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Jeanne Robert Foster papers

Identifier: ARL-037

Content Description

The collection documents the career and life of American poet and social worker, Jeanne Robert Foster (1879-1970) through her correspondence with publishers, academics, friends and family. The papers also contain extensive unpublished poems and writings. Her life and work is further documented in diaries, photographs, postcards, scrapbooks, and other miscellaneous items and ephemera. The majority of the materials date from the second half of her life in Schenectady, NY. Following her death, additional articles and clippings on Foster were collected and are included in the collection.


  • 1854 - 2003
  • Majority of material found within 1930 - 1970


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Physical Access

The majority of poems and scrapbook pages are torn along edges and folds. Originals may not be available due to fragility but researchers may use reproductions.

Biographical / Historical

Jeanne Robert Foster, 1879-1970, was an American poet, fashion model, journalist and social worker. She was born Julia Elizabeth Oliver on March 10th, 1879 in Johnsburg, New York. Her mother, Lucia Oliviere, encouraged her daughter to learn and instilled in her the desire to travel beyond the mountain region where they lived in order to better herself. She showed a talent for writing at an early age. In 1893, she published her first article in Vermont Farm and Home magazine. It was called "Autumn leaves" and was a descriptive piece about the glorious sights on Panther Mountain during the fall. The following year saw her secure her first teaching post in Warren County which was remarkable considering her age but special dispensation was made to allow her a teaching license. Three years later she left the job to marry a man called Matlock Foster, an insurance salesman from New York who was 25 years her senior. They went to live in Rochester, New York and this heralded a new dawn in Jeanne’s career. In 1900, she met the editor of Vanity Fair in New York City and impressed by her beauty, suggested that she pose for some photographs with a view to appear in the magazine as a model. These appeared in the December edition and many other photo shoots followed. Despite the new-found fame, she continued her education studying drama at Stanhope-Wheatcroft Dramatic School and she took further studies at Boston University and Radcliffe College in order to make up for her earlier lack of schooling. She also regularly contributed articles and poetry to newspapers and magazines.

Later, she secured the position of literary editor at the American Review of Reviews magazine and became interested in the Modernist movement in art which, around 1913, was only just becoming popular. Her articles on the subject were a diversion from her first love which was stories and poems about the Adirondacks. In 1916, two of her books were published featuring narrative verse about the Adirondacks, placing her firmly amongst the country’s leading female poets.

In 1918, Jeanne met John Quinn, a wealthy New York Lawyer with artistic and political interests who became benefactor and protector of the artist John Butler Yeats. With Quinn, she travelled to Europe several times meeting famous people involved in European metrolpolitan circles. Quinn died in 1924. Finding it increasingly difficult to afford living in New York City and having to deal with the declining health of both her father and husband, she moved to Schenectady, New York. In September of 1933, her husband and father died within a short time of each other. Although her earlier activities were little known to the Schenectady community, she was still well known in the wider world. She carried on extensive correspondence with European friends she met through Quinn.

When the Municipal Housing Authority was established in the early 1930s, Jeanne became the head of the Tenant Selection Bureau, in charge of sorting through applicants for apartments in Schonowee Village and later, Lincoln Heights, Yates Village, and Steinmetz Homes. She was named Patroon of the City by Mayor Malcolm Ellis for her humanitarian efforts in assisting senior citizens with housing. She became active in local chapters of the Zonta Club, the professional women’s organization, and the Poetry Society. In June 1970, she was awarded an honorary degree by Union College. She died shortly after on September 22, 1970 at the age of 91. She is buried in Chestertown Rural Cemetery next to John Butler Yeats.


22 Boxes

13.7 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The Jeanne Robert Foster papers measure 13.7 cubic feet and date from 1854-2003, with the bulk of materials from 1930-1970. Materials in the collection include biographical information, correspondence, unpublished writings, photographs, scrapbooks, and ephemera.


The collection is arranged as seven series, two of which have been further arranged in subseries. Records are generally arranged by material type and alphabetically or chronologically thereafter.

Series 1, Biographical Materials, 1887-2002. Series 2, Correspondence, 1898-1970. Series 3, Writings, 1903-1970. Subseries 1, Poetry, 1903-1970. Subseries 2, Other Writings and Prose, 1905-1970. Series 4, Publications, 1854-1987. Subseries 1, Periodicals, 1883-1971. Subseries 2, Newsletters, Brochures and Other Printed Materials, 1883-1987. Subseries 3, Bound Publications, 1854-1965. Series 5, Photographic Materials, 1880-1967. Series 6, Scrapbooks, 1890-1966. Series 7, Miscellaneous, 1886-2001.

Custodial History

Most of the collection was purchased from the Harriet D. Murphy Trust, September 2013. These materials had been willed by Foster to William M. Murphy in 1970 and inherited by his wife Harriet on his death. Additional materials were donated by Delanne Stageman, Feburary 2013 and March 2015 and by Noel Riedinger-Johnson, in July 2019.

Related Materials

See also Jeanne Robert Foster collection (SCA-047) at Schaffer Library, Special Collections and Archives of Union College.

Processing Information

The collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Matthew Golebiewski with assistance from Margie Amodeo in 2019. Funding for the project was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Guide to the Jeanne Robert Foster papers
Matthew Golebiewski
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Repository Details

Part of the Adirondack Research Library Repository

897 St. David's Lane
Niskayuna NY 12309