Child Family Papers, 1833-1916

Administrative Information

Biographical Sketch


Scope and Content Note

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Series Description and Folder Listing

3 cartons, 1 oversized folder
3.75 linear feet
Processor: Susan Lydon
Date: December 2010

Acquisition: The Child Family Papers were donated to the Cambridge Historical Society by William A. J. and Jeanne M. K. Nixon in 2007.

Access: There are no restrictions on items in this collection.

Permission to Publish: Request for permission to publish from the collection should be made to the Executive Director.

Copyright: The Cambridge Historical Society does not hold copyright on the materials in this collection.

Biographical Sketch:

Francis James Child, Harvard’s first professor of English, eminent folklorist, and noted Chaucer scholar, was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1825, the son of Joseph Child, a sailmaker, and Mary James. He received his early education at the Boston Grammar and English High Schools where his brilliance attracted the attention of the headmaster of the Boston Latin School, Epes Sargent Dixwell, who arranged for him to attend Boston Latin and later, to receive a scholarship to Harvard. In 1846, Child graduated from Harvard first in his class. Shortly after graduation, Child served as a tutor at Harvard in mathematics, history, political economy, and English. In 1849, he took a leave of absence from the college to travel and study in Germany. Upon returning to America, Child was offered the position of Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. In 1854, Child received a PhD from the University of Gottingen, despite not having written a dissertation. Child received an LL. D. from Harvard in 1884 and an L.H.D. from Columbia in 1887.

In 1860, Child married Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick (1824-1909), daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Dana Ellery Sedgwick. The couple raised four children, Helen Maria Child (1863-1903), Susan Ridley Sedgwick Child (1866-1946), Henrietta Ellery Child (b. 1867), and Francis Sedgwick Child (1868-1935). Among Child’s close friends were his cousin and classmate Charles Eliot Norton, the poet James Russell Lowell, and the brothers William and Henry James.

Child took an active part in local politics. He was an active member and officer in local charities, and served as president of the Cambridge Humane Society from 1888-1895. During the Civil War, Child canceled classes to canvass for Lincoln. He composed and collected patriotic war songs for soldiers in support of the Union, though poor health prevented him from joining the army. He was the main promoter of Harvard’s Memorial Biographies, which recorded the lives of Harvard alumni who died in the Civil War.

In 1876, Child became Harvard’s first professor of English and taught courses on Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. As an English professor, Child was a prolific scholar and a fastidious editor. His most significant contributions to the field of literature include his 1855 edition of Spenser, and his 1862 Observations on the Language of Chaucer, in which he closely examined Chaucer’s language and versification, and provided a solution to the question of the proper scansion of The Canterbury Tales. The work of scholarship for which Child is best known is his English and Scottish Ballads, in which he included authentic versions of the best-known ballads from these countries. The work appeared in print in eight small volumes between 1857 and 1858, and included multiple versions of 305 ballads. Child provided a full history for each ballad, noting its manuscript source and its appearance in other European countries. His work was so widely accepted as the canon of folk ballads that the ballads are now known as “the Child ballads” and scholars reference them by the number that Child assigned them.

In 1877, the Child family took up residence at 67 Kirkland Street in Cambridge, where Francis James Child personally tended the rose garden that occupied the entire front lawn. Suffering from gout and rheumatism all his life, Child sustained severe head injuries in a carriage accident in 1893 from which he never fully recovered. In January of 1896, Child sought treatment for kidney trouble and died later that year. A funeral was held at Appleton Chapel at Harvard. The Francis James Child Memorial Library, the reference library of the Harvard English Department, is named in his honor.

Francis Sedgwick Child (Frank), attended the Bussey Institute, then Harvard’s school of agriculture, from 1887-1889 and Harvard College from 1891-1892. He never completed either degree, but led a life marked by philanthropy. After training to be an engineer, Frank Child devoted his life to the ministry. Frank Child was involved in many charitable organizations throughout his life. Around 1890, he was superintendent of the Forty-Fourth Street Lodging House of the Children’s Aid Society for homeless boys in New York City. He also served as superintendent of The Crippled Boys’ Brush Shop of the Lodging House, an industrial school designed to teach maimed boys the art of brush making. In 1893, he served as superintendent of The Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania. Around 1900, Frank Child served as master of the Upland Farm and Industry School of Holliston, Massachusetts, an industrial school likely designed to teach poor children farming and other trades. In 1908, he served as general secretary for the Associated Charities of Cambridge.

