AHA President, 1943


Mount Holyoke College

From the American Historical Review 53:1 (October 1947)

Nellie Neilson (April 5, 1873–May 26, 1947), professor emeritus of history at Mt. Holyoke College, died at her home in South Hadley on May 26 after an illness of two months. Miss Neilson was born in Philadelphia on April 5, 1873. She was a graduate of Bryn Mawr where she took her BA in 1893, her MA in 1894, and her doctorate in 1899 under the guidance of the late Professor Charles M. Andrews. During these years she held a fellowship in history from 1894-95 and a fellowship from the Association of University Women (the Collegiate Alumnae) in 1895–96. She studied in England, a year at Cambridge with Professor Frederick William Maitland and two years at Oxford with Sir Paul Vinogradoff. She was a reader in English at Bryn Mawr from 1900 to 1902, when she came to Mt. Holyoke as instructor in history. In 1905 she became chairman of the department of history and political science, a position which she held until her retirement in 1939.

Miss Neilson’s publications include Economic Conditions on the Manors of Ramsey Abbey (1899); Customary Rents in “Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History” (1910); A Terrier of Fleet, Lincolnshire (1920), and The Cartulary … of Bilsington, Kent for the “British Academy Records of the Social and Economic History of England and Wales”; “Domesday Monarchorum” and “Domesday Survey of Kent” in the Victoria County History of Kent (1927); The Year Books of Edward IV, edited for the Selden Society in 1931; Medieval Agrarian Economy in the “Berkshire Studies in European History” (1936); “Medieval Agrarian Society in Its Prime: England” in The Cambridge Economic History of Europe (1941); “Royal Forests” and “The Court of Common Pleas” in The English Government at Work, 1327–1336, published by the Mediaeval Academy (1940 and 1947). At the time of her death she had completed an edition of The Stoneleigh Leger Book to be published for the Dugdale Society by the Oxford University Press.

Miss Neilson wrote scholarly papers and book reviews almost continuously from 1897 to 1947. Over forty articles and reviews have appeared in the American Historical Review and others in periodicals such as the Harvard Law Review, Toronto Law Journal, American Economic Review, Economic History Review, Speculum, and History. She was an active member of the American Historical Association, serving on the Council and on the Board of Editors of the Review. In 1941 she was elected second vice-president, and in 1943 she succeeded Professor Arthur Schlesinger as president, the first woman to hold this office. She was also active in the Mediaeval Academy, serving on the advisory board of Speculum and as vice-president. The first woman to be a fellow of the Academy, she was serving as president of the fellows at the time of her death. In England, where she had spent many summers and leaves-of-absence, she was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a member of the Selden Society, of the Institute of Historical Research, and of the Place-Name Society. In 1938 Smith College awarded Miss Neilson the honorary degree of LHD, and two years later she received the degree of LittD from Russell Sage College.

Of the thousands of Mt. Holyoke students who studied with Miss Neilson, a very large number took advanced degrees in various fields of history. Wherever they are today, they and all who knew her will remember and honor Miss Neilson, not only for her distinguished mind but also for her unwavering devotion to the highest standards of scholarly work. What Miss Neilson’s sensitive conscience told her was her duty she did at any cost and nothing could deter her. She was a rare combination of intelligence, character, and personal charm. Her name will be preserved at Mt. Holyoke by the fund, set up in her name when she retired, to be devoted to the purchase of books on English history.



Economic conditions on the manors of Ramsey Abbey. Philadelphia: 1898.

I. A terrier of Fleet, Lincolnshire, from a manuscript in the British museum, ed. by Miss N. Neilson … II. An eleventh-century inquisition of St. Augustine’s, Canterbury. London: Pub. for the British academy by H. Milford: Oxford University Press, 1920.

The cartulary and terrier of the priory of Bilsington, Kent, edited by N. Neilson. London, Pub. for the British Academy by H. Milford: Oxford University Press, 1928.

Year books of Edward IV. London: Quaritch, 1931.

Medieval agrarian economy, by N. Neilson New York: H. Holt and Company, 1936.

Types of manorial structure in the northern Danelaw, Customary rents, by N. Neilson. New York: Octagon Books, 1974.