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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 791

Papers of Priscilla Dewey Houghton, 1875-2012 (inclusive), 1940-2005 (bulk)


Diaries, family records, play scripts, correspondence, and speeches of arts consultant, producer, playwright, lyricist, and writer Priscilla Dewey Houghton.


  • Creation: 1875-2012
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1940-2005

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Priscilla Dewey Houghton 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.


10.22 linear feet ((24 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 7 folio folders, 1 folio+ folder, 5 photograph folders)

This collection documents the life of Priscilla Dewey Houghton and also provides information on the lives of her maternal grandmother, parents, first husband, and other family members. Approximately half of the collection consists of Houghton's diaries, ranging from 1939 to 2004. Other materials include genealogical information; diaries of her mother, Priscilla Badger Blackett, and maternal grandmother, Grace Richardson Learnard Badger; a birthbook for her mother and a scrapbook kept during World War I, including a year spent in Japan; courtship letters and correspondence with family and friends; play scripts; speeches; and meeting minutes and program planning materials for organizations and events in which she participated. The bulk of the folder headings were created by the processor. Those created by Houghton are in quotation marks.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, ca.1929-2011 (#1.1-15.9, FD.1), consists primarily of Houghton's diaries. Houghton fastened photographs, clippings, programs, letters, and other items into most of her later diaries, which also include lists of the books she read during the year. The diaries describe Houghton's daily life, with many of the later diaries describing trips she took with Amory Houghton, often on government business; her thoughts about religion and politics; family activities; her bouts with lung cancer; her first husband's death; and her involvement with various theater and arts organizations. The diaries begin in 1941 and continue until 2004; the later diaries (June 1986 to May 2004) form a complete run, but there are some significant gaps in the earlier sequence, with no diaries from the 1950s and only a few from the 1960s. The series also includes correspondence; articles about Houghton; Houghton's memoirs of her childhood and early adulthood; her dissertation; itineraries for trips she took with Amory Houghton; a children's book she wrote for her son Toby; and scrapbook pages/diary entries describing the days immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in which Houghton vividly describes her own thoughts and feelings and the reactions of her friends. See Series II for Houghton's correspondence with family members. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, FAMILY, 1875-2012 (#15.10-19.8, FD.2-FD.7), includes material related to Houghton's maternal grandmother, her mother and father, her husbands, and her children. Of particular note are the family history written by Houghton's maternal grandmother, Grace Richardson Learnard Badger, and the two diaries kept by her. In the first diary, she describes trips to Texas and other southern states taken in 1875 and 1890 and her wedding day in 1892, noting her distress that her father was taken ill and unable to accompany her to the church. The second diary is from 1949, the year before her death. (Some entries appear to have been transcribed for Badger, possibly by a nurse, after she suffered a heart attack in August 1949.) The series also includes a scrapbook kept by Houghton's mother, Priscilla Badger Blackett, documenting her experiences during World War I, including several months spent in Japan; "The Persimmon Tree," a draft manuscript by a family friend, partially inspired by Blackett's experiences in Japan; two of Blackett's diaries, one of which describes her year in Japan; letters exchanged by Priscilla Badger Blackett and William Cameron Blackett during their engagement; and courtship letters exchanged by Houghton and Talbot Dewey. (Dewey, who was serving in the Army Air Corps during their courtship, frequently signed his letters with the names "Jeff," "Geoffrey," or "George.") The series also includes a memorial service program and obituary for Talbot Dewey; congratulatory letters Priscilla Badger Blackett received upon her engagement and condolence letters regarding the death of her husband; a list of wedding gifts received by the Blacketts; certificates received by William Cameron Blackett, including his discharge from military service; Amory Houghton's description of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela; a family genealogy and a book of Houghton's poems and essays about family and friends. This book includes reproductions of family photographs and poems about her bout with polio. The series is arranged alphabetically by family member.