Little is known about Francis James Child’s wife and daughters. Elizabeth Child was the niece of the popular early American author, Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Her interest in reading can be inferred from her letters. Helen Child taught sewing and poetry to girls. Susan Ridley Sedgwick Child played the violin, took music lessons at the Boston Conservatory, and engaged in drawing, painting and fiction writing. Henrietta Child taught Sunday school.


Burgess, John. “Francis James Child: Brief Life of a Victorian Enthusiast: 1825-1896.” Harvard Magazine. May-June 2006. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

“Child, Francis James.” American National Biography. 1999.

“Death of Prof. Child.” The Boston Daily Globe 12 Sept. 1896: 12. Francis James Child Biographical File. HUG 300. Harvard University Archives.

“Deft Crippled Brushmakers: Products of a Trade Taught by the Children’s Aid Society.” The New York Times 13 May 1892. Web.

“Francis Sedgwick Child.” Biographical File. HUG 300. Harvard University Archives. Harvard University.

“Francis Sedgwick Child.” Harvard Alumni Directory. Harvard University Archives. Harvard University.

“Harvard’s Famous Teacher.” The Boston Transcript 12 Sept. 1896. Francis James Child Scrapbook. HUG. 1279. Harvard University Archives. Harvard University.

Harvard University Department of English. Harvard University, 2010. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

Jones, Steven Swann. “Francis James Child.” Dictionary of Literary Biography. 1988.

Norton, Charles Eliot. “Francis James Child.” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 32.17 (Jul. 1897): 333-339.

Proceedings of the Cambridge Historical Society vol. 6 (1911), page 28; vol. 34 (1952), page 64; vol. 41 (1967), page 33-4.

The Records of the Children’s Aid Society. The New York Historical Society, 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

Rieuwerts, Sigrid. “In Memoriam: Francis James Child (1825-1896).” Ballads into Books: The Legacies of Francis James Child. Eds. Tom Cheesman and Sigrid Rieuwerts. Berne: Peter Lang, European Academic Publishers, 1997. 20-25.

Sedgwick Family Papers. The Massachusetts Historical Society. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.



The collection is arranged in three series:

I. Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick Child, 1833-1916
II. Susan Ridley Sedgwick Child, 1874-1909
III. Francis Sedgwick Child, 1837-1910

Scope and Content:

The bulk of the Child Family Papers consists of letters written and collected by members of the Child family from 1833-1916. The bulk of the letters were exchanged between Frank and his mother and sisters from approximately 1880 to 1910. Other correspondents include his father, Francis James Child, and aunt, Adie Bigelow. The letters provide insight into the personal and professional lives of the Child family, a close-knit family who shared common interests in philanthropy and the arts. The letters also provide some general insight into nineteenth-century Cambridge life and Harvard history. Much of the material describes the day-to-day activities of the Child family including social activities, family and neighborhood news, holidays, travel, lectures, entertainment, shopping, fashion, the arts, contemporary fiction, the health of family members, nineteenth-century medical and dental procedures, Frank’s career, and the activities of their family dog, Fergus. Many letters refer to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which was Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick Child’s ancestral home. Others refer to Chocorua, New Hampshire where the Child family spent the summers at the Cambridge colony of Chocorua.

