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Curtis family. Papers of the Curtis family, 1797-1991: 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

Call No.: 103--95-M17
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Curtis family
Title: Papers of the Curtis family, 1797-1991
Date(s): 1797-1991
Quantity: 11 linear feet (11 cartons) plus 2 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 2 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 23 photograph folders)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Photographs, correspondence, and clippings of the Curtis family from Boston, Massachusetts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 103, 859, 90-M19, 91-M184, 94-M150, 95-M6, 95-M17
The papers of the Curtis family were given to the Schlesinger Library by Margaret Curtis from 1960 to 1965, by Isabella Halsted and Joan Shurcliff, from 1990 to 1995, and the Shelving Rock Trust in 1994.

Processing Information:

Processed: June 1995
By: Jane S. Knowles,Barbara DeWolfe,Barbara Kravitz, and Adelaide Kennedy.


Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by the Curtis 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:

Curtis family Papers, 1797-1991; item description, 1797-1991. 103--95-M17, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Greely Stevenson Curtis, a Civil War veteran, married Harriot Appleton, daughter of industrialist Nathan Appleton in 1863. Greely Stevenson Curtis had contracted malaria during the war, and for most of his married life was a semi-invalid. The Curtises divided their time between Beacon Hill and their country estate in Manchester-by-the-Sea where they lived in the Stone House designed by Henry Van Brunt, and maintained a farm. Family life at Manchester included riding, and other sports, especially tennis and golf at the Essex Country Club. After the death of her husband in 1897, Harriot Appleton Curtis delegated management of the household to her eldest daughter Frances. Until her death in 1923, Harriot Appleton Curtis was a close observer and chronicler of the family's activities in the almost daily letters and postcards she wrote to absent relatives. The Curtises had ten children, five boys and five girls.
William (1865-1899) was handicapped and spent some time with relatives on a farm in Boise, Idaho. He drowned at Manchester. "Billy has slipped away from us...," wrote his mother.
Frances Greely (1867-1957), public servant, attended Miss Shaw and Miss Hersey's school in Boston. She passed the Harvard Examinations for Women and received certificates in 1885 and 1886. She took a course in Philosophy at Radcliffe, and one in Sanitary Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and studied for two years at the school of the Museum of Fine Arts. As a young woman she also pursued the fashionable life - her days filled by social engagements, Sewing and Lunch Club meetings, and travels abroad and visits with friends in New Hampshire and the Putnam Camp in the Adirondacks. She refused proposals of marriage from Ted Cabot (1893 and 1894) and Henry Warner (1899). She was an avid skater.
Frances Greely Curtis was well-known for her civic and charity work. She organized a library and reading classes for African Americans who lived on Beacon Hill, and investigated and proposed plumbing improvements for the Italian immigrants who lived on the north side of Beacon Hill. She was appointed to the board of the Associated Charities of Boston (1898), appointed secretary of the State Board of Charities (1903), and from 1898 regularly attended the National Conference on Charities and Corrections. She was elected a member of the School Committee of Boston (1913- 1924) and was the first woman to run, though unsuccessfully, for mayor of Boston, 1925. She and her sisters were charter members of the Women's City Club of Boston. She was director and secretary of the Boston Cooperative Building Society, served on the Board of the Boston Center for Adult Education, and supported the American Schools in Albania and Athens. She was director of the Massachusetts Civic League, chair of the National Playground Association, and a supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Foreign Policy Association, and the United Nations Association. She became interested in farming cooperatives in the 1920s and visited China in 1936, where she met Mao Tse-tung. Summing up her service to the city of Boston, Mark A. DeWolfe Howe wrote "Who deserves more the title of 'First Woman Citizen?'"
Elinor (1869-1947) married the painter Charles Hopkinson in 1903. They lived most of the year in the house in Manchester built for them as a wedding present by her mother, and, during the winter months, stayed in various houses in and around Boston. They had five daughters: Harriot, Mary, Isabella, Elinor, and Joan.
Greely Stevenson (1871-1947) an aviation pioneer, graduated from Harvard in 1892. He continued to study science at Cornell and Zurich, and earned an M.E. from Cornell in 1896. At first his parents dissuaded him from going into aviation; he became a fire commissioner in Boston in 1899, and then a consulting engineer on fire protection. He was treasurer of the Burgess and Curtis Co. in Newburyport, which was contracted to the United States Navy to produce sea planes during World War I. In 1918 the plant and the company records burned. He married Fanny Hooper in 1904; they had four children. In later life Greely Stevenson Curtis was a trustee for his mother and warden of King's Chapel.
Isabella (1873-1966) was a semi-invalid who suffered from persistent severe headaches. From her mid twenties, she spent much time away from home, visiting friends, traveling abroad (Europe in 1893, 1897, and 1901, Egypt in 1904), and in search of cures: at a sanitarium in Bethel, Maine (1908) and a clinic in Stockbridge run by Dr. Austin Riggs. In 1912 she had brain surgery performed by Dr. Cushing but no tumor was found. When she was away from home, she wrote faithfully to the family and her mother wrote daily. When at home and well enough, Isabella Curtis worked in the Boston Dispensary. Her chief occupation was raising money for the Penn School, a school for African Americans on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. In 1904 she bought Moon Island in Squam Lake and made it her summer home. She was an avid gardener, and kept dogs and goldfish.
Harry Appleton (1875-1943) attended Miss Isobel Briggs's school and then, like his brothers, the Hopkinson School in Boston. He graduated from Harvard (1896), studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but left to join the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War. He attended the University of Colorado in Denver and worked as an engineering assayer at the Cripple Creek Mine, Colorado. He then was an electrical service broker in New York City. During World War I he was assistant censor in New York and in 1918 received a commission as captain in the Army Intelligence Division. He married Grace Fargo Chauncey in 1913. They had no children, and she died in 1931.
Frazier (1877-1940) graduated from Harvard in 1898 and was involved in a number of ventures as a cattle broker in the West. He married Gladys Raper, an English woman, in 1909 and settled in La Jolla, California. During World War I he served in the airborne Lafayette Escadrilles and suffered from shell-shock. After fighting depression for many years, he committed suicide in 1940.
James Freeman (1879-1952) graduated from Harvard in 1899 and Harvard Law School in 1903. He was assistant attorney general of Massachusetts and assistant secretary to the United States Treasury, and later practiced law in New York. He married Laura Merriam (1912), divorced her (1924), then remarried her and was redivorced (1938). He then married Eleanor Monroe Green. His two sons were killed during World War II; his daughter Frances survived. He was known as a witty after-dinner speaker.
Harriot Sumner (1881-1974), social worker and civic volunteer, was co-founder with her sister Margaret, of the Maverick Dispensary, East Boston, a health clinic for Italian Americans. She was appointed a director of the Associated Charities (Boston) during World War I and worked at the Center for French Wounded and the Home Service Division of Civilian Relief. A good athlete, she skated, played baseball and tennis, and with Margaret played tournament golf. She won the National Women's Golf Championship in 1906. While staying with friends in Richmond, Virginia in 1903, she visited Hampton Institute, and began a lifelong commitment to the school: she raised funds for it, and in 1927 was invited to be Dean of Women, a position that she held for four years. She was the sponsor of the singer Dorothy Maynor whom she discovered at Hampton. She made frequent trips abroad with one or other sibling.
Margaret (1883-1965), social worker, administrator, athlete, was dedicated throughout her life to social welfare in the United States and abroad. After graduating from the Simmons College School of Social Work in 1904, she worked for the Associated Charities of Boston (later the Family Welfare Society), and with her sister Harriot, founded the Maverick Dispensary in 1909. In February 1916 she went to Paris to organize relief for French refugees as head of the investigation department of the Student Atelier Association. In July 1917 she joined the American Red Cross in Paris and served as chief of the Bureau of Refugees; from January through June 1919 she continued her relief work under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee. She was awarded the Medaille de Guerre by the French Red Cross (1919) and the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise by the French government (1920) for her relief work. In January 1921 she returned to Europe to tour child health clinics in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria for the American Red Cross. She was offered positions as head of American Red Cross social work in Latvia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Serbia, but declined. From November 1922 through February 1923 Margaret Curtis was again involved in relief work in Greece as Adviser in General Relief for the ARC. She served on the International Migration Service and during World War II, ran the Boston office of the War Production Board and helped place European children in American homes.
Margaret Curtis was proficient in many sports but excelled in golf, winning the Massachusetts State Championship 1901, 1907, 1908, 1914, and the Women's National Golf Championship 1907, 1911, 1912. In 1930 she started the Massachusetts Junior Championship for girls and with her sister Harriot was the founder of the Curtis Cup. Margaret Curtis never married, but worked in Europe and traveled frequently with her lifelong companion, Mabel Sturgis.
For further information see Isabella Hopkinson Halsted, The Aunts (1992). Other Curtis family papers are at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The papers and correspondence of Charles Hopkinson and Elinor Curtis Hopkinson are at the Institute of American Art.


