Vermont Folklife Center - Digital Archive

Margaret MacArthur Collection (VFC2003-0007)

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Margaret MacArthur Collection (VFC2003-0007)


The Margaret MacArthur Collection consists of 16 audio field recordings on analog reel-to-reel tape, approximately 20 linear feet of manuscripts, and over 250 print volumes created and collected by Marlboro, Vermont-based field recordist and performer, Margaret MacArthur (May 7, 1928 – May 26, 2006). The Vermont Folklife Center Archive also holds additional unaccessioned audio recordings, papers and books donated by the MacArthur family.


The content of the Margaret MacArthur collection focuses on narrative and lyrical song from New England, the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as materials on dulcimer, harp and zither.

Included among the print materials are scholarly works on folk song, popular song books, sheet music collections, songsters and pamphlets ranging in date from the mid 19th century through the late 20th century.

Manuscript holdings include teaching materials, performance-related notebooks and a complete set of lyric transcriptions given to Margaret by Helen Hartness Flanders drawn from Flanders own collection.

The audio recordings represent Margaret’s work to document and preserve regional song tradition in Vermont and New England. Most of these recordings are performances, although a handful are extended interviews and stories. Between 1960 and 1968 Margaret regularly travelled Vermont and New England with her Wollensak reel-to-reel tape deck in tow with the goal of collecting New England songs and ballads that had been passed down through family lineage and social occasion. In her first months of creating field recording she focused on the older generation’s first-hand knowledge, eliciting performances from Vermonters like John Hooper, James Farrington, and Minnie Stetson–-all over eighty years old at the time. But soon she began interviewing the subsequent generation, asking if they could recall any songs sung by their own parents, friends, or relatives.

During her interviews, Margaret duly noted the geographic origin of the songs she collected, and often attempted to make sense of their narrative meaning and historical context. She recorded people of all ages and backgrounds. From some interviewees, she made only a few recordings; others (such as Lester Fairbanks and Winfred Landman) she revisited to fill additional reels. The performances she captured vary greatly in style and represent many genres: English broadside ballads, yeoman poetry, early American popular music and minstrelsy, schoolyard rhymes, juba dance, and others.

Fred Atwood is the best-represented performer in the collection; his sessions comprise eighty-one of the tracks. His parents, James and Mary Atwood of Dover, knew many old English songs and several American ballads. Edith Sturgis and Robert Hughes transcribed some seventy songs which the Atwoods knew, and published twelve of the arrangements in the 1919 collection Songs from the Hills of Vermont. Margaret was well-acquainted with the slim book and aspired to locate the unpublished songs. The daughter of Edith Sturgis, Susan Goodale, was able to provide her with some of their texts and melodies. Ultimately, Margaret tracked down the surviving Atwood sons, Frank and Ernest, in search of a first-hand source.

By recalling his father’s singing and referencing his own longhand lyrical transcriptions, Fred Atwood was able to provide MacArthur with the melodies and words to many songs, ballads, and poems which might have otherwise have been lost along with their historical context. Margaret initially corresponded with him for several months. In 1964 he stayed at her family home in Marlboro for a three-day visit, during which she recorded over sixty songs. Atwood was eighty at the time. She recorded him a second time in 1967, this time at his residence: now an assisted living home in Windham, Connecticut. Upon visiting him again later that year, she was informed by his ex-wife that Atwood had since passed away.

At this time the online version of Margaret MacArthur Collection includes only the content of the 16 field recordings. Each audio recording is available in its entirety as well as in the form of 282 individual entries.


In 2003 MacArthur gifted 16 audio tapes to the Vermont Folklife Center Archive. Following MacArthur’s death in 2006, her family donated MacArthur’s manuscripts and books to the Vermont Folklife Center Archive. The following year a box of audio recordings, including studio recordings and a large number of identified tapes, were donated as well.


