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Lorraine O'Grady papers

Identifier: MSS-003

Scope and Content

The collection documents Lorraine O'Grady's life and work, dating from 1940 to 2015. Records cover her education, art career, writings and other professional pursuits. Materials include correspondence, photographs, books, journals, and audiovisual recordings.


  • 1940-2015



Some materials have been restricted. Access may require written permission.

Conditions Governing Use

Lorraine O'Grady has retained copyright in her papers.

Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright before publishing quotations from any material in the collection.

Biographical/Historical Note

Internationally recognized artist and writer, Lorraine O'Grady is best known for conceptual installation and performance art. Her 1980s performance as the persona Mlle Bourgeoise Noire won new acclaim in the landmark 2007 exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Her work has been in such exhibits as the Whitney Biennial and the Triennale de Paris.

O'Grady was born on September 21, 1934 in Boston. She was educated at the Girls' Latin School in Boston and graduated from Wellesley College in 1955 with a degree in economics and Spanish literature. She also attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop from 1965 to 1967 to pursue an MFA in fiction.

O'Grady pursued several career paths. From 1956 until the mid-1960s, she worked for the United States Government. She wrote studies on labor conditions in foreign countries during her time as a research economist at the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. She was a specialist in Cuba, Central America, and French-speaking African countries at the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence Research.

O'Grady was a translator and businesswoman. From 1968 to 1969, she managed the Mary Baldwin Translation Bureau. She then founded and ran the translation agency Freeman Associates, with top clients including Playboy Magazine and Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1989, she founded Urse Fraser Incorporated which held contracts with Citibank, among others.

During the 1970s, O'Grady also worked as a freelance journalist, writing music reviews for publications such as the Village Voice.

O'Grady did not come to art until the late 1970s. Her work includes both photograph installations and performances. She has also curated exhibitions and has written extensively about the art world in prominent journals. Major collections include Thomas Erben, Eileen Harris Norton and Peter Norton, the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Rose Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Harvard Art Museums.

She currently lives and works in New York City, represented by Alexander Gray Associates.


72 Linear Feet (60 file boxes and 33 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection comprises the personal and professional papers of Lorraine O'Grady, Wellesley College Class of 1955, artist and writer, dating from 1940 to 2015. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, books, journals, and audiovisual materials.


The collection is divided into six series: I. Personal; II. Education; III. Art; IV. Professional (Non-Art); V. Writing; VI. Subject Files. Each series is further subdivided into subseries based on format or content.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Lorraine O'Grady, 2010-2015.

Related Materials

The Smithsonian Archives of American Art conducted an interview in 2010 with Lorraine O'Grady as part of the oral history program. Also, the Getty Research Institute houses the records of the art collective the Guerrilla Girls. In the Wellesley College Archives, additional material may be found in the Records of the Class of 1955 and the Records of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center. Additional information is available through O'Grady's websites: and .

Separated Material

Published materials, including books, magazines, and exhibition catalogs have been catalogued separately and may be found here:

Processing Information

Processed by Jane A. Callahan, 2011-2012. Revised by Andrew Simeone, 2016.



Lorraine O'Grady papers, 1940-2015: a guide.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Wellesley College Archives Repository