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HC 5

Coolidge, John, 1913-1995 and Mongan, Agnes. Papers of John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan, 1909-2006: A Guide

Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
The President and Fellows of Harvard College

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

These papers were processed with the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Getty Foundation

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HC 5
Repository: Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
Title: Papers of John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan, 1909-2006: A Guide
Date(s): 1909-2006
Quantity: 65 linear feet (152 file boxes, oversize materials)
Abstract: These papers of Fogg Museum directors John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan document their administration of the museum and related professional activities. Most of Coolidge's papers were created during his administration, from 1948 to 1968; most of Mongan's papers are from her tenure as acting director and then director (1968 to 1971). The papers consist primarily of correspondence, including Coolidge's correspondence with art dealers, and also include photographs, memoranda, reports, meeting minutes, blueprints, printed material, letters of recommendation, page proofs, financial documents, sketches, and grant proposals.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

These papers were left at the Fogg Museum by former director and professor John Coolidge and by former director, curator, and professor Agnes Mongan.

Processing Information:

The collection was processed from November 2008 to April 2009 by Laura Morris.

Conditions on Access:

Access to most of the papers is unrestricted. Access to files containing information on personnel matters, student academic records and other materials deemed confidential is restricted. These restrictions are noted at the file level.

Conditions on Use:

Copyright: The President and Fellows of Harvard College hold any copyright in Coolidge and Mongan's 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 and the Harvard Art Museums Archives before publishing from any material in the collection. Copying: Papers may be copied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museums Archives' usual procedures.

Related Material:

There are additional papers of both John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan in the Harvard Art Museums Archives and Harvard University Archives.

Biography: John Coolidge

John Phillips Coolidge was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in December 1913, on either the 15th or 16th; his parents disagreed about the exact date of his birth. His father, Julian Lowell Coolidge, was a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the first master of Lowell House, and his mother, Theresa Reynolds, was a linguist. One of his uncles, Archibald Cary Coolidge, was a history professor at Harvard and also the first director of the Harvard University Library. Coolidge had one brother and four sisters. Following family tradition, he studied at Harvard as an undergraduate and received a B.A. in 1935. He married Mary Elizabeth "Polly" Welch the same year; they would have one child, Mary-Elizabeth "Penny" Coolidge Warren. Following graduation, Coolidge moved to New York to study architecture at Columbia University, but after a year of study decided he did not have the requisite talent to succeed as an architect and instead took up the study of art and architectural history. In 1936 he enrolled in graduate school at New York University, where he studied under German émigré scholars Erwin Panofsky, Karl Lehmann, Richard Krautheimer and Walter Friedlaender. He also taught at Vassar College from 1937 to 1939. Coolidge received an A.M. in 1939 and published a book based on his research for the degree in 1942: Mill and Mansion: A Study of Architecture and Society in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1820-1865. The book is still widely considered a classic social and economic history of American architecture and urbanism. Coolidge was also one of the co-founders in 1940 of the Society of Architectural Historians and served on the society's board of directors and as its first vice-president.
By 1940, Coolidge's academic focus had shifted to Italian Renaissance architecture. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on sixteenth century architect and theorist Jacopo da Vignola. The Second World War interrupted his academic work, however, and he entered the Navy as an ensign in 1943. He was stationed in Washington, D.C. and near London, working in communications until his discharge in 1946. He returned to academic work that year, teaching art history at the University of Pennsylvania for academic year 1946-1947. In the fall of 1947, Coolidge accepted a position at Harvard as assistant professor of architectural history; his dissertation was completed and accepted the same year. In 1948, at age 34, he was named director of the Fogg Museum and associate professor of art history. He was promoted to full professor in 1955 and served as director of the museum for twenty years, until 1968. Coolidge was involved in a range of ambitious endeavors at the Fogg; the museum's collections of Islamic and contemporary art were greatly strengthened during his tenure, and Coolidge encouraged students to organize exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and to write publishable catalogues for those exhibitions. He also continued his predecessors' work training future curators and other museum professionals through a program known as the Museum Course. Coolidge retired in 1968, took a sabbatical year, and returned to teach at Harvard in academic year 1969-1970. He continued teaching until 1984.
In addition to his work at Harvard, Coolidge was active as a trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1948 until 1974; he served as that institution's President from 1973 to 1975. He was also an active member of the Society of New England Antiquities. He was appointed Bingham Professor at the University of Louisville in 1985 and Samuel H. Kress Professor at the National Gallery of Art's Center for Advanced Study in Visual Arts for the academic year 1991-1992. Coolidge published numerous articles on American and Italian architecture and Baroque sculpture while he was at Harvard and published two books in his retirement, Patrons and Architects: Designing Art Museums in the Twentieth Century in 1989 and Gustave Doré's London in 1994. John Coolidge died in Boston, Massachusetts on July 31, 1995.

