NYFS logo    tagline
 Pinto Guira making guiramaking lacemaking a mandala

The New York Folklore Society fosters the study, promotion, and continuation of folklore and folklife of New York’s diverse cultures through education, advocacy, support, and outreach.



NYFS History

The New York Folklore Society was founded in 1944, with a populist orientation and a strong membership base among people interested in folklore. The purpose of the Society and its journal, the New York Folklore Quarterly, was, as co-founder Louis Jones said, "to plow back" into the community the folklore collected by scholars and lay people throughout the state. A friendly, ragged-edged journal published through 1974, and still available in back issues, the Quarterly gave voice to luminaries in the field such as Ben Botkin and Louis Jones and to people who created the lore.

We have our part in building this nation's knowledge of itself, a task which seems to us as important for a whole people as for an individual.

NYFS founder Louis C. Jones, 1945

As folklore developed as an academic discipline in the 1960s and '70s, the Society, too, became more academic in its orientation. In the mid-1980s, with funding from the Folk Arts Programs of the National Endowment for the Arts and New York State Council on the Arts, arts councils, historical societies, libraries, and museums started hiring folklorists and other cultural specialists to research and present in public settings the folk arts and traditional ways of life of their communities. With a dynamic new constituency to serve, the New York Folklore Society strengthened its connections with folklorists, folk artists, folk arts enthusiasts,and people working in other areas of the arts and culture.

In 1990, NYFS hired its first full-time executive director and opened an office in Ithaca, a small city in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. In 1999, the Society relocated to Schenectady, New York in New York’s Capital District. Over the last ten years, the Society has become a leader as a statewide service organization for the field of folk and traditional arts.

Now, with the new membership magazine, Voices: Journal of New York Folklore, a series of workshops, and this web site, we are exploring new ways to introduce people to the folklore in their lives and in communities all over the state.

We have a small but dedicated staff and a dynamic board of directors whose members are active in other organizations throughout New York.


Hear the interview with Edith Cutting, a former student of Harold Thompson, and pioneer colector of Adirondack folklore. Edith Cutting grew up in Essex County near Elizabethtown, NY, where her family had farmed the land since the early 1800s. In the 1930s she attended the Albany Normal School and took classes from folklorist Dr. Harold Thompson, co-founder of the New York Folklore Society. She was inspired by a class assignment to collect stories from her family and community, some of which appeared in Thompson’s book, Body, Boots and Britches. Later, she published her own book Lore of an Adirondack County.
image of radioHEAR the RADIO DOCUMENTARY

READ the INTERVIEW as published in Voices, Spring-Summer 2002.

READ a verbatim TRANSCRIPT of the documentary

New York Folklore Society Records, 1950–1998
The New York State Library is home to the records of the New York Folklore Society, from 1950–1998, transferred to the library on March 21, 2006. You can see a description of the scope and content at the NYSL site.

From the 50th Anniversary Issue of the New York Folklore Society Newsletter:

The New York Folklore Society was officially founded on October 6, 1944, but had been in the planning stage since 1938. Harold W. Thompson, affectionately known as “Tommy,” wanted a regional organization similar to the Southern Folklore Society but was persuaded that New York needed and could support a state society. This certainly proved true. After only a few years the New York Folklore Society boasted a membership of almost 1400, a close second to the Amencan Folklore Society. There were many who were charter members of the society and helped shape its development. They included public school teachers, musicians, librarians, doctors, lawyers, farmers, local historians, performers, college professors and students as well as folklorists.

Harold Thompson
Harold Thompson. Photo courtesy of his daughter, Katy DePorte.

The two major upstate founders were Harold W. Thompson, Professor of English and Folklore at Cornell, and Louis C. Jones, Director of the New York Historical Association. Thompson became the first President, and Jones the first editor of the society’s New York Folklore Quarterly. Both were nationally recognized folklorists and Hamilton College graduates. Moritz Jagendorf, a New York City dentist, was the most active founder from downstate. His role was soon assumed by Benjamin Botkin who joined the society in 1945 and, at the time, was the most nationally known of the New York State Folklorists. Read more...

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org