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Manuscript Division



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Maritime Families

The period between the Revolution and the Civil War is one for which the Library holds a number of interesting naval collections, including several that document the role of wives in maintaining the family home and raising children while their husbands were away at sea for months or even years at a time.

The Browning Family Papers (900 items; 1824-1917; bulk 1835-55) [catalog record] include numerous letters that Eleanor Hanlon Browning (1809-1857) wrote to her naval officer husband when he was on duty on various ships from 1834 to 1850.

see caption below

Ann Minerva “Nannie” Rodgers Macomb. Between 1850 and 1860. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ6-2032 (b&w film copy neg. post-1992)
bibliographic record

Minerva Denison Rodgers (1784-1877) [catalog record] managed her family's household affairs and kept her husband, Commodore John Rodgers, apprised of domestic matters while he was at sea. Observing their mother's life no doubt helped to prepare the Rodgerses' daughters, Ann Rodgers Macomb (1824-1916) and Louisa Rodgers Meigs (1817-1879), for similar roles in their marriages to military men, as reflected in the letters they exchanged with their spouses. Also included in the Rodgers Family Papers (14,850 items; 1740-1987; bulk 1804-1932) are letters of a granddaughter, Minerva Macomb Peters, recounting the difficulties she faced in adjusting to frontier life in Wyoming, where she and her husband settled after their marriage in 1881, and to the life of a diplomat's wife later that decade when her husband accepted a post in the U.S. consular service in Germany.

Some wives such as Harriet D. Welles traveled with their seafaring husbands. Harriet's diary in the Roger Welles collection (2,100 items; 1884-1926) [catalog record] describes navy life aboard the USS New Orleans and the people and customs in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Manila during a tour of duty to China in ca. 1910.

The division's naval collections span all time periods, and more than 370 of them can be found by searching the catalog for the subject term “naval officers.” Many of these include letters or diaries of wives, including the papers of:

  • Reginald R. Belknap (7,100 items; 1784-1929; bulk 1900-1929) [catalog record]
  • George Dewey (25,000 items; 1805-1949; bulk 1885-1931) [catalog record]
  • Edward Everett Hayden (11,000 items; 1817-1965; bulk 1879-1932) [catalog record]
  • Richmond Pearson Hobson (27,300 items; 1889-1966; bulk 1890-1937) [catalog record]
  • Charles A. Lockwood (7,000 items; 1904-67; bulk 1940-60) [catalog record]
  • William Sowden Sims (43,000 items; 1856-1951; bulk 1900-1936) [catalog record]

Besides the catalog, descriptions of many naval collections may be found in the printed guide Naval Historical Foundation Manuscript Collection: A Catalog (Washington: Library of Congress, 1974; Z1249.N3 U5 1974).

Complementing these many naval collections are several dozen whaling collections that also provide documentation about nineteenth-century marriages and domestic situations characterized by seafaring husbands' long absences from home.19

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