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RG II, Series 1

Briggs, Le Baron Russell, 1855-1934. Records of Radcliffe College President Le Baron Russell Briggs, 1903-1925: A Finding Aid

Radcliffe College Archives, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
The Patty Trustman Gelfman Collection on the History of Radcliffe College


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
July 2007

© 2007 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: RG II, Series 1
Repository: Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: Le Baron Russell Briggs, 1855-1934
Title: Records of Radcliffe College President Le Baron Russell Briggs, 1903-1925
Quantity: 5.42 linear feet (13 file boxes)
Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Official Radcliffe College correspondence of Le Baron Russell Briggs, professor and second president of Radcliffe College.

Processing Information:

Reprocessed: June 1987
By: May Bryant Cheever '41

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Preferred citation for publication:

Le Baron Russell Briggs Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1903-1925; item description, dates. RG II, Series 1, folder #. Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.


Le Baron Russell Briggs, professor, dean, and college president, was the son of George Ware Briggs, a Unitarian minister, and his second wife, Jane Russell Briggs. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts on December 11, 1855. He grew up in Cambridge and was educated at Harvard, receiving his A.B. in 1875 and A.M. in 1882. He served at Harvard as tutor in Greek, 1878-1881, instructor in English, 1883-1885, assistant professor, later professor English, 1885-1904, and Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, 1904-1925. He was Dean of Harvard College, 1891-1902, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 1902-1925, and Chairman of the Committee on Athletic Sports.
Briggs was one of the first Harvard professors who, at the request of President Charles W. Eliot in 1897, agreed to teach at the newly organized program for the collegiate instruction of women by Harvard professors (later Radcliffe College). He was second president of Radcliffe College, 1903-1923, succeeding Elizabeth Cary Agassiz.
Admired by generations of students for his kindness and benevolent guidance, Briggs had a profound influence on his students who placed him among the very great teachers of English and the classics: "the shrewd genius who created creators," said his biographer Rollo Brown. He was not considered a scholar. His publications included a collection of speeches, School, College and Character (1901), essays on women, Girls and Education (1911) and collections of charades, The Sphinx Garrulous (1929), and Pegasus Perplexing (1931).
He was appointed president of Radcliffe with the blessing of outgoing President Agassiz and President Eliot who believed he would maintain good relations between Harvard and Radcliffe. In the eyes of William Alan Neilson, president of Smith College, he "made Radcliffe respectable."
Among his accomplishments as president of Radcliffe was the growth of the student body from 458 in 1903 to 753 in 1923, the increased geographical diversity of students (the number of students drawn from outside of Massachusetts rose from 19% in 1903 to 33% in 1923), the increased ethnic and racial diversity, and the admission of women to the Ph.D program in medical sciences in the Harvard Medical School 1916-1917.
Briggs, while not a supporter of co-education at Harvard, believed in Radcliffe as a "Harvard College for women" and fought valiantly with President Lowell to maintain the equivalence of the Harvard/Radcliffe degree and the close ties between the two institutions. He firmly supported women's education as long as women were not taught to compete with men. Radcliffe College, he wrote "should maintain a college life of its own, independent of the college life at Harvard, but its intellectual standards must remain those of (Harvard) of which in fact if not in name, it forms a significant part."
Briggs contributed to Radcliffe's physical growth and stability. Under his guidance the college grew from what he described as a "few backyards and an undersized apple tree" to a permanent institution. The Greenleaf estate was purchased in 1905, Agassiz House was constructed as a student center in 1905, and the library opened in 1908. New dormitories were added to the dormitory quadrangle: Eliot Hall, 1907, Edmands house, 1910, Whitman, 1912, Barnard, 1913 and Briggs, 1923. The Endowment Fund (1923) brought salaries of Harvard faculty who taught at Radcliffe up to equality with other Harvard salaries, and the Library Endowment Fund was completed by gifts from alumnae. Briggs also succeeded in establishing the Iota Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1914.
Briggs married Mary De Quedville in September 1883, a student in his English course and a magna cum laude graduate of Radcliffe (A.B. 1901 as of 1884). Their children were: John De Quedville, Harvard 1906, Lucia Russell, Radcliffe 1909, president of Milwaukee Downer College, and Le Baron Russell, Jr., Harvard 1916. Briggs received an honorary LLD from Harvard in 1900.


The collection is arranged in two subseries:


The papers consist of the incoming correspondence of the President's office, 1903-1925, and carbon copies of the president's outgoing correspondence in indexed bound volumes, 1909-1925. Among correspondents are: Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, Charles William Eliot, Abbot Lawrence Lowell, Radcliffe deans: Agnes Irwin, Mary Coes, Bertha May Boody, Christina Hopkinson Baker and Marion Edwards Park, and the Radcliffe Associates (Trustees). Major subjects include: the day-to-day governance of the college, Harvard/Radcliffe relations, the teaching relationship with Harvard faculty, Harvard faculty salaries, course offerings, admissions, financial aid, policies regarding the residence of Afro-American students in Radcliffe dormitories and other Afro-American student issues, the debate over the quota for Jewish students at Harvard and the admission of women to the Harvard Medical School. Letters also discuss fundraising, Radcliffe property, and the construction of dormitories. The letters reveal Le Baron Russell Briggs' concerned guidance of the young college in its relationship with Harvard.
The papers are arranged in two subseries: outgoing and incoming correspondence.
Series 1.1. Boxes 1-3. Outgoing correspondence in 6 bound volumes, each containing approximately 1000 numbered pages, 1909-1925. The correspondence for 1903-1909 is found in the letter books of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Archives. Each letter book contains it's own index of names. A separate index of subjects is included here.
Series 1.2. Boxes 4-13. Incoming correspondence, arranged in folders alphabetically by name of correspondent or organization with a separate index of names and subjects.
Letters reveal much of the day-to-day administration of Radcliffe; since Briggs spent only a portion of his time at Radcliffe, he received a good many letters from his deputies.



Additional catalog entries

The following catalog entries represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. An entry for each appears in the Harvard On Line Library Information System (HOLLIS) and other automated bibliographic databases. THIS IS NOT AN INDEX.
Addams, Jane, 1860-1935
Agassiz, Elizabeth Cabot Cary, 1822-1907
Briggs, Le Baron Russell, 1855-1934
Coes, Mary, 1861-1913
Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926
Irwin, Agnes, 1841-1914
Keller, Helen, 1880-1968
Lowell, A. Lawrence (Abbott Lawrence), 1856-1943
Radcliffe College--Administration
Radcliffe College. Office of the President
Radcliffe College--Presidents
Radcliffe College--History

Index to Briggs's correspondence, alphabetically arranged by name, subject or title of organization

SUBJECT INDEX: Outgoing correspondence of President Le Baron Briggs, 1909-1925

A simplified form of subject index has been adopted, omitting routine items such as applications for teaching positions and thank you notes. The purpose of this index is to emphasize events relating to the history of Radcliffe and the history of women.
N.B. To look up an event or subject in the incoming letters (not included in this list), first check the subject index below. Then note the recipient's name and the date of the out-going letter. Finally, refer to the incoming letters under the appropriate name and date. As noted above, the incoming letters are arranged by academic year and thereunder alphabetically by name of correspondent.