Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Lydia and Elisa Bigelow Papers, 1839-1850, 1889

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, September 1996

Summary Information
Title: Lydia and Elisa Bigelow papers
Creator: Hathaway, Lydia S. Bigelow, 1822-1850 and Page, Elisa Wales Bigelow, 1815-1883
Inclusive dates: 1839-1850, 1889
Extent: 30 items
The Bigelow papers consist of twenty-eight letters, almost all of which were written by Lydia S. Bigelow Hathaway to her sister Elisa Wales Bigelow Page between 1839 and 1850. The letters are entirely personal in nature, covering a range of domestic and family topics.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated, 1986. M-2295.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Lydia and Elisa Bigelow papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


In the 1830s, the sisters Lydia and Elisa Bigelow could trace their ancestry in Massachusetts back almost two centuries. The daughters of John (1783-1853) and Abigail Richardson (1795-1868) Bigelow, the sisters were born in Boston, though they and their five brothers remained in Worcester throughout most of the antebellum years, living solidly respectable lives as members of the artisanal and middle class.

Lydia attended a girls' school in Petersham, Mass., and within a couple of years of graduation, married a clerk in the Worcester dry goods firm of H. & H. Chamberlain, Samuel Hathaway. Elisa, the elder sister by seven years, had married Henry A. Page a year previously, in 1842. The women's led lives that, typically for the era, revolved around the domestic sphere of family, church, and the community of female friends. Lydia's life, however, was quite short, ending in 1850.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Bigelow papers consist of thirty letters, almost all of which were written by Lydia S. Bigelow Hathaway (1822-1850) to her sister Elisa Wales Bigelow Page (1815-1883) between 1839 and 1850. The earliest letters date from when Lydia was a seventeen year old student in Petersham, Mass., and and the correspondence continues irregularly into her married life in Lynn and Worcester, up to the year of her death in 1850. The letters are entirely personal in nature, covering a range of domestic and family topics.

The primary value of the collection is the portrait it provides of a young woman's life in mid-nineteenth-century New England, revolving around the varied regions of the domestic sphere. Cotillions, dressmaking, romance, church meetings, visiting, songfests, and pasttimes are the main subjects of Lydia's letters, all of which are discussed in her lively and entertaining prose. In one sense, her letters from school are disappointing, in that there is scant mention of her actual schooling, but on balance the letters present a fine depiction of the maturation of a young New Englander into her adult role as wife and mother.

Of special interest are Lydia's description of the financial depression at Templeton, Mass., following an industrial collapse in 1843 (letter 22) and her account of her bankruptcy in 1848, when her husband's business venture disintegrated, carrying with it several investors' money (letters 25-28). The last two items in the collection are a letter from Lydia's father to her mother, written on the day of Lydia's death, March 31, 1850; and one item from San Francisco, 1889, concerning Lydia's son and daughter in law.

Subject Terms

    • Bankruptcy.
    • Marriage.
    • Massachusetts--Social life and customs.
    • Women--Education-Massachusetts.
    • Women--Massachusetts.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   1  
    Lydia and Elisa Bigelow papers,  1839-1850 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    • 22, 25, 26, 27
    • 2, 18
    • 14
    • 6, 11
    • 6, 23
    Davis, John, 1787-1854
    • 24
    • 14, 29
    • 22
    • 28
    • 24
    • 17
    Husband and wife--Massachusetts
    • 27
    • 8, 17, 19, 21
    • 27
    • 20
    Lynn (Mass.)--Description and travel
    • 11-13
    • 10, 19, 23, 27
    Massachusetts--Description and travel
    • 13, 20
    Massachusetts--Social life and customs
    • passim
    • 6
    • 5
    New Orleans (La.)
    • 3
    Noyes, George Rapall, 1798-1868
    • 5
    • 23
    • 24
    Petersham (Mass.)--Social life and customs
    • 2
    • 3
    • 2
    • 11, 14
    • 6, 17
    Templeton (Mass.)--Economic conditions
    • 22
    Thanksgiving day
    • 5
    • 18
    • 19
    • passim
    • passim
    Women--New England
    • 4
    Women--Southern States
    • 4
    Worcester (Mass.)--Description and travel
    • 15, 18, 20