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Ruth Mortimer papers

Identifier: CA-MS-01177

Scope and Contents

The collection documents the personal and professional life of Ruth Mortimer. Personal papers cover from Ruth's birth to her death in 1994, including education materials, scrapbooks and photos, correspondence, and art. Of particular note is Ruth's correspondence with professor Mary Ellen Chase and playwright Maggie Edson.

The collection also documents Ruth's professional life, including her creative and scholarly writing, her time working at Harvard, and her time at Smith College. Highlights include Ruth's collection of rare and letterpress book materials, drafts of her writings and speeches, and materials related to the Friends of the Smith College Library.

Dates of Materials

  • 1400 - 1995
  • Majority of material found within 1945 - 1994


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that he owns copyright, John Lancaster has retained copyright until his death in Ruth Mortimer's works donated to Smith College. After his death, copyright in these works will transfer to Smith College. 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 those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by Ruth Mortimer, 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

Ruth Mortimer was born in 1934 in Syracuse, New York. As a first year at Smith College, Mortimer worked as an assistant in the Rare Books Collection, which was then under the curatorship of Dorothy King. After graduating summa cum laude from Smith, Mortimer went on to earn a certificate at the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, England and a master's degree at the Columbia University School of Library Service. Mortimer worked for 18 years at Harvard's Houghton Library. In 1975, she returned to Smith College as curator of the Rare Books Collection. In addition to her curatorial duties, Mortimer gave lectures on art history and taught a seminar on book composition. Her published works include "A Portrait of the Author in Sixteenth Century France" (1980). The Rare Book Collection grew exponentially under Mortimer's curatorship: in 1981 and 1986 (respectively), she oversaw the acquisition of Smith's lauded Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf collections. Mortimer was also responsible for Smith's 1976 acquisition of a three-volume original edition of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein": Mortimer's fascination with Frankenstein also inspired a 1983 essay called "Frankenstein: A Publishing History", and her personal collection of Frankenstein editions and ephemera now resides in the Mortimer Rare Book Room. From 1988 to 1992, Mortimer served as the first female president of the Bibliographical Society of America. Ruth Mortimer passed away on January 31, 1994, shortly after Smith College recognized her years of service by naming the Mortimer Rare Book Room in her honor. The collection bearing her name continues to be a vital resource for researchers, educators, and students.


10.397 linear feet (11 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Ruth Mortimer, a Smith College Alumnae (class of 1953) and a rare book librarian in the Smith College Library from 1975 to her death in 1994. Of particular note, the collection includes Mortimer's writings, her long correspondence with Mary Ellen Chase and playwright Maggie Edson, and papers relating to her work with the Friends of the Smith College Library.


The collection is divided into four series: correspondence, personal records, professional records, and writings.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

John Lancaster gifted the collection to Smith College in 1996. The rolodex from her desk was transferred from the Mortimer Rare Book Room.


In 2019, archivists removed approximately 6 record cartons of collection material. Approximately 1.5 of these were duplicates, unrelated ephemera, and news clippings. The other 4.5 boxes were published books that were sent to Ruth by friends and colleagues, which were widely commercially available.

Books removed from the collection:

Bowen, E. (1950). Collected impressions. New York: Knopf.

Cameron, K. N. (1973). Romantic rebels: Essays on Shelley and his circle. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.

Chase, M. E. (1950). The plum tree. London: Collins.

---- (1955). The white gate. London: Collins.

Chekhov, A. P., & West, J. (2019). The Three Sisters. Warszawa:

Davis, N. Z. (2007). Society and culture in early modern France: Eight essays. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Dictionary of international biography: A biographical record of contemporary achievement together with a key to the location of the original biographical notes. (1970).

Downer, A. (1987). The Spellkey. New York: Atheneum.

---- (1993). The Books of the Keepers. New York: Atheneum.

---- (2012). Glass salamander. New York: Atheneum.

Drew, E. (1962). Life and art in the novel. Northampton Mass: Smith College.

