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COLLECTION Identifier: A/C518

Papers of Ednah Dow Cheney, 1881?-1899


Biography of Seth Wells Cheney by Ednah Dow Cheney, and letter from Ednah Dow Cheney regarding an upcoming charity fair.


  • Creation: 1881-1899


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. The papers created by Ednah Dow Cheney is in the public domain.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1 folder

The collection includes a handwritten biography of Seth Wells Cheney by Ednah Dow Cheney, published as Memoir of S. W. Cheney in 1881. The biography provides genealogical information and a detailed description of Seth Cheney's life and character, including his childhood and studies in Paris; his artwork and relationships with other artists; his illnesses and occasional depression; and his feelings about religion, art, and spirituality. Details about his parents are also included, with Cheney noting of Seth Cheney's father George that while he preferred simple attire, he was married in a yellow satin waistcoat and purple breeches "according to the fashion of the times." She also describes his efforts to lessen household work "by many ingenious contrivances," and observes that he "never thought it unmanly to relieve his wife of the care of the baby." Seth Cheney's mother, Electa Woodbridge Cheney, is described as a woman of "fine, clean intelligence." She also describes the involvement of Seth Cheney and his brothers in the evolving silk industry, including the rearing of silkworms and the growing and sale of mulberry trees for the worms to feed on. The collection also includes a letter from Ednah Cheney to Mr. [Louis] Prang regarding arrangements for the upcoming triennial benefit fair for the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Prang had booked Copley Hall for a period which included the date on which Cheney's committee hoped to hold their fair there and in her letter she asks if he can adjust his plans.


Writer, reformer, and philanthropist Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney was born in Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1824, the daughter of Sargent Smith Littlehale and Ednah Parker Dow Littlehale. She had seven siblings, only three of whom lived to adulthood. Cheney attended three seasons of the "Conversations" instituted by journalist and women's rights advocate Margaret Fuller. These conversations were intended to encourage women's independent thinking and self expression and they had a formative influence on Cheney's life. She was one of the founders of the Boston School of Design for Women in 1851 and served as the school's secretary until 1854. She married Seth Wells Cheney, an engraver and portraitist noted for his work in black and white crayon, in 1853; they had one daughter, Margaret, born in 1855. Seth Cheney died in 1856 and Margaret died in 1882. (Margaret was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the time of her death; the Margaret Cheney Room, designed exclusively for the use of women students, was established soon after her death.)

Cheney was one of the founders of the New England Hospital for Women and Children and served as hospital president from 1887 to 1902. She also worked for the rights of freedmen before and after the Civil War, and for women's rights after the Civil War. She was one of the founders and financial backers of the New England Women's Club, one of the earliest women's clubs in the United States. Her published works include Hand-Book for American Citizens (1864); Patience (1870), Social Games (1871), Faithful to the Light (1872), Child of the Tide (1874), Life of Susan Dimoch (1875), Gleanings in Fields of Art (1881), Memoir of S. W. Cheney (1881)Selected Poems of Michael Angelo (1885), Memoir of John Cheney, Engraver (1888), Memoir of Margaret S. Cheney (1888)Children's Friend, A Sketch of Louisa M. Alcott (1888), Biography of L. M. Alcott (1889), Nora's Return (1890), Stories of Olden Time (1890), and a number of articles in books and journals. She died in 1904.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 1145, 1383

The papers of Ednah Dow Cheney were acquired by the Schlesinger Library from Paul C. Richards in 1967.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Ednah Dow Cheney Letter, undated (A/C518a).

Processing Information

Processed: January 2022

By: Susan Earle with assistance from Erin LaBove

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Eliza Taylor and George W. Ransom Memorial Fund, the Robert and Elizabeth Owen Shenton Fund, and the Fleisher Acquisition Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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