Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

For Participating Institutions

Ellen M. Barrett papers (Ms.2007.009)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: Manuscripts: 401-863-3723; University Archives: 401-863-2148
Email: Manuscripts: hay@brown.edu; University Archives: archives@brown.edu

Scope & content

The Ellen Barrett papers consist of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, research materials, and a wide range of personal documentation such as birth and baptismal certificates, passports, photo identification cards, journals, scrap books, desk calendars, and date books. The collection includes a variety of print materials, such as liturgical programs, church bulletins, high school yearbooks, and both religious and secular periodicals. In addition, the collection comprises a wide range of ephemeral materials, such as newspaper clippings, pamphlets, theater programs, greeting cards, name tags and ticket stubs, as well as a variety of religious artifacts such as a vestment, prayer beads, and a collection of cruciform pendants and sacred medallions. Most of the materials in this collection date from Barrett's birth, in 1946, to her entry into the Community of St. Mary the Virgin, an Anglican religious order, as an aspirant, in 2005.

The portion of the collection that covers Barrett's personal information is wide and varied. It is replete with an extensive collection of biographical materials ranging from her original birth and baptismal certificates, and one of the original shoes she wore at her baptism, to her college diplomas and the many bibles, prayer books, hymnals, and date books she owned as an Episcopal priest. It includes scrapbooks she kept as a child, her high school yearbooks, and an extensive collection of photographs of her family, friends, and travels abroad. It also contains materials relating to Barrett's ancestry, with particular reference to genealogical data tracing her maternal lineage back to Alexander Hamilton.

What is especially noteworthy about this collection is its documentation of Barrett's experiences as the first openly gay person and one of the earliest women to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. It thoroughly traces Barrett's tumultuous path to ordination in the diocese of New York City by the then Right Reverend Paul Moore, Jr., from 1975 to 1977. It includes correspondence between Barrett and Moore, and documents some of their personal, official and public statements about the ordination. It also includes extensive documentation of the worldwide reaction to Barrett's ordination, both within and without the Anglican Communion.

The collection also provides a comprehensive record of Barrett's vocation as an Episcopal priest, mostly within dioceses in the New York and New Jersey areas. It includes most, if not all, of the original manuscripts of her sermons, thereby allowing a definitive study of her theological reflections and development. It also offers an extensive collection of Episcopal Church literature, including a substantial collection of newsletters and bulletins, liturgical programs and other official church documentation. Of particular note are materials relating to Barrett's concern for and ministry to the gay community and women. Much of the ministerial documentation includes materials relating to Barrett's involvement with and membership in a variety of religious organizations. Materials documenting her affiliation with Anglican monastic communities for women and her eventual formal entries into both the Community of the Holy Spirit (New York) and the Community of St. Mary the Virgin (Wantage, Oxfordshire, England) are especially noteworthy.

The collection also provides some documentation of Barrett's involvement with the Episcopal organization Integrity early on in its formation, being one of the first co-presidents along with Jim Wickliff. Also of note are some materials that provide a glimpse of Barrett's pastoral work with gay men inflicted by AIDS in New York City during the early 1980s.

The collection incorporates a significant amount of materials documenting Barrett's educational experiences, including such items as college transcripts, course syllabi, commencement programs, and school yearbooks. The collection includes Barrett's original master's thesis on ecclesiastical polity and discipline entitled Validity and Regularity: An Historical Perspective (General Theological Seminary: 1975). It also provides ample documentation of Barrett's scholastic interests in medieval monastic history and includes materials she acquired for her research on the Gilbertine Order from its foundation in 1131 to the canonization of St. Gilbert of Sempringham in 1202. A complete copy of her subsequent doctoral dissertation From the Zeal of Seven Women: The Evolution and Monastic ideals of the Gilbertine Order, 1131-1202 (New York University: 1986), is included in the collection.

In summary, the Ellen Barrett papers represent a valuable resource for those who are interested in gay and lesbian history, women's history, contemporary social and religious history, theology, and church history. The collection also offers some documentation on the history and sociology of monastic orders for women, both past and present and includes primary source materials relating to Anglican monastic communities for women.