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COLLECTION Identifier: HC 21

Records of the Assistants to the Directors, 1913-1999


These records of the Assistants to the Directors document the administrative and teaching activities of the individuals who held the position. The bulk of the collection dates from 1927 to 1943 and includes the records of Walter Siple, Henry Sayles Francis, Frederick B. Robinson, John S. Thacher, Frederick Grace, and Louisa Sprague. The collection consists primarily of correspondence.


  • 1913-1999
  • Majority of material found within 1927-1943

Conditions on Access:

Access: Unrestricted.

Copyright: President and Fellows of Harvard College hold any copyright in the Records of the Assistants to the Directors. 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 Archinves 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.


13 linear feet (28 file boxes, oversize materials)
These records of the Assistants to the Directors document the administrative and teaching activities of the individuals who held the position. The bulk of the collection dates from 1927 to 1943 and includes the records of Walter Siple, Henry Sayles Francis, Frederick B. Robinson, John S. Thacher, Frederick Grace and Louisa Sprague. The collection consists primarily of correspondence, much of it closely related to other collections in the Archives, including the records of Edward W. Forbes and Paul J. Sachs.

The folders have been re-housed into archival folders and boxes. Folders and their content have been kept in their original order, and overstuffed folders have been divided among several folders for the sake of preservation and numbered to indicate that they represent a part of a larger whole (for example, "folder 1 of 2"). The original folder titles have been retained; any added information has been enclosed in square brackets by the processing archivist. The folders are filed alphabetically by title in two series.

Acidic documents have been isolated with archival paper and in some cases enclosed in mylar. Fragile materials have been enclosed in mylar. Oversize materials have been filed in oversize storage; separation sheets indicate their removal. These oversize materials may be consulted upon request, and their location is indicated in the detailed container list that follows. Some of the collection suffered water damage in a flood of the archives in 1998; as a result, many of the papers are wrinkled, some ink has run, and some are stuck together and in need of treatment by conservators.

Biographical Notes:

The bulk of these records was created by six consecutive Assistants to the Directors: Walter Siple (who held the position from April 1, 1927 to November 1, 1929), Henry Sayles Francis (who held the position from November 1, 1929 to September 1, 1931), Frederick Robinson (who held the position from September 1, 1931 to August 31, 1937), John S. Thacher (who held the position from 1936 until 1941), Frederick Grace (who held the position of Acting Assistant Director from 1941 to 1942), and Louisa Sprague (who held the position, although seemingly on an unofficial basis, beginning in 1942).

Walter Helck Siple (1890-1978), the first Assistant to the Directors, did both his undergraduate and graduate work at Harvard, receiving a B.S. in 1915 and an A.M. in 1917. He then began work at Groton School, where he taught science from 1917 to 1926. Siple decided he would prefer a career related to the Fine Arts, though, and wrote of this interest to Fogg Museum Director Edward Forbes. Forbes hired him in April 1927 as the first Assistant to the Directors; Siple assisted not only Forbes but also Associate Director Paul J. Sachs. Siple was also responsible for teaching summer courses in the Fine Arts at Harvard, in a program initiated by the Committee on Education of the American Institute of Architects and funded by the Carnegie Corporation. He also served as a lecturer in Fine Arts for one year. Siple held the position of Assistant to the Directors for just over two years, leaving in 1929 to become Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, as well as Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati and Curator of the Charles P. Taft collection.

Siple was succeeded by Henry Sayles Francis (1902-1994). Francis, also a Harvard graduate, studied under Fogg Museum Associate Director Paul J. Sachs as an undergraduate and received his A.B. in 1924. Upon graduation, he accepted a job at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) as an assistant in the Print Department. Francis held this position from 1924 until 1927, when he was appointed Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He stayed in Cleveland until 1929, when Forbes offered him the position of Assistant to the Directors at the Fogg. Francis accepted the job, which also included responsibility for the Harvard University Portrait Collection, and held it until 1931, when he returned to the Cleveland Museum of Art. He was named Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings at that institution in 1931, a position he held until his retirement in 1967.

Francis was succeeded by Frederick Bruce Robinson (1907-1973), also a Harvard graduate. Robinson received his A.B. in 1931, having also studied under Paul J. Sachs in his famous Museum Course, and was hired for the position of Assistant to the Directors following his graduation. In addition to administrative responsibilities in the museum and the care of the University Portrait collection, Robinson was also a Lecturer in the Harvard Extension Program and in the Carnegie-funded summer courses in art appreciation held at Harvard. He also led experimental and innovative courses for blind students from the Perkins Institute and for the unemployed. Awarded a Sachs Traveling Fellowship in 1937, Robinson left the Fogg and accepted a job at the Boston MFA to begin at the conclusion of his travels. He worked as assistant to George H. Edgell, the MFA's Director, from 1937 until 1940, when he was chosen to serve as director of the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts. He was that institution's director for thirty-two years, retiring in 1972.

