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Mary Sheldon Barnes Papers, 1857-1948 (Bulk: 1880-1898)
21 boxes (8 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 217

Professor and historian. Papers include creative and professional writings, artwork, diaries, teaching materials, scrapbooks, and photographs. The material provides insight into the coming of age and later professional academic life of a woman historian of the late 19th century. They are also a valuable source of information on the development of historiography. Correspondents include academics and fellow historians of the period.

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:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to the unpublished writings of Mary Sheldon Barnes. Copyright to materials created by other individuals 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. Permission must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

Mary Downing Sheldon was born in Oswego, New York, on September 15, 1850, the oldest of five children of Frances Stiles and Edward Austin Sheldon, founder and principal of Oswego State Normal and Training School. She was educated in the public schools of Oswego until age sixteen, finishing at the Normal School in 1869. She taught there for two years. In 1871 Sheldon enrolled at the University of Michigan in a classical course, graduating in 1874. She returned to Oswego Normal to teach history, Latin, Greek and botany. In late 1876 she was invited to teach history at Wellesley College where she remained for two and one half years. Her teaching methods, unorthodox for the time and later called the source method, included the use of primary sources, discussion, and problem solving. Because of internal conflicts at Wellesley and poor health she resigned in 1879 and spent a year resting and then two years traveling abroad. She returned to Oswego Normal in 1882 where she wrote her groundbreaking work Studies in General History. It was published in 1885.

Mary Sheldon Barnes, undated

Mary Sheldon Barnes, undated

On August 6, 1885, she married a former student, Earl Barnes, who was eleven years her junior. Barnes, a teacher of history and psychology, was appointed head of the department of education at Stanford University in 1891. Mary joined the Stanford history department in March 1892 as assistant professor. She taught nineteenth-century European history and the history of the Pacific Slope. Together the they wrote Studies in American History which was published in 1891 and 1896. Mary subsequently published Studies in Historical Method. It was directed toward teachers and nonhistorians who wanted to understand and apply the historical method.

Both Mary and Earl Barnes resigned their posts at Stanford in 1897 to travel and write in Europe. Mary Sheldon Barnes died of heart disease in London, August 27, 1898. According to the author of Barnes' biography in Notable American Women, "[her importance] in American educational history rests chiefly upon her often misunderstood source method. She intended that students should study the primary sources in an 'independent and solitary' way using her questions as guides to problem order to develop the student's abilities to observe, to weigh evidence, to generalize and to exercise creative historical imagination....This was a more progressive approach than many teachers of her time or later could understand or apply....The source method hastened the improvement of more conventional history textbooks. Critical thinking came to characterize some of the better general education courses a half century later." (Robert E. Keohane in "Mary Sheldon Barnes," Notable American Women, 1607-1950, Cambridge, Belknap Press, 1971)

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Mary Sheldon Barnes Papers consist of eight linear feet of correspondence, creative and professional writings, artwork, juvenilia, line-a-day diaries, notes, teaching materials, memorabilia, scrapbooks, and photographs. The material dates from 1857 to 1948 (bulk dates 1880 to 1898). Although Barnes did not work directly with women's history, her papers provide a particularly interesting insight into the personal and professional life of an academic woman historian of the late 19th century and the relationship between two academic scholars. They also are a valuable source of information on historiography.

There are additional Mary Sheldon Barnes papers housed at Penfield Library, Special Collections, State University of New York at Oswego. Earl Barnes' papers, the Sheldon Family Papers, and faculty papers of Mary's four siblings are also in the Penfield Library.

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:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to the unpublished writings of Mary Sheldon Barnes. Copyright to materials created by other individuals 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. Permission must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Preferred Citation

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

Mary Sheldon Barnes Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

History of the Collection

The Mary Sheldon Barnes and Earl Barnes Papers were donated by Betty Barnes, daughter-in- law of Earl Barnes and his second wife, Anna Koehler Barnes, in 1985 and 1986.

Processing Information

Processed by Susan Boone, 2001.

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

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

Separated Material

Earl Barnes' papers (18 linear feet) and some Sheldon family papers were transferred to the State University of New York at Oswego Special Collections where the papers of the Sheldon family are also held.

Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Series Descriptions
.25 linear ft.

This series contains two subseries: Mary Sheldon Barnes and Earl Barnes.

The Mary Sheldon Barnes subseries contains obituaries and miscellaneous writings about her death in 1898. Related material can be found in condolence letters to Earl Barnes in SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE. There are also miscellaneous writings about her in this subseries as well as notes by donor Betty Barnes about Mary Sheldon Barnes and the Barnes Papers.

