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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 553

Papers of the Cannon family, 1887-1980 (inclusive), 1917-1945 (bulk)


Diaries, engagement calendars, and correspondence of Ida Maud Cannon; stories, articles/essays, and scrapbooks by Cornelia James Cannon; family correspondence, of Cornelia, Walter B. Cannon, and their children: Bradford Cannon, Wilma (Cannon) Fairbanks, Linda (Cannon) Burgess, Marian (Cannon) Schlesinger, and Helen (Cannon) Bond; photographs of family and events.


  • 1887-1980
  • Majority of material found within 1917-1945

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 Cannon Family is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. 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.


11.05 linear feet ((26+12 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 7 photograph folders)

The collection contains diaries, datebooks, conference material, and extensive correspondence related to the professional and private life of Ida Maud Cannon, and published and unpublished stories, essays, articles, and letterbooks related to Cornelia James Cannon. Also included are letters and personal items related to other Cannon family members. The majority of the collection arrived at the library unfoldered, in boxes. Many of the letters were tied in bundles or loosely piled according to sender. Folder titles and arrangement were created by the archivist.

Series I, IDA M. CANNON, 1907-1975 (#1.1-6.8), contains diaries, datebooks, lecture material, and personal correspondence. Items within this series were found loosely packed in boxes, sometimes in envelopes and office file folders with brief descriptions. Folder titles were created by the archivist. This series contains three subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1910-1975 (#1.1-2.14), contains articles about Ida (1928, 1975); diaries (1910-1953) chronicling her daily life before and after her retirement; and engagement books (1946-1955) showing daily appointments and activities occurring after her retirement from Massachusetts General Hospital. An address book (ca.1914-1945) lists colleagues and friends. Humorous notes from family members, a passport, friends' and colleagues' obituaries, newsletters and membership cards from organizations where she volunteered make up the rest of this subseries.

Subseries B, Professional, 1907-1958 (#3.1-3.10), contains items accumulated during Ida's tenure at Massachusetts General Hospital and after her retirement, arranged in rough chronological order. The items in this subseries are centered more on her outside activities before and after her retirement, rather than her specific work at Massachusetts General Hospital, of which there is a small amount. Included are correspondence (1907-1939) with Dr. Richard Cabot regarding their work together while at Massachusetts General Hospital, and memos from Massachusetts General Hospital regarding personal issues and her retirement. Ida traveled extensively, giving talks for various organizations and conferences, and her "Talks" files (1927-1947) contain conference programs, speech scripts, and correspondence. A file related to the Third International Conference on Social Work at Elfinsward Conference Center (England) in 1936 contains material concerning the planning of the conference. A larger collection of Ida's papers, focusing on her work at Massachusetts General Hospital, are located in the Social Service Department Records at the Massachusetts General Hospital Archives and Special Collections.

Subseries C, Personal correspondence, 1907-1958 (#3.11-6.8), contains only letters written to Ida. A scattering of correspondence by Ida can be found in Series II, Subseries C. Family correspondents include Cornelia, nieces, and a nephew (1911-1958). The remainder of the subseries includes letters from friends and colleagues, arranged alphabetically, and relating to their daily lives and developments in the social service field around the country and abroad.

Series II, CORNELIA (JAMES) AND WALTER CANNON, 1887-1980 (#7.1-27.3), contains biographical information; a diary; unpublished memoir; travel scrapbooks; published and unpublished writings; articles and essays; clippings; and letterbooks/correspondence. Items within this series were found loosely packed in boxes, sometimes in envelopes and office file folders with brief descriptions. Folder titles were created by the archivist. This series contains three subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical and personal, 1890-1980 (#7.1-9.3, 27.1), contains biographical material about the family, including mentions in New Boston Road and A Family Chronicle, and Walter's obituary; a diary kept during Cornelia's childhood; Radcliffe College class notes; and a newspaper article on raising children, featuring an interview with Cornelia and a photograph of the family. Cornelia's unpublished memoir, "Snatched from Oblivion" (1904-1922), includes stories from her life in Cambridge, ranging in topic from birthing and raising her children to dealing with the effects of World War I on her family and community. This same title was used by daughter Marian Cannon Schlesinger in her own memoir published in 1997. Cornelia's work with the Public School Association in Cambridge is documented in clippings and related letters (1921-1934) in this subseries. Scrapbooks (1928-1950s) containing photographs, brochures, maps, letters, and postcards, document her extensive travels through the Philippines and Asia, Russia, and her "'Round the World" trips. In her 1928 scrapbook, she includes not only written accounts, but also sketches and photographs of the family automobile trip out West. A 1965 tribute to Cornelia from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts includes the text from her speech on birth control.

