Scope and Content Note


A portion of the material in Series I. "Working women's clubs" predates Curran's involvement in the organizations. In particular are the late 19th-century minute books of the Philadelphia Association of Working Women's Societies and the 1897 scrapbook of the Third Triennial Convention of Working Women's Clubs, which was held in Philadelphia. The convention led to the organization of the National League of Women Workers, which later became the National League of Girls' Clubs. Documentation of the national organization consists of clippings, several pamphlets and a 1921 report prepared by Curran summarizing publicity for the club. On the state level, there are several clippings and newsletter from Massachusetts and ephemera pertaining to New York clubs. Most state material pertains to the Pennsylvania Association of Working Women's Societies, which later operated as the Eastern Pennsylvania League of Girls' Clubs. Beginning in 1921, Curran served as Executive Director of the League for nearly seven years. Documentation from that time consists primarily of correspondence and newspaper clippings. Much of the ephemera pertain to the organization's emphasis on education. There is also material pertaining to the summer programs, particularly the one offered at Whitford Lodge. Documentation consists of correspondence, 1925-1930, clippings, photographs, legal papers, a journal (author unidentified) and some memorabilia pertaining to a production called "Pirates." Other summer programs documented include the Summer School for Women Works in Industry, held at Bryn Maw College and another program at Miller's Place in Long Island, New York. A scrapbook of 1919-1924 clippings also chronicles the Pennsylvania League's activities.

Series II. "New Students League and the Little Gallery of Contemporary Art" documents the next phase of Curran's career. With young men expressing an interest in attending League programs, a new club was chartered in 1927 that welcomed male membership. With this change, the new organization withdrew from the National League of Girls' Clubs and began operating as the New Students League. Correspondence, which comprises much of the documentation, deals primarily with the operation of the League, staffing, and fundraising. There are also other papers regarding curriculum and programming. In addition to the educational programs, the League became a venue for exhibitions of modern art, to which Curran felt Philadelphians lacked adequate exposure and appreciation. After holding two such shows in 1927 and the spring of the following year, Curran made the exhibition space a permanent feature, and on December 8, 1928, the Little Gallery of Contemporary Art opened. In 1930 the gallery relocated, although it remained in center city. Documentation of the exhibitions held from 1927 to 1934 consists primarily of announcements, clippings, invitation lists and some correspondence. While this material is arranged in annual chronological order, the material that follows consists of several folders of correspondence with artists who exhibited often at the gallery; namely Julius Bloch, Leon Kelly and Dan Rasmussen. Correspondence with other artists is included in individual exhibition files. There are also photographs and copyprints of works of art and a number of prints, perhaps retained for reference. The series ends with a significant amount of printed material, chronologically arranged from 1923 to 1938, with two folders of undated pieces. The material, primarily published by art museums, galleries, art institutions and clubs in Philadelphia and New York City, consists of bulletins, exhibition catalogues and checklists, auction and collection catalogs, press releases, and ephemera including postcards and price lists for books and art reproductions. Exhibitions held at Macy's, Gimbels, and Wanamakers department stores are documented here, as well as a 1925 sculpture competition sponsored by Proctor & Gamble for which white soap was the designated medium. Also of note is a barter exhibition conducted by the Philadelphia Sketch Club in the early 1930s. Curran no doubt compiled this material as reference during her tenure as gallery director and continued the collection during her five years managing the government-sponsored relief programs for Pennsylvania artists, which is the subject of the next series.

