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Margaret E. Mahoney papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00230

Scope and Contents

The Margaret Ellerbe Mahoney papers consists of 30.5 linear feet of printed materials, such as diaries, calendars, speeches, photographs, clippings, minutes, memoranda, itineraries, and correspondence; and audio-visual materials, such as VHS tapes, audiotapes, and one floppy disk. The papers document Margaret’s life from childhood until her death in 2011.

Documents that represent Mahoney's personal life can be found in Biographical Material and Correspondence series. The bulk of the printed material document Margaret’s professional life and activities. Significant quantities of the collection represent information on philanthropic foundations, particularly those based in New York and pertaining to healthcare grantmaking.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1924 - 2012


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use with the following restriction: Medical information for Margaret E. Mahoney and material related to Board nominations is closed until 2062.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owned copyright, Margaret Mahoney has assigned the copyright in her works 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 Margaret Mahoney, 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

Margaret Ellerbe Mahoney was best known as a philanthropist, executive of many non-profit organizations, civic leader, and trustee of Smith College. The papers primarily document Margaret Mahoney's philanthropic work with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, UNESCO, and her consulting firm specializing in health care delivery systems, MEM Associates, Inc. The papers also document Margaret Mahoney’s personal life, mainly through correspondence.

Margaret Ellerbe Mahoney was born in Nashville, Tennessee on October 24, 1924. Her parents, Charles Hallam Mahoney and Leslie Nelson (Nell) Savage Mahoney, had a brief marriage that ended in divorce in May 1925. Leslie Mahoney received full custody of Margaret. Charles Mahoney would later marry a woman named Elizabeth Wood. Charles Mahoney’s family did not recognize Margaret’s existence, and Margaret had no contact with them until a cousin, Joan Cooper, wrote her, months before Charles’s death on August 20, 1988.

Margaret’s mother, Leslie Mahoney, was an interior design expert and received a Master of Arts in history for her thesis titled “The Building of the Tennessee State House, 1845-1854.” Many of Margaret’s other relatives worked as doctors at Vanderbilt University. Her maternal grandfather, Dr. Giles C. Savage, and aunt, Dr. Kate Eastman Savage Zerfoss, shared an ophthalmology practice in Nashville, Tennessee, at what was then known as the Savage House. The Savage House was one of only two Nashville townhouses to survive the Civil War and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. Kate Zerfoss advocated for the addition of white lines to the edges of roads as a safety measure.

Margaret Mahoney attended Ward Belmont and West End High School, graduating from the latter in 1942. She attended Vanderbilt University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations with dual minors in history and art in 1946. Her college years were interrupted by wartime service. She briefly served on a classified assignment with the Army Signal Corps in Arlington, Virginia in 1944.

After her graduation from Vanderbilt, she returned to Washington, D.C. area to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Relations Staff at the Department of State, arriving in time for the First Session of the General Conference of UNESCO. She began as a clerk-typist and rose to become a program officer for cultural affairs. Her positions at UNESCO sent her traveling to Mexico and Lebanon, among other places. She initiated and organized the International Theatre Institute, the International Association of the Plastic Arts, and the International Music Council.

She continued her interest in arts programming after she left UNESCO in 1953 for the Carnegie Corporation in New York City. The Carnegie Corporation introduced her to grant-making, which she continued with for the rest of her professional career. Toward the end of Margaret Mahoney’s tenure at Carnegie, she transitioned away from arts-focused philanthropy and instead into the realm of healthcare philanthropy.

In 1972, she accepted the position of vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), where she was able to continue working on grants focused on improving quality and access to healthcare. From 1975-1979, during her tenure at RWJF, she was on the faculty of the Princeton University Program in Science and Human Affairs. She taught a course titled “Medicine in Modern America” at Princeton University.

In 1980, she moved back to New York City full-time in order to become president of the Commonwealth Fund, making her the first woman to head a major American foundation. She serves as president of the Commonwealth Fund from 1980-1984.

Margaret Mahoney founded MEM Associates, Inc., a not-for-profit consulting firm specializing in health care delivery systems. The MEM Associates, inc. organization was headquartered in New York City in 1995. A major initiative of MEM Associates, Inc. was the Healthy Steps for Young Children Program. This program sought to improve the care and education for children ages 0-3. MEM Associates, Inc. also advised other non-profit organizations on developing fundable initiatives to advance the health and well-being of the American public.

Margaret Mahoney served on a variety of boards and educational foundations including the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's Medical Assistance Advisory Council; the Task Force on Medicaid and Related Programs; the Health Industry Advisory Committee of the Cost of Living Council; the Dermatology Foundation; the Sun Valley Forum on National Health; the National Humanities Center; and the Smith College Board of Trustees (1988-93). A copy of Margaret Mahoney's professional chronology can be found in the control file.

Margaret Mahoney received many awards and honors for her professional dedication between 1970 -2011, including numerous honorary degrees and the Lahey Award from the National Fund for Medical Education. After years of failing health, Margaret Mahoney died in New York City on December 22, 2011.


31.752 linear feet (75 boxes)

0.000068 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Margaret Ellerbe Mahoney papers primarily document Mahoney's professional activities. Her service on the boards of numerous education and medical foundations, her teaching at Princeton University, and her grant writing are notable accomplishments. Types of material include biographical material, correspondence, business and financial records, fundraising records, committee and conference files, appointment books, reports, speeches and lecture notes, photographs, and videotapes.


The collection is organized into 8 series:

  • Biographical
  • Correspondence
  • Employment
  • Organizations
  • Photographs
  • Speeches and Writings
  • Subject Files
  • Restricted Materials
  • 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.

    This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email to request access to this digital content.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The collection was donated to the archives by Margaret Mahoney in 11 installments from 1987-2013.


    Some of Margaret Mahoney's papers were previously housed at the Rockefeller Archive Center in New York. Margaret Mahoney sent financial materials related to her organization, MEM Associates in 2005, 2006, and 2007. They identified that these materials should be destroyed after 7 years, respectively. This was completed by the processors of the papers. Other materials that were sent by Margaret Mahoney yet were unrelated to her or her mother's papers, were deaccessioned including Civil War-era newspapers entitled, War of the Rebellion.

    Margaret Mahoney agreed to donate two books, Marmaduke Multiply and Lady Chatterley's Lover to Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Collection as they did not fit the scope of the Sophia Smith Collection's collection policy; they were acquired in 2002.

    Related Materials

    Related material can be found in the Leslie Nelson Savage Mahoney papers in the Sophia Smith Collection.

    Further information about Margaret's professional work can be found in multiple places:

    Processing Information

    Processed by Maida Goodman and Kate Sumner.

    The contents of computer media in this collection has been copied to networked storage for preservation and access; the original directory and file structure was retained and file lists were created.

    Finding aid to the Margaret Mahoney papers
    Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
    Maida Goodman, Kate Sumner
    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 (
    • 2017-07-26T17:48:14-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
    • 03/28/2018: This resource was edited and modified by Amanda Ferrara.
    • 2018-10-25: Updated to conform to DACS
    • 2020-07-15: Description added for born-digital content.

    Repository Details

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

    Neilson Library
    7 Neilson Drive
    Northampton MA 01063