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Portrait of Mary Ritter Beard
Portrait of Mary Ritter Beard courtesy of the Library of Congress

We love a library/archives connection and we found one in Mary Ritter Beard. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1876, Beard (1876-1958) was a historian, author, suffragist, and women’s history archivist. 

In 1893, sixteen year-old Mary Ritter enrolled at DePauw University where she earned a bachelor of philosophy degree and met Charles Austin Beard, who she would later marry (and with whom she would co-author a number of books).

By 1902, the Beards (and their first child) had settled in New Yok City, where they both enrolled as graduate students in the School of Political Science at Columbia University. After two years, Mary ceased her studies to focus on the women’s suffrage movement. She was active in the New York Women’s Trade Union League, the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, the New York City Suffrage Party, and the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later the National Woman’s Party), where she edited the weekly magazine, The Suffragist.

In the course of this work, Beard worked closely with suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Barns, organized women’s suffrage parades and rallies, pushed for intersectionality in the suffrage movement, testified before Congress in 1914, and led a delegation to Washington, D.C. in 1917 in support of suffrage activists picketing the White House. 

Beard authored a number of works on history with her husband. Her main interests as a solo author were women’s rights, women’s history, and social reforms for women.

Middlebury has a first edition copy of On Understanding Women (1931), Beard’s most well-known work on women’s history.

Cover of On Understanding Women by Mary Ritter Beard, 1931.
Cover of On Understanding Women, 1931
First page of On Understanding Women by Mary Ritter Beard, 1931
On Understanding Women by Mary Ritter Beard, 1931

What about the archives, you ask? Well, Mary Ritter Beard established the World Center for Women’s Archives (WCWA) in 1935. Beard served as the Center’s director for five years and worked to all manners of materials produced by women or related to women’s history.

After amassing a number of high-profile supporters - Georgia O’Keefe, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frances Perkins, to name a few - the WCWA was officially launched in New York City two years later in 1937. After a series of funding and leadership difficulties, Beard resigned from her position in 1940 and the WCWA closed shortly after. Beard’s work as a women’s history archivist encouraged the development and growth of women’s history collections at institutions like Radcliffe and Smith colleges. 


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Questions? Email specialcollections@middlebury.edu