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COLLECTION Identifier: SC 1

Papers of Agnes Mongan, 1914-1993


Correspondence, photographs, writings, and other papers of Agnes Mongan, Curator of Drawings at Harvard's Fogg Museum and the first woman director of a major art museum in the United States.


  • 1914-1993

Conditions on Access:

Access: Unrestricted. Due to their sensitive nature, two letters from 1969 are closed until 2019.

Conditions on Use:

Copying: Papers may be copied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museums Archives' usual procedures.

Copyright: The donor has transferred any copyright held in these papers to the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Harvard Art Museums Archives before publishing images or quotations from any material in the collection.


6 linear feet (11 file boxes, oversize materials)
These papers document Agnes Mongan's career as art curator and teacher, as well as her education, interest in travel, and close relationships with friends and family. The collection consists of correspondence, photographs, writings on Jean-August-Dominique Ingres and French drawings, travel material, financial and health-related records, college course notes, teaching material, clippings, and material collected by Agnes Mongan. Although the dates span 1914-1993, the bulk of the collection dates from 1927-1950 and 1967-1978. There is significant correspondence with her sister, Elizabeth, as well as notes regarding an oral history interview with Elizabeth done in 1993.

The collection is divided into three series: Personal and Biographical, Correspondence, and Writings. Series I, Personal and Biographical, contains five subseries: Photographs; Education, financial and Health; Travel; Teaching; and Materials Collected by Agnes Mongan. Subseries A contains photographs of Agnes Mongan and friends and family from her childhood through ca. 1979. Subseries B contains notebooks and class notes from Mongan's undergraduate years at Bryn Mawr, financial and health-related material. Subseries C consists of travel itineraries, diaries, and notes from trips by Agnes and Elizabeth between 1967-1978; there are also undated materials from earlier trips. Subseries D contains a catalog of an exhibition hung in support of classes she taught at the University of Texas in 1977, and an article and a thesis written by former students of Mongan, 1979. Subseries E contains clippings, programs, and other items collected by Mongan.

Series II, Correspondence, is divided into two subseries; these reflect the order the letters were in when they arrived at the archives. Subseries A, 1927-1948, 1976-1978, is arranged with alphabetical order within chronological groupings. It includes correspondence with family members, especially her siblings, colleagues at the Fogg Museum, including Paul J. Sachs, and colleagues at other institutions and within the art world. The subseries also contains correspondence with organizations and institutions with which Mongan was associated. Topics include her work at the Fogg Museum and interactions with other art institutions, social life in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Europe, her brother John's service in World War II, and her frequent travels. For the most part the correspondence consists of letters sent to Agnes. Subseries B, 1914-1992, is arranged in chronological order, and consists of correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues, especially Elizabeth Mongan. It includes a letter from Eddie Warburg regarding his purchase of a Picasso; letters from and to Agnes Mongan's family when she was a student in Florence in 1927-1928 and during a 1967 trip to Asia; and letters from colleagues regarding the 1967 publication of her catalogue on Ingres..

Series III, Writings, includes nine articles, 1946-1974, written by Agnes Mongan on Ingres and French drawings

The three accessions were integrated into the same collection. The initial accession, ARCH.2003.12, (two record cartons) consisted largely of correspondence, but also contained photographs, clippings, financial records, articles written by Agnes Mongan and others, and audio material. The addendum, ARCH.2003.18, (one record carton) consisted solely of correspondence. A third accession, ARCH.2003.15, consisted solely of notes taken from a 1993 interview with Elizabeth Mongan. Throughout the collection clippings were photocopied and the originals discarded. Photographs were photocopied; a reference copy remains in place of the original; originals are housed at the end of the collection.


Art curator and the first woman director of a major art museum in the United States, Agnes Mongan was born on January 21, 1905 to Charles Edward Mongan, a well-to-do physician, and Elizabeth Teresa O'Brien Mongan in Somerville, Massachusetts. Her three siblings were Charles Edward Mongan (1903), John Anthony Mongan (1907), and Elizabeth Mongan (1909). Mongan attended the Cambridge School, and received her B.A. in 1927 from Bryn Mawr College, where she studied art history and English literature. From 1927-1928 she studied Italian art in Florence through the Smith College Year Abroad Program, and received her A.M. from Smith in 1929. In 1928, she began working at the Fogg Museum as a special student. From 1929-1937 she worked as a research assistant for Paul J. Sachs, creating a catalog of his collection of drawings. From 1937-1947, her title was Keeper of Drawings, and in 1947 she became Curator of Drawings. She was the first female curator at the Fogg, and kept the title through her retirement in 1975. From 1951-1964 she was also the Assistant Director of the Fogg, from 1964-1968 Associate Director, from 1968-1969 Acting Director, and from 1969-1971 Director. She was the first woman to direct a major art museum in the United States. From 1960-1975 she also held the title of Martin A. Ryerson Lecturer on the Fine Arts. After she retired from the position of Director in 1971, she stayed on as Curator of Drawings until her retirement from Harvard in 1975.

