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Kathleen O'Shea and Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00578

Scope and Contents

Kathleen's papers include documents and memorabilia from O'Shea's childhood, including her education in becoming a nun; correspondence with close friends; and photographs of O'Shea and friends; and a small amount of materials pertaining to lesbian former nuns. Photographs of events feature such luminaries as Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Sister Helen Prejean, and David Kaczynski (brother of infamous "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski). Also included is research related to O'Shea's writings on women on death row with files on sixty-five women prisoners, including correspondence from some, and video tapes about women in prison, including several about Aileen Wuornos. O'Shea has provided extensive annotation, explanatory notes, and biographical information, which add to the collection's richness and depth.

Sarah's papers consist of a full run of diaries (1916-1993) chronicling Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea's working-class, Catholic family in Kansas, from her early adulthood until her death in 1993. Topics include daily life in Kansas, through the great Depression (including an eyewitness account of dust storm in the mid-thirties) and wartimes; family life; adoption and how her Catholic family dealt with her niece's illegitimate children. The collection also includes O'Shea's unpublished memoirs, photographs, memorabilia and genealogical information.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1893 - 2013


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

To the extent that she owns copyright, Kathleen A. O'Shea has assigned the copyright in her works and those of Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea 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 Kathleen A. O'Shea or Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea, 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

Kathleen O'Shea was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in November 26, 1944. She was adopted in infancy by Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea and James O'Shea and grew up in Salina, Kansas. In eighth grade she decided to become a nun in the Catholic Church. In 1958 she became an Aspirant of the Apostolic School at Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia, Kansas, but was sent home at the end of the year to wait until she was "more mature." In 1960, O'Shea began her Postulancy at St. Joseph's Villa in Peapack, New Jersey, graduating in 1962. She entered the Immaculate Heart Novitiate in Glen Cove, New York in August, 1961, and became a nun (Sister Mary Fidelis) in 1963. O'Shea was a nun for 30 years, after which she began work as social worker doing research on female offenders, with an emphasis on women on death row. She is the author of Female Offenders: An Annotated Bibliography (1997), Women and the Death Penalty in the United States: 1900-1998 (1999), and Women on the Row: Revelations From Both Sides of the Bars (2000), which was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Kathleen's mother, Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea, grew up in a working-class Catholic family in Kansas.


10.542 linear feet (18 containers)

Language of Materials



Kathleen O'Shea is an author, Lesbian activist, Social reform advocate and was a Catholic nun. Her mother, Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea, grew up in a working-class Catholic family in Kansas. Kathleen's papers include documents and memorabilia from O'Shea's childhood, correspondence, photographs, a small amount of material pertaining to lesbian former nuns, writing research, and video tapes. Sarah's papers include diaries, unpublished memoirs, photographs, memorabilia and genealogical information.

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 or email to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection by Kathleen A. O'Shea, 2004-2021.

Processing Information

The Kathleen O'Shea papers (SSC-MS-00578) and Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea papers (SSC-MS-00579) were formerly separated upon receipt in 2007. They were reunited, with all descriptions merged into this collection (SSC-MS-00578), in 2019.



Finding aid to the Kathleen O'Shea papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Finding aid prepared by Burd Schlessinger.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:19-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-06-25: Merged the Sarah Alida Conde O'Shea papers (SSC-MS-00579) into this collection, updated finding aid and published.
  • 2020-04-01: Added boxes 1-6, updated dates
  • 2021-06-09: Added Accession 2021-S-0008

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063