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These items consist primarily of letters by Mary Valinda Miller (1830-1912), mother of Mina Miller Edison. Most of the letters are addressed jointly to "Mina and Mr. Edison," although a few are addressed only to Mina. There are also letters from Mary Valinda to her sons Theodore and John and one letter to an unnamed niece and nephew. Some of the letters have postscripts written by her son, Lewis Alexander Miller. In addition, there is a letter addressed to Mary Valinda from Grace Waymouth, a friend and former classmate of her daughter, Grace Miller. Most of the correspondence is from 1898, although there are also letters from 1886, 1891, 1893, 1899, and 1905.
In the earliest letter, written while Mina was in New York City six weeks before her wedding, Mary Valinda expresses confidence that her daughter's future husband "will be very kind and do all he can to make life and home happy." There are occasional references to Thomas Edison in subsequent letters to Mina, including comments about his ore milling operations in Ogden, New Jersey, and entreaties for him to visit the Miller family in Ohio. A large portion of the letters refer to daily life at Oak Place, the Miller family home in Akron. Included are numerous remarks about the health problems and business troubles of Mina's father, Lewis, who died in February 1899. There are also frequent references to Mina's siblings, including her older sister Jane, who died in November 1898, as well as to Mina's children, Madeleine (b. 1888), Charles (b. 1890), and Theodore (b. 1898). A letter from January 1898 gives Mary Valinda's reaction to the news that Mina is pregnant with her third child. Subsequent letters also comment on her pregnancy. There are occasional remarks about Mina's stepchildren, Marion, Thomas Jr., and William. A letter from January 1893 expresses hope that Thomas, who recently dropped out of St. Paul's School, will get tired of working for his father and return to school.
The letters also contain comments regarding Mary Valinda's concern for the safety and well being of her youngest son, Theodore, who enlisted in Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders a month after the onset of the Spanish-American War, as well as his brother John, who joined the U.S. Navy in June 1898. There are also expressions of concern about Grace, who had accepted a teaching position at the Washington Female Seminary in Atlanta for the fall 1898 semester. The letters from the spring and summer of 1898 reveal the loneliness and anxiety of Mary Valinda, with her three youngest children out of the house and no guarantee that her two sons would ever return, her husband Lewis beset by chronic health problems and frequently away on business, and her oldest daughter Jane slowly succumbing to a fatal illness. The letters from the fall and winter are replete with expressions of grief and despair at the loss of Theodore, who was fatally wounded at the Battle of San Juan Hill, and indicate the difficulties that Mary Valinda experienced in reconciling herself to the fact that her son would never come back. A letter from March 1899, written a month after the death of her husband, reflects on the loss of the "dear ones"Lewis, Theodore, and Janewho all died within a period of seven months. The unnamed niece and nephew who are the recipients of Mary Valinda's last letter may be Mary Valinda Alexander (daughter of her younger brother, Hugh Milton Alexander), and her husband, Charles E. Fritcher. Written near the end of an extended stay with the Edisons in West Orange, the letter contains comments about Thomas Edison's personality and work habits, as well as Mary Valinda's views about the value of a college education and the importance of church and Sunday school in educating young people.
Other topics mentioned in the letters include the murder of President McKinley's son-in-law, George D. Saxton, in Canton, Ohio, on October 7, 1898; Jane's final illness; Grace's success as a teacher at the Washington Female Seminary; the health problems of Mary Valinda's sister and brother-in-law, Lucy and John Hunter; personality clashes between Mary Valinda and her son Lewis, who was acting as caretaker for Uncle John; and Mary Valinda's ambivalence about the financial assistance that the Edisons were providing the Miller family. Courtesy of David E. E. Sloane.