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Ruth J. Snowdon Papers

Identifier: MSS-1971.001

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.


  • created: 1911-1976
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1936-1947
  • Other: Date acquired: 04/01/1971


Conditions Governing Access

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

Biographical or Historical Information

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.

Note written by


1.75 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

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

Source of Acquisition

Ruth and Charles Snowdon

Method of Acquisition

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.

Archon Finding Aid Title
Rebecca L. Machado, under the supervision of Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Chatham University Special Collections Repository

Woodland Road
Pittsburgh PA 15232 US