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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 327: M-100

Papers of Abigail Adams Eliot, 1858-1979


Correspondence, course materials, photographs, etc., of Abigail Adams Eliot, an expert on early childhood education and child psychology.


  • 1858-1979

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Access. Collection is open for research, with the exception of #127f+, which is closed; use microfilm M-100.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Abigail Adams Eliot 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.


3.13 linear feet (7+1/2 file boxes) plus 8 photograph folders,1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, part of reel of microfilm (M-100)

The Abigail Adams Eliot papers are divided into two series: Personal and Family Papers, 1858-1979, and Professional Papers, 1928-1976; each subseries is arranged chronologically. The two major strengths of the collection are William Eliot and Abby Adams (Cranch) Eliot's correspondence (1858-1887) with Dorothea Lynde Dix, insane asylum reformer, and Eliot's course materials for classes on early childhood education and child psychology offered between 1932 and 1960.

Series I, Personal and Family Papers, 1858-1979, covers Eliot's early life after graduation from Radcliffe College and her student work at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. Of particular interest are questionnaires that Eliot sent to colleagues around the country surveying their use of psychological tests on young children (#31). The family papers include correspondence between Eliot's grandparents and Dorothea Dix (see above); a 1937 letter from Alice Stone Blackwell to Mr. [Christopher] Eliot concerning a library (#1); Eliot's letters to her parents, written in 1921 while she was working at the Rachael McMillan Nursery School and Training Centre in London, (#16-21); and letters to Eliot from her sister, Martha May Eliot (#22).

Series II, Professional Papers, 1928-1976, contains papers from the Nursery Training School and its successors; class notebooks from child psychology and religious education courses taught by Eliot; and her speeches and writings, 1926-1972. A fourth subseries documents her many other professional involvements, which include the World Organization for Early Childhood Education, Radcliffe College, and the Association on American Indian Affairs; three folders of clippings concern mainly her nursery school work.

Series III, Photographs, 1860-1971, contains mainly portraits of family members and groups, with some photographs of nursery school groups, award presentations, and other events.


Abigail Adams Eliot was born October 9, 1892, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the youngest child of Reverend Christopher Rhodes Eliot (1856-1945) and Mary Jackson (May) Eliot (1859-1926). Her sister, Martha May Eliot, was head of the Children's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor between 1951 and 1956. Her brother, Frederick May Eliot, was head of the Unitarian Association of America starting in 1937 till his death in 1958.

Eliot graduated from the Winsor School, a private secondary school in Boston, in 1910 and from Radcliffe College in 1914. She spent the next five years in Boston doing social work: she was a Visitor for Children (1914-1917) for the Children's Mission to Children, and a district secretary (1918) for Associated Charities, now the Family Welfare Society. In 1919-1920 she was a student at Oxford University, and for the last few months of 1920 worked for the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Committee. In 1921 the Woman's Education Association of Boston sent her to England, to study and observe the new nursery school movement as exemplified by the Rachael McMillan Nursery School and Training Centre in London, and to prepare herself to begin such a school in Boston. The nursery school movement in the U.S. began in the three fields of home economics, social work, and education in the early twenties of the century. Early nursery training centers stressed good health and hygiene for children, education for better mothering, and education and habit training through play.

In January 1922, Eliot became the first Director of the Ruggles Street Nursery School and Training Center, which was sponsored by the Woman's Education Association and located in the Roxbury section of Boston. From the beginning, Professor George E. Johnson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education served as advisor. Eliot became a leading Boston proponent of early childhood education, teaching at her own institution and at Wellesely College and helping to found the Cambridge Nursery School, a cooperative begun in 1923. In her classes and in her frequent talks to parent and church groups she placed a new emphasis on parent education.

In 1926 the name of the School was changed to the Nursery Training School of Boston and the Nursery Training School was physically separated from the Ruggles Street Nursery School, moving to 355 Marlboro Street in Boston. By 1931 the Nursery Training School was sending student interns and graduate teachers to forty schools around the country.

Continuing her own education, Eliot received her Ed.M. in 1926 and her Ed.D. in 1930, both from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Recognition of her expertise led the Works Progress Administration in 1933 to appoint Eliot to supervise the Works Progress Administration Nursery Schools in New England.

Eliot retired from the Nursery Training School in 1952. The previous year she had overseen the school's move to Medford, Massachusetts, and the beginning of its affiliation there with Tufts University. In 1955 the Nursery Training School, renamed in honor of Eliot and Elizabeth Ware (Winsor) Pearson, who had been head of the Nursery Training School Corporation in its early years, became the Eliot-Pearson School for Nursery School and Kindergarten Training. Eliot, having served a brief term (1952-1954) as Director of the Teacher Education Division at Pacific Oaks Friends School in Pasadena, California, had returned to the Boston area in 1954 and joined the faculty of the Eliot-Pearson School. In 1965, the former Nursery Training School underwent its final transformation: it joined Tufts University as the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study.

As early as 1939, when she served as Director of the Lower School of the Church School at the First Church in Cambridge (Unitarian), Eliot had expressed a strong interest in religious education for children, an interest she has continued throughout her career. Since her retirement she has served on numerous boards and committees for child guidance and mental health facilities and on the Board of Trustees of Radcliffe College. She also continued to teach at her school and to lecture at other universities and to local organizations. From 1954 to 1975 she was influential in starting and developing what is now the Eliot Community Mental Health Center in Concord, Massachusetts.

Eliot never married. She remained close to her sister, Martha May Eliot, all her life and for many years shared a house with Anna E. Holman.


  1. Series I. Personal and Family Papers. 1-34.
  2. Series II. Professional Papers. 35-117.
  3. ___A. Ruggles Street Nursery School and Training Center, Nursery Training School of Boston, and successor schools, 35-44.
  4. ___B. Courses taught by Eliot. 45-81.
  5. ___C. Other professional activities. 82-107.
  6. ___D. Speeches and writings. 108-117.
  7. Series III. Photographs. 118-125.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 1428, 1500, 1659, 70-97, 71-4, 71-96, 71-101, 73-100, 75-26, 77-M208, 78-M26, 78-M184, 79-M267, 80-M77, 80-M165, 80-M185, 1644

The papers of Abigail Adams Eliot were given to the Schlesinger Library by Abigail Adams Eliot and the Radcliffe College Archives between1968 and 1980. They were processed under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (RC-0051-79-1260).

Container List:

  1. Box 1: #1-18
  2. Box 2: #19-32
  3. Box 3: #33v-42
  4. Box 4: #43-57
  5. Box 5: #58v-72v
  6. Box 6: #73v-90
  7. Box 7: #91-107
  8. Box 8: #108-117

Processing Information

Processed: September 1981

By: Kathleen Marquis

Eliot, Abigail Adams, 1892-1992. Papers of Abigail Adams Eliot, 1858-1979: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women
Language of description

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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