Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 472

Papers of Isabel Dowden Johnson Hiss, 1907-2000


Correspondence, diaries, photographs, etc., of Isabel Dowden Johnson Hiss, writer, editor, and widow of Alger Hiss.


  • Creation: 1907-2000

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


.21 linear feet ((1/2 file box) plus 7 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 1 folio+ folder)

This collection contains family and professional photographs; biographical information; diaries; personal correspondence consisting mostly of letters from Hiss's grandmother, Ada Ruckelshaus Schwarzkopf, to Hiss; published articles by Hiss; and photographs of Hiss published in magazines.

One folder of photographs (#16) was added in July 2020.


Model, writer, editor, and widow of Alger Hiss, Isabel (Dowden) Johnson Hiss was born on July 11, 1908, and raised in Montclair, New Jersey, the only child of Elsie (Ruckelshaus) and Dawson Dowden. She graduated from Montclair High School in 1926 and went to Syracuse University, where she met Malcolm Perry Johnson, a student at St. Lawrence University whom she married in 1931. A well-known model in Paris and New York, she was photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others, and modeled for illustrator Rene Boucher. She was the health and beauty editor for Glamour magazine (1943-1945) and the New York Times (1945-1946), and worked for the National Association for Mental Health (1951-1956) and the American Cancer Society (1956-1958), where she was education director of the Los Angeles County branch. Johnson was subsequently married to a merchant marine and to Lester Cole, author of screenplays and one of the Hollywood 10 blacklisted during the McCarthy era. In 1984 she married her longtime friend Alger Hiss; she had no children. She died in Manhattan on May 3, 2000.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2001-M205, 2002-M28, 2020-M41

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by the estate of Isabel Johnson Hiss in November 2001, February 2002, and July 2020.

Processing Information

Processed: February 2002

By: Anne Engelhart

Updated and additional material added: July 2020

By: Jenny Gotwals

Hiss, Isabel Dowden Johnson, 1908-2000. Papers of Isabel Dowden Johnson Hiss, 1907-2000: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the estate of Isabel Johnson Hiss.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA