Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Helen Buchanan Papers, 1906-1937

Finding aid created by
Cheney J. Schopieray, January 2008, and Meg Hixon, December 2011

Summary Information
Title: Helen Buchanan papers
Creator: Jones, Helen Buchanan, 1888-1980
Inclusive dates: 1906-1937
Bulk dates: 1906-1919
Extent: 5 linear feet
The Helen Buchanan papers contain incoming correspondence, financial records, ephemera, and photographs related to the life of Helen Buchanan (later Jones) in the early 20th century. Much of the correspondence is from her friend Juliana Conover, who discussed women's issues and her life in Princeton, New Jersey, during World War I, and from Buchanan's suitor and eventual husband, Walter McKnown Jones, who wrote about medical treatments he experienced and life on his coffee plantation in Puerto Rico.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

2006. M-4536.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Helen Buchanan Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Sub-series I: Juliana Conover Letters
  • Sub-series II: Walter McKnown Jones Letters
  • Sub-series III: Family Correspondence
  • Sub-series IV: Friends Correspondence
  • Series II: Financial Records
  • Series III: Photographs and Negatives
  • Series IV: Theatre Record
  • Series V: Printed Items and Ephemera
  • Series VIII: Writings and Fragments

The series and sub-series are arranged chronologically.


Helen Buchanan was born in Washington, D. C., on April 9, 1888, and had at least two brothers, John and Francis. Her father, James A. Buchanan (1843-1926), was brigadier general in the United States Army and was the first military commander of the Puerto Rican Regiment (1st U.S. Volunteers) in the Spanish-American War. Helen attended school in Rome, Italy, between 1909 and 1910, and traveled widely in Europe. She lived at her family's residences in Washington, D. C., and Upperville, Virginia, before marrying Walter M. Jones in the spring of 1916. She then joined him at his coffee plantation ("Hacienda Limon") near Villalba, Puerto Rico.

Walter McKnown Jones was born in Boston in 1833 and later moved to Puerto Rico, where he was involved in local politics. He was mayor of Villalba, Puerto Rico (1917-1919), and a member of the island's legislature (1922-1928). He and Helen advocated for Puerto Rican independence, and she was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in the 1940s. Walter Jones died in 1944, and Helen Buchanan Jones died in 1980.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Helen Buchanan papers contain 5 linear feet of incoming correspondence, financial records, photographs, printed items, ephemera, and writings pertaining to the life of Helen Buchanan (later Jones) in the early 20th century. Much of the correspondence is from her friend Juliana Conover, who discussed women's issues and her life in Princeton, New Jersey, during World War I, and from Buchanan's suitor and eventual husband, Walter McKnown Jones, who wrote about medical treatments he experienced and life on his coffee plantation in Puerto Rico.

The Correspondence series comprises the bulk of the collection and contains incoming letters and postcards addressed to Buchanan between 1906 and 1919, while she lived at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia; Washington, D. C.; Rome, Italy; and Hacienda Limon (near Villalba, Puerto Rico).

Helen's friend Juliana Conover wrote 258 letters advising her much younger friend on love and courtship, providing updates on her life in Princeton, New Jersey, and commenting on current events. In one early letter, she shared her horror at the recent Titanic tragedy (April 16, 1912). Much of Conover's correspondence concerns Helen's courtship with and engagement to Walter McKnown Jones; she often reported on his health, and she supported the relationship despite misgivings on the part of Helen's father. Conover dispensed candid advice on a variety of topics, including intimacy and birth control (April 12, 1916). Along with sending personal updates and news of friends in Princeton, she sometimes mentioned the war and the families whose sons served in the military (May 14, 1917). After the war, she worked with the American Library Association's Library War Service at Camp Dix, New Jersey.

Walter McKnown Jones, Helen's friend, fiancé, and (later) husband, wrote approximately 200 letters to her between 1914 and 1919, largely concerning their courtship and engagement. Early in their acquaintance, he spent considerable time attending to his ill health and undergoing medical treatments. After recovering in the United States, he returned to his coffee plantation in Puerto Rico, where he described his work and efforts to sell coffee; these included trips to New York City and other destinations throughout the late 1910s. Many of his later communications with Helen are telegrams reporting his current location and attempting to make plans to meet his wife.

The Family Correspondence subseries holds letters from many different writers, including several regular correspondents. James A. Buchanan, Helen's father, wrote 45 letters between 1906 and 1919, often regarding her financial situation and family news. He described his European travels, which included witnessing a review of German military troops in Berlin (September 2, 1908) and visiting a military cemetery in Brest, France, where war casualties and influenza epidemic victims were buried (March 4, 1919). John and Francis Buchanan, Helen's brothers, shared stories of their academic and athletic experiences. John wrote about Yale's stringent entry requirements and his preparation for entrance exams (August 14, 1911). Other family correspondence includes letters from aunts, cousins, and extended family members, who told Helen about their lives in various New York cities and in Ilchester, Maryland.

Much of the Friends Correspondence subseries consists of letters by Etta Dunham de Viti de Marco and her daughter Etta, with whom Helen lived while studying in Rome, Italy. The elder Etta frequently discussed her work with Italy's Montessori movement, and her daughter provided Helen with updates on her life at school in Ascot, England. Etta Dunham di Viti de Marco shared her opinions of the war and expressed her desire for U.S. intervention (July 4, 1915). Nora Davis Farrar, the wife of Frederick Percival Farrar, an English chaplain to King George V, wrote 44 letters between 1908 and 1914, describing her life in Pennsylvania and British Columbia. A variety of other correspondents related news of their lives in various European countries and in the United States. Several postcards depict black-and-white views of "Il Cerro" in Italy.

The Financial Records series (140 items) consists of bank receipts, notifications of charitable donations, and additional receipts for clothing, books, and household items, dated from 1908-1918.

The Photographs and Negatives series includes approximately 50 individual portraits of Helen Buchanan's friends, family members, homes, and properties. One photograph album contains 375 pictures taken between 1928 and 1935, depicting scenes from family vacations in Canada and people, dogs, and horses. Many photographs show men and women in equestrian competitions, and some later images depict Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia.

A "Theatre Record" chronicles Helen's theatrical excursions in Washington, D.C., between December 25, 1907, and December 25, 1908. She recorded her opinions of productions and players. Programs are pasted and laid into the volume.

The Printed Items and Ephemera series consists of calling cards, picture postcards, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and other items. Ephemera includes pamphlets and printed letters related to the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Drama League of America; postcards and programs related to the Societa Romana della Caccia alla Volpe; and other materials. Twenty-nine picture postcards from Italy and Puerto Rico are present.

The collection contains approximately 15 Writings and Fragments. These are poems, a manuscript speech on the play Candida, an inventory of articles owned by Helen, and other items.

