Jane Austen Collection

The Collectors

In 1928, Alberta Hirshheimer of La Crosse, Wisconsin, was graduated from Goucher College with a degree in English. After Goucher, she earned her Master of Arts in English at the University of Wisconsin. The Goucher Alumnae Quarterly reported that she completed her degree with "one of the most brilliant orals ever given." In December, 1930, Miss Hirshheimer returned to Baltimore to marry Henry Burke. Mr. Burke, a partner in the local accounting and law firms he had founded, was completing work on his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. and Mrs. Burke shared many literary, artistic, and cultural interests. They traveled widely, and wherever they went, they read and collected books, especially those relating to Jane Austen and to late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century literature and society. Mrs. Burke in particular followed the market on Jane Austen materials and became adept at tracking down leads on fragments of letters, manuscripts, rare editions, and memorabilia. Her purchases were made judiciously, as can be attested by her meticulously detailed notebooks now residing in Goucher's Rare Book Room.

Over the years, the Burkes built up an impressive personal library of books, manuscripts, research materials, and realia. In 1967, they gave Goucher a noteworthy selection of illustrated books on ballet, as well as several hundred ballet programs that they had collected from performances around the world. In 1975, Mrs. Burke's collection of fabrics and clothing went to the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, and in the late 1970's Mr. Burke gave Goucher more than a thousand volumes on dress and costume, followed by an additional gift of another thousand art books in 1988. At that time, he also gave books to the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Walters Art Gallery. On his death in 1989, the remainder of what was still a splendid collection of literature and history texts was divided between Goucher and the Baltimore Hebrew University.

In Baltimore and New York, as well as in England, Henry and Alberta Burke were well known for their involvement in cultural projects and for their generosity. The Burkes joined the fledgling Jane Austen Society in the late 1940's, and they attended meetings in England whenever possible. On view at Chawton Cottage are many of their gifts, including one of the most evocative items in the house: the lock of Jane Austen's hair, which was presented to the Jane Austen Society by Mrs. Burke in 1949. A number of Jane Austen's letters and manuscripts were bequeathed to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York upon Mrs. Burke's death in 1975.

In 1979, Mr. Burke, together with Joan Austen-Leigh and J. David Grey, founded the Jane Austen Society of North America, (now 1,800 members strong) for which he drew up the Constitution and By-Laws.

Mrs. Burke's papers provide valuable accounts of how the Burkes were able to trace and purchase the letters and other important material relating to Jane Austen, her life, and times. It is obvious that the Burkes, true bibliophiles, loved the excitement of the pursuit and the satisfaction of the purchase.

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