John Seymour Thacher (1904-1982) began work at the Fogg Museum on August 1, 1936; his initial title was Keeper of Paintings. In effect, though, he served as an auxiliary to Frederick Robinson in the Directors' office, and upon Robinson's departure in 1937 Thacher's title changed to Assistant to the Directors. Thacher received a B.A. from Yale University in 1927, did graduate work at Harvard from 1931-1934, and studied at the Courtauld Institute in London from 1935-1936. He received his Ph.D. from the Courtauld in 1936 and then returned to the Fogg to begin work. In 1940, Thacher was named Executive Officer of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C., a property and collection donated to Harvard that same year by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. Thacher would spend the rest of his career at Dumbarton Oaks, where he was Executive Officer from 1940 to 1945, Acting Director from 1945-1946 and Director from 1946-1969. Although Thacher retained the title of Assistant to the Directors at the Fogg from 1940 to 1942, most of his time was spent in Washington, D.C. He officially stepped down from the position in September 1942.

Frederick Grace (1909-1942) began work as Acting Assistant to the Directors, in Thacher's stead, at some point in 1941. He served in that capacity, chiefly responsible for museum programs and the arrangement of exhibitions, until he was commissioned as Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in April 1942. Grace received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1930, worked for several years in the National Bank of New York, and returned to Harvard for graduate studies in 1934. During this time he served as an Assistant and Tutor in the Fine Arts Department. Grace received his A.M. in 1935 and his Ph.D. in 1938, specializing in Ancient Art, and was then named Instructor in Fine Arts and Head Tutor, positions he held from 1938 to 1942. Grace died while on active duty in the Navy, on November 23, 1942.

Louisa Sprague (1903-2000) was hired at the Fogg in either 1937 or 1938 (sources conflict about the date) as a member of the secretarial staff. Her primary responsibility was as Secretary to John Thacher and then, presumably, as Secretary to Frederick Grace upon Thacher's departure to Dumbarton Oaks. Although Sprague was never named Assistant to the Directors, it seems that she took over Grace's duties when he left to enter the Navy. She worked in various capacities in the Directors' office until 1951, when she became Secretary to the Drawings Department. She also performed work for the Friends of the Fogg, the publicity department and the publications department. Sprague retired in June 1969 but returned to the Fogg in 1971 and served as Secretary of Publication Sales and as a staff member in the Picture Study. She retired from the Fogg, for the second time, around 1986.


The records are arranged in two series:
  1. Series I: Records of Walter Siple, Henry Sayles Francis, and Frederick Robinson
  2. Series II: Records of John Thacher, Frederick Grace, and Louisa Sprague.
Each series was originally filed separately and considered a distinct collection. The original order of materials within each series has been maintained, and the files are arranged alphabetically by keyword (not necessarily the first word in the folder title). Series I (#1-196) was originally known as the "Assistants to the Directors" collection, and Series II (#197-641) was known as the "John S. Thacher, Assistant to the Directors" collection. Series I consists primarily of the records of the first three Assistants to the Directors, Walter Siple, Henry Sayles Francis, and Frederick B. Robinson, although it does contain some of their successors' correspondence. Series II consists primarily of the records of John S. Thacher, Frederick Grace, and Louisa Sprague, although it also contains some of their predecessors' correspondence.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These records were left at the Fogg Museum by former Assistants to the Directors, including Walter Siple, Henry Sayles Francis, Frederick B. Robinson, John S. Thacher, Frederick Grace, and Louisa Sprague.

Box and Folder Locations

  1. Box 1: Folders 1-22
  2. Box 2: Folders 23-40
  3. Box 3: Folders 41-58
  4. Box 4: Folders 59-77
  5. Box 5: Folders 78-93
  6. Box 6: Folders 94-114
  7. Box 7: Folders 115-132
  8. Box 8: Folders 133-150
  9. Box 9: Folders 151-172
  10. Box 10: Folders 173-196
  11. Box 11: Folders 197-225
  12. Box 12: Folders 226-249
  13. Box 13: Folders 250-287
  14. Box 14: Folders 288-318
  15. Box 15: Folders 319-342
  16. Box 16: Folders 343-366
  17. Box 17: Folders 367-385
  18. Box 18: Folders 386-428
  19. Box 19: Folders 429-452
  20. Box 20: Folders 453-468
  21. Box 21: Folders 469-489
  22. Box 22: Folders 490-508
  23. Box 23: Folders 509-531
  24. Box 24: Folders 532-550
  25. Box 25: Folders 551-574
  26. Box 26: Folders 575-598
  27. Box 27: Folders 599-619
  28. Box 28: Folders 620-641
  1. Fogg Art Museum
  2. Forbes, Edward Waldo, 1873-1969
  3. Francis, Henry S.
  4. Grace, Frederick R. (Frederick Randolph), 1909-1942
  5. Harvard University--Art Museums
  6. Robinson, Frederick Bruce, 1907-
  7. Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965
  8. Siple, Walter Helck, 1890-
  9. Sprague, Louisa
  10. Thacher, John
  1. Art--Study and teaching--20th Century
  2. Art Museums--Administration
  3. Museums--Massachusetts

Processing Information

Processing Information: The collection was processed from November to December 2009 by Laura Morris.
Link to catalog
Records of the Assistants to the Directors (HC 21), 1913-1999: A Guide
Harvard Art Museums Archives
These records were processed with the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Getty Foundation

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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