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Barnes papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MS 0507

Scope and Contents

The Viola Frances Barnes Papers consist of correspondence, writings, course materials, drafts of family history and autobiography, family papers, and financial records. The papers chiefly represent Barnes' professional development and close family relationships. In addition to family papers regarding genealogical information, there is extensive correspondence between Barnes and her parents, Cass G. and Isabella Smith Barns (Barnes and her brother changed the family name), regarding her education, family news and local events. There are several writings about Cass G. Barns discussing his role as a Nebraska pioneer in the late 1800s. There is also correspondence from Barnes' brother, Donald G. Barnes, ranging from 1909 to his death in 1975, primarily discussing their various experiences in the field of academia including teaching positions, colleagues, and Mount Holyoke College events as well as health and family matters. Also included is correspondence with distant relatives. Notebooks, musical compositions, and exams represent Barnes' undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska School of Music, 1902-1906. During Barnes' undergraduate years and her graduate studies at Yale University, there are correspondence between friends and family along with her Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters. Papers from her professional life include correspondence with colleagues and various academic organizations, especially those focusing on American Studies. Barnes was a co-founder of the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. Barnes came to Mount Holyoke College in 1919 where her subsequent 33-year teaching career is characterized by correspondence with fellow faculty members including, Mary E. Woolley, Roswell G. Ham, Alzada Comstock, Jeannette Marks, Ruth Baird, and visiting professor Leonie Villard; and letters from alumnae discussing their academic and professional lives and expressing their thoughts on teachings of Barnes and her retirement. Also included is her work on the American Library Project, the development of the American Studies program, and a draft of her conversation with Elizabeth Green on her opinions of Mount Holyoke College in the 20th Century.


  • Creation: 1902-1976

Conditions Governing Access


Biographical Note

Viola Florence Barnes was born on August 28, 1885 in Albion, Nebraska. She was the third of five children of Cass Groves Barns (who spelled the family name without an "e"), a physician and newspaper editor, and Isabella Smith Barns. She received a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Nebraska School of Music in 1906 and, after a brief period as a piano teacher, returned to the University to complete work for a B.A. in 1909 and a M.A. in 1910. She joined the University's faculty as a history instructor and continued her studies at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin during the summers of 1915-1916, then went to Yale University. After receiving her Ph.D. from Yale in 1919, Barnes joined the faculty at Mount Holyoke College and greatly expanded the American history curriculum. She became a full professor in 1933 and was chair of the History Department from 1939-1942. Barnes also was chair of the American Culture major (later the American Studies Program) from its inception in 1937 until her retirement in 1952. Her first book, "The Dominion of New England" (1923, reprinted in 1960) remains a standard history of the colonial period and she was the author of numerous scholarly articles and essays. From about 1926 until the mid-1970s she focused her research on the history of Great Britain from 1760-1776 and completed a three volume manuscript that has not been published. In addition to her work as a teacher and scholar, Barnes was a co-founder and second president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. She also helped establish the riding program at Mount Holyoke. Barnes died on July 26, 1979 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, at the age of ninety-three.


13.84 Linear Feet (27 full Hollinger and 2 specialty boxes)

Language of Materials



Barnes, Viola Frances, 1885-1979; Historian, college teacher, and author. Mount Holyoke College faculty member, 1919-1951. Papers contain correspondence, writings, course materials, family history drafts, autobiography, and financial records; principally consists of her work as a historian and the development of the American Studies program at the College. Author of "The Dominion of New England."

Barnes papers. 1902-1976
Finding Aid
Edited Full Draft
© 2003
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Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA