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Mary Larkin Thomas family papers


Held at: Westtown School Archives [Contact Us]975 Westtown Road, West Chester, PA, 19382

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Westtown School Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Mary Larkin Thomas (1886-1981) was a horticulturalist, and along with her mother, Rebecca J. (Hallowell) Thomas (b. 1847), and sister, Rachel C. Thomas (b. 1870), was known in the area of Chester County, Pennsylvania as an "herb doctor." According to Thomas's cousin and well-known horticulturalist William Woys Weaver, all three women were "experts in botanical medicines" with "extensive gardens from which they drew their remedies." According to Weaver, Thomas viewed horticulture as "a Quaker thing, a fitting activity for a pacifist, and a moral requirement for a nurturing temperament." (Pollard)

Mary L. Thomas attended Hillendale School (New Garden, Pa.); Hanna Cope's Boarding School (Toughkenamon, Pa.); West Grove Preparative School (West Grove, Pa.); Friends Select School (Philadelphia, Pa.); and graduated from Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.), a prominent Quaker boarding school, in 1905. Thomas's sister, Rachel C. Thomas, entered Westtown in 1885 and graduated in 1891. Neither of the sisters married. (Obituary)

After leaving the family farm in Toughkenamon, Pa., Thomas moved to West Chester, Pa. where she lived for 59 years. Besides her horticultural practices, Thomas for a number of years cared for infants in private homes. She was also involved in numerous organizations and associations, including: West Grove Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends; Needlework Guild of America; Bible Association of Friends in America, where she was a board secretary for a number of years; Association for the Care of Friends Burial at New Garden; and secretary of the West Chester Bird Club. (Obituary)


Mary Larkin Thomas Obituary. Daily Local. February 27, 1981.

Pollard, Jean Ann. "The Spirit of Gardening." Maine Organic Farmer and GardenerSpring 2003. Accessed October 7, 2013.

The collection includes mostly correspondence, photographs, and other personal papers of Mary Larkin Thomas as well as papers (mostly letters) of her immediate family members, in particular her sister Rachel C. Thomas and her mother Rebecca J. (Hallowell) Thomas. There are also some financial records of Mary's father R. Henry Thomas (b. 1836). Materials in the collection document Mary L. Thomas's interests in horticulture and especially herbs; her involvement in the family's heritage seed collection; her work as a nurse for numerous Quaker families in the West Chester area; and her work as a local gardener. They also document Mary's time at Westtown School, and the history of the Thomas and related families.

The largest part of the collection includes letters received by Mary Larkin Thomas throughout her life as well letters written by Thomas to family members that include her years at Westtown School (1901-1905); photographs of family members, Westtown friends; and later photographs taken of Thomas by families whose babies she cared for, and photographs of those families sent to her with holiday greetings. Thomas's photographs of her travels, her mother, and sister are also included.

Materials relating to Westtown School include a few notebooks of both Mary and Rachel, including some bookkeeping notebooks kept by Rachel which she later used for household accounting. Other school materials relating to Mary include: essays and poems; an autographed paper napkin collection; exercise charts; certificates; her class book; and a book of poems clipped from newspapers. There are also reunion-year files of correspondence between Mary and the class of 1905; some reunion keepsakes; and drawings and paintings while a student at Westtown. Other materials relating to Rachel Thomas's time at Westtown include diaries, a report card, and writing folio.

Also included are items connected with Mary Thomas's farm and gardening activities such as a livestock inventory, plant lists, herb garden maps, and records of gardening jobs done at Barclay Friends and elsewhere; meeting activities that includes correspondence with supporters of the Parkersville House and Grounds of which Thomas was a trustee, and correspondence regarding changes to Arch Street Meeting; and items relating to West Chester Bird Club activities. Most of these items date between the 1920s and the 1970s. There are also Thomas family legal papers concerning three wills.

The earliest items (1807) in the collection are among the documents included in the genealogical notes made by Mary Larkin Thomas and others for the extended family (Hallowell, Cook, Kinsey, Mendenhall, and Roberts). These also include notes and family Bible records that point back to the 17th century. The most recent items are connected with Thomas's death in 1981.

A more detailed finding aid with a container list is available on-site.

Purchased by Westtown School Archives, 2010.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Westtown School Archives directly for more information.

Westtown School Archives
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Finding aid prepared by staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories using data provided by the Westtown School Archives
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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