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Margaret Ayer Barnes papers


Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Margaret Ayer Barnes, BMC 1907, was a novelist, playwright, and short story writer. She was born on April 8, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois and attended Bryn Mawr College between 1903 and 1907. She returned to Chicago shortly after graduating. In 1910 she married Cecil Barnes, a lawyer, and between 1912 and 1919 had three sons, Cecil Jr., Edward Larrabee and Benjamin Ayer. In 1920, Barnes was elected alumnae director of Bryn Mawr and served three years. As director, she helped to organize the Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, which offered an alternative educational program for women workers within a traditional institution. Consisting mainly of young, single immigrant women with little to no academic background, the summer program offered courses in progressive education, liberal arts and economics. Women in the program were encouraged to develop confidence as speakers, writers and leaders in the workplace. Barnes was also a public speaker, strongly supporting higher education for women.

In 1925, on vacation in France, Barnes was seriously injured in an automobile accident. During her lengthy convalescence, she was encouraged by her childhood friend and playwright Edward Sheldon to develop her writing. A year later, her first short stories were accepted by the Pictorial Review. Next, Barnes and Sheldon worked together to dramatize Edith Wharton's novel Age of Innocence (1920). The play was produced in 1928 with Katharine Cornell in the lead and was an instant success. In 1929, Barnes again collaborated with Sheldon on Jenny, a comedy, and in 1930 on Dishonored Lady, a melodrama based on the 1857 trial of a British woman, Madeleine Smith, for the murder of her lover. Both of these plays ran for more than a hundred performances on Broadway. Despite the success of Dishonored Lady, Barnes and Sheldon were unable to turn the work into a screenplay. However, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer later purchased the rights to the novel Letty Lynton, by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, based on the same case and used the material for a movie with the same title. Barnes and Sheldon filed a suit in 1933 claiming that MGM plagarized portions of their play, Dishonored Lady. Seven years later, the case was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of Barnes and Sheldon.

Barnes also had great success as a novelist. In 1928, she published Prevailing Winds, a collection of eight short stories which had originally appeared in the popular magazines Pictorial Review, Harper's, and Red Book. In 1930, Barnes' most successful and best-known novel, Years of Grace, won the Pulitzer Prize. Bryn Mawr College, along with the characters of college presidents M. Carey Thomas and Marion Park figure prominently in this work. The story, beginning in the 1890's and continuing into the 1930s', chronicles the life of Jane Ward Carver from her teens to age fifty-four. This novel follows many of the same themes as Barnes' other works. Centering on the social manners of upper middle class society, her female protagonists are often traditionalists, struggling to uphold conventional morality in the face of changing social climates. In the next eight years, Barnes would publish four additional novels, Westward Passage (1931), Within This Present (1933), Edna His Wife (1935), and Wisdom's Gate (1938).

Barnes had been a prolific writer into her forties, but after the publication of Wisdom's Gate, her writing slowed and then ceased. She lived the remainder of her life quietly and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 26th, 1967. Gift of Edward L. Barnes, Benjamin Ayer Barnes, and the Barnes Family.

The Margaret Ayer Barnes papers consist of the correspondence, writings, legal documents, and personal memorabilia of Margaret Ayer Barnes, novelist, playwright, and Bryn Mawr class of 1907. The collection contains both finished and unfinished manuscripts and stories, documentation relating to a lawsuit brought by Barnes and Edward Sheldon against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, as well as much of Barnes' personal correspondence with Sheldon.

