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Beer family papers

Call Number: MS 73
Scope and Contents

The Beer Family Papers are divided into six series: Arranged in six series: I. Family: General, 1851-1969. II. William Collins Beer, 1880-1917. III. Thomas Beer, 1897-1947. IV. Alice Baldwin Beer, 1896-1969. V. Richard Cameron Beer, 1901-1959. VI. Linus Caleb Baldwin, 1856-1910.

The papers illustrate the lives of four generations of Beers from the 1850s through the next one hundred years. The pivotal character is William Collins Beer, businessman, lawyer and political lobbyist, although his son, Thomas, the author, is perhaps the most important individual represented in the papers. In addition to the papers of father and son, there are letters and other materials of significance of William's parents and brothers and sisters of Bucyrus, Ohio; of his wife and her family, the Baldwins, of Council Bluffs, Iowa; of his other children, Alice and Richard; and of various other relatives.

The papers of all family members, except those of William, his three children, and Linus Caleb Baldwin, his father-in-law, are filed in the first series, FAMILY: GENERAL. The bulk of the papers of these individuals have been arranged in separate series due to their greater significance and volume. Only their correspondence with other family members, their financial papers and their photographs appear in FAMILY: GENERAL. Family relationships are illustrated in the charts which can be foundhere.


The material in this series is arranged in six sections: Correspondence, Sermons of Reverend Thomas Beer, Financial Files, Personal Files, Photographs, Genealogy and Biography.

Correspondence is arranged by writer in chronological order so as to enable the reader to follow the development of each character and to keep the web of his or her connections clear. In addition to correspondence between family members, there are also letters written by friends or business associates to individual family members. It should be noted that such non-family correspondence is not included for the above-mentioned individuals whose papers are filed in separate series.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when this correspondence begins, the Beers, DePues and Pows, were settled in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. Since almost all were engaged in agriculture, their letters reveal a detailed picture of early farm life in this region. The correspondence among the Baldwin men in the 1850s and 1860s is full of discussion of land grants, moving west, borrowing money, and the prices of produce and stock. Social historians may find the practical details of farming methods, care of cattle, fencing land, and curing of meat of some interest.

At the same time, the letters exchanged among the women of the family form a counterpart to the men's in their discussion of their housewifery and their ways of coping with the ever present problems of illness, childbearing, childlessness and death. Since the women were responsible for preserving the food on these farms, many of their letters contain directions for drying fruit or preserving and pickling produce. One couple, the DePues, set out on their marriage to farm new land in Michigan and their letters tell how they built a temporary log cabin and how they went about clearing and farming their land.

Sickness was prevalent and home doctoring, heroic doses of blistering, mustard plasters and purgatives, and the indiscriminate borrowing of medicines were a common practice. Accounts of childhood diseases, typhoid fever, and even of cholera appear regularly, and remedies are traded as readily as recipes for apple butter. But sickness did not always awaken compassion. A letter from Harriet Pow, dated 29 March 1880, describes one town's reaction to a family with scarlet fever: "They could scarcely hire anyone to help … and with difficulty could get men to carry the coffin.…"

These are church-going and pious families and there are at least two ministers in the family, the Reverend Andrew A. Dinsmore and the Reverend Thomas Beer. Attendance at Sunday services is taken as a matter of course, and the writers frequently mention revival meetings or going to hear a missionary. References to religion appear particularly in the letters of the women, often as they console one another on a death. Alice Boyle, in a different vein, writes during 1861 and 1862 to Linus Caleb Baldwin (whom she married in 1862), exhorting him to become a Christian. Indeed, running through all the letters down through the generation of William Collins Beer are expressions of strong religious belief, frequently and fervently expressed.

The Civil War, although not central in this collection, nevertheless figures in the family history. Nehemiah Scott Baldwin was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga and the account of this event and its aftermath is given by Linus Caleb Baldwin in his letters of late 1863 and early 1864. Briefer references to the war can be found in the letters of Benjamin Pitney Baldwin, Jr. and Lucius Boyle.

