Appleton-Aiken family papers  1812-1900
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All Series Level Scope and Content Notes

The Appleton-Aiken papers contain over 500 letters and miscellaneous documents relating to the family of John Aiken and his wife Mary Appleton of Lowell, Mass. The collection contains correspondence documenting family life among the upper classes in Massachusetts in the early industrial age, and contains useful information on the textile mills at Lowell, collegiate education, and the development of the towns of Lowell and Andover, Mass., and Brunswick, Me.

The correspondence centers on the interests of a large and powerful family. Mary and John Aiken's children were all well-educated and wrote erudite letters. Many of the Appletons and Aikens were professionally involved in education, and several series of letters include valuable information on college life and curricula at mid-century. Charles and William Aiken attended Dartmouth in the 1840s and 1850s, and their letters are filled with an undergraduate's opinions on coursework, professors, and education. There are also several examples of secondary school writing assignments from John and Mary Aiken's children and grandchildren.

In a different vein, the letters of Alpheus Spring Packard written while he was professor of natural history at Bowdoin College, offer a unique perspective on the development of that institution, and particularly of its science curriculum. There are many other letters relating to Bowdoin College, since the entire Appleton family seems to have retained a strong interest in the college for years after the death of Jesse Appleton, its former President. For example, Mary Aiken's mother, Elizabeth, writes particularly interesting letters about the progress of the college after the death of her husband, in 1819. Also worthy of note are several letters written by Jennie Snow, whose husband was on faculty at the University of Kansas during the 1870s.

The Aikens were heavily involved in capitalizing textile mills throughout northern New England. A few items provide particularly information on the mills at Lowell, including an October, 1836, letter in which Mary describes a walk-out and strike at the mill, and a letter from her brother, Robert Appleton, describing a shipment of cotton arriving at the mill in 1835 from London. Robert also inspected Governor Bagdry's new cotton factory at Gilmanton, N.H. In 1871, Mary and John's daughter Mary describes a book, Lillie Phelps' The Silent Partner, designed to improve the condition of the mill "operatives." Two other items are of some interest for the study of mill life, one a letter from J. Whitney regarding the acts of sabotage against the mill performed by Edward Webb, an employee (1834 May 1) and the other a letter in which a woman suggests women learn sewing, a skill badly deteriorating under industrialization.

The collection includes a letterbook with 25 excellent letters written by John Aiken to his family from Europe. He wrote these letters during one of his business trips to examine textile operations; along with general travel descriptions, he reported information about cloth production and marketing. Additionally, the collection contains a diary kept by John Aiken during this trip. In the volume, which covers the dates September 1, 1847-December 20, 1847, Aiken briefly recorded his current location or recent travel, the weather, and any sightseeing or social activities that occupied his day. Aiken noted visits to tourist attractions, including the Tower of London and the Tuileries Garden, and also used the volume to track several financial accounts accrued throughout the period. Detailed notes at the back of the volume also reflect his keen interest in the textile industry and the mills he visited while abroad.

On a more general level, the Appleton-Aiken Papers are an excellent resource for studying family dynamics among the upper class. The letters are filled with discussions of family members, relations between husband and wife or parent and child, and include some interesting commentary on local religious life, revivals, church meetings, and family piety.

Two photographs have been transferred to the Graphics Division for storage. Photocopies of these are included in Box 6 in the folder containing Miscellaneous items.