Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers Now Available

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Handwritten postcard from Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Etta Russell, June 1, 1897, from the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907.

The  Cambridge Room is pleased to announce that the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907 are now available to research. A curated selection of the papers have been digitized and made available here.

Biography
Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a writer, minister, colonel, abolitionist, and activist. He was born on December 23, 1823 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Louisa Storrow Higginson and Stephen Higginson Jr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson graduated from Harvard College in 1841 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1847. He then served as a preacher, first in Newburyport, where he was deemed too radical, and later at the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. During this time, Higginson became increasingly active in abolitionist activity. He wrote and preached against slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War and was active in the Boston Vigilance Committee and the Underground Railroad. After supporting abolitionist settlers in Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he provided financial support to John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. During the Civil War, Higginson led the Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907) Union’s first African-American regiment. He described his military service in the memoir Army Life in a Black Regiment.

After the Civil War, Higginson focused on writing, editing, and activism, living in Newport, Rhode Island, for about two decades before returning to Cambridge. As a writer, he published fiction, memoirs, and essays, working with publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Woman’s Journal. He wrote on issues such as women’s suffrage, temperance, and Reconstruction. Higginson was also an editor; he corresponded with Emily Dickinson and co-edited her poetry for publication after her death. Higginson served as a trustee of the Cambridge Public Library and was instrumental in establishing the collections of the Cambridge Room, the library’s archives and special collections. Higginson married Mary Channing in 1847. After her death in 1877, he married Mary Thacher in 1879. They had two daughters, Louisa, who died in infancy in 1880, and Margaret, born in 1881. Higginson died on May 9, 1911 in Cambridge and was buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

Collection Overview
This collection comprises letters written to and by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a manuscript of a portion of his book Cheerful Yesterdays, and pamphlets written by Higginson. The letters include discussion of Higginson’s time in England and work with the Cambridge Public Library. The manuscript contains the second chapter of Higginson’s memoir, Cheerful Yesterdays, “A Child of the College.” The pamphlets include speeches, sermons, reminiscences, and essays; topics covered include slavery and women’s suffrage.

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