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Amos Niven Wilder and Wilder Family Papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 1114

Scope and Contents

The Amos Niven Wilder and Wilder Family papers consist of materials once owned and created by the members of author Thornton Wilder’s family: his parents Amos Parker and Isabella, his brother Amos Niven, his sisters Charlotte, Isabel, and Janet, his extended family members, and his contractual agreements with the Freedman Dramatic Agency, and the Wiggin and Dana law firm.


  • 1776 - 2015


Language of Materials

Chiefly in English; some materials in French, German, and Italian.

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research. Boxes 127a, 204-221, 405-408, and 423 contain restricted material. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Boxes 127, 433, 434, and 435 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Amos Niven Wilder and Wilder Family Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired primarily through purchase and gift from Amos Tappan Wilder and the Wilder family, 1985-2018. For more information, consult the appropriate curator.


Organized into eleven series: I. Amos Parker Wilder Papers, 1866-1970; II. Isabella Niven Wilder Papers, 1776-1972; III. Amos Niven Wilder Papers, 1860-2014; IV. Charlotte Wilder Papers, 1908-1974; V. Isabel Wilder Papers, 1913-1994; VI. Janet Wilder Dakin Papers, 1816-1994; VII. Wilder Family Materials, 1832-2013; VIII. Amos Tappan Wilder Papers, 1983-2013; IX. Wilder Family Papers, 1832-2013; IX. Freedman Dramatic Agency Records, 1909-2011; X. Wiggin and Dana LLP Records, 1910-2012; Restricted Fragile, 1866-1970.


232.67 Linear Feet (431 containers)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

Amos Parker Wilder

Amos Parker Wilder was born on February 15, 1962, the son of Amos Lincoln Wilder, a dentist, and Charlotte Topliff Porter in Calais, Maine. His father invested in an oil cloth factory. Amos studied at Yale where he wrote for the college newspaper, was class historian, a member of Skull and Bones, and a member of the Pundits. After graduation, he taught at a Connecticut boarding school and a military academy before working at newspapers in Albany and Philadelphia. He became the editor for the New Haven Palladium. After a political dispute ended his job at the Palladium, Amos moved between multiple papers in New York City before buying a share in the Wisconsin State Journal. He married Isabella Niven in December 1894 and subsequently moved to Wisconsin. The couple had four children: Amos, Thornton, Charlotte and Isabel, before with the help of his college friend, William Taft, Amos accepted a position to be the counsel general in Hong Kong. The family moved in 1906 but soon were unhappy with the schools. Isabella moved with the children to Berkeley, California in 1906, while Amos remained in China. He soon moved to Shanghai for a position there and after the arrival of a daughter, Janet in 1910, the family joined him there. Throughout these years of changing locations and schools, Amos Parker remained involved in his children’s education and upbringing. He arranged for his sons to work at farms during the summer months and orchestrated what schools they attended and when. Thornton and Charlotte were sent to Chefoo, China to attend boarding school while Amos Parker was in Shanghai. Amos Niven attended the Thacher School in Ojai, California and Isabella traveled in Europe with Isabel and Janet. By 1915, Amos Parker had moved back to the United States. He worked at the Yale in China program and lived in Mount Carmel with Isabella and his daughters with his sons away at college. He was instrumental in having both his sons attend Oberlin before transferring to Yale. He also supported Amos Niven’s decision to volunteer as an ambulance driver in France during World War I and encouraged Thornton to volunteer in a hospital. He continued to be active directing the course of his children’s lives: enrolling Isabel in finishing school, wondering what Thornton would do after his trip to Rome, and encouraging Charlotte to travel to Europe. He moved with his wife, Isabel, and Janet to live with Thornton on Deepwood Drive after The Bridge of San Luis Rey’s publication and continued his work with the Yale in China Association. He died in 1936.

