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COLLECTION Identifier: HC 15

Papers of John Coolidge, 1939-1984


These papers of former Fogg Museum director and Harvard University professor John Coolidge document a portion of his teaching activities, museum administration, and other personal and professional endeavors and interests. The papers consist primarily of personal correspondence, and date largely from 1947-1975. Also included are research materials, teaching materials, lecture notes, speeches, reports, resumes, photographs, and financial records.


  • 1939-1984

Conditions on Access:

Access to most of the papers is unrestricted. Access to files containing information on personnel matters, student academic records and other materials deemed confidential is restricted. These restrictions are noted at the file level.

Copyright: The President and Fellows of Harvard University hold any copyright in Coolidge's papers. 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 quotations. from any material in the collection.

Conditions on Use:

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


4 linear feet (10 file boxes, 1 half file box, oversize materials)

The collection consists of a combination of museum and university records and personal correspondence. The papers date from 1939 to 1984, with the bulk of the materials falling between 1947 and 1975. Many of these materials coincide with John Coolidge's tenure as museum director spanning from 1948 to 1968.

The collection is divided into three series "Teaching Materials," "Speeches," and "Personal Papers." The first two series consist primarily of official university and museum related records and correspondence. The third series may be broadly defined as personal papers, however there are instances of the inclusion of professional papers. As the majority of the files were found in reverse-chronological order, this arrangement has been maintained or imposed by the processor in an effort to provide greater accessibility to researchers.

The collection has been re-housed in archival folders and containers. Folder contents have been kept in their original order and folder titles have been retained, with any added information enclosed in square brackets by the processor. Over-stuffed folders have been divided into several folders and numbered sequentially to indicate that they represent part of a larger whole (for example: folder "1 of 2"). Oversize materials have been removed from their original folder locations and filed separately. Separation sheets have been inserted in their stead to indicate their removal. These oversize materials may be consulted upon request; their location is indicated in the detailed container list that follows. Restricted materials removed from file folders have also been supplanted with separation sheets. The removal of these materials is also indicated at the file level in the container list below.

The papers are largely considered to be an artificial collection, gathered together by former museum staff merely on the basis of having been made or received by John Coolidge. The folders do not appear to be organized in the original order in which they were used or maintained by Coolidge. Nevertheless, folders have been preserved in the found order whenever possible. Folders clearly misfiled or in disarray have been re-arranged in an order deemed to be closer to the original file organization.

At some earlier date, the collection was divided topically by the insertion of labeled, file drawer "dividers." These dividers were used to separate the collection into discrete sections. These sections are now represented by separate subseries or groupings, evident in the finding aid's structure. For instance, Series III, Personal Papers, is divided into five separate Subseries, A through E, which range from "Personal Correspondence" to "Projects."

Some materials in the collection were damaged by a flood in the 1990s. This damage has rendered a limited number of handwritten documents unreadable, due to ink bleeding. In addition, some materials have adhered together as a result of this submersion. These materials may be treated by the conservation department on an as needed basis, per researcher request.


John Phillips Coolidge was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in December 1913, on either the 15th or 16th day; his parents disagreed about the exact date of his birth. His father, Julian Lowell Coolidge, was a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the first master of Lowell House, and his mother, Theresa Reynolds Coolidge, was a linguist. One of his uncles, Archibald Cary Coolidge, was a history professor at Harvard and also the first director of the Harvard University Library. Coolidge had one brother and four sisters. Following family tradition, he studied at Harvard as an undergraduate and received a B.A. in 1935. He married Mary Elizabeth "Polly" Welch the same year; they would have one child, Mary-Elizabeth "Penny" Coolidge Warren. Following graduation, Coolidge moved to New York to study architecture at Columbia University, but after a year of study decided he did not have the requisite talent to succeed as an architect and instead took up the study of art and architectural history. In 1936 he enrolled in graduate school at New York University, where he studied under German émigré scholars Erwin Panofsky, Karl Lehmann, Richard Krautheimer and Walter Friedlaender. He also taught at Vassar College from 1937 to 1939. Coolidge received an A.M. in 1939 and published a book based on his research for the degree in 1942: Mill and Mansion: A Study of Architecture and Society in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1820-1865. The book is still widely considered a classic social and economic history of American architecture and urbanism. Coolidge was also one of the co-founders in 1940 of the Society of Architectural Historians and served on the society's board of directors and as its first vice-president.

By 1940, Coolidge's academic focus had shifted to Italian Renaissance architecture. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on sixteenth century architect and theorist Jacopo da Vignola. The Second World War interrupted his academic work, however, and he entered the Navy as an ensign in 1943. He was stationed in Washington, D.C. and near London, working in communications until his discharge in 1946. He returned to academic work that year, teaching art history at the University of Pennsylvania for academic year 1946-1947. In the fall of 1947, Coolidge accepted a position at Harvard as assistant professor of architectural history; his dissertation was completed and accepted the same year. In 1948, at age 34, he was named director of the Fogg Museum and associate professor of art history. He was promoted to full professor in 1955 and served as director of the museum for twenty years, until 1968. Coolidge was involved in a range of ambitious endeavors at the Fogg: the museum's collections of Islamic and contemporary art were greatly strengthened during his tenure, and Coolidge encouraged students to organize exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and to write publishable catalogues for those exhibitions. He also continued his predecessors' work training future curators and other museum professionals through a program known as the Museum Course. Coolidge retired in 1968, took a sabbatical year, and returned to teach at Harvard in academic year 1969-1970. He continued teaching until 1984.

