Florence Allen papers, 1920-1997

A Finding Aid to the Florence Allen Papers, 1920-1997, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Florence Wysinger Allen was born in Oakland, California, in 1913, the granddaughter of early African-American settlers. Her mother, née Moore, was a concert pianist, and her father, Arthur, as a boy in 1892, was named in the case of Wysinger vs. Crookshank which led to the desegregation of schools in California.

Florence Allen was educated at Fremont High School and later became involved in the San Francisco literary and artistic community as a civil rights activist and newspaper columnist. She began modeling in 1933 and worked as an artist's model for most of the prominent figurative painters working in the Bay Area of San Francisco, including Diego Rivera, Mark Rothko, and Wayne Thiebaud. She also worked as a model in university art classes, including those at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mills College, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and the California College of Arts and Crafts.

In 1945, Ms. Allen founded the San Francisco Models' Guild. After injuries from a traffic accident limited her mobility in 1987, she became the Model Coordinator at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland where she also taught a Model Certification Workshop.

Florence Allen died June 1, 1997 in El Sobrante, California.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of artist's model Florence Allen measure 0.5 linear feet and date from 1920-1997. Found within the papers are biographical material, scattered letters that generally discuss some of Allen's activities, miscellaneous notes and writings, a drawing and a silhouette, and clippings. The primary value of this collection rests in its wide variety of photographs. As well as 19th century photographs of Allen family members the collection contains photographs of Florence Allen posing for artists, socializing with famous friends such as Paul Robeson, Harry Belefonte, Paul Newman and Allen Ginsberg, and participating in protest marches. There is also an autographed photo of Bob Hope.

Arrangement and Series Description

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents and under "Names" when they are creators or contributors.


  • Newman, Paul, 1925-, Photographs
  • Belafonte, Harry, 1927-, Photographs


  • Artists' models -- California -- San Francisco

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs


The Florence Allen papers were donated in 1995 and 1999 by Florence Allen via Austin Conkey, an informal executor, who maintained Allen's papers.

How the Collection was Processed

The papers were processed in July 2005 by Jean Fitzgerald.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Florence Allen papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

Florence Allen papers, 1920-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Florence Allen Papers, 1942-1947
(Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)

1 (hol) Diploma, 1942
1 (hol) Constitution and By-Laws of the San Francisco Models' Guild and Dues Book, 1947
1 (hol) Letters, 1962-1985, undated
(4 folders)
1 (hol) Typescript "A Short History of the Visalia Colored School" By Mervyn G. Shippey, 1970
1 (hol) Miscellaneous Notes and Writings, undated
1 (hol) Cut-out Silhouette Portrait and a Drawing, undated
1 (hol) Clippings, 1945-1997, undated
(4 folders)
1 (hol) Autographed Brochure for Actor, Scott Beach, undated
1 (hol) Photographs of Family Members, undated
(7 folders)
1 (hol) Photographs of Florence Allen, 1920-1987
(See also OV 2)
1 (hol) Photographs of Allen's Friends, undated
(2 folders)
1 (hol) Photographs of Portrait Busts and View of a Garden, undated
OV 2 Oversized Photographs of Family Members and Florence Allen, undated