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Mabel Loomis Todd papers

Call Number: MS 496C
Scope and Contents
The Mabel Loomis Todd Papers consist of over fifty linear feet of manuscript and printed material relating to the public and private life of Mabel Loomis Todd. Divided into eight series, the papers document each phase of Mrs. Todd's career, beginning with her early childhood and ending with her death in 1932.

Series I, Juvenalia, has four sections: Correspondence, Education, Writings and Memorabilia. Together they document Mabel Todd's life as a student, author, and young girl before her marriage in 1879.

Correspondence has two parts: General and Family. General Correspondence consists largely of letters from school friends. Other significant letters come from Louisa May Alcott, commenting on Mabel's writings (undated) and from Maria and Sophia Thoreau (6 letters 1875-1879). Located at the end of this section are several folders of "selected" letters from young gentlemen which were saved separately by Mabel Todd, who apparently intended to burn them.

Family Correspondence begins in 1863 with a letter from Mabel's uncle, John A. Wilder, describing a march on Richmond by General Dix. However, the bulk of letters in this section were written when Mabel, her mother, and grandmother summered in New England to avoid the Washington heat (1870-1878). During these summers Mabel and her mother wrote to Eben Loomis regularly. Often letters from Mabel to her father had long postscripts by her mother, postscripts which stood in remarkable contrast to Mabel's lighthearted notes on local sights and amusements. The parents' notes to each other revealed the tight financial circumstances of the family. Concern over health also appeared constantly in their letters with reports on the ailments of family members and friends.

In October 1874 Mabel entered the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and spent two winters studying there. Extensive correspondence exists with her parents during this period detailing her life at school.

David Peck Todd's letters to Mabel began in February 1878 and continued in a rising crescendo of feeling throughout the summer and autumn. Mary Loomis wrote about the possibility of marriage in a confidential letter to her husband 6 October 1878. That same month Mabel sent her father a postcard with a monogram incorporating the T for Todd with her usual initials.

Education contains the schoolwork of the young Mabel Loomis. It holds one folder of compositions and one folder of catalogues, reports, and fees from the Boston South End School for young Ladies. The bulk of this section, however, contains similar school materials from Georgetown Female Seminary.

The Writings section of this series holds seven of Mabel Loomis' early published articles and nineteen of her unpublished pieces. Mabel Loomis began her professional writing career at sixteen, writing for such magazines as Our Young Folks and such newspapers as the Boston Transcript. Also included in this section are three childhood diaries and a journal fragment.

Memorabilia holds five folders of programs collected by Mabel Loomis as a child as well as a folder of greeting cards. Other items in this section include an autograph book, newspaper clippings, and a collection of pressed flowers.

Series II, Correspondence, has two sections: General and Family, with letters arranged alphabetically by author. A large portion of General Correspondence consists of thank-you notes, invitations, responses to invitations, and accounts of social events. It documents the activities of a woman who led an extremely active social life. Some letters, however, contain more substance than most correspondence necessary to the smooth functioning of social engagements. Mabel Todd's close friends, most of them women, would occasionally stand back and comment on their lives.

One Amherst friend, Mabel Stearns (Mrs. Kirk Munroe), wrote intimate letters about her marital problems (90 letters 1901-1930). These letters revealed the feelings of a "well brought up" woman as her marriage deteriorated. Mrs. Caro Andrews also wrote about problems in her marriage (38 letters 1884-1908). Another friend, Kate M.B. Brown (26 letters 1892-1907), described to Mrs. Todd what it was like to marry a younger man. Several women wrote to Mrs. Todd about pregnancy and health. H. Maris Cutter, an old Washington friend, discussed her views on pregnancy (16 letters 1879-1892), and Louise M.D. Clarke talked guardedly about a possible abortion (1884).

Mary C. Adams provided Mabel Todd with a rich description of high society in Bermuda (1898), as did Georgiana W. Fowler (1891). Mrs. Ada H. Chase kept her informed about sicknesses, deaths, and births among mutual friends in Washington, D.C. (9 letters 1880-1904). Other women simply reported their various movements, their comings and goings. Some, including Mrs. Cora Rutherford Laighton, spent much of their time opening and closing seasonal homes (61 letters 1918-1929). Others, including Karrie Kittridge, visited friends and relatives throughout New England (52 letters 1890-1892). And still others, including Julia Ward Howe, kept Mabel Todd informed of their speaking engagements and appearances (29 letters 1895-1905).

