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R. Elizabeth Johns papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00607

Scope and Contents

The R. Elizabeth Johns Papers consist of 2.25 linear ft. and are primarily related to her professional and public life, dating from 1932 to 1972. Types of materials include correspondence, conference and meeting files, newsletters, photographs, press releases, programs, reports, newspaper clippings, speeches, subject files, writings, and memorabilia.

Series III. Organizations makes up the bulk of the materials. It contains files on organizations where Johns was employed and for which she volunteered. The materials document the work of a variety of liberal religious organizations from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s working for economic, social, and racial justice, and to end the War in Vietnam. There are extensive materials from Johns's 1966 sabbatical trip to Asia and Africa while she worked for the United Church of Christ. Johns's interest in international relations is documented through her involvement with the Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women's Association and for the Foreign Division of the YWCA of the U.S.A. The YWCA materials include correspondence, memorabilia, speeches, reports and other items from her work in the YWCA of Burma-Ceylon in the mid-1950s.

Series V. Subject Files includes interesting materials on race relations and various peace activities of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, 1967-68.

Dates of Materials

  • 1932-1972


Language of Materials


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

Copyright ownership of R. Elizabeth Johns's writings is unknown. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials authored 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.

Biographical / Historical

Ruth Elizabeth "Betty" Johns was born September 13, 1911 to Rev. Benjamin Murley and Louise (Powell) Johns in Factoryville, Pennsylvania. Johns attended Wyoming Seminary, a Methodist boarding school in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and earned a B.A. from Goucher College in 1932. After college, Johns spent the summer of 1933 studying educational psychology and secondary education at Harvard, then took a job as a caseworker for the Baltimore Emergency Relief Commission (1933-34) and the Baltimore Family Welfare Association (1934-37). She took a semester's leave in the fall of 1935 to study at the New York School of Social Work. Johns was a Resident Fellow in sociology at Mount Holyoke College from 1937 to 1939, earning an M.A. in 1939. Her thesis was titled "A Changing Philosophy of Social Work." She taught sociology at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, from 1939 to 1941.

In 1941 Johns took the job of Executive Director at the University of Minnesota YWCA. She moved to the national YWCA staff in 1943. Headquartered in Boston, Johns worked with college students in the New England region. From her days at Antioch through her years working for the Student YWCA, Johns took advantage of the academic calendar to do further graduate study at various summer schools. Later, she directed summer Leadership Schools for the Student YWCA and led European Study Seminars for the Student YM/YWCA.

Johns went to Burma and Ceylon from July of 1954 to April of 1956 to train YWCA staff. On her return to the U.S., she worked for the YWCA's Foreign Division training YWCA leaders from abroad in social work methods.

In 1961 Johns became Director of publications and training for the Council for Christian Social Action of the United Church of Christ. In this capacity, she edited its monthly magazine, Social Action. Through this work Johns participated in the major social justice activities of the era, including the civil rights movement, the war on poverty, and efforts to stop the war in Vietnam.

In April of 1969 Johns moved to Church Women United where she worked as Director for International Affairs with offices at the Church Center of the United Nations. This effort aimed to expand CWU's educational campaign on behalf of global development efforts and advocate for international justice and peace-keeping.

In addition to these jobs, for many years Johns wrote a column called "New York Report" for The Guardian: a Christian Weekly Journal of Public Affairs, of Bangalore, India. She served as President of Pan Pacific and Southeast Asia Women's Association of the U.S.A. for several years in the late 1960s, and was a Trustee of Grace Congregational Church in New York City.

Betty Johns died on July 1, 1971 in New York City.


2.751 linear feet (6 containers)


YWCA worker, Social worker, Social reform advocate. Papers are primarily related to her professional and public life, dating from 1932 to 1972. Organization files make up the bulk of the materials, documenting Johns' employment and volunteer work with a variety of liberal religious organizations from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, for economic, social, and racial justice; her work in the YWCA of Burma-Ceylon in the mid-1950s; a 1966 trip to Asia and Africa while working for the United Church of Christ; and her involvement with the Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women's Association.


This collection is organized into five series:


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The R. Elizabeth Johns Papers came to the Sophia Smith Collection with the Records of the YWCA of the U.S.A. in 2002. The YWCA received them from Johns's estate in 1978.

Related Materials

Associated material located in the YWCA USA Records, Sophia Smith Collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Maida Goodwin, 2009.

R. Elizabeth Johns papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Maida Goodwin.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of the R. Elizabeth Johns Papers was made possible by the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:18-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063