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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 602: M-124: Phon-51

Papers of Jessie Tarbox Beals, 1866-1989 (inclusive), 1880-1942 (bulk)


Personal and family papers of photojournalist Jessie Tarbox Beals.


  • Creation: 1866-1989
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1880-1942

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers and photographs created by Jessie Tarbox Beals 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. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the director of the Schlesinger Library before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.

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


4.8 linear feet ((10 + 1/2 file boxes, 1 card file box) plus 2 folio folders, 7 folio+ folders, 3 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 2 photograph folders, 1 slide folder, 2 phonograph records, 1 reel of microfilm)

The papers of Jessie Tarbox Beals include her own papers, as well as those of her family members. The collection includes diaries; correspondence; autograph and photograph albums; poems; essays and other writing; volumes of Beals' photograph lists and prices; printed material, much of it related to bohemian Greenwich Village; ephemera and memorabilia; and audio recordings. Family papers also include letters from Beals's sister Grace Tarbox, a missionary in Venezuela from 1896 to 1907, and brother Edward Tarbox, a missionary with wife Maude in Ecuador in 1898-1899.

Jessie Tarbox Beals's papers and photographs were given to the Schlesinger Library by her daughter, Nanette Beals Brainerd, beginning in 1982. A preliminary inventory for accessions 82-M122 and 83-M38 was created in 1988 by Jane S. Knowles. Some of that material was microfilmed (see below). All photographs (including family photographs) were arranged in a separate collection (PC 60), and most of Beals' house and garden photographs were given to the Frances Loeb Library at the Harvard School of Design. Later accessions came periodically from Nanette, with some material in identifying envelopes, some loose. Family photographs and other photographs by Beals from later accessions will eventually be described as part of PC 60. Nanette Beals Brainerd's identifying notes (primarily in green pen) can be found on documents throughout the collection. Folder headings were assigned by the archivist. Correspondence is generally filed by recipient.

Series I, JESSIE TARBOX BEALS, 1875-1984 (#1.1-8.2, 11.9m, 12.1m, M-124, F+D.1-F+D.3, F+D.5, OD.1, PD.1sl), includes material related to Beals's teaching career and her life as a photojournalist and portraitist, as well as personal and family correspondence, printed material, and ephemera. The series is arranged in five subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1875-1979 (#1.1-2.11, M-124, F+D.1-F+D.3, F+D.5, OD.1), includes vital records (including birth, death, and marriage certificates and divorce decree); biographical information; a childhood autograph book; ephemera; printed material; a cookbook and other material related to Beals's time teaching school classes in Williamsburg and Greenfield, Massachusetts; address books; etc. A diary page tells the partial story of Beals' beginnings in photojournalism as she took photographs of a city fire in Jacksonville, Florida. While some printed material collected by Beals dates to her early life in Canada and Massachusetts, most is about bohemian Greenwich Village in the 1910s and 1920s. Most of the clippings received in 1982 and 1983 were arranged by topic and then microfilmed (see below for details). Microfilmed material includes clippings about Beals's photo exhibitions (1926, 1946, 1976); examples of her photojournalism (1902-1942); a scrapbook of magazine clippings of her house and garden photos (1929-1932); clippings, invitations, programs, etc., re: Beals's work and other activities (1904-1979). Several folders of material were retained after microfilming and are also included. Address books are mainly for the city listed; some also include contacts in other cities. Some of the biographical clippings in this series may also have been microfilmed (M-124). The subseries is arranged by type of material, with biographical information first, followed by diaries, recipes, and collected printed material, then by teaching material, address books, etc.