Subject Terms

    • American Library Association. Library War Service.
    • Coffee industry--Puerto Rico.
    • Contraception.
    • Courtship--United States.
    • Drama League of America.
    • Europe--Description and travel.
    • Families of military personnel--United States.
    • Female friendship.
    • Howard County (Md.)
    • Montessori method of education--Italy.
    • New York (State)
    • Plantations--Puerto Rico.
    • Princeton (N.J.)--Social life and customs.
    • Puerto Rico--Description and travel.
    • Rome (Italy)--Description and travel.
    • Theater--United States.
    • Villalba (P.R.)
    • World War, 1914-1918--Social aspects.
    • World War, 1914-1918--United States.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Buchanan family.
    • Dogs.
    • Family vacations.
    • Horsemanship.
    • Horses.
    • Jones family.
    • Upperville (Va.)
    • Adenstrom, Adelina P.
    • Balsamo, Teresa.
    • Buchanan, J. A. (James Anderson), 1843-1926.
    • Buchanan, Francis.
    • Buchanan, James.
    • Buchanan, John.
    • Conover, Juliana.
    • Coulter, Carleton.
    • De Marco, Etta Dunham de Viti.
    • De Marco, Etta.
    • Farrar, Nora Davis.
    • Hobhouse, Emily.
    • Hunt, Helen.
    • Jones, Walter McKnown, d. 1944.
    • Law, Ruth.
    • McCutcheon, George.
    • Penman, Edith.
    • Pollack, Mary.
    • Ridgely, Eleanor Cullom.
    Genre Terms:
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Invitations.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Negatives (photographic)
    • Pamphlets.
    • Photograph albums.
    • Photographic postcards.
    • Photographs.
    • Picture postcards.
    • Poems.
    • Receipts (financial records)
    • Scrapbooks.
    • Snapshots.
    • Visiting cards.
    • Writings (document genre)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Juliana Conover Letters [subseries]
    Box   1  
     January 6, 1909-[September 24], 1914 (19 folders)
    Box   2  
     [September 29],1914-December 30, 1918 (18 folders)
    Box   3  
     [January 1, 1919]-[March 1919], and  undated (12 folders)
    Walter McKnown Jones Letters [subseries]
    Box   4  
     June 9, 1914-[1915] (20 folders)
    Box   5  
     January 2, 1916-May 23, 1919, and  undated (14 folders)
    Family Correspondence [subseries]
    Box   6  
    James Buchanan,  October 25, 1906-February 15, 1919 (7 folders)
    John Buchanan,  February 28, 1907-August 14, 1911 (3 folders)
    Francis Buchanan,  July 29, 1907-November 6, 1910 (1 folder)
    Aunt Dugan,  April 23, 1907-July 29, 1907 (1 folder)
    Aunt Mattie,  August 10, 1908-October 8, 1911 (1 folder)
    Aunt Nina,  March 7, 1909-April 16, 1916 (1 folder)
    Carleton Coulter,  July 13, 1906-December 14, 1910 (2 folders)
    Other family members,  September 14, 1908-December 1916 (1 folder)
    Friends Correspondence [subseries]
    Box   7  
    Sara A.,  May 22, 1910 (1 folder)
    Adelina P. Adenstrom,  May 30, 1910-November 7, 1912 (1 folder)
    Teresa Balsamo,  September 13, 1910-May 14,1919 (1 folder)
    Nora Davis Farrar,  September 30, 1908-December 16, 1914 (7 folders)
    Emily Hobhouse,  April 12, 1910-May 05, 1914 (1 folder)
    Helen Hunt,  January 19, 1909-August 18, 1913 (1 folder)
    Ruth Law,  October 3, 1911-December 13, 1911 (1 folder)
    Etta Dunham de Viti de Marco,  December 25, 1909-July 4, 1915 (5 folders)
    Etta de Marco,  January 26, 1910-October 10, 1919 (5 folders)
    Box   8  
    George McCutcheon,  October 12, 1911-January 2, 1919 (1 folder)
    Edith Penman,  September 1914 (1 folder)
    Mary Pollack,  October 12, 1909-November 12, 1909 (1 folder)
    Eleanor Cullom Ridgely,  August 22, 1909-December 4, 1909 (1 folder)
    Rinker,  July 14, 1912-July 30, 1912 (1 folder)
    Other correspondence,  December 27,1906-June 1918 (11 folders)
    Box   9  
    Other correspondence,  January 1919-December 1919, and  undated (7 folders)
    Financial Records [series]
    Box   9  
     October 7, 1908-October 30, 1918 (13 folders)
    Photographs and Negatives [series]
    Box   10  
     Undated (5 folders)
    Volume   1  
    Photo Album,  1928-1935
    Theatre Record [series]
    Volume   2  
     December 25, 1907, and   December 25, 1908
    Printed Items and Ephemera [series]
    Box   10  
     Undated (10 folders)
    Drama League of America,  1912-1915 (4 folders)
    Societa Romana della Caccia Volpe,  1909-1910 (1 folder)
    Writings and Fragments [series]
    Box   10  
     Undated (3 folders)
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Black, Timothy. When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Streets. Vintage Books, 2009.