This collection is organized into four series: "Series I: Correspondence" and "Series II: Writings," "Series III: Legal Papers," and "Series IV: Other Materials." "Series I: Correspondence" is organized into Outgoing Correspondence and Incoming Correspondence. Margaret Ayer Barnes' letters to Edward Sheldon comprise the entirety of the Outgoing Correspondence category and a portion of Incoming Correspondence. Letters between Barnes and Sheldon are concerning the works they have co-written, personal matters, and their joint lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The remaining incoming correspondence is between Barnes and Ferris Greenslet, a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Publishers, P. Reynolds, theatrical producer Charles Frohman, and lawyers Dennis O' Brien and Albert Driscoll and miscellaneous contracts regarding the lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The second series, "Series II: Writings" is organized further into Novels, Short Stories, Plays, and Published Works. Novels consists of parts I, II, III, and IV of Years of Grace (1930), Bridal Wreath, and the first chapter and synopsis for an untitled novel, a romantic melodrama which was never completed. Barnes' short stories in the collection are as follows: "Arms and the Boy", "Charmer", "Cordelia on the Styx", "Deceiving Husband", "Dinner Party", "Eye of Youth", "Feather Beds", "Home Fire", "Lady of Letters", "Perpetual Care", "A Question of Temperature", "Quotation from Scripture", "Set a Thief", "Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves", "A Square Meal", "Stardust", "Whopping Success", "Sauce for the Gosling", and an assortment of Barnes' writings taken from magazine publications, brochures and newspapers. Barnes' plays included in the collection are as follows: "Age of Innocence", "Dishonored Lady", "Edna His Wife", "Jenny", and "Johnny". Additionally, a number of Barnes' works have been published in Cosmopolitan, Golden Book, Graphic, Harper's, Pictorial Review, and Red Book magazines. The majority of the documents in "Series III: Legal Papers" are regarding Barnes' and Sheldon's lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. "Series IV: Other Materials" includes portraits of the Barnes family, publicity photos for Barnes' plays, and four oversized scrapbooks titled, Edna His Wife, Westward Passage, Wisdom's Gate, and Within the Present.

Barnes was a successful novelist, winning a Pulitzer prize in 1930 for her book Years of Grace, a work of fiction which was based on her experiences at Bryn Mawr. In 1933, she filed a joint lawsuit with Edward Sheldon against MGM claiming that they had plagiarized portions of her play, Dishonored Lady. The lawsuit was settled 7 years later, with Barnes and Sheldon winning. The collection provides insight into Barnes' writing process, her personal and working relationship with Sheldon, and her lengthy lawsuit against MGM.

Gift of Edward L. Barnes, Benjamin Ayer Barnes, and the Barnes Family.

Bryn Mawr College
Finding Aid Author
Emily Houghton, Celeste Ledesma, Melissa Torquato, Cassidy Gruber Baruth
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

The Margaret Ayer Barnes papers are the physical property fo the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.

Collection Inventory

MAB to E.B. Sheldon, 1926-1934.
Box 1 Folder 14-23
MAB from E.B. Sheldon, 1926-1942.
Box 1 Folder 24-29
MAB from F. Greenslet, 1928-1941.
Box 1 Folder 30-31
MAB from P. Reynolds, 1935-1941.
Box 1 Box 32
MAB from D. O'Brien, 1934-1938.
Box 33 Folder 33
MAB and D. O'Brien from movie studios regarding lawsuit, 1935.
Box 1 Folder 34
MAB from Charles Frohman, Inc., 1930-1935.
Box 1 Folder 35

This Correspondence is regarding the Age of Innocence and memorandum agreement between Edith Wharton, MAB, Charles Frohman, Inc., and RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. for Age of Innocence, dated August 10, 1933.

MAB from A. Driscoll regarding lawsuit, 1932-1939.
Box 1 Folder 36-38
MAB from A. Driscoll, 1939-1948.
Box 1 Folder 39

Includes some copies of outgoing correspondence regarding lawsuit

MAB from miscellaneous contacts regarding lawsuit, 1930-1940.
Box 1 Folder 40

Years of Grace, Part I.
Box 1 Folder 41

TMs with MS changes

Years of Grace, Part II.
Box 1 Folder 42

TMs with MS changes

Years of Grace, Part III.
Box 1 Folder 43

TMs with MS changes

Years of Grace, Part IV.
Box 1 Folder 44

TMs with MS changes

Bridal Wreath or Background (original title) .
Box 2 Folder 1

TMs with several versions

First chapter and synopsis for untitled novel.
Box 2 Folder 2

A romantic melodrama which was never completed, TMs


TMs unless otherwise noted.

