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Helen Foster Snow papers

Identifier: MSS 2219

Scope and Contents

Contains materials pertaining to the life and career of Helen Foster Snow. Includes interviews, correspondence, articles, essays, reviews, drafts, photographs, negatives, artifacts, audiovisual recordings, and other materials concerning the political climate in China during the Japanese invasion, the lives of Communist leaders and followers, and the Chinese Cooperative movements. Although materials were mainly created during the course of Helen Foster Snow's time as a foreign correspondent and photojournalist in China in the 1930s, a significant portion of the material was written or recorded about her time there after she returned to the United States. Edgar Snow, Helen’s husband until 1949, is also a significant subject or contributor to the materials during the 1930s. Also included are materials from the personal life of Helen Foster Snow, including photographs of family, friends, and world travels, family history records, correspondence, artifacts, manuscripts, personal histories, and material on the memorial of Helen Foster Snow contributed by Sheril Bischoff. Collection materials are dated 1726 to 2000, with the bulk of materials dated 1930 to 1980.


  • 1726-2000
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1980


Language of Materials

Materials in English, with some documents in Chinese and some photographs displaying Spanish and Filipino content.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to use material from this collection must be obtained from the Reference Services at

Biographical History

Helen Foster Snow (1907-1997) was an American journalist, photojournalist, and activist in China.

Helen Foster Snow was born on September 21, 1907 in Cedar City, Utah. She attended West High School and, after graduating, attended the University of Utah. She took the civil service exam, gained a position in China, and moved to Shanghai in August of 1931. After arriving in China, Helen met Edgar Snow, a reporter also from the U.S. The two were married on December 25, 1933 in Tokyo, Japan. After moving to Peking where Helen Foster Snow attended and Edgar taught at Yanjing University, they began publishing information regarding the Manchurian incident. Helen Foster and Edgar Snow sympathized with the students who protested the government and its complacency toward Japanese invasion. They helped plan the December movements, and covered events censored in Chinese papers.

Helen published an interview with Zhang Xueliang, a general, who expressed support for communists, contradicting Chiang Kai Shek. In 1937, Edgar and Helen published the magazine Democracy. She worked on the editorial board of the magazine and later as the editor while Edgar wrote Red Star over China.

Snow entered the Communist camp in April of 1937, where she interviewed leaders, women, and children of the camp. She would publish her findings in her book Inside Red China in 1938. Helen later toured the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives and wrote to raise support of the initiatives. She later returned to the United States, living in Madison, Connecticut. Helen and Edgar divorced in 1949. Helen continued to write about her experiences in China, became a genealogy research on her New England family, and traveled the world, including two return trips to China in the 1970s. Helen died on January 11, 1997.

Biographical History

Edgar Snow (1905-1972) was a journalist and foreign correspondent in China.

Edgar Snow was born on July 10, 1905 in Kansas City, Missouri. Snow moved to China as a correspondent for the Consolidated Press Association. Edgar met Helen Foster Snow when she came to China. The two were married on December 25, 1933 in Tokyo, Japan. They moved to Peking, where Edgar taught at Yanjing University. At the University, Edgar and Helen sympathized with the students protesting the government’s allowance of Japanese invasion. The two helped organize movements like the December 9th movement of 1935, and provided press coverage of events censored by Chinese papers.

In June of 1936, Edgar left Peking for Xian, and into the communist camp as the first foreign journalist in that territory. He composed the first biographical account of Mao during this time. Mao asked Ed to set peace terms between the Nationalists and the Chinese Government. An interview with Mao published in Life magazine in 1936 gained a great amount of attention. Edgar Snow became the editor to his new magazine Democracy. Red Star Over China, Edgar's book on his time with the communists, was published in 1938. Helen and Edgar divorced in 1949. Edgar Snow died on February 15, 1972 in Eysins, Switzerland.


190 boxes (95 linear ft.)

8 cartons (8 linear ft.)

13 oversize boxes (6.5 linear ft.)

3 oversize folders (0.3 linear ft.)

2 folders (0.06 linear ft.)


Arranged in nine series: 1. Helen Foster Snow family papers, 1833-1999. 2. Helen Foster Snow papers on China, 1927-1997. 3. Helen Foster Snow published and unpublished manuscripts, approximately 1919-1995. 4. Helen Foster Snow correspondence, 1940s-1990s. 5. Helen Foster Snow photographs, approximately 1853-2000. 6. Helen Foster Snow audiovisual materials, 1937-1999. 7. Helen Foster Snow artifacts, approximately 1850, 1925-1991. 8. Helen Foster Snow miscellaneous materials, 1726-2000. 9. Helen Foster Snow collection addendum, 1925-2000.

Other Finding Aids

Item- and file-level inventory available online.

Custodial History

The Helen Foster Snow Collection began as Helen accumulated material during her time in China. Her China years began in 1931. Snow collected and maintained both her own material and much of the work of her husband, Edgar Snow. Edgar Snow removed some of his materials in 1949, and these are housed at University of Missouri at Kansas City--primarily the journals of Edgar Snow and some of his correspondence.

Helen returned to the United States in 1940 and purchased a farm in 1941 in Madison, Connecticut where she accumulated and housed materials until her death in May of 1997. She entrusted her niece, Sheril Bischoff, to be the executors of her estate, which included the task of finding an archive for her collection. The storage conditions made it difficult for the Bischoffs to establish an original order.

As alumni of Utah State University, the Bischoffs made an offer to place the papers there. The Bischoffs retrieved the collection and placed it elsewhere. The Bischoffs contacted Harvard Heath to explore the possibility of donating the Helen Foster Collection to Brigham Young University. The library and administrative officers at Brigham Young University endorsed the proposal and the donation was accepted. The instruments of gift for the collection was executed in two installments: one in September 1997 and the other in July 1998.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; The Helen Foster Snow Literary Trust, Sheril and Garth Bischoff, and trustees and donors; 1997-1998.


Utah and American West and LDS cultural, social, and religious history (20th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts collection development policy, 5.VII, 2007).

Separated Materials

Accompanying the 450 cartons of manuscript and photograph material was Snow's library of some 200 books. The majority of the books were either placed in the general stacks, Special Collections, or removed from the collection. An inventory of the original books received is available in the case file register.

Processing Information

Processed; Harvard Heath (Curator 20th Century Collections) and Lisa Lyons Van Tassell (Student Assistant); edited and completed by Taylor M. Dix (Student Assistant); March 2004.

Processing Information

Processed; John Murphy, Serena Martinez, Miranda Greer, and Marisa Ireland; 2014-2016.

Processing Information

Processed; Amy Jacobs and Ruth Favela, and Devan Hunsaker; 2016-2019.

Processing Information

Processed; Karen Glenn, Ashley Chase, Andy VanDomelen; 2020 April-November; Reviewed and edited series 5 to prep for digitization, added item level description for all slides, added artifacts series, consolidated collection physically and added missing containers, fixed housing issues, edited series scope and arrangement notes, other DACS and narrative edits throughout.

  • approximately 70 photographs
  • 3 videocassettes: Combat films/BYU, Helen Foster Snow My China Years, Helen Foster Snow Final Cut
Register of Helen Foster Snow papers
Harvard Heath, Lisa Lyons Van Tassell, and Taylor M. Dix
2004 March
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States