In 2004 under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities all 16 of MacArthur’s original field recordings were digitized. VFC Archivist Andy Kolovos worked with MacArthur to identify individual songs and performers on the recordings and created a rough index to the content of the recordings.

In 2010 Middlebury College student Caroline Grego re-housed the materials gifted to MacArthur by Helen Hartness Flanders, removing them from binders and placing them in acid free folders and boxes.

In 2013, we revisited this index, correcting errors, addressing oversights and expanding the descriptions of individual songs to include references to standard song titles. In addition, we used the revised index to create new audio excerpts of individual song performances.


A collection of several analog reel-to-reel tapes of recordings made in Kentucky with singer Florence Fowler reside at the Kentucky Historical Society.


Margaret MacArthur (1928-2006) was an American folk musician and a field collector of traditional music in Vermont, Kentucky and New England. Over the course of her life MacArthur, along with her children and friends, released over 10 commercial recordings.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, her family moved multiple times during her childhood following her step-father’s employment in the US Forest Service. As a girl Margaret spent time in Northern Arizona, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana Southern Missouri and Southern California, absorbing traditional music in all the communities in which her family lived. In 1944 Margaret entered the University of Chicago where she met, and eventually married, fellow student John MacArthur. In 1948 John accepted a teaching position at Marlboro College in Marlboro, VT. John and Margaret first moved to Newfane, VT and ultimately settled in a 200 year old farmhouse Marlboro, VT. John and Margaret had five children, John, Patrick, Dan, Gary and Megan. Margaret died at home Tuesday, May 23rd 2006.

As a performer Margaret toured nationally and internationally, appearing regularly at many festivals including Inverness, University of Chicago, Mariposa, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Old Songs, Champlain, Eistedfod at University of Southern Massachusetts, Louisville, Fox Hollow, Southern Acoustic Music, and Pine Mountain, Cranberry, Black Swamp, and Memphis Dulcimer Festivals. Margaret twice performed at the Kennedy Center at the Library Congress, in 2006 and 1997.

In 2002 she received an Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts from the Vermont Arts Council. Yankee Magazine, July/August 2001, selected her CD Vermont Ballads & Broadsides as one of the Yankee Top 40 of all time. In 1988 she received a commendation from the American Association of State and Local History, an honor from the California Traditional Music Society, and the Eistedfod Award from the University of Southern Massachusetts, North Dartmouth. The 1985 University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Art Biennial Committee named her a ‘New England Living Art Treasure.’ She received the Midsummer Festival Award in Montpelier, Vermont, in 1984, and a Citation of Recognition from the Vermont Council of the Arts in 1973.


Allen, Nellie
Atwood, Fred
Bailey, Alice Snow
Bills, Gertie (Mrs. Emery)
Blanchard, Shirley Curtis
Brown, Hildreth
Bruce, Natalie
Chase, Jean
Chase, Mrs. Philip
Chase, Philip
Clogston, Mary
Curtis, Josiah
Derry, Olive
Edson, Delia Harding
Fairbanks, Lester
Farrington, James
Fish, Lena Bourne
Fletcher, Edna
Graves, Charles
Greenwood, Florence
Hastings, Ethel
Hicks, Dawn
Hinman, Bernice Mrs.
Hooper, John
Humphries, Mrs.
Ingram, Helen
Kuhn, Anna
Lamorder, Henry (Pete)
Landman, Winfred
Linden, Barbara
MacArthur, Megan
Manchester, Letitia
McGinn, Barbara Landman
McGinn, Phyllis Landman
Mondel, Leone
New, Lillian
Nichols, Austin
Nichols, May
Palmer, James
Pierce, Timmis
Putnam, Karma
Reed, Jane
Robinson, Ruby
Schroeder, Henry
Stetson, Minnie
Swain, Martha
Toomey, David
Turner, Frederick
Turner, Tinkie (Katherine)
Waters, Lela
Watson, Mrs. George
Watson, Susan
West, Mrs.
White, Nora
Wilbur, Frank
Wright, John


MacArthur, Magaret