Biography: Agnes Mongan

Agnes Mongan was born in Somerville, Massachusetts on January 21, 1905 to Charles Edward Mongan, a family physician, and Elizabeth Teresa O'Brien Mongan, a former school teacher. She had two brothers, Charles Edward and John Anthony, and a sister, Elizabeth. Mongan attended Somerville High School and the Cambridge School for Girls and went on to study art history and English literature at Bryn Mawr, where she received her B.A. in 1927. She spent the following year abroad studying Italian art in Florence, Paris, and other locations through a Smith College seminar and then returned to Massachusetts in 1928 to complete degree requirements for an A.M. from Smith. She received this degree in 1929, after completing a year of course work at Harvard, rather than Smith; she was designated a special student at Harvard and allowed to study under Edward Forbes, Paul J. Sachs, and Arthur Pope. In 1929 she began work as a research assistant for Sachs, and spent much of the following decade researching and compiling a catalog of the Fogg Museum's collection of drawings. This catalog, Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art (2 vols.), was co-authored by Mongan and Sachs and first published in 1940. It was the first comprehensive scholarly catalogue of a drawing collection to be published in the United States.
In 1937, Mongan was named Keeper of Drawings, a title she held until 1947 when she became Associate Curator of Drawings; this change in title came about when Harvard altered its policy banning female curators. Mongan was the first female curator at the Fogg and kept the title through her retirement in 1975. From 1960 to 1975 she also held the title of Martin A. Ryerson Lecturer in the Fine Arts at Harvard. Mongan taught courses and seminars on drawings, curated museum exhibitions, and - with a remarkably small acquisitions budget - managed to build an astonishing collection in both quality and quantity during her tenure at the Fogg.
In addition to her teaching and curatorial responsibilities, Mongan also served in a range of administrative capacities at the Fogg Museum. From 1951 to 1964 she was the museum's assistant director, and in 1964 she became associate director. When John Coolidge retired as director in 1968, Mongan became acting director of the museum, and from 1969 until her retirement in 1971 she was its director.
Mongan's career also included stints as acting director of the Timken Art Gallery in San Diego, California, and as visiting professor at several institutions, including the University of Texas at Austin. She wrote and co-authored several books and edited or otherwise contributed to myriad other books and exhibition catalogues. Mongan's final publication, David to Corot: French Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, was published in 1996, the final year of her life. Mongan was the recipient of seven honorary degrees: L.H.D.s from Smith College in 1941, Wheaton College in 1954 and the University of Massachusetts in 1970; and D.F.A.s from LaSalle University and Colby College in 1973, the University of Notre Dame in 1980 and Boston College in 1985. Mongan was named Samuel H. Kress Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1977 and was honored by Harvard in 1994 when the Fogg Museum named a study center in her honor: the Agnes Mongan Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. She remained actively involved with the museum into the last years of her life. Agnes Mongan died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 15, 1996.


The papers are arranged in two series: Series I, General Correspondence (folders 1-3222), contains correspondence with a wide range of individuals and is arranged alphabetically by folder title. Series II, Dealer Files (folders 3223-3345), consists of correspondence with art dealers, filed alphabetically either by the name of the individual dealer or the organization they represented.

Scope and Content:

The papers in this collection document John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan's respective careers at the Fogg Museum and in Harvard's Department of Fine Arts. The bulk of the collection dates from 1948 to 1971; most of Coolidge's papers were created during his administration of the museum, from 1948 to 1968, and most of Mongan's papers are from her tenure as acting director and then director, from 1968 to 1971. The papers consist primarily of sent and received correspondence, including a series of Coolidge's correspondence with art dealers, and also include photographs, memoranda, newspaper clippings, reports, meeting minutes, blueprints, letters of recommendation, printed material, page proofs, invitations, invoices and other financial documents, lists, catering menus, sketches, drafts of published works, membership cards, surveys, fabric samples and grant proposals.
All materials in the collection have been re-housed into archival folders and boxes. Folders and their contents have been kept in their original order, and overstuffed folders have been divided among several folders for the sake of preservation and numbered to indicate that they represent a part of a larger whole (for example: "folder 1 of 2"). The original folder titles have been retained; any added information has been enclosed in square brackets by the processing archivist. The folders are arranged alphabetically by title, and in most instances the items within each folder are filed either in chronological or reverse chronological order. Occasionally the papers in a folder are filed alphabetically instead of chronologically.
Some folders contained notes of unknown origin and documents clearly added after Coolidge's or Mongan's death, including archivists' memoranda. These added materials have been removed from the papers and maintained in separate files in the archives; they may be consulted upon request. The dates of these materials have been preserved in the folder titles, as a cue to researchers that added materials from a given folder can be found in a separate location. Researchers should also note that folder titles are not always entirely accurate or reflective of content. In cases where the folder title and content differ significantly, a note has been added at the folder level of the finding aid. Many folders contain correspondence with individuals not mentioned in the folder title. For this reason, the processing archivist has made notes about various individuals' correspondence in the collection; these notes are held in the archives and may be consulted upon request. While they are not exhaustive, they may be helpful in locating materials.
Acidic documents have been isolated with archival paper and in some cases enclosed in mylar. Fragile materials have been enclosed in mylar. Oversize materials have been filed in an oversize box and cabinet; separation sheets indicate their removal. These oversize materials may be consulted upon request, and their location is indicated in the detailed container list that follows. Some of the collection suffered water damage in a flood of the archives in 1998; as a result, many of the papers are wrinkled, some ink has run, and some are stuck together and in need of treatment by conservators.

Box and Folder Locations






Form/Genre Terms

Container List