Because of Mabel Todd's active public life, many well known and socially prominent people appear in her correspondence. Particularly important to the Todds was Arthur Curtiss James (171 letters 1896-1932), who, with his wife, Harriet (55 letters 1895-1931), helped the family through many difficulties. The Todds became close friends with the James family while sailing to Asia on Arthur James' yacht in 1896. Thereafter they kept up a steady correspondence. In 1917 when the Todds left Amherst, Mr. James consoled Mrs. Todd by writing: ". . . you will be mighty glad to get rid of all the trouble of the establishment and the thankless task of being a public entertainer for College Parasites." And in 1922 when David Todd needed hospitalization, the Jameses gave the Todds ten thousand dollars to cover the expense.

Other prominent New Englanders who wrote Mrs. Todd were George Herbert Palmer (42 letters 1903-1923), Alice Freeman Palmer (38 letters 1897-1902), and William Dean Howells (11 letters 1890-1893, 1912). Prominent astronomers who also figure in her correspondence include Sir James Jeans (2 letters 1929), Percival Lowell (4 letters 1895-1919), and Edward C. Pickering (5 letters 1892-1912). Other prominent correspondents include Hervey Allen, George W. Cable, James Deering, Melvil Dewey, Elbert Hubbard and the Schiff family of New York.

Mabel Todd's Amherst period (1881-1917) was most significant for her connection with the Dickinson family and her publication, with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, of Emily Dickinson's poems. Austin Baxter Keep (5 letters 1897, 1931-1932), Wallace Keep (3 letters 1930-1932), and Georgiana Mills (7 letters 1896-1931) all wrote to Mrs. Todd about their recollections of Emily Dickinson. There is also a letter from Mabel Todd to a "Mr. Hillyer" attaching an "unpublished poem by Emily Dickinson" (1923).

There are only two letters from Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1892, 1895) in General Correspondence and they do not deal directly with Emily Dickinson. (For typed copies of Higginson's editorial comments, see Series V, Writings.) Instead Higginson apparently discussed with Mabel Todd her relationship with W. Austin Dickinson.

Few letters talk openly of the Todd-Dickinson affair. One of the more explicit comments on the situation came from George H. Palmer in 1888 when he wrote: "I . . . hope (this) will be the beginning of a serious endeavor on your part to clear out of your vigorous mind all this Dickinson folly. Those nasty little trifles have been absurdly exaggerated. Surely one as sensible as you can find better things to think about." The love letters between Mabel Loomis Todd and William Austin Dickinson will be found in Series VII.

General Correspondence also holds three letters from a self-proclaimed "Metaphysician" in Boston, E.M. Bishop. Bishop apparently consoled Mabel Todd when Austin Dickinson died in 1895. One week after his death, the metaphysician wrote of "the great darkness that has come into your life . . . . Don't say that you don't want to live."

An accomplished musician and painter, Mabel Todd often sponsored concerts and art shows for unknown artists, particularly at her house in Florida where she spent the winter seasons from 1917 until her death. One of the artists, Howard Hilder, became a constant companion, particularly after David Todd was institutionalized in 1922. The two hundred and thirty-six letters exchanged by Howard Hilder and Mabel Todd between 1919 and 1932 testify to this relationship. Other letters from the Florida period, that is, after 1917, depict the life of a wealthy resort community and its amusements.

In Family Correspondence, the most important groups of letters come from her husband, David Peck Todd (approximately 500 letters 1879-1931); her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham (approximately 1350 letters 1883-1932); and her parents, Eben Jenks Loomis (approximately 300 letters 1879-1911) and Mary Alden Loomis (approximately 1000 letters 1879-1910). Letters to and from other members of the family span a period of over half a century.

Mabel Loomis Todd's letters to her parents are particularly full in their description of day-to-day life in Amherst and Washington. Arriving in Amherst in 1881 as the young wife of the newly appointed astronomy instructor, Mabel Todd described in detail her social life, amusements and domestic arrangements. Mary Loomis, on her side of the correspondence, wrote long letters describing Washington life. She faithfully transcribed her interest in the minutiae of existence, reporting on interiors, social life, conversations, standards of taste, accounts of illness and the perennial servant question. Eben Loomis' letters contained descriptions of his work on the Nautical Almanac and his interests as an amateur naturalist.

