Women Who Shaped the BPL: Helen Slosberg’s Scheme

To celebrate Women's History Month, Special Collections is highlighting a few of the women who shaped Boston Public Library. 

"I have a very good scheme..."
Helen Slosberg to Sinclair Hitchings, December 20, 1977.
Helen S. Slosberg Papers, Arts Department, Boston Public Library.

Helen Sagoff Slosberg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1900, lived in Boston her entire life, and was an avid supporter of the arts. Slosberg was the founder of the Brookline Chamber Music Society, a patron of Harvard’s Music Library, and supported the Boston Symphony Orchestra, along with several other cultural organizations. However, music wasn’t her only passion. In the late 1970s Slosberg and Sinclair Hitchings, the Curator of Prints at the Boston Public Library, corresponded regularly about the art scene in the city. Eventually, the discussion of the possibility of creating a fund for artists with ties to Boston began to take hold. 

On December 10, 1977, Hitchings wrote “I know something of what you have done to foster and encourage art and music in Boston, Brookline, Worcester . . . and I know that many of these Boston artists of today are people you know and encourage. Because of this, I write to ask you if you would consider establishing a Helen Sagoff Slosberg Fund at the Boston Public Library . . .”

The scheme Helen Slosberg envisioned was revealed in her extraordinary gift of her collection of art by living artists with ties to Boston that she presented on March 2, 1978. It was the first gift of its kind to the library. What made it even more surprising, however, is that it was one of the first collections that contained works by several women artists who had Boston ties, including Katherine Sturgis (b. 1904) who later made sketches of the Boston Bruins that became a multi-media performance titled “Hockey Seen.” In a letter to Hitchings dated April 2, 1978, Slosberg wrote:

"I can’t help but think that we are on our way to having a golden age of
contemporary artists in this century, and perhaps, beyond.
It wouldn’t surprise me if artists will be coming to Boston to be part of the program."

Helen S. Slosberg Papers, Arts Department, Boston Public Library.

In 1984, the Helen Sagoff Slosberg Fund to purchase prints, drawings, or paintings from artists with ties to Boston was established. Today, the library carries forward Slosberg’s intent to support Boston's creative scene, using this special fund to add works by Boston artists to the Library’s Special Collections. The most recent acquisitions purchased by the Helen Sagoff Slosberg Fund were a selection of photographs by Zoe Perry-Wood, from her twelve-year portrait project of LGBTQIA youth at their annual Prom.