The letters of certain members of the family are so numerous that they offer a sustained view into the character of the writer and his relationship with his correspondents. The correspondence of Judge Thomas Beer, who sat on the bench of the Circuit Court of Ohio from 1885 to 1893, runs from 1871 to within a half year of his death in 1910 and is particularly rewarding. Writing almost every day around the turn of the century, as his children leave home to pursue their educations and careers, he sends them entertaining accounts of their neighbors, of events in Bucyrus, and of the fortunes of their livestock, pets and gardens. Although he spent every weekday in his law office from seven in the morning until five in the evening, he managed, with the help of his family, to run a substantial subsistence farm. The sequence of the seasons and the changing diet is evoked in the recitation of the breakfast and dinner menus in his letters. His views on religion, on education for women, on work, on getting ahead and his relationship to his children emerge through his distinctive, ironical style.

His son, William Collins Beer, was another voluminous letter writer, and his letters to his wife offer a powerful, emotional account of a driven, hard-working lawyer for big business, who demanded and received the devotion of his wife. Following the convention of their time, he and his then fiancee, Martha Ann Alice Baldwin, wrote one another every day during their engagement. After their marriage in 1886, he was frequently away on business trips and once again he wrote with unfailing regularity. His correspondence with his three children, Alice, Thomas and Richard, is full of exhortations to pursue excellence and social advantage.

Mrs. Beer wrote almost as steadily as he, both to him and to their children. In the style of an earlier generation, many of her letters include reports on how many jars of fruit or jelly she had put up that day and on her concerns with the physical management of her household. When they traveled together, as they did frequently, she wrote accounts of their trips in letters to the children.

Much of the correspondence of Thomas Beer, the writer, has been carefully preserved, beginning with letters to his aunts when he was seven years old. There is a steady stream of letters from him to his family during his years at Yale, 1907-1911, which are already touched with the traces of his more mature style. They include amusing accounts of his social and fraternity life, punctuated with explanations and sometimes, apologies for what his father insisted was chronic extravagance. During 1917 and 1918, he wrote his family long letters on his army experiences in the United States and France. His letters from the 1920s, although fewer in number, include several on his travels in Europe.

Richard Cameron Beer, Thomas' younger brother, who served in the United States Consular Service until 1925, also wrote home with impressions of his posts in Bermuda, Canada, Cuba, Hungary and England. During the last decades of his life, when he had taken up writing and painting as a career, he wrote frequently to his sister, Alice Baldwin Beer, revealing in an often telling phrase a disappointed and sardonic man.

The letters from the aunts and uncles in Bucyrus to the three Beer children during the 1890s make particularly entertaining reading. They are full of tales of the household pets, farm mishaps and sometimes drawings to illustrate particularly dramatic events. All the brothers and sisters remained in close touch with one another throughout their lives and the unfolding of their careers and characters can be followed in their correspondence.

Several letters in the papers deserve to be singled out as offering particularly striking vignettes of an event or a character. The earliest is by Matilda Jane Jones (filed with "Miscellaneous family letters"), who in rather uncertain spelling writes to her mother of a visit to Boston in 1851. Describing the wonders of a Boston parlor, she writes: "Then on the side fernent there sot a long thing I believe they call it the Sophia. …"

Less amusing, but equally absorbing is a description of Chicago the day after the great fire in a letter from Robert Beer to Judge Thomas Beer, dated 10 October 1871. The letter includes a street map of the "burnt district" as well as the writer's impressions.

In 1901, Robert Caleb Baldwin, brother of Martha A. A. (Baldwin) Beer, traveled to Manila the long way around from New York. He sailed first for London, then took a ship to Bombay, a train across India, and finally a steamer to Manila. His letters to his sister, in which he describes the sights and events of his journey, run to nearly 150 pages in an eccentric but legible hand.