Isabella Wilder

Isabella Niven Wilder (1873-1946) was a minister’s daughter from Dobbs Ferry, New York. Her parents, Elizabeth Lewis Niven and Dr. Thornton MacNess Niven, had two other children, Archibald Campbell Niven and Charlotte Niven. Isabella wrote poetry, played the piano and tennis, and enjoyed the theater. In 1894, she became engaged to Amos Parker Wilder, about a year after meeting him at a party in Dobbs Ferry. They were married on December 3, 1894 and moved to Madison, Wisconsin where Amos Parker had bought a half interest in the Wisconsin State Journal. The couple had five children in about six years: Amos Niven born in 1895, Thornton Niven and a stillborn twin in 1897, Charlotte in 1898, and Isabel in 1900. In 1906, the family moved to Hong Kong where Amos Parker had accepted the position of consul-general. After five months, one typhoon, and dissatisfaction with the quality of education in Hong Kong, Isabella moved to Berkeley, California with her children. The children enrolled in school there and Isabella continued participating in French and Italian language social circles and exposed her children to the local theater scene. In 1910, Isabella gave birth to another daughter, Janet. Later that year, Isabella and the children, except Amos who went to the Thacher School in Ojai, California, moved to live with Amos Parker, who now was living in Shanghai. Due to poor health, Isabella traveled to Europe to join her sister and mother, taking Isabel and Janet with her. Thornton and Charlotte were enrolled in a boarding school in Chefoo, China. The family reunited in 1913 in Berkeley except for Amos Parker who was still in Shanghai. By 1915, the family had moved to Mount Carmel, Connecticut to be with Amos Parker who took a job working for the Yale in China program. Later, the family moved to Hamden following the success of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, to live together in a house that Thornton had built for them in 1929. Isabella helped edit her children’s literary manuscripts and was an active member of the community. She died in 1946.

Amos Niven Wilder

Amos Niven Wilder was born on September 18, 1895 in Madison, Wisconsin. He was the first child of Amos Parker and Isabella Niven Wilder. When he was ten years old, he moved with his family to Hong Kong when his father accepted the position of consul general. The Wilders hired a German tutor to teach their children but overall were unsatisfied with life in Hong Kong so in October 1906, Amos returned to the United States, settling in Berkeley, California with his mother and siblings. In 1911, Amos attended the Thacher School in Ojai, California which was founded by Sherman Thacher, a friend from his father’s time at Yale. The other members of his family moved to be with Amos Parker, who had a new position in Shanghai. Thornton joined his brother at the Thacher School in 1912. During the summer, Amos Parker arranged for Amos Niven and Thornton to work on farms. This tradition carried through to their college days and both worked on farms in Wisconsin, Vermont, and New York. In 1913, Amos Parker arranged for Amos Niven to attend Oberlin for two years before transferring to Yale. In 1916, before his senior year at Yale, Amos volunteered to serve as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. He drove with the Paris Service, the American Friends Service, the American Field Service, and the French Army of the Orient. In 1919, Amos served with the Allied Army of Occupation at Bendorf and Coblenz and took courses at the American Army School Detachment at the University of Toulouse. The following summer, he took courses at Oxford. In 1919, Amos returned home to New Haven to finish his degree at Yale. Amos then returned to Oxford to continue his studies at Mansfield College. He was a member of Oxford’s tennis team and continued writing poetry. In 1923, he returned to New Haven to enroll in Yale’s Divinity School. He was ordained in 1926 and accepted his first position as a pastor in North Conway, New Hampshire at the First Congregational Church. He returned to Yale and received a Ph.D. in Divinity in 1933 after serving as a faculty member at Hamilton College in in 1933 and receiving an honorary doctorate. He worked as the Norris Professor of the New Testament at Andover Newton Theological Seminary from 1933 to 1943. In 1934, Amos took a leave of absence for his health and spent his recovery in Florida and later in Geneva, Switzerland where he met Catharine Kerlin, a teacher from Moorestown, New Jersey. The two were married in 1936. Their daughter, Catharine Dix Wilder, was born in 1937 and their son, Amos Tappan Wilder, was born in 1940. Employed beginning in 1943 as Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago, Amos received an honorary degree from Oberlin College in 1952 along with Thornton. He continued to publish theological writings through his career and playing tennis. In 1980, he published Thornton Wilder and His Public, consisting of essays written about his brother’s works. In 1963, he retired from Harvard where he had held position of Hollis Professor of Divinity since 1954. His retirement consisted of travel, writing, and conducting research. He died in 1993.

