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COLLECTION Identifier: 86-M128--94-M115

Papers of Virginia Insley, 1902-1994


Curricula vitae, correspondence, photographs, etc., of Virginia Insley, medical social worker.


  • Creation: 1902-1994

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Juanita C. Evans's personnel file (#84) is closed until January 1, 2042. All other files are open to research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Virginia Insley 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.


3.21 linear feet ((3 cartons, 1/2 file box) plus 1 photograph folder, 1 folio+ folder, 1 folio folder)

These papers contain very little material about Virginia Insley's family, her childhood, adolescence, or college years. They do provide information about her professional life, her leadership in the maternal and child health field, and the movement to make social services a necessary component of health care programs. The case studies in #142-149 are of particular interest, in that they illustrate how Insley was involved in teaching medical students the importance of supplementing medical care with social services, and furnish information about social conditions in the Boston area (1946-1949). The names of patients who might still be living were blacked out on photocopies of these records. The originals, closed until January 1, 2029, are at the Schlesinger Library.

A significant amount of printed material had no evident connection to Insley. Some newsletters, pamphlets, reprints, brochures, and conference packets were transferred to the Schlesinger Library's vertical files; they can be found in the Subject Files under Teenage mothers or Mental retardation. Most other reprints, and government publications available from the Government Printing Office, were discarded.

Folder descriptions in quotation marks are Insley's, and some folders include her explanatory notes.

Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-44), includes family papers, curricula vitae, certificates, licenses, photographs, Insley's MSW thesis, diplomas, material about Insley's travels and financial and medical records. The last two categories are closed to researchers until the death of the donor.

There were also membership cards covering many years. The processor retained only the most recent from each organization.

Series II, General correspondence (#45-58), is divided into two sections, each arranged chronologically: letters by Insley and letters to Insley, the latter including letters from her sister Dot I[nsley] and other relatives. Personal correspondence with professional colleagues and friends (e.g. Rivka Ashbel, Marian Dukehart, Kazuye Kumabe, Roberta Peay, Elizabeth L. Watkins) is found here. There is also correspondence in Series I and III.

Series III, Professional activities (#59-189), makes up the bulk of the collection and is divided into five sections. Section 1, Insley's "Personnel papers," includes correspondence, position descriptions and performance ratings, and is arranged chronologically.

Section 2, Correspondence, is divided into two parts. The first pertains to Insley's various jobs; the second covers the period since her retirement. The parts are arranged by subject or individual and include letters by and to others.

Insley succeeded Edith M. Baker (EMB) (see MC 415) at the United States Children's Bureau, which may account for the appearance of some of Baker's office files in Insley's papers.

Roberta Peay's internship material (#62-65) originally contained files created by Baker, Ethel Cohen, (see MC 312) and Doris Siegel, and there were many duplicates. The files were merged and the most legible carbon copies retained.

Section 3, Writing and speeches, is also divided into two parts. Part 1, by Insley, includes related correspondence, lists, programs, and notes; it is arranged chronologically. Since many of Insley's presentations at conferences were subsequently published, no distinction is made here between speeches and writings. Only the portions of published proceedings relevant to Insley, together with publication and title information, were retained.

Part 2, Writings and speeches by others, is further subdivided into two groups: the first is arranged by subject; the second, chronologically.

Section 4, Conferences, institutes, etc., includes correspondence, reports, programs, and proceedings, and is divided into two parts. Part 1 is arranged by subject and includes "teaching conferences," so labelled by Insley. Part 2 is arranged chronologically according to date of meeting or of published proceedings. Only the portions of the latter relevant to Insley, and publication and title information, were retained.


Virginia Insley, medical social worker, was born Ruth Marie Henze on January 2, 1912, in Portland, Oregon, the daughter of Adele Henze and a father who abandoned them. In February 1913 Adele Henze "voluntarily surrendered the said child to the care and custody of The Baby Home" (see #1). In March 1913 Fannie (Brazee) and Morton H. Insley, a "travelling agent," of Portland, adopted her and changed her name to Virginia Insley.

