COLLECTION GUIDES

1874-1965

Guide to the Collection

Restrictions on Access

The Massachusetts Audubon Society Records are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or reference@masshist.org.

There are restrictions on the use of this collection. Users must sign an agreement stating that they understand these restrictions before they will be given access to the collection.


Collection Summary

Abstract

This collection contains the papers of author and conservationist Thornton W. Burgess. The bulk of the collection consists of Burgess's writings, mostly his "Bedtime Stories" syndicated newspaper column for children. It also includes personal and professional papers, scrapbooks, and printed material.

Biographical Sketch

Thornton Waldo Burgess (1874-1965) was born to Caroline F. Haywood and Thornton W. Burgess in Sandwich, Mass. As a young man, Burgess spent much of his time working to earn money for his family, performing outdoor jobs such as tending cows or picking berries. Later, the wildlife areas in which Burgess worked would become the backdrop of his stories. After graduating from Sandwich High School in 1891 and attending business college in Boston for one year, he moved to Springfield, Mass., where he took an editing job at the Phelps Publishing Company and wrote his first stories under the pen name W. B. Thornton. He married Nina Osborne in 1905, but she died soon after giving birth to their son Thornton III. In 1911, Burgess married Fannie H. Phillips Johnson, and the family moved to Hampden, Mass. in 1925.

Throughout his life, Burgess published a wealth of nature-centered stories for children as well as writings on nature conservation. He wrote his first book, Old Mother West Wind, in 1910. From 1912 to 1960, he released a daily newspaper column entitled "Bedtime Stories," a set of nature stories for children featuring a recurring cast of characters including Peter Rabbit, Reddy Fox, Joe Otter, and many others. He also broadcast a weekly radio series about conservation and the humane treatment of animals, the "Radio Nature League," on radio stations WBZ in Boston and WBZA in Springfield. Burgess also helped to organize several non-profit organizations, including the Green Meadow Club promoting land conservation, the Bedtime Stories Club promoting wildlife protection, and the Happy Jack Squirrel's Thrift Club promoting war savings, stamps, and bonds during World War I. He received an honorary degree from Northeastern University in 1938, as well as the Distinguished Service Medal of the Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund.

By 1960, at the age of 86, Burgess had written 170 books and 15,000 daily columns. That same year he published an autobiography entitled Now I Remember: Autobiography of an Amateur Naturalist. After his death in 1965, the Massachusetts Audubon Society purchased Burgess's home in Hampden and converted it into the Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. The Thornton W. Burgess Society, now at the Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich, continues to carry on Burgess's efforts at education and conservation.

Collection Description

The Thornton Burgess papers consist of fourteen cartons, one document box, and one oversize box spanning the years 1874 to 1965. Burgess's personal and professional papers include correspondence with family, publishers, newspaper editors, radio station personnel, and others, as well as several financial and legal documents. Also included are papers and correspondence related to Burgess's work on Happy Jack Squirrel's Thrift Club (1918-1919), a program to promote savings bonds and stamps for children during World War I; his correspondence with Harrison Cady, artist and illustrator of Burgess's stories; birthday cards sent to him by elementary school children; and an account book from his teenage years in Sandwich, Mass.

The bulk of the collection consists of Burgess's writings, primarily typescripts of his daily syndicated children's series "Bedtime Stories," some of which are accompanied by a newspaper clipping of the column illustrated by Harrison Cady. Also included in Burgess's writings are typescripts of his magazine articles, Radio Nature League radio talks, and other miscellaneous writings.

Printed material consists of articles and stories written by Burgess, as well as his 1960 autobiography Now I Remember and greeting cards created by Burgess in 1910 and 1911. The collection includes several scrapbooks, the bulk of which contain newspaper clippings of Burgess's published "Bedtime Stories" with illustrations by Harrison Cady from 1911 to 1918. Other scrapbooks include personal and professional correspondence between Burgess and his family and friends, news articles about Burgess's career as an author, and clippings of other published writings. One scrapbook exclusively contains correspondence and press coverage related to the release of Burgess's 10,000th story.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, 2008.

Restrictions on Access

The Massachusetts Audubon Society Records are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or reference@masshist.org.

There are restrictions on the use of this collection. Users must sign an agreement stating that they understand these restrictions before they will be given access to the collection.

Restrictions on Use

The Massachusetts Historical Society does not claim ownership to the literary rights (copyright) of writings, drawings, or other materials created by Thornton W. Burgess or Harrison Cady in the Thornton W. Burgess Papers. The Massachusetts Historical Society cannot give permission to publish or quote from documents by individuals for whom it does not hold copyright. Access to these materials does not imply permission to publish. It is the sole responsibility of the researcher to obtain formal permission from the owners of the literary rights (copyright) to publish or quote from all materials created by Burgess.

