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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Russ 134

Elena Bonner papers

Papers of the Soviet human rights activist, widow of the noted Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner.


  • 1930-2003

Language of Materials

Collection materials are predominantly in Russian and English with some materials in French, Italian, German, Armenian, Hebrew, Spanish, Czech, Korean, and Ukrainian

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


17 linear feet (18 boxes)

Collection includes Elena Bonner's personal and professional correspondence with friends, family, and supporters of human rights causes in Russia and abroad, drafts and galley proofs of her books, her speeches, statements, and essays, and compositions by other authors. It also includes letters, newsletters, brochures, pamphlets, reports and statements by various politicians and political parties and organizations and other material reflecting Elena Bonner's political activities and interests. Personal material in the collection includes documents, membership cards, biographical information about Bonner and her parents, notes, clippings and photographs. The papers also include correspondence of Tatiana and Efrem Yankelevich and Alexei Semyonov regarding the Andrei Sakharov Foundation and human rights causes

Biographical / Historical

Elena Bonner (Елена Георгиевна Боннэр) was born in 1923 to an Armenian father and a Jewish mother, both of whom were faithful and active Communists. In 1937 her father was executed under Stalin's purges and her mother was arrested and exiled. Her parents were "rehabilitated" in 1953 after Stalin's death.

She served as a nurse in World War II and after the war got a medical degree, and worked as a pediatrician in Leningrad. She had a daughter and a son by her first marriage to Ivan Semenov which ended in separation and divorce. She became an active political and human rights activist in the 1940s and was one of the founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976.

In 1970 Bonner met recently widowed Andrei Sakharov while attending a human rights activist trial. They married in 1972. When Sakharov was exiled in January 1980 to the city of Gorkii, she became his life-line until she herself was arrested and exiled to the same city in 1984 for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. The Sakharovs long hunger strikes forced the Soviet authorities to give Bonner permission to travel to the US in 1985 for a heart surgery. In December 1986 Sakharov and Bonner were permitted to return to Moscow. After Sakharov's death in 1989 Bonner established Andrei Sakharov foundation and remained an active human rights activist to the end of the life. She wrote two books, Alone Together and Mothers and Daughters. She was a recipient of many international human rights awards.


Most of the material in the collection was left in the order established by Brandeis University. Most last names were standardized, but users are advised to try alternate spellings when searching. Materials in Series I and VI were resorted and reorganized by correspondent and type of material respectively. Materials in Series II, III, IV, and V was left in the arrangement created by Brandeis University retaining most of its original order and original folders (many of which bear notes in English and Russian), but some of the material was rehoused and new folders created. The collection was reboxed. Collection is arranged into six series:
  1. Series I: Correspondence
  2. Subseries I.1: Correspondence of Elena Bonner
  3. Subseries I.2: Correspondence of others
  4. Series II: Compositions by Elena Bonner
  5. Subseries II.1: Alone together
  6. Subseries II.2: Mothers and daughters
  7. Subseries II.3: Miscellaneous works
  8. Subseries III: Compositions by others
  9. Series IV : Reference to Bonner
  10. Series V: Political activities
  11. Series VI: Personal material

Physical Location

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository.

Custodial History

Gift of Elena Bonner to The Andreĭ Sakharov Archives and Human Rights Center at Brandeis University, 1993. Transferred, with her consent, as part of the Sakharov Archives, to Harvard University, upon the gift of the Archives by Elena Bonner, 2004.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2004M-13. Gift of Elena Bonner.

Separated Materials

Files on the Riutin family and materials related to Andrei Sakharov's work and political activism were separated from this collection. Sakharov's material will be integrated into Andrei Sakharov papers (MS Russ 79), and the Riutin family papers will be processed as a separate collection.

Processing Information

Processed by: Irina Klyagin, January 2017
Link to catalog
Bonner, Elena, 1923-2011. Elena Bonner papers, circa 1930-2003 (MS Russ 134): Guide
Irina Klyagin
January 4, 2017
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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