S. Weir Mitchell collection
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
Silas Weir Mitchell was born in Philadelphia in 1829. In 1844 he entered the University of Pennsylvania, but illness forced him to withdraw in his senior year. He studied medicine at Jefferson Medical College, from which he graduated in 1850, and in Europe. Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1851, he joined his father's medical practice, and in 1853 he was elected a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. In 1858 Mitchell married Mary Middleton Elwyn, and in 1859 she gave birth to their first son, John Kearsley Mitchell.
During the Civil War, Mitchell served as an acting assistant surgeon for the Union army at Turner's Lane Hospital in Philadelphia. As a result of this experience he co-authored two books on neurology and continued to focus on that specialty. Also during the war, in 1862, Mitchell's second son, Langdon Elwyn Mitchell, was born and his wife died of diphtheria.
Following the war, in 1866, Mitchell published his first story anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly. William Dean Howells was the new assistant editor there, and he remained an editor through 1881. His correspondence with Mitchell extended beyond his tenure at the Atlantic through to Mitchell's death in 1914.
In the 1870s, Mitchell's medical research and writing focused increasingly on rest in the treatment of disease. He also lectured on this topic at the Infirmary for Nervous Diseases of the Orthopedic Hospital in Philadelphia, where he worked for 40 years. He became a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
In 1875, Mitchell married his second wife, Mary Cadwalader, and also became a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. As a trustee, he worked to raise funds for the medical school, particularly the department of hygiene, and for a library. He also served on the Seybert Commission, convened by the University and active from 1884 to 1887, which investigated spiritualism.
In Mitchell's literary career, the 1880s were the decade in which his novelettes and then historical novels began to appear, in addition to his first volume of poetry. Some of his novels first appeared serially in the Atlantic Monthly and the Century Magazine. He had also published poems in magazines since the 1860s, a frequent topic of discussion in his correspondence with Richard Watson Gilder of the Century Magazine.
Mitchell's second son Langdon also had a literary career, primarily as a playwright. His first produced play ran in London in 1892. In the same year he married Marion Lea of Philadelphia, who was an actress in London. She had starred in the first English production of Hedda Gabler and was the sister of Anna Lea Merritt, a painter who lived in England and was associated with the pre-Raphaelites. His two most popular plays were Becky Sharp (1899), a stage adaptation of Vanity Fair, and The New York Idea (1906), both written for the actress Minnie Madden Fiske. Langdon and Marion Mitchell had three children: a son, Weir, and two daughters, Susanna Valentine (who married William Gammell) and Helena Mary Langdon (who married Kenneth Day and had two sons, Kenneth and Miles). Langdon Mitchell died in 1935.
In addition to the materials in the S. Weir Mitchell Collection, this sketch is based on the entries for S. Weir Mitchell and Langdon Elwyn Mitchell in the on-line version of American National Biography.
The S. Weir Mitchell Collection at the University of Pennsylvania brings together materials from diverse sources concerning Mitchell and other members of his family between 1861 and 1935. The collection consists of one box of documents, one scrapbook, an album of almost sixty photographs, three oversize photographs, and the manuscripts of Most of the documents are correspondence or writings of S. Weir Mitchell or correspondence of his son Langdon Mitchell.
The S. Weir Mitchell Correspondence series consists of 23 folders containing letters from 15 correspondents. Most of these correspondents are connected with Mitchell's literary efforts: they include James Lane Allen, Richard Watson Gilder of the Century Magazine, William Dean Howells of the Atlantic Monthly, Robert Underwood Johnson of the Century Magazine, Henry C. Lea, James Russell Lowell, Charles Leonard Moore, and John Greenleaf Whittier. Apart from the letters to Johnson and Moore and one of the letters from Whittier, these literary letters were purchased in a sale of S. Weir Mitchell's library by William D. Morley in 1941. The letters to Lea include much discussion of different fundraising campaigns at the University of Pennsylvania, and there is also a brief letter to Morris Jastrow, librarian at the University. Letters to Bayard Kane and a pair of notes to unidentified recipients, which were purchased from McManus at an unknown date, concern the workings of Mitchell's medical office in Mitchell's absence, and a letter to Mrs. E. S. Farrow shows Mitchell in the acts of diagnosis and prescription. Mitchell also was a doctor to William Dean Howells's daughter, so his letters with Howells are another location of some medical discussion.
The S. Weir Mitchell Writings series is divided into subseries for Medical Writings and Other Writings. The Medical Writings subseries consists of typescripts of two lectures on the rest treatment which were gifts from Margaret McHenry, a biographer of Mitchell. One is from 1875, when the rest treatment was a relatively new concept; the other is a retrospective lecture from 1904 that considers the evolution of the rest treatment. The Other Writings subseries includes manuscript drafts of four stories, A Dilemma, "These Ought Ye to Do...," "Thirteen at Table," and "Thou Art the Soul of Thy House..."; galley proofs of "Haroun the Caliph, and Others" for the Century Magazine; a holograph of the play Poll; an annotated typescript of "Barabbas: A Dramatic Poem"; and a few notes.
Two small series contain papers from S. Weir Mitchell's second son and daughter-in-law. The Langdon and Marion Mitchell Correspondence series consists of five folders containing letters from five correspondents. Three are actors of the day: John Drew, Minnie Maddern Fiske, and Lillian Gish. The other folders are family-related, one containing the baptism certificate for Langdon and Marion Mitchell's daughter Helena Mary Langdon Mitchell and the other containing postcards from Marion Mitchell's sister Anna Lea Merritt. The Langdon and Marion Mitchell Clippings series consists of two folders: one contains obituaries for Langdon Mitchell from several newspapers; the other contains two articles written about Langdon Mitchell in 1935, one before his death and one after, and an article on Anna Lea Merritt.
A scrapbook documenting a year of the Civil War is a series unto itself. Mary Cadwalader, S. Weir Mitchell's second wife whom he married in 1875, kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles in 1861. The articles include coverage of events at Harper's Ferry. S. Weir Mitchell gave this scrapbook to the Library of the University of Pennsylvania as a gift with the suggestion that the materials might be "preserved as memorials of the war."
A series of almost 60 photographs spans five generations of S. Weir Mitchell's family, beginning with his father, John Kearsley Mitchell and including only a few photographs of S. Weir Mitchell himself; two photographs of Langdon Mitchell and his wife; many photographs of S. Weir Mitchell's grandchildren, the children of Langdon Mitchell; and one photograph of Langdon Mitchell's grandchild and S. Weir Mitchell's great-grandchild, Kenneth Day. There are also numerous photographs of relatives of Langdon Mitchell's wife Marion, including her sister and brother-in-law Anna Lea and Richard Merritt, a few pictures of acquaintances of the family, and approximately 20 unidentified photographs. The three oversize photographs in this collection are a photograph of S. Weir Mitchell and a friend, possibly John Cadwalader, on a fishing trip in Canada and two photographs of S. Weir Mitchell's granddaughter Helena Mary Langdon Mitchell.
Mitchell's novels are also represented by five holographs. The novels comprise Adventures of Francois, Constance Trescot, Dr. North and Friends, Hugh Wynne, and Westways.
Donated by S. Weir Mitchell; purchased additions; "Barabbas" donated by Mrs. Kenneth Day.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Amey A. Hutchins
- Finding Aid Date
- April 2002
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
The S. Weir Mitchell Collection may be examined by researchers in the reading room of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania. Permission to quote from and to publish unpublished materials must be requested in writing from a curator at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.