Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss were enthusiastic collectors and judicious patrons of scholarship and the arts. A graduate of Harvard University, Robert Bliss (1875–1962) pursued a distinguished career as an officer and diplomat in the Foreign Service. Mildred Bliss (1879–1969) inherited a fortune from her family's investment in the patent medicine Fletcher's Castoria. Sharing a taste in the art of little-known or under-appreciated cultures, the Blisses developed unique collections with the help of knowledgeable friends and scholarly advisors. They envisioned Dumbarton Oaks as a
home of the Humanities, a place of natural serenity and intellectual adventure.
The Byzantine Collection opened to the public in 1940. The Music Room, built in 1928, displays works of art of the so-called House Collection, and the Pre-Columbian Collection was installed in 1963 in a wing added to the existing buildings and designed by Philip Johnson.