Alberta Hirshheimer, born in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1907, attended Goucher College, graduating in 1928. After Goucher, Hirshheimer returned to Wisconsin and earned a masters degree in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin. In December 1930 she married Baltimorean Henry G. Burke, whom she met while attending Goucher College.
The couple settled in Baltimore where Henry Burke had already established himself as a lawyer and accountant. Although Alberta Burke had always been interested in Jane Austen, the couple did not become serious collectors until 1935 when they took their first trip to England.
Quickly becoming adept at the book trade, Mrs. Burke began following the market on Jane Austen materials. Over time she built a distinguished private collection of Austen books and manuscripts. In addition to Austen books and manuscripts, the Burkes also collected extensively in the areas of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including costume, furnishings, architecture, and landscape gardening. Titles range from the first American edition of Emma published in 1816 to volumes on landscape design by Humphry Repton, a contemporary of Jane Austen. Alberta Burke also meticulously scoured newspapers, literary magazines, and other print materials for anything referencing or related to Austen. The result is ten scrapbooks of clippings and correspondence about various Austen topics, including the Helen Jerome film version of Pride and Prejudice with Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson and the musical First Impressions. In the 1940s, the Burkes began collecting translations of Austen novels.
Upon Alberta Burke’s death in 1975, and in accordance with her will, her collection was divided between Goucher College and the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Goucher College received more than a thousand early editions and books as well as personal correspondence, while the Morgan Library was given Austen’s letters and manuscripts.
The Alberta H. and Henry G. Burke Papers and Jane Austen Research Collection (1811-1996) consists of the Burkes’ personal correspondence and other materials on the Burkes and their collection; Alberta Burke’s scrapbooks; an extensive collection of journal, magazine, and newspaper articles on Jane Austen; and memorabilia collected by the Burkes over their lifetimes. The Burke’s book collection documenting Jane Austen, Jane Austen’s times, including art and architecture, as well as an extensive collection of books on costume, has been described separately in the library’s online catalog.
The collection is arranged into five series. The first contains biographical material and personal papers and consists of articles on the Burkes and their collection along with personal correspondence relating to their collecting and interest in Jane Austen. The second series contains ten scrapbooks in which Alberta Burke pasted memorabilia, correspondence, press clippings, and other material related to her interest in Jane Austen and her times. These scrapbooks include handwritten annotations by Mrs. Burke. Series III contains personal photographs, family records, audiotapes and slides of the Burke’s extensive world travels. The fourth contains research materials and is further arranged into eleven subseries. The final series contains Jane Austen memorabilia, which includes stamps, playing cards, drawings, handkerchiefs and many other materials.