Some of the correspondence with non-family members also offers in-sights into nineteenth-century life. Two collections of letters written to two of the young women are particularly noteworthy. During the 1850s, Tabitha Mary Dinsmore (later the wife of Judge Thomas Beer), attended the Vermillion Institute, a Presbyterian institution of higher learning in Ohio. In a large number of very frank letters, her fellow students write of their feelings, their romances and their expectations for themselves in the world. Several of the young men describe their efforts to make a career, their attitudes towards women, education and marriage. As they move from place to place trying to find a niche for themselves, they describe in homely detail, the discomforts of stagecoach travel, boarding house life and schoolmastering in small towns of Ohio.

A decade later, Alice Boyle spent two years, 1861-1862, at the Mountain Female Seminary in Pennsylvania. When she left in 1862 to marry Linus Caleb Baldwin, her former classmates wrote to her, again on the themes of marriage, career and religion. Since these were the years of the Civil War, many of the letters contain glancing references to its effect, while some relate more direct experiences. One friend, acting as a nurse in Chester, Pennsylvania, writes on 18 August 1862, "I have realized more fully since I came to Chester the horrors of war. It is awful horrible. Several of my cousins and friends have gone to war since I came home. Alice how hard it is to part with them, but I say go, this rebellion must be crushed out if it causes every hearthstone to mourn … There is scarcely a young man left in some parts of the country. The ladies will have to marry the wounded soldiers I guess, or else remain old maids. I think those who have suffered in their country's cause are all the more deserving of the ladies' favor, don't you?"

In the second section of this series, Sermons of Reverend Thomas Beer, there are a number of pieces written between 1829 and 1869. The Reverend Beer, who was the grandfather of William Collins Beer, is also represented by correspondence in the previous section.

Financial Files, which is generally arranged under the names of individuals, includes bills and receipts for household and business expenses, contracts, deeds, ledgers, insurance and income tax records, bank statements, canceled checks and estate inventories. The financial papers of all family members, including those of individuals whose papers are filed in separate series, are filed in this section. In the case of Alice Baldwin Beer, however, the financial records of her antique textiles business are filed with the rest of her business records.

Personal Files is arranged under the names of individuals and includes such items as diaries, certificates, manuscripts (school essays, poetry, speeches), school notebooks, scrapbooks, autograph albums, legal briefs and opinions, pamphlets on a variety of subjects, theater programs, school catalogs, newspaper clippings, valentines, cards and recipes.

In addition to pictures of individual family members, Photographs also includes pictures of family friends, as well as pictures of Egypt and Europe taken by Alice Baldwin Beer in 1911. It should he noted that there are some photographs of non-family subjects in other series.

Genealogy and Biography includes genealogical charts, military records, biographies and obituaries for the Beer and related families.


The addition to the Beer Family Papers consists of seven and one-half feet of correspondence, writings, photographs, and miscellanea relating to members of the family. Material within the addition dates from 1740-1981, with bulk dates of 1950-1981.

This material is arranged so as to parallel the organization of the initial donation of papers from the Beer Family. Files are arranged in the following series: I. FAMILY: GENERAL 1868-1981, III. THOMAS BEER 1909-1936, IV. ALICE BALDWIN BEER 1740-1981, V. RICHARD CAMERON BEER 1895-1958.

No material was added to Series II and VI.

SERIES I contains additional family correspondence, primarily that of Alice Baldwin Beer. Letters to her mother, Martha A. A. (Baldwin) Beer in 1936 (folder 6), relate impressions of travels in Spain. Alice Beer also corresponded regularly with her cousin, Paul "Dick" Beer of Des Moines, Iowa, from 1941-1967 (folders 13-16). Another family member, Samuel H. Beer, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University and first Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Professor of American Politics at Boston College, corresponded with Alice Beer on family matters as well (folder 20).

Financial Files includes correspondence of Martha A. A. Beer regarding various family loans, notes, and taxes (folders 24-25). The correspondence of William C. Beer contains items sent him by Fannie Edgerton, including a certificate of deposit for twelve shares in the Manilla Navigation Company (folder 26).

Personal Files contains a brief account of the childhood of Alice Beer, written in 1979 (folder 28), and a photocopy of a "family newspaper," written in 1895-1896. This journal, "Mustard and Pepper," consists of a variety of verses written by members of the Beer family including one entitled, "Origin of the Thetas," by Judge Thomas Beer for Mary E. Beer at Wooster University (folder 31).

