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Mary Mothersill Papers

Identifier: BC20-27

Collection Scope and Content Summary

The collection includes Mary Mothersill's philosophical writing, publication correspondence, drafts and revisions, peer reviews, a copy of her text Beauty Restored with handwritten annotation, a videotape recording of her presidential address (titled "Old Age") at the 1998 American Philosophical Association meeting, and annotated copies of the works of other philosophers. There are course curricula, material generated by conferences, office files generated by academic administrative meetings and responsibilities, material documenting the activities of the Department of Philosophy, and files generated by student-led councils and committees related to school governance. Also present in the collection is correspondence with and annotated drafts of work by Arnold Isenberg, a friend and colleague of Mothersill's, dating from 1962, and one folder devoted to material relating to Linda LeClair, including correspondence from strangers reacting to the 1968 controversy. There is some material documenting Mothersill's accomplishments, including a Curriculum Vitae, and newspaper clippings dating back to the 1950s and her time at Vassar.


  • Creation: 1963 - 1993



This collection has no restrictions and is is located on-site.

Publication Rights

Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Barnard College Archives. The Barnard College Archives approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Reproduction Restictions

Reproductions can be made for research purposes.


Mary Mothersill was a Canadian philosopher, born in 1923 in Edmonton, Canada. She earned her BA in English at the University of Toronto, her MA in Philosophy from Radcliffe College, and her PhD from Harvard. She taught at a number of colleges including Vassar, Columbia University, and City College before joining Barnard to teach undergraduate philosophy from 1963-1993.

Mothersill was politically active, taking part in a taskforce to evaluate the role of Barnard in women's education and recommending, among other things, to build a Women's Center. She would eventually teach courses there and serve on its Advisory Board. Like her colleague Sue Larson (whose papers were donated to the archives alongside Mothersill's), Mothersill was active in the life of the school, advocating for students, agitating against the Vietnam War, and joining the search committee to find a new president for the college after Martha Peterson's departure. She published across North America and the United Kingdom on a variety of topics including ethics, death, feminism, and pornography, but she professed that her area was aesthetics. In 1984 her book Beauty Restored was published by Oxford Press. She died in January 2008.


0.63 Linear Feet (1 full document box, 1 half document box)




Mary Mothersill (1923-2008) was a Canadian philosopher who taught philosophy at Barnard College from 1963-1993. The collection includes her philosophical writing, philosophy course curricula, texts intended for publication and related correspondence, annotated copies of the works of other philosophers, and letters from fellow philosopher Arnold Isenberg. Her material may be useful to scholars of Kant, C.I. Lewis, philosophy students, teachers, as well as researchers of 1968 counterculture, gender in education, theory of knowledge, aesthetics and anyone researching the case of Linda LeClair.

Collection Arrangement

Collection remains in the same order as it was received.

Physical Location

This collection is located in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library. To use this collection, please contact the Barnard Archives and Special Collections at 212.854.4079 or

Acquisition Information

The majority of the collection was donated to the College by Elizabeth Koob in 2013. Koob was a member of Sue Larson's family and was the executor of both Mary Mothersill's and Sue Larson's estates, and donated both of their collections of personal papers.

Documents related to Linda LeClair transferred from the Barnard Philosophy Department in 2017.


Additions are not expected.

Related Collections

Mary Mothersill was a close friend and professionally supportive colleague of Sue Larson. Through the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties they worked together in the Departments of Philosophy at both Barnard College and Columbia University, and they shared notes on each other's texts and teaching materials. Related material may be found in the Sue Larson Faculty Papers, BC 20.26, Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library.

Processing History

Lyric Evans-Hunter wrote this finding aid in 2022, with input from Martha Tenney, as part of the NYU course Advanced Archival Description. Martha Tenney minimally processed the collection in 2022.

Finding aid adheres to descriptive rules prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Guide to the Mary Mothersill Papers
Lyric Evans-Hunter
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Barnard Archives and Special Collections Repository

3009 Broadway
New York NY 10027 United States