Bliss, Robert Woods, 1875-1962

Alternative names
Birth 1875-08-05
Death 1962-04-19

Biographical notes:

Robert Woods Bliss (1875-1962, Harvard AB 1900) and his wife, Mildred Barnes Bliss (1875-1969) were prominent art collectors and the founders of Dumbarton Oaks, an estate which they developed and conveyed in 1940 to Harvard University as the Center for Byzantine Studies, a research center and museum.

Robert Woods Bliss served in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1903-1933. He was Minister to Sweden from 1923-1927 and Ambassador to Argentina from 1927-1933.

From the description of Papers of Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, ca. 1860-1969 (inclusive), 1900-1967 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76975086

Robert Woods Bliss was a graduate of Harvard College, Class of 1900. He began work as the Secretary to the Governor of Puerto Rico and entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1903 with a post in Venice. For the next thirty years he served the diplomatic corps in St. Petersburg, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Paris, Washington, D.C., and Stockholm. He retired in 1933, but returned to the State Department for occasional special service.

Robert Woods Bliss married his stepsister, Mildred Barnes, in 1908. They had no children. She was a well-educated and well-travelled heir to the Castoria patent medicine fortune. Mildred Bliss was an active participant and leader in social and cultural circles at every diplomatic post to which Robert Bliss was assigned. She was an avid art collector as well as patron of musicians and visual artists in Europe, South America and the United States. She organized the American Distributing Service to transfer medical supplies to French hospitals and funded several vehicles for the Ambulance Corps. She was honored with numerous decorations for her war relief efforts in France during World War I.

In addition to extensive philanthropic work, the Blisses were recognized as important art collectors. In 1920 they purchased an estate in Georgetown called "The Oaks." They renamed it "Dumbarton Oaks" and spent the next several decades involved with the development of both the exterior landscape and the art and book collections within.

In 1940 Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss conveyed Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University as the Center for Byzantine Studies. The Blisses resided nearby and maintained an active interest in the formation and funding of its garden, library, art collection and musical program. Plans to build a gallery at Dumbarton Oaks to house Robert Bliss's collection of pre-Columbian art were underway when he died of lung cancer on April 19, 1962. The Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art was opened to the public in 1963.

Mildred Bliss continued to travel and take part in Washington's cultural life and philanthropy life until her death on January 17, 1969.

Philemon Bliss (b. 1813), father of William Bliss Demas Barnes (1827-1888), father of Mildred Barnes, first husband of Anna Dorinda Blaksley William Henry Bliss (1844-1932), father of Robert Woods Bliss, second husband of Anna Dorinda Blaksley Anna Louisa Woods (b. 1850), Mother of Robert Woods Bliss Anna Dorinda Blaksley Barnes Bliss (1851-1935), mother of Mildred Barnes, second wife of Demos Barnes, second wife of William Henry Bliss (married 1893) Kora (or Cora) Fanny Barnes (1858-1911), stepsister of Mildred Barnes, daughter of Demos Barnes and his first wife, Mary Hyde (1832-1875) Annie Louise Bliss Warren (d. 1964), sister of Robert Woods Bliss, wife of Charles Warren Charles Warren (1868-1954), husband of Annie Louise Bliss
  • 1875 August 5: Robert Woods Bliss born in St. Louis
  • 1879 September 9: Mildred Barnes born in New York City
  • 1896 - 1900 : Robert Woods Bliss attends Harvard College
  • 1900 - 1903 : Robert Woods Bliss is Secretary to Governor of Puerto Rico (William Hunt)
  • 1903 - 1904 : Robert Woods Bliss joins Foreign Service, Consul at Venice
  • 1904 - 1909 : Robert Woods Bliss is Second Secretary of the Embassy, St. Petersburg
  • 1907 - 1909 : Robert Woods Bliss is Secretary of the Legation, Brussels
  • 1908 April 14: Robert Woods Bliss marries Mildred Barnes
  • 1909 - 1912 : Robert Woods Bliss is Secretary of the Legation, Buenos Aires
  • 1912 - 1916 : Robert Woods Bliss is Secretary of the Embassy, Paris
  • 1916 - 1920 : Robert Woods Bliss is Counselor of the Embassy, Paris
  • 1920: Blisses purchase "The Oaks;" rename it "Dumbarton Oaks"
  • 1920 - 1923 : Blisses reside at 1786 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C.
  • 1921 - 1923 : Robert Woods Bliss is Third Assistant Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.
  • 1921 - 1933 : Blisses maintain an apartment at 4 rue Henri-Moisson, Paris
  • 1923 - 1927 : Robert Woods Bliss is Minister to Sweden, Stockholm
  • 1927 - 1933 : Robert Woods Bliss is Ambassador to Argentina, Buenos Aires
  • 1933: Robert Woods Bliss retires from the Foreign Service
  • 1933 - 1940 : Blisses reside at Dumbarton Oaks
  • 1939 - 1945 : Robert Woods Bliss is a Member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University
  • 1940 November 1: Dumbarton Oaks is conveyed to Harvard University
  • 1940 - 1942 : Blisses reside at Casa Dorinda, Santa Barbara, California (Mildred Barnes Bliss's mother's estate)
  • 1942 - 1969 : Blisses reside at 28th and Q Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.
  • 1942: Robert Woods Bliss is Consultant to Division of Cultural Relations in Department of State
  • 1944: Robert Woods Bliss is Special Assistant to the Secretary of State
  • 1945: Robert Woods Bliss retires from government service
  • 1951: Robert Woods Bliss receives honorary Art.D. degree from Harvard University
  • 1962 April 19: Robert Woods Bliss dies
  • 1969 January 17: Mildred Barnes Bliss dies

From the guide to the Papers of Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, ca. 1860-1969 (inclusive), (Harvard University Archives)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • World War, 1914-1918--Refugees
  • World War, 1939-1945--Civilian relief
  • War relief
  • Charities
  • World War, 1939-1945--Refugees
  • Art--Collectors and collecting--Correspondence
  • World War, 1914-1918--Civilian relief
  • Art patronage


not available for this record


  • United States (as recorded)