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Jeanne Robert Foster collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SCA-0047

Content Description

The collection contains correspondence, poems, writings, photographs, postcards, and ephemera by or about the poet Jeanne Robert Foster, mostly from the papers of Paul L. Benjamin and William M. Murphy. In addition, the collection contains first editions of Jeanne Robert Foster's books, Nieghbors of Yesterday (1916), Wild Apples (1916), and Rock Flower (1923). The bulk of materials date from her latter years in Schenectady, NY, with some coverage of her earlier metropolitan life among American and European artistic circles.


  • Creation: 1896 - 2004
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1921 - 1970


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 28 years older than her. They went to live in Rochester and this heralded a new dawn in Jeanne’s career. She met the editor of Vanity Fair in New York City, in 1900, and, impressed by her beauty, suggested that she pose for some photographs with a view to appearing 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.

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. 1916 saw the publication of two books on the subject, called Wild Apples and Neighbors of Yesterday, containing narrative verse. Her literary work placed her firmly amongst the country’s leading female poets with her well-loved tales of the people who lived in the Adirondacks ensuring that she remained so.

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 and met famous writers and painters. 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. 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.


0.95 Cubic Feet

2 Boxes

3 Volumes

Language of Materials



The Jeanne Robert Foster Collection measures .95 cubic feet and was created during the years 1896-2004, with the bulk of materials falling between 1921-1970. The collection consists of correspondence, writings, poetry, photographs, and other records.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Paul L. Benjamin and Burnham A. Colby (March 1973) and William M. Murphy (June 2005). Additional items purchased for an exhibit, May 2015.

During her lifetime, Jeanne Robert Foster transferred to William M. Murphy hundreds of letters, paintings, sketches, and books. On her death she left him the remaining collection of letters and memorabilia, some of which remains in the collection.

Related Materials

See also Jeanne Robert Foster Papers (ARL-037) at the Adirondack Research Library of Union College.

Guide to the Jeanne Robert Foster collection
Matthew Golebiewski
March, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

Union College
807 Union Street
Schenectady NY 12308 United States