This Place in History: Helen Hartness Flanders

Vermont Historical Society

SPRINGFIELD, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History‘ we’re in Springfield, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are going to be talking about Helen Hartness Flanders, who was born here in Springfield, the daughter of James Hartness, who served as governor of the state when she was an adult. But, what she’s really known for is as this great folklorist, a person who studied the ballads and songs of New England. She focused mostly on the English tradition, but also moved somewhat into the French Canadian tradition as well,” explained Perkins.

“She was educated here in Springfield and performed in the choirs. I think she had a real affinity for song and how song could tell a story of our past. Often, if you think about folks who couldn’t write their histories down, they could pass it down orally. That’s something that she really looked into.”

“She left her collection to Middlebury College in the 1940s and most of it is digitized and online. And, it’s a vast collection. She started working on this in 1930 when she was commissioned by the Vermont Commission on Country Life, which is fraught because that commission is also what gave rise to the Eugenics Survey. I just wanted to note that.”

“But, her work was on ballads and folklore of the area. And, she continued with that work almost up until her death in 1972. She started off her career recording out in the field on wax cylinders. Then, later she moved onto aluminum discs and acetate disks and then later reel to reel,” said Perkins.

“She worked with a number [of big names] but I think the biggest name that most people know about is Alan Lomax. Alan Lomax created the American Folklife Collection at the Library of Congress. All of her recordings that she did when she was doing field research with Lomax are housed there, as well,” concluded Perkins.

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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