Subseries B, Poems and other writings, ca.1905-1950 (#2.12-4.1), contains typescript and handwritten poems, several essays, and drafts of lectures written by Beals. Some poems from the 1920s are written on the back of menus for Mori Restaurant, at 144 Bleecker Street, and a few other Greenwich Village eateries. Mori's menus were handwritten from 1920 to 1922, later ones were printed. A few of Beals' poems were accepted for publication in small periodicals. In 1928, she published Songs of a Wanderer, which was privately printed in an edition of 200, and illustrated with her own photos. Other writings include drafts and final copies of Beals' comments on gardens, Greenwich Village, etc., many prepared for lectures or radio broadcasts. Beals' writings on photography can be found in #7.15-7.19. The subseries is arranged with poems first, then other writings. Poems are arranged by date, if known. Dates were determined either by a date written on the poem or by the address typed or written on the poem. A few poems written by others (some addressed to, or about, Beals) are filed at the end of the subseries.

Subseries C, Correspondence, 1880-1942 (#4.2-5.6), includes letters written to Beals, as well as a few letters she wrote to others. Letters Beals wrote to other members of her family can be found in Series II and III; her professional correspondence about photography is in Subseries D. Letters from sister Grace discuss her life as a missionary in Venezuela. Several letters from brother Edward discuss his photography business in Boone, Iowa. Alfred Beals' courtship letters describe his bike trips around New England and research on photographic chemicals, etc. Several letters from World War I soldiers are in response to letters Beals wrote to them. Letters written by Beals are arranged first, followed by letters to her from family members, then general incoming letters.

Subseries D, Photography, 1888-1984 (#5.7-7.20, 11.9m, 12.1m), contains material relating to Beals's career as a photojournalist and portrait and garden photographer. It includes a scrapbook primarily about the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, memorabilia, press passes, correspondence, etc., from her early days as a professional photojournalist. Daybooks dating from 1926 to 1942 include daily lists of photographic transactions along with photograph numbers, and are arranged (by Beals) by subject and organization. Professional correspondence is generally about assignments, with a few orders for photographs. The subseries is arranged by type of material, with memorabilia and correspondence first, followed by volumes with lists of photographs and financial recordings, pamphlets with printed Beals's photographs and writings about Beals's published photographs, then Beals' notes and writings on photography.

Subseries E, Alfred Tennyson Beals and Beals family, 1904-1970 (#8.1-8.2, PD.1sl) contains material regarding Alfred's photography career, and genealogical information about his family. For Alfred's courtship letters to Jessie Tarbox Beals, see #4.12. See #10.8 for his letters to Nanette Beals Brainerd and obituary.

Series II, TARBOX FAMILY, 1866-1989 (inclusive), 1875-1912 (bulk) (#8.3-9.13, F+D.4), includes family correspondence, clippings, genealogical information, several autograph and scrapbooks of Grace Tarbox, etc. Letters to individual family members are grouped by writer. Some Bassett family papers (Marie Tarbox's family) can be found in Subseries C. The series is arranged in three subseries.

Subseries A, Marie Antoinette and John Nathaniel Tarbox, 1866-1899 (#8.3-8.11, F+D.4), contains letters from the Tarbox children, financial documents, and obituaries. Letters from Jessie Tarbox Beals describe her time at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Expedition and her trip home to Massachusetts through Canada. For letters her parents wrote to Beals, see #4.4-4.8. Letters from Grace Tarbox discuss her missionary work in Venezuela beginning in 1896; letters from Edward Tarbox and his wife Maude describe their own missionary work in Ecuador beginning in 1898. The subseries is arranged with incoming letters first, then other material.

Subseries B, Grace Tarbox, 1875-1907 (#8.12v-9.5), includes correspondence, a diary, a photograph album, a scrapbook, and an obituary. Letters to Grace were sent to her during her missionary work in Venezuela; a diary describes her trip from New York to Caracas. A photograph album and scrapbook are from Grace's youth in Canada, and contain some material from her missionary training at Bible Institutes. Some of the material found loose in the scrapbook seems as if it were put there later by Beals. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Subseries C, Other Tarbox family and Bassett family, 1877-1989 (#9.6-9.13), includes correspondence and genealogical information. Some Bassett family genealogy was collected by Beals, the rest was compiled after her death by Nanette Brainerd and Beals's cousin Bertha Grace Bassett Jackson.

