Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 788

Papers of Fran Leeper Buss, 1968-2012


Papers of Fran Leeper Buss include writings, correspondence, clippings, and printed materials, which document her life as a wife and mother, oral historian, teacher, and activist. Also included are notes and transcripts of oral history interviews.


  • 1968-2012


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Researchers must sign a special permission form to use the collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Fran Leeper Buss 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.


7.09 linear feet ((17 file boxes) plus 1 oversize folder, 2 photograph folders, electronic records)

The Fran Leeper Buss papers document her personal life, as well as her work in campus ministry in New Mexico and Wisconsin, teaching in Wisconsin and Arizona, and oral history research and writing. The collection includes journals, correspondence, unpublished writings, notes, clippings and printed materials, and photographs, and there are oral history notes and transcripts documenting the lives of low-income, marginalized, and minority women. Fran Buss originally organized the bulk of the material into binders by years, sometimes adding later notes describing or identifying content. The archivist disassembled the binders for preservation reasons, but kept the original arrangement. Titles of binders and other folders created by Buss appear within quotation marks; other titles were created by the archivist.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL, PERSONAL, AND RELATED, 1968-2012 (#1.1-13.2, E.1, OD.1, PD.1-PD.2), includes Fran Buss's diary entries, personal and professional correspondence (letters, cards, postcards), unpublished writings and poetry, as well as her Master's in Divinity thesis, research and oral history notes, notebooks, printed materials and clippings, and a few photographs. This series includes mostly disassembled binders constituting her journals; as well as folders of letters and research materials not originally housed in binders. Her journals, which contain a mix of writings, letters, and printed materials, reveal personal thoughts and reflections. They provide a meaningful account of her life as a mother, daughter, and wife, and offer details regarding her intellectual and professional pursuits, including community organizing, women's rights, teaching, campus ministry, and oral history research. Her correspondence, including with husband David Buss, her children, her parents, mother-in-law Leda Buss, close friends, such as professor and writer Agate Nesaule, Mary Robinson, and Maria Elena Lucas, as well as other women she met through her oral history research, can be found throughout the files and are rich with details regarding daily life and insights. The materials in this series also recount her lifelong struggles with medical and health issues, including migraines, depression, complications from gynecological surgery, and a rare eye disease known as Brown Syndrome. Also documented in this series is her complicated and often fraught relationships with Dennis Leeper and her parents. Materials, especially correspondence, can include original letters, copies, and computer print-outs. Fran Buss's web site is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection (WAX). This series is arranged chronologically.

Series II, MARIA ELENA LUCAS AND MARY ROBINSON INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS, 1980-2000 (#13.3-17.7), contains transcripts of interviews and related notes regarding Fran Buss's oral history work with Mexican-American labor leader Maria Elena Lucas and civil rights and labor activist Mary Robinson. The results of these interviews formed the basis of her books, Forged under the Sun: The Life of Maria Elena Lucas (1993) and Moisture of the Earth: Mary Robinson, Civil Rights and Textile Union Activist (2009). See also Series I for additional notes, research materials, and correspondence related to Lucas and Robinson. This series is arranged alphabetically by name, and then chronologically.

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


Frances Ann (Barker) Leeper Buss was born on March 3, 1942, in Manchester, Iowa, into a working-class family. She had two younger siblings, Jim and Barbara. Her father, Clyde Francis Barker, worked as a radio engineer. Her mother, Wilma (Richardson) Barker, had been adopted and abused as a child, and suffered throughout her life with suicidal episodes and depression. After Clyde Barker lost his job, the family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Fran Buss finished high school at Washington Senior High School, graduating in 1960. She first attended Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls, Iowa, then transferred to the University of Iowa, where she received a B.A. in social studies and English education in 1964.

In 1965, Fran Buss married Dennis Leeper. They had three children: Kimberly (b. January 4, 1965), Lisa (b. December 10, 1966), whom they adopted in 1967, and Jim (b. April 25, 1968). The family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, and in 1970, Fran Buss and Dennis Leeper divorced. Leeper, who had received his Ph.D. in Radiation Biology from the University of Iowa, moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Fran Buss stayed in Fort Collins, where she struggled financially as a single mother of three children and was briefly on welfare. She started a craft store where she made and sold leather and wood gifts. And in 1971, she joined with other single mothers to form the Women's Crisis and Information Center, one of the first women's centers in the nation. In 1972, Fran Buss married David Buss, a graduate of the University of California (1969) and an intern in campus ministry at the Colorado State University. In 1973, David Buss was arrested and convicted for refusing induction into the armed services during the Vietnam War and spent some months in jail. By 1974, the Busses had moved to Denver, Colorado, where Fran Buss worked part-time as a community organizer at Washington Park Community Center. They both matriculated at Iliff School of Theology. David Buss graduated and was ordained in 1974. That same year they moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to work in campus community ministry. Fran Buss received an M.A. in Divinity in 1976, and was ordained into the ministry of United Church of Christ in 1977.

