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MC 292

Alexander family. Papers of the Alexander family, 1809-1902 (inclusive), 1820-1898 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 292
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Alexander family
Title: Papers of the Alexander family, 1809-1902 (inclusive), 1820-1898 (bulk)
Date(s): 1809-1902
Date(s): 1820-1898
Quantity: .21 linear feet (1/2 file box) plus 8 oversize volumes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, scrapbooks, and photographs of the Alexander family from New England.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 71-64
The papers of the Alexander family were given to the Schlesinger Library in May 1971 by Judge Lawrence G. Brooks.

Processing Information:

Processed: November 1979
By: Caroline D. Bain

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by the Alexander family is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Alexander family Papers, 1809-1902; item description, dates. MC 292, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


In 1853 the Alexanders, a well-to-do New England couple and their daughter settled in Italy where this collection of scrapbooks was assembled. Francis Alexander (1800-ca. 1880) was born in Killingly, Connecticut, studied painting in New York City in 1820, and shortly thereafter became established in Boston as a successful portrait painter. During a visit to Italy in 1831-1832 he shared rooms with his friend, Thomas Cole, and in 1839 he was elected an honorary member of the National Academy of Design. Lucia Gray Swett (ca. 1814-1916), who became his wife in 1836, was the granddaughter of a prosperous Salem merchant and related to such families as the Lymans, Shaws, and Hallowells. Their only child, Esther Frances, called "Fanny" until 1882 when John Ruskin dubbed her "Francesca," was born in 1837. At an early age she showed talent in drawing, music, and poetry.
In Florence the Alexanders moved among the social, cultural and ecclesiastical elite of northern Italy, and entertained distinguished visitors from overseas. Esther Frances Alexander devoted herself to art and to charity among the Tuscan peasants: some of them considered her a saint. International celebrity came to her with the close friendship that developed in 1882 between the Alexander women and John Ruskin. The English art critic bought Esther Frances Alexander's illustrated manuscript, "Roadside Songs of Tuscany" (published 1883); edited "Christ's Folk in the Apennines" (1887-1889); and discussed her drawing in his Slade Lectures at Oxford. "Tuscan Songs" (1897) and "The Hidden Servants and Other Very Old Stories" (1900) also sold well. In 1905 at the age of ninety, Lucia Gray Alexander published "Il Libro de Oro," a collection of saints' legends. She died in 1916 in Florence. Francesca, who had been dominated and protected by her mother all her life, died there in January 1917.


The scrapbooks, apparently arranged by Lucia Gray Alexander, contain mainly letters to the Alexanders and Italian photographs. There is no consistent chronological order. A small portion of the letters relate to Francis Alexander's career as an artist in Boston. The bulk reflects the Alexanders' contacts with Italian society--particularly with the family of Luisa Murat--and with English and American visitors to Florence, and Lucia Gray Alexander's interest in autographs of famous people. Two volumes record reactions to Esther Frances Alexander's books, art, and charities. Many letters from prominent individuals are manuscript copies; some letters are fragments.
Most of the photographs are of Italian scenery, buildings and works of art; a few are of notable individuals. The scrapbooks also contain drawings by Esther Frances Alexander and others, watercolors and prints, invitations, death announcements, programs and clippings. There are also five folders of items found loose in the scrapbooks, and a copy of "Tuscan Songs."

Selected index of correspondents

(name, volume: page)

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Algeria--Description and travel
Florence (Italy)--Social life and customs
Italy--Pictorial works
Italy--Social life and customs--19th century
Alexander, Francesca, 1837-1917
Alexander, Francis, 1800-1880
Bonaparte family
Child, Lydia Maria, 1802-1880
Mills College
Murat family
Murat, Luisa
Ruskin, John, 1819-1900
Shaw, Pauline A. (Pauline Agassiz), 1841-1917
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896
Swett, Lucia Gray