The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

New Collection Guide: Edward Atkinson Papers

A new guide to the Edward Atkinson papers, 1819-1920, is now available on the Massachusetts Historical Society website  ( Previously only minimally described, the newly processed collection and finding aid contribute to a fuller understanding of the breadth of Edward Atkinson's business affairs.

Edward Atkinson was born on 10 February 1827 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He began working as a teenager and became a very well-known and respected authority in a number of business fields and social causes including cotton manufacturing, anti-slavery, fire prevention and insurance, and the science of nutrition, to name but a few.

The loose correspondence has been reorganized, and where applicable, separate series of correspondence have been created. We hope this will save researchers some time as they look for letters from many of Atkinson's most frequent correspondents, including Wilbur Olin Atwater, Thomas F. Bayard, Jonathan Chace, John Murray Forbes, Franklin L. Ford, Charles Nordhoff, Charles Eliot Norton, John Ott, Ellen H. Richards, or David Ames Wells. 

Additionally, the 79 letterbooks have been re-indexed as part of the project; the new cumulative index can be found at the bottom of the collection guide. Outside of the above named separate series, there is no name index to the loose correspondence, but the index to the letterbooks can be used as a guide to narrow down a potential date or date range of Atkinson's incoming mail. In the finding aid, each letterbook is also described separately with a list of selected subjects discussed and frequent recipients.

Indexing the letterbooks proved challenging as over the years, in at least two purges, letters were removed either by Atkinson or his descendants prior to the collection's arrival at the Historical Society, and in creating the new index we found instances where letters were removed after the handwritten indexes were made. While the cumulative indexes do not include entries for the letters removed from the letterbook volumes, the original handwritten indexes remain available at the beginning of each letterbook. We took care to catch each instance, and often mourned the loss of letters which promised to be interesting or quirky, such as Atkinson's letter to the Department of Lost Umbrellas.

Contributions to the creation of the finding aid were made by Kimberly Kennedy, Kyle Hudgins, Rebecca Hecht, Susan Martin, and Peter K. Steinberg. Support for this project was provided by the FM Global Foundation.

Please note that the Edward Atkinson papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least one business day in advance. Contact the Library at or (617) 536-1608 to request materials. Please discuss your request with the reading room staff before requesting cartons by barcode.

permalink | Published: Thursday, 7 January, 2010, 10:24 AM


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