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Mary Ritter Beard papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00013

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 The Force of Women 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.

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.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1915 - 1977


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

As her heir, Karen A. Vagts holds copyright to the papers of Mary Ritter Beard. 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 those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by Mary Ritter Beard, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

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), and The Force of Women in Japanese History (1953), 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.


2.626 linear feet (6 containers)

Language of Materials



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.


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


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was donated by Mary Ritter Beard, 1944-1956. Karen Vagts donated additional material in 2016. Other materials were purchased from Bolerium Books (1994), the Common Reader Bookshop (1994), and Uncommon Vision (1994-1995).

Related Material

The Mary Ritter Beard Papers at the Sophia Smith Collection are one of the three primary collections of Beard's papers. DePauw University and the Schlesinger Library also have collections.

For additional Beard material, including correspondence from Beard in other manuscript collections, see the Sophia Smith Collection card catalog and the Donor Files of the Sophia Smith Collection (stored in the Smith College Archives).

See also Revealing Women's Life Stories: Papers from the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Sophia Smith Collection for article on Mary Beard by Nancy F. Cott.

Processing Information

Reprocessed by Amanda Izzo, 2001.

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. The following changes were made in this collection: Accession 2016-S-0070, Box 1 renumbered as Box 5

Mary Ritter Beard papers
Finding Aid
Amanda Izzo
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss135 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:11-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2021-07-01: Content description added from accession inventories

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063