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George Pierce Baker papers

Call Number: MS 51

Scope and Contents

The George Pierce Baker Papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, photographs, and memorabilia, dating primarily from the eight years (1925-1933) during which George Pierce Baker served as the first head of the Department of Drama at Yale University. The papers document Baker's professional activities and affiliations rather than his teaching or administrative concerns at the fledgling drama school. Correspondents include playwrights, actors, producers, and drama critics, many of them former Baker students. Portions of the papers were received from the Yale School of Drama in 1967 and 1970 and from Elden T. Smith in 1978.

Series I is the larger of the two series and includes almost all correspondence in the papers. The material is filed either by personal name, by corporate name, or by topic. Name files include letters both by and about the designated person or institution, while topical correspondence files include letters from many people. Cross-references are provided when letters by an individual appear in several files. There are files for miscellaneous correspondence (folders 146-56), which include exchanges with friends and acquaintances of no more than two or three items. Files of miscellaneous requests (folders 157-63) include appeals for favors or advice from strangers. Topical correspondence files include materials concerning various club memberships (folders 33-36). There are also letters from producers seeking new plays or offering productions (folder 188), requests from journalists and others for information about Baker's activities (folder 201), and inquiries about articles or other publications from publishers (folders 202-205). Materials within topical correspondence files are arranged in alphabetical order. Series II includes Baker's writings, memorabilia, clippings, scrapbooks, photographs, and other material arranged by record type.

The papers include no files from Baker's tenure at Harvard University, but there is material for two pageants he produced during this period. In 1910 Baker wrote and directed the Peterborough Memorial Pageant, sponsored by the Edward MacDowell Association. Series I includes correspondence with the association, while in Series II there are clippings, photographs, memorabilia, and notes for the script (folder 300). In 1921 Baker created a pageant for the Plymouth tercentenary celebration. There is correspondence on the production in folders 32 and 186 in Series I, and Series II includes clippings and photographs of several scenes.

Salary, pension, budgets (folder 220), includes discussions between Everett Meeks and George Parmly Day concerning Yale's plans for a Department of Drama and the offer of the chairmanship to Baker. Several letters congratulate Baker on his pending move, and a few mention a controversy at Yale over the position of Edgar "Monty" Woolley.

Baker's reports on the Yale Drama Department are included in folders 303-304, but there is little else to document Baker's duties as chairman or his teaching responsibilities. Nevertheless, his influence as a teacher of drama is documented in the correspondence. Numerous former students write of their careers as playwrights, producers, actors, directors, and critics, often including clippings, promotional material, and scripts in their letters. Baker, in turn, offers encouragement and constructive criticism. Prominent among these correspondents is Eugene O'Neill, but the papers also include exchanges with Winthrop Ames, Frederick Ballard, Phillip Barry, S. N. Behrman, John Mason Brown, Hallie Flanagan, Sidney Howard, and Edward Sheldon. Both the O'Neill and Howard files discuss suits for plagiarism brought against these well-known playwrights. Lengthy exchanges with other former students including Joseph Curtin, Kenneth Raisbeck, James Daly, and Howard Phillips portray the challenges and difficulties facing those pursuing theatrical careers. They also attest to Baker's concern for the welfare of his students and document the sharp curtailment of theatrical activity and professional opportunities during the Depression.

The papers also document Baker's professional activities and affiliations between 1925 and 1933. Filed under the heading "Professional organizations" (folders 189-200) are materials representing Baker's participation in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Social Sciences. Baker's lecturing is reflected in correspondence with tour managers (folders 115-129), while evidence of his professional writing is found in correspondence with publishers, co-author Henry Barrett Huntington (folder 99), and G. & C. Merriam Company, and in project files for the Pageant of America (folder 173) and the Chronicles of America film series (folders 23-31). Scripts and notes for several films are found in folders 301-302. For the fiftieth anniversary of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1931), Baker produced a pageant titled "Control." Correspondence concerning the production, which used film footage as well as stage action, is found in the files for the Stevens Institute (folders 256-264); the script for "Control" is filed inWritings(folders 306-307). Other correspondence on pageants, including requests for assistance or offers of additional directorships, is found in the pageantry files (folders 174-175). Baker's support for the Little Theater movement can be seen in correspondence with his former students and also in exchanges with various local theater groups (folder 131), while his interest in Indian art and culture is reflected in correspondence with artist Oqwa Pi and others (folders 100 - 102).

Baker's knowledge of foreign theater, especially Czech, Irish, and British, is documented in correspondence with Czech friends (folder 49), Lady Gregory (folder 80), and Hallie Flanagan (folder 69). When the Shakespeare theater at Stratford-on-Avon burned in 1926, Baker, as chairman of the executive committee of the American Shakespeare Foundation, led the American campaign to raise a million dollars to rebuild the theater. The files (folders 224-247) include minutes of committee meetings and correspondence with Eleanor (Mrs. August) Belmont, Thomas W. Lamont, William H. Baldwin, Percy S. Bullen, Robert Duncan, and Archibald Flower. Printed material from the fund-raising campaign and plans and pictures of the winning design for the new theater are in Series II (folders 292-294).

Baker retired from Yale in 1933, and scattered throughout the files (and in folders 211 – 212) are congratulatory messages on the occasion. Correspondence with actress Dorothy Sands (folders 221-222) discusses plans for the retirement celebration, while clippings (folder 278) record the event. Letters of sympathy on Baker's death, two years later, are found in folders 276-277. Correspondents include Eugene O'Neill, Sidney Howard, and Frederick Ballard. Series II includes obituary clippings and retrospective evaluations of Baker's influence. The latter (folder 286) were written to Elden Smith by Baker's friends and students, when Smith was preparing his Ph.D. dissertation on Baker as a teacher of the theater arts (folder 299).


  • 1878-1958


Conditions Governing Access

While this collection as a whole is open for research, the original glass negative in Accession 2007-M-037 is restricted due to fragility. Plese consult the digital image (MADID #43744) or the print made from the original.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired from the Yale School of Drama, 1967 and 1970, and a gift from Elden T. Smith, 1978. Transferred from Drama Library, 2008.


Arranged in two series and one addition: I. Correspondence, 1878-1936. II. Topical Files, 1890-1948.


10.25 Linear Feet (23 boxes, 1 folio)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts, printed matter, photographs, and memorabilia documenting George Pierce Baker's professional activities as head of the Department of Drama at Yale University. Correspondents include playwrights, critics, actors, and producers, who had been Baker's students. The papers detail Baker's activities as a lecturer, consultant to the film series Chronicles of America, chairman of the executive committee of the American Shakespeare Foundation, and author of a pageant for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Baker's interest in the Little Theatre movement, American Indian culture and art, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Peterborough Memorial Pageant are also described.

Biographical / Historical

George Pierce Baker was a professor of English at Harvard University (1888-1925) and first head of Yale University's Department of Drama (1925-1933). Numerous students from his courses in playwriting and his theatre workshop became prominent actors, playwrights, critics, and producers.

Guide to the George Pierce Baker Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan, William E. Brown, Jr., Robert Richards, and Staff of Manuscripts & Archives
December 1985
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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