Photographs includes views of Alice Baldwin Beer while in Spain in 1929, and photos of members of the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York (folder 34). Other family members represented in this section include Martha A. A. (Baldwin) Beer, Richard and Doris Beer, and Thomas Beer. Group photographs and negatives of the Beer family on their Nantucket Island property show many family members at leisure (folders 40-42).

Genealogy and Biography contains notes of Alice Beer on various members of the Beer family.

SERIES III consists of a small quantity of correspondence and published writings of Thomas Beer. Correspondence contains letters from Julian Street, Frank Swinerton, and Clement Ward. These men comment on some of Thomas Beer's literary efforts (folder 1).

Published Writings includes printed copies of articles from the Saturday Evening Post and Century Magazine which are absent from the initial donation of papers (folders 2-25).

SERIES IV contains correspondence, writings, speeches, photographs, and miscellaneous files of Alice Baldwin Beer. This series is arranged in two sections: Correspondence and Cooper Union Museum Files. Correspondence is further divided into two sub-sections: Thomas and Richard Beer's Writings and Personal. Alice Beer maintained this filing system as well as the divisions of her correspondence.

Alice Beer was an active figure in the effort to preserve Thomas Beer's place in American literature. She was also a writer, lecturer, and expert on early textiles and print design. Her files reveal a high degree of activity in both pursuits.

Correspondence: Thomas and Richard Beer's Writings includes Alice Beer's correspondence with individuals who knew her brothers, scholars interested in the work of Thomas Beer, libraries which possessed letters of Thomas Beer in their manuscript collections, publishers and journals which printed their works, and Yale University, which received the Beer Family Papers in several installments beginning in 1941. Only five folders relate directly to Richard C. Beer (folders 11-12; 41; 43; 79). These files include biographical and bibliographical data, a sketch of Thomas Beer by Richard C. Beer, and correspondence with prospective publishers of Richard Beer's work.

Material pertaining to the life and writings of Thomas Beer includes several drafts of a biographical essay written by Alice Beer alternatively entitled "This Written Word" and "Recollections of a Writer" (folders 3-10). Although submitted to Atlantic Monthly, this essay was never published. In addition there are sample book jackets, clippings of book reviews and obituaries (folders 16-18), and an essay written by two friends, Cary Abbott and Monty Woolley (folder 22).

Alice Beer also recorded five hour-long cassettes in 1974 (folder 15). These recordings are a monologue by Alice Beer as she reads selected letters that her brother wrote from 1914-1917. Beer offers her personal comments, remembrances, and interpretations of these letters, the majority of which were written in Little Rock, Arkansas (during military training), or in Bourdeaux, France (during World War I). Alice Beer was not an accomplished technician and these tapes are plagued with gaps where no words were recorded. The background noise from her apartment and the constant turning on and off of the recorder are minor distractions. Nonetheless, these tapes do provide a unique insight into the life of Thomas Beer, by one of the people closest to him. These tapes were transferred to the Historical Sound Recordings division of Sterling Memorial Library.

William Coyle's Ph.D. dissertation, "The Short Stories of Thomas Beer" (folders 26-27), is one example of the scholarly research conducted with the Beer papers. Evans Harrington corresponded with Alice Beer on his dissertation, "The Works of Thomas Beer, Appraisal and Bibliography" (folder 42). Alice Beer supported this work and discussed the nature of Mr. Harrington's research with several friends: Malcolm Cowley, Morris Ernst, Harold H. Fisher, Robert Housum, Alfred A. Knopf (Publishers), and Lewis Mumford. Matthew J. Bruccoli also researched topics of interest within the Beer papers (folder 23). Yale University files (folders 72-78) provide further information on the Beer papers. Alice Beer contacted several libraries in order to acquire photocopies of Thomas Beer letters in other collections (folders 50-58). She also oversaw the donation of the Beer Family Papers to Yale University, the alma mater of her brother Thomas. This correspondence (folders 70-78) reveals the many levels of negotiation involved in such a project and, as mentioned, documents much of the early research use of the collection.

