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Robert Porter Keep Papers

Call Number: MS 1316
Scope and Contents

The Robert Porter Keep papers contain correspondence and memorabilia documenting the personal and professional life of Robert Porter Keep, a teacher of Greek and a school administrator. The papers also document the life and work of other members of the Keep, Porter, and Haines families including Sarah Porter (1813-1900), founder of Miss Porter's School; Samuel Porter (1810-1901) and John R. Keep, both teachers of the deaf; and Margaret Haines Keep, the first wife of Robert Porter Keep. The papers are of most interest to researchers of 19th century education, social life in Hartford and Farmington, Connecticut, family history, and domestic relations. There are also several references to 19th century medical treatments. The papers reflect a social circle of highly educated, religious people, who were deeply committed to education and educational excellence.

The Keep papers were purchased in 1981. Additional correspondence of Keep, Porter, and Haines family members is found in the Sarah Porter Papers housed in the library of Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut.

The Keep papers are arranged in three series by family. Series I, KEEP FAMILY, is the largest series and contains all letters to or from Robert Porter Keep, as well as correspondence of other Keep family members and family memorabilia. Series II, HAINES FAMILY, is composed almost entirely of the correspondence of Margaret Haines Keep. A few items belonging to other Haines family members are also included in the series. Series III, PORTER FAMILY, contains primarily the correspondence of Samuel Porter, though other family members are represented in correspondence and memorabilia.

The KEEP FAMILY series chronicles the life of Robert Porter Keep from his departure for Yale College in the fall of 1861 until his engagement to his second wife, Elizabeth V. Hale, in 1895. The most complete correspondence and the most useful in terms of documenting Robert Porter Keep's life is that with his parents John R. and Rebecca Porter Keep. At Yale Keep was a serious student, and in his letters from college he often writes of his work and occasional despondency over his own failures. The parents letters are full of their preoccupation with Robert's health, and advice on diet, manners, deportment, and religious piety. Letters from 1864 describe brother Willie's urinary disease and surgical treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Keeps were familiar with prominent families in Hartford society such as the Beechers and the Stowes, and in their letters there is frequent news of affairs in Hartford, especially within the church, and also news of the Porter family in Farmington and of the fortunes of friends and neighbors serving in the Union Army. John Keep occasionally writes of his own work at the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in Hartford.

After graduating from Yale in 1865 Keep left New Haven to teach at the West Point school for staff children. There are few letters from Keep at this time to explain his work or his feelings about teaching, but after Keep returned to Yale for graduate training (1867-1868) and later there are letters (in the chronological file) from former students. In the chronological file there are also letters from classmates, many of whom also went on to teaching positions. The letters from one classmate, William Scranton, are of particular note (folder 28). He returned to Scranton, Pennsylvania after graduation to go into his father's iron and steel business. The letters contain occasional references to labor relations, strikes, and new developments in the steel industry. Letters from Keep's parents continue to be solicitous of his health and future occupation and show interest in Keep's work with the Sunday School in New Haven.

In 1870 Keep went abroad, first as U.S. Counsel in Piraeus, Greece and then for further study in Germany. There are few letters about his work in Greece, but more lengthy ones from Germany along with some bills for purchases of books and clothing. Keep's sister Elizabeth, referred to as Lizzie, came to visit him in Germany in 1873, and her letters to sister Mary and their parents (filed in Other Keep Family) give more details of their social life and customs. While Keep was still abroad his sister Mary died (February, 1874), and it is in correspondence with his Aunt Sarah Porter that one can learn of her lingering disease and the prescribed treatment.

Rebecca Keep's letters of 1884 describe their courtship and housekeeping. In the years that follow there are letters concerning the births of Robert Porter Keep's children and condolences on the loss of an infant in 1889.

In 1885 the Keep family moved to Norwich, Connecticut where Keep became principal of the Norwich Free Academy. A few letters of application and recommendations for applicants for teaching positions, in the chronological file in 1890, reflect Keep's administrative responsibilities.

The folders "Other Keep" at the end of the series contain letters to John and Rebecca Keep from their other children, Lizzie, Mary, and Willie, letters from Samuel, Sarah, and Elizabeth Porter to their sister and brother-in-law and to their nieces and nephew, letters between John and Rebecca Keep, and letters to Robert Porter Keep's children, Robin and Dorthea. Letters addressed only to Margaret Haines Keep are in Series II.

The HAINES FAMILY series is composed almost entirely of the correspondence of Margaret Haines Keep with her family and friends, both prior to her marriage and after, though the letters before 1879 are the greater in quantity. All her correspondence with her husband is filed in Series I.

Margaret Haines Keep's major correspondent is her sister, Lillian M. Haines, Their correspondence traces some of the events in Margaret Haines Keep's life and centers on family and social activities in Elizabeth, New Jersey and, after 1882, in Brooklyn, New York. There are also some letters from New Orleans where Margaret spent a winter. Other files contain correspondence with Margaret's mother and brother Ed. In her letters to her mother in 1872 Margaret writes of her life at Miss Porter's School. The files also contain notes from Sarah Porter and from classmates at Miss Porter's School, as well as letters concerning Margaret's initial attempts at housekeeping, the birth of children, and the family move to Norwich, Connecticut in 1885.

The PORTER FAMILY series is composed primarily of Samuel Porter's correspondence and much concerns his business affairs. The series is also interesting as a reflection of the intellectual tenor of Porter family life. Correspondents include: brother Noah, president of Yale College; sister Sarah, founder of Miss Porter's School; and brother-in-law John R. Keep, a fellow teacher of the deaf. The series also includes a small amount of correspondence of family members other than Samuel Porter and some memorabilia from Miss Porter's School (folder 62).

The great bulk of letters from 1867-1869 concerns Samuel Porter's land holdings in Missouri. Correspondents are tenants and prospective purchasers of land in Caputville, Barton County, and their letters often mention local conditions and the financial outlook.

With John Keep, Samuel Porter discussed affairs at the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, where he had been an instructor prior to joining Edward Minor Gallaudet in Washington, D.C. at the National Deaf Mute College. Most of their letters concern asylum finances but in a few letters in 1868 Keep comments on the use of sign language in chapel and experiments to teach deaf students to articulate.

Sarah Porter's letters to her brother convey her sense of mission and religious duty and also her lively intellect and awareness of political happenings. In various letters she writes of her interest in helping a family of black children, her opinions of the Grant administration, and her views of the Beecher case. In 1874 she writes in detail of Mary Keep's illness and death.

Letters of another Porter, nephew Samuel, son of brother Giles, show his struggles to obtain an education while growing up on a farm in Clayton, Iowa, Later he writes from school in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Robert Dalton Harris in 1981.


Arranged in three series: I. Keep Family, 1849-1902; II. Haines Family, 1860-1892; III. Porter Family, 1849, 1864-1883.

1.5 Linear Feet (5 boxes)
Related Names
Keep, Robert P. (Robert Porter), 1844-1904
Language of Materials