The collection covers principally two generations of the Curtis family and is divided into four series:
Series I, Photographs (#1-24), includes some tintypes, group photographs of the Curtis children taken at regular intervals, and cartes-de-visite and other prints of the Curtises and their friends. Photographs of Harry Curtis document mining at the Cripple Creek Mine, Colorado and those of Margaret Curtis depict war-ravaged France and Margaret Curtis's work with refugees during and after World War I.
Series II, Miscellaneous Curtis and Stevenson family (#25-38), includes scattered 18th century and early 19th century correspondence, notes on genealogy and family history.
Series III, Greely Stevenson and Harriot Appleton Curtis (#39v-139), includes courtship letters from Greely Stevenson Curtis to Harriot Appleton Curtis (ts. transcripts), other letters from Greely Stevenson Curtis to family and friends, and letters from Harriot Appleton Curtis to her mother, aunts, children, and friends. There is information about the Curtis family homes, her estate, and a few recipes. Harriot Appleton Curtis reports on the family's social activities, the careers of her children and their athletic prowess. Her letters to her children are arranged according to their birth order; their letters to her are in Series IV.
Series IV, Children of Greely Stevenson and Harriot Appleton Curtis (#140-520) is arranged by birth order.
William, 1865-1899 (#140). Letters to his family written while living away from home in Boise, Idaho, and other places.
Frances Greely, 1867-1957 (#141-213). Personal correspondence with family and friends describes her European and United States trips, charity work, conference activity, service on the Boston School Committee, and campaign for election as mayor of Boston. The lively social life of an upper class Bostonian is documented in her social notes and invitations. There are also clippings, verse, obituaries, and tributes to her civic activism.
Elinor Curtis Hopkinson, 1869-1947 (#214-241). Correspondence, largely with mother and sisters, documents travel abroad, childbirth, child rearing, and family life. There are also scattered letters from Charles Hopkinson and their children.
Greely Stevenson, 1871-1947 (#242-257). Letters written while a student at Cornell and Zurich; description of the Burgess Curtis Co., manufacturer of sea planes during World War I; and letters from his wife Fanny Hooper.
Isabella, 1873-1966 (#258-328). Personal correspondence with family and friends describes European trips, her attempt to find cures for headaches, her treatment at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and life on Moon Island (Squam Lake); also letters describing fundraising for, and visits to Penn School.
Harry Appleton, 1875-1943 (#329-336). Letters and clippings describe his life in Denver, mining in Colorado, and business life in New York City; also scattered letters from his wife Grace Fargo Chauncey.
Frazier, 1877-1940 (#337-354). Clippings and personal correspondence include descriptions of Harvard, his Western ventures as a cattle broker, life in La Jolla, and marriage to Gladys Raper. Includes letters from his wife describing family life, his depression and eventual suicide.
James Freeman, 1879-1952 (#355-366). Correspondence with family includes references to his career as assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts and Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Treasury, marriage to and divorce from Laura Merriam, and marriage to Eleanor Monroe Green.
Harriot Sumner, 1881-1974 (#367-396). Personal correspondence with family and friends includes references to travel, social news, family life, charity work, her position as dean of women at Hampton Institute, 1927-31, fundraising for the school, and sponsorship of the African American singer Dorothy Maynor. Includes family verse.
Margaret, 1883-1965 (#397-525). Personal correspondence with family, colleagues, and friends. (Some correspondence with Mabel Russell Sturgis (#420, 429-432) is closed until 2001.) Includes professional papers concerning the guardianship of Mary Chandler and Eleanor Chandler, and papers relating to Margaret Curtis's work with French refugees for the Student Atelier Association and American Red Cross during World War I, for the ARC in eastern Europe and Greece in the 1920s, for the International Migration Service, and for the United States War Production Board. Includes clippings and letters about her victories in the National Women's Golf Championships.

