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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 961

Papers of Matilda White Riley, 1844-2019 (inclusive), 1929-2004 (bulk)


Correspondence, speeches, writings, and photographs of Matilda White Riley, sociologist and gerontologist.


  • Creation: 1844-2019
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1929-2004

Language of Materials

Most materials in English; some material in Korean and German.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Matilda White Riley 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.


7.71 linear feet ((18 + 1/2 file boxes), plus 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ folders, 2 oversize folders, 15 photograph folders, 95 slides)
91.42 Megabytes (11 files)

The papers of Matilda White Riley document her personal and professional life. The collection includes Riley's personal and professional correspondence, genealogies and family histories, photographs, speeches, articles by and about Riley, book chapters, and other writings. This collection documents Riley's career in sociology, as well as her writings and research, which focused on all aspects of age and aging, including adult development, aging in the 21st century, aging and social change, self-care, health issues, and AIDS in older people.

Also found in these papers are letters between Matilda White Riley and John "Jack" Riley, Jr., which describe their courtship, travel, their studies at both Bowdoin College and Radcliffe College, friends and family, and their future together. Also found in these papers are Matilda White Riley's correspondence with her family, friends, and colleagues, including fellow sociologists Robert Merton, Harriet Zuckerman, and Paul Lazarsfeld. Most of Riley's correspondence is addressed to both Matilda and John "Jack" Riley, Jr., highlighting their combined careers in sociology. This collection also includes correspondence with the Rileys's granddaughter, Elizabeth Hutchinson, who worked in Nairobi, Kenya, with the Christian ministry Young Life Service Center.

Original folder headings were maintained; titles in brackets were created by the archivist. The material in Series III was received in 13 binders, divided by speeches and articles in chronological order. These binders were dismantled, and the material was foldered following Riley's arrangement. Electronic records were received on three zip disks, one 3.5 inch floppy, one CD, one thumb drive, four mini data cartridges, and two jumbo data cartridges. Disks, the CD, and the thumb drive were imaged using FTK Imager and Duke Data Accessioner. Selected data has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery. Data on the data cartridges was unrecoverable.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1844-2019, n.d. (#1.1-6.3, F+D.1, OD.1-OD.2, E.1-E.2), includes family histories and genealogies, curricula vitae, obituaries, diary excerpts, musical scores; and articles about Matilda White Riley. This series includes family memoranda written as diary entries by Riley. Topics include Riley's own health, including a bad reaction to prednisone, as well as the state of her father, Percival White's, mental and physical health. A transcript of an oral history of Matilda White Riley and John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr., conducted by their daughter Lucy Sallick, and nieces Matilda Ticknor and Lee Summer Cushman, is also located in this series.

This series also includes material related to Riley's father, Percival White. These documents include musical scores written by Percival White during World War II, articles about White and Riley's step-mother Pauline "Polly" Arnold White, and writings by Percival White on market research techniques.

Located in this series are family trees, genealogies, obituaries, and family histories of the White family, the Wheeler family, and the Cliff family, which were arranged by Riley's daughter, Lucy Sallick, as well as Sallick's notes on preparing her mother's papers to be donated to the Schlesinger Library.

Also found in this series are documents related to John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr.'s work during World War II and the Korean War for the Office of War Information on psychological warfare research. This material includes training documents, blank radio surveys, and subsequent reports. See also Series II for related correspondence. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1921-2018, n.d. (#6.4-13.9, FD.1, F+D.2, E.3-E.9), includes Matilda White Riley's correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues. Letters between Riley and members of her family, including her sisters Persis McMillen, Nancy Bartlett, and Jessica Pirie, reflect their close relationship, as well as the dynamics of the White family. This series also contains Matilda and John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr.'s correspondence with friends and other members of their family, including their daughter Lucy Sallick, their son John W. Riley, III, their grandchildren, and Matilda White Riley's half-brother, David Cliff. Topics include travel, health issues, the field of sociology, John W. Riley, III's health, moving permanently to Maine, John "Jack" W. Riley's death in 2002, and their granddaughter Elizabeth Hutchinson's work in Nairobi, Kenya.

This series contains correspondence between the Rileys while they were apart. Early letters highlight their courtship and future together. Later letters feature John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr., work with the Office of War Information on psychological warfare research during both World War II and the Korean War. These letters highlight both the reality of the war in France, as well as the struggles of the women left at home. Topics include his training in London, food rationing, conducting research surveys in France with citizens living in a war zone, French citizens after liberation, his work in South Korea, family life, the health of family members, and Matilda White Riley's work with the Market Research Company of America.

Matilda White Riley's correspondence with professional colleagues documents her career in sociology. Topics include her positions at Rutgers University and Bowdoin College, consulting for the Russell Sage Foundation, her position as Senior Social Scientist at the National Institute of Aging, her many books and articles, and the American Sociological Association. Other correspondence found in this series includes letters between Riley, her father, Percival White and her stepmother, Pauline "Polly" Arnold White. Topics include the Market Research Company of America, and the estate of Pauline "Polly" Arnold White after the death of Percival White in 1972.

This series also contains correspondence between Riley's daughter Lucy Sallick and business professor D. G. Brian Jones, regarding his writings on Percival White, Pauline "Polly" Arnold White, and the Market Research Company of America. Sallick's correspondence with Asian studies professor Robert Oppenheim regarding John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr.'s work in Korea can also be found in this series. See also Series I for material related to John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr.'s research of psychological warfare during World War II and the Korean War. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series III, WRITINGS, 1928-2002, n.d. (#14.1-19.8, E.10-E.11), includes the writings of Matilda White Riley. Riley's writings and research document her work as a sociologist and gerontologist, where she investigated all aspects of age and aging. Earlier writings include such topics as mass communication, communication in social networks, sources of contraception information, and the uses of contraceptives.