Driver, O. W. (1952). New England sketches. Manchester, Me: Falmouth Pub. House.

---- (1960). The Bacon-Shakespearean mystery and supplement: The Shakespearean portraits and other addenda. Northampton, Mass.: Kraushar Press.

---- (1964). The Shakespearean portraits and other addenda. Northampton, MA: Metcalf Print. & Pub. Co.

Dunn, E. C. (1946). Pursuit of understanding: Autobiography of an education. New York: Macmillan.

---- (1969). The literature of Shakespeare's England. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.

Eustis, H. (1982). The horizontal man. New York: Penguin Books.

Eyler, E. C. (1979). Early English gardens and garden books. Washington (D.C.: Folger Books.

Foxon, D. F. (January 01, 1953). Some Notes on Agenda Format. The Library, 3, 163-173.

Foxon, D. F., Defoe, D., & Bibliographical Society (Great Britain). (1965). Defoe: A specimen of a catalogue of English verse 1701-1750. London: Bibliographical Society.

Harrower, M., Henle, M., & Koffka, K. (1983). Kurt Koffka: An unwitting self-portrait. Gainesville, Fl: University presses of Florida.

Heywood, E., & Deakins, R. L. (1972). Il moro: Ellis Heywood's dialogue in memory of Thomas More.

Hoeniger, F. D., & Hoeniger, J. F. M. (1979). The development of natural history in Tudor England. Ithaca, New York: Published by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

---- (1979). The growth of natural history in Stuart England: From Gerard to the Royal Society. Washington: The Folger Shakespeare Library.

In Roelker, N. L. (1958). The Paris of Henry of Navarre as Seen by Pierre de l'Estoile: Selections from His Mémoires-Journaux.

Institute of Medieval Canon Law. (2010). Traditio: Studies in ancient and medieval history, thought and religion. New York: Fordham University Press.

Jackson, W. A. (1962). Bibliography and literary studies. Berkeley: School of Librarianship.

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. (1956). Reports of the president and the treasurer 1955 and 1956. New York: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

---- (1968). Reports of the president and the treasurer 1967 and 1968. New York: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

---- (1974). Reports of the president and the treasurer. New York: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

---- (1975). Directory of fellows 1925-1974. New York: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Jones, G. (1967). Where the wind blew free: Tales of young westerners. New York: Norton.

Kay, E. (1969). The two thousand women of achievement. London: Kay, Sons and Daughter.

Kinney, A. F., & Lawrence, J. (1973). A new gallery of Tudor and early Stuart rogue literature exposing the lives, times and cozening tricks of the Elizabethan underworld, rogues, vagabonds & sturdy beggars. Barre, Mass: Imprint Society.

L'Engle, M. (1983). And Both Were Young. New York: Delacorte Pr.

---- (1996). A severed wasp. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

---- (2007). Many waters. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Lin, J. C. (1973). Modern Chinese poetry: An introduction. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Maxwell, W. (1955). The writer as illusionist: A speech delivered at Smith College.

Morand, P., & Douglas, A. (1929). Black magic. New York: Viking Press.

Mortimer, R. (November 01, 1956). Dostoevski and the Dream. Modern Philology, 54, 2, 106-116.

Mosel, T., & Macy, G. (1978). Leading lady: The world and theatre of Katharine Cornell. Boston: Little, Brown.

Muchnic, H. (1947). An introduction to Russian literature. New York: Doubleday.

---- (1964). An introduction to Russian literature. New York: Dutton Paperback.

---- (1966). From Gorky to Pasternak: Six writers in Soviet Russia. New York: Vintage Books.

---- (1969). Dostoevsky's English reputation, 1881-1936. New York: Octagon Books.

Necker, C. (1972). Four centuries of cat books: A bibliography, 1570-1970. Metuchen, N.J: The Scarecrow Press.

Plath, S. (2010). Letters home: Correspondence, 1950-1963.

Plath, S., Hughes, T., Dyson, A. E., Ames, L., Newman, C. H., Sexton, A., Alvarez, A.. (1966). The art of Sylvia Plath: Selected poems and essays on her work. Evanston, Ill.

