These documents, which cover the period January-December 1921, consist of letters from Mina Miller Edison to her youngest son, Theodore. They were written during the second semester of Theodore's sophomore year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the first semester of his junior year. Theodore also spent most of the summer of 1921 in Cambridge, and almost a third of the letters date from that period. The notation "Save" in Theodore's handwriting appears on most of the envelopes. Some envelopes bear the notation "N.S. Scrap" suggesting that Theodore may have intended to destroy the letters.
About half of the letters were written during the winter of 1921. One of the main themes in these letters is Mina's concern about the human consequences of the downsizing at Thomas A. Edison, Inc., particularly its effect on her son Charles. Included are comments about the dismissal of several MIT fraternity brothers whom Charles had brought into the companyJohn P. Constable, who had been serving as chief engineer of the West Orange laboratory since 1918; John Hamilton Scott, who was fired for copying one of Edison's questionnaires, and Wirt Russell Robinson. "Papa has practically dismissed all the men that Charles got or were with him," she remarks in one letter. ". . . Papa does not realize how deep a hurt he has made. I wish I knew how to show him. My heart aches for Charlsie."
Mina's concern about the impact of the layoffs on the esprit de corps of the entire organization is evident in the letters. "What can we do to have father dear see that he is crushing all the spirit throughout the plant?" she laments in early January. "Everybody is thoroughly unsettled and Papa does not seem to grasp it at all." The letters also reveal Mina's frustration at her husband's inability to understand her point of view, which she attributes in part to his deafness. "He will not see my point," she complains in one letter, "but thinks I talk foolishness." On the other hand, she dismisses reports that "Papa is a little unbalanced or loosing out in his mental capacity," attributing such rumors to disgruntlement on the part of the "discharged men."
Even apart from the downsizing, Mina's interest in the management of Thomas Edison's businesses is well documented in the correspondence from this period. Among the topics discussed in the letters are her brother John V. Miller's aspirations to succeed Richard W. Kellow as Edison's personal secretary; Mina's suspicion and dislike of Financial Executive Stephen B. Mambert; Edison's efforts to sell the property of the long defunct New Jersey & Pennsylvania Concentrating Works; the sale of the Bates Manufacturing Co. to Charles's friend and former assistant, Clarence S. A. Williams; difficulties with the masters at the disc record plant, which Mina attributes to "that miserable Moore" [Edison's chief assistant Sherwood T. (Sam) Moore]; the hiring of Amos H. Curry, president and general manager of the Texas-Oklahoma Phonograph Co., to take over the management of the Musical Phonograph Division from William Maxwell.; and the hiring of a music scout [possibly Godfrey Taylor] to visit the dance halls and identify dance songs popular with young people. There are also occasional comments about general business conditions, which Mina characterizes as "picking up a little" in a letter from April 29 but as "dark" in a letter from July 6.
Eight letters from July and August contain a detailed and sometimes humorous account of the two-week camping trip in the mountains of Maryland and West Virginia undertaken by Thomas and Mina Edison, Henry and Clara Ford, Harvey and Idabelle Firestone, and a retinue of maids, valets, newspapermen, and Secret Service men assigned to guard President Warren G. Harding, who also briefly participated. Mina's dislike of the whole proceedings, which she characterizes in one letter as a "circus" and in another as an "advertizing trip" for Ford and Firestone, is evident from the correspondence. Everything is "so elaborate & so fussy," she remarks in one letter, "that there is no charm in it."
Other topics discussed in the correspondence include the celebration of Thomas Edison's seventy-fourth birthday in February; Marion Edison's divorce from Oscar Oeser, her husband of twenty-five years; John V. Miller's courtship of Florence Nichols (cousin of Mina's brother-in-law William W. Nichols) and their subsequent engagement and marriage; the deaths of Llewellyn Park neighbors Marion Douglass and Bessie Kunz, naturalist John Burroughs, and Frank A. Potter, who had married Edison's first cousin Edith a decade earlier; a break-in at the home of Madeleine and John Sloane in South Orange; Charles Edison's trip to Yama Farms, New York in February to recover from tonsilitis and exhaustion; and a cold sore on Madeleine's lip, which troubled her throughout the summer.
In addition, there are remarks about a visit by Mina and Thomas to Quogue, a resort town in Long Island where Madeleine and her children were vacationing; a trip by Mina and her cousin Elizabeth Miller to upstate New York, during which they visited Sonnenberg, the palatial estate of Mary Clark Thompson; Mina's impressions of Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, whom she saw at two dinners during his tour of the United States; a visit by Thomas and Mina to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in connection with a plan by Henry Ford to purchase the unfinished dam and nearby nitrate plant; and a conference in Dearborn with Edison, Ford, and Rear Admiral William S. Sims to discuss the possibility of the Ford company manufacturing airplanes. Also included are several letters in which Mina laments her inability to warm up to Carolyn Edisona difficulty which she believes has "driven Charles away from me." In a letter from November 20 Mina expresses the fear that Theodore will one day become similarly alienated. "I dread the day when you take unto yourself a wife . . . I am so afraid that she will not fit. Oh, I am so afraid of it."
Click here for a list, in Theodore Edison's handwriting, of all the letters sent by Mina Edison, October 1919-May 1924. Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archive Center.