Although the bulk of Earl Barnes' papers, including a run of his dairies, are housed at Oswego, the Earl Barnes subseries contains two diaries: 1885 and 1898. The former contains entries about his courtship and marriage to Mary Sheldon and the latter about their time in Europe just prior to and including her death in August 1898. This subseries also contains a biographical sketch of Barnes by Edward Howard Griggs written in 1935.

Additional biographical material in the form of clippings and articles can be found in SERIES IV. PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORABILIA Scrapbooks.

2 linear ft.

This series is divided into three subseries: Mary Sheldon Barnes, Earl Barnes, and Third party. The first two subseries are divided into outgoing and incoming.

Of particular interest in the first subseries are outgoing letters to family. These include letters Mary Sheldon wrote home to her parents from the University of Michigan between 1872 to 1874. These, along with her journals in SERIES III. WRITINGS, reflect the coming of age and academic life of a young woman in the second half of the nineteenth century. Her experiences at Wellesley College, both positive and negative, are reflected in letters from 1877 to 1879, and she describes her travels in circular letters home from Europe, 1880 to 1882. Also of interest are letters to Earl Barnes (1880-97) written during their courtship and marriage. Among the outgoing letters to friends there are three folders of letters (1871-1888) written to Mary Alling which provide a valuable insight into female friendships of that period. Incoming letters include letters from her parents (1872-96), various Sheldons and Stiles (1859-97), and friends and colleagues. These include letters from Katherine Lee Bates (1881-82), George Lincoln Burr (1895-96), Henry Bernard Carpenter (1885-88), Martin Luther D'Ooge (1875-80), James Johonnot (1879), Herman Krusi (1881-98), Henry Fowle Durant (1876), E. Cuthbert Nunn (1882, n.d.), Lucy Maynard Salmon (1898), Calvin Thomas (1894), Moses Coit Tylor (1874-80), and Andrew Dickson White (1888). These reflect her connections with the academic world and fellow historians, and her employment experiences. There is also a folder of correspondence with publishers (1883-85).

Of particular interest in the Earl Barnes subseries are five folders of letters (1884-97) to Mary Sheldon Barnes from before and after their marriage. There are also letters from the Sheldon family (1885 and 1898), letters to him from his brother and father, and condolence letters written to him from friends and colleagues when Mary died in 1898. These include letters from Annie Peck, Lucy Salmon, and Katherine Lee Bates.

There is a small amount of third party correspondence which relates specifically to Mary Sheldon Barnes.

There are typed copies of many of the letters and many also contain penciled notations by the papers' donor, Betty Barnes, daughter-in-law of Earl Barnes and his second wife. There is also correspondence, including letters between Mary and Earl and to Mary's parents, in the scrapbooks located in SERIES IV. PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORABILIA.

2.25 linear ft.

This series is divided into two subseries: Journals and Miscellaneous writings.

Although they are incomplete, the journals which date from 1863 to 1898, provide an intimate insight into Mary Sheldon Barnes' inner thoughts and feelings from age thirteen to just before her death.

The Miscellaneous writings, arranged by date, include early essays, published and unpublished articles (many on historical methodology), lectures, songs, poetry, and notes. Also included are manuscripts and published versions of Studies in American History, (which the Barnses collaborated on), and Studies in General History. The former includes accompanying Teachers' Manuals.

Writings and journal entries are also contained in scrapbooks in SERIES IV. PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORABILIA

3.5 linear ft

This series contains two subseries Photographs and Memorabilia.

The former contains circa seventy-five photographs of Mary Sheldon Barnes (circa 1864-1891), Mary and Earl Barnes (n.d.), Earl Barnes (1890), and miscellaneous (both identified and unidentified).

The latter consists of autograph albums, a book catalogue, household accounts, marriage and wedding items, sketches and watercolors, and miscellaneous memorabilia. In addition there are sixteen volumes of scrapbooks. These are of particular value because they not only contain memorabilia, but also correspondence, writings, sketches, watercolors, and photographs.

Contents List

Mary Sheldon Barnes

Obituaries and miscellaneous writings about her death,

[See also SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE - Earl Barnes]


Box 1: folder 1
Biographical writings,
1948, n.d.

Box 1: folder 2
Notes by Betty Barnes about Mary Sheldon Barnes and the Barnes Papers,

Box 1: folder 3
Earl Barnes

1885, 1898

Box 1: folder 4
Earl Barnes by Edward Howard Griggs,

Box 1: folder 5

Mary Sheldon Barnes



Frances and Edward A. Sheldon,
1869-89, n.d.

