Helen Ann Mins Robbins
1901 - 1994
Helen Ann Mins was born on April 11, 1901, in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, to Henry Felix Mins and Elizabeth Lafell Mins. She had two brothers, Leonard Emil (b.1900) and Henry Felix, Jr. (b.1903), and a sister, Sophie E. (Finger). Helen Ann received her B.A. degree in 1922 from Hunter College, where she studied Greek, Latin, French, and German. She also took classes, mostly in the sciences, at CCNY from 1918 through 1926, and attended the University of Wisconsin in the summer of 1924.
Helen Ann taught high school in New York City, and from reports of classroom observations we can get an idea of her character. Her first teaching job was at Manual Training High School, where she worked until 1926. In a 1924 evaluation, Helen Ann is said to have an "energetic personality and unusual power to interest and influence a class." She transferred to James Monroe High School, and remained there until 1940. A classroom evaluation written in 1930 says "Miss Mins's own standards of scholarship are unusually high. To her, teaching is much more than a job: it is an adventure in culture and in human nature." The 1937 report says she "has trained her students to challenge her. She repeatedly stressed courtesy and tolerance of a different point of view." From 1941 to 1952, she taught at Morris High School. There, the teacher observations describe her as a vibrant and caring teacher, as in this excerpt from a 1944 classroom observation: "Miss Mins' relations with her pupils were on an informal and friendly level, but she insisted on accuracy and precise statement. . . . Her dynamic personality charges the atmosphere of her classroom with a verve that is exhilarating, and her playful humor cloaks an intense search for the deeper human values which she wants her pupils to grasp." In 1947, a report cites her "knowledge of and interest in individual pupils, especially with respect to their backgrounds and places of origin. She made effective use of this information to motivate the discussion and build better intercultural relations. This, together with the teacher's dynamic personality and sense of humor, helped to heighten pupil interest and participation." She was also active in the extracurricular activities of the school: "Many of our students' thrilling experiences at the opera, concerts, and ballet are due to [her] untiring efforts."
During the Spanish Civil War, Helen Ann volunteered at the Paris office of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, one of several International Brigades which, from 1936 to 1938, fought in opposition to Hitler and Franco. In the 1950s, Helen Ann and her brothers attained some prominence for their firm stand against McCarthyism. She was very active in the American Association of University Women Literary Group, and hosted their meetings at her home. She was president of the Kingston Branch of the AAUW from 1957 to 1959.
In 1939, Helen Ann married Rossell Hope Robbins. For years, she assisted her husband in the meticulous task of editing Middle English texts. In a letter quoted by the special issue (Winter 1983) of New York Folklore dedicated to Rossell, he wrote " . . . for decades she has been my severest critic and most perspicacious editor of everything I have written. Any tribute you pay me belongs to Helen Ann." They kept an apartment in Manhattan, and, in 1941, purchased a home in Saugerties (near Albany) which they called "Katsbaan Onderheugel." There, together, they began the building the medieval collection which came to the University of Rochester in 1985. She and Rossell devoted nearly all of their resources to the establishing and endowing of the Library. Their endowment, including that of Rossell's sister Marjorie, support the continuing growth of the collection.
The Helen Ann Mins Robbins Fellowship supports dissertation research for a woman working toward a PhD in medieval studies.
The Helen Ann Mins Robbins Lecture Series is an annual talk given by notable female medievalists.
This essay is based on a biography written by Russell Peck (The University of Rochester Library Bulletin 40 [1987-88]: 5-7), with additions from the Robbins archives (housed in the Rossell Hope Robbins Library).
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