Dumbarton Oaks includes the historic Dumbarton Oaks House museum and its associated formal garden, a 27-acre wilderness area, and Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Founded by Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection specializes in Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies, and includes not only books, but also images, art, objects, and documents.
Robert Woods Bliss
and Mildred Barnes Bliss
Woods Bliss was the
son of William Henry Bliss, United States District Attorney. Born in St. Louis,
Missouri in 1875, Robert went on to attend Harvard University. After his
graduation in 1900, Bliss became a Foreign Service officer and diplomat. In
1908, he married New York City native Mildred Barnes, the daughter of Anna
Dorinda Blaksley and Demas Barnes. Mildred's father, a wealthy investor who
made his fortune on Fletcher's Castoria, a popular patent medicine of the time
1870s and 1880s. He died when Mildred was nine years old, and her mother
remarried--to William Bliss, Robert's father--in 1894. Robert and Mildred
married in 1908, moving to Paris in 1912 for Robert's career. In Paris, the
couple befriended artists, authors, historians, and art dealers including
Walter Gay, Edith Wharton, and Royall Tyler. These friendships led to the Blisses'
interest in art and book collection, patronage of the arts and humanities, and
Byzantine and Pre-Columbian studies. They went on to travel Europe and South
America, and Robert served as Ambassador to Argentina from 1927 to 1933.
The couple purchased property in Georgetown (in the District of Colombia) in
June of 1920, naming it Dumbarton Oaks. The Blisses altered the existing house
(dating to 1801) and surrounding property, expanding the house in 1929 to add a
music room and working with landscape designer Beatrix Farrand to create
terraced gardens and vistas on the grounds. Mildred and Farrand worked together
on the gardens for 30 years, though other architects (including Ruth Havey and
Alden Hopkins) later changed aspects of the original design.
Dumbarton Oaks Conversations
As a response to World War II, Robert Bliss hosted diplomatic meetings at Dumbarton
Oaks during the summer and fall of 1944. Officially called the Washington
Conversations on International Organization, Dumbarton Oaks, these meetings
formed the foundation of the United Nations charter (adopted 1945) and were
attended by the following chairmen of their national delegations: Soviet
Ambassador to the United States, Andrei Gromyko (1909–1989); US Secretary of
State Cordell Hull (1871–1955); Wellington Koo (1887–1985), Chinese Ambassador
to the United Kingdom; and Edward Wood (the Earl of Halifax) (1872–1959),
British Ambassador to the United States.
Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard University
Robert Bliss died in 1962; the following year, Mildred opened the
Pre-Columbian Pavilion and The Garden Library to the public. Designed by
architect Philip Johnson, the pavilion provided a permanent home for Robert
Bliss' Pre-Columbian art collection (the National Gallery of Art had previously
housed the collection on long-term loan). The Garden Library houses Mildred's
collection on the history of gardens, including a rare book collection. Mildred
Bliss died in 1969, and Harvard University has provided fellowships, grants,
research opportunities, exhibitions and musical recitals, online access to
materials, and publications through Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and
Collection ever since.