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MS Am 219

Osborne, Thomas Mott, 1859-1926. Thomas Mott Osborne and Paul Revere Frothingham letters to Victor Folke Nelson, 1913-1939: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Harvard Depository
Call No.: MS Am 219
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Osborne, Thomas Mott, 1859-1926.
Title: Thomas Mott Osborne and Paul Revere Frothingham letters to Victor Folke Nelson,
Date(s): 1913-1939.
Quantity: 1 collection (1 box (.25 linear ft.)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Abstract: Letters sent to American prison inmate Victor Folke Nelson, by prison reformer Thomas Mott Osborne and clergyman Paul Revere Frothingham.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

No accession number. Purchase with the Jackson Fund; received: 1939.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.
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:

Thomas Mott Osborne and Paul Revere Frothingham Letters to Victor Folke Nelson, 1913-1939 (MS Am 219). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Related Materials

Osborne family materials are held by Special Collections at Syracuse University.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Mott Osborne (1859-1926; Harvard AB 1884) was an American prison administrator, prison reformer, and author. In 1913 Osborne spent a week in the Auburn State Prison in New York state under the name of "Tom Brown" to see what prison life was really like. Shortly after he published his Within prison walls and became a well known prison reform crusader. From 1914-1916 he was the warden of Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York and he established an internal system of self-rule called the "Mutual Welfare League." In 1917-1920 he was commander of the Portsmouth Naval Prison where he produced a report on prison conditions for the US Secretary of the Navy.
Paul Revere Frothingham (1864-1926; Harvard AB 1886) was a Unitarian clergyman, minister of the famous Arlington Street Church in Boston, and an author.
Victor Folke Nelson (1898-1939) grew up in an orphanage and was sent to the Lyman Industrial School, a Massachusetts reformatory for children. He enlisted in the Navy during World War I, was caught going AWOL, and spent six months in the Portsmouth Naval Prison at Kittery, Maine where he met Thomas Mott Osborne, the prison commander (1917-1920) who was instituting his "Mutual Welfare League" at that time. In 1920 Nelson received a dishonorable discharge from the Navy and later that year ended up sentenced for assault and robbery to four years at Charlestown State Prison in Boston. He escaped that prison five months later in May of 1921 and eventually ran into Osborne again at a Cincinnati, Ohio lecture in August of 1921. Apparently based on Osborne's lecture, Nelson reintroduced himself to Osborne and later surrendered himself to prison authorities and returned to Charlestown Prison. In December of 1923 he was paroled to become Osborne's librarian in Auburn, New York. Within a month Nelson was again arrested for robbery and sentenced to Auburn Prison (New York). Nelson went on to author a book on prison reform, Prison days and nights (1933).


Organized into the following series:

Scope and Contents

Includes correspondence, clippings, photographs, and autograph manuscripts related to the relationship between Thomas Mott Osborne, Paul Revere Frothingham, and Victor Folke Nelson.


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

Container List