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Peter Newell family papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 62

Scope and Contents

The Peter Newell Family Papers contain correspondence, photographs, personal papers, writings, drawings, paintings and publications that document the life and career of illustrator and humorist Peter Newell, with additional material relating to his children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. The papers span the dates of 1840-1985, with the bulk of the material covering the years 1884-1950. Alfred Z. Baker Jr. had inherited his grandfather's artwork, papers, miscellaneous family material and collections from his grandmother, Leona Newell, upon her death in 1954. By that time he had already been researching his grandfather's life for a decade, and in his efforts had combined his own notes and correspondence with that of his grandfather and other family members.

Books that came to the library with the Newell collection were removed and are housed separately; they include copies of most of the books that Newell illustrated during his career, his school textbooks (some with drawings by the young artist inside) and volumes by Newell's contemporaries that were owned by the family. The remainder of the material was organized during processing into series developed according to the creators or original owners: Peter and Leona Newell; Clendenon Newell; Helen and Marcus Gordon; Alfred Z. Baker Sr.; and Howard McCormick, with additional series for family photographs, artwork by Newell's peers and photographs by William Henry Jackson. The bulk of the correspondence and papers, as well as nearly all of the visual material, falls within the first two series for Peter and Leona Newell.

Series I. Peter and Leona Newell: Papers , (Boxes 1-18 and 241-242), begins with their Correspondence which is arranged in three subseries: Immediate Family, Other Family and Friends, and Professional. Immediate Family correspondence contains only correspondence between Peter and Leona Newell and their three children. Of these the most extensive files are those for their son Clendenon, who wrote to his parents almost daily while he was a student at Cornell University (1912-1915) and when he was away in military service (1916-1918). His college letters reveal the trials and triviality of campus life and discuss social events, sports teams, finances and his work load. Clen's army letters contain his thoughts and chronicle his life within the limits acceptable to the military censors. Newell's letters to his son tell of local events and talk about illustration commissions and work. There is a good collection of letters written by Peter Newell to his wife that describe his activities during the times he was away from home; notable are those written from Paris while he was attending the Exposition Universelle Internationale de 1900. Newell purchased a camera there and the letters include a few cyanotypes that he made in the city and at the fair. Prior to 1924, the principal correspondent with the children is Peter Newell; there are very few letters written by Leona Newell extant for the period before Newell's death, though her letters are regularly mentioned by her son and husband. Their noticeable absence suggests that they might have been destroyed by Mrs. Newell at some point.

The section of personal correspondence with Other Family and Friends follows. It includes several letters to Leona Newell from her father in Illinois (1881-1885), and a series written to her by her brother-in-law and sister, Richard and Ella Hooper, which describes life in Kansas in 1879-1886. Letters from Frances Sage Bradley can also be found in this subseries. Widow of illustrator Horace Bradley, she was one of the first female graduates of Cornell University Medical School and went on to become a leading figure in rural public health. Members of the Bradley family corresponded with the Newell family throughout three generations.

The Professional Correspondence contains letters to or about Peter Newell from authors, art directors, illustrators, collectors and publishers, as well as material regarding Newell's foray into toy design in the 1920s. Professional ephemera is filed here as well; a set of invitations and programs from the Periodical Publishers' Association annual meetings (1904-1912) provides a record of that group.

Personal Papers contains assorted records and memorabilia of the Newells' lives including a short run of Peter Newell's daily diaries (1878) and ephemera related to family marriages, finances and real estate transactions, and Leonia social events. Both Peter Newell and Howard McCormick had their palm prints analyzed, and Newell's readings are filed in this section. Material relating to Peter and Leona's deaths and the settlement of their estates can also be found here.

Creative Writings includes Newell's comic captions, essays, fables, poems, short stories and theatrical works which were written by the artist for publication and pleasure. One of his plays, "An Elastic Proposal," was produced at the Leonia Lyceum in 1906, and several of his fables appeared in print, primarily in Harper's publications.

Commissioned Works are those print pieces created for corporate clients and publishers. Newell's corporate work is primarily illustrations commissioned for advertising, and includes images that were presented in alternative formats such as postcards, a calendar and letterhead. Researchers seeking additional examples of his corporate work can find a series of unsigned illustrations for Primley's California Chewing Gum in issues of Harper's Young People (spring and summer of 1894). The subseries contains examples of Newell's work for publishers in scrapbooks, proofs and tearsheets, as well as one copy of the Peter Newell Calendar of 1910. Original drawings and artwork for many of these projects can be found in Series II.

Publicity and Writings about Newell holds clippings and photocopies of articles about Peter Newell and his work. To aid researchers, this subseries was extended to include material collected by Alfred Baker Jr. as part of his Newell biography project. The files are divided into six categories and appear chronologically within each: entries from biographical dictionaries; biographical sketches, profiles and interviews (which forms the most substantive group of biographical sources); mentions and brief articles in books and periodicals (which briefly describe Newell and his work in other contexts); reviews of exhibitions featuring Newell's work; reviews of Newell's publications; and parodies by other artists of Newell's work.

Series II. Peter Newell: Visual Materials , (Boxes 19-194), holds nearly 2,000 pieces of two and three-dimensional original art, artifacts and memorabilia that were created by or used by Peter Newell.

