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Ruth Backes papers

Identifier: MS 0769

Scope and Contents

The Ruth Backes Papers consist of correspondence, writings, research material, publications, oral history material, and photographs. Most of the material in the collection dates from 1934-2001 and relates to Backes's research for a biography of Frances Perkins. Correspondence (1990-1996) includes letters that she exchanged with Perkins' grandson, Tomlin Coggeshall, and letters to and from Allan David Bloom, Maurice F. Neufeld, and others who knew Perkins. Other letters concern talks that she gave about Perkins. Writings (1990-2001) contain a personal journal that Backes kept during the course of her research as well as her book proposals and drafts, a bibliography of her sources, the texts of her talks about Perkins, and a chronology that she prepared of Perkins' life. Research Material (1864-1865, ca.1900-1997) concerns both Perkins' personal life and her professional activities, particularly her service as United States Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945. Most of this series consist of photocopies of original documents that are in the collections of Columbia University, the Library of Congress, Cornell University, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and other repositories. These items include copies of correspondence, articles, speeches, and reports written by Perkins between ca.1926-1965 concerning topics such as unemployment insurance, labor laws, women and children in the workplace, and occupational and industrial diseases. Of particular note are copies of her annual reports as Secretary of Labor, 1933/34-1944/45, and her Report to the President on Ten Years' Achievements in Labor and Social Improvements, 1943. Other documents in this series relate to Perkins' family, childhood, and education. Publications in the collection chiefly consist of books dating from 1934-1995 that Backes collected during her research. Most of these items concern Perkins, Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal, or labor-related issues. Oral History Material (1951-1955, 1989-1994) contains lists, notes, correspondence, excerpts, and typed transcripts relating to oral history interviews conducted by Backes. Allan David Bloom, Alice Hanson Cook, Trude W. Lash, Carol Riegelman Lubin, Maurice F. Neufeld, Peter A. Poole, Richard Strassberg, and Perkins' daughter, Susanna Coggeshall, were among the individuals whom Backes interviewed. This series also contains an incomplete copy of the typed transcript of the Reminscences of Frances Perkins, based on oral history interviews conducted by Dean Albertson for the Columbia Oral History Research Office between 1951-1955. In addition, Backes's detailed notes concerning these interviews are part of this series. Rounding out the collection are photographs dating from 1990, 1992, and 1995 that were taken at The Brick House, Perkins' former home in Newcastle, Maine. These photographs are of Backes, Tomlin Coggeshall, and the house and grounds.


  • Creation: 1864 - 2001
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1934 - 2001

Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Use of the collection is governed by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S.C.).

Biographical Note

Ruth Backes, a consultant, professor and psychologist, was born in Mount Vernon, New York on August 25, 1918 to Harriett Crofut Emerson and Robert Stewart Emerson. She graduated from New Rochelle High School (1935) and New York University (1939). She later earned a M.Ed. (1978) and Ed.D. (1985) from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Massachusetts. She married Frederick Tregonning Backes and had three children. Backes worked in the fields of mental health, human services and education, both as a volunteer and professional, all of her adult life. Her professional life included nine years with the Young Women's Christian Association of the U.S.A. and the United Service Organization (U.S.) (Baltimore, Maryland, New Haven, Connecticut, and Newfoundland, Canada); ten years with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Yale University (Meriden and New Haven, Connecticut); and six years as a part-time faculty member at Antioch/New England Graduate School (Keene, New Hampshire). For more than twenty years she had a small private practice in Amherst, Massachusetts, assisting mid-life working women with family, self-esteem, and employment issues. This work triggered her interest in researching the life of Frances Perkins, United States Secretary of Labor in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first woman to hold a position in a presidential cabinet. Backes began her research concerning Perkins in 1991 and completed it in 2000. During that period, she was a Visiting Research Scholar at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College (1991-1993) and a Research Associate at the Five College Women's Studies Research Center at Mount Holyoke College (1993-1994). Backes served as a member and board member of many community and professional organizations and as a consultant to numerous hospitals, mental health centers and schools. She was a founding member of the National Committee for Mental Health Education. Her publications include many journal, magazine, and newspaper articles as well as a 1989 book about bookstores in Amherst, Massachusetts.


5 Linear Feet (12 full Hollinger boxes; 39 volumes not included in linear feet calculation)

Language of Materials



Backes, Ruth Emerson, 1918-; Psychologist, teacher, and consultant. Papers consist of correspondence, writings, research material, publications, oral history material, and photographs relating to her research for a biography of social reformer and government official Frances Perkins, a 1902 graduate of Mount Holyoke College. Includes photocopies of letters and writings by Perkins.


This collection is organized into six series:

  1. Correspondence (1990-1996)
  2. Writings (1990-2001)
  3. Research Material (1864-1865, ca.1900-ca.1997)
  4. Publications (1882, 1934-2001)
  5. Oral History Material (1951-1955, 1989-1994)
  6. Photographs (1990, 1992, 1995)


The correspondence, writings, research material, and photographs are arranged chronologically. Publications are arranged alphabetically by author. Oral history interviews are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the person interviewed.

Processing Information

Processed by Patricia J. Albright, 2006

Ruth Backes Papers, 1864-1865, 1882, ca.1900-2001
Finding aid prepared by Patricia J. Albright.
Language of description
Script of description
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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