In addition to his work at Harvard, Coolidge was active as a trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1948 until 1974; he served as that institution's President from 1973 to 1975. He was also an active member of the Society of New England Antiquities. He was appointed Bingham Professor at the University of Louisville in 1985 and Samuel H. Kress Professor at the National Gallery of Art's Center for Advanced Study in Visual Arts for the academic year 1991-1992. Coolidge published numerous articles on American and Italian architecture and Baroque sculpture while he was at Harvard and published two books in his retirement, Patrons and Architects: Designing Art Museums in the Twentieth Century in 1989 and Gustave Doré's London in 1994. John Coolidge died in Boston, Massachusetts on July 31, 1995.


The collections is arranged in reverse chronological order at the folder level. Contents of folders have not been arranged by the processor.

  1. Series I. Teaching Materials
  2. ___Subseries A. Museum CourseCurriculum Review
  3. ___Subseries B. Museum Course & Teaching Materials
  4. Series II. Speeches
  5. Series III. Personal Papers
  6. ___Subseries A. Personal Correspondence
  7. ___Subseries B. Fogg
  8. ___Subseries C. Writings
  9. ___Subseries D. Organizations
  10. ___Subseries E. Projects

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were left at the Fogg Museum by former director and professor John Coolidge.

Related Material:

There are additional papers of John Coolidge in the Harvard Art Museums Archives and Harvard University Archives.

Box and Folder Locations

  1. Box 1: Folders 1-31
  2. Box 2: Folders 32-52
  3. Box 3: Folders 53-74
  4. Box 4: Folders 75-103
  5. Box 5: Folders 104-119
  6. Box 6: Folders 120-136
  7. Box 7: Folders 137-152
  8. Box 8: Folders 153-177
  9. Box 9: Folders 178-197
  10. ½ Box 10: Folders 198-206
  11. Box 11: Closed and Restricted Materials
  12. Oversize Cabinet: Oversize Materials

General note

Names and Subjects
  1. American Association of Museums
  2. Art and Architecture
  3. Art Dealers--United States
  4. Art Galleries, Commercial
  5. Art Historians
  6. Art Historians--Massachusetts--Cambridge
  7. Art in Universities and Colleges
  8. Art Museum Directors
  9. Art Museums--Administration
  10. Art Museums--Educational Aspects
  11. Art Objects--Collectors and Collecting
  12. Art Objects--Private Collections
  13. Art Patrons
  14. Art Publishing
  15. Art--Attribution
  16. Art--Collectors and Collecting--United States
  17. Art--Criticism and Interpretation
  18. Art--Exhibition Techniques
  19. Art--Exhibitions
  20. Art--History--Study and Teaching (Higher)--United States
  21. Art--Private Collections
  22. Arts Administrators--United States
  23. Art--Societies, etc.
  24. Art--Study and Teaching--Massachusetts
  25. Art--Study and Teaching--United States
  26. Cambridge (Mass.)
  27. Class Reunions
  28. Collectors and Collecting
  29. College Art Museums--Massachusetts--Cambridge
  30. Coolidge, John, 1913-1995
  31. Curriculum Planning
  32. Deknatel, Frederick B.
  33. Exhibitions
  34. Fogg Art Museum
  35. Fogg Art Museum--Administration
  36. Fogg Art Museum--Benefactors
  37. Fogg Art Museum--History
  38. Harvard Art Museum
  39. Harvard University. Dept. of Fine Arts
  40. Harvard University. Dept. of History of Art & Architecture
  41. Harvard University--Alumni and Alumnae
  42. Harvard University--Benefactors
  43. Harvard University--Curricula
  44. Harvard University--Faculty
  45. Harvard University--Museums
  46. Harvard University--Students
  47. Hofer, Philip, 1898-1984
  48. Krautheimer, Richard, 1897-1994
  49. Kuhn, Charles Louis
  50. Lectures and Lecturing
  51. Museology
  52. Museum Architecture
  53. Museum Directors
  54. Museum Directors--Massachusetts
  55. Museum Exhibits
  56. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  57. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Trustees
  58. Museum Techniques--Study and Teaching (Higher)--United States
  59. Museums--Administration
  60. Museums--Employees--Training of
  61. Museums--Massachusetts
  62. Object--Teaching
  63. Prown, Jules David
  64. Rathbone, Perry Townsend, 1911-
  65. Rosenberg, Jakob, 1893-
  66. Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965
  67. Slive, Seymour, 1920-
  68. Society of Architectural Historians
  69. Yale Center for British Art

General note

Form/Genre Terms
  1. Announcements
  2. Brochures
  3. Contract(s)
  4. Curricula
  5. Exhibition records
  6. Financial records
  7. Floor plans
  8. Form letters
  9. Galley proofs
  10. Insurance records
  11. Invitations
  12. Itineraries
  13. Lecture note(s)
  14. Lecture(s)
  15. Letters of advice
  16. Letters of recommendation
  17. Memorandums
  18. Minutes
  19. Museum records
  20. Negative(s)
  21. Outlines (documents)
  22. Photograph(s)
  23. Postcards
  24. Report(s)
  25. Resume(s)
  26. School records
  27. Speeches
  28. Syllabi
  29. Term papers
  30. Traffic tickets

Processing Information:

The collection was processed from June to July, 2009 by Insley Julier with assistance from Laura Morris and Susan von Salis.

Papers of John Coolidge (HC 15), 1939-1984: A Guide
Harvard Art Museums Archives
Language of description

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 papers of individuals and groups associated with the museums' history, including records of past exhibitions, architectural plans, photographs, scrapbooks, and memorabilia, as well as correspondence with collectors, gallery owners, museum professionals, and artists throughout the twentieth century. Its holdings also document the formation of the museums' collections and its mission as a teaching institution.

32 Quincy Street
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA