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Helen Hartness Flanders ballad collection

Identifier: HHFBC

Scope and Contents

Collection contains more than 4,800 field recordings of New England folk songs and ballads, as well as other materials collected and produced by Helen Hartness Flanders from approximately the 1930s to the 1960s.

Primarily of Anglo-American origin, but also including some Franco-American music and fiddle tunes, songs were recorded on wax cylinder, disc, and reel-to-reel magnetic tape. In addition to the content of the songs, the formats document the evolution of recording technology in the mid-20th century.

After a decade of collecting, Flanders became concerned about the safety and long-term preservation of her collection, which had been housed in her home in Springfield, VT. In May, 1941, she donated the collection to Middlebury College with the proviso that it be kept in a "fireproof environment" and that it should be used as a resource for academic and scholarly research. Flanders and Marguerite Olney, who became curator of the collection at Middlebury, continued to add to the prodigious archive of field recordings until 1958.

Over the years, Flanders donated other materials from her collection to the College, and by the early 1960s, it came to include her personal research library containing over 1,000 books on American folksong, folklore, and balladry, dating from the late 18th through mid-20th centuries; over 600 broadsides; more than 200 songsters and hymnals; original 18th and 19th century music manuscripts; an archive of transcriptions of songs and their multiple variants, corresponding but not limited to songs represented by the field recordings; as well as Flanders' personal and professional correspondence and business records.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1930-1960


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

Helen Hartness Flanders (1890-1972) was born in Springfield, Vermont in 1890. Daughter of a former Governor of Vermont and wife of Vermont senator Ralph Flanders, she split her time between Washington, D.C. and their home in Springfield. Flanders began identifying and collecting traditional folksongs from New England in 1930, at the request of the Vermont Commission on Country Life. For over three decades, Flanders traveled throughout New England, recording ballad singers at a time when radios were supplanting live performances as the major source of music in the home. She began by recording on wax cylinders and then switched to acetate discs and reel-to-reel tapes as technology improved. Her collection of field recordings eventually numbered over 4,800.

In addition to collecting live performances, Flanders also wrote extensively on traditional ballads and she published several books. She was an active contributor to conferences and exhibitions on traditional music and folklore. Her collection expanded to include songsters, broadsheets, chapbooks and photographs of informants as well as research on traditional music.


153 Boxes

Language of Materials



The Helen Hartness Flanders ballad collection contains four series: Papers, Manuscripts, Field recordings, and Broadsides.

Papers contains seven subseries including correspondence, publications, lectures/exhibits/conferences, photographs, pamphlets and publications, song texts, and song lists and indexes. These materials pertain to Flanders' work collecting and recording folk songs from around New England from 1930 to 1960. The majority of these songs have their roots in the traditional music of the British Isles. This series includes detailed information about folk music, and also includes correspondence which provides insight into Flanders' personal life and collecting process, as well as materials focusing on the fields of folklore, anthropology, and ethnomusicology.

The Manuscripts series contains manuscripts of 18th and 19th century folk songs, along with their musical scores and contexts. The majority of these items were typescript copies of songs found in manuscript form in informants' homes, library collections, or were sent to the collection by respondents to newspaper articles and advertisements written by Flanders soliciting information about various songs. Also included are a number of handwritten songs (primarily lyrics, some scores) and bound manuscripts.

Broadsides include 474 original broadside titles, which can be subdivided into three major categories: Irish, English, and American. Most of the Irish broadsides are Dublin (Brereton) imprints dating from the late 19th century. The American titles are largely from Philadelphia (Auner) and date from the late 19th century.

Field recordings include recordings made by Helen Hartness Flanders and George Brown in 1930, by Flanders with occasional help from Phillips Barry between 1931 and 1937, by Flanders and Alan Lomax in 1939, and by Flanders and Marguerite Olney between 1940 and 1958. Early recordings were made on wax cylinders. Flanders began using aluminum and glass-based discs for her field work in 1939, and later used shellac and acetate discs.

Physical Location

B1 22
B2 1

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection was donated to Middlebury College by Helen Hartness Flanders beginning in 1941.

Related Materials

See index of songsters and hymnbooks from Flanders' library.

Helen Hartness Flanders ballad collection
Middlebury Special Collections staff
February 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

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