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Mildred Barnes Bliss (1879–1969)

Mildred Barnes Bliss was an American art collector, philanthropist, and cofounder of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C. She was born in New York City on September 9, 1879, the daughter of Demas Barnes and Anna Blaksley Barnes and the stepsister of Cora Barnes. When Anna Blaksley Barnes remarried in 1894, Mildred Barnes became the stepdaughter of William Henry Bliss and the stepsister of Robert Woods Bliss and Annie Louise Bliss. She was educated at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, and, reportedly, at private schools in France. She was fluent in French and was proficient in Spanish, German, and Italian. She acquired a working farm in Sharon, Connecticut, in 1898, which she sold in 1909. She married her stepbrother, Robert Woods Bliss, on April 14, 1908. They lived in Brussels (1908–1909), Buenos Aires (1909–1912), Paris (1912–1919), Washington, D.C. (1919–1923), Stockholm (1923–1927), and Buenos Aires (1927–1933) before returning, in retirement, to Washington, D.C., in 1933. At the outbreak of the First World War, the Blisses helped to found the American Field Ambulance Service (now the American Field Service) in France in 1914, to which they donated an entire section of twenty-three ambulances and three staff cars. The Blisses opened and equipped a central depot in Paris, the "Service de Distribution Américaine," for the distribution of medical and surgical supplies and clothing. As vice president of the Comité Franco-Américain pour la Protection des Enfants de la Frontier (founded 1914), Mildred Bliss helped to establish centers in France for the care of Belgian and French children orphaned or displaced during the war. For her work during the First World War, she was made a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. When the United States entered the war, Mildred Bliss served as chairman of the executive board of the Women’s War Relief Corps of the American Red Cross in France. She was the principal beneficiary of the estates of her stepsister, Cora Barnes, in 1911, and of her mother, Anna Barnes Bliss, in 1935. The Blisses purchased their home, Dumbarton Oaks, in 1920, but also maintained apartments in Paris, at 4 rue Henri Moissan, and in New York City, first at 969 Park Avenue and then at 525 Park Avenue. Mildred Bliss was elected a member of the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York in 1921. She served on the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After giving Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940, the Blisses resided at 1537 Twenty-Eighth Street NW in Washington, D.C. They had no children. Mildred Barnes Bliss died in Washington, D.C., at the age of eighty-nine on January 17, 1969.

James N. Carder, "Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss: A Brief Biography," in A Home of the Humanities: The Collecting and Patronage of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. James N. Carder (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010), 1–23.

James N. Carder, "Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection," in Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. Asen Kirin (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art , 2005), 23–37.

Susan Tamulevich, Dumbarton Oaks: Garden into Art (New York: Monacelli Press, 2001).