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Florence Shapiro Markoff Papers

Identifier: MSS 048

Scope and Contents

The Florence Markoff Collection consists of materials that span over 70 years, dating between 1937 and 2015. Over half of the collection consists of radio scripts for Markoff's three radio programs: There's a Word for It, Rhode Island Portraits in Sound, and You've Said a Mouthful. Other scripts included in the collection are advertisements and assorted radio programs narrated by Markoff. The collection also contains several drafts of, and the manuscript for, her 2015 book You Said a Mouthful. Original illustrations for the book's chapters are also included in the collection. The manuscript is accompanied by the marketing research conducted by Markoff, as well as correspondence with several editors. Aside from written scripts, there are three cassette tapes and one CD containing Markoff's audiobooks.

The collection also contains a folder of articles written either by or about Florence Markoff and her work in Rhode Island radio, with the earliest article dating back to 1968. There are also two folders that consist of correspondence, both personal and professional. Two documents of note are two certificates: one from the City of Providence commending Markoff's achievements in radio, and one from the Rhode Island State Senate that announces "Florence Markoff Day" in the state of Rhode Island. Personal creative writing, speeches, and theater-related documents are also included in the collection. Oversized materials in the collection include posters for events and large newspaper articles. There is also a scrapbook in the collection which holds assignments completed by students from her elocution classes.


  • 1937 - 2015


Language of Materials

Records in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to researchers. No materials may be taken out of or borrowed from the Emerson College Archives & Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The status of copyright in this collection is governed by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17,

U.S.C). This collection is for research purposes only. No portions of the materials may be performed or reproduced as written. Researchers are required to seek permission from the copyright holder to reproduce and/or publish materials under copyright. These are non-circulating materials.

Biographical / Historical

Florence Helford Shapiro was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts on August 24, 1917 to Molly and David Shapiro, who was a salesman from Poland. She spent much of her childhood in Providence, Rhode Island, where she got her start in radio giving the morning announcements at Hope High School. She was admitted to Emerson College in September of 1935 where she majored in reading performance. While studying there she took courses that would help her throughout her career, including Public Speaking, Expressive Voice, Story Telling, and Phonetics just to name a few. Florence taught elocution lessons and drama lessons during her time at Emerson, and continued to teach through the 1940s and into the early 1950s. During the summer of 1939, Florence married Henry Markoff an architectural engineer, and together they had three sons.

In the early 1950s, Florence began her career in broadcasting when she worked in local Providence television. From there, she began working in the field that she would call home: radio. Her first radio show, called Rhode Island Portraits in Sound, premiered in the mid-1970s. She quickly became well-known for her dramatic, detailed accounts of the lives of famous—and sometimes little-known—Rhode Island figures. She would adopt different accents and speech patterns to transform herself into everyone from governors to rabbis, from socialites to nurses, and anyone in between. This earned her the moniker of "The lady on the radio," a title that would follow her for decades.

Following the success of her first program, Florence started her second radio series in the late 1970s—one she would continue to host until she was well into her nineties. "There's a Word for It" featured 60 seconds of the etymology of some of our most commonly used words and phrases. Markoff's radio scripts were turned into audiobooks that were sold all across the country. Libraries and schools from Rhode Island to Texas made use of her audiobooks as teaching tools.

Florence launched "You Said a Mouthful," which was a spin-off program focusing on the origins of food words and phrases. Florence worked with former White House chef Wendy Sorg, who worked during President Jimmy Carter's administration, to transform the program into a book – a process that would take twenty-five years. You Said a Mouthful, which was published in 2015, used stories of the origins of food words to both tell stories of etymology and provide cooking recipes.

Florence's Jewish identity played an important role throughout her entire life, both personally and professionally. She and her family joined Temple Emanuel-El in Providence when the congregation was established in 1929, and she remained a member there for the rest of her life. In her career, she made sure to tell the stories of notable Jewish people with an offshoot of her Portraits in Sound series called Jewish Portraits in Sound. She also made speeches and conducted interviews with Jewish organizations in Rhode Island. The love of theater that Florence developed while at Emerson continued throughout her life. She directed local plays in Rhode Island, including productions of the Odd Couple and Death of a Salesman. She passed away on July 18, 2017, just weeks before her one-hundredth birthday.


2 boxes


The collection is arranged into five series: Series 1 is divided into four subseries; Series 2 is divided into five subseries; Series 3 is divided into two subseries; Series 4 is divided into two subseries. Folder arrangement does not necessarily correspond with series arrangement.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements


1 scrapbook is in delicate condition.

Custodial History

Materials were created and collected by Florence Shapiro Markoff, a radio personality in Rhode Island. Upon her death they were left to her sons, who donated them in 2018.


Obituary from the Providence Journal:

Processing Information

Finding aid by Sarah DeRupo, 3/26/2019

Florence Shapiro Markoff Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Emerson College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Walker Building, Room 223
120 Boylston Street
Boston Massachusetts 02116 United States
(617) 824-8301