Viola Florence Barnes, 1885-1979

Viola Florence Barnes, 1885-1979: A Historian's Biography

JOHN G. REID
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1287wvz
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  • Book Info
    Viola Florence Barnes, 1885-1979
    Book Description:

    In this probing biography, John G. Reid examines Barnes's life as a female historian, providing a revealing glimpse into the gendered experience of professional academia in that era.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2807-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    STANLEY N. KATZ

    John G. Reid’s biography of Viola Barnes is a notable scholarly accomplishment, one of the best academic biographies I have ever read. For me it is, beyond that, an occasion for joy and sadness. I first met Vi in the early 1960s, when we began a friendship that lasted to the end of her life. I admired Vi very much, but I surely did not understand what she was all about. It is only now that I have seen Reid’s biography that I can begin to make sense of her.

    I received my PhD in early American history at Harvard...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER 1 ‘I desire that my children be strong and forceful’: Nebraska Years, 1885–1916
    (pp. 3-28)

    In January 1903, seventeen-year-old Viola Barns had just returned to Lincoln, Nebraska, to begin her second term at the University of Nebraska’s music school. Her father, Cass Barns, saw no need for her to be daunted by the adjustment from the rural town of Albion to the state capital. ‘I desire,’ he wrote to his daughter, ‘that my children be strong and forceful.’¹ Viola had been reluctant to leave home, and traces of diffidence stayed with her into later life. Spending the best part of fourteen years in Lincoln, however, she was forceful enough to earn three university degrees, gain...

  7. CHAPTER 2 ‘History is my life work’: The Emerging Scholar, 1916–1929
    (pp. 29-62)

    In late 1929, more than ten years after she had graduated from Yale University with her PhD degree, Viola Barnes wrote to Charles McLean Andrews to thank him for his encouragement in applying for a research fellowship and for the ‘splendid training’ he had given her at Yale. In reality, she had more mixed feelings about Andrews than were apparent in the letter, but on her commitment to history as a vocation there was no ambiguity. ‘I have so many projects in mind,’ she declared to Andrews, ‘that if I live to be as old as Methusalah [sic] I can...

  8. CHAPTER 3 ‘A very busy professional woman’: Recognition, 1929–1939
    (pp. 63-88)

    In 1938, Viola Barnes wrote to a niece to offer advice on fields open to young women beginning their careers. She was herself, she remarked, ‘a very busy professional woman.’¹ In family matters, the 1930s had not been kind either to Viola or to her brothers. The deaths in quick succession of their parents and their sister Ruby brought not only grief but also damaging family disputes over the handling of the estates. For Viola too, her brother Don’s marriage had begun a gradual change in a relationship that remained important to both, but was conducted at a distance and...

  9. CHAPTER 4 ‘I want to build a good strong department’: Maturity, 1939–1950
    (pp. 89-114)

    From early 1939 onwards, Viola Barnes was in the unaccustomed position of occupying a leading position in the department of history at Mount Holyoke. Although Nellie Neilson did not retire formally until the summer, for all practical purposes Barnes took over the department chair in January. Her first task was to recruit Neilson’s replacement. ‘I want to build a good strong department and we need exactly what you have to offer,’ she told one candidate who fulfilled her criteria: a woman, but not a medievalist.¹ To her regret and discouragement, however, Barnes was not a success as a department administrator....

  10. CHAPTER 5 ‘There is not too much time left’: Retirement, 1950–1960
    (pp. 115-138)

    In late December 1958, Viola Barnes wrote to a niece that she was working long hours, seven days a week, on her manuscript. ‘At 73,’ she explained, ‘there is not too much time left.’¹ Barnes had retired from Mount Holyoke in 1952, although she continued to live in South Hadley. Her retirement came at a difficult time for women historians, as access to the profession had become increasingly a male preserve during the postwar years. Barnes regretted this development as she participated in the search for her successor and found female candidates in short supply. During the later 1950s, she...

  11. CHAPTER 6 ‘I have had a very happy old age’: Long life, 1960–1979
    (pp. 139-159)

    By her own account in 1972, Viola Barnes was enjoying her later years. ‘I have had a very happy old age,’ she reflected, ‘free from financial worries due to my having interested myself in the stock market shortly before and after I retired.’¹ While the appreciation of her stocks undoubtedly added to the comfort of her retirement, she attributed her contentment to more than just material circumstances. Aged eighty-nine in the fall of 1974, she busied herself with yard work, which she cited as an example of what she believed to be her vital secret: ‘As long as all is...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 160-166)

    Viola Barnes was no paragon. Many of those she encountered found her prickly, touchy, and difficult. The prejudices to which she gave vent at times were unattractive. During her later years, her suspicions and her prejudices tended to harden and combine. Her complaints and denunciations levied a substantial cost on the emotional energy of others, especially if they were friends or relatives. She, of course, also paid a price. Throughout her life, her health and her temperament influenced one another. Her physical health problems, the greatest being her encounter with cancer in 1920, contributed to the insecurities that plagued her....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 167-208)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-228)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)