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MS Am 2420

Siebert, Wilbur Henry, 1866-1961, collector. Wilbur Henry Siebert collection relating to the Underground Railroad and fugitive slaves, circa 1891-1898: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Harvard Depository
Location: b
Call No.: MS Am 2420
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Siebert, Wilbur Henry, 1866-1961, collector.
Title: Wilbur Henry Siebert collection relating to the Underground Railroad and fugitive slaves,
Date(s): 1891-1898.
Quantity: 1 collection (10 linear feet (45 volumes in 8 boxes)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Abstract: 45 scrapbooks of letters, manuscripts, clippings, maps, student papers, and other materials, arranged geographically and concerned with the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves and abolitionism. Collection was assembled by Harvard graduate and Ohio State University history professor, Wilbur Henry Siebert.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

No accession number. Gift of Professor Wilbur Henry Siebert (A.B. Harvard College 1889), Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; received: 1939 June 14. Recataloged from US 5278.36.25*.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.
This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

Wilbur Henry Siebert Collection Relating to the Underground Railroad and Fugitive Slaves, circa 1891-1898 (MS Am 2420). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Separated Materials

The Ohio Historical Society owns The Wilbur H. Siebert Collection which is a "sister" collection of Underground Railroad materials which is very similar, but not identical to, these scrapbooks at Houghton. The UR materials at OHS are available for research and purchase on microfilm collection MIC 192; Ohio Historical Society.
The Ohio Historical Society's website (at www.ohiohistory.org) explains the origin of the materials assembled in these scrapbooks, as it describes the "sister scrapbooks" that are in their possession: "Siebert is best known for his work on the Underground Railroad. He began teaching history at OSU in 1891. Finding that students in his American history classes 'were inclined to be restless and inattentive, [he] decided to arouse their interest over a mysterious and romantic subject that was rich in adventure.' With his students, Siebert pursued this research topic for the rest of his career and into retirement. At age 80 Siebert took an office at the Ohio State Museum, where he wrote his final book, The Mysteries of Ohio's Underground Railroads (1951).
Research material [at OHS] on the Underground Railroad includes the responses generated by Siebert's seven-question survey and copies and notes from a wide variety of sources: books, diaries, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, biographies and memoirs, state, county, and local histories, annual reports, trial records, U.S. and Canadian census reports, legislation, and Congressional speeches. Siebert also traveled Underground Railroad routes, interviewing agents and former fugitive slaves. He organized his research by state and county, eventually binding his notes in volumes according to the location of the Underground Railroad station or activity."

Biographical / Historical

Wilbur Henry Siebert (1866-1961) was born in Columbus, Ohio. He received a B.A. from Ohio State University (OSU) in 1888. In 1889 and 1890 respectively, he received another A.B. and then an A.M. from Harvard University. He then traveled to Germany to study history and philosophy at the universities of Freiburg (Baden) and Berlin. Upon returning to Ohio in 1891, he began teaching history and political science at OSU. By 1893, he was awarded an assistant professorship in history and was already collecting material on the Underground Railroad with his students. He used a seven-question circular to generate information, conducted interviews, and kept extensive research notes on the subject. In 1895 he took a sabatical and returned to Harvard to study the anti-slavery movement. In 1898 his first book was published, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom.


Arranged by geographic location. Each state volume is arranged alphabetically by county.

Scope and Contents

45 scrapbooks consisting primarily of: newspaper clippings about former slaves and men prominent in the abolition movement; articles and extracts from periodicals and books which mention the "Underground Railroad;" and correspondence with those who still remembered the "Railroad" and its operations.
Each scrapbook volume includes a typescript table of contents in front of the volume and a bookplate giving the offical title of the collection as the: "Collection of Wilbur Henry Siebert Relating to the Underground Railroad and Fugitive Slaves." The bookplate includes an image of an engraving of Charles T. Webber's 1893 painting, The Underground Railroad.
Materials include: manuscript and typescript letters to Siebert, autograph manuscript and typescript notes by Siebert, manuscript maps, printed pamphlets and maps (some annotated), clippings, statistics, typescript and manuscript transcripts of materials on the UR from many sources, student papers written for Siebert's history courses taught at Ohio State University, a few photographs, and other materials.


This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

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