The series begins with Newell's commissioned illustrations, containing approximately 1,500 pencil, watercolor and gouache sketches and drawings made by the artist during his lifetime. They are arranged in subseries determined by intent: Books, Periodicals, Calendars, Corporate Projects, Unidentified Drawings (without citations) and drawings for Toys and Novelties. Illustrations for books are filed by author of the text, with Newell's writings appearing at the beginning of the series. Illustrations for periodicals are filed first by the magazine, and thereafter by the author of the story being illustrated. Many of the serialized stories that appeared in journals were later reprinted as novels (such as Frank Stockton's The Great Stone of Sardis and many of John Kendrick Bangs' works) or as humor collections (like Carolyn Wells' The Merry-Go-Round); drawings for these are filed in the "Illustrations for Books" subseries. Peter Newell created over one hundred single-frame comics that were published in magazines, and drawings for these are found under his authorship in the register. The unidentified/no citation pieces (where publication has not been verified) are grouped by genre or approximate date. Drawings for toys and novelties consist of designs for toys as well as whimsical folded paper concept pieces that are manipulated to deliver a message; they appear to have been developed primarily for advertising purposes but remain undocumented.

A Fine Art subseries follows the illustrations, and contains Peter Newell's personal, non-commissioned work. Here are filed his sketches, sketchbooks and student work; portraits of himself, his friends and neighbors; and his watercolor and oil paintings and wash drawings, primarily landscapes he painted in Europe, New Jersey and New England.

The series ends with a group of Three-Dimensional Objects which includes a selection of relief carvings, sculpture and toys created by Newell, as well as family memorabilia. Toys were a focus for Newell during a brief period late in his career. The collection contains several examples of his hand-carved and painted models as well as a few examples of toys that went into commercial production. Papers documenting Newell's patents and the manufacture of his toys are found in Series I. Family memorabilia consists of miscellaneous decorative arts and objects that descended through the family, including Peter Newell's watercolor paintbox and oil palettes, souvenirs from the 1900 Paris Exposition, family pocket watches and the artist's favorite pipe.

Series III. Newell Family Photographs , (Boxes 195-202 and 243-245), is composed of images of the Newell family and their relatives and friends. Because Peter Newell began his career behind the lens, and his son-in-law Howard McCormick was an avid photographer, there is a wealth of photographic material to document the family and their lives. Portraits (candid and formal) of Peter and Leona Newell and their three children are first in the series, filed chronologically under each subject; family group photographs, taken at their homes and summer retreats, follow, with photographs of the Newell family homes (ca. 1895-1945) filed after. A section of pictures of extended family and friends are next, arranged in alphabetical order then chronologically within.

Three smaller segments fill out the series: Leonia society pictures, which include school groups, events, village scenes and a portrait collection; miscellaneous places and unidentified people; and glass plate negatives. Photographers are identified in the listing whenever known, and include such notables as William Henry Jackson and Peter Juley. Of particular interest are the sets of photographs made of Peter Newell at work in his home studio in Leonia (ca. 1904-1905), images of social events within the Leonia artistic community, and a class picture at the Art Students League in New York.

Further photographic holdings are found in Series VI (Alfred Baker Sr. Papers) and VII (Howard McCormick Papers) but they do not include images of Newell or his children. In addition, a group of photographs by photographer William Henry Jackson can be found in Series X.

Series IV. Clendenon Sheaf Newell Papers , (Boxes 203-205 and 246-248), consists of his correspondence with his sisters, extended family and friends; personal papers including school, college and military records, medals and ephemera; a few examples of his creative work (short stories, architectural drawings, etc.); and material related to his death, burial and memorials. Extensive correspondence between Clendenon Newell and his parents is filed in Series I. His letters from Cornell University and the material in Series IV, particularly his college scrapbook, provide good documentation of pre-war campus life. Personal Papers includes a group of "personal effects," objects and ephemera that were taken from Sgt. Newell's body by the U.S. Army and returned to the family.

Series V. Marcus and Helen Newell Gordon Family Papers , (Boxes 206-207), contains the correspondence and personal papers of the Gordons and of Mrs. Gordon's daughter, Helen (Betty) Louise Baker Cosgrove. The Gordons's correspondence and papers span nearly their entire lifetimes, and include some juvenile letters and drawings as well as, in Marcus Gordon's files, a collection of twenty-three Victorian valentines and locks of his baby hair. Correspondence between the Gordons begins in 1923 when Helen Newell Baker moved to Reno, Nevada, in order to obtain a divorce from her husband Alfred. There are a few particularly poignant letters in this series written by Marcus Gordon to Helen and to his parents that describe the final days and hours of Peter Newell as he lay dying at home in January 1924.

Betty Baker Cosgrove's papers include letters from Charles Edward Smith, the noted jazz historian, who describes the music and art scene from his home in Woodstock, New York, in the early 1930s. Both Mrs. Cosgrove and her mother corresponded with the Benon family in France, maintaining a fifty-year relationship that was begun when Helen Newell first went to Paris in 1905 and continued when Betty Baker studied there in the 1930s.

Series VI. Alfred Zantzinger Baker Sr. Papers , (Boxes 208-209 and 249-252), holds little in the way of correspondence with the exception of a group of letters from his friend, journalist Walter Karig. The personal papers subseries contains several interesting ephemeral pieces including a passport and visa for Baker's trip to Haiti in 1895, patent papers, sheet music and evidence of his life as an artist in Paris. The series includes many photographs of Baker taken over his lifetime, and an extensive selection of clippings, tearsheets, proofs and book dummies that document his work. Information concerning Baker's estate can be found in Series VIII with the papers of his son, Alfred, Jr.

