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COLLECTION Identifier: 1589

Papers of the Vail-Motter family, 1867-1969


Correspondence, biographical data and photographs of the Vail and Motter families of Kansas.


  • Creation: 1867-1969

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by the Vail-Motter family as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

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


3 linear feet (3 cartons)

This collection consists of family correspondence, biographical data and photographs of two generations of the Vail-Motter family: Bishop Vail and his wife and family, 1866-1892, and Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter, 1873-1952. Correspondence of Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter's children concerning the collection is also included and there are diaries, poems, and other writings of Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter, and correspondence and clippings about them.


Thomas Hubbard Vail, 1812-1889, was the first Episcopal bishop of Kansas, and the first bishop to be consecrated west of the Mississippi River. In 1865 Thomas Hubbard Vail founded the Episcopal Seminary, the first institution for higher education of women west of the Mississippi, in Topeka, Kansas. Later renamed the College of the Sisters of Bethany, the school was absorbed into Washburn College in the 1930s. Thomas Hubbard Vail was one of seven bishops who in 1866 protested against the southern bishops' secession during the Civil War. Thomas Hubbard Vail was married twice: to Mrs. Frances Sophia Vose, and in 1867 to Ellen Ledlie (Bowman) with whom he founded Christ's Hospital in Topeka.

Ellen Ledlie (Bowman) Vail, 1828-1894, was the daughter of Samuel Bowman, assistant bishop of Pennsylvania, and of Susan (Sitgreaves); she was graduated from St. Mary's Hall, Burlington, New Jersey, in 1844. Ellen (Bowman) Vail served as Matron of the College of the Sisters of Bethany. The Vails had two children, Samuel Bowman Vail, 1868-1878, and Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter, 1870-1952. Ellen (Bowman) Vail became blind in 1879 at the age of fifty-one.

Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter, the daughter of Thomas Hubbard Vail and Ellen (Bowman) Vail, was graduated as valedictorian from Bethany College in 1890. She did graduate work at Radcliffe, 1894-1895, studied music at the Boston Conservatory, and traveled abroad before her marriage in 1897. She and her husband, Murrary Galt Motter, 1867-1926, physician and Chief Librarian of the United States Public Health Service, had three children: Thomas Hubbard Vail Motter, 1901-1970, James Taylor Motter, 1904-1948, and Margaret (Motter) Miller, 1898-1979. Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter was active in church and civic work, a founder of the National Library for the Blind (now part of the Library of Congress), and a member of the Board of Lady Managers of the Washington Ear, Eye, and Throat Hospital. A volume of her collected poems, From My Heart was published in 1949.


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. Series I. Thomas Hubbard and Ellen Ledlie (Bowman) Vail
  2. Series II. Ellen Sitgreaves (Vail) Motter

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 1589

This collection was given to the Schlesinger Library in March and April 1969 by Thomas Hubbard Vail Motter and Margaret Motter Miller, children of Ellen Sitgreaves Vail Motter.


  1. Carton 1: Folders 1-30
  2. Carton 2: Folders 31-75
  3. Carton 3: Folders 76-100

Processing Information

By: Jane S. Knowles, Adelaide Kennedy

Date: January 1982

Vail family. Papers of the Vail-Motter family, 1867-1969: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

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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