Series I, Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick Child, 1833-1916, consists largely of personal letters written between Elizabeth Child and son, Frank, although the series also includes letters from daughters, Helen and Susan; brother, Ellery; sister, Sue; and other correspondents. A letter Francis James Child wrote to Elizabeth is included with her 1902 letters. An 1889 letter from Frank Child describes costumes at a ball in Stockbridge in minute detail and includes drawings of the costumes. Other letters document Frank’s thoughts regarding his career and his decision to leave the field of engineering to enter the ministry. Letters from Frank also detail happenings at the 44th Street Lodging House of the Children’s Aid Society including a typhus outbreak, a fourth of July celebration, a celebration for Washington’s Birthday, and Christmas activities. Other letters from Frank (1896) document his visits to his dying father at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, Susan Ridley Sedgwick Child, 1874-1909, contains personal letters largely written between Susan and friends and family, which discuss the welfare of family and friends, social activities, shopping, travels and health. Letters written by Susan’s friend Alice Littell discuss their literary pursuits. A few letters mention Sanders Theater and Harvard-Yale games. Some correspondence is with the director of the Boston Conservatory of Music where Susan took music lessons. Mention is also made of Susan’s violin playing, classical music, concerts, and the death of Bishop Brooks. Among her letters from 1896 is an obituary for Francis James Child. Other papers document Susan’s illnesses and her 1897 operation. Also mentioned are the death of the family dog Fergus in 1899 and the death of her sister Helen in 1903. Drawings and sheet music created by Susan are also included in this series along with a manuscript for a work of fiction she wrote entitled The Lost Violin, which she unsuccessfully submitted to The New England Magazine in 1891. Additionally, this series includes photographs and copies of titles pages of books originally housed in the Child family library. Most books were removed from the collection. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series III, Francis Sedgwick Child, 1837-1910, largely consists of personal letters written between Child and his mother and sisters and business letters and papers regarding his philanthropic endeavors. Some letters are written between Child and his cousin, Nathalie Sedgwick. In his personal papers, mention is made of family and neighborhood news, health, medical and dental procedures, trips, holidays, social activities, shopping, lectures, symphony concerts, contemporary literature, his career, and the family dog, Fergus. Also mentioned are Francis James Child’s English and Scottish Ballads, 1893 carriage accident, gout, rose garden, death, and grave. Many letters document Child’s poor health and ensuing medical advice, including his 1893 quarantine for typhus fever and his 1896 quarantine for Russian typhus. Letters (1896) from Child to his sister Helen document his visits to his dying father at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Other letters make note of Col. Wentworth Higginson, eminent abolitionist, a lecture given by the wife of Civil War general George Custer, and parties and dances at Brattle Hall. Brief mention is made of Harvard’s Sanders Theater, Hasty Pudding Club, and Fogg Museum. Series also includes biographical and historical material regarding Francis James Child and the family house on Kirkland Street and a school notebook and school papers belonging to Frank. Business papers largely document interaction between Child and other officers of the Children’s Aid Society: C. Loring Brace, secretary, L.W. Holste, assistant treasurer, and William Church Osborn, president. Business letters also contain an 1895 letter of advice that Child wrote to Richard Smith, a boy formerly under his care. This series also contains an account book with work-related accounts, which includes journal entries from 1894, one of which details a visit to The Parental Home for Truant Boys. Other work-related material includes pamphlets from various charitable organizations and information about the boys under Child’s care including information about two boys clubs with which he was involved: The Captains of Ten and The Boys Triangle Club (a debating club). An undated journal refers to boys clubs with which he was involved. The back of the journal provides a list of boys, likely those who were under his care, and their addresses. Lastly, the series includes copies of title pages of books from Francis Sedgwick Child’s personal library and booklets from his library relating to Cambridge and Harvard history. Most books were removed from the collection. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Library of Congress Subject Headings:

Cambridge (Mass.) – Social life and customs – 19th-Century
Cambridge (Mass.) – Social life and customs – 20th-Century
Charities – United States – History – 19th-Century
Charities – United States – History – 20th-Century
Children’s Aid Society (New York, N.Y.) – History
Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania – History
Clergy–Office – United States – History – 19th-Century
Clergy–Office – United States – History – 20th-Century
Institutional Care – United States – History – 19th-Century
Institutional Care – United States – History – 20th-Century
Orphanages – United States –History – 19th-Century
Orphanages – United States – History – 20th-Century
Trade Schools – United States – History – 19th-Century
Trade Schools – United States – History – 20th-Century

Child Family Papers, 1833-1916 (inclusive), ca. 1880-1910 (bulk)

