The Museum Archives is a valuable and engaging resource that documents the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner and the history of the Museum. The archival collection complements the Museum’s art collection and provides a window on the world of the Museum’s founder.


The core mission of the Archives is to appraise, collect, arrange, describe, and preserve the personal papers of Isabella Stewart Gardner as well as the Museum records of enduring administrative, legal, fiscal, intrinsic and historical value. The Archives staff maintains appropriate facilities for the retention, preservation, and research use of the Gardner Personal Papers and the Museum Records.

The Archives serves as a research center for members of the staff, the artists and scholars-in-residence, and outside scholars. The purpose of the reading room is to provide a quiet, dedicated space to examine and contemplate archival materials, rare books and collection items.

Scope of the Archival Collections

The archival collection is approximately 300 linear feet of materials ranging in date from 1840 to the present. At the heart of the Museum Archives is Isabella Stewart Gardner’s personal correspondence. The collection includes over 6000 letters from approximately 1,000 correspondents such as Henry James, John Singer Sargent, Henry Adams, and Julia Ward Howe. In addition to the letters, there are diaries, travel scrapbooks, guest books, newspaper clippings, literary and musical manuscripts, as well as photographs of her homes, art objects, friends, and relatives. The Archives is also the repository for the Museum’s operational records from its founding to the present. These materials include the records of past Museum directors, curators, and departmental staff. They document subjects such as collection acquisitions, exhibitions, Museum programs, and the construction and maintenance of the building and grounds.

Reference and Research Service

Due to limited research space and staff time, appointments are required. Specific requests to examine material may be made in writing to the archivist by letter, fax, or e-mail. Requests should be made well in advance, detailing material needed and reason for an on-site visit. Phone conversations with the archivist may be necessary to better understand the nature of the study. Some records may be restricted for security or legal issues, privacy issues, or conservation issues. Any records in the Archives that are less than fifteen years old may be used only with the permission of the originating department.

The Museum Archives offers a reference service to those who make an appointment to examine the collection. The archives staff will suggest sources that support a scholar’s line of inquiry and will pull requested materials for the scholar to conduct their own research. If a visit to the archives is not possible the Archives staff will conduct research for outside researchers on a fee schedule – the first hour is free; each additional hour will be $30.00 per hour. All requests for information or appointments will be addressed in the order they are received.


Finding aids, indices, transcripts, and digital surrogates are available for some parts of the collection. Please contact the Archives for more information about these resources.

The bulk of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s personal correspondence and the Museum’s incorporation documents are available on microfilm. Researchers should consult the microfilm as a first step for using the collections. It can be obtained from the Archives of American Art through the Interlibrary Loan system. Click here for a list of names included in Gardner's personal correspondence. (1.41 MB)

A selection of Gardner’s travel scrapbooks can be found on the Museum website. The scrapbook digitization project, funded by the Leon Levy Foundation, is a work in progress with new images and transcripts being added periodically.

Photocopy, Photo and Digital Reproduction Services

All photocopies are made by the Archives staff. Fragile materials will be copied at the discretion of the archivist. Photocopies are $0.25 per page. If copies need to be mailed the postage costs must be covered by the researcher.

The Museum can provide researchers with digital files of most materials in the collection. If a suitable digital file already exists in the inventory and the file can be delivered at no cost to the Museum there is no charge to obtain the digital file. If the Museum staff must make new digital files for the researcher the cost is $5.00 per digital file with a $20.00 minimum. Note: All rights and reproduction policies apply to the photo and digital requests and additional use fees may apply to the requests.


Photo reproduction requests and permissions for publication

Please visit Rights and Reproductions


Shana McKenna

Museum Archivist

Museum Archives

Access to the Archives is
by appointment only
. Contact the Archives staff for more information.

For museum collections-related questions or rights and reproduction questions, email

Reading Room

Access to the Reading Room
is by appointment only

Reference Services

Reference and research services will be temporarily suspended from September 1, 2016 - February 1, 2017.

We are not able to answer requests for information or research services. Apologies for any inconvenience.