Box 2: folder 1-6
Birdie (Anna Bradford Sheldon?),
1871-74, 1898

Box 3: folder 1
Charles Stiles Sheldon,

Box 3: folder 2
Frances Elizabeth Sheldon (Lizzie),

Box 3: folder 3-4
Circular letters home from Europe,

Box 3: folder 5-7
Earl Barnes,
1880-97, n.d.

Box 4: folder 1-2

Mary Alling,
1871-88, n.d.

Box 4: folder 3-5
Anna Koehler (Barnes),

Box 4: folder 6
Mary Lee,

Box 4: folder 7
Cora Stickney,

Box 4: folder 8
Alice Williams,

Box 4: folder 9
1867-71, n.d.

Box 4: folder 10


Frances and Edward A. Sheldon,

Box 5: folder 1
Dorliska Sheldon (aunt),
1859, 1897

Box 5: folder 2
Laura Sheldon,

Box 5: folder 3
Henry and Sadie Stiles,
1885-87, n.d.

Box 5: folder 4

Box 5: folder 5

Mary Alling,

Box 5: folder 6
Jo Anderson,

Box 5: folder 7
I. B.Angell,

Box 5: folder 8
Katherine Lee Bates,

Box 5: folder 9
Ever Briggs,
1879, n.d.

Box 5: folder 10
George L. Burr,

Box 5: folder 11
F. J. Campbell,

Box 5: folder 12
Henry Bernard Carpenter,

Box 5: folder 13
Jo Cass (includes poetry written to MSB),
1874-89, n. d.

Box 5: folder 14
Kittie A. Chandler,

Box 5: folder 15
Martin D'0oge,

Box 5: folder 16
Henry Fowle Durant,

Box 5: folder 17
Sara Ely,

Box 5: folder 18
P. Gardners,

Box 5: folder 19
John S. Hittel,

Box 5: folder 20
Ada L. Howard,

Box 5: folder 21
James Johonnot,

Box 5: folder 22
Hermann Krusi,

Box 5: folder 23
Mary V. Lee,
1885, 1896

Box 5: folder 24
Charles Lummis,

Box 5: folder 25
Louise Maitland,

Box 5: folder 26
Edward L. Mark,

Box 5: folder 27
E. Cuthbert Nunn,
1882, n.d.

Box 5: folder 28
Marion L. Pelton,

Box 5: folder 29
James Harvey Robinson,

Box 5: folder 30
Lucy Maynard Salmon,

Box 5: folder 31
J.R. Seelye,

Box 5: folder 32
Sadie Simons,

Box 5: folder 33
J. B. Steere,

Box 5: folder 34
Harry Sheldon,

Box 5: folder 35
H.H. and Emma Straights,

Box 5: folder 36
Anna Strinsky,

Box 5: folder 37
Calvin Thomas,

Box 5: folder 38
Moses Coit Tyler,

Box 5: folder 39
Francis Victor,

Box 5: folder 40
Andrew Dickson White,

Box 5: folder 41
Alice Williams,

Box 5: folder 42
L.M. Willis,

Box 5: folder 43

Box 5: folder 44
Business letters from publishers,

Box 5: folder 45
Earl Barnes


Mary Sheldon Barnes,
1884-1897, n.d.

Box 6: folder 1-5
Edward A. Sheldon,

Box 6: folder 6
Laura Sheldon,

Box 6: folder 7
Mary V. Lee,

Box 6: folder 8

Frank J. Barnes (brother),

Box 6: folder 9
James Barnes (father),

Box 6: folder 10
Mrs. C.W. Krusi,

Box 6: folder 11
Condolence letters about Mary Barnes' death,

Box 6: folder 12
Third party

Mary V. Lee to Edward Austin Sheldon,

Box 6: folder 13
Frances Elizabeth Sheldon (Lizzie) to Anna B. Sheldon,

Box 6: folder 14
Charles and Ellen Sheldon to Frances Elizabeth (Lizzie) Sheldon,

Box 6: folder 15
Henry Fowle Durant to Edward Austin Sheldon,

Box 6: folder 16
Edward Howard Griggs to ?,

Box 6: folder 17
Anna Sheldon to family,

Box 6: folder 18



Box 7: folder 1

Box 7: folder 2
Ann Arbor,

Box 7: folder 3
Ann Arbor,
circa 1871-74

Box 7: folder 4

Box 7: folder 5

Box 7: folder 6
Stanford, (scrapbook/journal)

Box 8
Miscellaneous writings

Early essays,
1860, 1868

Box 9: folder 1
"Up the Saguenay,"

