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Barbara Flanagan Papers

Identifier: M/A 0015
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Description of Contents

The Barbara Flanagan Papers contain a wide array of materials on the professional and personal life of Star Tribune columnist, author, and socialite Barbara Flanagan. The collection holds personal papers, documents, records, scrapbooks, notes, drafts, interview transcripts, extensive personal correspondence and reader letters, photocopies of Flanagan’s columns, research materials, club and organization materials, press releases and event invitations, awards and plaques, honors, magazine and newspaper clippings, assorted ephemera, photographs, slides, and audio-visual materials.

The bulk of the materials pertain to Barbara Flanagan’s career as a journalist for the Minneapolis Tribune and Star Tribune. This includes correspondence with readers, research notes, columns, drafts, and awards. These materials are richest from 1965 to 1988. Materials reflect Flanagan’s interests in urban design, historic preservation, local celebrities, local and national politics, and cultural institutions. The columns and scrapbooks are a good point of access to the collection, as correspondence is often tied to specific columns.

The collection contains materials pertaining to Barbara Flanagan’s early life in Des Moines, Iowa, her time at Roosevelt High School and Drake University in the 1940s, and her early career as a journalist at the Minneapolis Times. Additionally, it contains materials from Flanagan’s parents, grandparents, and other ancestors.

The collection also contains research materials, correspondence, writings, drafts, and published columns and books pertaining to a broad range of topics, interests, and events that Barbara Flanagan both covered as a journalist and was involved in as a private citizen. These topics include: urban planning and design, revitalization and beautification efforts in Downtown Minneapolis, historic preservation, her extensive travels, celebrities, British and Scandinavian royalty, local, state, and national politics, various goings-on about town, the arts and culture, local human interest stories, and Minnesota history.

The collection also contains materials pertaining to Flanagan’s membership in various clubs and organizations and decades-long philanthropic involvement and patronage of local arts and culture, including with the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, American Swedish Institute, and Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library.

Additionally, copies of Flanagan’s columns, investigative pieces, human-interest stories, dispatches as women’s editor, and other articles are represented, spanning over six decades, from the beginning of her newspaper career in 1947 to the cessation of her post-retirement column, the Flanagan Memo, in 2012.

Extensive correspondence, both personal and professional, spanning eight decades, including her entire career at the Star and Tribune, is also represented in the collection. The bulk of this correspondence consists of reader letters, as well as invitations and press releases sent to Flanagan.

The collection also contains various awards, honors, plaques, and certificates presented to Flanagan over the years, as well as event invitations, menus, and other ephemera from balls, formal dinners, state functions, and royal visits.

Finally, the collection also holds forty-two scrapbooks compiled by Flanagan over the course of many decades. Most contain copies of all of Flanagan’s bylines, mostly columns, while some hold photographs, letters, notes, and other personal ephemera.


  • Creation: 1886 - 2014
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1947 - 1993



The physical collection is available for use in Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library during the department's open hours. Photographs from this collection are available in the Barbara Flanagan Collection in the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections.


Journalist, booster, arts and culture patron, and local celebrity Barbara Flanagan was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1924. After attending Drake University, where she studied drama, Flanagan moved to Minneapolis. In 1947, she was hired by the Minneapolis Times as an obituary writer before moving on to the Minneapolis Tribune in 1949. Over the next two decades, Flanagan rose through the ranks and developed a reputation as a hard-working, multi-talented journalist and cultural tastemaker. Beginning as a general assignment reporter, she was eventually promoted to women’s editor, a position she held for over a decade. In 1965, she was promoted to regular columnist, a position she would hold until her retirement in 1988. As columnist, she reported on local history and goings-on with a focus on historic preservation. She was a persistent booster and advocate for the redevelopment and beautification of central Minneapolis, and highlighted the fine and performing arts, as well as other cultural events. Flanagan held a wide readership throughout her career and was widely known as a local celebrity. After her retirement, Flanagan continued to write a bi-weekly column for the Star Tribune, the Flanagan Memo, only putting down the pen in 2012, at the age of 88.

Raised by a single mother, dance instructor Marie Barnes Forney, Flanagan was a bright, sociable, and talented dancer, performer, and actress before her career in journalism. As a historian of the Twin Cities, she authored three books: Minneapolis (1973), Ovation: a Partnership Between a Great Orchestra and a Great Audience (1977), and Minneapolis-St. Paul: Linked to the Future(1997). In addition, she appeared as a television host and correspondent in the 1980s and was involved in a number of cultural and philanthropic organizations, foundations, and initiatives over the years. In 1966, she married investment banker Earl Sanford, and raised his three children Anne, Albert, and Mindy as her own. After fifty years of marriage, Sanford died in 2017. Flanagan died on September 24, 2018, at the age of 94.


44 Linear Feet (85 boxes, 42 scrapbooks, 23 VHS tapes, 5 audio cassette tapes, 9 Super 8 film reels, 2 reel-to-reel audio tapes, 1 16 mm film reel, over one thousand photographs, hundreds of color transparency slides, several plaques, and 1 teddy bear.)

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged into the following eleven series:

I. Biography, Family, and Clippings, 1886-2014

II. Newspaper Research, Drafts, and Career, 1943-2009

III. Book Research and Drafts, 1970-1997

IV. Downtown Fashion Show Scripts, 1960-1981

V. Correspondence, 1931-2010

VI. Columns, 1947-2012

VII. Clubs and Organizations

VIII. Events, Awards, and Realia, 1921-2009

IX. Photographs

X. Audio-visual and slides

XI. Scrapbooks, 1924-1999

Related Materials in Hennepin County Library Special Collections

Books written by Barbara Flanagan are available at Special Collections Minneapolis Collection:

Ovation:a partnership between a great orchestra and a great audience. ML200.8.M52F53

Minneapolis. F614.M5F5 1975

Minneapolis-St. Paul:linked to the future. F614.M6F53 1997

Processing Information

The accession and original processing of the collection was performed by Maggie Sloss in 1988. Additional processing and accrual accessioning was performed by JoEllen Haugo in June 1998. Additional processing and drafting of finding aid was completed by intern Leif Kopietz on August 30, 2011. Further processing and detailed finding aid creation was conducted by Project Archivists Kathryn Oosterhuis (2013), K Pearl McClintock (2018-2019), and Myra Billund-Phibbs (2019-2020).

Barbara Flanagan Papers
Kathryn Oosterhuis, K Pearl McClintock, and Myra Billund-Phibbs
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.