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Helen H. Tanzer collection

Identifier: MS-0460

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Scope and Contents

This collection relates to the donation of Margaret B. Wilson’s personal library after her death in 1945. Helen H. Tanzer was the executor of Wilson’s will. The materials consist of Tanzer’s correspondence, book checklists, shipping receipts for the books, income tax information, and a news clipping.

The materials document the period between January 1946 and May 1949. During this time, Tanzer facilitated the donation of around 2,500 books to six libraries at five institutions. In her will Wilson indicated that her books should be offered to three specific libraries, the Hunter College Library, the New York Academy of Medicine Library, and the New York Public Library. The libraries were not supposed to accept duplicate copies. Wilson intended for the remaining books to be sold at auction, but Tanzer secured permission from the estate lawyer to offer the surplus books to three additional libraries. Tanzer offered the remaining volumes to the Brooklyn College Library and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and William Welch Medical Library of Johns Hopkins University.


  • Creation: 1946-1949


Conditions Governing Access

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

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

Helen Henrietta Tanzer was born to Arnold and Ida Tanzer in New York City on February 7, 1876. She received her A.B. from Barnard College in 1903 and studied at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome from 1906 to 1907. During World War I, she served as the Assistant Director of the Division of Foreign Language Publications for the Commission on Public Information from 1917-1918. In Belgium after the war she worked for the official information service and edited the Belgian Bulletin. In the United States, she served as an honorary attaché to the Belgian Embassy, and in 1919, she was named to the Chevalier Order of Leopold II.

Tanzer studied Archaeology under Dr. David Moore Robinson at the Johns Hopkins University and received her Ph.D. in 1929. She taught Latin and Greek at Hunter College and Brooklyn College. Her scholarship focused on ancient Roman culture. Tanzer translated ancient texts, edited collections for classroom use, and published two books, The Villas of Pliny the Younger (1924), and The Common People of Pompeii (1939). She retired from teaching in 1937. During her career, she developed a personal collection of over 1,000 ancient Greco-Roman artifacts. In 1939, she donated her collection to the Johns Hopkins University Archaeological Museum (now the Archaeological Collection), which was then under the direction of her former advisor, Dr. Robinson. Tanzer died on December 23, 1961, in Washington, DC.

While an instructor at Hunter College, Tanzer probably formed a friendship with Dr. Margaret Barclay Wilson, who was a professor of physiology. Along with other friends and students of Wilson, Tanzer contributed an essay, “Juvenal on Education,” to Essays and Studies in Honor of Margaret Barclay Wilson (1922). When Wilson died in 1945, Tanzer became the executer of her will. This responsibility included the division and donation of Wilson’s library among several libraries. Two houses, one in New York City and another in Washington, DC, were also part of the estate.

Margaret Barclay Wilson was born to Alexander and Margaret (Inglis) Wilson in Dunfermline, Scotland, on August 28, 1863. In 1870 she immigrated to the United States with her parents. Wilson graduated from the Normal College (later Hunter College) of the City of New York in 1884. She taught in the New York public schools until 1887, when she began instructing mathematics at the Normal College. She received an M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of New York Infirmary in 1893, an A.B. from Hunter College in 1901, and an M.S. from New York University in 1902. She taught physiology and hygiene at Hunter College from 1893 until her retirement in 1933. She also served as honorary librarian from 1915 to 1927. In 1915, she published the Andrew Carnegie Anthology. Carnegie and Wilson, both natives of Dunfermline, Scotland, were friends. Wilson avidly collected books on topics that encompassed and extended beyond her study of medicine. Her substantial personal library comprised volumes on cooking, nutrition, ancient and modern history, international politics, anthropology, natural history, and literature. In 1929, she donated the majority of her personal collection of about 5,000 cookbooks, pamphlets, and medicinal recipe books to the library of the New York Academy of Medicine. She was a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geographic Society, and the New York Academy of Science. She belonged to the American Philological Association, the American Classical League, and the Archaeological Institute of America, among other organizations. She was an associate member of the Harvey Society, to which she eventually willed a portion of her estate.

Wilson died on October 6, 1945, in Washington, DC.


0.47 Cubic Feet (1 legal size document box)

Language of Materials



This collection relates to the donation of Margaret B. Wilson’s personal library after her death in 1945. Helen H. Tanzer was the executor of Wilson’s will. The materials consist of Tanzer’s correspondence, book checklists, shipping receipts for the books, income tax information, and a news clipping.


The collection is arranged in two series: Correspondence and Transactions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated by Helen H. Tanzer. It was transferred to the Special Collections’ manuscripts collection in April 1992.

Related Materials

As of August 2005, the library of the New York Academy of Medicine still maintains the Margaret B. Wilson collection of cookbooks in their holdings.

Bibliography for Biographical Note

  • “Dr. Helen Tanzer, Archaeologist, 85,” New York Times, 24 December 1961.
  • “Gives Rare Collection to Her Former Teacher,” Baltimore Evening Sun, 17 June 1939.
  • “Helen Tanzer, 85, Retired Teacher,” Washington Post and Times Herald, 25 December 1961.
  • “Selected Materials in Historical Collections,” [webpage on the New York Academy of Medicine Website]. Accessed 5 August 2005. Internet.
  • “Tanzer, Helen H.” Who’s Who of American Women. Volume 1. Chicago: Marquis Company, 1958-1959.
  • “Wilson, Margaret Barclay.” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Volume 30. New York: James T. White & Company, 1948.
  • “Wilson, Margaret Barclay.” Who Was Who in America. Volume 2. Chicago: A.N. Marquis Company, 1950.

Processing Information

Processed in August 2005 by Jill Reilly.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

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