Box 9: folder 2
"Open Letter to Wellesley students,"

Box 9: folder 3
"A Legend of the Amazon,"

Box 9: folder 4
"The Public Schools: Their Duty to the Commonwealth," State Teachers Association. Proceedings,

Box 9: folder 5
"London: A Study,"

Box 9: folder 6
"Poor White Trash," Cornhill Magazine,
May 1882

Box 9: folder 7
Notes on the Cambridge System,

Box 9: folder 8
"History: A Definition and a Forecast," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,
July 1895

Box 9: folder 9
"Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon" (typescript),

Box 9: folder 10
"General History in the High School," The Academy: Journal of Secondary Education,
June 1889

Box 9: folder 11
"Collections of Sources in English for History Teachers," Education Review,
April 1898

Box 9: folder 12
"Bishops of the 4th Century,"

Box 9: folder 13
"Calendar of the French Revolution,"

Box 9: folder 14
"A Danger and a Duty,"

Box 9: folder 15
"Education Among the Aztecs,"

Box 9: folder 16
"The End of the Dryads: A Christmas Masque,"

Box 9: folder 17
"French Revolution,"

Box 9: folder 18
Historical leaflets,

Box 9: folder 19
"Yachting in New York State,"

Box 9: folder 20
Lecture notes (Moses Coit Tyler's classes),

Box 10: folder 1

Box 10: folder 2
1873, 1896, n.d.

Box 10: folder 3
Miscellaneous and unidentified writings and notes,

Box 10: folder 4-6
Studies in American History ,

Manuscript with revisions

Box 11
Published book

Box 11
Studies in General History


Box 12
Published books,
1889, 1899

Box 12
Teachers manuals,
1894, 1886

Box 12

Mary Sheldon Barnes,
circa 1864-1891, n.d.

Box 13: folder 1
Mary Sheldon Barnes and Earl Barnes,

Box 13: folder 2
Earl Barnes,

Box 13: folder 3
Miscellaneous identified,
1878-92, n.d.

Box 13: folder 4
Miscellaneous unidentified,
1896, n.d.

Box 13: folder 5

Mary Sheldon's Classical Club, Oswego,

Box 14
1871-circa 1879

Box 15

Autograph albums (2), book catalogue,
1868-89, n.d.

Box 16: folder 1
Household accounts,

Box 16: folder 2
Marriage certificate and list of wedding gifts,

Box 16: folder 3

Box 16: folder 4
Sketches and watercolors,

Box 16: folder 5
Unidentified watercolors,
1894, n.d.

Box 16: folder 6


Box 17

Box 17

Box 18

Box 18
(9v) (mostly Stanford)
1888, 1890-96

Box 19
Materials for study of children's play and games,

Box 20

Box 20

Box 21


Oswego Normal and Training School,
1868, 1869

Flat File
Lewis's Normal Institute for Physical Education,

Flat File
University of Michigan,

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.

  • Barnes, Earl, 1861-1935
  • Barnes, Mary Sheldon, 1850-1898
  • Bates, Katharine Lee, 1859-1929--Correspondence
  • Burr, George Lincoln, 1857-1938--Correspondence
  • Carpenter, Henry Bernard, 1840-1890--Correspondence
  • College teachers--United States--History--19th century--Sources
  • D'Ooge, Martin Luther, 1839-1915--Correspondence
  • Durant, H.F. (Henry Fowle), 1822-1881--Correspondence
  • Europe--Description and travel--Sources
  • Female friendship--United States--History--19th century--Sources
  • Higher education--United States--History--Sources
  • Historiography--19th century--Sources
  • Johonnot, James, 1823-1888--Correspondence
  • Krusi, Hermann, 1817-1903--Correspondence
  • Nunn, E. Cuthbert (Edward Cuthbert), 1868-1914--Correspondence
  • Palmer, Alice Freeman, 1855-1902--Correspondence
  • Peck, Annie S. (Annie Smith), 1850-1935--Correspondence
  • Salmon, Lucy Maynard, 1853-1926--Correspondence
  • Sheldon family
  • Sheldon, E. A. (Edward Austin), 1823-1897--Correspondence
  • Stanford University--Faculty--History--Sources
  • Thomas, Calvin, 1854-1919--Correspondence
  • Tyler, Moses Coit, 1835-1900--Correspondence
  • University of Michigan--Students--History--Sources
  • Wellesley College--Faculty--History--Sources
  • White, Andrew Dickson, 1832-1918--Correspondence
  • Women historians--United States--History--19th century--Sources

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