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Hannah D. French papers

Identifier: MSS-009

Scope and Contents

The Hannah D. French papers include both personal and professional materials, the bulk of which span the years 1937-1989; beginning with the last years of French’s position as a Catalogue Assistant at Wheaton College, and encompassing her time as Order Librarian and Research Librarian in Charge of Special Collections at Wellesley College, where she also ran the Book Arts Laboratory. The collection also includes the years after French’s retirement in 1972, during which she continued her lifelong research into early American bookbinding, culminating in the publication in 1984 of her book Bookbinding in Early America: Seven Essays on Masters and Methods.

The collection has been arranged into 3 series. Series I. Research and Writings on Bookbinding includes a mix of French’s research notes and materials such as photocopied records and articles on bookbinding; correspondence with rare book librarians, booksellers, research aides, and others about early American bookbinders and their works; photographs and rubbings of bookbindings; application materials regarding research funding; and drafts and edits of her various scholarly essays and book. Series II. Correspondence includes a mix of personal and professional letters, most of which discuss French’s research and writings; a large amount of these letters involve French seeking expertise, information, records, rubbings, and rare books from colleagues and institutions. Other correspondence is more personal, including postcards sent to cheer up French while in the hospital, and updates on life developments. Series III. Photographs is a small series which includes professional portraits of French, candids of her at work in the book arts lab and lecturing on bookbinding, and family photos (including multiple portraits of the family cat).


  • 1912-circa 2000 (bulk 1937-1989)


Language of Materials

English (some German with translation provided)

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research, but contains some material which has been restricted as per the Wellesley College Archives Access Policy: To make an appointment to view unrestricted materials, please contact the Archives staff by email at or by phone at (781) 283-3745.

Conditions Governing Use

The Wellesley College Archives welcomes researchers to use materials in the public domain, to make fair use of copyrighted materials as defined by copyright law, and to request permission to use works whose copyright is held by Wellesley College. All materials from the Archives, regardless of copyright status, should be attributed to the Wellesley College Archives, Library and Technology Services when cited, quoted, or reproduced.

Biographical / Historical

Hannah Dustin French was the Order Librarian at Wellesley College (1939-1944) as well as the Research Librarian in Charge of Special Collections (1944-1972), and was the founder of Wellesley’s Book Arts Laboratory. The Laboratory was proposed and approved of in 1942, and opened to members of the college in 1944. French received her BA from Mount Holyoke College in 1929, and went on to earn her BS in Library Science from Drexel Institute in 1930, and her MS in Library Science from Columbia University in 1939. Her first professional position was as Catalogue Assistant to Head of Circulation and Reference at the Wheaton College Library from 1930 to 1938. While on sabbatical from Wellesley in the academic year 1967-1968, French was a Scholar at the Radcliffe Institute studying early American bookbinding. French pursued research and produced scholarly writings on the topic of early American bookbinding throughout her career. Her essay Early American Bookbinding by Hand, 1636-1820 (a revision of her Master’s thesis) was published in the book Bookbinding in America, edited by Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, her advisor at Columbia University and a well-known bibliographer and rare book expert. The scholarly articles she published on the topic culminated in her 1984 book, Bookbinding in Early America: Seven Essays on Masters and Methods, which contained 5 previously published essays and 2 that had not been previously published, which she worked on for 10 years after her retirement in 1972. Her papers reveal her involved and connected role in her field, with a multitude of professional collaborators and friends. As well as her positions at Wheaton and then Wellesley, French taught courses on the book arts and rare books at Simmons College (Summer 1958 and 1960, Fall 1962). French was a member of the American Antiquarian Society as of 1975 and an annual contributor to the Society’s Notes on Bindings of their Proceedings beginning in 1979. She was also the first woman to receive an Honorary Lifetime Subscriber Membership to the Portsmouth Athenaeum (NH) in 1979. French died on May 2nd, 1993, in her family home in Rye, New Hampshire, at the age of 85.


4.2 Linear Feet (10 boxes)


The personal and professional papers of Hannah Dustin French, who was the Order Librarian at Wellesley College (1939-1944) as well as the Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections (1944-1972).


Collection is arranged in three series: Series I. Research and writings on bookbinding (1912-circa 2000), Series II. Correspondence (1938-2000), Series III. Photographs (circa 1925-1968 and undated). Series I. is arranged in chronological order (by earliest date in file range), and Series II. Correspondence is arranged in alphabetical order by surname or organization name.
French, Hannah D. (Hannah Dustin), 1907-. Hannah D. French Papers, 1912-circa 2000: a guide
Processed by Natalia Gutiérrez-Jones, Project Archivist.
May 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Wellesley College Archives Repository