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ABBY ALDRICH ROCKEFELLER, PERSONAL PAPERS, 1858-1957

Size: 16.4 linear ft.

Contents: The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Papers (1858-1957), contains correspondence and other material that documents the life and philanthropic activities of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

Arrangement: In place of the original alphabetical scheme, the collection has been arranged in seven series:
  • Series I, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Correspondence
  • Series II, Personal Papers
  • Series III, Art Collections
  • Series IV, Philanthropy Files
  • Series V, Aldrich/Greene Family Papers
  • Series VI, Death of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
  • Series VII, Chase Biography Files
  • Series VIII, Family Correspondence
The folder-level descriptions and calendars prepared by the family archivist in 1953 have been retained.

The bulk of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's personal and professional correspondence (1882-1957) is located in Series I, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Correspondence (Boxes 1-9). Letters have been filed alphabetically by correspondent. Major correspondents include Abby's sister, Lucy Truman Aldrich, with whom Abby corresponded at length for thirty years; siblings Nelson, Edward, Stuart, William, Richard, Winthrop, and Elsie; and her six children: Abby (Babs), John Davison 3rd, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David. The correspondence between Abby and Laurance and David Rockefeller remains closed. For what survives of Abby's letters to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., consult the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Papers in Record Group II of the Rockefeller Family Archives.

Abby's correspondence with her brothers (Elsie Aldrich is not a primary correspondent) fills six folders. Letters reveal the friendly rapport and mutual respect that obtained between the Aldrich siblings. They also provide information on Abby's occasional anonymous donations to projects in Boston and Providence for which her brothers sought her support. William, who was an architect in Boston, shared Abby's aesthetic interests and often recommended to her the purchase of paintings and furniture.

Among her children, Abby wrote most frequently to Winthrop Rockefeller, especially during the years of his army service (1941-1945) in World War II. Letters (1916-1948) from Babs to her mother include passionate appeals to return home from summer camp and accounts of sightseeing in Europe in 1920-1921 with her aunt, Lucy Truman Aldrich.

There are thirteen letters (1887-1909, n.d.) to Abby from her mother, Abby Pearce Chapman Aldrich. In a letter dated 8 March 1897, Mrs. Aldrich advises against a visit to New York, in case "Mamma Rockaffller...think you are chasing her son." Abby's letters to her mother are located in Series V. There are thirteen letters (1887-1914, n.d.) to Abby from her father, Nelson W. Aldrich. Some are brief notes enclosed with checks; others display a rare sensitivity. Writing in the 1890s to his now teen-age daughter, the Senator acknowledges impending changes: "Your letter reminds me that very soon I shall not be able to deal with you as a little girl to be disposed of without consultation but that you will have to be treated with as a young lady, with wants and demands."

Other correspondents include Italian Bernard Berenson, writing in 1927 from I Tatti; archaeologist James Henry Breasted, describing the recently unearthed tomb of King Tutankhamen; landscape architect Beatrice Farrand, and painters Henri Matisse (two letters, 1932, 1933), Georgia O'Keefe, Walter Pach, and Peter Blume. Letters (1929-1937) from Eustache de Lorey of the Institut Francais D'Archeologie et d'Art Musulmans discuss recent exhibitions, various pieces of Persian and Indian art, and modern pictures de Lorey envisioned for the Museum of Modern Art.

Also housed in Series I are twenty-four folders of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) correspondence (1929-1945, 1947). This is largely Abby's incoming correspondence from museum staff relating to exhibitions and loans, personnel and financial matters, the War Veterans' Art Center, and the modern movement in art. Major correspondents include Abby's financial adviser Arthur W. Packard, MoMA Director Alfred Barr, A. Conger Goodyear (President of MoMA), Monroe Wheeler (Director of Exhibitions and Publications), Stephen C. Clark (Chairman of the Board), Frances Hawkins (Secretary), James Thrall Soby (Director of Paintings and Sculpture), and John E. Abbott (Executive Vice President). Stephen Clark's moving tribute to Abby's moral leadership of the museum during the war years is housed in Series VII, Chase Biography Files, in folder 339.

Correspondence documenting Abby's other philanthropies, especially her World War I relief work, the YMCA Housing Committee work, the Grace Dodge Hotel, and the Bayway Community Center is housed in Series IV, Philanthropy Files, together with annual benevolence reports (1917-1924, 1935-1943) prepared by Arthur W. Packard. The General Office File (1909-1955), a correspondence file maintained by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s office staff, also contains information on Mrs. Rockefeller's charitable activities. This correspondence is housed in Series I.

Series II, Personal Papers, brings together an assortment of personal effects which were previously dispersed throughout the collection. Files are alphabetically arranged by type of material. There are two volumes of diaries kept by Abby as a young student and debutante in Providence (1892, 1893-1894); seven thick tablets recording social engagements for the years 1894-1898, 1900, and 1901; itineraries, passports, and passenger lists for European trips; invitations; wedding books; and clippings relating to Abby's marriage in 1901, the activities of her six children, and her anti-war and prohibition work.

Series III, Art Collections, contains photograph inventories of the works of art donated, loaned, or sold by Abby Rockefeller from 1931 to 1956. Files are alphabetically arranged by subject or name of institution. Information pertaining to the original purchase or acquisition of Abby Rockefeller's paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, Japanese and Chinese prints, and American folk art is available in these albums, including provenance, dealer name, purchase price, and date of sale or gift. The verso often holds commentary by the dealer. Major gifts represented in Series III include those to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, Colonial Williamsburg, and other major museums such as the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Series V, housed in Box 27, contains the Aldrich and Greene Family Papers (1858-1949). Records are alphabetically arranged by type of material. The series consists largely of the correspondence (1860-1913, n.d.) received by Abby's mother, Abby Pearce Chapman Aldrich, who, though born in Preston, Connecticut, was raised by the Duty Greene family of Providence. Most of the correspondence is from the Greene and Pierce families, Providence friends, and four of her children, Lucy (1885, 1887-1902), Stuart (1885, 1887), William (1885, 1887, 1900), and Abby (1885-1913). There is one folder of correspondence from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1901- 1907, 1907-1911) and two letters from Laura Spelman Rockefeller (1901, 1903).

Series VI, Death of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, contains clippings, condolences, and publicity occasioned by Abby's death in 1948. Files are alphabetically arranged by type of material. Series VII, Chase Biography Files, includes John D. Rockefeller's correspondence with Mary Ellen Chase, Abby's biographer, and with his office staff concerning arrangements for the publication and distribution of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1950). Also present are Chase's research materials, consisting of typed excerpts of Abby's correspondence, together with the original annotated typescript.

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