All reproductions, including photocopies and digital photographs are for personal use only. Personal use copies may not be donated or deposited in other libraries or archives, or made available to other researchers without the written permission of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Personal and professional papers, 1874-1965

This series contains Burgess's personal and professional correspondence, as well as a small amount of legal and financial material. Included are letters from family and friends, dealings with his publishers and others seeking to reference his work, papers related to Burgess's 1918-1919 Happy Jack Squirrel Thrift Club project, his correspondence with artist Harrison Cady, birthday cards created by children, and an account book from his teenage years in Sandwich.

A. Correspondence, 1874-1964

Arranged chronologically.

Along with an 1874 letter from Burgess's father to his mother, this subseries contains correspondence between Burgess and his family and friends. It includes thank-you letters from relatives to whom Burgess sent money; correspondence between Burgess and his wife, children, and grandchildren; letters of introduction; and holiday cards. Here also is correspondence with various publications regarding the rights to Burgess's stories, records of purchase, requests to use Burgess's writings, royalties, publishing contracts, and various accounts and receipts.

For personal correspondence with artist Harrison Cady, see Series I.C.

Box 1SH 1A21Folders 1-19

B. Happy Jack Thrift Club papers, 1918-1919

Arranged chronologically and by record type.

This subseries contains correspondence and other materials related to Burgess's work on Happy Jack Squirrel's Thrift Club, a World War I savings club aimed at encouraging children to purchase stamps and to save money. Illustrated by Harrison Cady, Burgess's character Happy Jack Squirrel acted as the club's mascot. In addition to correspondence related to the club's creation, the subseries contains copies of editorials written by Burgess that were published in several newspapers.

Box 1SH 1A21Folders 20-25

C. Harrison Cady correspondence, 1943-1965

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries contains correspondence between Burgess and prominent illustrator Harrison Cady of New York City and Rockport, Mass. Cady's distinctive illustrations of Burgess's characters contributed to the popularity of the "Bedtime Stories" series. Letters discuss both personal and professional matters.

Box 1SH 1A21Folders 26-29

D. Birthday cards, 1962

Included are birthday cards created by second-grade students in Republic, Missouri for Burgess' 88th birthday in 1962. A set of undated birthday cards were sent from kindergarteners in Hampden, Mass.

Box 1SH 1A12Folders 30-33

E. Account book, 1891-1892

Burgess's account book lists his weekly income and expenses for groceries, clothing, and sundries during his last year in high school in Sandwich, Mass.

Box 1SH 1A12Folder 34

II. Writings, 1913-1965

For additional material written by Burgess, see also Series III. Printed Material and Series IV. Scrapbooks.

A. "Bedtime Stories" typescripts, 1913-1965

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries contains typescripts of Burgess's syndicated daily newspaper column, "Bedtime Stories." Spanning almost fifty years, "Bedtime Stories" chronicled the adventures of a group of animal characters including Peter Rabbit, Old Grandfather Frog, Lightfoot the Deer, Reddy Fox, and Bobby Coon, and earned Burgess his fame as a children's author. Stories were based on facts about the flora and fauna of the Sandwich area where Burgess grew up and included a moral lesson typical of children's short stories. Some typescripts are accompanied by newspaper clippings of the same story, illustrated by Harrison Cady.

Carton 1SH 17N2 Z
1913-June 1923
Carton 2SH 17QM F
July 1923-1927
Carton 3SH 17MV K
1928-June 1934
Carton 4SH 17QR K
July 1934-September 1941
Carton 5SH 17N3 -
October 1941-1945
Carton 6SH 17MW L
1946-1948
Carton 7SH 17MY N
1949-June 1953
Carton 8SH 17N1 Y
July 1953-February 1957
Carton 9SH 17MR G
March 1957-1960
Carton 10SH 17QQ J
1961-August 1963
Carton 11SH 17QK DFolders 1-55
September 1963-September 1965

B. People's Home Journal articles, 1922-1928

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries contains typescripts of articles written by Burgess that appeared in the People's Home Journal between 1922 and 1928. Included are typescripts from his serial column "Mother Nature News Page," various articles on animals and nature, and articles based on the characters from his "Bedtime Stories" series.

Carton 11SH 17QK DFolders 56-61

C. Radio typescripts, 1925-1941

Arranged chronologically within each category.

Included in this subseries are transcripts of Burgess's radio broadcasts, including "Radio Nature League," his weekly show on WBZ Boston and WBZA Springfield. The ten- to fifteen-minute broadcasts were structured as "League meetings" and included discussions of environmental and conservation issues, readings of member correspondence, and guest interviews. Several typescripts were written for Burgess's wife Fannie to read in his absence.

The Burgess radio talks were written as a weekly fifteen-minute broadcast in much the same format as the those of the Radio Nature League. Beginning in January 1935, Brewer and Co. of Worcester, Mass. became a sponsor of the show, enabling it to air on both Wednesday and Sunday evenings. The subseries also includes typescripts of Burgess's 1937 school talks on WSPR in Springfield and miscellaneous broadcasts including holiday talks, dramatizations, interviews, broadcast drafts, and a script for NBC radio.