Initials and nicknames of members of the Curtis family


Partial index of personal names, organizations, and subjects

Container List

Additional Index Terms

African Americans--Education
Aircraft industry
Boston (Mass.)--Social life and customs
Lesbians--United States
Manchester (Mass.)--Social life and customs
Photographic prints
Social workers
Social workers--United States
Women golfers
Women in aeronautics
World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives, American
Adams, Charles Francis, 1835-1915
Addams, Jane, 1860-1935
American Friends Service Committee
American Red Cross
Appleton, William Sumner, 1874-1947
Appleton family
Boston (Mass.). School Committee
Briggs, Isobel
Cabot, Ella Lyman
Cabot, Richard C. (Richard Clarke), 1868-1939
Clark, Hilda, -1955
Cornell University--Alumni and alumnae
Curtis, Frances Greely, 1867-1957
Curtis, Frazier, 1877-1940
Curtis, Greely Stevenson, 1830-1897
Curtis, Greely Stevenson, 1871-1947
Curtis, Harriot Appleton, 1841-1923
Curtis, Harriot Sumner, 1881-1974
Curtis, Harry Appleton, 1875-1943
Curtis, Isabella, 1873-1966
Curtis, James Freeman
Curtis, Margaret, 1883-1965
Curtis, William, 1865-1899
Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962
Family Welfare Society
Hampton Institute
Harvard University--Alumni and alumnae
Homans, Helen
Hopkinson, Charles, 1869-1962
Hopkinson, Elinor Curtis, 1869-1947
Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
International Immigration Service. American branch
Irwin, Agnes
James, William, 1842-1910
Keller, Helen, 1880-1968
Lee, Joseph, 1862-1937
Longfellow, Alice M. (Alice Mary), 1850-1928
Lowell, Amy, 1874-1925
Masefield, John, 1878-1967
Maynor, Dorothy
Penn School (Saint Helena Island, S.C.)
Radciffe College--Alumni and alumnae
Society of Friends
Stevenson, Hannah
Student Atelier Association
Shurtleff, Helen
Stone, Lucy, 1818-1893
Sturgis, Mabel
United States Committee for the Care of European Children. Boston branch
United States. War Production Board
Washington, Booker T. (Booker Taliaferro), 1856-1915
Whitman, Sarah Wyman, 1842-1904