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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 678; T-446

Papers of Joan R. Challinor, 1848, 1975-2008


Papers of Joan R. Challinor, former chairperson of the National Committee on Libraries and Information Science, civic leader, historian, and education activist, include correspondence, meeting and conference materials, articles and speeches, reports, photographs, and audiotapes.


  • 1848,
  • 1975-2008

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted, except that #4.7 and 7.8 are closed until January 1, 2028; #8.9, 9.3, 9.4 are closed until January 1, 2052; and #9.1 is closed until January 1, 2057. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Joan R. Challinor 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.


4.59 linear feet ((11 file boxes) plus 1 oversize folder, 4 photograph folders, 10 audiotapes)
The Joan Challinor papers largely document her work in the fields of library science, education-related initiatives, and charitable organizations. The files were received in accurately labeled folders, and organized by the processor. In most cases, Challinor's original folder titles have been maintained; any remaining titles created by the processor appear in square brackets. A majority of Challinor's writings and speeches are located in Series III; however, transcripts of speeches and writings can be found with related materials throughout the collection.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1975-2008 (#1.1-1.9, PD.1-PD.2), includes transcripts of remarks and congratulation cards for Joan and David Challinor's fiftieth wedding anniversary party; letters from their grandchildren; photographs of Joan and David Challinor; and genealogical research materials. Also included is a letter and speech transcript by Challinor's friend, the poet and human rights advocate Carolyn Forché. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL, 1975-2008 (#1.10-9.12, OD.1, PD.3-PD.4), contains correspondence, memos, meeting materials, research and grant materials, reports, conference materials, transcripts of speeches, and articles relating to Challinor's work in library science and education, her civic leadership, and involvement in philanthropic activities. Files are arranged alphabetically. "Alphabetical cross files" (#1.10-1.15) are Challinor's correspondence files grouped by last names of individuals, as well as by organization name. The files contain both professional and some personal correspondence, including requests to serve on committees; NCLIS related work, such as the Trust and Terror program and collaboration with Sister Cities International on Sister libraries; involvement with the Brearley School and the Cosmos Club; and thank you letters to organizations, companies, and individuals. Also included in this series are photographs of events with other dignitaries and politicians.

Series III, RESEARCH, WRITINGS, AND SPEECHES, 1848, 1982-2008 (#9.13-11.9, T-446.1-T-446.10), contains transcripts of speeches and presentations, articles, and essays covering a wide range of topics, including National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) initiatives and the future of libraries; Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams; and a tribute to former head of the Brearley School Millicent Carey McIntosh. Related materials include correspondence and research and meeting notes. This series also includes an incomplete set of numbered audiotapes, some with transcripts, of scholars' interviews, and Challinor's research and grant files related to the production of a Thomas Paine documentary film in conjunction with the French-American Foundation.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Joan R. Challinor was born in New York City on March 25, 1927, to Marie Thompson Ridder and Victor Frank Ridder. She attended the Brearley School in New York City (1932–1945) and Wells College in Aurora, New York (1945–1947). In 1952 she married David Challinor and settled in Washington, DC. They had four children together: Julia, Mary, Sarah, and David. Her husband, a conservationist and scientific administrator at the Smithsonian Institution, died in 2008.

She received her BA (1971), MA (1974), and PhD (1982) in History from American University in Washington, DC. Her research specialty was colonial America; her dissertation, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams: The Price of Ambition, was a biography of the wife of John Quincy Adams. She was a lecturer at American University (1981–1984), where she also received the Distinguished Alumni Award (1985). She served as a research associate at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution (1984–1990), and received honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College (1991). Challinor has written numerous essays, edited two books — Kin and Communities: Families in America (1979) and Arms at Rest: Peacemaking and Peacekeeping in American History (1987) — and also was a producer and project director in the 1990s on a documentary film about Thomas Paine. Throughout her career, Challinor has lectured on a wide range of topics, including "Are Libraries as We Know Them Endangered Species in the Internet Era?" and "Women in the Developing World and Information Literacy," which was the 2003 keynote address at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization/National Commission on Libraries and Information Science Forum on Information Literacy.

Challinor has served on several advisory committees and worked with or supported numerous organizations, many of which are library and education-related. She joined the Schlesinger Library Advisory Committee in 1980, serving as chair from 1986 through 2002. President Bill Clinton appointed Challinor to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) in 1995; she was reappointed in 2000, and asked by President George Bush to serve as interim chair from July 2003 to January 2004. She was a member of numerous other boards and committees. Because of her work as the director of the French-American Foundation, she received the Medal of the City of Paris from President Jacques Chirac in 1983.

In addition to her committee and organizational work, from 1989 to 2001 she was a director of Knight Ridder, Inc., a newspaper and electronic publisher and family business responsible for numerous daily newspapers and a variety of business, financial, professional, science, and technology on-line retrieval, database, and CD ROM services.

In 2011, Joan Challinor continues to live and work in the Washington, DC, area.


The collection is arranged in three series:
  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1975-2008 (#1.1-1.9, PD.1-PD.2)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1975-2008 (#1.10-9.12, OD.1, PD.3-PD.4)
  3. Series III. Research, writings, and speeches, 1848, 1982-2008 (#9.13-11.9, T-446.1-T-446.10)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2008-M143, 2009-M155, 2010-M182

The papers of Joan R. Challinor were given to the Schlesinger Library by Joan R. Challinor between 2008 and 2010.

Processing Information

Processed: October 2011

By: Laura Peimer, with assistance from Camille Torres.
Link to catalog
Challinor, Joan R. Papers of Joan R. Challinor, 1848, 1975-2008: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

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.

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