Henry Lee Higginson business records Digital
Scope and Contents
- Majority of material found within 1870-1919
- Higginson, Henry Lee (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Extent55 linear feet (116 boxes, 28 volumes)
Biographical / Historical
“There is one thing, as before I said, that makes me very, very sorry to leave Europe: the loss of the music. I do think it makes and has made a real and a great change in me, since I first began with it; and if I continue to hear and cultivate it, so will the change go on and the advantage increase. I do not believe there is any-thing more refining than music, no greater or stronger preservative against evil, and at least for me it has done much... I am afraid to trust to my feelings within, to my own ideas, or I should study music as a profession. I know not how one finds that he has a talent for any one thing without trying: but everyone has a particular faculty for something, everyone has a decided turn and talent for a particular branch and it is his duty to try to find this out, and to turn to it. If one may trust what he hears within himself, in his own heart, and be sure that it is right, I should say that my talent was for music, and that, if I studied it properly and persevered, I could bring out something worth having, worthy of a life thus spent, worthy of my mother and of you.” [Perry, pages. 66-67]*
Higginson never returned to Harvard as a student, although he participated in many collegiate activities during the years 1853-1856. Despite not graduating he would remain connected to Harvard for the rest of his life. From 1855 to1856 he worked for the firm of Samuel and Edward Austin. After eighteen months of this apprenticeship he became restless and his father agreed to send him back to Europe - to Vienna, Paris, Italy - where he could study music. He sailed for Liverpool in November of 1856, in the company of Stephen Perkins and Powell Mason, but soon discovered that he had neither the aptitude nor physical stamina for musicianship; he was not suited to be singer or pianist, composer or conductor. In a letter to his father (December, 1857) he wrote: "Charley [Lowell?] prophesied that I should be at home in a year, and that I should become a merchant and a rich man. Heaven knows; but I do believe that the spirit of trade is in my veins, tho' other things may be more agreeable to me" (Perry, pages. 120-121).
*Bliss Perry, The Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson (2 vols., Boston, 1921). Returning to Boston, Higginson searched for a practical occupation but the outlook grew increasingly dim. This changed when the Civil War broke out. Higginson was one of the first young men in Boston to volunteer: by July 8th, 1861 he was a first lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts Regiment and on 31 October he was commissioned as an officer in the First Massachusetts Cavalry, of which he was made Captain in December of that year. His military career ended abruptly on the battlefield at Aldie, Virginia, where he was severely wounded. By that time, Higginson was brevetted Lieutenant-Colonel of the First Massachusetts, a distinction which he scarcely acknowledged and - partly because it confused him with his first cousin and contemporary, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, for whom he had a great respect. While convalescent in Boston, he courted Ida Agassiz, daughter of Professor Louis Agassiz. They were married on December 5, 1863.
During the final years of the Civil War, Higginson at last found opportunity for employment. From 1864 to 1865 Higginson worked as an agent for the Buckeye Oil Company, trying to develop a suitable field on land near Caldwell, Ohio. When this venture failed he decided to act on another business venture: raising cotton on a plantation in Georgia. After the end of the Civil War, investors, many who were Northern elite merchants, wanted to ensure the continuation of the profitable production of cotton, rice, and sugar. As such, they bought and leased plantations, with the idea to work the farm as a cooperative, with both work and profits shared by the newly emancipated enslaved people of the region. While practically all of the Northern merchants had the capital to take advantage of the depressed land values, few had experience operating a plantation. As such, many of these ventures, including Higginson’s, failed.
The unsuccessful business venture left Henry and his wife with significant debt. Facing the realities of his several failed attempts in a variety of business ventures, in 1868 Henry Higginson, along with his brother Francis, entered the firm of Lee, Higginson & Company. He remained with the firm - later serving as its President - until his death on 14 November, 1919.
Higginson continued to work on many projects and social and cultural interests throughout his life, including the founding of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Higginson also remained an active patron of Harvard University.
The administrative records of the various companies and business ventures with which Higginson was concerned, outside the scope of his normal activities as President of the investment banking house Lee, Higginson and Company; and a collection of correspondence, clippings, memorabilia, and miscellany which covers the period circa 1869-1919. The bulk of the investment papers date from after 1900 and many represent the interests of Henry Lee Higginson's son, Alexander Henry Higginson.
The main focus of the collection is correspondence, which contains materials toward a history of the financial, philanthropic, and personal dealings of Henry Higginson, his family, and his contemporaries.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Existence and Location of Originals
Existence and Location of Copies
- Baker Library
- Description rules
- EAD ID
Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository
Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.
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