Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 837

Papers of Lillian O'Connor, 1932-1987


Collection includes correspondence, reports, clippings, and photographs of educator and writer Lillian O'Connor.


  • Creation: 1932-1987

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Lillian O'Connor 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.


.83 linear feet ((2 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 5 photograph folders)

The papers of Lillian O'Connor include clippings, suffrage commemorative documents, correspondence, diplomas, employment applications, a biological and psychological profile written by a priest, notebooks, photographs, reports, speeches, transcripts, and writings. Most of the materials correspond to her service abroad under the International Cooperation Administration, later known as the United States Agency for International Development, in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and to her work with the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations. The material from her service in Africa includes reports detailing the progress with O'Connor's work in regards to the development of a new curriculum to improve the usage of English in Ethiopia and Nigeria. Similarly, writings related to the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations are mainly reports and speeches from international conferences. The remaining materials are primarily focused on O'Connor's research for her dissertation, including correspondence with faculty, repositories, and individuals associated with the suffrage movement. Series are organized alphabetically. Most folder titles were created by the archivist processing the collection. Original titles appear in quotation marks.

Series I, Personal, 1932-1987 (#1.1-1.18), includes materials related to O'Connor's education, personal life, and her work with the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations. Correspondence includes communications with faculty regarding her dissertation research, as well as repositories and individuals associated with the suffrage movement; letters between Lillian and her sister Eileen; and letters from various other individuals such as Congresswoman Margaret Heckler and Maud Wood Park. Writings include notes and outlines for O'Connor's doctoral dissertation from 1952, and materials used for her 1984 thesis in theology, "The 1969 Memorandum to the Commission for the Revision of Canon Law from the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations." Other writings include book reviews, journal articles, speeches, and a notebook chronicling O'Connor's experience during the "World Conference of the International Women's Year" celebrated in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1975. Additional documents include transcripts from her graduate work at Columbia University; a certificate of recognition awarded by the New York State War Council; employment applications to the International Cooperation Administration (later the United States Agency for International Development) to continue her work as Education Specialist for the Federal Government; documents commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the first women's rights meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848, highlighting the figures of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; a psychological and biological profile of O'Connor presenting various aspects of O'Connor's life during the early 1980s; and the obituaries of O'Connor and her mother.

Series II. Professional, 1946-1964 (#1.19-2.16, F+D.1, PD.1-PD.5), includes materials related to O'Connor's work with the New York City Speech Association, correspondence with publishers for new book projects, O'Connor's work in the Philippines, and her work in Ethiopia and Nigeria. Correspondence in this series includes letters about the activities of the New York City Speech Association and communications from O'Connor when she was the association's president; letters to and from publishers regarding O'Connor's interest in publishing her work, particularly around speech in the nursing profession and teaching English as a second language; letters to advertisers to promote her book Pioneer Women Orators; Rhetoric in the Ante-bellum Reform Movement; and communications with government agencies about her service in Ethiopia and Nigeria. Writings include a full draft of her unpublished book "Let's Hear from the Nurse"; speeches written during O'Connor's time at the New York Speech Association, including her speech "Learning to Speak American in New York City;" notebooks written during O'Connor's time in the Philippines, including the short story "No Voices. An American Woman in the Philippines;" tour of duty reports regarding her work as an advisor for the ministry of education of Ethiopia and Nigeria; and journal articles about teaching English in a country where English is not the primary language. Photographs show O'Connor teaching English in language laboratories in the Philippines and Ethiopia, along with Princess Tenagnework and Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia; teaching English in Nigeria, and of a harem in northern Nigeria. This last set of photographs were sent to O'Connor by her sister Eileen. Most of the photographs in this collection will be digitized and made available online.


Lillian O'Connor was born on January 15, 1904, in Baring, Missouri, to William F. O'Connor, a physician, and Mary Ellen (Malloney) O'Connor. She was the second of four children. O'Connor graduated from Edina High School (1921), received a B.A. in Music from Webster College (1925); and an M.A. in Education (1937), and a Ph.D. in English (1952) from Columbia University. She also received an M.A. in Theological Studies (1984) from the Washington Theological Union.

After obtaining her bachelor's degree, O'Connor worked as a speech, economics, and geography instructor in private academies and public schools in the New York and New Jersey areas. During World War II, O'Connor worked as an instructor in the Graduate School of Nursing at St. John's University. She was also a founding member of the New York City Speech Association, of which should would later become president.

In 1953, O'Connor was awarded a Fulbright professorship to teach English as a second language in Legazpi City, Philippines, an award that was renewed the next year to teach in Manila. In 1954, a book, based on her doctoral dissertation "Rhetorical Proof in the Speeches of Women of the Reform Platform, 1828-1861," was published by Columbia University Press under the title Pioneer Women Orators; Rhetoric in the Ante-bellum Reform Movement. This book was awarded the national Pi Lambda Theta prize for research concerning the professional advancement of women. In 1955 the Philippine Government published Philippine Speech Manual of English Sounds.

In 1957 O'Connor returned to the United States and applied to work for "Africa (without language)," a program sponsored by the International Cooperation Administration. In September of that year, O'Connor began her tour of service in Addis Ababa, working closely with local English teachers and the Ministry of Education to develop a new curriculum to teach English in Ethiopia. As part of this work, four books were published under the series New English Series for Ethiopia. In February 1962, O'Connor was transferred to Nigeria, where she performed similar tasks until 1964.

Upon returning to the United States, O'Connor joined the Office of Equal Educational Opportunity as an Education Specialist assigned to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In this capacity, O'Connor visited schools that had received allegations of discrimination across the country. She retired from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1970.

O'Connor was also an active member of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations. In 1966 she became a member of the board, and was appointed as the liaison with the National Council of Catholic Women. O'Connor also served as vice-president (1974-1979) and treasurer (1974-1979) of the organization. O'Connor died in 1987 after a stroke at the age of 83.


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. Series I. Personal, 1932-1987 (#1.1-1.18)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1946-1964 (#1.19-2.16, F+D.1, PD.1-PD.5)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 89-M144

The papers of Lillian O'Connor were given to the Schlesinger Library by her sister, Eileen O'Connor, in August 1989.

Related Material:

There is related material at the University of Notre Dame Archives; see Lillian O'Connor Papers 1957-1987 (OCN).


Donor: Eileen O'Connor

Accession number: 89-M144

Processed by: Pablo Morales Henry

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Books and Printed Materials Division:

  1. Philippine Speech Manual of English Sounds by Lillian O'Connor, 1955
  2. New English Series for Ethiopia. Book One, 1959
  3. New English Series for Ethiopia. Speech Improvement, 1959
  4. New English Series for Ethiopia. First Reader in English, 1959
  5. New English Series for Ethiopia. Teacher's Manual for Picture Book, 1959

Processing Information

Processed: August 2016

By: Pablo Morales Henry, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

O'Connor, Lillian. Papers of Lillian O'Connor, 1932-1987: 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