MHS for the Media

Diary of Thomas Jefferson's Granddaughter Published

Thomas Jefferson's GranddaughterThe Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) announced the publication of Thomas Jefferson's Granddaughter in Queen Victoria's England: The Travel Diary of Ellen Wayles Coolidge, 1838-1839. The diary, part of the Society's collections, unveils the story of Ellen Wayles Coolidge and her experiences abroad. Co-published by the Massachusetts Historical Society and Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the book was edited by Ann Lucas Birle and Lisa A. Francavilla, and is distributed by the University of Virginia Press. Books are on sale at the Massachusetts Historical Society and will soon be available on amazon.com.

In June 1838, Ellen Wayles Coolidge traveled to London with her husband, Joseph Coolidge, Jr. During her nine-month stay Coolidge recorded details of her experiences abroad and of her conversations with writers such as Thomas Carlyle and Harriet Martineau. This volume brings the full text of her diary to publication for the first time with carefully researched annotations that provide historical context. “The publication of this book is the culmination of a wonderful collaboration between the Massachusetts Historical Society and Thomas Jefferson Foundation,” said MHS President Dennis Fiori.

London's docks, theaters, parks, public buildings, and museums all come under Coolidge's astute gaze as she and her husband travel the city and gradually gain entry into some of the most coveted drawing rooms of the time. Coolidge gives firsthand accounts of the fashioning of the young queen’s image by the artists Charles Robert Leslie and Sir Francis Chantrey and takes notes as she watches the queen open Parliament and battle the first scandal of her reign. Her love of painting reawakened, Coolidge chronicles her opportunities to view over four hundred works of art held in both public and private collections, acknowledging a new appreciation for the modern art of J. M. W. Turner and a fondness for the Dutch masters. Across the spectrum of her observations, Coolidge's diary is always strikingly vivid and insightful—and frequently quite funny.

Her diary entries also include memories of her family in Boston and Virginia. As she encounters her mother's schoolgirl friends and recalls the songs her grandfather, Thomas Jefferson, sang while working in his study, Coolidge's thoughts return to her youth at Monticello and the lessons she learned there.

The original four-volume travel diary that Coolidge wrote during her trip to England is housed at the MHS. In 1825, Ellen Wayles Randolph married a Bostonian, Joseph Coolidge, at Monticello and then moved to Massachusetts. The Coolidge family subsequently established a relationship with the MHS that would span generations. Thanks to the generosity of the Coolidge family, the Society is home to the second largest collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts and related family papers. Coolidge’s travel diary came to the MHS in 1964 thanks to Jefferson descendent Mary Barton (Mrs. Edward) Churchill.

Ann Lucas Birle, co-editor of the book, is a scholar at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. She will give a presentation about Ellen Wayles Coolidge and her diary at the MHS on 2 February 2012 at 6:00 PM. A book signing will follow. Co-editor Lisa A. Francavilla is Managing Editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series.

About the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day. The library is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM; Tuesday 9:00 AM to 7:45 PM, and Saturday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The galleries are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.