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Harriot F. Curtis papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00692

Scope and Contents

The collection encompasses Curtis' writings and correspondence, as well as historical research notes and background sources compiled during the 1950s and 1960s by her aspiring biographer, Lila Wead Berman (great-granddaughter [?] of Hezekiah Morse Wead). The spirited and often flirtatious letters from Curtis to Hezekiah Morse Wead (1836-1845) have been fully transcribed and those typed transcriptions are also included in the collection.

While thirty-five letters and three full works from Curtis' own pen are represented, Lila Wead Berman's contextualizing sources and research notes comprise much of the collection, and include 1840s publications written by and about New England's mill operatives, an 1844 work of phrenology by Curtis' phrenological mentor, and twentieth century pamphlets on New England history and Swedenborgianism. Wead Berman's correspondence with various libraries and rare booksellers, bibliographies, a chronology of Curtis' life, and a paper she wrote critically examining Curtis' novel Jessie's Flirtations are contained in the papers.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1836-1963
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1936-1963


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

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

Conditions Governing Use

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to Harriot Curtis' unpublished works in this collection. Copyright to the correspondence and writings of Frank Wilber Wead was held by Maria Deforest McLeish until 2018, but has since transferred to Smith College. However, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. 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. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Curtis or Wead, 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

Harriot Flora Aurora Louisa Maria Curtis was born in Kelleyvale (now Lowell), Vermont on September 16, 1813, only a year after this Northeast Kingdom town incorporated, to Asahel (or Ashael) Jr. and Betsey Brigham Curtis. Her friend Harriet Hanson Robinson would later recall Curtis' unhappiness with her "lonely and isolated" existence in Kelleyvale. Like thousands of other young women in rural New England during the antebellum era, Curtis defied her parents and moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, to work in its burgeoning textile industry. She first appears on the Lawrence Manufacturing Company's payroll in 1833 as a harness knitter, considered one of the more skilled positions, staying through March 1838. Also a writer, the Lowell Casket, in which she had published, offered her an editorship position in 1837. In 1841 she began publishing in the corporate-sponsored literary magazine, Lowell Offering. Curtis became one of its two editors in 1842; responsible for soliciting subscriptions, she traveled widely. A year later, she and co-editor Harriet Farley bought the Lowell Offering, but the journal only lasted another two years and publication stopped in 1845. By then, Curtis had gained a measure of success after authoring the popular novel, Kate in Search of a Husband (1843), following it with the equally popular novel, Jessie's Flirtations (1846), and a collection of her wisdom, S.S.S. Philosophy (1847). Simultaneously, Curtis wrote for a number of newspapers including the Home Journal, the New York Tribune, the Lowell Journal, and the American of Lowell. During the 1830s and 40s, the open-minded Curtis maintained an interest in Swedenborgianism, threatened to join Shaker communes, and not only studied phrenology, but became a public lecturer on the topic and claimed eminent phrenologist O.S. Fowler as a mentor before disavowing the discipline by 1845. From 1854 to 1855, she served as editor of the Lowell weekly, Vox Populi. The antithesis of the Lowell Offering, the industry-critical Vox Populi spoke for workers rather than their employers. Curtis gave up her career after 1855, providing care to her ailing mother in Vermont. Curtis moved in with her sister Betsey's family in Needham, Massachusetts, upon her mother's 1859 death, living there for the remaining thirty years of her life. Writing in 1836 that "matrimony is an ocean upon which I shall not probably ever embark," Curtis never married, a lifestyle her friend and fellow former mill worker Harriet Hanson Robinson attributed to a shortage of suitable suitors. Writing in 2008 in the American Transcendental Quarterly, scholar Judith Ranta notes that "Curtis's fiction is striking for its critique of courtship and marriage, specifically the marriage market's oppressive effect upon young women." Styling herself a coquette, Curtis further reveals her critical ambivalence toward the institution of marriage in her lengthy correspondence with her suitor and friend, Hezekiah Morse Wead, whose proposals of marriage she rejected more than once.


0.876 linear feet (3 containers)


Mill worker; Author. Curtis' writings and correspondence, historical research notes and background sources compiled during the 1950s and 1960s by biographer, Lila Wead Berman. 1840s publications about and from New England's mill workers included.


This collection is organized into five series:

  1. Biographical Material (1927-2012)
  2. Correspondence (1836-1845)
  3. Writings (1843-1847)
  4. Subject Files (1844-1997)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Sophia Smith Collection acquired the Harriot Curtis Papers from Maria Deforest McLeish, daughter of Lila Wead Berman, in 2012.

Processing Information

Processsed by intern Adrienne Marie Naylor, 2012

Harriot F. Curtis papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Adrienne Marie Naylor.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:21-04:00: 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