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Martha J. Lamb papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00088

Scope and Contents

The Martha J. Lamb Papers are related to both her personal and professional lives. They consist of biographical and genealogical material, scrapbooks, memorabilia, extensive personal and some professional correspondence, diaries, copies of Lamb's major articles and fifteen volumes of her published books, research notes and reviews for History of the City of New York, and organization files. The biographical and correspondence series contain considerable material related to her family, especially the family of her sister, Maria Nash Whitmarsh, because Maria's daughter, Martha P.Whitmarsh, originally collected the Papers and donated them to the Northampton Historical Society.

The bulk of the papers date from 1862 to 1893, primarily related to Lamb's years in New York City, but there is also a significant amount of material generated by her family in Western Massachusetts during these years, as well as some correspondence and biographical material from the late 1830s through the 1840s. There is very little material from her years in Maumee, Ohio, and Chicago during the 1850s and early 1860s. Topics addressed in the papers include New York City history and social life, children's literature, late-nineteenth century historiography, and daily life in rural Western Massachusetts in the last-half of the nineteenth century.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1838-1969
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1862-1893


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Martha J. Nash was born in Plainfield, Massachusetts on 13 August 1826, the third of the four children of Arvin Nash and Lucinda Vinton. Her mother died when Martha was a child and her father remarried and with his second wife had two more children. Martha Nash was educated at several schools in Massachusetts: in Goshen, at the Williston Seminary in Easthampton (1844-45), and at the Northampton High School. She did especially well in mathematics and taught that subject at schools in Newark, New Jersey and Maumee, Ohio.

On 8 September 1852 she married Charles A. Lamb in Maumee. He was a mechanic who had two daughters from an earlier marriage. The Lambs moved to Chicago in 1857 and Martha became involved in charity work. She was a founder of the Home for the Friendless and the Half-Orphan Asylum. In 1863 she served as secretary of Chicago's first Sanitary Fair, held to raise money for soldiers' relief.

Shortly after the Civil War, Martha Lamb's marriage ended in divorce and it became necessary for her to support herself financially. She moved to New York City after 1866 and acted upon her belief that a woman "with any brains or any sort of intellectual capacity" should work at a significant occupation. She decided to follow her literary aspirations (first manifested in 1847 when she published an article in her local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, Massachusetts) and published a series of children's stories in 1869 and 1870. In the 1870s she also wrote Spicy, a romance novel featuring the Sanitary Fair and the Chicago Fire; several Christmas annuals; and articles on a wide array of subjects for Harper's and other periodicals. She also edited The Homes of America. In the course of this writing she realized writing history was her true calling and she began extensive research for History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress. The first volume on the colonial period was published in 1877; the second volume appeared in 1880. Although she was not trained as a professional historian and favored a narrative rather than analytical approach, her work was praised by the renowned contemporary historian, George Bancroft. In 1883, Lamb purchased the Magazine of American History, a financially struggling monthly founded in 1877. She devoted herself to editing the magazine for the last decade of her life, producing over fifty signed articles and more that were unsigned. She also published articles by others, original documents, book reviews, and other standard components of a professional historical journal at a time when there was little precedent for such an endeavor. The magazine ceased publication shortly after her death in 1893.

Lamb was a fixture in New York social circles; she had connections with many of the old families she chronicled in her historical writings. She also belonged to numerous historical and patriotic societies. She was twice invited to the White House: President Grover Cleveland gave a dinner in her honor in 1886; in 1889 President Benjamin Harrison recognized her contributions to the centennial celebration of Washington's inauguration with an invitation.

Martha Lamb died of pneumonia in January 1893. Her funeral service was held at the Madison Square Presbyterian Church and she was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence, Massachusetts.


7.354 linear feet (12 containers)


Author, historian, editor. The Lamb Papers consist of extensive personal and some professional correspondence; copies of all major articles and published books; diaries; research notes and reviews for her History of the City of New York; and copies of her Magazine of American History. Topics reflected in writings include women's rights, social reform, politics, and personal remembrances. Notable correspondents include Louisa May Alcott, Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt, and John Jay.


This collection is organized into four series:

  1. I. Biographical Material
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Writings
  4. IV. Organization Files

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Martha P. Whitmarsh, Martha Lamb's niece, originally donated the Lamb Papers to the Northampton Historical Society, circa 1930. The Society in turn donated the Papers to the SSC in 1968.

Timothy Wilder donated nine additional letters in 2000.

Related Material

Additional papers of Martha J. Lamb are in the New York Historical Society. The Neilson Library at Smith College has a set of the Magazine of American History.

Processing Information

Processed by Amy Hague, 2001.

Martha J. Lamb papers
Finding Aid
Amy Hague
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss39 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:17-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2022-03-02: Integrated description of oversized materials

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063