"Arms and the Boy" .
Box 2 Folder 3
Box 2 Folder 4
"Cordelia on the Styx" .
Box 2 Folder 5
"Deceiving Husband" .
Box 2 Folder 6
"Dinner Party".
Box 2 Folder 7
"Eyes of Youth" .
Box 2 Folder 8
"Feather Beds" .
Box 2 Folder 9
"Home Fire" .
Box 2 Folder 10
"Lady of Letters".
Box 2 Folder 11
"Perpetual Care" .
Box 2 Folder 12
"A Question of Temperament" (Published under the title, "Even if a Wife is Right"), 1946 April.
Box 2 Folder 13
"Quotation from Scripture" , 1945 August.
Box 2 Folder 14
"Set a Thief" .
Box 2 Folder 15
"Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves" .
Box 2 Folder 16
"A Square Meal" .
Box 1 Folder 17
"Stardust" .
Box 2 Folder 18
"Whopping Success" .
Box 2 Folder 19
"Sauce for the Gosling" .
Box 2 Folder 20
An assortment of MAB's writings, in both typed and published form taken from magazine publications, brochures and newspapers:.
Box 2 Folder 21

"A Century of Progress" TMs copy, written for Pictorial Review "Chicago in Summer" from Fashions of the Hour Magazine, June, 1928 and TMs copy. "A Famous Mother in Literature" from Mother's Aid Message "The Gifted Author", TMs essay written for Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, undated "High Rank Involves No Shame" published article from Chicago Daily News, March 13, 1929, 3 copies "History in the Making", TMs essay, undated "New Lives for Old" medical health essay on orthopedics by MAB "The Period Novel" from The Writer, Vol. 48, Number 9, September, 1935. "The Shedd Aquarium" from Marshall Field and Co. Magazine, Summer 1930 "Spring Song" from Marshall Field and Co. Magazine, Spring, 1936 and TMs copy "St. Luke's Hospital", TMs essay, undated Untitled TMs essay for Cosmopolitan Magazine, and rewrite with MS signature by MAB, undated TMs and published article on World War II with short commentary by MAB from Woman's Day Magazine, April, 1939, pp 4-5. Untitled TMs essay written December, 1935 with MS note: For Fanny Butchen Book Page Several book reviews by MAB

TS, bound.
Box 2 Folder 22-23
loose pages with MS corrections.
Box 2 Folder 24
loose pages from various scenes.
Box 2 Folder 25
including discarded last act.
Box 2 Folder 26
with MS notes, additions and corrections.
Box 2 Folder 27
in a cloth cover from "Charles Frohman, Inc., Empire Theaters, PA".
Box 2 Folder 28
addressed to "Office of Alice Kauser, NYC".
Box 2 Folder 30
addressed to "Kraus and Griscomb Scenes Inc.".
Box 2 Folder 31
rewritten fragments, TS and MS.
Box 2 Folder 32
movie scenario.
Box 2 Folder 33
Edna His Wife adaptation by Connelia Otis Skinner with signature.
Box 2 Folder 34
Jenny: A Comedy in Four Acts, complete script.
Box 3 Folder 1
Act I, II, III (with IV), signed on cover: W. E. Watts, all with copious staging notes.
Box 3 Folder 2
Act I through IV, signed on cover: Margaret Ayer Barnes, with many MS changes in dialogue.
Box 3 Folder 3
Act I and II, revised.
Box 3 Folder 4
Act I and II, a few notes and changes.
Box 3 Folder 5
Act III and IV, some notes and changes throughout.
Box 3 Folder 6
Act III and IV, some notes and changes throughout, with MS signature of MAB.
Box 3 Folder 7
miscellaneous scene fragments.
Box 3 Folder 8
Act I-III, full script, TMs.
Box 3 Folder 9
AMs and TMs first drafts.
Box 3 Folder 10
with MS notes and corrections.
Box 3 Folder 11
with minor MS notes.
Box 3 Folder 12
"All's Fair", 1933 November.
"Sauce for the Gosling", 1943 November.
"Cordelia and the Poet", 1934 October.
"The Town We Grew Up In", 1934.
"Homel Fire", 1927 September.
"The Eyes of Youth", 1928 March.
"The Charmer", 1923 March.
"The Dinner Party", 1923 August.
"Feather Beds", 1923 October.
"Perpetual Care", 1923 October.
"Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves", 1927 September.
"Set a Thief", 1927 October.
"A Square Meal", 1930 March.
"Are You Going to the Fair?", 1933 June.
"A Whooping Success", 1936 May.
"Bridal Wreath" (Part I and II), 1936 November and December.
"Arms and the Boy", 1928 April.
"Cordelia and the Poet", 1928 September.
"A Lady of Letters", 1936 July.
"The Deceiving Husband", 1940 March.
"Margery's Marriage" (Part I, II, III), 1942 August-October.
"Even if a Wife is Right", 1946 August.
"His Very Successful Wife" (Part I and II), 1947 April and May.

