Lucy Larcom Collection
Scope and Contents
The Lucy Larcom Papers include 2 diaries, Nov. 1859-Aug. 1862, originally begun as an "extended letter" to Esther Humiston. Humiston was a life long confidante until her death in 1861. Many of the entries were marked for inclusion in Daniel Dulany Addison's biography "Lucy Larcom: Life, Letters and Diary" (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1894.) Within the collection are Larcom's commonplace books from 1859-1867 in which she collected clippings and manuscript excerpts of poems, along with quotations from Blake, Lavater, Wesley, Longfellow, Hugo, Herbert, Emerson, and many others; lists of authors writing on such subjects as the Forest and Flowers, Mountains and Hillsides; notes on Salem history [perhaps for her various published collections of poetry]; draft poems and rhetoric notes; and a Herbarium that she created. Larcom's class books including her Philosophy notebook with the contents listed as an Outline of Philosophy, Sensationalism, Idealism, Skepticism, Mysticism, Eclecticism, Plato and his Philosophy, Aristotle and his Philosophy, The Scholastics. Additionally the collection includes her Wheaton Seminary curriculum notes for Rhetoric, Composition (three classes), English Literature, Botany, French, 1856-57; Paley[‘s Natural Theology], Botany, Composition (three classes) 1857-58, and others, as well as a grade book from 1859-1861. Most interesting to scholars will be Larcom's correspondence with her mother, John Greenleaf Whittier and his sister, Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney from 1855 to 1892. For scholars interested in Larcom's relationship to Wheaton Seminary's founder Eliza Baylies Wheaton, there is correspondence from 1865 to 1888.
The collection contains many of Larcom's original watercolors, pen and ink drawings, and pencil sketches of landscapes and nature. Manuscript materials include poems, the Semi-centennial Sketch of Wheaton Seminary, and other items. Part of the collection includes a photograph of Larcom's room at her brother Benjamin's home, as well as portraits of Larcom, and members of her family. Articles published about Larcom, contemporary with her and also after her death provide scholars with a larger perspective on her impact, while various obituaries and memorials clearly demonstrate her long lasting legacy. Larcom's furniture, clothing, and memorabilia, including her Kansas Prize Song printed on handkerchief (1855) coupled with genealogical and manuscript material on the Benjamin Larcom family of Beverly MA, prepared by Lois Larcom Horn Wheaton class of 1928 and Larcom’s great grand niece, help situate Larcom within the context of her family and social sphere. The genealogical materials include travel accounts by Lois Larcom Horn (W1928), from the 1960s-1970s.
Biographical History Note
Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) was born near the seashore in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, on 5 March 1824, the daughter of Lois Barrett Larcom and Captain Benjamin Larcom. She came from a sea-faring family: her grandfather Jonathan Larcom, a sea captain and probably a Revolutionary War privateer, had been lost at sea in 1777. Her father Benjamin, born in 1776, sought the sea early in life, and was well established as a sea captain by 1804, sailing for Israel Thorndike, a wealthy merchant and shipowner. Sometime after 1812, he gave up the sea, and opened a shop in Beverly Farms, from which he supported a large family: Charlotte  and Adeline  (from an earlier marriage), Benjamin , Louisa , Emeline , Jonathan , Abigail , Lydia , Lucy , and Octavia . By the age of seven Lucy had begun to write stories and poems for her own amusement.
Her father died when Lucy was seven years old, and Mrs. Larcom was not a good manager. To support her large family, Mrs. Larcom moved to Lowell to manage a factory boarding house associated with the Lawrence Corporation textile mill; she later returned to Beverly, leaving several of her daughters (including Lucy) in Lowell. After briefly attending school in Lowell, Lucy entered the mills as a doffer (changing bobbins on the spinning machines), later working as a spinner, then as a dresser. While working as a cotton-operative she contributed to the Lowell Offering, writing for the first volumes a series of parables that attracted the attention of John Greenleaf Whittier, who was then conducting a Free-soil paper in Lowell, and who encouraged her literary efforts. Later Whittier would become Larcom’s literary mentor, beginning a life-long friendship and literary collaboration between the two. Lucy wrote of her ten years in the Lowell mills in “Among Lowell Mill-Girls: A Reminiscence” (Atlantic Monthly, November 1881), the autobiographical A New England Girlhood (1889), and a long blank-verse narrative An Idyl of Work (1875).
