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Helen Foresman Spencer papers

Call Number: RH MS 542


Helen Foresman Spencer was the wife of Kansas City industrialist Kenneth Aldred Spencer. Following her husband's death in 1960, Mrs. Spencer became president and director of the charitable foundation which they established in 1949. Under her direction until its dissolution in 1979, the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation significantly expanded and enriched the cultural, scientific, and educational institutions of the Kansas City and Midwest region. The Helen Foresman Spencer papers consist largely of her personal papers and of Spencer Foundation records, but also include papers from Kenneth Spencer's estate as well as records of the Spencer Chemical Company and the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Company.


  • Creation: 1904 - 1982


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Helen Foresman Spencer

Helen Elizabeth Foresman was born in Joplin, Missouri on November 8, 1902 to Frank Wade and Frances Foster Foresman. She attended elementary school in Amarillo, Texas, and high school in Pittsburg, Kansas, followed by study at the University of Kansas. She married Kenneth Aldred Spencer on January 6, 1927. They first resided in Pittsburg, where Mr. Spencer was employed in his father's Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Company. In 1940, they moved to Kansas City, where Mr. Spencer founded the Spencer Chemical Company.

In 1949, Kenneth and Helen Spencer established a foundation for charitable giving that in 1961 was named the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation. Kenneth Spencer died in 1960, leaving Helen Spencer sole owner of the Spencer Chemical Company. In 1963, she oversaw its sale to Gulf Oil Corporation as Gulf's Spencer Chemical Division. As President and Director of the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation from 1960 until its dissolution in 1979, Mrs. Spencer ensured that the Foundation's charitable contributions served the purposes which she and her husband had envisioned for advancement of the arts, sciences, and education within the Kansas City region.

The Foundation's many large construction projects of this period include the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, the University of Kansas Medical Center's Kenneth Aldred Spencer Memorial Chapel, the Spencer Art Reference Library at Kansas City's William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, the Helen Foresman Spencer Rare Book Room Addition at Kansas City's Linda Hall Library, the Spencer Auditorium and Kenneth A. Spencer Laboratories Building at Kansas City's Midwest Research Institute, the Helen F. Spencer Center for Education at Kansas City's St. Luke's Hospital, the Kenneth A. Spencer Chemistry Building and the Helen Foresman Spencer Theatre for the Performing Arts at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and the medieval wing of Baker University which houses its Quayle Bible Collection. The Foundation's notable gifts of art to the Nelson Gallery of Art include Claude Monet's "Boulevard des Capucines, Paris" and Edward Degas' "Repetition de Ballet."

Mrs. Spencer served on the governing boards of many institutions and was the recipient of numerous honors. She died on February 15, 1982 at her residence in Kansas City.


18.5 Linear Feet (34 boxes + 3 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The majority of the Helen Foresman Spencer collection dates from 1960 to 1982 and consists of Helen Spencer's personal papers and records of the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation. A smaller component includes records of the Spencer Chemical Company, the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Company, and the Kenneth Spencer estate. Mrs. Spencer's outgoing letters are chiefly unsigned copies of typescripts, although her signature appears on legal documents and on a number of handwritten greeting cards, postcards, and letters, including those to her administrative assistant, M. Anne Reilly. Photographs that are integral to other documents are housed within the papers and are identified in Collection Description notes. Souvenir and commemorative albums that contain both photographs and papers are located in Box 30. Photographic prints, negatives, and albums that contain only photographs are at RH MS-P 542.


The collection is arranged in five series: Personal papers, Kenneth A. Spencer estate papers, company records, Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation records, and photographs.

Physical Location

RH MS 542

Physical Location

RH MS Q302

Physical Location

RH MS-P 542

Physical Location

RH MS-P 542(f)

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Helen Foresman Spencer Estate, 1982

Related Materials

Kenneth Aldred Spencer papers, Kansas Collection, RH MS Vlt 157, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Guide to the Helen Foresman Spencer Collection
Helen Foresman Spencer papers
Finding aid prepared by mh, 2002; revised by mg, 2004; revised by mh, 2009; revised by skt, 2010; revised by mwh, 2016.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in<language encodinganalog="language">English.</language>
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Helen Foresman Spencer papers, Kansas Collection, RH MS 542, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States