Dramatic and royalty contracts for Age of Innocence, Dishonored Lady, Edna His Wife, Jenny, Lovers Meeting, Prevailing Winds, To Have and To Hold, Westward Passage, Wisdom's Gate, and Years of Grace.
Box 3 Folder 13
Continuity script of Letty Lynton, Barnes' personal copy.
Box 3 Folder 14
Continuity script of Letty Lynton, dated February 2, 1932.
Box 3 Folder 15
Continuity script of Letty Lynton, includes copyright August 12, 1932.
Box 3 Folder 16
Gift tax records for Dishonored Lady and income reports for MAB's 1942 taxes.
Box 3 Folder 17
Financial records regarding the expenses of the lawsuit.
Box 3 Folder 18
Judge Woolsey's opinion and criticism by MAB.
Box 3 Folder 19
Legal agreements between Sheldon and Barnes regarding the lawsuit.
Box 3 Folder 20
Legal agreements between Sheldon and Barnes regarding the lawsuit.
Box 3 Folder 21
Legal briefs and decisions by the Supreme Court and Appellate decisions.
Box 3 Folder 22
Summary of written works on trial, TS and MS copies in MAB's hand.
Box 3 Folder 23
"Defendant's Brief in Opposition to Motion for Temporary Injunction".
Box 4 Folder 1
"Defendant's Reply Brief".
Box 4 Folder 2
Summaries of written work prepared for defendants (Includes summary of trial of Madeleine Smith, novel Letty Lynton, play Dishonored Lady, and motion picture Letty Lynton).
Box 4 Folder 3
Summaries of written work prepared for complainants (Includes summary of trial of Madeleine Smith, novel Letty Lynton, play Dishonored Lady, and motion picture Letty Lynton).
Box 4 Folder 4
"Brief on Behalf of Complainants".
Box 4 Folder 5
"Complainants' Reply Brief".
Box 4 Folder 6
"Complainants' Reply Memorandum".
Box 4 Folder 7
"Complainants' Brief on Motion to Confirm Special Masters Report" and final judgment.
Box 4 Folder 8
"Brief on Behalf of Complainants".
Box 4 Folder 9
"Appendix 1".
Box 4 Folder 10
"Appendix 2".
Box 4 Folder 11
"Appendix 3".
Box 4 Folder 12
"Appendix 4".
Box 4 Folder 13
"Appendix 5".
Box 4 Folder 14
"Appendix 6".
Box 4 Folder 15
"Opinion of Libel, U.S.D.J.", dated December 29, 1938.
Box 4 Folder 16
"Stenographer's minutes".
Box 4 Folder 17
Box 4 Folder 18
"Briefs, opinions, copy of Authors' League Bulletin Vol. 23, no. 3. United States Circuit Court of Appeals, for the Second Circuit, Edward Sheldon and Margaret Ayer Barnes Appellants v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp, Loew's, Inc., and Culver Export Corp., Appeals".
Box 4 Folder 19
"Transcript of Record Volume 1" pp. 1-235.
Box 4 Folder 20
"Transcript of Record Volume 2" pp. 236-924.
Box 4 Folder 21
"Transcript of Record" pp. 925-976.
Box 4 Folder 22
"Brief for Defendant Appellants".
Box 4 Folder 23
"Brief on Behalf of Appellants".
Box 4 Folder 24
"Brief of Complainants Appellants".
Box 4 Folder 25
Additional summaries of written work on the trial of Madeleine Smith, novel Letty Lynton, play Dishonored Lady, and motion picture Letty Lynton, with comparisons and comments.
Box 4 Folder 26
"Opinion of Court", 1936 January 17.
Box 4 Folder 27

