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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 645: CD-3

Audiotapes and papers of Anne Sexton, 1956-1988


Audio recordings and related notes of therapy sessions of poet Anne Sexton with Dr. Martin T. Orne. Also included are notes by Diane Wood Middlebrook and correspondence between Sexton and Orne.


  • Creation: 1956-1988

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Written permission of Linda Gray Sexton is required during her lifetime. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

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. Written permission of Linda Gray Sexton is required during her lifetime.


.83 linear feet ((2 file boxes) plus 95 audiotapes, 261 CDs)

The bulk of the papers are the files of psychotherapist Dr. Martin T. Orne. They chronicle his work with Anne Sexton and include correspondence between Sexton and Orne, as well as Orne's notes taken during the therapy sessions. Sexton's letters discuss her therapy, family concerns, her poetry and general daily struggles. Additionally, there are poems by Sexton, typescript, handwritten and published, along with copies of the plays Tell Me Your Answer True and Mercy Street. The papers also include Diane Middlebrook's notes and partial transcripts of the therapy tapes compiled while researching her biography of Anne Sexton. The notes were originally in two three-ring binders and have been disbound and are now in folders (1.2-1.7). Many of the notes refer directly to the other parts of the collection, the therapy tapes and correspondence between Dr. Orne and Sexton. Folder titles in brackets were supplied by the processor, otherwise the original folder titles were retained. The folder titles were most likely constructed by Middlebrook or when the materials came to Sexton's heirs.

The audiotapes contain Anne Sexton's therapy sessions (January 1961 to April 1964) with Dr. Martin T. Orne. For most of this period, Sexton attended therapy three times a week. During therapy, Sexton would often have memory lapses, disassociate or go into trance. Orne suggested taping Sexton's therapy sessions in the hopes that listening to them later would allow Sexton the opportunity to study and analyze her own responses. Her "homework" was to listen and take notes on her recorded sessions. Many of the recordings begin with Sexton discussing her thoughts on the last session. While the tapes give a wealth of insight into the troubled mind of a renowned poet, they are also valuable in terms of the process and methods of psychotherapy. The audiotapes greatly informed Middlebrook's biography of Sexton. The appendix to the biography includes an excerpt from one session, and the notes include numerous citations from the recorded sessions.

Audiotapes remain in original order as listed by the donors. Many dates from the original list were corrected to match the date provided on the recording itself. A few listed sessions did not exist on the tapes, and a few sessions were not Anne Sexton; those tapes have been deaccessioned from the collection (reels 51, 65, 67, 71, 74 and 77). Although multiple sessions were included on the original reel-to-reels, each session was transferred to a single CD. The reel numbers on the CDs refer to the original reel-to-reels. Early sessions have poor sound recording, often with radio in background or re-used tape. Track markers have been added every 60 seconds on the CDs. Descriptions of sessions are merely notes taken by the processor and are by no means comprehensive. They are included to provide some content information where noted but certainly do not represent the entire breadth of topics discussed on these tapes. There is related material at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.


Anne Sexton, 1928-1974, was a poet and playwright. Often defining herself as the first confessional poet, Sexton received critical and popular acclaim in the 1960s. She underwent psychotherapy for most of her adult life, which both enabled and informed her poetry. She was the author of numerous works of poetry, including To Bedlam and Part Way Back, All My Pretty Ones, and Words for Dr. Y published posthumously, as well as plays, including Mercy Street. See also Anne Sexton: a biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook, 1991.


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. Series I. Diane Middlebrook binder, Dr. Orne files, 1956-1988 (#1.1-2.18)
  2. Series II. Therapy tapes, 1961-1964 (CD-3, reels 1-101)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2002-M112, 2003-M48

The audiotapes of Anne Sexton were given to the Schlesinger Library in December 2002 by the daughters of Anne Sexton, Joyce Sexton and Linda Gray Sexton. CD copies of the original reel-to-reel audiotapes were made in 2003.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2013

By: Joanne Donovan

Sexton, Anne, 1928-1974. Audiotapes and papers of Anne Sexton, 1956-1988 (inclusive): 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 with funding from the Radcliffe Club of San Francisco.

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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