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Mary Elizabeth Williams (1825-1902) Papers

Mary Elizabeth Williams (1825-1902) Papers

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Williams, Mary Elizabeth, 1825-1902
Title:Mary Elizabeth Williams (1825-1902) Papers
Quantity:0.75 linear feet (2 boxes)
Abstract:The Mary Elizabeth Williams papers document the life of this Salem, Massachusetts, artist, author, and art dealer.
Collection Number:MSS 253

Series List

SERIES I. Mary Elizabeth Williams and Abigail Osgood Williams Papers
SERIES II. Mary Ann Bell Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Mary Elizabeth Williams papers document the life of this Salem, Massachusetts, artist, author, and art dealer. The collection has been divided into two series.

Series I.Mary Elizabeth Williams and Abigail Osgood Williams Papers contains personal and professional correspondence of the two Williams sisters. The personal correspondence relates to the abolitionist sentiments of the time in the writings of Henry W. Williams to his sisters, describing American slavery as "the great sin of the nation" (25 January 1842). The professional letters of the two sisters describe their teaching endeavors, travel, and art collecting ventures. One group of letters describes the process of publishing Mary E. Williams' book The Hours of Raphael in 1891. Some of their correspondents include Augustus Saint Gaudens (B1 F13), Henry Cabot Lodge, Rose Morris Moore, and George Peabody. Miscellaneous materials include watercolors, pencil sketches, and notebooks.

The Williams family papers (B1 F12) include a group of letter from Charles H. Williams (their nephew) to his parents while on a European tour. The letters describe Wagner in Vienna supervising the opera "Lohengrin." The letters also describe Charles' study of the latest European eye treatment advances which would have been of interest to both father and son, as both were eye doctors.

Series II. Mary Ann Bell Papers contains the personal correspondence of Mary Ann Bell, friend of Mary Elizabeth, who was also known as "Molly." Many of the letters describe New Hampshire and Bell's extended family, consisting of Bell and Upham uncles, aunts, and cousins. There is a letter in 1861 from Mary Ann's brother, Luther V. Bell (who was stationed at Camp Baker on the Lower Potomac), describing the fighting in the Civil War. There are also many letters to and from female friends which describe the profession of teaching in various ways.

Biographical Sketches

Mary Elizabeth Williams, artist and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 12, 1825, the second daughter and youngest of three children born to Willard and Betsey (Osgood) Williams. She was the sister of Dr. Henry W. Williams (1821-1895), the celebrated eye doctor, and Abigail Osgood Williams (1823-1913), with whom she lived and traveled for much of her life. Her father died circa 1833 and her mother two years later; she and her sister apparently then went to live with Mary Osgood, a relative on her maternal side, at the Osgood farm in South Salem.

Mary Elizabeth studied and taught art in Salem for many years. In 1860, she and her sister Abigail traveled to Rome, Italy, where they resided for 18 years (making an occasional return to their Salem home), studying and collecting art. Although primarily based in Rome during this period, Mary Elizabeth and Abigail traveled throughout Europe, visiting at some point England, Paris, Venice, and Florence. The two sisters took lessons in the Italian school of painting while in Rome, and made contact with many people of importance in the art world during this period.

Upon their return, Mary Elizabeth and Abigail resided on Lafayette Street in Salem, where they ran a gallery of art in their house. In approximately 1894, they took a trip through the Mediterranean, going up the Nile River in their own private boat, visiting Athens, the Dardanelles, and stopping at Constantinople.

Mary Elizabeth never married. She died in Salem on September 15, 1902.

Abigail Osgood Williams, artist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in October 1823 to Willard and Betsey (Osgood) Williams, and was the older sister and companion to Mary Elizabeth Williams. During the 1850s Abigail Williams helped run the house of her divorced brother, Dr. Henry W. Williams and his son, Charles H. Williams. In 1860, she traveled to Rome, Italy, with her sister, where they resided for 18 years. Upon their return Abigail lived with her sister in Salem until her death on April 26, 1913.

Mary Ann Bell, the daughter of Samuel and Mehitable (Dana) Bell, and sister of James and Luther V. Bell, was born in Chester, New Hampshire, on October 26, 1802. Her father, Samuel Bell (1770-1850), was the governor of New Hampshire from 1819 to1823, and her brother, Luther V. Bell (1806-1862), was the head of the McLean Asylum in Boston from1837 to 1856. Her brother, James Bell (1804-1857) with whom she made her home for at least part of her life, was a United States senator from New Hampshire form 1855 to 1757. It is not known how she became acquainted with Mary Elizabeth Williams. She apparently never married; she died on February 24, 1831 in St. Augustine, Florida.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Bell family
Bell, James, 1804-1857
Bell, Luther V., 1806-1862
Bell, Mary Ann
Lodge, Henry Cabot, 1850-1924
Moore, Rose Morris
Peabody, George, 1804-1892
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, 1848-1907
Upham family
Wagner, Richard, 1813-1883
Williams, Abigail Osgood, 1823-1913
Williams, Charles H. (Charles Herbert), 1850-1918
Williams, Henry W. (Henry Willard), 1821-1895
Art--Collectors and collecting
Publishers and publishing
Slavery--United States
The Hours of Raphael
Women art patrons
Women art teachers
Women authors
New Hampshire--Description
Rome (Italy)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Mary Elizabeth Williams (1825-1902) Papers, MSS 253, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The provenance of this material is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Daniel S. Curtis, December 1991. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, November 2015.

Related Material

Belknap, Henry Wyckoff. Artists and Craftsmen of Essex County, Massachusetts. Salem, MA: Essex Institute, 1927. pp. 14-15.

Edmund West, comp. Family Data Collection - Individual Records [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

Ellis, George E. Memoir of Luther V. Bell, M.D., LLD. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1863.

Grace, George C., and David H. Wallace. The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964. p. 688-689.

Salem Evening News, obituary (M. E. Williams), 16 September 1902.

Salem Evening News, obituary (A. O. Williams), 28 April 1913.

Upham, F. K. Upham Genealogy the Descendants of John Upham of Massachusetts, Who Came from England in 1635, and Lived in Weymouth and Malden: Embracing over Five Hundred Heads of Families, Extending into the Tenth Generation. Albany, NY: J. Munsell's Sons, 1892. p. 182

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