This collection is made up of the papers of five generations of the Dwight, Willard, Alden, Allen, and Freeman families of the East Coast and (later) U.S. Midwest, between 1752 and 1937. Around 3/4 of the collection is incoming and outgoing correspondence of family members, friends, and colleagues. The primary persons represented are Lydia Dwight of Massachusetts and her husband John Willard, who served in the French and Indian War; Connecticut mother Abigail Willard along with her husband Samuel Alden, who ran an apothecary in Hanover, New Jersey; Allen Female Seminary School alumna and teacher Sarah J. Allen; American Civil War surgeon Otis Russell Freeman; Presbyterian minister and temperance advocate Rev. Samuel Alden Freeman; and prominent public librarian Marilla Waite Freeman. The papers also include diaries and journals, writings, school certificates, military and ecclesiastical documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, advertisements, business and name cards, invitations to events, and brochures for plays and other performances.
The collection is arranged first by family grouping, then by material type. These series roughly reflect the arrangement of the collection when it arrived at the William L. Clements Library.
The Dwight-Willard-Alden Family Papers are comprised of around 250 items, dating between 1752 and 1884. One fifth or so of this grouping is predominantly correspondence between Lydia Dwight/Lydia Dwight Willard, her father, stepmother, siblings, husband, and sons, 1752-1791. These intermarried families were based largely in Sheffield and Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The letters include discussions about mending and cleaning clothing; feelings about their father/husband gone to serve in the French and Indian War; putting up a monument to replace faltering graves; the return of Elijah and Col. Williams from the field on account of sickness; coming and going of soldiers; moral and practical advice; teaching and boarding young students during the war; settling into (“no longer free”) married life; the death of Bathsheba Dwight; the meeting of local men in private homes and the training of minute men in Stockbridge; the prolonged case of smallpox experienced by Lydia’s son in 1785; and news of John Willard, Jr.’s admission to Harvard.
The remaining four fifths of this grouping are largely incoming correspondence of Abigail Willard Alden (1771-1832) and her daughter Abigail Alden (1809-1854). Their correspondents were located in Stafford, Connecticut; Hanover and Lancaster, New Hampshire; Lunenburg, Vermont; and elsewhere. They begin with letters from siblings and parents to the newly married Abigail Willard Alden (ca. 1800); Samuel Alden travel letters to New York City; and news of a Stafford doctor named Chandler who had promised marriage to a woman and then fleeced her for $500 before fleeing to parts unknown. A group of letters regard pharmacy matters, the burning of Samuel Willard’s drugstore (January-April 1802), and the state of Anti-Federalists and Federalists in Stafford (1802). A large portion the letters include content on sickness and health, with varying degrees of detail, including several family members sick and dying from measles in 1803. Other topics include Hanover, New Hampshire, gossip on local premarital sex; a debate on whether or not to hire a black female domestic laborer; comments on a local suicide attempt; a young woman deliberating on objections to women spending time reading novels (April 10, 1806); and treatment by a quack doctor. These papers also include two diaries, poetry and essays, two silhouettes, genealogical manuscripts, and miscellaneous printed items.
The Allen Family Papers are largely incoming letters to Sarah Jane Allen prior to her marriage to Samuel A. Freeman (around 300 items), and from her father-in-law Otis Russell Freeman (around 60 items) between 1860 and 1865. An abundance of the letters were written to Sarah while she attended the Allen Female Seminary in Rochester, New York, and afterward when she lived at Honeoye Falls, New York. They include letters from her parents, cousins, friends, and siblings. A sampling suggests that the bulk are letters by young women attempting to eke out a life for themselves through seminary education, teaching, and domestic labor. Among much else, they include content on Elmira Female Seminary, New York state travel, and female friendship and support.
The Otis Russell Freeman letters date between 1862 and 1865, while he served as a surgeon in the 10th and 14th Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers. He wrote about the everyday camp life with a focus on the health and sickness of the soldiers. His letters include content on the defenses of Washington, D.C., fighting at Cold Harbor and outside Richmond, Virginia, the surrender of Robert E. Lee, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln's body lying in state at Jersey City. Two carte-de-visite photographs of Otis Freeman are present.
A diary kept by Sarah J. Allen began on the day of her marriage, September 26, 1865, documents her honeymoon to Niagara Falls. It ends in November 1865. The remainder of the volume is filled with recipes for baked goods, pickles, and other foods. The printed items include ephemera from Sarah Jane Allen’s tenure at Elmira Female College five issues of the Callisophia Society’s newspaper The Callisophia (vol. 1, nos. 1, 3-6; March/April 1860-January/February 1861), as well as a Catalogue of Books in Callisophia Library, December 1862.
The Samuel Alden Freeman Family Papers include approximately 300 largely incoming letters to Presbyterian minister S. A. Freeman, plus printed materials, ephemera, photographs, and bound volumes, dating in the 1810s and from the 1860s to 1880s. Correspondence of his second wife Olive dates from the 1810s in central New York. The collection includes letters to S. A. Freeman from his first wife Sarah, daughter Abigail Alden Freeman (1873-1925), and Sara Harriet Freeman (1879-1946). These materials include courtship correspondence of Sarah Jane Allen and S. A. Freeman. A considerable portion relates to Presbyterianism and at least one temperance society pledge sheet is present. Approximately 50 photographs, about half of them identified, are largely of Samuel A. Freeman and the Freeman daughters Marilla and Abigail. Among the printed ephemeral items are advertisements for programming at Corinthian Hall (probably Rochester, New York), items related to a Sunday School Association (including a printed broadside catalog of books at a N.J. Sunday School), and pamphlets on Presbyterianism. A medicinal recipe book from the mid-19th century and a commonplace book of poetry are examples of the S. A. Freeman family bound volumes.
The collection concludes with letters, photographs, ephemera, and printed items comprising the Marilla Waite Freeman Papers. Around 600 letters are largely incoming to public librarian M. W. Freeman from female educators and librarians. They discussed their profession, books, reading, and intellectual topics. A small clutch of letters, about three dozen manuscript and typed poems, and a dozen or more newspaper clippings, 1900s-1910s, comprise poet Floyd Dell’s contributions to the collection. Marilla also corresponded with poets and writers Margaret Todd Ritter, Robert Frost and Mrs. Frost, and Marie Bullock about public and private recitations and lectures. Examples of subjects covered by the printed materials include orations, educational/school/college items, library-related items, newspapers and clippings, fliers, women's clubs, New York City theater, the American Library Association, Poetry Society of America, poems by various authors, such as Ina Robert and John Belknap, visiting and business cards, and travel.