At twenty-two, Lucy moved to the Looking Glass Prairie area of Illinois with the family of her married (and favorite) sister Emeline Larcom (Mrs. George) Spaulding, including Frank Spaulding, George’s brother. The family shared a general understanding that Frank and Lucy would marry at some future time. Lucy taught in district schools for three years, and beginning in 1849 was a pupil for three years at Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, Ill., where she studied botany, drawing, English composition, French, geology, history, Latin, mathematics, and philosophy, while forming a life-long friendship with its Principal, Philena Fobes. To finance her education, she taught the primary or preparatory students. During this period, Frank Spaulding moved to California to try his luck in the gold fields. He and Lucy corresponded for years, but would seldom see each other again; Lucy’s choice of a career and the freedom it gave her removed her from women’s traditional sphere of marriage and children.
Upon her return to Massachusetts in 1852, Larcom visited family; briefly opened her own small school; developed new friendships with John G. Whittier and his sister Elizabeth, Harriet Hanson and her husband William S. Robinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others; and renewed old friendships from Lowell. With Whittier’s help and encouragement, she began to enter the literary world, publishing her first book, Similitudes, from the Ocean and Prairie in 1853, and publishing poems and articles in numerous national magazines.
Work at Wheaton Female Seminary
Needing a steady income, Lucy took a position at Wheaton Female Seminary in Norton, MA, where she taught English literature, history, moral philosophy, botany, logiccomposition and rhetoric from 1854 to 1863, and from 1865 to 1867. She was a visiting lecturer for many years thereafter. Larcom’s teaching style was revolutionary and influential at Wheaton: she taught by lecture, reading and discussion, rather than by memorization and recitation. In 1855, she initiated the student literary magazine Rushlight, still in publication, as well as Chrysalis, a literary magazine for younger students, and founded the intellectual discussion group "Psyche" in 1857. Lucy also compiled the Wheaton Library’s first catalogue in 1857. Miss Larcom remained a life-long friend of the Seminary’s founder, Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton, and wrote the Seminary’s 50th anniversary sketch in 1885. While at Wheaton she began to take advantage of Boston’s cultural opportunities, including attending concerts, visiting the Athenaeum and Old Corner Book Store, meeting socially with the literary giants of the era, and taking painting lessons.
Larcom was an ardent abolitionist, and submitted a poem to an 1855 contest organized by the New England Emigrant Aid Company for the best poem written to encourage anti-slavery emigrants to settle Kansas. To her surprise, her entry, “Call to Kansas,” won the prize, a fifty dollar gold piece. Set to the music of Nellie Bly, a popular song of the period, her poem was printed in many newspapers, and on handkerchiefs to be handed out at Free-Soil rallies.
Constraints of Teaching
Despite her growing literary success, Larcom was not fond of the restrictions of teaching, at Wheaton or the other schools at which she taught, because the rules and requirements interfered with her writing. Along with Wheaton’s other teachers, principal and staff, she lived in the one dormitory with all the students. Life could be hectic, frustrating and noisy. Yet Lucy was loved by her students, some of whom called her “Mother Larcom.” She was too popular, in fact, to have much privacy for writing or reflection. Lucy’s health suffered from confinement, overwork, scrofula (a form of tuberculosis which may have been contracted while in the confines of the textile mills), and hay fever. In 1865-66 and again in 1866-67, she taught only Senior Composition during the fall term. She gave up her position at Wheaton in 1867, although she returned frequently as a lecturer.
Writing Career and Editorship
After leaving Wheaton in 1867, she pursued her writing career, publishing poems and “newsletters” in newspapers; compiling anthologies of her own, Whittier’s, and others’ works; co-editing journals; lecturing; and occasionally teaching classes in Boston area schools, including a year at Bradford Academy (1872-73). During the Civil War she wrote many patriotic poems. When Our Young Folks, a notable children’s periodical published by Ticknor & Fields, was established in Boston in 1865, she became an assistant and in the following year chief editor, conducting the magazine till 1874. She contributed regularly to St. Nicholas Magazine. By the 1870s, Larcom’s relationship with Whittier had changed from pupil/mentor to comfortable friendship, and she had developed a close religious and philosophical friendship with the Rev. Phillips Brooks, rector of Trinity Church in Boston.
