Bartlett, among the first U.S. scholars to study in the Qing archives

April 15, 2024

Beatrice (Betsy) Bartlett ’80 Ph.D., a professor emerita of Chinese history with an unusual Yale story, died on April 1.

Penelope Laurans | YaleNews

Beatrice (Betsy) Bartlett ’80 Ph.D., professor emerita of Chinese history who was among the first U.S. scholars to research the Qing archives in Beijing died on April 1 in Branford, Connecticut after a long illness. She was 95. 

Her academic story was an unusual one, certainly one of the more unusual for a contemporary member of the Yale faculty. A graduate of Smith College, Bartlett taught at the Brearley School, a private girl’s school in New York City, for 12 years before coming to Yale as a graduate student in 1967. She eventually received her Ph.D. in 1980, after 10 years of research in Taiwan, and then, after a postdoc at Harvard, she joined the Yale faculty in 1983.

When she retired, it marked the first time that a woman in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences who had started as an assistant professor had been promoted through the ranks of associate professor, full professor, and, upon her retirement, professor emerita.

Bartlett’s specialization was modern Chinese history, covering the long period between 1600 to the present. Because of the absence of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China during her time as a graduate student, her dissertation research had to be carried out in Taiwan, chiefly in the National Palace Museum’s archives of the Qing dynasty. Following the establishment of diplomatic relations, in 1980, she was one of the first American scholars to undertake research in the Qing archives in Beijing.

In 1985 she was selected as one of nine representatives to participate in a Beijing conference and tour of archival sites across China, and this conference and tour inspired her chief research interest: the history and use of the archives of the Qing dynasty, a subject on which she published 20 articles. Her research on the Qing archives led to her major work, “Monarchs and Ministers: The Grand Council in Mid-Ch’ing China, 1723-1820.”

Peter Perdue, a professor emeritus of Chinese history at Yale, described her death as “a great loss for Qing studies.”

“When I first went to Taiwan to work on Qing archival materials in 1979, Betsy Bartlett was there, famed as the senior guru of the Palace Museum researchers, an invaluable guide to finding documents, and even more important, gaining the respect of the archival staff,” he wrote after hearing of her death.

“Her book on the development of the Grand Council is still a classic work on this vital method of communication in the Qing bureaucracy, required reading on anyone’s list. She understood the value of studying Manchu documents as well as Chinese, and encouraged others to follow this path.”

Bartlett’s personal story was as extraordinary as her academic trajectory. Born in New Haven, her Yale summa cum laude father, Russell Sturgis Bartlett, a member of Yale’s Class of 1917 who also received his Ph.D. in 1924, was for some years a Yale professor of physics. But her “blue line” was extraordinarily long on both sides, going back to her great-great-great-great-grandfather, who was a member of the Yale Class of 1753, and included a host of Daggets and Bartletts, two legendary Yale names.

Her ancestors include Russell Sturgis, the architect of Battell Chapel, Farnam Hall, Durfee Hall, and the President’s House at 43 Hillhouse Avenue; David Daggett, a member of the Class of 1783, one of the three founders of Yale Law School; and Anna Alice Cutler, who was among the earliest women to receive a Ph.D., in philosophy, and who taught for many years at Smith. Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to graduate from a North American university, married the daughter of the sister of her great-grandfather. The Yung Wing grandchildren were her third cousins, and she knew them all.

She continued her research long after her retirement and eventually moved to the retirement community of Evergreen Woods in Branford, Connecticut, where she lived in an apartment next to her close friend Marie Borroff, Sterling Professor of English, who died in 2019. 

Bartlett is survived by three nephews, Russell Bartlett ’84, Michael Bull, and Thomas Bull; four nieces, Sharon Sage, Martha Ann Roundtree-Paris, Mary-Ellen Yeomans, and Rodanne Bartlett; as well as several great nieces and nephews.

The Bartlett family and the university will hold a service in her memory at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 19, 2024 at Battell Chapel, 400 College Street, New Haven.