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Theresa Helburn papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 864

Scope and Contents

The Theresa Helburn Papers consist of correspondence, diaries, financial documents, writings, photographs, scrapbooks and memorabilia documenting her career as a writer and theatrical director and administrator for the Theatre Guild and other theatres.

The correspondence in the collection is predominately personal, and includes letters from Carlotta O'Neill describing her husband's illness, a typed copy of an exchange between Helburn and George Bernard Shaw regarding her work in the film industry, and a letter from Shaw's assistant, Blanche Patch, describing the playwright's death. Helburn's diaries and date books include short entries about her meetings, travel, and social events, and often contain references to her health and the weather. Financial documents provide information regarding not only her daily personal expenses, but her own financial investment in Theatre Guild productions as well as in stocks and oil. Helburn's writing career is documented by early notes and story ideas, drafts and published versions of articles and presentations, poetry, and autobiographical essays, including those published in The Nation. Her work in, and opinions about, the film industry are described in drafts of articles and in the film story ideas, synopses, and comments that Helburn either wrote or reviewed while working in Hollywood at Columbia Pictures in mid-1930s.

While there is one file of material relating to Helburn's autobiography (which was completed and published after her death), the most substantial biographical information regarding her professional life is found in the scrapbooks that Helburn maintained from 1919 to 1950. Newspaper and magazine clippings of articles by and about Helburn, performance programs from the plays she wrote and/or directed, along with other miscellaneous ephemera, illuminate her many activities in the world of literature, theatre, and film. The papers also include photographs of family members, friends and colleagues, as well as candid and portrait photographs of Helburn. Material post-dating Helburn's death, including condolence letters, obituaries, and records pertaining to her estate, was added by family members.


  • 1887 - 1992
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1958


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Theresa Helburn Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Margaret (Mrs. Eric) Kocher and other Kocher family members, 1966-2010.


The Papers are organized in three groupings: I. Pre-2010 Acquisitions,1903-1958 . II. Material Formerly Part of the Theatre Guild Archive, 1918-1958. III. 2010 Acquisitions, 1887-1992.

Associated Materials

Associated material: Theatre Guild Archive (YCAL MSS 436). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


8.5 Linear Feet ((13 boxes) + 1 broadside.)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Theresa Helburn Papers consist of correspondence, diaries, financial documents, writings, photographs, scrapbooks and memorabilia documenting her career as a writer and theatrical director and administrator for the Theatre Guild and other theaters.

Theresa Helburn (1887-1959)

Theresa Helburn was born in New York City in 1887, graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1908, and had an early career as a writer of essays, poetry, and plays, and as a theatre critic for the The Nation. In 1919, she joined the Theatre Guild in New York City as a play reader. Within a few years she was co-administrative director with Lawrence Langner. As a writer, critic, director, and administrator, Theresa Helburn was a major force in the development of twentieth-century American theatre. She was married to the writer and teacher John Baker Opdycke (Oliver to his friends) from 1921 until his death in 1958. Helburn died in 1959.

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

The collection is comprised of material formerly classed as Uncat ZA Helburn, Uncat ZA File Helburn, Uncat MSS 959, and Uncat MSS 1245. Additional Helburn papers were identified in the Theatre Guild Archive (YCAL MSS 436) during the processing of those papers. These materials have not been merged and organized as a whole, but are described separately in the contents list below, according to the source of acquisition.

Information included in the Description of Papers note and Collection Contents section is drawn from information supplied with the collection and from an initial survey of the contents. Folder titles appearing in the contents list below are often based on those provided by the creator or previous custodian. Titles have not been verified against the contents of the folders in all cases. Otherwise, folder titles are supplied by staff during basic processing.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Theresa Helburn Papers
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
July 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.