Larcom wrote of friendship and domestic incidents, nature and its evidence of divinity, her love of God and her intense Christian faith. Her spiritually uplifting work contained many typical 19th Century expressions of sentiment; she always considered her poetry as an extension of her faith. The work for which Lucy is chiefly remembered was her autobiographical sketch, A New England Girlhood, which described her life until 1852, and captures her small-town upbringing and values.
Although Larcom became part of Boston’s literary circle, the steady but modest sale of her works required her to live in only the simplest manner. Never owning a home of her own, Miss Larcom followed an annual routine of renting rooms in Boston during the winter, when she wrote and edited intensively while participating in cultural and social events; visiting family and friends in Beverly and elsewhere during the spring; and summering in the mountains of New Hampshire or Maine with the Whittier group and on her own. Her independent life-style was hard-won; she was never wealthy, and although she would never admit to having a “career,” her ability to support herself through writing was still unusual for an unmarried woman of her era. Throughout her life she struggled with loneliness and self-doubt, overcoming them through work and faith.
Beginning in 1891, Larcom suffered increasingly frequent bouts of illness from a heart ailment, heightened by severe personal losses: her beloved sister Emeline died in July 1892, and Whittier died in August 1892. In November 1892, she sorted her papers and letters and burned most of her personal papers. She took to her bed in mid-January 1893, only to learn that Phillips Brooks had died of diptheria on 23 January. Whenever she felt strong enough, Lucy continued to review her letters and journals, destroying everything that seemed too private, including her journals from the 1860s and 1870s with their references to Frank Spaulding. Lucy even burned her letters from Emeline, and made her niece promise to burn Lucy’s to her mother. Murmering the word “freedom,” Lucy died on 17 April 1893. She was buried in Hale Street Cemetery in Beverly, Mass.; the simple marker is in the shape of a writing desk with a sheet of paper, on which is engraved a quill pen and “Lucy Larcom 1824—1893.”
Wheaton College Legacy
A Wheaton dormitory, built in 1908, is named in honor of Lucy Larcom, as is a room in Mary Lyon Hall, made possible through a 1983 gift from her great grand niece Lois Larcom Horn W1928 and her class.
2.193 Cubic Feet (7 Letter Size Document Cases 3 Half Letter Size Document Cases Box of Objects)
Language of Materials
Immediate Aquisition Information
The Lucy Larcom Papers have been compiled from a number of sources over many years.
Larcom gave some mss., such as “The Old Scholars,” to the Seminary in her lifetime. Some materials came directly from Eliza Baylies Wheaton, a life-long friend of Larcom. Occasionally educated guesses about origin have been made based on proximity within files.
Helen Knowlton Llewelyn, W1926, donated Larcom’s poem “Just Eighteen,” 2 Dec. 1930.
Prof. William Guild Howard of Cambridge, MA donated the ms. poem written for his mother Sarah B. Allen W185-57, 18 Dec. 1940.
Olive L. Sawyer W1919 donated Larcom’s poem to Juliette Sumner W1855 on 26 May 1964.
Margaret F. Wood donated her score Sharing, in which 16 Larcom poems were set to music, 30 June 1993.
Larcom to Hattie Robinson, purchased from Goodspeed’s, 6 April 1942
Lucy Larcom Baker Thompson W15A and Katherine M. Baker Kellom W1920 donated the St. Nicholas letter to LL of 1876, along with a number of books, 28 May 1962. May have donated pencil sketches (vignettes) and sketch of [Harry?] Baker, 27 May 1962.
Larcom to Whittier gift of Samuel T. Pickard, 1908, 1911.
Lois Barrett Larcom Horn W1928, a great grand-niece of LL, made several gifts of Larcom manuscripts, photographs, genealogical materials, furniture and memorabilia: 28 May 1974; 8 July 1983; 1998.