Series III, NANETTE BEALS BRAINERD, 1911-1989 (#9.14v-11.7), contains a baby book, school documents, correspondence, and notes. Brainerd's baby book was kept by her mother, Jessie Tarbox Beals, and includes photographs, letters, poems, lists of words spoken, etc. Nanette was often sick as a child and resided either in hospitals or at boarding schools in the country for much of her early years. Letters from her parents thus begin while she is a young child. For her mother's letters about a 1926 Panama trip, see #10.5-10.6. Letters Brainerd wrote to her mother, as a child and later, can be found in #4.14-4.15. Other correspondence includes condolences on her mother's death, and shows Nanette's continuing attempts to publish and exhibit Jessie's photographs after her death; and congratulatory letters re: Nanette's marriage to Henry Bowen Brainerd and the birth of their first child. It is arranged with personal material first, followed by correspondence and Brainerd's notes.

Series IV, MEMORABILIA, OVERSIZED, AND AUDIOVISUAL, 1875-1941 (#11.8m-12m.1, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1-F+D.7, OD.1-OD.3, SD.1, Phon-51.1-Phon-51.2), includes Jessie Tarbox Beals' first camera, fliers and invitations to Greenwich Village parties, and a recording of Beals reading her poetry. It is arranged in three subseries by format.

Subseries A, Memorabilia, 1888-1904, n.d. (#11.8m-12m.1), includes Beals's first camera, her press pass from the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, coins representing the first money she earned from teaching and from elocution, and a cloth marker from a Bassett family Bible. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Subseries B, Oversized, 1875-1941 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1-F+D.7, OD.1-OD.3, SD.1), includes material listed and described in the previous series, and sheet music. This subseries serves as a shelflist for the oversized material.

Subseries C, Audiovisual, 1940 (#Phon-51.1-Phon-51.2), contains two 78rpm records recorded on April 18, 1940. One is a recording of Jessie Tarbox Beals reading several of her poems; the other includes Beals speaking as well as a song, "Oh Bobby," sung by Ruth Machat Halperin and Bobby Machat.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Jessie Richmond Tarbox Beals, photographer and photojournalist, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on December 23, 1870, the daughter of Marie Antoinette (Bassett) (1834-1899) and John Nathaniel Tarbox (1831-1899). She had three older siblings, Paul Walter Tarbox (1856-1925), Grace Bassett Tarbox (1861-1907), and Edward Bassett Tarbox.

John and Marie Tarbox were both born in New England. They married in 1853 and moved to Hamilton in the 1860s, where John Tarbox was involved in the invention and manufacture of sewing machines. John Tarbox was quite successful and the family lived in a large house until 1877, when the sewing machine business collapsed. For a time, John Tarbox worked for a glass manufacturer, but that too failed. The family had to sell their house and all its furnishings. When Jessie was 14, she enrolled in the Collegiate Institute of Ontario, and received a teaching certificate in 1887. The next year, she found a teaching position in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, where her brother Paul lived. Soon Marie Tarbox moved to Williamsburg; with a more familiar and stable home life, Jessie took part in youthful activities of the day: temperance societies, dances, concerts, elocution contests, etc.

Jessie acquired her first camera in 1888 (by selling a subscription to Youth's Companion magazine) and began to photograph students, friends, and family groups throughout Western Massachusetts. In 1893 she traveled to Chicago, where her sister Grace was studying to be a missionary, to see the World's Columbian Exposition; she took pictures of the buildings and exhibits, as well as other visitors she met in the women's dormitory. That same year she began another teaching job in the larger town of Greenfield, Massachusetts. It was there she met Alfred Tennyson Beals; they married in 1897.

Grace Tarbox, after attending several Bible Institutes and undergoing missionary training, sailed for Venezuela in 1896. She lived there, primarily in Caracas, until her death in 1907. Edward Tarbox and his wife Maude also became missionaries; they served in Ecuador beginning in 1898. Both John and Marie Tarbox died within several months of each other in 1899.

