box 2: folder 17
Rilma, "Robbie" to Florence Rose

Box 2: folder 18
Weed, Ethel to Dorothy Brush
1946 1950

Box 2: folder 19
Notes by Beard and Dorothy Brush, foreword and chapter, circa
1940s 1953

Box 2: folder 20
Research material

General: Japanese (English language) newsletters re: Japanese women's history, 1922; Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Public Opinion Surveys and Publication Analysis, 1948-49 ; "Japan through Women" pamphlet, 1951; undated documents re: religious history and Chinese women's movement

Box 2: folder 21
Re: Shidzue Kato: history of birth control movement by Kato?, 1947; clippings, 1925, 1946-52 ; photographs, 1947, n.d.
1925 1946-52

Box 2: folder 22
Books (on shelf)

America in Midpassage, vol. 1, with Charles A. Beard

American Spirit: A Study of the Idea of Civilization in the United States, Vol. IV The Rise of American Civilization, 1942 (inscribed to Margaret Grierson by Mary and Charles Beard)

America through Women's Eyes [editor]

The Beards' Basic History of the United States, with Charles A. Beard, 1944, (inscribed to Margaret Grierson by Mary and Charles Beard)

The Force of Women in Japanese History, 2 copies, 1953, (one copy inscribed to Grierson, one copy inscribed to Marine Leland)

Laughing Their Way, with Martha Bensley Bruere

On Understanding Women, New York

A Short History of the American Labor Movement

Woman as Force in History, 1946 (inscribed to Grierson)

Woman's Work in Municipalities



Letters to general membership, (includes list of where some material was ultimately deposited)

Box 2: folder 23
Between Beard and donors, (includes third party correspondence), 1938-47 (correspondents include Alice Henry, Kate Baker, Wilhelmina Carlstedt, Katherine Gillette Blyley, Charlotte Dobbin, Lillian Cox Athey, Nellie Sashman [?], Jennie Flood Kreger, Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, and Nettie Palmer)

Box 2: folder 24
General: clippings, list of materials, and notes (author unknown)
1935 1940 undated

Box 2: folder 25
Dora Ettinger: report "Political Thought and Action of German Women in the Modern Age," letters to Beard, and notes from Beard

Box 2: folder 26

"Womanpower in this Election," clipping, Mary and Charles Beard

Flat file

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • Beard, Arlene
  • Beard, Charles Austin, 1874-1948
  • Beard, Mary Ritter
  • Beard, Mary Ritter, 1876-1958
  • Brush, Dorothy Hamilton--Correspondence
  • Cott, Nancy F.
  • Grierson, Margaret Storrs--Correspondence
  • Grierson, Margaret--Correspondence
  • Hansl, Eva B. (Eva vom Bauer) --Correspondence
  • Kato, Shizue, 1897-
  • Libraries--Special collections--Women--History--Sources
  • Sophia Smith Collection--History
  • Turoff, Barbara
  • Vagts, Detlev F.
  • Women historians--United States
  • Women's rights--Japan--History--Sources
  • Women--Historiography
  • Women--History--Sources
  • Women--Japan--History--Sources
  • World Center for Women's Archives, Inc. (New York, N.Y.)

Genre terms
  • Books
  • Manuscripts
  • articles
  • clippings
  • correspondence
  • photographs

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