Mabel Todd's announcement of her pregnancy to her parents (1879) led to long letters on all sides discussing her condition. They touched on the themes of motherhood and the family and discussed contemporary practices for managing a pregnancy. Since Millicent Todd was left with her grandparents for long periods during the first years of her life, reports on her progress revealed the Loomis' attitudes on child-rearing practices and beliefs.

Scattered throughout the letters of life in Amherst are references to Emily Dickinson and other members of the Dickinson household. These letters show the gradual development of the relationship between the two families. One letter from Mary Loomis in 1892 indicated that Amherst gossip had reached Washington. Mrs. Loomis had heard from a "wicked person" that the Dickinson family was all "estranged" from one another. (For further material on Emily Dickinson, see Writings and Subject Files.)

David Peck Todd's letters to his wife remained both passionate and explicit throughout their marriage. Despite Mabel Todd's affair with W. Austin Dickinson, there was no hint of any change in her husband's feelings for her. His letters remained full of intimate descriptions of events and people in their lives. In fact, David Todd made frequent and friendly references to Dickinson, and once even suggested that Mabel Todd visit him near Boston (1883 Sep 22).

David Todd's mental instability became obvious during the first decades of the twentieth century. However, a sign of the extravagant behavior that characterized his later life and led to his hospitalization can be seen as early as 1880 when he proposed to visit "Mr. Vanderbilt" in New York with a railroad-steamship scheme.

Mabel Todd maintained an intimate correspondence with a number of women in the family, notably with David Peck Todd's sister, Naomi Compton (91 letters 1879-1894), and with Lydia Avery Coonley Ward (116 letters 1888-1913). Naomi Compton wrote one particularly poignant letter to Mrs. Todd on the death of her child (1882). Mrs. Ward's letters included one note reporting the discovery of a family connection with Susan Gilbert Dickinson (1890) and several other notes marked "Private" which disclosed her feelings over her projected second marriage to Herbert A. Ward (1892).

The letters of Harriet Bagg Loomis, who married a year and a half after Mabel Todd, depicted a different level of American society. In 1880 she wrote of her working day in a button factory in East Hampton, Massachusetts. Her letters offered an unaffected portrait of life in a small farming household.

Many of the other family letters are perfunctory in content yet revealing of how Mabel Loomis Todd appeared to her relatives--a prominent public figure whom they were proud to claim.

Series III, Notebooks and Diaries, holds forty-two diaries (1879-1931) and twenty journals (1871-1907)-1932) written by Mrs. Todd. The diaries chronicle Mabel Todd's daily schedule--where she went, what she did, whom she saw. The journals were Mrs. Todd's way of stepping back periodically to assess her life. In the course of putting her life in perspective, she discussed such things as her relationship with William Austin Dickinson and her work on Emily Dickinson's poems. Mrs. Todd compiled journals when she accompanied her husband on trips to Japan, Asia, and Tripoli. She also wrote a detailed and explicit four-volume journal of her daughter's life from conception in 1879 to her early childhood in 1885.

Between 1875 and 1910 Mabel Todd kept over twenty-two notebooks. These included notebooks of her random thoughts, her impressions of recently read books and her many lists and inventories. This series also holds eight address books, nine appointment books (1897-1910), and six miscellaneous record books such as guest and autograph books.

Series IV, Lectures, has three sections, Texts, Correspondence, and Printed Matter, and together they document Mabel Loomis Todd's career as a professional speaker. Texts includes the rough and finished drafts as well as the speaking notes of fifty-seven lectures. The topics focus on Emily Dickinson, New England history, astronomy, and travel. Correspondence includes the business correspondence with the many clubs and organizations to whom Mrs. Todd spoke. Mrs. Todd lectured in over one hundred and sixty towns, located primarily in New England. However, she did travel as far as Los Angeles, California, and Tacoma, Washington. Printed Matter holds the many programs, handbills, newspapers accounts, and posters generated by her lectures.