Beginning in 1900, Jessie and Alfred traveled the East Coast, attempting to make their living as itinerant photographers, with Alfred assisting Jessie and mainly working in makeshift darkrooms. Their first child was born in March 1902, but died several hours after birth. Some months after that, Jessie was hired as a staff photographer by the Buffalo Inquirer and Courier. She covered news events throughout the city, traveled to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 (where she also sold photographs to other newspapers), and photographed President Theodore Roosevelt's trip to Texas for a "Rough Rider's reunion" in 1905.

In 1905 the Beals moved to New York City, where they set up a photography studio together. Jessie photographed city scenes, took commissioned portraits of artists, writers, and actors, and became part of the Greenwich Village bohemian culture. She continued to travel to other cities, both on assignment, and just to photograph. The Beals's marriage began to be strained; Alfred spent more time on his lifelong interest in botany and less assisting Jessie on her photographic junkets. On June 8, 1911, Nanette Tarbox Beals was born (ostensibly fathered by another man). Jessie and Alfred separated in 1917 and divorced in 1923, but both doted on Nanette.

Nanette was often sick as a child, and spent time in hospitals and at country boarding schools. This allowed her mother continued freedom to travel and photograph. Jessie continued to photograph interesting haunts and denizens of Greenwich Village, and began to photograph more gardens, both in and outside of New York City. She also turned her hand seriously to poetry, self-publishing Songs of a Wanderer, a volume illustrated with her photographs, in 1928.

As she aged, and as it became harder for her to find adequate work, Jessie moved frequently, usually accompanied by her daughter. She went to Santa Barbara and Hollywood, California, in 1928, to Chicago, Illinois, in 1933, and then back to New York City, where she died at Bellevue Hospital on May 30, 1942. Her later work was often published in Vogue, Town and Country, Ladies' Home Journal, Country Life in America, and Harper's Bazaar; during her career she photographed a broad range of subjects including portraits, immigrant city dwellers, cityscapes, and houses and gardens.

Nanette Beals married Henry Bowen Brainerd in New York City on November 12, 1943; they later settled in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Throughout her life she remained committed to publicizing her mother's work and life story, arranging for posthumous exhibitions and publications.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Jessie Tarbox Beals, 1875-1984 (#1.1-8.2, 11.9m, 12.1m, M-124, F+D.1-F+D.3, F+D.5, OD.1, PD.1sl)
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical and personal, 1875-1979 (#1.1-2.11, M-124, F+D.1-F+D.3, F+D.5, OD.1)
  3. ___Subseries B. Poems and other writings, ca.1905-1950 (#2.12-4.1)
  4. ___Subseries C. Correspondence, 1880-1942 (#4.2-5.6)
  5. ___Subseries D. Photography, 1888-1984 (#5.7-7.20, 11.9m, 12.1m)
  6. ___Subseries E. Alfred Tennyson Beals and other Beals family, 1904-1970 (#8.1-8.2, PD.1sl)
  7. Series II. Tarbox family, 1866-1989 (inclusive), 1875-1912 (bulk) (#8.3-9.13, F+D.4)
  8. ___Subseries A. Marie Antoinette and John Nathaniel Tarbox, 1866-1899 (#8.3-8.11, F+D.4)
  9. ___Subseries B. Grace Tarbox, 1875-1907 (#8.12v-9.5)
  10. ___Subseries C. Other Tarbox and Bassett family, 1877-1989 (#9.6-9.13)
  11. Series III. Nanette Beals Brainerd, 1911-1989 (#9.14v-11.7)
  12. Series IV. Memorabilia, oversized, and audiovisual, 1875-1941 (#11.8m-12.1m, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1-F+D.7, OD.1-OD.3, SD.1, Phon-51.1-Phon-51.2)
  13. ___Subseries A. Memorabilia, 1888-1904 (#11.8m-12.1m)
  14. ___Subseries B. Oversized, 1875-1941 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1-F+D.7, OD.1-OD.3, SD.1)
  15. ___Subseries C. Audiovisual, 1940 (#Phon-51.1-Phon-51.2)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 82-M122, 83-M38, 90-M48, 91-M142, 91-M154, 91-M164, 91-M202, 92-M26, 92-M45, 92-M69, 92-M77

The papers of Jessie Tarbox Beals were given by her daughter, Nanette Beals Brainerd, between 1982 and 1992.