Additional correspondence in this section includes files for the law firm of Greenbaum, Wolff, and Ernst, who negotiated the matter of a television series based on the works of Thomas Beer (folders 35-40). Lewis Mumford was a long-time friend and his correspondence is also arranged here (folders 61-62). Robert Housum was another long-time friend who was devoted to both Alice and Thomas Beer (folders 44-45).

Alice Beer's Correspondence-Personal (folders 80-190) includes letters with several friends, some of whom shared her love and admiration of Thomas Beer. Among these individuals are: Harold H. and Helen Fisher, Robert Housum, Alfred A. Knopf, James Rambo, Kurt Schneider, James D. Tilghman, Emerson Tuttle, and Monty Woolley.

Alice Beer also corresponded with local, state and national politicians on a multitude of current topics, ranging from pollution and the environment to Watergate (folder 96). Correspondence with the Hoover Library at Stanford University (folder 124) relates to her efforts to acquire Spanish political propaganda for that institution and includes letters with Harold H. Fisher. Activities on the Massachusetts' island of Nantucket, where the Beer family maintained a summer home, were of deep interest to Alice Beer. Files for the Nantucket Historical Association (folder 143) and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation (folder 144) reflect this concern.

Cooper-Hewitt Museum Files contains the professional papers of Alice Beer. As curator of textiles at the New York City museum she travelled extensively on its behalf, delivered lectures on topics related to textiles, cloth, and print-making, contributed to in-house publications, and researched the history of textiles thoroughly. Her research materials include bibliographies on textiles, fabrics, and embroidery (folder 191), notebooks with information on trips and readings (boxes 169-171), 35 mm. color slides on fabrics, cloth and related subjects (folders 239-242), and photographic re-prints of engravings and artwork from other institutions (folio 1). Additional items arranged here include papers and books written by other professionals on design and related topics. One notable book was published in France in 1740, Traites sur les Toiles Peintes, by an author identified only as M.Q*** (folder 238).

Alice Beer was an active figure in the movement to rescue the Cooper Union Museum, which was the predecessor of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (folders 194-195.). In 1963 financial difficulties threatened the existence of the Cooper Union Museum. It was not until 1967, when the Smithsonian Institution intervened and proposed the Cooper Hewitt Museum as its national center for design (and the first center located outside Washington D.C.), that the fate of the museum and its holdings was determined.

One major project of Alice Beer's was a biographical essay on Calvin S. Hathaway who served as director of the Cooper Union Museum and was a close associate (folders 202-206). The Smithsonian Institution recognized Alice Beer's distinguished service in 1978 when it presented a thirty-year certificate to her.

SERIES V contains Correspondence, Unpublished Writings, and Personal Files for Richard C. Beer. Correspondence includes two letters from publishers rejecting articles. Unpublished Writings is a section of eleven manuscripts for unpublished articles (folders 2-12), many of which were set in a seaside locale. Personal Files includes the artwork and illustrations of Doris and Richard Beer. Water color sketches (folder 13), pencil sketches (folder 14) and book illustrations (folders 15; 18) are arranged here.

The Beer Family Papers Addition was donated to Yale University in 1982, from the estate of Alice Beer.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to the unpublished materials authored or created by William Collins Beer, Thomas Beer, and Linus Caleb Beer is in the public domain. Copyright status for the unpublished materials authored or created by Alice Baldwin Beer and Richard Cameron Beer and 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

Gifts from Alice B. Beer, 1947-1979, and from her estate, 1982; gifts from Mary Beer, 1958, 1972; gifts from Robert Housum, 1974.


Arranged in seven series: I. Family: General, 1851-1969. II. William Collins Beer, 1880-1917. III. Thomas Beer, 1897-1947. IV. Alice Baldwin Beer, 1896-1969. V. Richard Cameron Beer, 1901-1959. VI. Linus Caleb Baldwin, 1856-1910. VII. Beer Family Papers (1982 July Addition), 1740-1981.

Majority of material found within 1827 - 1981
75.5 Linear Feet
Related Names
Beer family
Language of Materials