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Guide to the Parsons Family Papers
1824-1956 (Bulk 1889-1939)
  MS 481

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Maurita Baldock

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 02, 2011
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Parsons Family Papers
Dates: 1824-1956 (Bulk 1889-1939)
Abstract: The Parsons Family Papers contains correspondence and memorabilia. The correspondence is generally among family members, particularly letters from eldest daughter Mary Parsons, and describes their trips abroad, their life in New York City and Lenox, Massachusetts, and general family relationships.
Quantity: 1.3 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Location note: Manuscript Cage
Call Phrase: MS 481

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Biographical Note

John Edward Parsons was born in 1829 in New York City to Edward Lamb Parsons and Matilda Clark Parsons. He attended a private school in Rye, New York and graduated from New York University in 1848. Parsons continued his schooling with a Master's degree at NYU in 1851 and was admitted to the bar in 1854. He formed a legal partnership with Lorenzo B. Shepard and became his assistant when Shepard was named District Attorney in 1854. Parsons was a partner in the law firm Man & Parsons as well as in Parsons, Shepard, & Ogden which became Parsons, Closson, & McIlvaine in 1902. In addition to his legal career, Parsons was also recognized for his efforts to reform the corruption of Tammany Hall and for his philanthropic work with the New York Cancer Hospital, the Woman's Hospital, Cooper Union, the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, and the American Bible Society.

On November 5, 1856 John E. Parsons married Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine, the daughter of Bowes Reed McIlvaine and Catherine Dumesnil. Together they six children who lived to adulthood: Mary (1864-1940), Edith (1865-1942), Helen (1867-1892), Herbert (1869-1925), Gertrude (1870-1927), and Constance (1873-?). John E. Parsons's successful career and his efforts for civic and political reform brought further social respect to the family. The family members divided time between their home in New York City and Stoneover, their estate in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1896, Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine Parsons died and John E. Parsons remarried to Florence Bishop in 1901. He had no children with his second wife. In 1915 after only a short illness, John E. Parsons died of the lung disease pleurisy.

The oldest daughter Mary never married and lived at Stoneover after her father's death. She was active in wildlife preservation and in several Lenox and New York City charities until her death in 1940. Edith married David Percy Morgan and had four children, and Helen died unmarried at the age of twenty-five. Herbert became a Republican, unlike his father, and was a member of the House of Representatives from 1905 to 1911. He had four children with his wife, anthropologist and folklorist Elsie Clews, and died suddenly in 1925 from injuries sustained while riding his son's motorcycle. Gertrude Parsons also never married and lived at Stoneover with her sister Mary until her death while traveling in Perugia, Italy in 1927. Constance married attorney Montgomery Hare and had two children.

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Scope and Content Note

The Parsons Family Papers consists of correspondence between family members and a small amount of family memorabilia. The material largely documents the travels of Mary Parsons, the eldest daughter of John E. Parsons, and her reactions to her trips abroad. Nearly all of the collection is personal or family related, and there is no material relating to the career of attorney John E. Parsons or his congressman son, Herbert. The collection is mostly correspondence from Mary Parsons to other family members. Her letters record her travels, her daily life at home in New York City or Lenox, and familial relations. The collection also contains letters to Mary Parsons and Constance Parsons Hare, as well as general correspondence among the Parsons family. One folder of correspondence contains letters dated 1824 from Bowes Reed McIlvaine to Catherine Dumesnil (the parents of Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine) shortly before their wedding. The collection also contains memorabilia from the Parsons family.

List of Places From Which Mary Parsons Writes:
1889 Bremenhaven, Bremen, Southampton, Berlin, Dresden, Bad-Kissengen, Bad-Bruckenau, Wurzburg, Bayern, Frankfurt, Salzburg
1893 London, Paris
1894 Paris, Champagne, Paris, Cannes
1895 Rome, Florence, Naples, Cairo, Perugia, Milan, Siena, Lucerne, London
1896 New York City
1901 Paris, Tirol, Cortina, Bayreuth, Baden, the Black Forest, Paris
1906 Versailles
1908 Lenox
1909 Pointe-au-Pic, Lenox
1910 Gloucester, Loches, Amboise, Venice, Bologna, Como, Lenox
1923 Kyoto, Hong Kong
1924-1926 New York City and Lenox
1927 Rome, Lenox
1929 Paris, Amsterdam
1932-1939 New York City and Lenox


The correspondence in the collection is arranged by family member and then chronologically. The memorabilia is grouped by type of material.