Series III. "Federal Art Project and earlier relief programs" is the largest group of records in the collection, measuring approximately 3.5 linear feet, and the most complete in documentation of subject. Along with Fiske Kimball, director of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, Curran worked on each of the government relief programs funded first through the Civil Works Administration and then the Works Progress Administration. As Clerk and then Regional Director of the first government relief program, the Public Works of Art Program (PWAP), Curran was responsible for selecting Pennsylvania artists who qualified to create works of art for public buildings. Because so many artists lived in the area, Philadelphia served as headquarters for the region, and the Little Gallery served as its physical office space. Documentation begins with the December 1933 announcement of the project and continues with letters from artists requesting project applications and the submitted applications. Both Curran and Kimball made notations on the latter, usually remarking on the artist's economic needs and talent. The selected artists would report on a fairly regular basis the progress of their work. Most are in the form of correspondence. There is other correspondence and notes pertaining to the project, but most of the remaining material consists of clippings from newspapers and magazines. Another significant document is Curran's report of the allocation of the art, identifying the buildings that requested works of art and the artists and titles of works fulfilling those requests. There are two copies of this report, with one annotated differently than the other. The records continue as documentation of the WPA's Federal Art Project, which began in 1935. While there is some correspondence on the operation of the project, most of the material focuses on the artist unions that criticized Curran's management, calling for her resignation. Most of the material consists of correspondence, flyers, clippings, and meeting summaries pertaining to the protests of the Federation of Art Workers and the Artists Union. It should be noted that Curran filed letters received during the regular course of business expressing appreciation of the project and her work on it as "Friends letters to Edward Jones and Holger Cahill, etc." (Edward N. Jones was a Pennsylvania state administrator for the WPA. Cahill headed the art project on the federal level.) As noted by the authors, some of these letters were sent intentionally in support of Curran to counter the negative publicity. Also included here is the formal complaint issued by the Artists Union in May 1937, as well as the report submitted in rebuttal, which challenged the letters and testimony given against the project. There are also several issues of the Artists Union bulletins and ephemera that address their challenge not only of Curran but Kimball as well. The remainder of material includes general correspondence, as well as a folder of 1938 correspondence and other papers pertaining to the headquarter relocation to Harrisburg, Curran's transfer to the Pittsburgh office and her termination at year's end. There are also clippings primarily about the art project on a local basis, and photographs of what appears to be the May 1937 exhibition of FAP work. A poster and some newsclippings document the exhibition held at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art the following year. Documentation of the Index of American Design, which was part of the FAP, consists of a few reports and notes about ornamental cast iron and Pennsylvania German decorative arts as surveyed respectively by Katherine Mihous and by Frances Lichten. Summarizing the FAP, Curran prepared a report of the project under her direction, from October 1935 to July 1938. The final report along with two files of working papers and a draft are included here. The series ends with photographs, including approximately 30 taken of Philadelphia landmarks, buildings and street scenes taken by Charles Ogle, who did some FAP work, as well as photographs primarily of murals created by Jose Clemente Orozco, Henry Billings and Boardman Robinson. It is unclear if these are FAP works. Although originally housed in a WPA envelope, the copyprints of works by Albert Pinkham Ryder may have been compiled by Curran for the exhibition she held at the gallery prior to the government projects. There are also several oversized sheets with a dozen pencil sketches that appear to be ideas for posters of places to visit in the city, as well as one with a heading that warns "Don't take risks."

The final series, "Personal papers," consists primarily of correspondence and sketches. Curran's brother William was her most frequent correspondent. There are five brief letters from Fiske Kimball, written each December from 1942 to 1946, to thank her for remembering his birthday. In his 1944 correspondence, Kimball reflects on the great pleasure of their collaboration on the FAP, and he reminds her that although "others thought it wiser to yield to the pressure for a new administrator, [this] should not blind you to the fact that your administration was not only the longest but one of the very most successful in any quarter." Far more lengthy and packed with some gossipy details are the two letters the artist, and at this time Pfc., Dan Rasmusson wrote to Curran in 1941 and 1942 while he was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He mentions in one letter becoming very intimate with another Philadelphia artist Emlen Etting and his wife, writer/photographer Gloria since their move back to town to work at the Stage Door Canteen. There are also several folders of sketches. Compared to the few signed, most appear to be in Curran's hand. A few sketches are autographed by others to Curran. Other material includes biographical information of Curran, provided in the form of resumes, notes, and forms, a few 1950-1960 exhibition catalogues and checklists, other ephemera, photographs and various papers and notes on subjects such as taxes and genealogy. It is unclear if Curran collected the unsigned greeting cards and postcards as memorabilia or pictorial reference.

A folder-level inventory for the entire collection is available in the Archives, in paper and electronic formats. The inventories provided by the donor were revised although item-level descriptions for certain folders have been retained, as well as many of the folder titles.