Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of correspondence, letterbooks, and other papers of William M. Olin describing his service with the 36th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War; the activities of the Grand Army of the Republic, of which he was an officer; his work as Massachusetts secretary of state; and the establishment of a uniform design for the Great Seal of Massachusetts.

Biographical Sketch

William Milo Olin was born in Warrenton, Georgia, on 18 Sep. 1845, the son of William M. Olin, Sr. and his wife Mary Augusta (Bowen) Olin. The family moved to Worcester, Mass. when William was young, and he attended the common schools of Worcester, Grafton, and Leicester. In 1862, he enlisted as a private in the 36th Massachusetts Regiment, serving in the Army of the Potomac under General McClellan. He participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., Dec. 1862; the "Mud March" under General Burnside, Feb. 1863; engagements at Blue Springs and Campbell Station, Tenn.; the siege of Knoxville; and skirmishes at Strawberry Plains, Tenn. and Petersburg, Va., 1865. After the war, he settled in Roxbury, Mass. and married Lizzie Wadsworth Read, with whom he had two children: Edwin Read Olin and Caroline Lathrop Olin. He studied phonography and American history under Rev. Edward Everett Hale.

From 1865-1879, Olin was a reporter and editor for the Boston Daily Advertiser. In 1879, he was appointed private secretary to Governor Thomas Talbot of Massachusetts, serving in a similar capacity for Governor John D. Long from 1880-1882. In 1882-1885, he became secretary and chief clerk in the Boston Customhouse under collector Roland Worthington, and from 1885-1890 was clerk to the U.S. Committee on Indian Affairs under Senator Henry Laurens Dawes. Returning to Boston in 1890, Olin resumed his post at the Customhouse under collector Alanson W. Beard. In 1891, he was elected secretary of state of Massachusetts, an office he would hold until his death in 1911. During this period, he was also closely associated with the Grand Army of the Republic, serving as adjutant general, inspector general, and senior vice commander in chief. He was also lieutenant colonel and assistant adjutant general of the 1st Brigade, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, from 1882-1889. He was a member of the St. Botolph Club, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Middlesex Club.

Olin died in Boston on 15 Apr. 1911, his wife Lizzie having died in 1887.


Brown, Gilbert Patten. "Colonel William Milo Olin, Massachusetts." Masonic Voice Review, vol. 13, no. 5 (May 1911). pp. 139-141.

Collection Description

This collection contains correspondence, 1861-1911; genealogies; six letterbooks of Olin's private letters, 1893-1911; a book of minutes of the John E. Gilman Camp No. 6, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Roxbury, Mass., 1936-1943; and an undated book locating veterans' graves at Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston, Mass. Included are Olin's letters to his mother, 1861, regarding personal matters and a transcript of excerpts from letters written 1862-1865 while he was a private in the 36th Massachusetts Volunteers. These letters contain descriptions of the Battle of Fredericksburg, the capture of Vicksburg in 1863, the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, and at Petersburg, 1865. Also included are printed requisitions, orders, and requests for reports from Gov. John Andrew, 1862-1863. Letters dated 1876-1877 include correspondence from Senator George S. Boutwell, George Frisbie Hoar, and John G. Blaine. As private secretary to Gov. Thomas Talbot, Olin was involved in the plan to establish a uniform design for the Great Seal of Massachusetts. Papers on this subject consist of a collection of state seals, 1879-1880, apparently for use as guides, and a copy of the legislative act setting the final design, 1885.

Papers concerning Olin's interest in veterans' organizations date from 1881 with a letter offering Olin the position of adjutant general in the Grand Army of the Republic and include correspondence about the activities and policies of that organization, documented applications for membership, requests for aid for disabled veterans, and the history of the Massachusetts Department. In 1901, Olin was involved in rejecting a controversial history of the Civil War written by J. H. Stine of Dayton, Ohio, as a school reference book. Additional correspondence in 1901 between Col. Nathaniel Wales and the War Department relates to opposition to the Congressional Medal of Honor proposed for Col. Albert A. Pope and includes details of service at Fort Jackson. Olin's interest in veterans' pension legislation spans the period 1893-1911, and papers refer to G.A.R. positions on provisions for widows and nurses and to Olin's work securing legislative support for the Sulloway Bill.

Papers pertaining to Olin's tenure as Massachusetts secretary of state include official letters confirming his elections between 1891 and 1911 and endorsement letters from H. L. Dawes and Edward Everett Hale. Correspondence with Dawes also relates to Olin's attempt to secure an appointment as representative in Washington to the Wool Association in 1893. Correspondence with John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, over a long period concerns personal matters, Olin's recommendations for appointments to federal vacancies, suggestions for naming batteries at Fort Warren in 1901, and the administration of oaths of office in Massachusetts. Included are letters of various office holders and seekers; correspondence, 1903-1904, related to Massachusetts claims against the United States for the War of 1812 and the Provincetown claim; and letters about inscriptions for the Hooker memorial statue, 1904.

Letters regarding the Middlesex Club Programs Committee, 1893-1911, chaired by Olin, include correspondence with William T. Sampson, Richard Wainwright, John D. Long, Robley D. Evans, Capt. C. E. Clark, Maj. Gen. John R. Brooke, and Adna Romanza Chaffee.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Gilbert L. Bean, February 1965.

Box List to the Collection

Box 1
Songs, poems, misc. genealogy, and Notebook A & B, 1848-1949
Box 2
Notebook C, John E. Gilman Camp No. 46 records, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), and skits, 1931-1946
Vol. 1
Letterbook, 13 Mar. 1893-28 Feb. 1895
Vol. 2
Letterbook, 1 Mar. 1895-27 May 1896
Vol. 3
Letterbook, 27 May 1896-1 Oct. 1897
Vol. 4
Letterbook, 1 Oct. 1897-20 Feb. 1900
Vol. 5
Letterbook, 21 Feb. 1900-3 Aug. 1904
Vol. 6
Letterbook, 4 Aug. 1904-11 Apr. 1911

Preferred Citation

William Milo Olin 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.


Blaine, James Gillespie, 1830-1893.
Dawes, Henry L. (Henry Laurens), 1816-1903.
Hoar, George Frisbie, 1826-1904.
Long, John Davis, 1838-1915.


Grand Army of the Republic. Department of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts. Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Middlesex Club.
United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 36th (1862-1865).
United States Customhouse (Boston, Mass.).


Customs administration--Massachusetts--Boston.
Fredericksburg, Battle of, Fredericksburg, Va., 1862.
Massachusetts--Politics and government.
Petersburg Crater, Battle of, Va., 1864.
Sulloway Bill.
United States--Armed Forces--Pay allowances, etc.--Law and legislation.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--Massachusetts Infantry, 36th Volunteers.
Vicksburg (Miss.)--History--Siege, 1863.
Wilderness, Battle of the, Va., 1864.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives. A daguerreotype of William Milo Olin as a child has been removed and cataloged separately.