Series III, PROFESSIONAL, 1955-2011 (#19.9-23.12), includes material on the Charles River Creative Arts Program, including Houghton's Multi-Arts Summer Programs: The Charles River Model: Forty Years of Success, which describes the program's development and gives advice on how to emulate it; programs, notes, and press releases related to two conferences on arts programming and writing musicals presented by the Freelance Players; and speeches by Houghton. Topics include "Women, Faith, and the Political Arena," "Unsung Heroes: Women Artists and Suffrage," and "But You Have No Health Insurance," and audiences include the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, the Retired Teachers Association, and arts administrators. Poems and songs Houghton wrote for events celebrating family and friends are also included. The series also includes scripts and scores for Houghton's musicals; scripts, correspondence, meeting minutes, publicity, and planning materials for benefit performances by Living Stage and Urban Improv; and correspondence and programs regarding performances of Anna Deavere Smith's plays at Arena Stage and other venues. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, ACTIVISM/RELIGIOUS AND VOLUNTEER WORK, ca.1955-2000 (#23.13-25.4, F+D.1), includes a program for the Dewey Center for Arts and Science (named in honor of Houghton) at the Charles River School; notes, correspondence, articles, and meeting minutes related to the planning of the Episcopal Church's celebration of the Bicentennial; notes and lesson plans for teaching Sunday School; printed material, correspondence, and financial statements regarding efforts to aid the Daramombe Mission in Zimbabwe in meeting the health, educational, and social needs of its community; a directory for the women's network co-founded by Houghton; and correspondence and meeting minutes for the Middlesex School's committee on women and coeducation, of which Houghton was a member. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series V, PHOTOGRAPHS, ca.1897-1994 (#PD.1-PD.5), includes photographs of Houghton alone and with family, friends, and political figures (including Amory Houghton and Nelson Mandela). The series also includes images of Houghton's mother, father, brother, and some unidentified family members. The series is arranged chronologically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Arts consultant, producer, playwright, lyricist, and writer, Priscilla "Nissy" Dewey Houghton was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1924, the daughter of Priscilla (Badger) and William Cameron Blackett. She had two brothers, William and Arthur, also known as "Buddy." William Cameron Blackett served with the Field Artillery during World War I and was later transferred to the Artillery Aerial Observation School at Tours, France, and served with the 90th Aero Squadron; after the war, he co-founded the Torbell Company, which published The Open Road, described as "the magazine for young men." He was killed in a train accident when Houghton was a baby. She lived in Chestnut Hill and Wellesley Farms, Massachusetts, with her maternal grandparents, Arthur Campbell Badger and Grace Richardson Learnard Badger, for much of her childhood. In the 1930s, her mother became head counselor at Alford Lake Camp, and Houghton attended the camp for several summers. Her mother died when she was seventeen.

She graduated from Pine Manor College in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1944 and then studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She received her M.A. from Goddard College in 1979 and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Pine Manor College in 2004. She married Talbot Dewey in 1946. They settled in Millis, Massachusetts, and had three children: Priscilla, known as "Kippy" (born in 1948), Talbot Jr., known as "Toby" (born in 1950), and Peter (born in 1952). Dewey served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he worked as a sales consultant and was active in civic affairs. He and Houghton also shared an interest in the theater. In 1955, Houghton was stricken with polio. She was bedridden for a year and began writing plays and staging them in her barn to entertain her children and their friends while she was recuperating. Her theatrical work includes the musicals The Mouse in the White House (1970, music by Bob Olive); The Unsinkable Helen of Troy (1970, music by Catherine Stornetta); Two If By Sea (1970, music by Tony Hutchins; produced off Broadway in 1972); Prime Time (with Bob and Cathy Olive, 1971); Rip's New Wrinkle (1971, music by Tony Hutchins); King Arthur's Knights and Days (1972, music by Tony Hutchins); The Pied Piper (1974, music by Tony Hutchins); The Young Country (1976, music by Tony Hutchins). To Find A Rose (1978, music by Tony Hutchins); Dearo Family (1979, book by Houghton and David L. Downing, music and lyrics by Tom Megan); and Chanticleer (1989, music by Katrina Cameron). She also had articles published in The Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and several magazines. In 1970, she co-founded the Charles River Creative Arts Program in Dover, Massachusetts, a summer day program which aimed to provide an environment in which children could develop and pursue artistic interests. She served as its director from 1972 to 1980, as co-director (with her son Toby) from 1980 to 1986, and as arts consultant from 1987 to 1989. The program's success led to organizations in over twenty five states following its model; similar programs were also developed in Switzerland, England, Australia, and Hong Kong. Houghton also co-founded and served as director of the North End-Waterfront Arts Council, which was intended to foster the community's interest in the arts and in civic improvement, in 1974 or 1975. She remained involved with the Council until 1982. She also served as managing editor of the Freelance Press, publishers of musical theater and arts curricula, from 1978 to 1989, and was active in the Episcopal Church, both locally and nationally, teaching Sunday School and serving as a member of the church's Committee on Observance of the Bicentennial of the Nation. In 1985, she co-produced the bicentennial celebration of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts at Symphony Hall.

