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Betsy Beinecke Shirley collection of American children's literature

Call Number: GEN MSS 764

Scope and Contents

The collection holds the non-print component of the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children's Literature, and contains original illustrations and manuscript material acquired by Betsy Shirley to complement and enhance her extensive collection of printed books and serials. It consists of drawings, paintings, literary manuscripts, printing blocks, correspondence, and documents related to children's literature, and the education and amusement of children. In accordance with her views as a collector, the material was divided between that created for literary purposes by both professionals and amateurs (in Series I) and that of a more historical nature and related to education (in Series II). Series III holds three small collections of papers that were acquired as discrete archival groups: the papers of J. Austin Sperry, Leon M. Tyrrell, and Edward Stratemeyer.

In this finding aid, the term "drawing" indicates an original work of illustration art, and does not distinguish the stages between a preliminary sketch and a finished drawing; for some artists, such as F. O. C. Darley, there are both present. Every attempt was made to assign a specific title, project, or publication to the illustrations in the collection. Original works of art are filed under the artist’s name, regardless if the resulting publication is more prominently associated with the author of the text; for example, drawings by Frederick Richardson for Andrew Lang’s popular fairy book volumes appear here under Richardson’s name.

The Collector’s Files series consist mostly of the files that Shirley kept as she collected American children’s literature. This includes her research, bibliographic information on books, authors, and publishers, and exhibition files. Shirley’s collections were used in exhibitions at museums and libraries including the Brandywine River Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


  • 1640-2001


Language of Materials

In English, French, German, Assiniboine, Clallam, and Columbia-Wenatchi.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 49-50: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Box 94 (videocassettes): Use of originals are restricted. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children's Literature is 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

Gifts and bequest of Betsy Beinecke Shirley, 1989-2005.

Gift of Katie Michel, 2018 (Box 9, folder 199a).


Organized into four series: I. Authors and Illustrators for Children (1719-2001); II. American History and Educational Materials (1640-1966); III. Other Papers (1836-1968); and IV. Collector's Files (1829-2011).

Associated Materials

Betsy Beinecke Shirley's collections of children's books and serials, published prints, printed ephemera, and commercially produced objects (including toys, games, and printed kerchiefs) were cataloged separately. They can be accessed through the library's online catalog, Orbis, using the term "Shirley" in the "Call Number (Local)" search field.


55 Linear Feet ((93 boxes) + 3 broadside folders + 7 art objects)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Collection consists of manuscripts (correspondence and drafts of writings), illustration material (drawings in all media, photographs, book dummies, and printing blocks and plates), and publication proofs by various authors and artists including Louisa May Alcott, Alexander Anderson, Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel, Gelett Burgess, Harrison Cady, Palmer Cox, F. O. C. Darley, W. W. Denslow, Jo Mora, Peter Newell, and Symeon Shimin, as well as work produced for the McLoughlin Brothers publishing house. Also present are penmanship exercise books, samplers, and other school work produced by American children including John Hancock and his brother Ebenezer, letters of advice written to children by prominent figures such as Samuel Clemens, Charles Dodgson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and writings created by and for Native American children. The collection also includes Shirley's own collection files which document how she created her collection.

Betsy Beinecke Shirley (1919-2004)

Betsy Beinecke Shirley was born in New York City, on October 2, 1919, the daughter of Walter and Katherine Sperry Beinecke. Raised in the city and on Nantucket, Massachusetts, she attended the Spence School in Manhattan, and the Greenwood School in Ruxton, Maryland, after which, in 1941, she married Carl Shirley (1916-1996). Betsy Shirley began collecting American juvenile literature in the 1970s, eventually branching out to encompass original illustrations and manuscripts for children’s books, as well as manuscripts, correspondence, and drawings by and about American children, their education, imagination, and play. The Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children's Literature grew to hold thousands of volumes of books and serials, and hundreds of manuscript items and works of original art, many of which were displayed throughout her home in Bernardsville, New Jersey. A trustee of the Newark Museum for many years, she regularly lent books and original illustrations to museum and library exhibitions, including A Child's Garden of Dreams at the Brandywine River Museum (1989-1990), which was drawn entirely from her collection. Betsy Shirley died in Bernardsville on September 4, 2004.

Custodial History

The collection was transferred to Beinecke Library in a series of gifts made over several years, with the remainder of the material transferred by her estate following her death in 2004. Some of the paintings and drawings featured in the published catalog Drawn to Enchant: Original Children’s Book Art in the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection (New Haven, CT: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 2007) were passed along to family members and therefore are not included in this finding aid.

Processing Information

As the collection was acquired over time, it had been arranged in two groups of material which were integrated and reorganized when the collection was processed in 2010-2011. The first group consisted of annual gifts received during Betsy Beinecke Shirley’s lifetime, which were interfiled into five series: I. Manuscripts and Illustrations; II. Printed Ephemera; III. Objects; IV. Native American Materials; and V. Manuscript Items Removed from Books. The second group consisted of material bequeathed to the library at Mrs. Shirley's death and was acquired as one accession in January 2005; this section was sorted into categories for artwork and manuscripts, then arranged by size in numbered boxes. Materials formerly in Series V of group one have annotations giving the call number of their earlier location/volume, such as "Removed from Shirley 3954."

Mrs. Shirley had custom-designed decorative boxes created to store various items in the collection but, for the most part, the boxes were not made from acid-free materials. Most of the items were removed before being filed in the present arrangement; a selection of her boxes were retained for display purposes and are housed at the end of the collection. In addition, many items had been framed for display in her home or for museum/library exhibition loans; seven were left in frames and appear in the Collection Contents list as "Stored in: Art Storage."

The Collector's files series is arranged in Shirley’s original filing system. Many of the subject files arrived in binders and were removed from binders due to preservation concerns and kept in their original order. Card catalogs arrived in card catalog boxes and drawers. The cards were also removed and kept in their original order.

Guide to the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children's Literature
by Sandra Markham
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

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

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.