"Supreme Court of the United States, Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp, Loew's, Inc., and Culver Export Corp., Petitioners v. Edward Sheldon and Margaret Ayer Barnes, Respondents, October term, 1935"

"Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit".
Box 4 Folder 28
"Brief for the Respondents in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari", Supreme Court of the United States, October term, 1939.
Box 4 Folder 29
"Brief for Petitioners".
Box 4 Folder 30
"Petitioners Reply Brief".
Box 4 Folder 31
"Brief for Respondents in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari".
Box 4 Folder 32
"Opinion of Court".
Box 4 Folder 33
"Supreme Court: Respondent Sheldon's Brief".
Box 4 Folder 34
"Court of Appeals of the State of New York: Appellant Sheldon's Brief".
Box 4 Folder 35

The Kastanon published by the Senior Class of the University School for Girls, Chicago, IL, Margaret Ayer, Editor in Chief, 1903.
Box 1 Folder 1
Ladies' Home Learnall, Bryn Mawr College student publication. Apparently program and script for freshman class of 1907 show in which Ayer appeared, 1904 April 16.
Box 1 Folder 2
BMC Endowment Drive Chicago 1920, clippings.
Box 1 Folder 3
Bryn Mawr College Alumnae Bulletins, dated May 1922, December 1924, June 1933, January 1938 and speeches by MAB relating to her BMC alumnae position, 1922-1938.
Box 1 Folder 4
MAB-1910, Wedding portrait, 120 x 210mm.
Box 1 Folder 5
MAB-1910, Wedding portrait, 120 x 230mm.
Box 1 Folder 5
MAB-1931 3/4 portrait, seated, 152 x 200mm.
Box 1 Folder 5-6
MAB w/ governess and oldest child, Cecil Barnes, Jr., c. 1914, 135 x 73mm .
Box 1 Folder 6
MAB w/ Cecil Barnes, Jr., c. 1914, 135 x 73mm.
Box 1 Folder 6
MAB-c.1932, Chicago, photo by Koehne Photo 115 x 165mm.
Box 1 Folder 6
MAB w/ Ferris Greenslet-c. 1931 (photo blurred) 100 x 152mm.
Box 1 Folder 6
MAB-1920's portrait, by Mellett, 150 x 227mm.
Box 1 Folder 7
MAB-1907 graduation portrait, by Broadbent, Phila., 52 x 94mm. .
Box 1 Folder 8
MAB-c. 1914 portrait at fancy-dress ball, by Dekos, Chicago, 120 x 135mm.
Box 1 Folder 8
MAB w/Cecil Barnes-c.1911.
Box 1 Folder 8
Guy Standing and Jane Carol in Jenny (3 items).
Box 1 Folder 9-10
Cornelia Otis Skinner in Edna His Wife (12 items).
Box 1 Folder 11
Cornelia Otis Skinner in Edna His Wife, plus contact sheets for same (6 items).
Box 1 Folder 12
Katharine Cornell in Age of Innocence (2 items).
Box 1 Folder 13
Four oversized scrapbooks titled: Edna His Wife, Westward Passage, Wisdom's Gate and Within this Present.

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