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Finding Aid to the Frances Densmore Papers MS.557
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Collection Details
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  • Preferred citation
  • Restriction note
  • Access
  • Biographical note
  • Scope and Contents note
  • Use
  • Custodial history
  • Processing history
  • Arrangement

  • Title: Frances Densmore Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.557
    Contributing Institution: Autry National Center, Braun Research Library
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 0.75 Linear feet (2 boxes)
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1907-1957
    Date (inclusive): 1899-1961
    Abstract: Frances Densmore was an American ethnographer and ethnomusicologist born in 1867 in Red Wing, Minnesota. She wrote more than 20 books and 100 articles. She also made more than 2,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native music, including recordings for the Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in 1907. Densmore died on June 5, 1957 at the age of 90. The Francis Densmore Papers consist of manuscripts, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and ephemera from 1899-1961. The bulk of the material was created from 1907-1957.
    creator: Bunche, Ralph J. (Ralph Johnson), 1904-1971.
    creator: Densmore, Frances, 1867-1957
    creator: Hewett, Edgar L. (Edgar Lee), 1865-1946
    creator: Hodge, Frederick Webb, 1864-1956
    creator: James, George Wharton, 1858-1923
    creator: Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978
    creator: Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.

    Preferred citation

    Frances Densmore Papers, 1899-1961, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.557; [folder number] [folder title][date].

    Restriction note

    Correspondence in Folder 10 not to be copied or cited per donor agreement.


    Collection is open for research. Appointments to view materials are required. To make an appointment please visit http://theautry.org/research/research-rules-and-application or contact library staff at rroom@theautry.org.

    Biographical note

    Frances Densmore was an American ethnographer and ethnomusicologist. Born in 1867 in Red Wing, Minnesota, Densmore became interested in Native American music after reading about the ethnomusicology of the Omaha tribe. She began her work in Minnesota by studying and recording the music of the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes. She also traveled across North America where she met with the Chippewa, Mandan, Hidatsa, Sioux, northern Pawnee of Oklahoma, Papago of Arizona, Indians of Washington state and British Columbia, Winnebago and Menominee of Wisconsin, Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, and the Tule Indians of Panama. She conducted fieldwork using a box camera and a cylinder phonograph. She wrote more than 20 books and 100 articles. She also made more than 2,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native music, including recordings for the Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in 1907. She frequently published articles in the journals American Anthropologist and the Southwest Museum’s Masterkey publication. Densmore is especially noted for her recordings of Native American music and documenting their culture at a time when white settlers were moving into Native lands and encouraging tribes to adopt Western customs. Densmore died on June 5, 1957 at the age of 90.

    Scope and Contents note

    This collections consists of materials dating from 1899-1961, the bulk of which was created from 1907-1957. Included are lectures and writings by Densmore on Native American music; melodic analysis of seventy-five Cheyenne and Arapaho songs; correspondence with Frederick Webb Hodge; letters to Densmore; published articles by Densmore in newspapers and journals; and writings about Densmore's work, life, and health. The collection also includes an original drawing by Eagle Shield that was included in Densmore's Teton Sioux Music publication.


    Copyright has not been assigned to the Braun Research Library at the Autry National Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Autry Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Autry National Center as the custodian of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Custodial history

    The papers of Frances Densmore were compiled individually by Frances Densmore, Dr. Joseph Amasa Munk and Southwest Museum staff, particularly Dr. Frederick Webb Hodge and Fred Kimpton Hinchman. Some material was also acquired through the Library's General Acquisitions Fund. The papers were deposited to the Southwest Museum Library, currently known as the Braun Research Library, before 1978.

    Processing history

    Processed by Glenna Schroeder, circa 1977-1981. Finding aid updated by Anna Liza Posas 2012 April 6. Final processing of collection and publication of finding aid made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).


    • Series 1: Correspondence,1910-1953
    • Series 2: Manuscripts and music analysis, 1899-1954
    • Series 3: Lectures, 1935-19338
    • Series 4: Publications about Densmore, 1936-1957
    • Series 5: Publications by Densmore, 1907-1954

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology.
    Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)
    Arapaho Indians -- Music
    Cheyenne Indians -- Music
    Dakota Indians
    Hidatsa Indians
    Indians of North America -- Music
    Indians of North America -- Washington (State)
    Maidu Indians
    Mandan Indians
    Ojibwa Indians
    Pawnee Indians
    Tohono O'odham Indians