While in Las Vegas, working half-time as a campus community minister, Fran Buss met and conducted her first oral history by interviewing Jesusita Aragon, a healer and midwife living in northern New Mexico. She also interviewed Rheua Pearce, who had worked with Jane Addams in Chicago's Hull House. The results of Buss's interviews with Jesusita Aragon would become her book, La Partera: Story of a Midwife (1980). Fran Buss also took a part time position as director and teacher at New Horizons United Presbyterian Preschool and Day Care Program, in order to earn more money. In 1977, the Buss family moved to Wisconsin after Fran Buss and David Buss accepted new jobs in campus ministry at the Shalom Center for All Faiths at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. In Wisconsin, Buss continued her oral history work, interviewing Native American women in Winnebago Mission, near Black River Falls, Wisconsin, and lower income women throughout Whitewater, Wisconsin, and on trips to Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado, and throughout the South. Ten of these women's stories were later published in her book Dignity: Lower Income Women Tell of Their Lives and Struggles (1985). In the early 1980s, Fran Buss first met and talked with the civil rights and textile union activist, Mary Robinson, and with Mexican-American labor leader, Maria Elena Lucas. Her interviews with Maria Elena Lucas were published in her book: Forged under the Sun: The Life of Maria Elena Lucas (1993); and Mary Robinson's stories would become Moisture of the Earth: Mary Robinson, Civil Rights and Textile Union Activist (2009).

In 1981, Fran Buss resigned from her part-time work as a campus minister, citing her personal doubts about traditional Christian faith and the church's sexism and classism. After her resignation, she focused more closely on her oral history research and writing, and teaching. She was appointed honorary women's studies scholar at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater for two academic years (1982-1984), and taught part time in women's studies for the university extension school. In 1987, Fran Buss and David Buss moved to Tucson, Arizona, for another shared campus ministry position with United Campus Christian Ministry at the University of Arizona. They both became involved in the Sanctuary Movement, an organization which smuggled Central American refugees into the United States during the civil wars in the region.

In 1991, Fran Buss published a young adult novel, Journey of the Sparrows, about a family of Salvadoran refugee children. The money from the sale of the rights for a paperback edition helped pay for David Buss to pursue a Masters in social work from the University of Arizona; by 1995 he was working as a social worker and chaplain for the Carondelet Hospice Services.

Fran Buss received her Ph.D. in women's history and racial and ethnic history from the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1995, and started teaching part time at the University of Arizona and at Pima Community College (Tucson, Arizona). She continued to travel for her oral history work and writing, often developing close and meaningful relationships with the many women she interviewed. Her friendships with Mary Robinson and Maria Elena Lucas deepened during these years.

In 1998, Fran Buss received the Prelinger Award from the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession for her long-term contributions to oral histories of low-income and minority women. In 1999 she started working for the Arizona Historical Society, interviewing older women activists in the area. In the early 2000s, Fran Buss drafted Collaborative Voices, an unpublished memoir which included her interactions and experiences with Maria Elena Lucas and Mary Robinson, and was based on her journal notes and memories.

Fran Buss recently completed a sixth book, Memory, Meaning, and Resistance: An Oral Historian Remembers. She is currently working on a project she calls Radical Respect: An Oral Historian on Friendship, a work which focuses on cross-cultural friendship (across race, class, gender, and sexual orientation), and which incorporates theory, personal stories of friendship, and oral history work. Her tapes and transcripts from many of her oral history interviews are archived in seven research libraries in a collection called Work and Family: Low Income and Minority Women Talk about Their Lives (MC 420). Fran Buss and David Buss currently live in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona.


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. Series I. Biographical, personal, and related, 1968-2012 (#1.1-13.2, E.1, OD.1, PD.1-PD.2)
  2. Series II. Maria Elena Lucas and Mary Robinson interview transcripts, 1980-2000 (#13.3-17.7)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2012-M228, 2013-M37

The papers of Fran Leeper Buss were given to the Schlesinger Library by Fran Leeper Buss in December 2012 and February 2013.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Fran Leeper Buss, Work and Family: Low Income and Minority Women Talk about Their Lives, ca.1930-1990 (MC 420).

Processing Information

Processed: April 2014

By: Laura Peimer, with assistance from Emily Underwood.

Buss, Fran Leeper, 1942- . Papers of Fran Leeper Buss, 1968-2012: 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