Radio Nature League talks, 1925-1937

Carton 11SH 17QK DFolders 62-99
September 1925-August 1928
Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 1-42
September 1928-May 1937
Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 18-38
Burgess/Burgess-Brewer radio talks, 1934-1936
Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 39-41
WSPR school talks, 1937
Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 42-53
Miscellaneous broadcasts, 1931-1941

D. Miscellaneous writings, 1924-1963

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries contains largely undated writings, including an article about the endangered heath hen, several fictional scripts for television adaptation, and autobiographical sketches.

Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 54-60

III. Printed material, 1895-1962

Arranged chronologically and by size.

Included in this series is printed material written by Thornton Burgess, material about him, and miscellaneous printed material related to Burgess and his work. Material written by Burgess includes published copies of his writings in The Bride's Primer (1905) and other early writings in which he used the pen name W. B. Thornton; 1906-1911 articles in Good Housekeeping; copies of his serial newspaper column "Bedtime Stories" (1912-1958); copies of his "Mother Nature's News" column from the People's Home Journal (1917-1918): and copies of his "Radio Nature League News" column, a nationally syndicated Sunday feature that largely drew from his Radio Nature League radio scripts. Also included is a copy of Burgess's autobiography, Now I Remember: Autobiography of an Amateur Naturalist (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1960). "The Burgess Letters" are a line of greeting cards created by Burgess and printed by Barse and Hopkins between 1910 and 1911. Miscellaneous material includes zoological studies and publications, newspaper clippings, and brochures related to Burgess's work and interests.

Material written by Thornton Burgess, 1896-1946

Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 61-84
1896-1946
OS Box 1SH 1A22Folders 1-6
1897-1930
Carton 12SH 17MU JVol. 1
Now I Remember: Autobiography of an Amateur Naturalist, 1960
Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 85-86
Material written about Thornton Burgess, 1932-1961
Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 87-90
"The Burgess Letters" greeting cards, 1910-1911

Miscellaneous printed material, 1895-1962

Carton 12SH 17MU JFolders 91-93
1895-1962
Box 2SH 1A22Folder 7
1914-1921

IV. Scrapbooks, 1898-1947

Arranged chronologically and by size.

Carton 13SH 17QS LFolders 1-4
Scrapbook I, 1898-1900

This disbound scrapbook contains newspaper articles written by Burgess under various pseudonyms, including editorials by "Willie MacDougall," a fictional Irish character with stereotypical opinions on popular culture and fashion. Articles about military issues and letters to the editor are also included.

Carton 14SH 17QP IVol. 2
Scrapbook II, 1912

This scrapbook contains correspondence from 1912, the bulk from fans thanking Burgess for his work as a writer.

Carton 14SH 17QP IVols. 3-9
Scrapbooks III-IX, 1912-1918

These scrapbooks contains newspaper clippings of Burgess's "Bedtime Stories" illustrated by Harrison Cady.

Carton 14SH 17QP IVol. 10
Scrapbook X, 1913

This scrapbook contains news articles about Thornton Burgess and his success as an author.

Carton 13SH 17QS LVol. 11
Scrapbook XI, 1916-1929

This scrapbook contains advertisements related to Burgess's work, newspaper clippings of the "Bedtime Stories" series, and newspaper and magazine articles about Burgess's writing career.

Carton 13SH 17QS LFolders 7-16
Scrapbook XII, 1944-1947

This disbound scrapbook contains correspondence as well as newspaper and magazine articles related to Burgess's 10,000th "Bedtime Story" column. It also contains World War II war bond advertisements written by Burgess and correspondence related to the project.

Carton 14SH 17QP IVol. 12
Scrapbook XIII, n.d.

This scrapbook was a birthday gift for Burgess from Leon W. Morris and features newspaper clippings of his bedtime stories alongside cartoon characters pasted in as illustrations. It also contains a small inscription and a greeting card.

Preferred Citation

Thornton Burgess papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.

Persons:

Burgess, Thornton W. (Thornton Waldo), 1874-1965.
Cady, Harrison, 1877-1970.

Organizations:

Massachusetts Audubon Society.
WBZ (Radio station: Boston, Mass.).
WBZA (Radio station: Springfield, Mass.).

Subjects:

Authors, American - 20th century.
Authorship--Juvenile literature.
Children's radio programs.
Children's stories, American.
Conservationists--Massachusetts.
Literary manuscripts.
Nature stories, American.
Scrapbooks, 1898-1947.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives.

Wooden and cardboard animal characters (based on Harrison Cady illustrations) have been removed to the MHS Artifact Collection.

A 1918 Distinguished Service medal from the Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund has been removed to the MHS Numismatics Collection.