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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 561

Papers of Mary Matteson Wilbur, 1880-1995


Diaries, writings, correspondence, and photographs of Mary Matteson Wilbur and her family.


  • Creation: 1880-1995

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mary Matteson Wilbur 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.


10.84 linear feet ((25 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 17 photograph folders)

The collection contains diaries, correspondence, writings, artwork, and photographs, related to the life of Mary Matteson Wilbur and her family, as well as correspondence and personal items from Mary's husband Hollis and their children. The majority of the papers 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, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1880-1995 (#1.1-16.6), includes Mary's genealogy notes; her book Memories of Mary Hulburt Matteson; and her son Martin's book In Her Own Words: Mary Matteson Wilbur in Bygone America, Japan, China, and Korea, 1872-1957 and related material on the family; Mary's diaries kept throughout her life; materials related to her girlhood and women's club activities; scrapbooks; and material generated by husband Hollis and their daughter Elizabeth. This series is separated into five subseries.

Subseries A. Biographical/genealogical, ca.1885-1995 (#1.1-1.15), reflects Mary's interest in family genealogy as a life-long pursuit, evident in the notes she accumulated from family correspondence and her own research. A notebook with her family tree had been meticulously assembled, and published in her book about her mother, Memories of Mary Hulburt Matteson (1938). In Her Own Words: Mary Matteson Wilbur in Bygone America, Japan, China, and Korea, 1872-1957 was privately published in 1995 by son Martin and this subseries contains his chapter notes, book reviews from family members, and other related documents, including Mary's daughter Rosemary's 1915 death certificate and Mary's 1948 will. Mary was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), eventually becoming the State Regent of China. Mary's DAR registration papers, along with a testimonial from the organization published after her death praising her leadership in the Shanghai Chapter are also in this subseries.

Subseries B. Mary Matteson Wilbur diaries/appointment books, 1886-1956 (#2.1-14.4), contains Mary's diaries, which chronicle her life from her girlhood in Ohio to the year of her death (1886-1956). Topics include national events; activities with the children; her work with women's clubs; and the deaths of two of her children (Hollis Adelbert, Jr. and Rosemary) whose birthdays she noted every year. Loose items found between pages include clippings (about World War II, the YMCA, DAR, her family, family in Ohio, etc.), programs from musical events and church services; telegrams, postcards, and letters from friends and family; "minutes" from "Wilbur Corporation" meetings (1932); receipts; etc. Mary clipped many articles during World War II, placing them between the pages, but those not directly related to her or her family were discarded. Regularly clipped columns included Telegraph;A Week of the War, by Don Russell; The War Summarized; and European War. Diary pages without entries are frequently supplemented with sheets from her calendar. Mary also kept a wedding anniversary journal, writing an entry most years, 1902-1957; it contains loose material, such as congratulatory cards and letters from friends and relatives. Mary traveled widely and would often keep diaries from her trips, including those to the Philippines in 1918, with loose material from 1917-1928, and India in 1923. This subseries also contains several appointment books (1898-1899, 1901, 1916, and 1951).

Subseries C. Personal, 1880-1951 (#14.5-15.6), includes an autograph book (1880-1884), school report card (1886), and high school graduation announcement (1888); and minutes for the Young Ladies Railroad Association (1888-1889), of which Mary became secretary and eventually president. Mary's scrapbook (1895-1929) includes clippings of wedding announcements; reviews of nephew Claude Saner's singing career (including programs); obituaries for family and friends; and other. Mary's wedding scrapbook includes clippings, invitation, and guest list, as well as ticket stubs and receipts from the honeymoon. She later added items from their 50th anniversary celebration, including invitations, guest list, clippings, etc. Women's club materials in this subseries include the proceedings from the 1928 Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Organization Club Institute, and an American Women's Club Shanghai Bulletin (1929).

Subseries D. Hollis Wilbur, 1898-1995 (#15.7-15.3), contains Mary's husband Hollis' appointment books from the late 1890s; clippings; travel diaries for Peking and Hong Kong trips in 1914 and 1928; letters sent from various friends and family in honor of his 60th birthday (bound in a book); and a biography written in 1995 by son Martin, My Life in Christian Service in America, Japan, China, and Korea.

Subseries E. Elizabeth (Wilbur) Cressey, 1905-1984 (#16.1-16.6), contains material from Mary and Hollis' daughter Elizabeth including a birthday journal in which Mary wrote entries every year (1905-1915); diaries (1920-1922) documenting the end of Elizabeth's high school years at Shanghai American School and illustrating the life of an American teenager in China; and reminiscences on her childhood in Japan (1909-1913) written in 1984.

Series II, WRITINGS/ARTWORK, 1886-ca.1943 (#16.7-19.5, F+D.1), includes short stories, novel manuscripts, and articles written by Mary, arranged chronologically. Many stories were written on highly acidic paper, and have been photocopied. The remainder of the series contains Mary's sketches and watercolors.

