Helen Hartness Flanders

Time Period

1910-1940

Subject Categories

Arts, Everyday Life

Notable Facts

Collected over 4000 pieces of folk music from Vermont and throughout New England. Published six volumes of songs and established the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

5/19/1890

Date of Death

1972

Primary Residence

Springfield

Ethnicity

Caucasian

Historical Significance

Helen Hartness Flanders was a folk music collector. She was born in Springfield, Vermont in 1890. Her father was Governor James Hartness. Flanders was educated at Dana Hall, Wellesley where she recieved her highschool diploma. In 1911, she was married to Ralph E. Flanders, who became a U.S. Senator. They had three children together.

Helen Hartness Flanders was commissioned by the Vermont Commission on Country Life in 1930 to record, collect, and edit folk songs from Vermont and the rest of New England. She published six volumes of songs, including: "Vermont Folk Songs and Ballads" (1931), "Country Songs of Vermont" (1937), and "The Green Mountain Songster" (1939). She collected over 4000 songs throughout her lifetime.

One of the reasons Flanders felt a sense of urgency in collecting these songs was that, in the 1930's, electricity was just coming to Vermont. She was concerned people would stop singing traditional songs in traditional settings and just listen to the radio. So, in many cases, her first recordings were made in farmhouses that had no electricity. The recordings were made on wax cylinders, and the car cigarette lighter was used as a source of electricity. Between 1939 and 1949 aluminum and acetate discs were used, followed by reel-to-reel tapes.

In 1941, she presented the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection to Middlebury College. This collection is regarded as one of the finest American ballad collections in the country. At Middlebury College, Flanders' travelling partner from the Spring of 1940, Marguerite Olney, became curator of the collection and helped to expand it. In 1942, Middlebury College awarded Helen Hartness Flanders an honorary Master of Arts degree.

Flanders lectured at universities in New England, at the Library of Congress, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She corresponded with a wide circle of fellow collectors and ethnomusicologists. Helen Hartness Flanders died in 1972, leaving behind a priceless musical legacy.

Organizations or Movements

  • Vermont Commission on Country Life

Occupations

  • Folk music collector

Education

  • High school

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Biography and Review of Collection Link

  • "Those Indomitable Vermont Women", essay by Virginia Brown and Louise Luring Link

  • Clifford, Deborah P. "Helen Hartness Flanders." In The Vermont Encyclopedia. Edited by John Duffy. University Press of New England, 2003.

  • Vermont Historic Roadsite Markers Link

Additional Images

Helen Hartness Flanders
Helen Hartness Flanders
Helen Hartness Flanders
Helen Hartness Flanders