Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: 73-65--89-M152

Papers, of Eleanor Flexner 1895?-1995


Memoir, interview transcripts, correspondence, unpublished writings, etc., of Eleanor Flexner, women's historian and author.


  • Creation: 1895?-1995

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Eleanor Flexner 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.


1.21 linear feet ((1 carton, 1/2 file box) plus 1 photograph folder, 1 oversize folder, 1 oversize scrapbook)

Biographical and personal papers include a journal kept by Anne (Crawford) Flexner, birth certificates, clippings by and about Eleanor Flexner, photographs, a memoir, interview transcripts, and correspondence with her sister, Jean F. Lewinson, her friend Helen Terry, and others. Also included are unpublished writings, mostly fictional; notes and essays about religious matters; chapters, bibliographies, and essays on labor, women, and African-American women by Flexner, some prepared for the Jefferson School of Social Science; published prefaces and reviews; speeches and papers delivered by Flexner; for Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States, the original pamphlet, early outlines, and various editions in other languages; and research material for Century of Struggle and Notable American Women, 1607-1950.


Author and historian Eleanor Flexner was born in New York City on October 4, 1908, the daughter of Abraham and Anne (Crawford) Flexner. Her father, a prominent author and education reformer, was instrumental in the founding of the Lincoln School at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University; her mother, a playwright, was especially noted for her dramatization of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. Flexner attended Lincoln School, which was one of the outstanding progressive schools of the time. After graduating from Swarthmore College with high honors in English and history in 1930, she attended Somerville College at Oxford University for one year. Back in the United States, she held a series of promotional and editorial positions in the theater and with the Institute of Propaganda Analysis, the Foreign Policy Association, and Hadassah. In 1938 she published a book of dramatic criticism entitled American Playwrights, 1918-1938, and in 1957 moved from New York to Northampton, Massachusetts.

Her classic account of the "first wave" of American feminism, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States, was published in 1959; it was based on a pamphlet she had published in 1954. "The story," she said in her original preface, "deserves telling"; Century of Struggle was notable in demonstrating that the topic was worthy of serious scholarly and analytical study. Flexner was particularly prescient in her use of race, gender, and class in interpreting the struggle for women's equality. Her analysis was a source of inspiration for "second wave" feminists and laid the groundwork for subsequent generations of women's history scholars.

A consultant to the three-volume Notable American Women, 1607-1950, Flexner wrote a dozen biographies for Notable American Women, including those of Leonora Barry, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Anna Howard Shaw, Antoinette Shuler, Maria Stewart, Augusta Troup, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Maud Younger. Other publications included Woman's Rights: Unfinished Business (1971) and Mary Wollstonecraft: A Biography (1972). Flexner was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Swarthmore College in 1974. With her health failing, and following the death of her companion, Helen Terry, Flexner moved from Northampton to a retirement community in Westboro, Massachusetts. She died on March 25, 1995, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 73-65, 83-M68, 83-M108, 83-M153, 83-M156, 83-M159, 84-M127, 84-M130, 84-M203, 85-M97, 87-M63, 89-M152

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Eleanor Flexner,Jean F. Lewinson (Eleanor Flexner's sister), and Jacqueline Van Voris, between May 1973 and August 1989.


The following items have been discarded from the collection in December 1995:

  1. Taylor, A. Elizabeth. "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Mississippi, 1890-1920. " Journal of Mississippi History, vol.30, no.1 (February 1968).
  2. Taylor, Antoinette Elizabeth. "South Carolina and the Enfranchisement of Women: The Early Years. " The South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 77, no. 2 (April 1976).
  3. Articles re: African-Americans in The New York Times, Newsweek, Commentary, and other mainstream journals
  4. The Black Panther, July 12, 1969
  5. Photostats re: suffrage, some from Schlesinger Library
  6. Wollstonecraft, Mary. Verteidigung der Rechte des Weibes (Zurich, 1975).


  1. Carton 1: 2-46
  2. Box 2: 47-62

Processing Information

Processed: December 1995

By: Anne Engelhart

Flexner, Eleanor, 1908-1995. Papers of Eleanor Flexner, 1895?-1995: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
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.

3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA