Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Ernestine Evans papers, 1890-1968, bulk 1930-1967

Summary Information


Contained in this collection are documents related to the life and career of Ernestine Evans, a journalist, critic and literary agent active in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. Personal and professional correspondence and a wide variety of literary manuscripts, likely accumulated during her long career as a literary agent, constitute the bulk of this collection. In addition, the collection includes photographs, drawings and other visual material. Also represented in this collection are clippings of Evans' and other journalists' work; printed material, both periodicals and books; personal documents (including address books, contact lists and journals), financial documents and medical documents.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0405
Bib ID 4078744 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Evans, Ernestine, 1889-1967
Title Ernestine Evans papers, 1890-1968, bulk 1930-1967
Physical Description 15 linear feet (24 document boxes 2 record storage cartons; 2 oversized boxes 2 index card boxes)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in four series, and one series of unprocessed materials (2 Record Cartons).



This collection contains material related to the life of Ernestine Evans and others in her broad network of friends and colleagues. Correspondence, both personal and professional, and literary manuscripts, constitute the bulk of the collection. The majority of the letters date from the 1940s onward; Evans' early correspondence is not a part of this collection. The collection contains dozens of literary manuscripts; most of these probably belong to authors for whom Evans served as literary agent. Evans' own written work is also available here in the form of clippings and other printed material. Moreover, the collection contains a considerable number of personal documents that offer insight into the practicalities of Evans' life, including notebooks, contact lists, passports, medical documents and financial records. Copious photographs on a range of subjects, as well as a variety of mostly unattributed life-drawings and paintings, constitute the considerable array of visual material that this collection also contains.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1912, 1926-1968, undated

    This series contains Evans' personal and professional correspondence, and it includes letters both incoming and outgoing. The majority of these letters dates to the 1940s and 1950s; this archive does not contain Evans' early correspondence. Evans' most voluminous correspondence was with Jessie Heckman Hirschl, a lifelong friend whom she met during her undergraduate studies. Other friends and colleagues that are well represented here include: Evans' close friend Frances H. Flaherty, wife of the documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty. (Evans collaborated with Robert Flaherty on several occasions.); Gertrude Emerson Sen, an expert on Asia, who lived in India and was, like Evans, a member of the Society of Women Geographers; Margaret Barrington ("Topsy"), a writer who lived in Ireland; Helga Greene, a prominent London literary agent; and Karl A. Bickel and Carleton Beals, two writers for whom she served as literary agent. Evans' correspondence also includes letters to and from luminaries that include Walker Evans, Jean Renoir, Cornell Capa and Katherine Anne Porter.

  • Series II: Writings, 1922-1962, undated

    Included in this series are manuscripts, drafts, published work and notes by Evans and others; many of the writers whose work appears here were probably Evans' clients during her time as a literary agent. Various manuscripts of Evans' written work are available, including several drafts of an article about Nina Khrushcheva that she wrote during Khrushcheva and her husband's visit to America in 1959, drafts of book reviews, articles for the Office of War Information and various other writings.

    Manuscripts and drafts by other authors include work by Carlton Beals, Martha Bensley Bruère, Clinch Calkins, Elizabeth Ellis, Thomas Hibben, Anabel Hughes, Paula Holladay, Ellen Nelson, James W. Osgood, Ken Sato, Felizia Seyd, Janet Stevenson, Harriet Teague, Beatrice Washburn, Annabel Williams-Ellis, and Corwin Willson, among others.

    Memoranda, transcripts, newspaper and magazine clippings (of Evans' work and others'), and full periodicals and books are also represented.

  • Series III: Personal, 1907-1968, undated

    Personal documents relating to Evans' life, including mementos and ephemera, address books and journals, medical and financial documents, and government-issued documents, such as passports can be found in this series. Also included in this series are documents relating to Evans' old age care, funeral, and memorial services. There is also a small collection of documents related to three other parties: real estate and financial documents regarding the Hirschl family, as well as personal documents belonging to Louise F. Lee and Colin Landin.

  • Series IV: Visual material, 1890s-1963, undated

    This series contains a wide array of photographs, prints, drawings and watercolor paintings. Among the large collection of photographs are a small number of images of Evans; images of schoolchildren by the renowned photographer Gordon Parks; images and manuscripts from the Magnum News Service; photographs and picture postcards from many countries around the world, including Russia, Mongolia, India and Mexico; and film stills from documentaries by Evans' friend and colleague, Robert Flaherty.

    Other visual material includes unattributed life-drawings as well as drawings and paintings by children, perhaps dating to Evans' time at the Whitney Studio Club; large-format illustrated maps and posters; illustrations and page proofs, likely from books that Evans commissioned and edited while working as a literary agent; and a smattering of additional material.

  • Unprocessed Material

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Ernestine Evans Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Material

Joseph Barnes Papers, 1907-1970, 1923-1970 Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker Paper, 1914-1950 Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Ownership and Custodial History

Gift of Frances Hubbard Flaherty, 1968.

Gift of Ross G. Harrison, III, 1995.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Flaherty, Frances Hubbard. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1968. Accession number--M-68.

Source of acquisition--Ross G. Harrison, III. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1995.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 06/--/1989.

Collection Processed Annie Rudd, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism 2013 2009.

Finding aid Written Annie Rudd, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism 2013 05/--/2009.

Revision Description

2011-03-18 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Evans, Ernestine, 1889-1967 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Flaherty, Frances Hubbard Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Flaherty, Robert Joseph, 1884-1951 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Forbes-Robertson, Diana Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journalism -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journalists -- Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women and journalism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women authors, American Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women journalists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Ernestine Evans was a prolific female journalist, author, editor and literary agent active in the early-to-mid twentieth century.

Evans was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1889. The first of two children born to Arthur and Allie Evans (her brother, Ward, was born in 1893). Looking back on her childhood, she would later write that her family rarely lived in the same dwelling for more than a year at a time. Evans' father, a lawyer, had difficulty finding steady work, and her mother was seriously ill for much of Evans' early life; she died when Evans was 16 years old.

Evans matriculated at the University of Chicago around 1908, where she undertook a Bachelor of Philosophy degree, specializing in English and Economics and taking a journalism course led by the sociologist George Edgar Vincent.

It was also during her college years that Evans's career as a journalist began in earnest. During the latter two years of her degree, Evans served as Assistant to the Editor of the university's Astrophysical Journal, and her boss, also the University of Chicago's Dean of Science, Henry Gordon Gale, gave her an uncommon degree of freedom with this post: in addition to extensive fact-checking and other quotidian duties, Evans was often given the opportunity to write articles for the Journal under Gale's name.

Upon graduating in 1912, Evans found a job at the Chicago Inter Ocean, a daily newspaper aimed at an elite readership. Initially Evans was charged with writing articles for the paper's Sunday features pages, but she was soon promoted and became the assistant to the Inter Ocean's political editor. With this position, she covered the suffrage movement, and traveled to Washington on assignment. Evans' time at the Inter Ocean was cut short, however: the newspaper folded not long after she joined its ranks. With this job lost, Evans found a job as assistant editor at the New York Press, a daily penny paper with a reputation for "yellow" journalism. Evans remained at this job for about a year.

Evans was offered an assignment for The Independent, a weekly journal based in Boston, which would require her to travel to Eastern Europe to cover prohibition in Russia. Evans was not offered any travel money for the assignment, but she had some leftover pay from previous writing jobs, and so she set off for Russia. The article that she wrote was rejected by Russian censors, and it was never published. Still, Evans' travels in Europe in pursuit of "the story" seem to have stuck with her, and she began to travel to Europe quite regularly, working as a freelance foreign correspondent for publications that included the New York Tribune, The Nation and Asia Magazine. She would later write of her experiences reporting from Moscow during the Russian Revolution as gunfire was exchanged outside her hotel window.

Evans also involved herself with women's suffrage. In the years preceding and following the United States' decision to grant women the vote in 1920, Evans wrote for The Suffragist, an organ of the National Woman's Party, which later changed its name to Equal Rights. She also reported on the suffrage movement in Britain for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

After the end of World War I, Evans returned to the United States, where she found work as features editor of the Christian Science Monitor. Her responsibilities included buying eleven columns per day, as well as many illustrations, for the paper. Through the mid-1920s she continued to work as a freelance journalist, and wrote articles for The Nation, Century Magazine, the Virginia Quarterly, the Manchester Guardian, and others; she also served as Paris correspondent for Reynolds News Agency. Moreover, during these years she produced the children's book review supplement for The New Republic, which contained articles and reviews by Bertrand Russell, Charles A. Beard, Genevieve Taggard, Babette Deutsch, and Lewis Mumford, among others, including Evans.

During these years Evans also worked at the Whitney Studio Club, a meeting place--founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney--for artists living in Greenwich Village. There, Evans learned about painting and becoming involved in the neighborhood's growing art scene. Through her connections at the Whitney Studio Club, Evans was hired as an assistant editor at Coward-McCann, a publishing company whose start-up had also been funded by Whitney. The first book she brought to the firm was a children's title, Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats, a spectacular success which, having sold millions of copies since its publication, is still in print today.

In 1929, Evans authored a book of her own: Frescoes of Diego Rivera, a large-format publication that featured the work of the Mexican artist. Evans, who had previously traveled to Mexico as a reporter for the New York Times, and had written of the working-class appeal of Rivera's work, was responsible for every aspect of the book from start to finish; on its publication, it was the first English-language book on Rivera, and has been cited as a key document in Rivera's rise to popularity in the English-speaking world.

Evans left Coward-McCann in 1930, taking a job with Lippincott, another publishing house. Evans' Lippincott career, like her previous position, allowed her to travel extensively to scout new books. She also oversaw Lippincott's children's publications.

With the rise of the Great Depression, Evans moved to Washington, and went to work for Rexford Tugwell, the head of the Resettlement Administration (RA), an initiative established in 1935, as part of the New Deal, to ease the effects of the Depression on Americans by relocating struggling families to planned communities. Evans pushed for Tugwell to hire the little-known photographer Walker Evans (no relation to Ernestine), who she had previously worked with in her publishing career, to document the RA's accomplishments, believing that both the abject poverty many Americans were enduring, and the government's efforts to allay it, would be best illustrated by photographs. Evans also hired several additional photographers, including Ben Shahn, to undertake similar documentary work for the RA; virtually all of them would go on to enjoy great success as photographers for Life magazine and/or Magnum photo agency. Ernestine Evans was, in addition, responsible for proposing the Works Progress Administration Guides, a series of guidebooks to regions of the United States that were part of the Federal Writers' Project. The project employed hundreds of unemployed writers and researchers, and many of the guides are still in print today.

As the Great Depression ended, Evans returned to her previous occupations of freelance journalist, literary agent, and world traveler. She went to London as a book scout, worked as a researcher for Fortune magazine, and reported on Finland for a "March of Time" newsreel about the country. As World War II began, she returned to the United States. She again went to work for the government in 1943, securing a job with the Office of War Information (OWI). With this position, Evans assisted in efforts to engineer America's image for domestic and foreign audiences. With the large, internationally dispersed network of friends and colleagues that Evans had accumulated, she continued to learn about foreign cultures through her correspondence with friends situated in other places.

From about 1944 until the early 1950s, Evans worked as a book reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune's weekly supplement, but as she grew older fewer writing jobs opened up for her.

Evans died in 1967.