Talbot Dewey died of cancer in 1983 and Houghton moved to Cohasset, Massachusetts. Although a lifetime nonsmoker, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1987 and had a part of her lung removed; the cancer recurred in 2003. In 1989 she married Amory "Amo" Houghton, a Republican Congressman from New York State and a longtime friend, and relocated to Georgetown in Washington, DC, and Corning, New York. Amory Houghton was elected nine times, retiring from Congress in 2005. Houghton frequently campaigned for her husband, speaking on the arts and women's issues, and often accompanied him on political trips. Both Houghtons were active members of Friends of Zimbabwe, an international group working for a Democratic Zimbabwe. They also became very involved with the Living Stage Theatre, a venture of Arena Stage. Houghton served as a trustee of Arena Stage and as a member of the committee on Living Stage. Living Stage's mission was to transform individuals and communities through creative empowerment. It aimed to achieve this through a variety of workshops offered to children, youth, teachers, parents, and community members. Houghton was actively involved in the fund-raising plays put on by the Living Stage. Politicians and political commentators frequently performed in these productions and both Houghtons successfully recruited a number of participants. Amory Houghton also performed in many productions with his band, the Swing Voters. Houghton helped found the Women's Network of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes, aimed to enhance networking opportunities for women, and served on the boards or as trustee of the Millis Public Library, the Boston Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Freelance Players, and Urban Improv (Boston). The latter two organizations were founded by her children Kippy and Toby, with the goal of using theater to encourage imagination, self-expression, mutual respect, and confidence in young people. A frequent speaker on the arts, women, and spirituality, Houghton died of cancer July 6, 2012.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, ca.1929-2011 (#1.1-15.9, FD.1)
  2. Series II. Family, 1875-2012 (#15.10-19.8, FD.2-FD.7)
  3. Series III. Professional, 1955-2011 (#19.9-23.12)
  4. Series IV. Activism/religious and volunteer work, ca.1955-2000 (#23.13-25.4, F+D.1)
  5. Series V. Photographs, ca.1897-1994 (#PD.1-PD.5)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2011-M230

The papers of Priscilla Dewey Houghton were given to the Schlesinger Library by Priscilla Dewey Houghton in December 2011.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Harvard University Archives; see the William Cameron Blackett Personal Archive, 1900-1937 (HUM 136).

There is related material at the Massachusetts Historical Society; see the Learnard-Badger Family Papers, 1847-1929 (Ms. –285).

Related Material:

There is related material at the Harvard University Theatre Collection; see the Priscilla B. Dewey Papers, ca.1956-2002 (*2003MT-202 ).


Donors: Priscilla Dewey Houghton

Accession number: 2011-M230

Processed by: Susan Earle

The following items have been removed from the collection and offered to the Episcopal Divinity School Library:

  1. The Light in the Steeple: Religion and the American Revolution: published by the Ecumenical Task Force on the Religious Observance of the Nation's Bicentennial

Processing Information

Processed: May 2014

By: Susan Earle, with the assistance of Emily Underwood.

Houghton, Priscilla Dewey, 1924-2012. Papers of Priscilla Dewey Houghton, 1875-2012 (inclusive), 1940-2005 (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 a gift from Priscilla Dewey Houghton.

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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