Series VII. Howard McCormick Papers , (Boxes 210-211 and 253-255), includes correspondence with family members and friends; personal papers; writings by and about the artist; exhibition catalogues and reviews; photographs of and by the artist; and samples of his work, in both original and reproduction forms. The bulk of McCormick's papers and personal effects (including his engraving tools, wood blocks, etc.) are at Cornell University's Carl A. Kroch Library where they were placed by Alfred Baker Jr. on behalf of the McCormick family.

Series VIII. Alfred Zantzinger Baker Jr. Papers , (Boxes 212-224), provide remarkably comprehensive coverage of the life and times of Peter Newell and virtually no information, beyond a few clues, about Alfred Baker. The series has been arranged in two subseries, the Peter Newell Biography Project and a single box of Baker's Personal Correspondence and Papers.

A grandson of the artist, Baker intended to write a biography of Newell and spent much of his life amassing documentation for which has been sorted and organized into the Peter Newell Biography Project. Within this subseries, the documents are classified as Administrative Files, Biographical Writings (primarily outlines and drafts of Baker's unfinished biography), and Research Files, with the latter forming the largest category (11 boxes).

The Administrative Files contain correspondence with Yale University and other institutions regarding the placement of the Newell Family Papers, as well as Baker's reader cards and receipts for expenses relating to his research. Biographical Writings contains drafts and outlines of his unfinished biography of Peter Newell.

Compiled over a forty-year period by Baker, with the help of his mother and step-father, the Research Files contain correspondence with and clippings on nearly everyone who had any personal or professional relationship with Peter Newell. Baker also researched the areas of the country where the artist, his ancestors and his relatives lived or traveled, and gathered primary and secondary source material on those places and their inhabitants. Following clues found in Newell's correspondence and personal papers, Baker tracked down people (or their descendants) associated with the artist, then wrote introductory letters followed up with tailored, situation-specific questionnaires that served as an interview covering every aspect of their knowledge of Newell, his habits and the society in which he lived. Baker's files contain clippings and obituaries on these correspondents as well, and hold a wealth of information that provides a context for Peter Newell's life and activities.

The files have been arranged either by the subject's relationship to Newell or by the area of the country where Newell made their acquaintance, beginning with a set of files on the authors and publishers associated with Newell's illustrations, one on Newell's corporate clients, and one on his family members. Next follow files on the locales important in Newell's life, and their residents and institutions, arranged by state and then by town or city within. The most extensive and comprehensive files concern the New Jersey town of Leonia; it is here that Baker's investigative work is probably the most valuable, for he collected not only information on the people who made up that community, but also their personal descriptions, recollections and feelings about life there in the period 1890-1920.

Baker's research files conclude with miscellaneous research material, containing biographical material on other artists, opinions of Newell solicited from his contemporaries, and correspondence with other institutions and collectors holding Peter Newell books and drawings.

Series VIII ends with Baker's Personal Correspondence and Papers (non-Peter Newell related) which includes material regarding the settlement of estate of his father, Alfred Z. Baker Sr.

Series IX. Work by Other Artists , (Boxes 225-233), holds drawings, paintings, prints and sculpture by Newell's friends and contemporaries. Some of the work was created for periodicals, and the collection is particularly strong on illustrations published in Harper's magazines in the year 1898. A few of these illustrations can be seen hanging on the walls in photographs of Newell's home studio. Other works were gifts made to the Baker children by Leonia artists.

Series X. William Henry Jackson Photographs , (Boxes 234-239), contains a selection of sixty-six mounted mammoth-plate prints of the American West and Mexico by Jackson. Provenance is undocumented but it is thought that the photographs might have been acquired by Peter Newell while he was living in Colorado in 1888.


  • 1840 - 1986
  • Majority of material found within 1884 - 1950


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 256 (film negatives): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Peter Newell Family Papers are 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

The collection came to the Beinecke Library from Newell's grandson, Alfred Z. Baker Jr., through a series of deposits and gifts over a twenty year period beginning in 1965.

Associated Materials

Please see the Description of the Papers for information about books.


371.5 Linear Feet ((255 boxes) + 47 art, 16 broadside, 1 cold storage)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The Peter Newell Family Papers consists of correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, photographs, drawings, paintings, prints, toys, and sculpture by or relating to Peter Newell and his family, including his sons-in-law Howard McCormick and Alfred Z. Baker. Correspondence files contain letters from artists, writers, and editors of the period; family in Kansas, Illinois, New Jersey; Clendenon Sheaf Newell at Cornell University; as well as family friends Frances Sage Bradley, Walter Karig and Charles Edward Smith. The collection includes over 3,000 sketches, preparatory drawings, finished illustrations, printed proofs and tearsheets for Newell's book and magazine work. Also included are 67 mammoth plate photographs of the American West and Mexico by William Henry Jackson, presumably acquired by Newell.


