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Marguerite Olney collection

Identifier: C-91

Scope and Contents

This collection contains ten boxes of items, ranging from correspondence, to original field notes, song indexes and texts. The materials reflect Olney’s nearly twenty years of service to Helen Hartness Flanders through the 1940’s and 1950’s. Though this collection includes some original field recordings made by Olney, the majority of her field recordings were created for, and are part of the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection. The collection includes papers associated with Olney’s work at Harvard with the Phillips Barry Papers in 1940; correspondence between Barry and colleague Fannie Eckstorm; and records pertaining to field work and curatorial responsibilities associated with the Flanders Ballad Collection.


  • Creation: 1939 - 1964


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email:

Biographical / Historical

Marguerite Ina Olney (1897-1976) received a Bachelor of Music degree, with a concentration in Public School Music, from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, in 1928. She was the primary fieldworker-collector for Mrs. Helen Hartness Flanders from 1940-1958, and the curator of the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vermont from 1941-1960. Helen Hartness Flanders began collecting traditional Vermont songs in 1931 as a result of her membership on the Committee on Traditions and Ideals on the Vermont Commission on Country Life. With the Committee’s support, Flanders began research to find, collect and create an overview of traditional songs for the Vermont Archive of Folk Song. With no formal training and little knowledge of folklore or folk songs, she enlisted the aid of Vermont musician George Brown, and leading folklorist author and scholar, Phillips Barry. Through Barry, Flanders formed a fast relationship with his colleague, Fannie Eckstorm of Brewer, Maine, and the two women linked song collecting between Vermont and Maine. Flanders met Olney in 1939 likely through Olney’s parents, both of whom had contributed songs to the Vermont Archive of Folk-Song and lived near Flanders in Springfield, Vermont. At that point, the Vermont Archive had become Flanders personal obsession: she collected primarily alone and was financially supporting her own research, as the Commission was no longer involved. Flanders recognized Olney’s skills in aspects of research with which she herself had the greatest difficulty: the musical transcription, analysis, and organization of the field recordings. The two officially began work together collecting field recordings in the spring of 1940. Olney’s dedicated collecting efforts and her musical, organizational and research skills, combined with Flanders administrative abilities, ultimately led to the greatest period of growth for the collection. The broadening scope of the collecting led Flanders to change the name of the Vermont Archive of Folk-Song to the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection in 1940. Flanders and Eckstorm arranged for Olney to gain formative archival experience organizing the Phillips Barry Papers, which were donated to the Houghton Library at Harvard University after his death in 1937. Beginning in September 1940, Olney spent more than three months processing the collection, and worked alongside Eckstorm for several weeks in December. The intense training prepared Olney for her position as curator of Flanders’ collection. In May 1941 Flanders donated the collection to Middlebury College and hired Olney as curator. Flanders also gifted annual funds to cover maintenance of a car, purchase collection equipment, and pay for the bulk of the curator’s salary. The College committed funds to cover the remainder of the curator’s salary and library supplies. During the academic year, Olney built a research library, established a text file and card catalog of the song recordings, organized the expanding collection of broadsides, and promoted the collection as student research advisor, faculty consultant, and lecturer. Her summers were dedicated to extensive field work. The noticeable growth of the collection reflected Olney’s research interests in stories, stage songs, hymns, religious music, and Polish, Russian and French-Canadian ballads and songs. Flanders wrote articles, published, lectured and made contacts with singers. Olney nourished those relationships and grew her collection. In the early 1950s, Olney and Flanders published Ballads Migrant in New England (1953) based on their created resources. That same year, they published the LP Eight Traditional British-American Ballads. Their final published work together was the culmination of all Flanders’ three decades of song collection: Ancient Ballads Traditionally Sung in New England (1961-65). Although Olney is not mentioned as a contributor of the four-volume set of Child ballads, she certainly played a major role in the preparation. The 1950s saw severe difficulties develop between Olney and Flanders. In 1958, while the project to produce the Child ballads in New England was in progress, Flanders withdrew her funding for the Ballad Collection, and consequently two thirds of Olney’s salary. Unwilling to allocate full financial support, Middlebury eliminated Olney’s position as curator in the Spring of 1960. (Information for this note provided by Jennifer Post Quinn, from An Index to the Field Recordings in the Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, 1983).


10 Boxes

Language of Materials



The collection comprises correspondence, official documents, song transcriptions and notes and recordings created during Olney’s tenure as primary field collector and curator of the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection during its greatest period of growth at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, 1941-1960.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These papers remained in the Middlebury College Special Collections following Olney’s departure as curator of the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection in 1960.

Related Materials

Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection, Middlebury College

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Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States