Subseries B, Published/unpublished writings and related material, 1897-1965 (#9.4-14.12, 27.2-27.3), is separated into three sections: creative writings, travel writings, and essays/articles. Items are arranged chronologically within these groups when possible. Creative writings contain plays, poems, and stories written throughout her life (1897 - ca.1930s). Material related to Cornelia's best-selling novel about Swedish immigrants farming in Minnesota, Red Rust (1928), includes fan mail; a promotional poster; reviews; letters from her publishers; and correspondence on receiving an honorary degree from Wheaton College. Various edited versions of the unpublished novel Denial relate the story of a young, married mother and birth control issues in Massachusetts. The travel writings section of this subseries contains stories based on letters and experiences from Cornelia's many trips. "A Woman in the Rockies, Climbing Cannon Mountain," is an account of her 1901 honeymoon, when, although not mountaineers, she and her husband were the first to reach the summit of the unclimbed southwest peak of Goat Mountain, located in what is now Glacier National Park in Montana. The peak was subsequently named Mount Cannon by the United States Geological Survey. A Middle Aged Adventure (1917) is the story of an automobile camping trip with her sister. Art Awheel in Italy (ca.1929), was written after she took her family on a European tour by car, financed by the proceeds from her first novel. Contains hand-colored sketches by her daughter, Wilma. A humorous account of her arrest and brief detainment in the U.S.S.R. is also included in this subseries, as are observations during her travels, such as access to birth control in the U.S.S.R., Japan, China and the Philippines; see Subseries C for the original letters. The essays/articles section of this subseries includes material written for magazines and journals between the 1920s and 1930s, ranging in subject from public education to birth control. Reader reaction is found in this subseries, and Subseries C.

Subseries C, Correspondence and related, 1887-1951 (#14.13-26.6), contains letters and miscellaneous items between Cornelia and her family and friends. For more than forty years, on an almost daily basis, she chronicled her life and reactions to national and local events. This subseries is arranged with loose, mostly handwritten letters, from Cornelia found at the beginning, followed by her letterbooks, and ending with miscellaneous loose correspondence with Walter, Cornelia's sister-in-laws, the Cannon children, friends, etc. Letterbooks are arranged chronologically; the "Newport Letters" (1887-1899), written mainly by Cornelia, recount daily life and include a play, "The Mirror." A majority of the letterbooks are compilations of typed carbon copies of outgoing letters to her five children and their families. They also include interleaved responses from recipients; photographs; clippings; stories; poems; plays; and sketches by her children. Her correspondence contains a wealth of information on subjects such as life as a Radcliffe College student; a Harvard professor's family living in Cambridge, Massachusetts; births of children and their upbringing; traveling around the United States and abroad; etc. The correspondence between Cornelia and her husband, written while he served as a military doctor in France during World War I, are exceptional. They describe a family separated by war, from Walter's experiences working in a military field hospital, to Cornelia and the children dealing with the effects of war at home, including rationing; planting victory gardens; the influenza epidemic; growing antagonism toward Germans living in Cambridge; etc. Letters written in 1944 and part of 1946 were not bound, but appear to be part of the letterbook sequence.

Additional material concerning Walter, his sisters, the Cannon children, and friends, include letters from Bradford Cannon to his parents and aunts (1912-1938), re: his childhood and college experiences, as well as letters from their daughters Wilma, Helen, and Linda. Related material includes sheet music written for Marian (Cannon) Schlesinger as a child and possible class notes for a Russian play class at Radcliffe College; announcement for Wilma (Cannon) Fairbanks winning the DAR essay contest; and a flyer for an upcoming talk given by Wilma's husband, John Fairbanks. Correspondence with friends and others follows the family correspondence, and is in rough chronological order. Duplication is widespread. For typescripts of travel stories based on letters from this series, see Series II, Subseries B.

