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Phyllis McGinley Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: AE
Date: Aug 1990

Biographical History

American poet, essayists, humorist, lyricist, teacher.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Phyllis McGinley Papers comprise personal and business correspondence, writings, and memorabilia. Spanning 1897 to 1978, the collection reflects not only the professional career of the American humorist and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, but also the wide scope of her audience.

The Correspondence-subject files (Boxes 1-29) contain biographical material, family correspondence, and general personal and business letters. The correspondence is almost exclusively incoming, however there are a few photocopies of McGinley's outgoing letters scattered throughout various files. The collection contains letters from a number of literary figures (Richard Armour, Cass Canfield, Peter De Vries, Richard Eberhart, John Holmes, Jean and Walter Kerr, Marianne Moore, Lewis Mumford, Anne Sexton, A.M. Sullivan, Louis Untermeyer, John Updike, E.B. and Katharine White, Thornton Wilder); clergymen (Daniel Berrigan, Richard Cushing, John Haynes Holmes, Sister Mary Madeleva, Joseph Ritter, Francis Spellman, Francis Sweeney); composers and lyricists (Elizabeth Gould, Oscar Hammerstein, Gladys Rich, Richard Rodgers, Orvis Ross); entertainers (Katharine Cornell, Hume Cronyn, Irene Dunne, Tom Ewell, Helen Hayes, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Groucho Marx, Walter Slezak, Jane Wyatt); and politicians (Stanley M. Isaacs, Jacob Javits, Eugene McCarthy, Nelson Rockefeller, Sargent Shriver, Stewart Udall, Robert F. Wagner). There are few long runs of personal correspondence of significant depth or duration.

The importance of the correspondence lies in its illumination of both McGinley's business relationship with agent Curtis Brown Inc. and the extraordinary range of publications to which she was a frequent contributor (America, The American Scholar, The Commonweal, The Critic, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Magazine, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, The Reader's Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, The Saturday Review, The Sign, Woman's Day). A teacher and author of children's books as well as a poet, essayist, and lyricist, McGinley, in a career which spanned more than four decades, maintained business relationships with a variety of publishers over a number of years (Collier Books, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, Inc., J.B. Lippincott, Macmillan, G. Schirmer, Viking Press, Franklin Watts, Inc.). A significant portion of the correspondence centers around the various honors and awards which were bestowed on McGinley. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1961, she received a number of honorary Doctor of Letters degrees (Boston College, Dartmouth College, Marquette University, St. John's University, Smith College, Wheaton College, Wilson College) as well as the Catholic Book Club's Campion Award (1967), the Catholic Institute of the Press Award (1960), and the Laetare Medal, conferred by the University of Notre Dame in 1964. She also appeared on the cover of Time the week of June 18, 1965. In 1968, selected by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to serve on a committee to review the State's abortion law, McGinley, a Catholic, agreed to participate in the controversial hearings and to file a report. The collection includes correspondence, a transcript of the hearings, the report, and newspaper clippings pertaining to the committee. Widely acclaimed for her wit and common-sense approach to the rigors and joys of family life in America, McGinley received an extensive assortment of fan mail (2 linear feet) from children, educators, fellow poets, librarians, and the hundreds of housewives whose lives she championed from the earliest beginnings of the women's movement in the 1960s through the mid-1970s.

Writings (Boxes 30-49) include, for a given title, any combination of work sheets, manuscripts, production records, and published versions for McGinley's books, essays, interviews, lyrics, poetry, reviews, scripts, speeches, and stories. The many manuscript drafts of McGinley's writings reveal her method of composition for various works. Perhaps most interesting are her essays, for which she often composed a "serious" version before producing her characteristically humorous final manuscript. Suburbia and sainthood are the prominent topics of McGinley's writing, together with occasional pieces produced for various holidays, especially Christmas. In addition to her poetry appearances in a wide variety of popular magazines, McGinley also produced a number of verses which were used commercially, including advertisements for Book Week, Calvert Distillers Corporation, Coty, The New Yorker, and Seagram-Distillers Corporation. Among the miscellaneous writings are a journal (1949-1951), an assortment of juvenilia, and the manuscript draft of "The Emperor's Nightingale," a narrative adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic.

Memorabilia consists primarily of financial, legal, and printed materials, photographs, and scrapbooks. Included among the financial material are royalty statements (arranged by publisher) for McGinley's books and bank check records. Legal material includes a chronological arrangement of contracts (1928-1974) and an assortment of copyright renewals and transfers. Printed material consists of articles about McGinley as well as publicity for and reviews of her many books. A series of scrapbooks contain a variety of items, but also include printed material by and about McGinley.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Writings are subdivided by style (books, essays, etc.) and within that are arranged alphabetically by title. Memorabilia is arranged alphabetically by type of item, with separate subsections for financial and legal material.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


McGinley, Phyllis, 1905-1978.


Abortion -- Law and legislation -- New York (State)
American literature -- Irish American authors.
American poetry -- 20th century.
American poetry -- Women authors.
Children's literature.
Humorists, American.
Humorous poetry -- United States.
Irish American women.
Irish Americans.
Lyricists -- United States.
Poets, American.
Women authors, American.
Women poets, American.


United States -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.

Genres and Forms

Account books.
Calendars (documents)
Check stubs.
Drafts (documents)
Galley proofs.
Librettos (documents for music)
Manuscripts for publication.
Musical scores.
Reviews (documents)
Scripts (documents)
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Phyllis McGinley Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents

Biographical material

Family correspondence

Correspondence-subject files