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John A. Holmes Papers

Call Number: MS007

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of typescript and handwritten manuscripts of poems and other writings, correspondence, notebooks, scrapbooks compiled by Holmes, family materials, and book and manuscript materials pertaining to Robert Frost, collected by Holmes. The bulk of the material dates from the period 1930-1960, when Holmes was most active in his writing career, and consists of manuscripts of poems, including many in multiple revisions. Correspondents include Robert Frost, Archibald MacLeish, and May Sarton.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1930 -- 1960
  • Creation: 1813 -- 1998


Language of Materials



This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Please see “Reproductions and Use” on the Digital Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permission to publish. Any intellectual property rights that the donor possesses have not been transferred to Tufts University.

Biographical / Historical

John Albert Holmes, Jr. (1904-1962) was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on January 6, 1904 to John Holmes, Sr., an engineer, and Mary (Murdock) Holmes. After attending Somerville public schools, John Holmes entered Tufts College in the fall of 1925. John Cousens, president of Tufts University, heard Holmes read his class poem at his high school graduation, and, impressed with the young poet, took Holmes under his wing during Holmes' student years at Tufts. Holmes received his bachelor's degree in 1929 and throughout the following year attended graduate courses at Harvard while serving as an assistant in English at Tufts.

Holmes began his teaching career at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he served as an Instructor of English during the years 1930-32. He later returned to Somerville and Tufts, joining the faculty of the Department of English as an Instructor in 1934. At Tufts, he advanced through the ranks of assistant and associate to a full professorship in 1960. He was honored with an honorary doctorate by the University in 1962.

Holmes achieved notable success as a poet and author during his lifetime. He published seven collections of poetry: Address to the Living (1937), Fair Warning (1939), Map of My Country (1943), Along the Row (1944), The Double Root (1950), The Symbols (1955), and The Fortune Teller (1961). His work appeared in numerous publications from literary journals to daily newspapers. Holmes wrote two books about the writing of poetry, The Poet's Work (1939) and Writing Poetry (1960), in addition to many essays and book reviews. Holmes was also an avid letter writer, and had active correspondence with family, friends, and other poets. Letter writing was part of his daily writing routine, and served as a warm-up of sorts for the work of writing verse.

Holmes devoted considerable effort to fostering the development of young and budding poets with whom he came into contact. In addition to teaching poetry and creative writing at Tufts, he taught poetry workshops at the Boston Center for Adult Education, and directed or participated in writers workshops at Tufts University, the University of New Hampshire at Durham, and the Chautauqua Writers Conference. Holmes also hosted an informal poetry circle with other Boston area poets in the 1950s, a group which included May Sarton, Anne Sexton, and others. This group met regularly at Holmes' residence in Medford to read and comment on each other's work.

In 1933, Holmes married his first wife, Sara Frances Ludlow, with whom he had one son, John Ludlow Holmes. After his first wife's death, he married Doris Kirk in 1948 and had another son, Evan Kirk Holmes, and a daughter, Margaret Nash Holmes. Holmes died June 22, 1962 following a long illness in Boston, Massachusetts.


23.95 Linear Feet

1 Audiovisual Object(s)

127 Digital Object(s)


This collection is organized into fourteen series: Poetry; Works; Notebooks; Letters by Holmes; Letters to Holmes; New England Poetry Club; Chautauqua notebooks; Printed works; Scrapbooks; Photographs; Personal and business records; Robert Frost collection; Writings about Holmes; Family materials.

Custodial History

The bulk of the material was donated to Tufts by Holmes' widow, with the exception of the Frost Collection, which was trasferred to Tufts by Holmes' will. Additional materials were collected by John Ciardi, a student of Holmes and poet in his own right, and given to Tufts piecemeal. Some materials were sent directly to the archives and were added to the collection by past librarians and curators of the collection.

The bust of Robert Frost (former item MS007.012.063.00001) was a Art Gallery item AI 17800, and the loan was returned to them on May 7, 2018, by Collection Management Archivist Adrienne Pruitt.

Processing status

This collection is processed.

Repository Details

Part of the Tufts Archival Research Center Repository

35 Professors Row
Tisch Library Building
Tufts University
Medford Massachusetts 02155 United States