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B. Elizabeth Horner papers

Identifier: CA-MS-01172

Scope and Contents

The B. Elizabeth Horner papers are the personal and professional records of B. Elizabeth “Betty” Horner, longtime Smith College Bioscience professor. The collection largely covers Horner's field and lab research on small mammals, especially Australian rodents. Horner also did a small amount of research on the history of the professors and library staff at Smith, and this research is also included.

The collection includes a large volume of personal and professional correspondence, which document Horner’s connection to colleagues, professional organizations, mentees and students, family, and friends. The collection also contains teaching materials, original research, and writings. Other topics covered by the collection includes her involvement in professional organizations like the American Society of Mammologists (ASM), her teaching, her work in public education and museums, her service to Smith College on various committees, and her opposition to NAGPRA. There is a small amount of personal material, especially photos and materials related to Horner's education.

Formats include department memos, correspondence, research journals, notebooks, photos, slides, video recordings, trapping records, calendars and planners, lecture notes, syllabi and course readings, research data, legal documents, clippings and collected research, and grant records.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1886 - 2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1930 - 2005

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use with following restrictions on access:

FERPA-covered student recommendations are closed during the lifetime of the student. Student recommendations created 100 years or more ago are assumed to be about deceased students.

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

B. Elizabeth “Betty” Horner was an educator, biologist, advocate for women and science, and a professor at Smith College where she spent her entire professional life.

Horner was born on the 29th of April in 1916 in southern New Jersey to Quaker parents. Her interests were drawn to nature, medicine, and exploration from an early age. She recalled that her 1st interests in natural history arose from accompanying her father through his fruit orchards. She came to realize that explorers and scientists were mostly men, and women were homemakers—all of which conflicted with her interest in adventure, science, and nature. Horner wanted to learn about the world though, and she was determined to go to college. She worked summers as a waitress, and during the academic year she found employment through the New Deal Agency's National Youth. With money she had saved she was able to enroll in Douglass College (now part of Rutgers University).

In college, Horner was greatly influenced by her mentor, Leon Augustus Hausman, in the Zoology Department. Her interests in Australian mammals and in morphological differences were sparked by working as Dr. Hausman's assistant. In 1937 Myra Sampson, Professor of Zoology at Smith, phoned Dr. Hausman asking if he had any promising students whom she might employ as teaching fellows. He suggested Horner for an interview.

In 1938, Horner started her 70-plus-year association with Smith College. She started as a teaching assistant and completed her master's degree with Ernest Driver. She finished her master's degree in 1940 and then was promoted to the rank of Instructor. Her main role as an instructor was to teach courses in biology, but in the early years of World War II she also taught courses in Naval Communications about making and breaking codes. In this period, from 1942 to 1944, Horner was a Faculty Post Warden at the college, with responsibilities for obtaining and maintaining blackout conditions in 8 student houses in case of an air raid.

After several years of teaching at Smith, in 1944 she began graduate studies for her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She did most of her work during the summers and took only 1 full year away from Smith College, in 1945. Horner had especially wanted to do fieldwork at the University's field station, but this was not allowed because the field station had no facilities or chaperones for women. Although she was disappointed not to be able to work in the field, Horner did a behavioral study on captive animals in the laboratory, focusing on adaptations for arboreal locomotion in several species of Peromyscus. In retrospect she noted that this change had brought her “into the behavioral area at an exciting stage in its development … enabling me to introduce, later, the first biology course in animal behavior at Smith College.”

Once she had finished her doctorate and was launched in her career at Smith, Horner quickly took up fieldwork. Summers and sabbaticals were spent in Australia and the deserts of the American Southwest, especially Nevada. She used both field and laboratory work to introduce students to the excitement of research. Horner's main interest in field research was studying morphology and behavior, especially as they applied to reproduction, and her focus was on rodents and other small mammals. During her 1st sabbatical in 1954–1955, she spent a year in fieldwork in New South Wales, Australia, taking with her a former student, J. Mary Taylor. This began a long collaboration of the 2 women in studies of Australian mammals. Her publications from her field studies spanned 56 years.