Peter Newell liked to say that he and the Civil War both broke out in this country at the same time. He was born near Rice's Corners, McDonough County, Illinois, on March 5, 1862, the fourth child of George Frederick Newell, an Ohioan, and Louisa Dodge of Chautauqua County, New York. His childhood years were spent in Bushnell, a small town in west-central Illinois. After graduation from the local high school in May 1880, Newell made his way to Jacksonville, a city west of Springfield. There he joined the Clendenon & Nichols photography studio and got his professional start as a crayon portraitist copying and enhancing photographs. By the spring of 1883 he had moved east to New York, where he enrolled in classes at the Art Students League while hoping to find steady employment as an illustrator for periodicals. His work had been published in the New York Graphic and Harper's Bazaar by the fall of 1883; the appearance of his simple line drawn comics was the beginning of a career in humor that would make Peter Newell one of the more prolific and best-known illustrators of his day.

Newell returned to Illinois in 1884 and opened a studio in Springfield. Soon after, he came back to Jacksonville and there, on February 5, 1885, married Leona Dow Ashcraft, whom he had met while working with Clendenon & Nichols. For the next several years the Newells alternated between winters in New York, where Newell continued his studies at the Art Students League, and summers in Illinois. In the early summer of 1887 they made a trip to Bloomington, Nebraska, to visit Peter Newell's sister Amanda Nankivel and her family, staying through the birth of their first child, Helen Louise, on September 18, 1887. That fall the Newell family moved west to Colorado and spent a year living in Colorado City and near Manitou. By early 1889 the family was based in Chicago, where their second daughter, Josephine, was born on March 10th. Another move brought them back east to New York; they settled first on East 83rd Street in Manhattan, and then in 1891, on Franklin Avenue in the Morrisania area of The Bronx where their next door neighbors were Horace and Frances Sage Bradley. Horace J. Bradley (1862-1896), whose acquaintance Newell had made at the Art Students League, was an illustrator and the art editor for Harper's Monthly and Weekly. Newell commuted to Manhattan where he shared studio space on lower Fifth Avenue with the artist George Breck. The Newell family was complete with the birth of their third child, their son Clendenon Sheaf Newell, on June 22, 1892.

In the fall of 1893 the family followed Horace Bradley's lead and moved to Leonia, New Jersey, a bucolic village on the western slope of the Palisades across the Hudson River from upper Manhattan. Purchasing a lot and working with a New York architect, Newell had a house built which included sufficient studio workspace on the top floor. The family moved into their new home in 1894. The house was featured in the Building Edition of Scientific American ("An Artist's Home at Leonia, New Jersey," January 1898) and appeared on a commercially-produced picture postcard.

Over the next twenty years Leonia grew to become an illustrators' colony much like the one centered around the Pyle-Wyeth group near Wilmington, Delaware. The lively community of artists formed clubs, theatrical and lecture societies, and held exhibitions, costume parties and pageants. The Leonia School of Illustration was opened in 1915 by artists Harvey Dunn and Charles Chapman. The Newell family participated in all aspects of the intellectual, musical, religious and social life of the community. Peter Newell was a founding member of the Men's Neighborhood Club of Leonia and served on the village's first Board of Health. He played the cello, though apparently not well, and was a popular toastmaster and lecturer known for his "chalk talks" and other impromptu presentations. Both of the Newell daughters married illustrators, and Howard and Josephine Newell McCormick became leading members of the second generation of artists to live and work in Leonia.

Like other artists of his generation, Peter Newell made sketching trips to Europe and New England over the years, painting rural and coastal scenes in watercolors and oils. He also took regular fishing trips, often to South Carolina where he would stay at the home of his niece Luella Newell Worthen near Charleston. While his life was greatly enriched with the addition of his sons-in-law and five grandchildren, Peter Newell was devastated by the death of his only son, Clendenon, in World War I. Despite this personal setback he continued working from his home creating illustrations for Harper's, McClure's, and Collier's and spent part of his summers in Connecticut with the McCormicks, fishing and painting the landscape. The Newells left Leonia in the spring of 1923 and purchased a home in Little Neck, a suburb-like area of Queens, New York. By the end of that year Peter Newell had become physically crippled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was unable to work; he died in his home on January 15, 1924, at the age of 61.

Peter Newell's reputation as a humorist was well established by the 1890s. Since 1884, his pen-and-ink comics had been appearing regularly in the Harper magazines Bazaar (spelled Bazar in Newell's time), Monthly, Weekly, and Young People, and in other papers like St. Nicholas, all of which had humor pages at the end of each issue. Usually his single-frame drawings were published along with those of other illustrators; occasionally the editors would fill a full page with Newell's pictures. Visual puns and word plays were his metier, and his humor was broad and gentle as he poked fun at all of the popular stereotypes of the day: "darkies" in any context, urban or rural; the Irish; the Chinese; and "chappies," the upper-class men who were portrayed in the trappings of their society. Holidays were source material for a Newell comic or reflection, especially Valentine's and New Year's days. His specialties were, however, children and animals, and some of his best work featured them at play and at mischief.

By 1893 the development of halftone reproduction had made possible the style of illustration for which Newell is best remembered, the continuous tone drawing. His single-frame comics underscored with short, whimsical rhymes began appearing in Harper's Monthly and other magazines at this time. He was catapulted to fame by one in particular, "Wild Flowers," which appeared in the August 1893 issue of Harper's Monthly; several of these comics were compiled in one volume as Peter Newell's Pictures and Rhymes, published by Harper in 1900. Soon nearly every issue of most of the Harper magazines, as well as some Cosmopolitan, Metropolitan, McClure's, and Collier's, carried a Newell comic or a Newell-illustrated story by authors such as John Kendrick Bangs, Stephen Crane, Philip Curtiss, Burges Johnson, Frank Stockton and Mark Twain.

