Elizabeth Rous Comstock papers  1740-1929 (bulk 1860-1880)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Elizabeth Rous Comstock papers (282 items) contain letters and writings related to Comstock's family, her Quaker ministry, and her social reform activities. The letters span her entire career with the greatest concentration of correspondence centering on her work with the Kansas Freedmen's Association and on her family life. In addition to the Elizabeth Comstock material, the collection contains content related to her daughter Caroline, her grandchildren, and to the Kempton family.

The Correspondence series (151 items) contains 123 items related to Elizabeth Comstock and her family. The bulk of the collection consists of letters written by or addressed to Elizabeth Comstock between 1847 and 1890.

These letters fall into roughly two groups:

  • Elizabeth’s correspondence with her friends, acquaintances, and immediate family, particularly with her husband, daughter, and sister Caroline.
  • Correspondence related to Elizabeth’s work with social reforms and social justice, primarily concerning her relief work in Kansas in 1879 and 1880.

The family and friends correspondence primarily relates to everyday life, such as work, homemaking, visiting, family life; contemporary issues such as the Civil War and slavery; and news of friends and family, including illnesses, marriages, and deaths. Elizabeth wrote many of the letters, which document her perspective on her work, her marriage and relationship with her husband, and on religion and the Society of Friends. Elizabeth’s preaching, charitable work, and travels are often mentioned in these letters, including her trip across the Atlantic in early 1884. These letters cover both theoretical discussions of religious topics and discussions of the Society of Friends, its policies, and its schools. A subset of these letters regards Caroline De Greene’s serious illness and "mental suffering" in 1870, which may have been related to childbirth. Also of note is a letter from Elizabeth Steere that describes her experiences living in the remote Minnesota Territory (December 9, 1856).

The second group of Elizabeth's correspondence mainly consists of letters between Elizabeth and Joshua Longstreth Bailey, a dry goods merchant and philanthropist, who assisted her in her work with the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association from 1879 to 1881. Elizabeth discusses the logistics of supplying newly arrived African Americans with food, shelter, and a means of subsistence, and relates information about the migrants and their experiences in both the South and in Kansas. Elizabeth shares, in depth, her perspective on this large migration, which she refers to as "the Exodus." An item of note is a letter from John W. Snodgrass proposing a plan to buy land to aid resettled former slaves in Kansas (May 3, 1881). Other items concern Comstock's work to improve the lives of former slaves and prisoners during the Civil War, including a letter from Ed Howland who wrote to Comstock of a "plan before Congress to change the whole plan of taking care of colored people" (February 3, 1865). B. Dornblaser, the warden at the Illinois State Penitentiary, wrote to Comstock about pardoning Frederick Marx from Kentucky who was "tricked" into buying a stolen mule (April 5, 1865). She also communicated with Thomas Story Kirkbride, superintendent of the Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane (March 6, 1870).

The collection also contains material related to her daughter Caroline and to Elizabeth's grandchildren. Much of this is correspondence between Caroline and members of her family, regarding news, daily life, traveling and visiting, religion, work, and school. Of interest are letters of reference for Caroline "Calla" De Greene in support of continuing her education and recommending her for positions teaching French and German at the college level (May 2, 1893, July 11 and October 5, 1898, May 10, 1905, and March 19, 1906).

The Kempton Family material consists of 26 letters, which largely concern religious issues, everyday life, and news of family and friends. These include the 7 earliest items in the series, from 1827-1828, with the rest scattered throughout.

The Commonplace Book and Diary series (2 items) contains an 1839 commonplace book (52 pages) of poems and essays inscribed as belonging to Charity Kempton. Many entries center on the theme of a loved one leaving on a sea voyage. These include passages called "Seamen's Hymn," "Matrimonial Chart," and "The Old Oaken Bucket." The second item is Elizabeth Comstock's 34-page travel diary (8 blank pages) during the summer of 1878. It contains Biblical verses, brief descriptions of places she visited, notes on her activities, and notes on religious services she attended.

The Poems Series (10 items) contains handwritten copies of poems, all of which are religious in nature. Included among the 9 unattributed poems are a cautionary poem on dancing and drinking, a 16-page poem called "The Ministry of Angels," and a poem entitled "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: A Dialogue in Verse." The single attributed poem is a copy of William Cowper's "God Moves in Mysterious Ways."

