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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 239

Papers of Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall, 1818-1988 (inclusive), 1830-1890 (bulk)


Correspondence, financial records, school records, etc., of Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Bucknall, sisters who founded and managed girls' schools in New Jersey and New York.


  • Creation: 1818-1988
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1830-1890


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall 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.


1.88 linear feet ((4 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder and 2 folio+ folders)

The bulk of the collection is material related to the sisters' schools: correspondence with students and students' parents, numerous student essays on various topics, and lectures and lessons by teachers. One volume of school records lists names of day and boarding pupils, names and addresses of parents, and payments of tuition, 1858-1871 (although not all for each year). The schools offered a program (probably four or six-year) of humanities and science, with some emphasis on religious and moral education. There were apparently periods of religious revival and many of the student letters express strong religious sentiments. Student, family and personal correspondence also reveals the sisters' strong religious beliefs, as does Martha Elizabeth Bucknall's description of her religious experience at age 14. They belonged to Baptist churches, regularly read religious publications and collected and copied numerous religious verses and other writings.

Family correspondence includes letters to and from the sisters, their brothers, Ebenezer Gazzam Bucknall and Samuel Rooker Bucknall, their nephews and various other relatives. In approximately 1865 the nephews (sons of Samuel) went to live with Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall. The spelling of the Bucknall name was changed (between 1869 and 1882) to Bucknell. The nephews used the new spelling but Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall did not.

The financial records document both personal and school expenses, ranging from mortgages and leases to Sunday collections and household items. Two volumes of cash books probably record every daily expenditure for the years 1861-1868 and 1876-1887. The family correspondence also includes financial requests by and of the sisters. Letters by Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall are mostly manuscript drafts or copies. Many of them are undated, although folder 3 lists probably every letter that Joanna Rooker Bucknall wrote, 1883-1886. In many letters it is not clear to which sister a letter was addressed or by which sister a letter was written; these papers are therefore not divided according to sister. This collection lacks much specific information including dates, names of the schools, numbers of students in any given year, etc., but substantially documents student education in the mid-19th century and the importance of religion in women's lives.


Joanna Rooker Bucknall (1816?-1895) and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall (died 1880) founded and ran schools for girls in Newark, New Jersey (1840-1855), New York City (1855-1866) and New Brunswick, New Jersey (1866-1880?). These papers contain almost no biographical information about either sister or their family (see incomplete genealogy on page 3) or factual information about their early lives. Lessons by Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall dated 1832-1833 suggest they attended a school in those years. Martha Elizabeth Bucknall was a "senior pupil" at the Poughkeepsie Female Academy (probably Fall 1838) and in 1839 instructed children of a family in Gloucester County, New Jersey. Advertisements for the Newark school indicate a founding date of fall, 1840. After Martha Elizabeth Bucknall's death in 1880 Joanna Rooker Bucknall continued as "assistant" at the New Brunswick school for probably one year. She then apparently lived in Baltimore, Maryland, and Haddonfield, New Jersey (1881-1886) and with her nephews: Simeon in New Douglas, Illinois, and Samuel in East St. Louis, Illinois, where she died in 1895.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 75-351, 81-M94. Accession numbers 88-M113 and 99-M4 were added to the collection in January 2016.

The papers of the Bucknall sisters were deposited with the Schlesinger Library in October 1975 by Samuel R. Bucknell, their grand nephew, and his wife, Sarah Moone Bucknell. Additional material was donated by David Cope Elkington in August 1988 and January 1999.


The following item has been removed from the collection and deposited in the Organization file at the Schlesinger Library:

  1. New York Mirror, July 18, 1846. Issue with report on Rutgers Female Institute commencement exercises.

The following newspapers have been removed from the collection and donated to the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts:

  1. Newark Daily Advertiser, November 18, 1842
  2. Newark Daily Advertiser, October 6, 1843
  3. Newark Daily Advertiser, July 7, 1846
  4. Newark Daily Advertiser, August 16, 1849
  5. Newark Daily Advertiser, August 17, 1849
  6. Newark Daily Advertiser, March 22, 1855
  7. Newark Daily Advertiser, May 15, 1858
  8. New York Recorder, June 4, 1846
  9. New York Recorder, July 12, 1854
  10. The Examiner: New York Recorder and New York Baptist Register, August 30, 1855
  11. The Sower and Gospel Field, New York, November, 1870
  12. Wayne County Democrat, Wooster, Ohio, March 25, 1847
  13. The True Union, Baltimore and Washington, April 26, 1855
  14. The Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, August 30, 1855
  15. The People's Gazette, East St. Louis, Illinois, August 12, 1871

The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. Engraving and catalogues of painting: donated to the Fogg Museum
  2. Chemistry chart and booklet re making pens: deposited in the Houghton Library
  3. Religious pamphlets: deposited in the Andover-Harvard Theological Library


  1. Box 1: 1-21v
  2. Box 2: 22v-37
  3. Box 3: 38-47
  4. Box 4: 48-59
  5. Box 5: 60-70

Processing Information

Processed: January 1977

By: Linda J. Henry

Updated and additional material added: January 2016

By: Mark Vassar

Additional material (accession numbers 88-M113 and 99-M4) was added to the collection in January 2016. This material is located in #68-70. Folders are listed in intellectual not numerical order.

Bucknall, Joanna Rooker, 1816?-1895. Papers of Joanna Rooker Bucknall and Martha Elizabeth Bucknall, 1818-1988 (inclusive), 1830-1890 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
The collection was processed under National Endowment for the Humanities Grant Number RC 24669-76-987.

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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