Peter Newell remained a freelance artist throughout his career. He produced work for books and periodicals for a number of publishers, though much of his work was done for Harper & Brothers. The firm commissioned him to find humor for Harper's Weekly at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago and the 1900 International Exposition at Paris, with both trips resulting in series of half-page comics covering the wonders of those fairs. Another series ran in Harper's Bazaar in 1894, and featured the Biddleby family as they fell in among the social set in the great tourist points of the northeast such as Newport and Block Island. Newell was the artist chosen, as well, when the company decided to publish updated editions of Lewis Carroll's classic books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and The Hunting of the Snark, for the children of the new century. Newell's interpretations of Alice and the books' other characters were very different from the Tenniel drawings the public had grown used to. His vision of Alice was inspired by his daughter Jo, and his illustrations with their modern, dark-haired young girl created a stir when the first volume was released in 1901. The artist wrote to explain his concept of Carroll's figures in an October 1901 issue of Harper's Monthly Magazine, and went on to illustrate the next two books. In the end, the boxed "Peter Newell Edition" proved very popular, and stands as some of his best efforts in book illustration.

Though he illustrated over forty books and nearly two hundred magazine articles for other authors, Newell is perhaps best known for the six novelty children's books that he wrote and illustrated himself: Topsys and Turvys published in two editions in 1893 and 1894; A Shadow Show of 1896; The Hole Book of 1908; The Slant Book of 1910; and The Rocket Book of 1912. The first two, Topsys and Turvys, contain pictures and accompanying rhymes that are meant to be read from opposite directions on the page. A Shadow Show was another interactive book, requiring the reader to hold the verso of each page up to a light source in order to see the silhouette of a second image. The other three volumes appeared later in his career, and made use of unique formats to celebrate mischief and mayhem. The Slant Book features a parallelogram shape and tilted text inspired by the story of a run-away baby carriage. The Hole Book and The Rocket Book each have as their design centerpiece a hole punched through the pages to show how projectiles, a bullet and rocket, disrupted the characters in the stories told within. Newell received patents for these books, and except for A Shadow Show, all have been reprinted since the 1960s. Toward the end of his life, Peter Newell ventured briefly, and unsuccessfully, out of the two-dimensional world to create a line of patented three-dimensional action toys for children.

In addition to his work for periodicals and books, Newell produced a number of illustrations for corporate advertising including a set of colorful broadsides and hang-tags for a Hires' root beer campaign (ca. 1906), a booklet of jingles promoting Borax (1904), and a series of ads for Primley's California Chewing Gum (1894). Newell also appeared as a celebrity spokesman on behalf of Prince Albert pipe tobacco (The Saturday Evening Post, April 1914).

The gentle humor and popular appeal of his work made Newell a favorite subject of magazine and newspaper feature writers. From the earliest published profile by Albert Lee in 1896, to the comprehensive biographical essay by Michael Patrick Hearn in 1983, Newell and his work have been analyzed for nearly a century. During his lifetime interviews and articles appeared fairly regularly in periodicals as diverse as The New York Times and the newsletter of the Men's Bible Class of the Bushnell, Illinois, Presbyterian Church. He was a favorite among his peers as well. The artist Howard Chandler Christy wrote to Alfred Baker in 1944: "I have the greatest admiration for him, his work, etc...perhaps a man's work best describes the man - for in it he is most natural and from this angle - we all loved Peter Newell."


One of eight children of Albert and Helen Russell Ashcraft, Leona Ashcraft was born on April 6, 1861, and was raised in Malta, Illinois, a small town west of Chicago. She was visiting in Jacksonville when she met Peter Newell, who was at the time working there as a photographer and artist. They were married in Jacksonville in 1885, and her life was closely entwined with Newell's from that point on.

Leona Newell provided the element of stability in an otherwise whimsical household, which at certain times and places included a variety of boarders: Peter's sister Amanda Newell Nankivel and her children Claude, Fred, and Guy; Bera Smith and Roy Hooper, the daughter and son of two of Leona Newell's sisters; and Helen Newell Baker and her two children. In addition, she was well-loved by Leonia's artistic community.

After her husband's death in 1924 Leona Newell remained in her home at Little Neck with her daughter Helen and new son-in-law Marcus Gordon, except for a period of time when she returned to Leonia to care for her daughter Josephine McCormick and family. She moved with the Gordons to their new home in Mill Neck, New York, in the late 1930s and died there on October 20, 1954, at the age of 93.


