Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the papers of the Bowditch family of Massachusetts and New York, including the correspondence of archaeologist Charles Pickering Bowditch and his immediate family, 1849-1952. The collection also includes five diaries kept by Charles P. Bowditch's daughter, Katharine P. Bowditch, during her travels abroad between the years 1898-1917.

Biographical Sketch

Charles Pickering Bowditch (1842-1921) was the son of Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch and Lucy O. Nichols Bowditch and the grandson of Nathaniel Bowditch. After earning his degree from Harvard College, he served as first and second lieutenant and captain of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and as captain of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War.

Bowditch is perhaps best known for his pioneering work as an archeologist, specializing in Maya hieroglyphic writing. In 1910, he published The Numeration, Calendar Systems and Astronomical Knowledge of the Mayas, one of the premier studies of the subject. He was also a major benefactor to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and served as treasurer of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1905 to 1915 and president from 1917 to 1919.

On 7 June 1866, he married Cornelia Livingston Rockwell (1841-1930), daughter of the Hon. Judge Julius and Lucy Forbes Walker. The couple lived in Jamaica Plain, Mass. and had four children: Cornelia Bowditch (b. 1867), Lucy Rockwell Bowditch (b. 1868; married in 1894 Franklin Greene Balch), Katharine Putnam Bowditch (b. 1870; married in 1899 Ernest Amory Codman), and Ingersoll Bowditch (b. 1875; married in 1904 Sylvia Church Scudder).

Collection Description

The Charles Pickering Bowditch family papers consist of 11 document boxes and 5 cases encompassing the years 1849-1952. The collection is divided into two series: I. Charles P. Bowditch correspondence and II. Bowditch family papers.

The first series, Charles P. Bowditch correspondence, includes letters to and from his mother Lucy Nichols Bowditch and his father Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch as a child and a student at Harvard, as well as his years serving in the Civil War. Letters from his wife Cornelia Rockwell Bowditch to her parents, Charles P. Bowditch, and his family and various friends are also included. This series contains a number of letters written to Cornelia Rockwell and Charles P. Bowditch on the occasion of their marriage from friends and family members. After 1866, the theme shifts to family life and events as the couple begins to settle into a home and start a family. Charles P. Bowditch traveled frequently for his work, and the later years of this series include correspondence to his wife and daughter, as well as to his extended family and friends. Correspondence between the sisters Cornelia, Lucy, and Katharine also becomes more frequent as they grow old enough to travel on their own. Of particular interest is the correspondence written by several different members of the family while vacationing abroad and their descriptions and frequent illustrations of the people and events they encounter.

In the second series in this collection, the Bowditch family papers, the focus is on Charles P. Bowditch's daughters and their correspondence with each other, as well as friends and extended family. This series also contains 6 bound volumes, including 5 travel diaries kept by Katharine Bowditch during her travels in Europe and Asia, 1897-1910. Finally, this series includes miscellaneous memorabilia consisting of news clippings and keepsakes such as calling cards, address books, invitations, and pamphlets.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. Cornelia Wheeler, Cambridge, Mass., May 2001.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Charles Pickering Bowditch correspondence, 1849-1899

Arranged chronologically.

The bulk of this series contains correspondence between members of the Bowditch family. In addition to letters exchanged between a young Charles P. Bowditch and his family and friends, this box also includes the earliest correspondence between Charles P. Bowditch and his future wife Cornelia Rockwell. Of particular interest are the letters written to and from Charles P. Bowditch and his parents concerning his time spent serving in the Civil War. Lucy Orne Nichols Bowditch, Charles P. Bowditch's mother, expresses concern over her son's health and state of mind in the field. Letters written between January and June of 1865 discuss the end of the Civil War and friends who were killed in action. Charles P. Bowditch married Cornelia Rockwell in June of 1866, and the bulk of this correspondence includes letters from family and friends wishing them well.

Included is correspondence between the daughters and their parents, as well as to various family friends and extended family members, concerning trips abroad, as well as everyday life. Near the 1890s, correspondence between the sisters becomes more frequent as they live away from each other in different parts of the country. Of particular interest are letters written to Charles P. Bowditch from his sister Charlotte, who was visiting Japan. Her letters, which were written in September and October of 1897, are written on delicate hand-painted scrolls of Japanese stationary and include photographs taken of Tokyo, Kyoto, and other places they visited. Charlotte also includes vivid accounts of the characters and customs they encountered.

Box 1
Correspondence, undated, 1849-1864
Box 2
Correspondence, 1865-Sep. 1866
Box 3
Correspondence, Oct. 1866-1867
Box 4
Correspondence, 1868-1869
Box 5
Correspondence, 1870-1871
Box 6
Correspondence, 1872-1875
Box 7
Correspondence, 1876-1885
Box 8
Correspondence, 1886-1892
Box 9
Correspondence, 1893-1899

II. Bowditch family papers, 1879-1952

A. Correspondence, 1900-1952

Arranged chronologically.

The bulk of these boxes consists of correspondence between Bowditch daughters, friends, and family concerning everyday family life and events and travels in Europe, Mexico, and Asia. Of particular interest is a letter written in August of 1923 to Lucy Bowditch from her friend Sally Burrage discussing the death of President Harding and speculating on the presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

Box 10
Correspondence, 1900-1909
Box 11Folder 1-9
Correspondence, 1910-1952

B. Katharine Putnam Bowditch travel diaries, 1897-1910

This subseries contains diaries kept by Katharine Putnam Bowditch while traveling in Europe, 1897-1898, and in 1910. Pasted into the volumes are photographs and postcards depicting people and places visited, as well as calling cards, receipts, and plant specimens. The volumes also include sketches by Bowditch of events narrated in the diaries.

Vol. 1
Travel diary, 15 July-30 Sep. 1897
Box 11Folder 10
Items removed from travel diary, 15 July-30 Sep. 1897
Vol. 2
Travel diary, 4 Feb.-19 May 1898
Box 11Folder 11
Items removed from travel diary, 4 Feb.-19 May 1898
Vol. 3
Travel diary, 21 May-5 Sep. 1898
Box 11Folder 12
Items removed from travel diary, 21 May-5 Sep. 1898
Vol. 4
Travel diary, 6-17 Sep. 1898
Box 11Folder 13
Items removed from travel diary, 6-17 Sep. 1898
Vol. 5
Travel diary, 21 June-14 Aug. 1910
Box 11Folder 14
Items removed from travel diary, 21 June-14 Aug. 1910

C. Miscellaneous, 1879-1928

Box 11Folder 15
Memoranda book kept by unidentified Bowditch family member, 1883
Box 11Folder 16
News clippings, 1879-1928
Box 11Folder 17
Calling cards, address books, invitations, and pamphlets

Preferred Citation

Charles P. Bowditch family 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.


Balch, Lucy Rockwell Bowditch, 1868-
Bowditch, Charlotte, 1846-1919.
Bowditch, Cornelia, 1867-
Bowditch, Cornelia Livingston Rockwell‚ 1841-1930.
Bowditch family.
Bowditch, Jonathan Ingersoll, 1806-1889.
Bowditch, Lucy Nichols, 1816-1883.
Codman, Katharine Putnam Bowditch, 1870-


Harvard College (1780-)--Students.
United States. Army. Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, 5th (1862-1865).
United States. Army. Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, 55th (1861-1865).


Europe--Description and travel--1800-1918.
Japan--Description and travel--1800-1918.
Massachusetts--Social life and customs.
Mexico--Description and travel.
New York (State)--Social life and customs.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--Massachusetts Cavalry, 5th Volunteers.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--Massachusetts Cavalry, 55th Volunteers.
Voyages and travels.