The earliest sample of Mary's writing is an 1886 "prophesy letter," written for her classmates (graduates of 1888) as though ten years had passed since graduation, speculating on how the girls' lives had changed. Mary kept notebooks of short stories, with titles such as In the Land of Books;Grandma Pinkerton's Story; and The House Cata-Cornered. One story, The Governor's Ball, about lovers reunited and mistaken identity, was published in Short Stories (September 1901). Mary also wrote longer stories: Jerry Proposes; A Test of True Love; and The Nellie Townsend Story (written as a sequel to her other work, Amos & Amos). She also published articles on Chinese art, in her club's bulletins and newsletters: The World-Progress of Chinese Porcelain (American Women's Club Bulletin, March 1929) and Notable Local Collections of Chinese Art Objects, ca.1913-1930. Her paper, In Case You Are Interned, on the treatment of refugees by the Japanese, was written while she was State Regent of China for the DAR, ca.1942-1943.

Artwork in this series consists of a book, Representative Men, used as a sketchbook by Mary, including portraits of friends and family, ca.1895-1896, and two watercolors of scenes from China and Korea, ca.1933.

Series III, CORRESPONDENCE, 1895-1964 (#19.6-25.12), is arranged in two subseries: family (Subseries A), and friends/others (Subseries B). The first subseries is arranged by generations related to Mary, starting with Mary's mother; followed by siblings and their families (Ida married Lorin Saner; Charles married Fidelia; Claude married Edith; Clifford married Cora; Burt married Anna; and Dick married Ella); then other Matteson relatives; followed by husband Hollis and their children; then Hollis' mother and siblings (sister Maude married George Rymers; sister Nellie married Charles Miller); and ending with other Wilbur relatives. The second subseries for friends and others is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries A. Family, 1895-1964 (#19.6-24.12), includes Mary's correspondence with her mother, Mary (Hulburt) Matteson, on topics such as: Mary living overseas; clothing fashions; missionary friends; the children; copy of a newspaper story by 14-year-old son Martin; activities with other "Y" families; etc. Often, letters from other family members were interleaved with Mary and her mother's correspondence, with notes from the children or Hollis; Mary's mother also included letters received from her other children. Correspondence among Mary and her siblings, along with their spouses, is scattered. However, the family was close-knit, and often at gatherings, all would write a note, sending the packet to Mary (e.g., letters from the 1912 Fourth of July picnic). Other Matteson family members corresponding with Mary include nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, and aunts. She was especially close to her cousin Dole (David Maydole Matteson, who shares the name with Mary's brother Dick) with whom she had a life-long friendship and corresponded often; some of the correspondence is from a 1913 trip he took to Asia.

Due to the nature of his job, Hollis traveled frequently, staying away from home for long periods. When separated, Hollis and Mary wrote almost daily (1900-1935). Their letters are full of expressions of loneliness and affection, detailing their daily activities and household issues, and in Hollis' case, sharing his travel experiences. As the Wilbur children grew up and moved away, Mary and Hollis would often write one letter addressed to all of their children, with multiple carbon copies. These copies (1927-1964) are scattered throughout correspondence with their son Martin and his wife Kay; there are also handwritten letters. This subseries also includes "minutes" from the annual meeting of the "Wilbur Corporation" (1934). Correspondence (1926-1927) with daughter Elizabeth (Wilbur) Cressey (married to Paul) pertains to her obtaining a position at the New York YWCA training school; letters from Mary and Hollis follow her time in New York. A very small collection of correspondence with son Halsey (married to Helen "Happy") from the late 1920s and early 1930s discusses his finances and experience at Oberlin College in Ohio. Hollis' correspondence with his family back in the United States includes his mother Caroline Wilbur and sisters Maude and Nellie. This section also includes correspondence with his nephews, a niece, and an aunt.

Subseries B. Friends/others, 1895-1947 (#24.13-25.12), includes correspondence with friends and others arranged in two groupings. The alphabetical grouping includes Florence Ayscough (who shared an interest in Chinese art); Baptist Church Ladies' Society (sharing Mary's experiences living overseas); The Booklovers Corporation (in which Mary owned stock); DAR; Elizabeth Grimball (from Converse College days); George Landis, Mrs. J.G. Kerr; YMCA, etc. Subsequent folders are grouped by subject and arranged chronologically: letters of encouragement after son Halsey's birth and Hollis' serious illness; sympathy letters from friends regarding the death of Mary's brother Claude; expressions of sympathy on the death of Mary and Hollis' infant daughter Rosemary; etc.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, ca.1874-1995 (#PD.1-PD.17), includes Mary; Hollis; their children; friends and family; an album for Hollis, Jr. (who died in infancy); Mary's artwork; Boston, etc.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Mary Matteson Wilbur (1872-1957) was born in Seville, Ohio, to Horace Elias Matteson and Mary (Hulburt) Matteson. She grew up with one sister, Ida, and five brothers: Charles Freemont, Claude Lorraine, Clifford Virgil, Halsey Hulburt "Burt," and David Maydole "Dick." Mary graduated from Seville High School in 1888 and in 1890 attended the Spencerian College of Stenography in Cleveland, Ohio. Between 1891 and 1893, she worked as a secretary at an insane asylum outside of Cleveland, Ohio. After leaving the asylum, Mary studied voice and music at Ohio Wesleyan University, but with the encouragement of friends, she moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to study voice, and lived there on and off between 1894 and 1897. She eventually obtained a position as a voice instructor at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, teaching there for three years. Mary continued her interest in music throughout her life.

