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Alice Henson Ernst papers

Identifier: Coll 039

Scope and Contents note

The collection largely contains correspondence; manuscripts of books, plays, short stories and poetry; diaries; scrapbooks; and photographs.

The correspondence is arranged chronologically from 1900 to 1976. The majority of the correspondence pertains to her writing endeavors and to family matters. Within this collection are several letters written to Ernst from the anthropologist Franz Boas (March 15, 1937, April 27, 1938, Jan. 12, 1939, Jan. 22, 1939, Jan. 2, 1940, and Dec. 29, 1933).

The book manuscript section covers Ernst's non-fictional efforts. The manuscripts of her books Trouping in the Oregon Country and The Wolf Ritual of the Northwest Coast are included. Also among the unfinished and unpublished works is a manuscript on the masks of the Indians of the Northwest Coast, an unfinished biography of Joaquin Miller, and an unpublished ethnography of the Quileute. The remainder of the manuscript series includes a section containing her plays which include, among others, Way Out There, Barriers, Cloistered Calm, Out Trail, and The Wooden Wife. These are followed by a small poetry section in which the poems are arranged alphabetically by title. Also included in the collection are diaries and notebooks from 1909 to 1964 and one volume, A Time for Reflexion by Jean Henson. Broadsides include playbills and posters mostly related to theater productions.

Most photographs concern early theater in Oregon and masks of the Northwest Coast tribes; some are of a personal nature. Approximately three cubic feet of theater playbills have been separated to the Subject File Series.


  • Creation: 1900-1976


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Alice Henson Ernst, playwright, teacher, freelance writer, and reporter, was born September 3, 1880 in Washburne, Maine.

She received her B.A. degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Washington in 1912 and her M.A. in 1913. She also did graduate work at Radcliffe College and Yale University. From 1920 to 1923 she was an Associate Professor in English at the University of Washington and from 1924 to 1950 served as Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon.

Ernst received recognition chiefly as a playwright of one-act plays, some of which were collected in High Country and Backstage in Xanadu. Her "Spring Sluicing" in High Country, for example, was a prize-winning play in the National Drama League contest, and was produced by the Portland Civic Theatre and other groups. In connection with her playwrighting, Ernst became interested in the history of the early theater of the Pacific Northwest resulting in the book Trouping in the Oregon Country. Her interest in primitive theater led her to study the masked ritual dances of Northwest Coast tribes and to the publication of several articles. She also published a major work, The Wolf Ritual of the Northwest Coast, which received recognition from critics and anthropologists in the United States and Europe. Alice Ernst died February 12, 1980.


21 linear feet (40 containers)

Language of Materials



Alice Henson Ernst was an American author, playwright, and teacher, at University of Washington, 1920-1923, and University of Oregon, 1924-1950, who had special interests in the history of the early theater of the Pacific Northwest and masked ritual dances of Northwest Coast tribes. Collection comprises correspondence, including letters from Franz Boas; manuscripts of books, plays, essays, and poems; diaries and notebooks, 1909-1964; playbills; broadsides; and photographs, most relating to Native American masks.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Series: Correspondence Series: Manuscripts: Books Subseries: Trouping in the Oregon Country (Oregon Historical Society, 1961)Subseries: The Wolf Ritual of the Northwest Coast (University of Oregon Press, 1952)Subseries: Masks of the Northwest Coast (unpublished)Subseries: Northwest Coast Animal Dances (unpublished)Subseries: Quileute Ethnology (unpublished)Subseries: Playwright in Buckskin (unpublished) Series: Manuscripts: Plays Subseries: Way Out ThereSubseries: Other playsSeries: Manuscripts: Short stories, essays, reviewsSeries: Manuscripts: PoetrySeries: Manuscripts: MiscellaneousSeries: Diaries, notebooks, scrapbooksSeries: MiscellaneousSeries: Photographs

General Physical Description note

40 containers

Processing Information note

Collection processed by Sean McGuckin.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Alice Henson Ernst papers
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA