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William Dwight Whitney family papers

Call Number: MS 555
Scope and Contents

The major part of this collection consists of the correspondence of William Dwight Whitney (1827-1894). There are also many letters of his brother Josiah Dwight Whitney (1819-1896). The academic careers of these two brothers were responsible, along with many other scholars represented in this collection, for the tremendous rise in the reputation of American scholarship which took place in the later nineteenth century.

William Dwight Whitney, Sanskritist and linguist began his teaching career at Yale in 1854 where he later organized and became the head of the modern language department of the Sheffield Scientific School. Among the numerous positions of honor which he held were the presidency of the American Oriental Society, foreign Knight of the Royal Prussian Order pour is mérite (succeeding Thomas Carlyle), and first president of the American Philological Association. (Extensive correspondence deals with all of the above.)

Nationally and internationally, Whitney gained prominence as Editor of the Century Dictionary, a position which made him the undisputed authority on the forth and usage of the English language in America. A prolonged and often heated dispute with Friedrich Max Müller of Oxford University over the origin and development of language earned for him the title of the champion of American scholarship here and in Europe. This verbal battle which is completely described in the collection was closely followed by the press with the result that Müller gained popular sympathy while Whitney was supported by many scientific scholars including Charles Darwin.

The personal letters of William Dwight Whitney are rich in New Haven and genealogical history. Mrs. Whitney was the daughter and sister of the Connecticut governors Roger Sherman Baldwin and Simeon Eben Baldwin and a cousin of Senator George Hoar and Edward Everett Hale. Whitney's sons, Edward Baldwin Whitney married Josepha Newcomb, the daughter of Simon Newcomb. Thus the Whitney family was linked with many of the most prominent families in America.

The correspondence of Josiah Dwight Whitney, although not as extensive as that of his brother, furnishes a great deal of information of the first systematic exploration and mapping of the American West. Most popularly known for his discovery of Mount Whitney while state geologist for the state of California, he published numerous scientific works and held an appointment to the faculty of Harvard University from 1865 until his death. Included in his letters is a revealing account of Benjamin Silliman's position in the controversial Emma Mine scandal.

This collection consists of 56 containers, holding approximately 35,000 items. The principal donors were the daughters of William Dwight Whitney. All items are catalogued individually.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. 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

Gift of the daughters of William Dwight Whitney, 1894-1959, and purchased from John Elliott, 1982.

Majority of material found within 1814 - 1912
25.5 Linear Feet (57 boxes, 1 folio)
Related Names
Whitney, William Dwight, 1827-1894
Language of Materials