Newspaper and magazine clippings and scrapbooks, previously designated as file units 28, 44, 59-65, 68-71, were prepared for microfilming by Doreen Drury in June 1989 and were filmed in 1989 under a Title II-C grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Most originals were discarded after filming.

  1. Most of the clippings (from 82-M122 and 83-M38) were discarded after microfilming.
  2. Some of the material was difficult to film; many items overlapped, much of the newsprint was brittle and no longer intact, many articles were folded, and there was some discoloration.
  3. Many pages had to be filmed more than once due to the presence of folded, overlapping, oversized, and/or multiple-paged items.
  4. Dates and/or other information have been written on some items by a number of people, including Beals. In organizing the material, the processor accepted dates added by others. All dates and other information added by the processor are in square brackets.
  5. The pages of some items were numbered to aid the microfilmer, the proofreaders, and researchers. These numbers are in square brackets.
  6. Many clipping fragments were mounted by the processor to facilitate filming.
  7. The film was proofread by the processor and corrections made where necessary. These corrections may disrupt the sequence of frame numbers.
  8. The film was carefully produced and proofread to insure the greatest possible legibility.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Photographs of Jessie Tarbox Beals, 1896-1941 (PC 60).


Donors: Nanette Beals Brainerd

Accession number: 82-M122, 83-M38

Processed by: Jenny Gotwals

The following items have been transferred to the Books Division of the Schlesinger Library (pending review by curator):

  1. Beautiful Gardens in America, by Louise Shelton, 2nd edition, 1916 (some photographs by Beals)
  2. Bruno's Weekly, Volume 1, number 23 (December 25, 1915); Volume 2, numbers 1-6 (January 1 - February 5, 1916), numbers 20-21 (May 13 - May 20, 1916), numbers 23-24 (June 3 - June 10, 1916)
  3. East-Side: Zoe's Magazine, Volume 5, number 28 (January-February, 1914)
  4. Greenwich Village Anthology of Verse from The Quill, by Arthur H. Moss, 1918.
  5. The Little Book of Greenwich Village: A Handbook of Information Concerning New York's Bohemia with Which Is Incorporated a Map & Directory, by Egmont Arens, 1918.
  6. The Quill, Volume I, number 1 (June 30, 1917); Volume II, number 1 (December 1917); Volume IX, number 3, 5 (September, November 1921); Volume X, numbers 1, 2, 6 (January-February, June 1922); Volume XI, number 4 (October 1922); Volume XII, number 1 (January 1923); Volume XIV, number 2 (February 1924); Volume XV, number 4 (October 1926); Volume XVI, number 5 (May 1925); Volume XVII, number 1 (July 1925); Volume XVIII, number 6 (June, 1926)
  7. Rhythmus: A Magazine of the New Poetry, Volume 1, numbers 1, 2 (January-February 1923)
  8. Songs of a Wanderer, by Jessie Tarbox Beals, 1928 (2 copies, with different inscriptions)
  9. The Spectator, Volume 1, numbers 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 (May-November 1917), and its successor, The Greenwich Village Spectator, Volume 1, number 10, 11 (January-February 1918)
  10. Standard Recitations by Best Authors, by Frances P. Sullivan, number 11, March 1886; number 17, September 1887; number 31, March 1891

Processing Information

Processed: July 2009

By: Jenny Gotwals

Beals, Jessie Tarbox. Papers of Jessie Tarbox Beals, 1866-1989 (inclusive), 1880-1942 (bulk): 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 gifts from the Radcliffe College Class of 1950 and the Radcliffe College Class of 1956.

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.

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