Helen was the eldest of the Newell's three children. She was born in Bloomington, Nebraska, on September 18, 1887, and by the age of seven had lived with her parents in Colorado, Chicago, and The Bronx before the family settled in Leonia, New Jersey. In 1905, while still in her teens, Helen stunned her family by running away to Paris with Alfred Z. Baker, an illustrator and friend of her father who was seventeen years her senior. The Bakers produced two children during their short-lived marriage, Alfred Jr., (known as Tony, born in Paris on January 17, 1907) and Helen Louise (called Betty, born in Nutley, New Jersey, on June 27, 1910). The marriage had foundered by 1912 but was not legally dissolved until Helen Baker moved to Reno, Nevada, in 1923, met the state's residency requirement, and obtained a divorce. On March 8, 1924, within days of the decree, she was married to Marcus Acheson Gordon, the brother of her brother Clendenon's Cornell University roommate Robert (Stubby) Gordon. The Gordons were from a prominent family in western Pennsylvania. Marcus Gordon also attended Cornell and worked in the chemical industry, first for the Standard Chemical Company of Pittsburgh (1913-1915) and afterward for the American Chicle Company from 1915 until his retirement in 1951.

The Gordons had no children of their own, but provided a home for Leona Newell and Tony Baker after the death of Peter Newell in 1924. The family relocation from Leonia to Little Neck, Queens, was made necessary by the State of New Jersey's refusal to recognize Helen Newell Baker's divorce and subsequent remarriage. In the late 1930s the Gordons purchased a home in Mill Neck, a town on Long Island's north shore. During the 1960s they moved into a life care community in Hightstown, New Jersey, where they resided until their deaths, Helen on October 16, 1969, and Marcus on February 6, 1971. The Gordons' ashes were interred in Marcus Gordon's hometown of Brookville, Pennsylvania, along with those of Peter and Leona Newell.


Baker was the son of a Baltimore industrialist. He was educated at the local schools and received art training at the Baltimore Charcoal Club, with continuing study in Paris at the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. A tall and eccentric man with a keen interest in primitive cultures, Baker worked from Paris as a humorist-illustrator, publishing comics in magazines such as Life, Judge, Puck and Scribner's. After marrying Mary Simmons in 1897, he collaborated with her and A. Crawford on a children's book, Animal Jokes, which was published in 1899. Peter Newell made the acquaintance of the Bakers in 1900 when he came to Paris to draw the International Exposition for Harper's Weekly. Their friendship continued when the Bakers returned to America, with Newell visiting at their home in Baltimore in 1901. Alfred Baker brought his wife to live in Leonia, New Jersey, by 1905, sharing quarters in a barn there with fellow illustrator Art Young. Soon after his arrival, he fell in love with the Newells's teenage daughter, Helen, and the community was startled when the two eloped to Paris in the spring of 1905.

Baker's work found an audience in France; he regularly published comics featuring his distinctive animal characters, and signed with his double-B monogram, in periodicals such as Rire, Bon Vivant, and Pele-Mele. The Bakers returned to the United States in 1908. After residing for a time in New York, they purchased a home in Nutley, New Jersey, and lived there with their two children, Tony (Alfred, Jr.) and Betty (Helen Louise). Problems in the marriage propelled Helen Baker's flight, with her children, to her parents' Leonia home in 1912; divorce proceedings followed, but the marriage was not legally ended until 1924.

Alfred Baker Sr., wrote and illustrated three children's books: The Moving-Picture Book (1911), The Moving-Picture Glue Book (1912), and The Torn Book (1913). Later he developed other animal-theme books, patented several toys and wrote music and stories, but his career never regained momentum after his estrangement from the Newell family. He died on Christmas Day 1940, in Newark, New Jersey.


An Indiana-born painter and printmaker, Howard McCormick was the husband of Peter Newell's younger daughter Josephine (always known as Jo). McCormick was educated in the public schools in Indiana. He was trained as an artist in oils, watercolor and etching at the Indianapolis School of Art with William Forsyth, with William Merritt Chase in New York and Shinnecock Hills (1899-1900), and at the Academie Julian in Paris (1901-1902).

His first published work appeared in the Indianapolis News where he illustrated stories and feature articles from 1895-1898. Returning to New York after his study in Paris, McCormick found ready employment as an illustrator for magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Metropolitan, The Century Magazine, The Mentor, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal. He took up wood engraving in 1907 and inspired a revival of that once-popular illustrative technique. McCormick also revived interest in gesso painting, a medium he used extensively in his many public and private mural commissions as well as in his easel paintings.

He was very much interested in Native American cultures, and Indian themes were prevalent in his work. Over the years, McCormick made sketching trips to Mexico and the American southwest which provided inspiration and information for his paintings, most notably for the series of dioramas he created with the sculptor (and fellow Leonia resident) Mahonri Young for the American Museum of Natural History in New York (1915-1925). McCormick was an early member of the Painter-Gravers of America, a member of the Stowaways and the Salmagundi Club, and exhibited in museums and galleries throughout his lifetime. He was an associate member of the National Academy of Design, and for a time kept a studio in the New York Life Building.

Howard McCormick had taken up residence in Leonia, New Jersey, upon the recommendation of fellow illustrators who had made that community their home, a move that brought him in contact with the Newell family. McCormick married Jo Newell at her parents' home on May 16, 1911. Their wedding was covered in a New York paper partly because both the artist and his wife were popular members of the Leonia social set, but also because Jo had, as a child, achieved a certain fame as the model for Alice in her father's interpretation of Lewis Carroll's books.

The McCormicks' three children, Peter Newell, Sally Bryce and Nancy Helen, were born and raised in Leonia, and spent summer months in Connecticut where the family rented or owned property in Westport and Riverton. In 1923 the family moved into Peter Newell's Leonia house when the Newells relocated to Little Neck, New York. Howard and Jo McCormick eventually moved to Manhattan, where the artist died October 16, 1943, at the age of 66. Thereafter, Jo McCormick made her home with her daughter Sally in Pelham, New York. Like her father, she was deeply affected by the death of her brother Clendenon in 1918 and, too, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis before passing away on May 29, 1948.


