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Nancy Hamilton papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00189

Scope and Contents

The Nancy Hamilton Papers contain 26 linear feet of correspondence, printed materials, photographs, memorabilia, miscellaneous papers, and sound track and original film footage for Helen Keller in Her Story (1955). The materials are concentrated in the period from 1952 to 1959 when Hamilton developed, produced, and distributed the film. They relate primarily to the film, Helen Keller in Her Story, and some of Keller's friends and associates. There is no material related to Hamilton's other professional work or her personal life. Of particular interest are 132 reels of original film footage of Helen Keller and others from Helen Keller and Her Story. Almost half of this footage has been reformatted for preservation and research use [see list in Appendix].

Select film and audio clips from this collection have been digitized and are available to view online.

Dates of Materials

  • 1862-1992
  • Majority of material found within 1952-1959


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

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. 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. 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

Nancy Hamilton, Broadway actress, lyricist, author, scriptwriter, producer, and playwright was born in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, July 27, 1908, daughter of Charles Lee Hamilton and Margaret Miller Marshall. She was educated at Miss Dickinson's School in Sewickley, at the Sorbonne, and received a B.A. from Smith College in 1930. Hamilton began writings songs and sketches while at Smith, acting in and directing The Chocolate Soldier in her senior year. She was Producing Director of the Dramatic Association Council at Smith. After a period of amateur acting and producing in Pittsburgh and Montclair, New Jersey, she moved to New York City in 1932 and leased a large apartment with an assortment of women friends. For a short time she worked for Stern's Department Store and then for RKO Pictures as a spy checking audience reactions and reporting on vaudeville acts. She began her acting career as understudy to Katharine Hepburn in The Warrior's Husband and also had a walk on part in the play. She made her Broadway debut in 1934 in New Faces, not only appearing in the show but also writing many of the lyrics. When it closed she turned to play writing. She collaborated with Rosemary Casey and James Shute on Return Engagement which was made into a film entitled Fools for Scandal. During the next two years Hamilton wrote radio scripts for comic actress Beatrice Lillie, Fred Astaire, and Lois Long, and published articles and poems in Stage Magazine and Harper's Bazaar. She went on to write lyrics for three successful Broadway revues (a genre of musical theater that flourished in the 1930s): One for The Money (1939) ran for 132 performances, Two for the Show (1940) ran for 124 performances, and Three to Make Ready (1946) ran for 323 performances. These revues launched the careers of Alfred Drake, Keenan Wynn, Gene Kelley, Betty Hutton, Eve Arden, and Ray Bolger. Song lyrics written by Hamilton include "How High the Moon," "The House with the Little Red Barn," "The Old Soft Shoe," "I Hate the Spring," "The Old Gavotte," "Lovely Lazy Kind of Day," and "Clambake." In 1945 she spent six months with the American Theater Wing War Players touring the battle areas of France, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In the mid-1950s Hamilton produced Helen Keller In Her Story (also known as The Unconquered), a documentary on the life of Helen Keller narrated by Katharine Cornell. It won an Academy Award in 1955 for the best documentary.

Nancy Hamilton is known as one of the first women to succeed as a lyricist. Korey Rothman in her dissertation, "Somewhere There's Music: Nancy Hamilton, The Old Girls Network, and the American Musical Theatre of the 1930s and 1940s,"¹ states that Hamilton is "…an important unsung figure of the twentieth century musical theater" and that she "…was part of a large network of women with whom she maintained overlapping professional and romantic relationships." She was the life-long partner of actress Katharine Cornell. Hamilton died in New York City, February 18, 1985, after a long illness.

[¹ PhD Dissertation, University of Maryland at College Park, 2005]


11.375 linear feet (18 containers)


Playwright, Lyricist, Actress, Producer. Collection includes correspondence; promotional material; scripts (some in braille); photographs; original film footage and soundtrack chiefly relating to filming, production and distribution of the Oscar winning documentary film Helen Keller in Her Story (1955). Included are research files, biographical information, correspondence and other papers relating to Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, actress Katharine Cornell, Keller's companion Polly Thomson, and her friend Adele Levy. Of particular interest is original film footage from the production, including trims and out-takes, stills, sound recordings, and footage from other sources. Almost half of the footage has been reformatted to DVD and CD for preservation and research use.


This collection is organized into five series:


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

In 1966 Nancy Hamilton, producer of the documentary film Helen Keller in Her Story, gave Smith College all the film footage made during its production in 1952 and 1953. After Hamilton's death in 1985, the Sophia Smith Collection received a bequest of her file of materials concerning the filming of Helen Keller in Her Story.

Existence and Location of Copies

Research copies of some of the film and sound recordings are available on DVD and audio CD.

Select film and audio clips from this collection have been digitized and are available to view online.

Related Materials

Additional materials about Nancy Hamilton and her professional work may be found in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Hamilton also made a film of the twenty-fifth reunion of the Smith College class of 1930. It is available in the Smith College Archives.

The Helen Keller Archives are at the American Foundation for the Blind. Additional Helen Keller materials are at the Perkins School for the Blind, the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, and the Library of Congress.

Processing Information

Processed by Dorothy Green in 1986 and reprocessed by Susan Boone in 2008


Nancy Hamilton papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Susan Boone.
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 (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:20-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2022-03-03: Integrated Series VI: Oversize Materials into appropriate series

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063