In 1981-82, Emilie (Mrs. Donald) Burns, of Tallahassee, FL, another great grand-niece of LL, donated LL’s traveling trunk, filled with LL’s books, photographs, watercolors, and other materials. At the time of the gift, Mrs. Burns stated that earlier in the century, their family house in Chicago had burned to the ground; among the only items saved was LL’s trunk with its contents. Earlier she donated at least one envelope from Abijah M. Ide, 15 Nov. 1962, and donated other materials in 1961.
Published Works By Lucy Larcom
- “Recollections of L.L.” Lowell Offering : 211-16, 220-23.
- Lottie’s Thought-Book. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1858.
- Ships in the Mist, and Other Stories. Boston: Hoyt: 1860.
- Similitudes, from the Ocean and Prairie. Boston: Hoyt, 1860.
- Leila Among the Mountains. Boston: Hoyt, 1861.
- Breathings of a Better Life. Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1866.
- Poems. Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1868.
- Child-Life. Ed. with J. G. Whittier. Boston: Osgood, 1871.
- Child-Life in Prose. Ed. with J. G. Whittier. Boston: Osgood, 1873.
- Childhood Songs. Boston: Osgood, 1875.
- An Idyl of Work. Boston: Osgood, 1875.
- Roadside Poems for Summer Travellers. Ed. Boston: Osgood, 1876.
- Songs of Three Centuries. Ed. with J. G. Whittier. Boston: Osgood, 1876.
- Hillside and Seaside in Poetry. Ed. Boston: Osgood, 1877.
- Landscape in American Poetry. New York: D. Appleton, 1879.
- Wild Roses of Cape Ann and Other Poems. Boston: Houghton Osgood, 1880.
- “Among Lowell Mill-Girls.” Atlantic Monthly 48 : 593-612.
- “American Factory Life—Past, Present and Future.” Journal of Social Science 16 : 141-46.
- Larcom’s Poetical Works [also titled Lucy Larcom’s Poems]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1884.
- Semi-Centennial Sketch of Wheaton Seminary. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1885.
- Beckonings for Every Day. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1886.
- Easter Messengers. New York: White, Stokes, and Allen, 1886.
- The Crystal Hills. Illus. F. Schuyler Mathews. Boston: Prang, 1889.
- A New England Girlhood. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1889.
- Easter Gleams. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1890.
- As It Is In Heaven. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1891.
- At the Beautiful Gate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892.
- “In the Ossipee Glens.” New England Magazine [Oct. 1892]: 192-207.
- The Unseen Friend. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892.
Processed by: Zeph Stickney, April 1999
Encoded by: Megan Wheaton-Book, November 2012
- Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.) -- 19th century.
- Commonplace books
- Devotional literature, American -- Women authors -- 19th century.
- Family history.
- Family records
- Grading and marking (Students)
- Herbaria -- New England -- 19th century.
- Larcom, Benjamin, -- 1776-1832 -- Logbooks.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Collectibles.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Correspondence.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Diaries.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Manuscripts.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Photographs.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Poetry.
- Larcom, Lucy, -- 1824-1893 -- Prose.
- Monticello Female Seminary -- Hitory -- 19th century.
- Nature in literature -- 19th century.
- New England -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
- New England -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
- Pickard, Samuel T. -- (Samuel Thomas), -- 1828-1915 -- Correspondence.
- United States -- History -- Civil war, 1861-1865 -- New England -- Sources.
- Watercolor painting -- United States -- 19th century.
- Wheaton College (Norton, Mass.)
- Wheaton Female Seminary (Norton, Mass.)
- Whittier, Elizabeth, -- 1815-1864 -- Correspondence.
- Whittier, John Greenleaf, -- 1807-1892 -- Correspondence.
- Women teachers -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Biography.
- Women textile workers -- Massachusetts -- Lowell -- History -- 19th century.
- Whitney, A. D. T. (Adeline Dutton Train), 1824-1906 (Poet, novelist) (Person)
- Whittier, Elizabeth H. (Elizabeth Hussey), 1815-1864 (Sister of John Greenleaf Whittier) (Correspondent, Person)
- Lucy Larcom, 1824-1893 (Wheaton English Lit. Tchr 1855-1867) (Person)
- John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892 (American poet & abolitionist) (Correspondent, Person)
- Inventory of the Lucy Larcom Papers
- Zephorene L. Stickney
- April 20, 1999
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script