Charlotte Wilder

Charlotte Wilder was born in 1898 in Madison, Wisconsin. She was the third child and first daughter of Amos Parker and Isabella Niven Wilder. In 1906, the Wilder family moved to Hong Kong where Amos Parker was appointed Counsel General. Within less than a year, Isabella and her children moved to Berkeley, California. By 1911, the family moved back to China to be with Amos Parker and Thornton and Charlotte were sent to the Chefoo School. Charlotte later attended high school at Berkeley High School, graduating in 1915. She attended Mount Holyoke College with a major in English. After graduation, she received her M.A. at Radcliffe. She taught at Wheaton and Smith College before moving to New York to devote her time to writing. She published two books of poetry: Mortal Sequence and Phases of the Moon in 1936 and 1939. In 1941, after exhibiting symptoms of psychosis, Charlotte was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. After years of failed treatments she underwent a lobotomy in 1947. Until her death in 1980, Charlotte remained in institutions in New York and Vermont.

Isabel Wilder

Isabel Wilder was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1900. She was the younger sister of Thornton Wilder, and the fourth child born to Isabella Niven and Amos Parker Wilder. She moved with her family to Hong Kong when she was six years old and lived there with her family until her mother moved her children back to Berkeley, California. Isabel then moved with her mother and younger sister Janet to Europe. She spent time in Switzerland and Florence, Italy with her aunt Charlotte. She also lived in England, attending the Oxford City-County Council School to study embroidery, studying English literature at Christchurch, and the Ben Greet Acting School in London. She studied typing and shorthand and wrote two plays during this time: Empty Handed and At Dusk. Eventually she settled with her family in Hamden, Connecticut. She worked as an assistant to the supervisor of the Connecticut branch of the Federal Writers’ Project. Isabel became involved in the Yale School of Drama, directing and acting in plays. She also worked as the curator and librarian at the Yale School of Drama on a part time basis and wrote novels as well. For years she lived with Thornton in Hamden, Connecticut working with her brother and inhabiting the roles of his secretary, travel companion, and support. She also wrote the following novels: Mother and Four (1933), Let Winter Go (1937), and Heart Be Still (1934). She also wrote the introductions to Thornton’s posthumously published works including The Alcestiad (1977), American Characteristics and Other Essays (1979), and The Journals of Thornton Wilder (1985). She established the Thornton Wilder endowed prize at the Hamden Public Library for high school writers. She died in 1995.

Janet Wilder Dakin

Janet Frances Wilder Dakin was born on June 3, 1910. She was the fifth Wilder child. She was the youngest by upwards of ten years from her siblings. She was born in Berkeley, California while her father was counsel-general in Shanghai. She moved to Shanghai with her family in 1911 but moved to Europe with her mother and Isabel later that year. They visited their aunt Charlotte in Switzerland and their grandmother in Florence, Italy. She continued to move between England and the United States with her mother as her father saw fit. During their time in England, she learned to ride horses as her mother had learned that horseback riding could help with health issues and Janet continued this passion at the Oxford Riding School. She went to high school in New Haven and enrolled at Mount Holyoke, graduating in 1933. She earned a Master of Science in 1935 and then went to the University of Chicago for a PhD. She returned to Mount Holyoke in 1939 to teach zoology; her research on insects insects was published in scholarly journals. Eventually she published a book in 1999: Jeffy’s Journal: Raising a Morgan Horse which includes articles she wrote for the Morgan Horse publication. Janet passed away in 1994.

Robert A. Freedman Dramatic Agency

The Robert A. Freedman Dramatic Agency was established in 1928 to represent playwrights, including Thornton Wilder, in requests for productions of their plays. Robert took on the agency from his father Harold in 1966. The papers include royalty statements, responses to both amateur and professional productions of Wilder’s plays, correspondence between Wilder, Isabel and Freedman’s agents including William Koppelmann, Robert Freedman, and Harold Freedman.

Processing Information

These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards. For more information, please refer to the Beinecke Manuscript Unit Processing Manual.

Previous call numbers: Uncat ZA MSS 455, Uncat ZA 494, Uncat ZA 144, Uncat ZA 10, Uncat ZA 120, Uncat ZA 576, Uncat ZA 608, Uncat ZA 642, 2014.ycal.0001, Uncat ZA MSS 33, 2012.ycal.0062, 2012, Ycal, 63, UncatMSS 1307, Uncat ZA MS 38, Uncat ZA MS 426, Uncat ZA MS 497, Uncat ZA MS 502, Uncat MSS 214, 2016.ycal.0099, Uncat ZA MSS Wilder, 2017.Yyal.0090, 2017.Ycal.0091, 2018.ycal.0054

Guide to the Amos Niven Wilder and Wilder Family Papers
by Monika Lehman and Ashley Cale
March 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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