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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 877; Vt-275

Papers of Robin W. Kilson, 1956-2015


Diaries, notebooks, correspondence, research, photographs, course materials and other papers of historian and professor Robin W. Kilson.


  • 1956-2015

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Robin W. Kilson 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.


1.88 linear feet ((4 +1/2 file boxes) plus 1 oversize folder, 2 photograph folders, 1 videotape)
5.392 Megabytes (185 files)

The papers of Robin W. Kilson include diaries, course and research notebooks, personal and professional correspondence, theses, photographs, address books, school report cards, postcards, clippings, conference materials, curricula vitae, financial records, publications, course syllabi, exams, videos, and lectures related to Kilson's personal life and work as a historian and professor. These materials highlight the career of an African American woman professor who initially studied European history before finding her true passion, Black Studies. This transition is documented through her undergraduate course work in European history and later syllabi and lectures from courses she taught in African American history. Materials also speak to issues of discrimination within higher education (see folder "Massachusetts Institute of Technology sexual orientation discrimination case, 1990-1991"). Electronic records were received on 1 USB storage drive. Disks were imaged using FTK Manager. The dates for the electronic documents reflect the years noted in the electronic files.

Diaries were written while Kilson was in her 20s and 30s and provide insight into romantic and sexual relationships with men, her struggles with depression, multiple sclerosis, contraception usage, and daily life. Further diary-like entries on Kilson's relationships and illness can be found in her personal electronic correspondence file (#E.2). This file also contains letters from Kilson to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The collection arrangement and folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1963-2015 (#1.1-2.6, E.1-E.5), includes Kilson's diaries, notebooks, planners, postcards, correspondence, curricula vitae, notes, report cards, tax returns, clippings, writings from Kilson's unfinished memoir, funeral programs, and videos related to Kilson's personal life. This series is arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL, 1981-2005 (#2.7-5.5, OD.1, Vt-275.1, E.6-E.12), includes research papers, exam booklets, and notebooks from Kilson's undergraduate and graduate school days; articles, syllabi, lecture notes, memos, materials and transcripts from "Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994" conference, materials from Kilson's contribution to The Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History, clippings, and professional correspondence. Folder titles are arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder.

Series III, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1956-ca.2007 (#PD.1-PD.2, E.13), includes photographs and photographic negatives of Kilson, her family, friends, and various outdoor events. Photographs depict family gatherings at home and outdoors, a running marathon, historic gravestones, a parade, a car race, and hiking. Photographic negatives in which Kilson appears are marked with "RWK." This series is arranged chronologically.

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


Professor of history Robin W. Kilson was born on May 31, 1953, to Richard and Norma Kilson in Newton, Massachusetts. She grew up with her twin sister, Nancy Kilson. Kilson graduated from Harvard University (AB 1983, AM 1984, PhD 1990) and taught at a number of institutions including Bryn Mawr College (1989-1991), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1991-1995), Mount Holyoke College (1992), the University of Texas at Austin (1995-2001), and Northeastern University (2001-ca.2005). Kilson's academic areas of interest included African American history, gender history, European imperialism and colonialism, and British history.

A fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College in 1993, Kilson's research examined the experience of black women doctorates at predominantly white institutions of higher learning from 1921 to the 1990s. Kilson, along with professor Evelynn M. Hammond, co-sponsored a conference entitled "Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994," held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. The conference title is a reference to African American educator and activist Fannie Barrier Williams who cited negative racial stereotypes and discrimination as the reason why black people were excluded from the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. Williams stated, "The morality of our home life has been commented on so disparagingly and meanly that we are placed in the unfortunate position of being defenders of our name." Kilson found strong parallels between this moment of exclusion described by Williams and the character attacks black women faced during the early 1990s, spurred by the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings and political discourse surrounding welfare reform and "family values."

The conference, the first of its kind, provided a forum for black women professors of all ranks and disciplines to discuss scholarship and challenges they faced in their personal and professional lives. It included presentations from prominent scholars and activists such as Angela Davis, Florence Ladd, Lani Guinier, and Vinie Burrows.

Kilson lived with her partner, Richard Burr Tweedy, Jr., a staff attorney for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Kilson died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2009 following a prolonged battle with multiple sclerosis.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1963-2015 (#1.1-2.6, E.1-E.5)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1981-2005 (#2.7-5.5, OD.1, Vt-275.1, E.6-E.12)
  3. Series III. Photographs, 1956-ca.2007 (#PD.1-PD.2, E.13)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2015-M39, 2016-M104

The papers of Robin W. Kilson were given to the Schlesinger Library between March and May 2015 by Ellie Meek Tweedy on behalf of the estate of Kilson's partner, Richard Burr Tweedy, Jr.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library: Kilson's year as a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1993) is documented in the Records of the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute, 1933-2008, (RG XXVIII).

Processing Information

Processed: April 2017

By: Jehan Sinclair, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

Kilson, Robin W., 1953-2009. Papers of Robin W. Kilson, 1956-2015: 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.

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