Ruth J. Snowdon Papers 1911 - 1976

Chatham University

Summary Information

Chatham University
Ruth J. Snowdon Papers
Snowdon, Ruth Anna Johnson, 1896-1990
Collection Number
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1936-1947
Date [inclusive]
1.75 linear feet

Preferred Citation:

Ruth J. Snowdon Papers, 1911-1976, MSS.1971.001, Chatham University Archives & Special Collections.

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Administrative History:

Ruth Snowdon was born January 6, 1896 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Alba Boardman Johnson (1858-1935) and Elizabeth Thomas Reeves (1862-1908). Ruth’s father, born in Pittsburgh, was president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, president of the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and a trustee of Jefferson Medical College and Hospital. He was also a collector of autograph letters, prints, photographs and drawings of American presidents. Ruth graduated from Vassar College in 1918. In 1948 she became a research associate in biophysics at the University of Pittsburgh and was a charter member of the Parapsychological Association. Ruth was married to Charles Leidy Snowdon, Jr. (1892-1984) in 1918. Charles was the president of the Reliance Steel Casting Company in Pittsburgh.

Ruth developed an avid interest in the history, anthropology, and archaeology of Central and South America, with particular emphasis on Maya civilization. She traveled to archaeological sites in the Yucatan and stayed informed of excavations and discoveries through research and correspondence with historians and archaeologists in the field. Ruth was particularly interested in the archaeological site of Tikal in Guatemala, generously contributing to the Tikal Project conducted by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. The project involved the restoration of a Maya pyramid at Uaxactun, initially referred to as “E-VII sub.” The Field Director of the Tikal Project, Edwin M. Shook, considered naming the pyramid the “Snowdon Pyramid,” which Ruth declined. The restoration of the temple, ultimately named the “Pyramid of the Masks,” was completed in 1974.

On a steamer trip to the Yucatan in 1936, Ruth met Harvey E. Molé of the New Jersey Historical Society. At the time, it was unknown where the renowned travel writer John Lloyd Stephens was buried, and in 1941 Ruth and Harvey began an extensive search for his grave. They discovered Stephens’ remains at the New York Marble Cemetery, in an unmarked vault with the Pell family. Ruth, Harvey and Stephens’ biographer Victor W. von Hagen established a committee in January of 1947 to raise funds for a plaque to be commissioned in memory of Stephens. The dedication of the plaque took place on October 9, 1947.

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Scope and Contents

This collection consists of 3 photo albums, a scrapbook, correspondence, articles, newspaper and magazine clippings, travel postcards, a certificate from the “Amigos de Tikal,” maps and illustrations, as well as miscellaneous materials itemized below.

The collection documents Ruth Snowdon's trip to the Yucatan in 1936-37, her involvement with the Tikal Project at the University of Pennsylvania, her involvement with the John Lloyd Stephens Memorial Plaque Committee and dedication, her friendships with archaeologists and historians in the field, and her overall enthusiasm for Mesoamerican history and archaeology.

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Arrangement of Materials:

Series 1, Correspondence, 1948-1975

Series 2, Postcards

Series 3, Maps and illustrations

Series 4, John Lloyd Stephens Memorial Committee & Dedication, 1934-1947

Series 5, Articles about E-VII sub, 1958

Series 6, Articles about Bonampak, 1947-1952

Series 7, Articles and magazine clippings, 1946-1973

Series 8, Newspaper clippings, 1911-1976

Series 9, Miscellaneous

Series 10, Certificate, December 12, 1959

Series 11, Photo albums, 1936

Series 12, Scrapbook, 1937

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Chatham University, November 2018

Woodland Road
Pittsburgh, PA, 15232

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on access. The records are open for research use.

Acquisition Information:

It is unclear when Chatham acquired this archival collection. However, Ruth’s collection of Mesoamerican books and other materials, now housed in Chatham library’s Special Collections, was donated by Ruth and Charles Snowdon on April 1, 1971: Some of the archival materials are dated after 1971.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • New York Marble Cemetery (New York, N.Y.)


  • Articles
  • Black-and-white photographs
  • Certificates
  • Clippings (Information artifacts)
  • Color photographs
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Maps
  • Pamphlets
  • Photograph albums
  • Postcards
  • Scrapbooks

Geographic Name(s)

  • Central America -- Antiquities.
  • Tikal Site (Guatemala)
  • Uaxactún Site (Guatemala)
  • Yucatán Peninsula -- History.

Personal Name(s)

  • Mole, Harvey E.
  • Shook, Edwin M.
  • Snowdon, Ruth Anna Johnson, 1896-1990
  • Stephens, John Lloyd, 1805-1852


  • Excavations (Archaeology)
  • Indians of Central America -- Antiquities.
  • Mayas.

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Collection Inventory

Series  I. Correspondence 1948-1975 

Correspondence 1948-1975 11
Photographs 1936-1967 12

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Series  II. Postcards 

Postcards 13

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Series  III. Maps and Illustrations 

Maps and illustrations 14
Maps and illustrations 212

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Series  IV. John Lloyd Stephens Memorial Committee & Dedication 1934-1947 

John Lloyd Stephens Memorial Plaque Committee & Dedication 1934-1947 15

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Series  V. Articles about E-VII sub 1958 

Articles about E-VII sub 1958 6

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Series  VI. Articles about Bonampak 1947-1952 

Articles about Bonampak 1947-1952 17

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Series  VII. Articles and magazine clippings 1946-1973 

Articles and magazine clippings 1946-1973 18
Articles and magazine clippings 1946-1973 213

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Series  VIII. Newspaper clippings 1911-1976 

Newspaper clippings 1911-1976 19
Newspaper clippings 1911-1976 214

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Series  IX. Miscellaneous 

Miscellaneous 110

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Series  X. Certificate December 12, 1959 

Series Certificate December 12, 1959 

Scope and Contents

Presented to Ruth by the Instituto de Antropologia e Historia de Guatemala and The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, pronouncing her to be a member of the “Amigos de Tikal.” In Spanish.

Certificate December 12, 1959 211

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Series  XI. Photo albums 1936 

Photo album 3
Photo album 3
Photo album 3

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Series  XII. Scrapbook 1937 

Scrapbook 3

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