The third child born to Peter and Leona Newell, Clen was named for photographer Louis Clendenon, Peter Newell's first employer and family friend in Jacksonville, Illinois. A popular and athletic boy, Clen showed artistic inclinations at an early age and, following his graduation from Englewood High School in 1912, enrolled at Cornell University to study architecture. While at college, where he was known as "Pete," he joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, participated in university track meets, and was active in the campus social scene. He left the university at the close of his third year, returned to Leonia, and took a sales position with The Evening Mail. Later he worked for a brief period as a draftsman for the Texas Company; both firms were in New York City.

After repeated attempts to join the military service, including a stint at officer's training school in Virginia and time in the New Jersey reserves, Clen was inducted into the Army in April 1918; three weeks later he left Fort Dix, New Jersey, for duty on the French front. He was killed in action on October 30, 1918, twelve days before the armistice. Two weeks after the war ended the Newells were notified by telegram that Clen's death had occurred a month before. It was a terrible blow to the family, a tragedy that was only compounded as the U.S. War Department attempted to account for Clen's remains and provide a suitable memorial for him in France. A permanent grave marker was finally erected in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and the affair was brought to a close in 1923. The Leonia community paid tribute to their fallen son in the spring of 1919 by naming after him their newly organized American Legion, the Sergeant Clendenon Newell Post No. 1. It was the first post established in the State of New Jersey.


"Tony" Baker was born in Paris, France on January 17, 1907, the first of two children of Helen Newell and Alfred Baker. He came to the United States as a baby with his parents, and was raised in his grandparents' home in Leonia after his parents' marriage broke apart. Baker completed the Leonia Grammar School, and graduated from Flushing High School in Queens in 1927. He worked for a brief time during the 1930s in a Hartford, Connecticut, bookstore, but otherwise devoted his life to compiling documentation about Peter Newell, a project that spanned more than forty years. The biography of Newell that he intended to write never materialized.

Baker lived with or near his grandmother, mother and stepfather all of their lives. After Marcus Gordon's death in 1971, Baker moved to a life care community in Southbury, Connecticut, so that he would be closer to the Newell collection and research files which he had begun placing on deposit at Yale University in 1965. He made one visit to the campus in June of 1970 and died in 1987 without ever having returned.


(principal correspondents emphasized)

George Frederick NEWELL (1832-1926) m. 1851 Louisa Dodge (1829- )
.....Charles Henry (1852-1932) m. 1872 Henrietta Taylor
.....Oliver (Vern) Frederick (1854- ) m. 1882 Etta Patton
...............Floyd T. (1884-1952) m. Laura
...............LOUELLA (1887- ) m. 1898 Jesse WORTHEN (1873-1957)
....................children: F. Richard, Frances Lucile, Jesse Mae
.....AMANDA (1857-1939) m. Milton NANKIVEL
...............John Frederick (1876-1950) m. 1899 Anna Barrett
....................child: Claudine m. Harold Cooke
...............CLAUDE (1879-1959) m. 1903 Clara McKnight (d. 1943)
....................................m. 1945 Agnes Cahalan
...............Guy (ca. 1885- ) m. Gertrude John (sister of Alice John)
....................children: Mary, Alice
.....PETER Sheaf Hersey (1862-1924) m. 1885 LEONA D. ASHCRAFT
...............HELEN Louise (1887-1969) m. 1908 ALFRED Z. BAKER
..........................................m. 1924 MARCUS A. GORDON
....................ALFRED (Tony) Z. Jr., (1907-1989)
....................HELEN (Betty) Louise (1910- ) m. 1945 Warner G. Cosgrove, Jr.
...............JOSEPHINE (1890-1948) m. 1911 HOWARD MCCORMICK
....................Peter Newell (1912- ) m.
....................Sally Bryce (1914- ) m. Garrit Lydecker
.........................children: Nancy Jo, John, Robert, Laura
....................Nancy Helen (1920-1990) m. 1953 Gherald D. Scott, Jr.
.........................children: Robert Bryce, Gherald D. III
...............CLENDON Sheaf (1892-1918)


(principal correspondents emphasized)

ALBERT ASHCRAFT (d. 1892) m. Helen Russell
.....Solon (1852- ) m. Elizabeth Smith
............four children
.....Alva (1854-1913) m. Antoinette Ellithorpe
.....Burton (1856- ) m. Mary Melvin
.....Louella (1859-1948) m. RICHARD HOOPER (d. ca. 1885)
.........................m. William (Tom) John Hooper
...............Mattie (1871-1880)
...............Leroy (b. ca. 1882)
.....LEONA Dow (1861-1954) m. 1885 PETER NEWELL
.....Charles (1864-1926) m.
.....Edna (1866-1900) m. [?] Smith
.....Marion (May) (1869- ) m. 1895 Frank Edwin Reynolds