Series V, Writings, holds many of the materials dealing with Mrs. Todd's career as an author and editor. The first section, Books, contains the correspondence, royalty statements, drafts, illustrations, and reviews of twelve books edited or written by this prolific author. These books range from fiction (Footprints 1883) to astronomy (Total Eclipses of the Sun 1899) to poetry (A Cycle of Sunsets 1910) to travel (Tripoli, The Mysterious1912).

Published Articles includes the manuscripts, notes, printed copies, correspondence, and statements of payment of over one hundred and ninety articles published by Mrs. Todd between 1881 and 1930. Like Books, the topics in this section include Emily Dickinson, travel, New England history and astronomy.

In addition, Mrs. Todd wrote many book reviews of children's books and novels.

Unpublished Writings holds approximately ninety essays, plays and poems that were not published. There are also twenty-two folders of notes, mostly on literary topics.

Mrs. Todd enjoyed compiling scrapbooks about her life, and Series VI, SCRAPBOOKS, holds nineteen of these volumes. Thirteen are labelled "Personal" and contain newspaper clippings of social events Mrs. Todd attended, accounts of her lectures, printed articles by Mrs. Todd (see especially "Personal 1871-1896"), invitations, programs, calling cards and other miscellaneous memorabilia. One scrapbook labelled "Fairhaven" holds photographs of the people and area around the Todd's summer retreat in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. It also includes calling cards and newspaper accounts of the Todd's activities there. Another scrapbook entitled "Cruise of 'Aloha' Trip Around the World (321 days) Arthur Curtiss James 1921-1922" contains a copy of the yacht's logbook. Still another scrapbook, "As To Friends 1891-1930," holds newspaper clippings concerning the lives of Mabel Todd's friends and acquaintances. Some name cards and miscellaneous printed matter also appear in the book.

Series VII, Subject Files, has nine sections each documenting a specific portion of Mabel Todd's life or interests.

Persons includes biographical information on many of Mabel Todd's friends. Mrs. Todd moved in fashionable circles, and often made friends with the famous or near-famous. Altogether, Mrs. Todd collected newspaper clippings, invitations, correspondence, and photographs of ninety-six of these personages.

William Austin Dickinson holds a variety of materials dealing with Mabel's affair with Austin. There are approximately four hundred "love" letters from Austin to Mrs. Todd (1882-1891) and a similar number of letters from Mrs. Todd to Austin (1882-1895, undated). There are also two letters to Mabel from Lavinia Dickinson. Although the letters have no date, they were probably written after 1886 but before 1898.

This section also includes eight volumes of William Austin Dickinson's diaries (1880-1890), some scattered notes, and several legal documents drawn up by Mr. Dickinson. Dickinson also drafted a statement on his sister's poetry and his marriage to Susan Gilbert Dickinson (undated). Mrs. Todd also wrote several short pieces on Emily Dickinson's poetry and her relationship with Mr. Dickinson.

Finally, this section holds the official transcripts of the legal fight between the Todds and Austin's widow over a strip of Dickinson land (1898). In addition to the transcript, there are newspaper accounts of the case and an essay entitled "MLT Speaks" which discusses Mrs. Todd's side of the story.

Clubs contains the business correspondence and printed matter of forty-six clubs and organizations with which Mrs. Todd was associated (1883-1931). Several clubs, in particular, stand out due to the sheer bulk of the material collected. These are the Amherst Historical Society, the Boston Authors' Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Massachusetts State Federation of Women's Clubs.

Wedding and Anniversaries contains memorabilia associated with Mabel and David Todd's wedding in 1879 and their 25th and 50th anniversaries in 1904 and 1929 respectively. From their wedding the Todds kept name cards, poetry, and brochures of the places they visited on their honeymoon. From their anniversaries, the couple saved guest lists, letters of congratulation and calling cards.

Sickness and Death includes written and printed materials pertaining to the deaths of Mary Alden Loomis, Eben Jenks Loomis, and Mabel Loomis Todd. It also contains materials dealing with Mrs. Todd's illness in 1913.