Series III, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1901-1940 (#PD.1-PD.7), contains images of Ida, Walter, Cornelia, and family. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Ida Maud Cannon (1877-1960), pioneer in the hospital social service movement, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the daughter of Sarah Wilma Denio and Colbert Hanchett Cannon. She grew up in Wisconsin with a brother and two sisters: Walter, Bernice, and Jane. After graduating from the St. Paul (Minnesota) City and County Hospital Training School for Nursing (1898), Ida worked for the State School for the Feeble-minded for two years before going on to study sociology and psychology at the University of Minnesota. After working as a visiting nurse for the next few years, she moved to Boston in 1906, enrolling at the Boston School for Social Workers (at that time a joint program with Harvard College and Simmons College). While still a student, Ida met Dr. Richard Cabot, who established the first hospital social service department in the United States at the Massachusetts General Hospital (Massachusetts General Hospital), and in 1907 she accepted a position from Cabot as one of the department's four social workers. A year later, Ida was promoted to head social worker and in 1914 became Chief of Social Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, holding that position for almost four decades. At Simmons College, she developed the first medical social work curriculum to be offered by a school of social work in the United States, and served there as Director of the Hospital Social Service Program from 1912 to 1925, and as an instructor until 1945. While working and after her retirement, Ida traveled extensively, lecturing on medical social service. She resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her brother Walter and his family for twenty-seven years and, along with her sister Bernice, assisting in the raising of her nephew and four nieces.

Cornelia (James) Cannon (1876-1969), daughter of Frances Haynes James and Henry C. James, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. She attended her last few years of high school in the Boston area while living with relatives, and after financial issues caused some delays, she began her studies at Radcliffe College in 1895, graduating in 1899. Cornelia taught school for a short time in Minnesota before marrying Dr. Walter B. Cannon (1871-1945) in 1901. They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had five children: Bradford (born 1907), Wilma (born 1909), Linda (born 1911), Marian (born 1912), and Helen (born 1915). An author and civic leader, Cornelia published frequently in Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and North American Review, writing articles and essays on social and economic issues. Cornelia also wrote best-selling novels, children's books, and a variety of unpublished stories and essays. An early activist in the birth control movement, she was one of the founders of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, in which she remained active for many years. Cornelia was also a member of the League of Women Voters, the Cambridge Civic Association, and president of the Public School Association in Cambridge. She had a passion for travel, accompanying her husband on many of his speaking engagements throughout the world, and traveling with her children, well into her eighties. On these trips, she showed an interest in birth control practices of other countries, writing about her observations in magazines and newspapers upon her return. She stayed active with Radcliffe College after graduating by hosting teas and lunches for students. In 1958, her twenty grandchildren contributed money to have a room named after her in the Radcliffe College Graduate Refectory, and in 1965, Cornelia received one of Radcliffe's first Founders Awards, in recognition of her service to family and community, through her writing and her work in the local birth control movement, and the Cambridge Museum for Children. Cornelia's husband Walter was a well-respected doctor and professor, graduating from and eventually teaching at Harvard Medical School. He eventually became the George Higginson Professor of Physiology and chair of the department. An innovator in both research and medical education, in 1900 he adapted the case method for teaching medicine. Walter experimented with the digestive system, and made pioneering contributions to the knowledge of the emergency functions of the sympathetic nervous system and the theory of homeostasis.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Ida M. Cannon, 1907-1975 (#1.1-6.8)
  2. Series II. Cornelia (James) and Walter Cannon, 1887-1980 (#7.1-27.3)
  3. Series III. Photographs, 1901-1940 (#PD.1-PD.7)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 98-M22, 2022-M45

The Cannon Family Papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Marian Cannon Schlesinger in April 1998 and by Andrew and Christina Schlesinger in March 2022.


Donors: Marian Cannon Schlesinger

Accession number: 98-M22

Processed by: Stacey Flatt

The following items donated by Marian Cannon Schlesinger have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Books and Printed Materials Division:

  1. Book, A Family Chronicle by Louise Bronson Crothers, 1966
  2. Magazine, The Atlantic 100th Anniversary Issue, 1957

Processing Information

Processed: December 2007

By: Stacey Flatt

Updated: April 2022

By: Johanna Carll

Cannon family. Papers of the Cannon family, 1887-1980 (inclusive), 1917-1945 (bulk): 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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