The Corrections for Caroline Hare's Life and Letters of Elizabeth Comstock series (1 item) is 7 pages of notes and corrections for Caroline Hare's biography of Elizabeth Comstock (see the Related Materials section for information on the Clements' copy of this book). The comments range from grammatical edits to insights into personal events and her ministerial efforts.

The Miscellaneous Writings series (25 items) contains non-correspondence material including: religious quotations, miscellaneous notes jotted down on scraps of paper, Friends meeting minutes, recipes, and essays on religion and marriage. Most of these items are unattributed but are likely from Elizabeth Comstock, Chastity Kempton, and others. Of note is a three-page item containing "Dying expressions of Soldiers," including the last words of a soldier on the Battlefield of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), and those of a man about to be hung in Nashville, Tennessee. This series also contains instructions for refining sugar, and remedies for common maladies, such as heartburn, dysentery, snake bites, and nausea, "By the celibrated Indian Doctor John Mackintosh, of the Cherokee Nation; None of which have ever before been communicated to the world" (undated).

The Documents series (11 items) contains various official documents related to the Comstock and Kempton families.

Of note are:

  • Elizabeth Comstock's ancestors’ 1740 marriage covenant between William and Mary Moore
  • A deed from Isaac Steer to Aaron Kempton in Woodstock, Michigan (1845)
  • A handwritten pass from Philip Henry Sheridan allowing Comstock and her companion Mary B. Bradford to travel by rail to Baltimore, through enemy lines (December 9. 1864)
  • A document entitled "The Colored Exodus. A Statement of Monies Received from Various States, Canada, and England.
  • Elizabeth's sister Lydia Rous' last will and testament (March 5, 1889).

The Accounts series (6 items) contains 3 lists of books to be sent to various Friends libraries and associations, 1 list of donated goods such as fabric and clothes addressed to E. Smith of Victoria Road, an 1875 bill for goods, and an item documenting money owed with interest for an unspecified purpose.

The Printed Ephemera series (24 items) includes miscellaneous printed material: passes to cross Union and Confederate lines during the Civil War; 8 "Bible Reading Leaflets;" two Quaker related essays; a fragment of a book labeled "Self-Communion" (pages 3-10); 4 poems (prayers); 4 event cards; and a catalogue for mechanical farming equipment. The collection also holds one of Comstock's hymn books entitled, Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs (Words Only) , by P.P. Bliss and Ira Sankey. The handmade cover is reinforced with a portion of a postcard stamped March 9, 1878 (95 small pages of hymns).

The Newspaper Clippings series (50 items) is composed of printed items related to the Kansas Freedman's Relief program. These include several essays and articles written by Comstock and her colleagues, as well as newspaper stories about Comstock's activities aiding African American "refugees" in Kansas, who were suffering from sickness, poverty, and unemployment. Many of these include pleas for charity. The clippings come from newspapers across America, as well as from England.

The Prints and Photographs series (8 items) consists of 7 photographs, including 2 of Elizabeth and 1 of her daughter Caroline, one print of the residence of R. Hathaway in Rollin, Michigan.

The photographs depict:

  • Elizabeth Comstock, taken in Philadelphia for De Greene, undated
  • Elizabeth Comstock portrait, hand colored and in a small square wooden frame (Behind his photograph, as part of the backing, is a small picture of 7 angels with trumpets, clipped from a postcard).
  • Carrie Wright De Greene O'Harrow, 1881
  • Freddie Hare at age 4 ½, August 1874, labeled "for Carrie" (Carte-de-visite)
  • Unlabeled picture of a girl, undated
  • Woman reading (likely Caroline Hare), accompanying the letter dated February 22, 1882 (Carte-de-visite taken by J. Cooper)
  • A portrait of a woman in a small metal frame accompanying the letter from March 16, 1870.

Other Images include:

  • A machine catalogue with images of: Cooks Sugar Evaporator, Cross-Cut sawing machine, a victor mill, vertical mill with sweep below, and a back-geared mill
  • Ink sketch of Caroline Hare’s home in letter, February 13, 1870
  • An engraved portrait of Comstock in a newspaper clipping from early 1881
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