When Mrs. Todd's mother, Mary Loomis, died in 1910, Mrs. Todd saved many letters of condolence, florist cards and related memorabilia. This section holds three folders of such material. When Eben Jenks Loomis died in 1912, scores of relatives and friends again sent letters of condolence to Mrs. Todd. Mrs. Todd saved these letters in two large folders. When Mabel Todd herself died in 1932, her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, compiled a scrapbook of memorabilia from the funeral. She also saved one large folder of letters of condolence and a folder of Todd obituaries. Mrs. Bingham also made detailed notes of the funeral and her mother's companion during her later years, Howard Hilder, also wrote an account of Mrs. Todd's last hours. In addition, Mrs. Bingham saved the business correspondence pertaining to the establishment of the Mabel Loomis Todd Memorial Fund.

Nineteen years before her death, Mrs. Todd suffered a cerebral hemmorhage. While recovering, she complied a scrapbook of letters she had received after her stroke. She also saved many of the medical charts and records kept by her nurses as well as her own notebooks of convalescent exercises.

Social Life contains materials relating primarily to Mrs. Todd's life in Florida (1917-1932). There is one folder of correspondence dealing with the large party hosted by Mrs. Todd in celebration of Emily Dickinson's one hundredth birthday (1930). Two folders contain newspaper clippings of social events Mrs. Todd attended (1917-(1930-1931). Another two folders hold invitations to social events in Florida. And still another folder contains programs of musical, dramatic and artistic productions (1924, 1931).

Mrs. Todd loved painting and drawing, and at times taught the subject. Art holds fourteen folders of her oil paintings, water colors, and sketches (1869-1888, undated). Two more folders contains Mrs. Todd favorite paintings and reproductions.

Music was another life-long interest and this section contains ten folders of notebooks, programs, and exercise books (1865, 1874-1893). Mrs. Todd saved one of her first music books, Piano-Forte Primer(1865). She also saved four folders of notes, printed matter, and exercise books from the New England Conservatory of Music (1874-1876). In 1883 Mabel took a correspondence course from a Stephen A. Emery. She saved all her notebooks, exercises and correspondence from the course. Finally, Mrs. Todd saved many of the programs and announcements surrounding her many recitals (1884-1893).

Mrs. Todd came from a family that took great pride in its heritage, and she herself wished to leave a written record of her own life. Biographical Writings holds a collection of notes and essays about her life and the history of her family. Two folders contain genealogical materials of the Loomis and Wilder families. Eleven more folders hold biographical sketches of Mrs. Todd. Finally, eight folders contain her own autobiographical writings.

Series VIII, Financial Records, documents the financial affairs of Mabel Loomis Todd. While some materials exist for the period before 1917, the majority are dated after 1917, when David Peck Todd's mental instability grew more pronounced. For example, while there are eight folders of household bills and receipts for the years 1885 through 1917, there are twenty folders for the years 1918-1932. Similarly, Mrs. Todd's financial correspondence with banks, stock-brokers, governmental agencies, contractors, and merchants is not significant before her move to Florida. Less than thirty of her one hundred and ten correspondents wrote to her before 1917.

Mabel Todd's check stubs, however, span the years 1886 through 1932 in equal proportion. In all, there are approximately one hundred and seventy books of check stubs in this series.

Financial Records also contains the many documents dealing with Mrs. Todd's Florida house, Matsuba. This includes several folders of correspondence dealing with the sale of the house after her death. Finally, this series holds several folders of miscellaneous records which include the Todd's federal income tax returns (1913, 1916, 1918) and Mabel Todd's will.

Financial Records does not contain publishers' royalty statements. These will be found in Series V filed under the individual title.

Photographs relating to Mabel Loomis Todd are arranged in the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection (Ms. Group Number 496E).
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research. Diaries and journals, Series III, boxes 39-48, are available on microfilm. Patrons must use HM 149 instead of the originals.
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
Gift of Millicent Todd Bingham, 1964-1970.
Arranged in eight series: I. Juvenalia. II. Correspondence. III. Notebooks and Diaries. IV. Lectures. V. Writings. VI. Scrapbooks. VII. Subject Files. VIII. Financial Records.
Related Materials
Associated material: Loomis-Wilder Family Papers (MS 496A)

Associated material: David Peck Todd Papers (MS 496B)

Associated material: Millicent Todd Bingham Papers (MS 496D)

Associated material: Todd-Bingham Picture Collection (MS 496E)

Associated material: Todd-Bingham Memorabilia Collection (MS 496F)
51.5 Linear Feet (125 boxes, 1 folio)
Related Names
Todd, Mabel Loomis, 1856-1932