Although she loved fieldwork, Horner considered herself primarily an educator. To her, field and laboratory work were valuable aspects of learning about biology. At Smith College, Horner advanced through the ranks, from Instructor on completion of her doctorate in 1948 to Full Professor in 1963. In 1970 she was named the Myra M. Sampson Professor of Biological Sciences, a chair that she held until her retirement in 1986. In her retirement she came to campus daily to perform research with student assistants, a routine that she began in 1938 and that stopped only when her health declined in 2008.

Over her career Horner also educated the public by creating museum displays for the Springfield Science Museum, most notably a traveling exhibit on women in science. She served on the Massachusetts Advisory Committee for Conservation Education, was an evaluator for the National Science Foundation–sponsored CAUSE program, and was on the advisory boards for public nature areas such as Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton and the Quincy Bog Natural Area in New Hampshire.

Since Horner was deeply involved in science museum education, she became interested in the Harrison H Wilder’s collection of Native American bones and grave artifacts. In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed, requiring museums to return Native American funerary objects and remains to the tribes. Horner was a vocal opponent of NAGPRA, and especially opposed returning materials that were part of professor Harrison H Wilder’s collection at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She believed that Native American remains should be kept in Zoology/Biology collections as a record of the history of the field. Her public statements on the topic made her a controversial figure at Smith and in the Biology field.

In 1981 Horner was invited to join the celebrated Explorers Club of New York. Until 1981 the club had admitted only men to membership, but in that year the 1st women were elected, and Horner was very proud to be 1 of the 16 women to become members of the organization.

Horner was also very active in the American Society of Mammologists (ASM), and was recognized several times by the Society for her contributions to mammalogy. In 1997 Horner became the 1st recipient of the ASM's Joseph Grinnell Award, established to honor individuals who have made outstanding and sustained contributions to education in mammalogy. At her retirement, ASM established the B. Elizabeth Horner Grants-in-Aid of Research to support undergraduate and graduate research projects. At her 90th birthday members of the ASM donated more than $16,000 in her honor to support the ASM's Latin American Student Field Research Fund.

She died on 29 April 2009 on her 93rd birthday.


Virginia Hayssen, Barbara H. Blake, B. Elizabeth Horner: 1916–2009, Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 92, Issue 4, 16 August 2011, Pages 905–908,


42.771 linear feet (45 containers)

Language of Materials



B. Elizabeth “Betty” Horner was an educator, biologist, advocate for women and science, and a professor at Smith College where she spent her entire professional life. Her papers document her personal and professional life, especially her research on Australian rodents and her correspondence with colleagues, professional organizations, mentees and students, family, and friends.


The collection is divided into six series.


  1. Professional records
  2. Personal records
  3. Research
  4. Correspondence
  5. Planners, notebooks, and notes
  6. Teaching

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.

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

Donated by B. Elizabeth Horner, starting in 2007.


In 2021 during processing, duplicates, travel brochures and ephemera, and student grades were removed from the collection. A small amount of material that were general Biological Sciences Department records and were not directly related to Horner were transferred to the Department of Biological Sciences records.

Related Materials

Horner maintained the records in the Department of Biological Sciences records. There is also a small amount of material related to Horner’s work at Smith in the Office of the President Thomas Corwin Mendenhall Files and in the papers of her colleagues in Individual faculty papers.

Horner was an advocate for the building of the Clark Science Center and changes to Burton and Sabin-Reed; papers related to these projects are in the Buildings records. Horner was strongly opposed to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and advocated for UMass to keep the Harrison H Wilder collection of Native American skeletal remains. Information about the skeletal collection can be found in the Harrison H Wilder papers.

Processing Information

In 2021, the collection was processed by Madison White, Scott Biddle, and Sylvia Hickman. Because the collection was made up of a large number of small accessions with very little of the material in folders, processing of the collection was fairly extensive. The collection was divided into six series. A small amount of teaching records were already placed into folders and labelled by Horner, but most of the collection needed to be sorted into folders and arranged within their series. During foldering, duplicates, travel ephemera, and student grades were removed from the collection. A new finding aid was then written to reflect the new arrangement.

Finding aid to the B. Elizabeth Horner papers
Enhanced Finding Aid (Completed)
Sylvia Hickman, Scott Biddle, and Madison White
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2021-05-04: Created new collection

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063