Her career also included stints as Acting Director of the Timken Gallery in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, and visiting professor for various institutions, including the University of Texas at Austin. Some of her major publications include the 1940 Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art, The Ingres Centennial Exhibition, 1867-1967, published in 1967, One Hundred Master Drawings, presented in honor of Paul J. Sachs in 1949, and David to Corot: French Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art, 1996. Agnes Mongan was the recipient of seven honorary degrees: L.H.D.s from Smith College (1941), Wheaton College (1954), and the University of Massachusetts (1970); and D.F.A.s from LaSalle (1973), Collby College (1973), the University of Notre Dame (1980), and Boston College (1985). She was honored by Harvard University in 1994 when the Agnes Mongan Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs opened at the Fogg. According to James Cuno, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the University Art Museums from 1991 to 2002, "She was, in a way, not unlike the work of the artist she most admired and for whom her scholarly work is best known, the French painter and draughtsman, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Like Ingres' work, she offered us a twist on the traditional that was, in the end, more modern than old-fashioned. She was, in her tastes, habits, and courage, in no way conventional" (Harvard University Gazette, September 19, 1991). Agnes Mongan died on September 15, 1996.

Born in 1909, Elizabeth Mongan graduated from Miss Haskell's School for Girls in 1927. She received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr in 1931, where she majored in art history. In July 1931, she started working at the Lyman-Allyn Museum, New London, CT, under director Winslow Ames. She took art courses with Paul J. Sachs in 1933-1934, and 1936-1937. From 1935-1936 she taught at Sheldon Nixon School, Florence, and in 1937 became curator for Lessing J. Rosenwald, Jenkintown, PA. When the collection moved to the National Gallery of Art, she became its curator there, and was later named Curator of Graphic Arts. She left the National Gallery of Art in 1963, when she went to Paris to work on a catalogue of Paul Gaugin prints. She taught a graphics arts course at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in 1964-1965. She became the Acting Director and Curator of Prints and Drawings of the Smith College Museum of Art, where she was the Associate Director until 1975. In 1973, she became the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor at Williams College, and in 1975, Acting Director of the Timken Gallery, San Diego. In 1979, she worked as visiting curator in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Elizabeth Mongan died in June 2002.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Series I. Personal and Biographical
  2. ___Subseries A: Photographs
  3. ___Subseries B: Education, financial and health
  4. ___Subseries C:Travel
  5. ___Subseries D: Teaching
  6. ___Subseries E: Material collectedby Agnes Mongan
  7. Series II. Correspondence
  8. ___Subseries A, 1927-1948, 1976-1978
  9. ___Subseries B, 1914-1992
  10. Series III. Writings

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the Harvard Art Museums by The Massachusetts Audubon Society in May and June, 2003.

Related Materials

There are additional professional papers of Agnes Mongan, although few personal papers, located in Harvard University Archives. Many of these are listed as records of the Department of Drawings. Catalog records for these materials can be accessed via the HOLLIS Catalog, Harvard's online bibliographic database, available at

Box List

  1. Box 1: folders 1-20
  2. Box 2:folders 21-43
  3. Box 3: folders 44-70
  4. Box 4: folders 71-101
  5. Box 5: folders 102-133
  6. Box 6: folders 134-163
  7. Box 7: folders 164-189
  8. Box 8: folders 190-212
  9. Box 9:folders 213-238
  10. Box 10: folders 239-263
  11. Box 11: folders 264-293

Processing Information

Processing Information: The collection was processed in November 2003 and February-April 2004 by Juliana Kuipers with assistance from Benjamin Robinson and Susan von Salis.
Link to catalog
Papers of Agnes Mongan (SC 1), 1914-1993: A Guide
Harvard Art Museums Archives

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Art Museums Archives Repository

The Harvard Art Museums Archives is the official repository for institutional records and historical documents in all formats relating to the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 1895 to the present. Its collections include significant papers of individuals and groups associated with the museums' history, as well as correspondence with collectors, gallery owners, museum professionals, and notables throughout the twentieth century. Its holdings also document the formation of the museums' collections and its mission as a teaching institution.

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