[table colwidth=”5%|5%|90%”]
Box|Folder|Series I. Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick Child, 1833-1916, n.d.|
1|1|Correspondence, 1833-1883
1|2|Correspondence, 1884-1889
1|3|Correspondence, 1890-1892
1|4|Correspondence, 1893-1896
1|5|Correspondence, 1897-1899
1|6|Correspondence, 1900-1901
1|7|Correspondence, 1902; includes Francis James Child
1|8|Correspondence, 1903
1|9|Correspondence, 1904-5
1|10|Correspondence, 1906-1916
1|11|Correspondence (incomplete), 1904, 1905, n.d.
1|12|Correspondence, n.d.
[table colwidth=”5%|5%|90%”]
Box|Folder|Series II. Susan Ridley Sedgwick Child, 1874-1909, n.d.
1|13|Album of drawings, n.d.
1|14|Album of drawings and paintings, n.d.
1|15|Book inscriptions and title pages, Child family library, 1824-1900
1|16|Correspondence, 1874-1886; includes Francis James Child
1|17|Correspondence, 1887-1889; includes Francis James Child
1|18|Correspondence, 1890; includes Francis James Child
1|19|Correspondence, 1890
1|20|Correspondence, 1890; includes Francis James Child
1|21|Correspondence, 1891
1|22|Correspondence, 1891; includes Francis James Child
1|23|Correspondence, 1892
1|24|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
1|25|Correspondence, 1893; includes Francis James Child
1|26|Correspondence, 1894
1|27|Correspondence, 1894; includes Francis James Child
1|28|Correspondence, 1895; includes Francis James Child
1|29|Correspondence, 1895
1|30 |Correspondence, 1896
1|31|Correspondence 1896; includes Francis James Child obituary
1|32|Correspondence, 1897
2| 1|Correspondence, 1898
2| 2|Correspondence, 1898
2| 3 |Correspondence, 1899
2| 4|Correspondence, 1900-1909
2| 5|Correspondence (incomplete), 1896, n.d.
2| 6|Correspondence, n.d.|
2| 7|Drawings, writings, and sheet music, n.d.
||See OS1 for oversized drawings and writings
2| 8|Manuscript, “The Lost Violin,” 1891
2| 9|Notebook (unidentified), n.d.
2|10|Photographs and images, ca. 1896, n.d.
||2.01 CFP – dog, Fergus (?), n.d. [Pach Brothers]
||2.02 CFP – unidentified woman, ca. 1896 [James]
||2.03 CFP – Pablo Sarasate, n.d. [Sarony]
||2.04 CFP – unidentified man, n.d. “Miss Susie Child ‘zur freundlichen Erinnerung’ Hon,” [WM. Notman & Son]
||2.05 CFP – unidentified boy, n.d. [Gutman Studio]
||2.06 CFP – unidentified woman, n.d. [Notman Photo Co.]
[table colwidth=”5%|5%|90%”]
Box|Folder|Series III. Francis Sedgwick Child, 1837-1910, n.d.
2|11|Account book/journal, 1894
2|12|Biographical and historical material re: Francis James Child and 67 Kirkland Street, 1889-1897, n.d.
2|13|Book inscriptions, title pages, and pamphlets from Child’s library, 1865-1896
2|14|Correspondence, 1837-1890
2|15|Correspondence, 1891
2|16|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
2|17|Correspondence, 1892
2|18|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
2|19|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
2|20|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
2|21|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
2|22|Correspondence, 1892; includes Francis James Child
2|23|Correspondence, 1893; includes Francis James Child
2|24|Correspondence, 1893; includes Francis James Child
2|25|Correspondence, 1893; includes Francis James Child
2|26|Correspondence, 1893; includes Francis James Child
2|27|Correspondence, 1893; includes Francis James Child
2|28|Correspondence, 1894
2|29|Correspondence, 1895
2|30|Correspondence, 1896
2|31|Correspondence, 1897
2|32|Correspondence, 1898
2|33|Correspondence, 1898
3| 1|Correspondence, 1898
3| 2|Correspondence, 1898
3| 3|Correspondence, 1899
3| 4|Correspondence, 1899
3| 5|Correspondence, 1900
3| 6|Correspondence, 1900
3| 7|Correspondence, 1902
3| 8|Correspondence, 1908-1910
3| 9|Correspondence (incomplete), 1882-1899, n.d.
3|10|Correspondence (incomplete), 1893-1900, n.d.
3|11|Correspondence, n.d.
3|12|Journal, n.d.
3|13|Pamphlets, 1890-1896, n.d.
3|14|School notebook, papers, 1890, n.d.
3|15|Work-related material, 1895, n.d.
3|16|Work-related material, 1890-1892, n.d.