Winnie Allen, archivist and historian, was born on April 13, 1895, in Henrietta, Texas, to W. T. and Ethel (Youree) Allen. She graduated from Henrietta High School and taught school from 1917 to 1923 in Henrietta, San Antonio, El Paso, and Dallas. In 1920 she received her A.B. degree from the University of Texas. From 1923 to 1925 she was acting archivist at the Texas State Library in Austin. She collaborated with Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., to edit Volume IV of the Lamar Papers (1924, 1925). In 1925 she received her M.A. in history from the University of Texas and became assistant archivist at the University of Texas archives, under Mattie Austin Hatcher. When Hatcher retired in 1936, Allen replaced her as archivist, a position in which she served for thirty-five years.
Her major focus was to collect new materials for the University archives, and she drove all over Texas to obtain documents. When she began the job the archives contained only the Austin papers and about twenty other manuscript collections; by the time of her retirement in 1960 the archives comprised between 3,500 and 4,000 collections. Winnie Allen also supervised the transcription of a number of important collections during her tenure, including the Bexar Archives, The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863, the Robert Bruce Blake Collection, and the papers of James Stephen Hogg and his son William Clifford Hogg. As a strong believer in the use of tape recordings as an archival tool, Allen began in 1952 to organize and supervise a project to preserve the oral history of Texas oil pioneers.
She wrote or contributed to a number of articles and books on Texas history. She coauthored Pioneers in Texas: True Stories of the Early Days with Carrie Walker Allen (1935); this book became the state-adopted reader for the sixth grade. In 1936 she collaborated with Eugene C. Barker and Marius Perron in compiling the Texas Centennial Roster and served on the advisory board for the Texas Centennial Historical Exhibits in Dallas. She also wrote a number of historical feature articles for the Dallas News and reviews and research articles for the Southwestern Historical Quarterly throughout her career.
In 1952 Allen proposed a nonpartisan state board to coordinate all efforts directed toward the location, documentation, preservation, and publication of materials related to Texas history and the development of a state-backed foundation to fund approved historical projects. This idea led to the establishment of the first Historical Survey Commission in 1952. This organization, chartered as the Texas Historical Foundation in 1954, eventually became the Texas Historical Commission. Winnie Allen was also a founding member of the Society of American Archivists. She helped organize the first Institute of Archival Management in the Southwest in the 1960s. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas appointed her to the Committee on Awards for their Texas History Scholarship Fund in 1943 and also made her an honorary member. She was president of the Austin Library Club in 1945–46, served on the board of directors of the Heritage Society of Austin, and was a member of the Texas Library Association and the Texas State Historical Association.
After her retirement in August 1960 she moved to Hutchins, to be near friends. Eventually, failing health caused her to move to the Texas Health Center, a nursing home in Lancaster where she died on August 1, 1985.