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Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00202

Scope and Contents

The papers of this clergywoman and psychotherapist reflect both her personal and professional life. Viewed as conservative in Boston/Cambridge and wildly radical in Dallas, these papers provide valuable insight into the spiritual journey of a woman within the structure of the Christian church. Contains personal and professional papers from 1915-96 related to her work as an Episcopal priest and psychotherapist, including correspondence, printed material, video and audio cassette tapes, photographs, memorabilia, manuscripts, writings, and speeches.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1915-1999, 2008


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use with the following restrictions on access: Series 5 (unreviewed accessions of Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse personal and professional materials) must be screened by an archivist for confidential patient, ministerial, and student information before being used by researchers. Please contact special collections staff at a minimum of two weeks in advance of your visit for access.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owned copyright, Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse assigned the copyright in her works in this collection to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required.

For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. In particular, the estate of Sylvia Plath has retained copyright in works created by Plath.

Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with use.

Biographical Note

Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse was a Jungian psychiatrist, theologian, and ordained Episcopal priest known for being poet Sylvia Plath's psychiatrist, and for her theological publications and teachings related to homosexuality, sex, and women in the Christian church. Barnhouse was a noted advocate of psychiatric treatment to "cure" homosexuality.

Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse was born in France in 1923. She was schooled in France and Germany before World War II. She received her B.A. from Barnard College, M.D. from Columbia University, and Th.M. from the Weston College School of Theology (Jesuit). She began private practice as a psychiatrist in 1956. As an attending staff psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, she served as psychiatrist to poet Sylvia Plath. She was also a clinical assistant in psychology at Harvard University.

Barnhouse moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978 and worked as adjunct professor of pastoral theology at the Virginia Theological Seminary. From 1980-1989, she was on the faculty of Dallas's Southern Methodist University as professor of psychiatry and pastoral care at the Perkins School of Theology. Also in 1980, she was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church.

In 1991, she began working as a consultant to the human resources department of a major Dallas corporation. She was a co-founder of the Dallas chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility. She was the president of Peacemakers, Inc., which put on an international women's conference entitled "Global Peace...from Vision to Reality" in 1988. She was also president of the Isthmus Institute, an organization concerned with the interactions between scientific and religious approaches to reality. She was an assistant editor of the Anglican Theological Review and a past president of the Conference of Anglican Theologians. She served on the joint commission on health and human affairs of the general convention of the Episcopal Church. She was the first woman and first lay person to be a fellow of the College of Preachers in Washington, D.C. and she served on its council as chair of the program and policy committee for six years.

She frequently gave lectures, workshops, and radio-tv interviews acorss the country for psychiatric professional societies, mental health centers, pastors'schools, clergy and lay retreats, and civic groups. She is author of numerous publications including Homosexuality: A symbolic confusion (1977), Identity(1987), Clergy and the Sexual Revolution(1987), Sex and War (1991), A Woman's Identity (1994), and co-editor of Female: Christian Approaches to Sexuality.


36.667 linear feet (37 containers)

Language of Materials



Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse was a psychiatrist, theologian, and ordained Episcopal priest known for being poet Syvia Plath's psychiatrist, and for her theological publications related to homosexuality, sex, and women in the Christian church. This collection contains materials reflecting both her personal and professional lives, most of it from about 1970 and later. The collection contains a small amount of materials related to Sylvia Plath, which have been put in separate series for ease of access and reference.


This collection has been arranged in five series: the first contains a small trove of letters from Barnhouse's parents that she kept in a special box throughout her life and which were sent to the archives in 2008; the second contains all known Sylvia Plath-related files in the collection, which have been separated for ease of access and reference; the third contains 14 letters from Sylvia Plath to Ruth Beuscher (later Ruth Barnhouse) obtained from Harriet Rosenstein; the fourt contains materials from Barnhouse's papers that have been thoroughly screened for confidential information and are open for use; the fifth contains all unprocessed materials which must be reviewed for confidential patient and pastoral information prior to access. Materials within the fifth series are arranged into subseries by the accession with which they were received.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse began donating her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1999. This collection is comprised of the following accessions received from Barnhouse, her estate, her family, and Harriet Rosenstein in 1999-2008 and 2018: 99S-14, 00S-35, 01S-21, 2017S-006, 2018-S-0024.

Related Materials

The papers of Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse's father, fundamentalist Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse are located in the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society (RG 480).

Researchers interested in Sylvia Plath should also review the Sylvia Plath collection at Smith College Special Collections (MRBC.MS.00045).

Processing Information

The materials in Series 4 have been thoroughly reviewed for confidential patient, pastoral, and student records. A detailed note about that work is attached to the series description.

The materials in Series 5 have not been processed, in the sense that archival appraisal, arrangement, and description has not been done beyond creating minimal box lists. The arrangement and description of materials, particularly those in this series, may change in the future as iterative processing occurs. Researchers are encouraged to document their citations with this in mind.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.

Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse papers
updated October 18, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2018-07-02: Notes brought up to current standards, added process on demand parts, published minimal finding aid.
  • 2018-08-31: Published version of the finding aid containing Plath letters and recently processed portions of 1999 accession
  • 2018-12-06: published version of finding aid including most recently reviewed boxes
  • 2019-10-18: box 1 from 2000-S-0035 processed/reviewed at researcher request, added to series 4 as box 14

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063