1861 Apr 6 -- Leona Dow Ashcraft born, Malta, IL

1862 Mar 5 -- Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell born, Rice's Corners, McDonough Co., IL

1880 May 7 -- Newell graduates from Bushnell High School, Bushnell, IL

1880 fall -- Newell working at Clendenon and Nichols, Jacksonville, IL

1883 Mar -- Newell studying at Art Students League

1884 Jan 2 -- Newell living at 111 East 26th St, New York

1885 Feb 5 -- Peter Newell and Leona Ashcraft marry, Jacksonville

1885 summer -- Newells house-sit for Henry Storrs, Jacksonville

1885 Oct -- Newells living at 40 Lexington Avenue, New York

1885 Dec -- Newells living at 222 East 27th Street, New York

1886 summer -- Newells house-sit for Henry Storrs, Jacksonville

1887 Jan 24 -- Newell enrolled at Art Students League

1887 spring -- Newells living in Bushnell

1887 June 4 -- Newell buys lot in Bloomington, NE

1887 Sep 18 -- Helen Newell born, Bloomington

1887 Dec -- Newells living in Colorado Springs, CO

1888 Jan -- Newell buys lot in Colorado City

1888 summer -- Newells living in Manitou, CO

1888 July 3 -- Newells climb Pike's Peak

1888 Oct -- Newells living at 944 Homan Avenue, Chicago

1889 Mar 10 -- Josephine Newell born in Chicago

1889 Aug -- Newells living at 169 South Lincoln St., Chicago

1890 fall -- Newells living at 112 East 83rd St, New York

1891 Apr 17 -- Newell elected to membership in Art Students League

1891 spring -- Newells living at 1420 Franklin Ave. (near 170th St.), Bronx

1891 fall -- Newell shares studio with George Breck at 96 Fifth Ave., New York

1891 Dec -- Newells join Congregational Church, Bronx

1892 Jun 22 -- Clendenon Sheaf Newell born in New York

1893 – Topsys and Turvys published

1893 spring -- Newells look for property in Leonia, NJ

1893 Mar-May -- Newell exhibits at National Academy of Design annual show

1893 June -- Newells visit Malta, IL

1893 summer -- Newell at Chicago Worlds Fair

1893 Aug -- "Wild Flowers" published in Harper's Monthly

1893 Sept -- Newells rent house in Leonia

1894 -- Newells build house in Leonia

1896 – A Shadow Show published

1897 fall -- Newell on sketching trip in France and Holland

1899 Aug -- Newell on sketching trip in Gloucester, MA

1900 Jan -- Newell has one-man show, Keppel Gallery, New York

1900 Apr-Jul -- Newell in Paris for the Exposition

1900 May 17 -- Newell meets Alfred Z. Baker in Paris

1901 fall – Alice in Wonderland published

1902 -- Newell visits Los Angeles

1902 fall – Through the Looking Glass published

1903 fall – Hunting of the Snark published

1905 -- Helen Newell runs away to Paris with Alfred Baker

1907 Jan 17 -- Alfred (Tony) Z. Baker Jr. born in Paris

1908 Oct – The Hole Book published

1909 fall -- "Peter Newell Calendar" published

1910 Jun 27 -- Helen (Betty) Baker born in Nutley, NJ

1910 Jun-Jul -- Newell visiting in Charleston, SC

1910 Nov – The Slant Book published

1911 May 16 -- Josephine Newell marries Howard McCormick in Leonia

1912 Jan 27 -- Peter Newell McCormick born in Leonia

1912 June -- Newell in Chicago for Republican National Convention

1912 June -- Newell in Baltimore for Democratic National Convention

1912 Sep -- Clendenon Newell goes to Cornell University

1912 Oct – The Rocket Book published

1914 Feb-Apr -- Newell visiting in Charleston, SC

1914 Aug 8? -- Sally Bryce McCormick born in Leonia

1915 May -- Clendenon Newell leaves Cornell University

1916 Mar -- Newell visiting in Charleston, SC

1916 May 14 -- Clendenon Newell reports to Fort Myer, VA, for officer training

1917 Aug 8 -- Clendenon Newell discharged from officer training camp

1917 Aug 25 -- Clendenon Newell enlists in Bergen Battery (reserve)

1918 May 25 -- Clendenon Newell drafted, reports to Fort Dix, NJ

1918 Oct 30 -- Clendenon Newell killed in action in France

1920 May 16 -- Nancy Helen McCormick born in Leonia

1923 spring -- Newell family moves to Little Neck, Queens, NY

1924 Jan 16 -- Peter Newell dies at home in Little Neck

1924 Mar 8 -- Helen Newell Baker marries Marcus A. Gordon

1943 Oct 13 -- Howard McCormick dies

1945 Mar 10 -- Betty Baker marries Warner G. Cosgrove in France

1948 May 29 -- Josephine Newell McCormick dies in Pelham, NY

1954 Oct 20 -- Leona Newell dies in Mill Neck, NY

1969 Oct 16 -- Helen Newell Baker Gordon dies in Hightstown, NJ

1971 Feb 6 -- Marcus Gordon dies in Hightstown

Processing Information

When the collection was processed Alfred Baker Jr.'s papers and research material were separated from the family papers and organized in their own series, with a section for his Peter Newell Biography Project, which falls at the end. One exception was made for the files of published articles written about Newell and his work, where, in order to aid readers, material collected by Baker has been incorporated with clippings that were kept by Newell during his lifetime.

Guide to the Peter Newell Family Papers
by Sandra J. Markham
April 1994
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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