Folders titled "Writings" may include Riley's articles, book reviews, forwards to books written by others, book chapters, and material published in the Radcliffe Quarterly.

This series also includes articles written by John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr., and a book written by John W. Riley, III, regarding his service during the Vietnam War. This series is arranged with Matilda White Riley's material arranged alphabetically by folder title, then chronologically first, followed by material written by John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr., and John W. Riley, III.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1905-1995, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.17), includes photographs and tintypes removed from folders throughout the collection. Images include a woman at a business workstation invented by Percival White and a three-wheeled supercar designed by White. Other images include Riley with her sisters as children; Riley with her children, John W. Riley, III and Lucy Sallick; and slides taken by John "Jack" Riley, Jr., during the Korean War. The photographs are arranged to mirror the series above.

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


Matilda White Riley was born on April 19, 1911, to Percival and Mary "Molly" (Cliff) White in Boston, Massachusetts. In April 1912, Riley's paternal grandfather, Percival Wayland White and uncle Richard White, died on the HMS Titanic. Sometime after the tragedy, Matilda White Riley was brought to live with her grandmother, Edith (Wheeler) White, in Brunswick, Maine. Matilda White Riley attended Brunswick High School, where she met John "Jack" Winchell Riley, Jr. Matilda White Riley attended Simmons College for one year, transferring to Radcliffe College in 1927 where she studied English (B.A. 1931), and intellectual history (M.A. 1937).

Matilda White and John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr. were married on June 19, 1931. They had three children, Edith (1934-1948), John Winchell Riley, III (1936-2008), and Lucy Ellen Sallick (born 1937). John "Jack" W. Riley, Jr., died on January 4, 2002.

In 1935, the Rileys were told that their first daughter, Edith, had less brain tissue than was normal, and that she should be sent an institution for the rest of her life; Edith Riley died in April 1948.

Matilda White Riley worked as a research assistant in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University from 1932 until 1933. In 1938, she went to work for the Market Research Company of America, which was founded in 1927 by Riley's father Percival White and step-mother Pauline "Polly" Arnold White, as Vice-President and Research Director. Between 1942 and 1944, Riley was also a chief consulting economist for the United States Production Board. In 1950, Riley left the Market Research Company of America, due to a disagreement with Percival White regarding ownership.

From 1950 until 1973, Riley taught sociology at Rutgers University. After her retirement from Rutgers, she became the first female full professor at Bowdoin College. In 1979, Riley joined the National Institute of Health's National Institute of Aging as an Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Research. In 1991, Riley was named the National Institute of Aging's first Senior Social Scientist. Her responsibilities were to develop a program, titled Program on Age and Structural Change (PASC), to study the problems and issues felt by aging adults regarding family life, professional work, health care, and social groups within communities. In 1998, Riley retired from the National Institute of Aging as Scientist Emeritus.

Riley authored many books and other publications during her career, including AIDS in an Aging Society: What we Need to Know, (New York, 1989) (co-edited with Marcia Ory and Diane Zablotsky); Social Change and the Life Course volume 1: Social Structures and Human Lives, (Newbury Park, CA, 1988); Social Change and the Life Course volume 2: Sociological Lives, (Newbury Park, CA, 1988); Sociological Traditions from Generation to Generation: Glimpses of the American Experience, (Norwood, New Jersey, 1980) (co-edited with Robert K. Merton); Sociological Observation: A Strategy for New Social Knowledge, (New York, 1974) (co-authored with Edward E. Nelson); Aging and the Professions: Volume II of Aging and Society, (New York, 1969) (co-authored with John W. Riley and Marilyn Johnson); Sociological Studies in Scale Analysis, (Rutgers, 1954) (co-authored with John W. Riley and Jackson Toby); and Gliding and Soaring: An Introduction to Motorless Flight, (Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1931) (co-authored with Percival White).

Riley was the recipient of numerous honors including the Radcliffe Alumnae Recognition Award (1982), the Common Wealth Award in Sociology (1984), United States Presidential Meritorious Rank Award (1990), and the American Sociological Association's Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology (1992). Riley received several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Science degrees from Bowdoin College (1972) and Radcliffe College (1994), as well as Doctor in Humane Letters degrees from Rutgers (1983) and the State University of New York at Albany (1997). Riley also served as president of the American Sociological Association (1985), and was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1994). In 1996, Bowdoin College dedicated the Matilda White Riley House in her honor.

Matilda White Riley died on November 14, 2004.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1844-2019, n.d. (#1.1-6.3, F+D.1, OD.1-OD.2, E.1-E.2)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1921-2018, n.d. (#6.4-13.9, FD.1, F+D.2, E.3-E.9)
  3. Series III. Writings, 1928-2002, n.d. (#14.1-19.8, E.10-E.11)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, 1863-1995, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.17)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 97-M125, 2002-M147, 2018-M204, 2019-M73

The papers of Matilda White Riley were given to the Schlesinger Library by Matilda White Riley in September 1997 and October 2002, and by her daughter Lucy Sallick in December 2018 and May 2019.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2019

By: Cat Lea Holbrook, with assistance from Ashley Thomas.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

General processing procedures in place at the Library include the following: printed material (when not heavily annotated) by and about the collection's creator and on subjects which fall within the Library's collecting area are removed and cataloged separately with information about their provenance. Other material not normally retained include: clippings that are not by or about the collection's creator, and envelopes (when they do not contain additional information).

When samples of weeded documents are retained, it is indicated in the finding aid.

Riley, Matilda White, 1911-2004. Papers of Matilda White Riley, 1844-2019(inclusive), 1929-2004(bulk: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Matilda White Riley Fund.

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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