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Louise A. K. S. Clappe papers


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. 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

Louise A. K. S. Clappe (also known as Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe and "Dame Shirley") was born in 1819, the daughter of Moses and Lois Lee Smith, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where her father was a teacher until his death in 1832. Clappe was educated at Amherst Academy and was mentored by Alexander Everett, a diplomat, who encouraged her in her writing.

In 1848, Clappe married Fayette Clapp, a Brown University educated physician. In 1849, they traveled to San Francisco, in hopes that Clapp might find work as a doctor in the gold mining camps and towns. Upon arrival in California, Clappe began writing letters to her sister, Mary Jane (Molly), who was living in Amherst, Massachusetts, in which she described the city, the mountains, and the gold fields and mining camps in Plumas City, Rich Bar, and Indian Bar. Her descriptions of Rich Bar "have given historians a view of the mining camps through a woman's eyes," (Pioneer Valley History Network). The letters were published in The Pioneer, under the nom de plume "Dame Shirley," between 1854 and 1855; and eventually published as a book, The Shirley Letters from California Mines, 1851-1852.

Fayette and Amelia separated in 1852 and divorced in 1857, at which point Clappe added the "e" to her surname. She continued to live in San Francisco and taught for the San Francisco public schools, returning to the east coast at the time of her retirement in 1878. She lived in New York City, writing and lecturing, before moving to New Jersey in 1897. She died in 1906 at the age of 87. According to the California State Library, Clappe "gave evening classes in art and literature."

Works consulted/cited:

California State Library: Louise A. K. S. Clapp collection, 1834-1849, Collection number 151-153. (, accessed 2024 April 16 Pioneer Valley History Network. "Louise Amelia Clappe, aka 'Dame Shirley,'" in Gold Rush Stories (, accessed 2024 April 16.

Shirley, Dame. The Shirley letters from California mines in 1851-52. T.C. Russell: San Francisco, 1922 (, accessed 2024 April 16.

This collection documents the later career of Louise A. K. S. Clappe, after she had earned recognition from her "Shirley letters," in which she described her time in mining camps and towns during the Gold Rush. While much of the material in this collection cannot be definitively dated, it appears that most was created from the mid 1860s through the 1890s when Clappe was teaching and lecturing. The material has been arranged in three series: I. Notes on art, history, and literature (probably used for teaching); II. Writings by Clappe; and III. Charles Warren Stoddard material.

I. Notes on art, history, and literature (probably used for teaching) include handwritten and often narrative notes and lectures that were almost certainly used in her teaching. Volume I "Lessons on Art" focuses on sculpture and Volume III focuses on Architecture. Based upon donor correspondence, Volume II is at the University of California, Berkeley's Bancroft Library. Other volumes and notes contain extracts from books, quiz or study questions, reading lists, notes on modern sculpture, notes on American painters (including Peale, Trumball, Stuart, Durand, Church and Bierstadt), and notes on Leonardo da Vinci, John Keats, Walter Savage Landor, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Only a few of these items have concrete dates, from 1888 to 1889.

II. Writings by Clappe include a poem memorializing Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), an American feminist, philosopher, journalist, and literary critic; a play; short stories; and essays. A few reflect upon her profession as teacher, one upon Christianity; and two upon her love of California, in which she describes the Valley of the Moon and Prairie des Lys. It is unclear if Clappe intended these writings for publication; but a few appear to be very much in draft form; and two, titled "Second Letter to Argonaut" and "Third Letter to Argonaut" appear to have been written for the San Francisco newspaper by that name. The play, "The Magic Mirror," was published as "Snowflake, A Play for School Exhibitions," in the California Educational Review, vol. I, 1891.

III. Charles Warren Stoddard material documents, to a very small degree, Stoddard's relationship to Clappe. Stoddard (1843-1909) was an American author and editor, who wrote about California and San Francisco, in addition to travel books about Polynesian life and a novel For the Pleasure of His Company. The two letters contained in this collection show an admiration for Dame Shirley's works and a warm friendship with Clappe.

Acquisition information indicates that this collection was formed by Carl I. Wheat, a noted collector of Californiana, who edited the third and fourth editions of The Shirley Letters. In some cases, Wheat's typed notes about items were present--the processor chose to keep those notes with the items within the collection.