The papers are organized into the following series:

  1. Series I: Correspondence
  2. Series II: Memorabilia

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Dumesnil, Catherine
  • Hare, Constance Parsons, b. 1873
  • McIlvaine, Bowes Reed
  • Parsons, Edith, 1865-1942
  • Parsons, Gertrude, 1870-1927
  • Parsons, Herbert, 1869-1925
  • Parsons, John E. (John Edward), 1829-1915
  • Parsons, Mary Dumesnil, 1864-1940
  • Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937--Homes and haunts--Massachusetts

Document Type

  • Correspondence
  • Menus
  • Passports
  • Photographic prints
  • Postcards

Subject Topics

  • Family--New York (State)--New York
  • Finance, Personal

Subject Places

  • Europe--Description and travel
  • Lenox (Mass.)--Social life and customs
  • Louisville (Ky.)--Social life and customs--19th century
  • New York (N.Y.)--Social life and customs

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.) See guidelines in Reading Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to

Library Director
The New-York Historical Society
Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Parsons Family Papers, MS 481, the New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Further material relating to the Parsons family and Constance Parsons Hare can be found within the Hare Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

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Container List

Series I: Correspondence, 1824-1956

Scope and Contents note

The correspondence in this collection mainly consists of personal letters by the eldest daughter Mary Parsons (often referred to as Mamie or M.P.) to members of her immediate family, particularly her sisters. Almost every letter in the collection is followed by a typed copy that was presumably completed by a later relative. Although some of the typewritten copies are not completely accurate, they often include helpful notes explaining the context of the letters. The letters are arranged chronologically.

Many of the letters are from Mary while she is traveling abroad and include observations on the customs and manners of the people she encounters. She comments and often makes judgments on the nationality, religion, appearance, and clothing styles of natives of the countries she is visiting ,as well as of her fellow travelers. She also reports gossip and hearsay surrounding the European royalty and upper class. Her other letters from her home in New York City or Stoneover in Lenox, Massachusetts speak of everyday events and family news such as trouble with servants and the health of various family members. Many of the letters to Mary and the letters among the members of the Parsons family were also sent from abroad.

The last folder in this series contains correspondence from 1824 from Bowes Reed McIlvaine in Louisville, Kentucky to Catherine Dumesnil (the parents of Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine). In the letters, Bowes Reed discusses their impending marriage and urges his wife-to-be to write him more often.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 From Mary Parsons
Box: 1 Folder : 2 From Mary Parsons
Box: 1 Folder : 3 From Mary Parsons
1894 Nov.- 1895 Feb.
Box: 1 Folder : 4 From Mary Parsons
1895 Mar.-1895 May
Box: 1 Folder : 5 From Mary Parsons to her Parents Abroad
Box: 1 Folder : 6 From Mary Parsons
Box: 1 Folder : 7 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 1 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 2 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 3 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 4 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 5 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 6 From Mary Parsons
Box: 2 Folder : 7 From Mary Parsons
1939 Jan.-1939 June
Box: 2 Folder : 8 From Mary Parsons
1939 Aug.-1939 Dec.
Box: 3 Folder : 1 From Mary Parsons at home in Lenox, Massachusetts or in New York City
Box: 3 Folder : 2 From Mary Parsons at home in Lenox, Massachusetts or in New York City
Box: 3 Folder : 3 From Mary Parsons in France
Box: 3 Folder : 4 From Mary Parsons in Holland and Italy
Box: 3 Folder : 5 From Mary Parsons in Great Britain
Box: 3 Folder : 6 To Mary Parsons from Various Correspondents
Box: 3 Folder : 7 To Mary Parsons from Various Correspondents
Box: 3 Folder : 8 Correspondence to Constance Parsons Hare from Various Correspondents
1937, 1956
Box: 3 Folder : 9 Correspondence Among Parsons Family
Box: 3 Folder : 10 Correspondents Unidentified
Box: 3 Folder : 11 From Bowes Reed McIlvaine to Catherine Dumesnil

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Series II: Memorabilia, 1872-1938

Scope and Contents note

This series contains personal items saved by the Parsons family. It includes memorabilia relating to travel, such as the passports of Mary Parsons, handwritten lists of personal travel expenses, unwritten postcards, and a ship passenger list from 1925. This series also contains items unrelated to travel such as photographs, poems, a list of potential characters in a play, menus of food to be served, and a 1938 short essay by Daniel Berkeley Updike on Edith Wharton's time in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 12 Passports for Mary Parsons
1921, 1922
Box: 3 Folder : 13 Photographs
Box: 3 Folder : 14 Travel Ephemera-Postcards and Passenger Lists
1894, 1895, 1925
Box: 3 Folder : 15 Lists of Travel Expenses
undated, 1872
Box: 3 Folder : 16 Poems and Plays
undated, 1899
Box: 3 Folder : 17 Menus of Food and List of Party Guests
undated, 1878
Box: 3 Folder : 18 Memoir of Edith Wharton by Daniel Berkeley Updike
Box: 3 Folder : 19 Postmarked Envelopes

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