In 1901, Mary and Hollis Adelbert Wilbur married in Seville, Ohio. Hollis (1874-1964) was born in Honeoye, New York, to Dr. Leonidas Franklin Wilbur (graduated Harvard Medical School, 1856) and Caroline Frances Martin. Hollis worked his way up in the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), becoming general secretary of the Dayton (Ohio) YMCA, during which time its membership doubled. The young couple spent the early part of their marriage in Dayton, Ohio, then in 1909 moved to Japan, where Hollis became general secretary of the Kobe YMCA. Mary and Hollis had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood: Elizabeth (1904-2001), C. (Clarence) Martin (1908-1997), and Halsey (1912-2000); Hollis Jr. lived 7 months and Rosemary lived three weeks.

In 1913, the Wilbur family moved to Shanghai, China, where Hollis served as executive secretary of the city division for the YMCA until 1923. Mary's social world in Kobe and Shanghai was made up almost entirely of Western community activities and clubs, including the American Women's Club, American Association of University Women, Union Church Ladies Society, and a current events club. She eventually became the State Regent of the China Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Mary and Hollis were also devout Christians, with many missionary friends in Japan and China. Mary attended weekly prayer meetings with other "Y" wives and the family frequently socialized with other "Y" families. Mary also had a keen interest in studying Chinese art and language, and wrote articles and lectured to women's groups abroad and back in the United States.

In 1923, the family briefly moved back to Dayton, Ohio. After a year with friends and family, the Wilburs returned to Shanghai and Kobe. In 1931, Mary and Hollis moved to Seoul, Korea, where they spent the next four years. During 1935 and 1936, Mary and Hollis were in San Francisco, California, before one last stint in China, which they left permanently in 1938. Hollis retired from the YMCA in 1941. Mary and Hollis settled in Pasadena, California, to live out the rest of their lives.

For further information, see the following books: Memories of Mary Hulburt Matteson: With Lineages of Mary Hulburt and Horace Matteson (by Mary Wilbur based on her mother's life and research on the Matteson family), 1938; In Her Own Words: Mary Matteson Wilbur in Bygone America, Japan, China, and Korea, 1872-1957 (Martin Wilbur privately published a 1995 book, based on his mother Mary's diaries and correspondence); and My Life in Christian Service in America, Japan, China, and Korea (by Hollis Wilbur, with the assistance of Martin Wilbur and Elizabeth Wilbur Cressey, also published in 1995). Biographical files on Hollis Wilbur can be found in the Kautz Family YMCA archives, located at the University of Minnesota Elmer L. Anderson Library. Elizabeth Wilbur Cressey's college scrapbooks and notebooks are housed at the Denison University library in Granville, Ohio and the letters between Elizabeth and her husband Paul Cressey (1933-1960s) are in the family's possession but will eventually be donated to the Wheaton College archives.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1880-1995 (#1.1-16.6)
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical /genealogical, ca.1885-1995 (#1.1-1.15)
  3. ___Subseries B. Mary Matteson Wilbur diaries/appointment books, 1886-1956 (#2.1-14.4)
  4. ___Subseries C. Personal, 1880-1951 (#14.5-15.6)
  5. ___Subseries D. Hollis Wilbur, 1898-1995 (#15.7-15.13)
  6. ___Subseries E. Elizabeth (Wilbur) Cressey, 1905-1984 (#16.1-16.6)
  7. Series II. Writings/artwork, 1886-ca.1943 (#16.7-19.5, F+D.1)
  8. Series III. Correspondence, 1895-1964 (#19.6-25.12)
  9. ___Subseries A. Family, 1895-1964 (#19.6-24.12)
  10. ___Subseries B. Friends/others, 1895-1947 (#24.13-25.12)
  11. Series IV. Photographs, ca.1874-1995 (#PD.1-PD.17)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 97-M59, 99-M78, 2007-M100, 2008-M4

The papers of Mary Matteson Wilbur were given to the Schlesinger Library by Martin Wilbur in 1997, Elizabeth Cressey in 1999, Jean Durning in 2007, and Kathryn Irwin in 2008.

Processing Information

Processed: March 2008

By: Stacey Flatt

Wilbur, Mary Matteson, 1872-1957. Papers of Mary Matteson Wilbur, 1880-1995: 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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