Gift of Caroline F. Schimmel, 2022.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Holly Mengel
Finding Aid Date
2024 April 1a6
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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"Lessons on Art," Volume 1 (includes 8 numbered lessons on sculpture; and laid in items include notes on Renaissance painting and "Tenth & Last Lecture on the History of Art--Venitian [sic] School concluded ... Eclectic and Neapolitan Schools"), circa 1870s-1880s.
Box 1 Folder 1
"Lessons on Art," Volume 3 (includes 1 lesson on architecture; and laid in items include a few notes that do not appear to be Clappe's on the "Shirley letters"), circa 1870s-1880s.
Box 1 Folder 2
History and art notes (includes extracts from Buckle's History of Civilization in England; Huxley's A Liberal Education; reading suggestions; quiz/study questions; notes on modern sculpture; and notes on American artists), circa 1870s.
Box 1 Folder 3
"Historical Synopses," notes probably used for Clappe's "Lesson" lectures (includes reading lists), circa 1873.
Box 1 Folder 4
"American Painters," notes for lectures (includes notes on Charles Wilson Peale, John Trumball, Gilbert Stuart Newton, Asher Brown Durand, Robert Walter Weir, Washington Allston, Daniel Huntington, Thomas Cole, Henry Inman, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Frederic Church, Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Thomas Sully, Alfred Bierdstadt, and Thomas Buchanan Read), circa 1870s-1880s.
Box 1 Folder 5
"Leonardo da Vinci," notes for lectures, circa 1870s-1880s.
Box 1 Folder 6
"John Keats," notes for lectures, circa 1880s.
Box 1 Folder 7
"Walter Savage Landor," and "Percy Bysshe Shelley," notes for lectures, circa 1880s-1890s.
Box 1 Folder 8
"Walter Savage Landor," and "Percy Bysshe Shelley," lectures, circa 1880s-1890s.
Box 1 Folder 9
"Algernon Charles Swinburne," notes for lectures, circa 1870s-1890s.
Box 1 Folder 10

"'Alone,' A Reminiscence of Margaret Fuller Ossoli," poem (draft and final version), undated.
Box 1 Folder 11
"A New England Mystery," "Second Letter to Argonaut," and "Third Letter to Argonaut," short story and articles (the "letters" include reviews of Edwin Booth touring as Hamlet and Iago and travel description), undated.
Box 1 Folder 12
"Magic Mirror. A Dialogue," play, before 1891.
Box 1 Folder 13
"New Debutante" essay and other descriptive narrative (includes descriptions of Imogen Vandyke, actress; visits to Lady Avonmore or Mrs. Yelverton; and San Francisco school examinations), circa 1871.
Box 1 Folder 14
"On Reduction of Teachers' Salaries," essay, circa 1864-1870s.
Box 2 Folder 1
"Poems that I know by Heart," "Breathing Exercises," and "Madame Récamer and Madame de Staël," lists and prose quotation by Benjamin Constant, 1871-1884.
Box 2 Folder 2
"Prairie des Lys. A Reminiscence," essay, after 1851.
Box 2 Folder 3
"The Teaching of History; and How Shall it Teach Them?" essay on history, undated.
Box 2 Folder 4
"That Old Fashioned Book," essay, undated.
Box 2 Folder 5
Valley of the Moon, partial narrative describing summer visit (pages 12-24), undated.
Box 2 Folder 6
"Vengeance of Don Ramon," first two pages of story, undated.
Box 2 Folder 7
Fragments of unidentified writings, 1880, undated.
Box 2 Folder 8

Letter to John H. Carmany from Stoddard, in which he praises the published letters of Dame Shirley to her sister (original and typed transcripts); mentions Bret Harte and Joaquim Miller, 1875 March 29.
Box 2 Folder 9
Letter to Louise Clappe from Stoddard, in which he describes his visit to California and his homesickness for New England (original and typed transcription), 1895 August 1.
Box 2 Folder 10
Carte-de-visite photograph of Stoddard, circa 1860s-1870s.
Box 2 Folder 11

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