These documents consist of letters, telegrams and postcards from Mina Miller Edison to her youngest son, Theodore. The first two letters from January 1918 were written in Washington, D.C., where Thomas Edison was doing wartime research at the Naval Annex. The remaining letters were written in Key West and Fort Myers, Florida, where Mina resided during February and March, and in West Orange where she returned at the beginning of April. During most of this period, nineteen-year-old Theodore was conducting experiments on Man Key island in the Florida Keys. With the exception of one item from December, the letters end on May 21 with Theodore's impending return to New Jersey.
The first letter, written shortly after Mina returned to Washington after spending the Christmas holidays in New Jersey, contains a humorous description the condition of Thomas Edison (who had returned before Mina) when she arrived at the Hotel Powhatan"suit a sight with spots, shirt dirty . . . Socks all holes, glasses broken, room as if a cyclone had struck it, suitcase not even unpacked." The three letters from early February were written at the U.S. Naval Station in Key West Florida, where Mina and Thomas were residing at the commandant's house with Capt. Frederick A. Traut, his wife Cornelia, and their seventeen-year-old daughter Eleanor. Included are comments regarding the activities and facilities at the base; Mina's favorable impression of the Trauts; her admiration for the soldiers and sailors, especially the "aviation men"; and her disdain for the town of Key West and its Cuban residents. There are also remarks about experimenters John A. Hanley and Bruce R. Silver, as well as comments in subsequent letters about Selden G. Warner and George B. Hanford, Jr., who were conducting experiments with Theodore Edison on Man Key island, and Charles Hanford, a former Shakespearian actor who was serving as Thomas Edison's personal assistant.
With the exception of a postcard from Naples, Florida, the next seventeen letters were written from Seminole Lodgethe Edison winter home in Fort Myers, Floridawhere Mina went at her husband's insistence at the end of February. The letters contain numerous references to her oldest son Charles, who joined Mina in Fort Myers shortly after her arrival, and to his girlfriend Carolyn Hawkins, whom he married at Seminole Lodge on March 27an event that came as a surprise to Mina and other family members since the two were never formally engaged. There are also references to Cornelia and Eleanor Traut and to Halbert and Grace Miller Hitchcock, who were house guests at Seminole Lodge for several weeks in February and March. The letters contain comments about activities at Seminole Lodge and about visits to nearby locations such as Punta Rassa, Naples, and Yellow Fever Creek. Other topics mentioned in the letters include the pregnancy of Mina's daughter, Madeleine Edison Sloane; an injury to Theodore's hand sustained when he tried to pick up a sting ray; the precarious health of Charles; and a letter that Mina received from her stepdaughter Marion Edison Oeser in Germany. Mina's feelings of loneliness and depression, along with her desire to be reunited with Thomas and Theodore, are revealed in the correspondence. "Why father dear insisted upon my coming to Fort Myers I cannot understand," she laments in a letter from mid-March. "It is far from the same when he is absent from me. . . . I am busy with many things but oh, so lonely!" In regard to her husband's experiments at Key West, she states that "I am interested in all the work there although I may appear too stupid to appreciate it all."
Twenty letters covering the period April 14-May 21 were written after Mina's return to West Orange. The topics discussed in these letters include the birth of Madeleine's second son, John Edison (Jack) Sloane, on April 21; Thomas Edison's arrival in West Orange on April 25; the marriage of Mina's nephew Robert A. Miller, Jr., to Edith Hotchkiss; the marriage of Madeleine's friend Margaret Gregory to Victor N. Camp; the Edisons' troubled relationship with chief engineer Miller Reese Hutchison, who resigned his position on July 6; a visit by Edison to former presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes to discuss phonograph litigation; a visit to the U.S. Naval Station in New London, Connecticut, by Edison, Hutchison, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and Naval Consulting Board member William L. Saunders; and a twelve-hour automobile trip through Long Island during which Edison, accompanied by Mina, looked for possible sites for a naval research laboratory and for Theodore to continue his own experiments. There are also occasional references to Edison's health, including a back problem that troubled him in May.
There are numerous comments throughout the letters about the impact of the European war on Mina and other members of the Edison and Miller families. Two of Mina's nephewsRobert, Jr. and Lewis, IIserved in the army during the war, as did her son-in-law, John Eyre Sloane, whose duties in Washington prevented him from attending the birth of his second son. While Robert and John served stateside, Lewis's regiment was ordered to France in May 1918. Mina's ambivalent feelings about Lewis's departure and about the war itself are revealed in a letter of May 21: "I just imagine all these boys going into battle never to return to us and it is too awful. There is a mixture of pride and sorrow. Slackers one can't endure and yet to think of giving up our boys. Why can't something decisive be done and all settle down to peace and good will. Just slaughtering one another is too low in the scale for words."
There are also remarks in Mina's letters about Theodore Edison's wartime experiments, which involved a rotating wheel filled with TNT that could be aimed toward enemy trenches. Her letters contain both expressions of hope that the experiments can be speedily completed so that Theodore can return home and expressions of disappointment that his departure has been delayed. Other war-related topics that appear in the correspondence include wartime labor shortages, Liberty Loan and Red Cross parades designed to stimulate patriotism, and Mina's involvement in various Liberty Loan fund-raising drives. In one letter Mina muses about the possibility of training as a nurse and going to France. Mina's frustrations about the duration and disruption of the war are expressed in her complaint that "things are not right and I am longing, longing for normal living."
The last itema postcard from December 13was written in Washington, D.C., while Mina was visiting Madeleine and her children, who had returned to the nation's capital in October. Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center.