Plath, S., MacCullough, F., & Hughes, T. (1982). The journals of Sylvia Plath. New York: Dial Press.

Plumstead, A. W. (1968). The wall and the garden: Selected Massachusetts election sermons, 1670-1775. Minneapolis: University Press.

Renaissance society of America. (1965). Renaissance news & notes. New York: Renaissance Society of America.

Roelker, N. L. (1968). Queen of Navarre Jeanne d'Albret: 1528-1572. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Royal blue book: Leaders of the English-speaking world. (1969). London: St. James Press.

Sappho, & Groden, S. Q. (1978). The Poems of Sappho. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Schiller, J. G., Goodacre, S. H., & Tenniel, J. (1990). Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: An 1865 printing re-described and newly identified as the publisher's "file copy": with a revised and expanded census of the suppressed 1865 "Alice" compiled by Selwyn H. Goodacre. Kingston, N.Y: Battledore.

Sense and Sensibility Collective. (1973). Women and literature, An annotated bibliography of

Shelley, M. W., In Feldman, P. R., & In Scott-Kilvert, D. (2015). The journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844: Volume 1.

---- (2015). The journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844: Volume 2.

Skarda, P. L. (January 01, 1989). Vampirism and Plagiarism: Byron's Influence and Polidori's Practice. Studies in Romanticism, 28, 2, 249.

Small, C. (1972). Ariel like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary and Frankenstein. London: V. Collancz.

Sotheby & Co. (London, England). (1966). Catalogue of bibliography and books of reference: Including works on illuminated manuscripts, autograph letters, incunabula ... sale catalogues of the 18th to 20th century ... publications of the Bibliographical Society. London: Sotheby & Co.

Tabor, S. (1987). Sylvia Plath: An analytical bibliography. Westport, Conn: Meckler Pub. Corp.

The Arthur and Elizabeth Sclesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College. (1992). Cambridge: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library.

Thomas, E. M. (2015). Reindeer moon. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Trollope, A., Dodd, M. E., & Dunn, E. C. (1947). The Trollope Reader. Pp. xxii. 433. Oxford University Press: New York.

Turner, D. H. (1971). Romanesque illuminated manuscripts in the British Museum. Erscheinungsort nicht ermittelbar: The Trustees of the British Museum.

Vienna 1888-1938: An exhibition at The Houghton Library. (1967). Cambridge, Mass: The Houghton Library.

Walbank, A. (1950). Queens of the circulating library: Selections from Victorian lady novelists, 1850-1900. London: Evans Bros.

Winchester, S. G. (1958). PMLA: Publications of the modern language association of America. New York: Edit. Offices.

Winsor, F. (1963). The space child's Mother Goose. New York, NY: Simon and Schulster.

Women Writers. Cambridge, Mass.: Sense & Sensibility.

Wood, E. N., & Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, Inc. (2006). Evelyn Wood reading dynamics. Overland Park, Kan: Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics.

Woolf, V. (1929). La promenade au phare. Paris: Librarie Stock. [Transferred to the Mortimer Rare Book Collection for cataloging]

Related Materials

The Mortimer Rare Book Collection has materials related to Mortimer’s professional work, including the Ruth Mortimer Frankenstein collection, MRBC dedication collection, and the Elizabeth P. Richardson papers (includes correspondence with Mortimer).

The College Archives has papers related to her professional work in the Smith College Special Collections records, materials related to her Smith class year in Classes of 1951-1960 records, and materials related to her long time correspondent Mary Ellen Chase in her collection.

Papers related to Mortimer’s time as the president of the Bibliographical Society of America can be found at the American Antiquarian Society.

Processing Information

In 2019, Madison White processed the collection. She arranged the material into 4 series, separated unrelated materials, and rehoused materials. She created a finding aid to reflect the new arrangement.

Finding Aid to the Ruth Mortimer papers
Enhanced Finding Aid (Completed)
Madison White
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-01-03: Created new collection

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063