In 1929, Virginia Insley graduated from St. Helen's Hall, a private school, and went on to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she majored in sociology and was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. The Depression, and the death of her father, made it impossible for her to go straight to graduate school. Even before she received her BA (1934), Insley had embarked on the long and successful social work career, dedicated to maternal and child health, reflected in the following chronology.

  1. 1933-1941: Volunteer, Oregon State Welfare Commission; Unpaid caseworker, Multnomah County Emergency Relief Administration; Interviewed workers, Works Progress Administration; Portland Art Museum information desk; Sales and purchasing, bookstore/lending library; Board member: Portland YWCA, Council of Social Agencies, Mental Hygiene Society; Member, Junior League
  2. 1941: Entered Graduate School of Social Work, University of Washington
  3. 1942-1944: Medical Social Consultant, Washington State Department of Health; Taught sociology to undergraduate nursing students
  4. 1944-1949: Supervisor, Social Service Department, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston
  5. 1949: Received Masters in social work
  6. 1949-1952: Chief Social Worker, Richmond (Virginia) Department of Public Health; Taught at Medical College of Virginia, College of William and Mary
  7. 1952-1955: Regional Medical Social Consultant, United States Children's Bureau, San Francisco
  8. 1955-1969: Chief, Medical Social Work Section, United States Children's Bureau, Washington, D.C. (succeeded Edith M. Baker; see Schlesinger Library collection MC 415)
  9. 1969-1973: Chief, Medical Social Work Section, Maternal and Child Health Services, United States Public Health Service (USPHS), Rockville, Maryland
  10. 1973-1980: Chief, Medical Social Work, Bureau of Community Health Services, United States Public Health Service, Rockville, Maryland
  11. 1980: Retired, honored at many conferences and by many institutions and organizations; Colleagues gave publications and money in honor of Virginia Insley to the School of Social Work Library, University of Washington
  12. 1991: Virginia Insley established Virginia Insley Fund, Syracuse University School of Social Work (SUSSW)
  13. 1992: Named to Board of Visitors, Syracuse University School of Social Work
  14. 1993: First annual Virginia Insley Lecture, University of Maryland School of Social Work, given by Gloria Johnson-Powell

During these busy years Virginia Insley continued her education by attending courses at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, National Institute of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins University and other institutions; and contributed chapters to books and articles to professional journals. She also was and continues to be a panelist and speaker at workshops and conferences, a charter member of National Association of Social Workers, a Fellow of the American Public Health Association, and an active member of other professional organizations. Insley is a supporter of the arts, community service organizations, political candidates, and the National Organization for Women.

In 1989 Insley gave material related to the Brazee and Insley families to the Oregon Historical Society.

The George Arents Research Library for Special Collections at the Bird Library, Syracuse University also holds material donated by Insley: Virginia Insley monographs (1951-1982, scattered), writings by others (1940-1990, n.d., scattered), correspondence, others to others (1948-1950, 1977, 1980), and approximately 200 volumes on maternal and child health care. A preliminary listing of this material is available in #190.

Virginia Insley died in 2003.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. I. Personal and biographical
  2. II. General correspondence
  3. III. Professional activities

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 86-M128, 86-M155, 94-M70, 94-M115

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library in 1986 and 1994 by Virginia Insley, and in 1994 by Syracuse University.


The following items have been removed from the collection and given to the Schlesinger Library book sale, August 1994:

  1. 6 books (photocopies of appropriate pages appear in collection #133)

The following items have been removed from the collection and added to Schlesinger Library's vertical file, August 1994:

  1. Pamphlets, brochures, clippings newsletters, reprints, conference packets re: teenage mothers, mental retardation

The following items have been discarded:

  1. Most government publications


  1. Carton 1: 1-65
  2. Carton 2: 66-128
  3. Carton 3: 129-183
  4. Box 4: 184-190

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: August 1994

By: Bert Hartry

Insley, Virginia. Papers of Virginia Insley, 1902-1994: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
This preliminary inventory was prepared under a grant from Clara G. Schiffer.

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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