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Aleine Austin papers

Identifier: MS-0397

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Scope and Contents

The papers of author and college professor, Aleine Austin, consists of student notes, lecture notes, published articles, manuscript notes, recordings, photographs, correspondence, and a selection of papers that document Aleine Austin's interest and work in the American labor movement from 1940 to 1991. Austin's studies, her work life, her published writings, and her particular interest in the Highlander Folk School are well represented in the collection. Except for private disclosures in a typescript copy of her memoir filed in Series 1, there are few personal items in the collection.

Austin's lecture notes in Series 2 and her student notes in Series 3 reflect her long study of labor issues and her attempts to bring a progressive interpretation of labor history to the classroom. In Series 5: Writings are examples of Austin's published articles and notes, reviews, and correspondence from her published volumes, The Labor Story (1949) and Matthew Lyon (1981). The final series in the collection is Series 5: Labor History, and here are a large selection of items related to the Highlander Folk School, and people associated with the school - Leo Huberman, Zilphia and Myles Horton. Austin's research describes the school's dedication to the desegregation movement through music, training workshops, and personal involvements.


  • Creation: 1940-1991


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

This collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

Aleine Austin, historian and author, was born in New York City, July 19, 1922. She received her undergraduate education at Antioch (B.A., 1945) and completed her graduate work at Columbia University (M.A., 1947; Ph.D., 1970). Austin's special interest was the American labor movement, and her commitment as a labor activist further inspired her work for social change in the areas of race and gender. An early important influence was the Highlander Folk School in East Tennessee where she was a teaching staff member intermittently from 1943 to 1956. Austin first attended Highlander in 1943, where with other college women, she met Myles and Zilphia Horton. The Hortons directed the school and became friends and mentors to Austin.

After graduation from Antioch, Austin was hired by Leo Huberman of the National Maritime Union to initiate a union education program for the riverboat workers on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Part of her work for the union during 1944-1946 included leading discussion groups with the rivermen and writing articles for their publications and pamphlets. Leo Huberman later edited the Socialist magazine, Monthly Review, for which Austin was a frequent contributor. After 1946, Austin returned to Columbia for graduate work in American History and then spent the next two years writing The Labor Story (1949), a history of the American labor movement. It was difficult for Austin to find work in the labor movement during the period that included the start of the Cold War and the inquiries by anti-Communists committees. There was a perception that her earlier employer, the National Maritime Union, included Communist sympathizers, and that was enough to discredit Austin's job searches.

In 1950 Austin married Abraham Mufson and gave birth to her first child in 1953. She was able to balance her home and career goals by assuming a part-time teaching job with New York City's public schools. Her assignment was to form a Youth Council from after-school Community Centers in each of the public high schools on Manhattan's upper West Side. In 1963, Austin was the mother of two children and recently widowed. She returned to Columbia to complete her doctorate studies in the hope of preparing herself for a career in teaching. She married again to Jonas Cohen and challenged herself to combine the traditional roles of wife and mother while working as a professional academic historian. Austin taught history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (1966-1975) and at Western Maryland College (1976-1980). Her progressive methodology (including a distaste for exams and grades) and her socialistic viewpoints often created problems within the academic settings. In her unfinished memoir, Austin viewed herself as "a departure from traditional educational and feminine models." In 1980, Austin published Matthew Lyon, a study of an Irish immigrant who participated in the American Revolutionary War activities.


6.52 Cubic Feet (4 record center cartons, 4 letter size document boxes)

Language of Materials



Aleine Austin was historian and author born in New York City, July 19, 1922. The papers, dating from 1940 to 1991, consist of student notes, lecture notes, published articles, manuscript notes, recordings, photographs, correspondence, and a selection of papers that document Aleine Austin's interest and work in the American labor movement.


The collection has been artificially arranged in to five series - Series 1: Personal; Series 2: Lecture Notes; Series 3: Student Notes; Series 4: Writings; and Series 5: Labor History.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was given to the University by Aleine Austin in 1998.

Related Materials

Interviews conducted by Aleine Austin on the history of the Monthly Review Magazine and the Highlander Folk School are included in the Oral History of the American Left Collection, Tamiment Institute Library, New York University.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan in August 1999.

Aleine Austin papers
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA