These documents consist of letters, telegrams, and postcards from Mina Miller Edison to her youngest son, Theodore. Half of the twenty-two letters date from April-May 1923 and were written during the last semester of Theodore's senior year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Also included are nine letters from July-August, sent to Theodore while he was vacationing in Alaska. In addition, there is one letter from October written while Mina was attending a Daughters of the American (DAR) meeting in Washington, D.C., and one letter from December. Both of these letters are addressed to 264 Newbury Street in Boston, where Theodore returned in the fall of 1923 to pursue graduate studies at MIT. The notation "Save" in Theodore's handwriting appears on most of the envelopes.
Eight of the letters were written while the Edisons were vacationing at Seminole Lodge, their winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. Thomas Edison was ill during the entire period, and the letters contain discussions of the nature of his illness (stomach pains and a tingling sensation in his fingers, apparently brought about by diabetes), his efforts to treat it by fasting, his apparent recovery, and his subsequent relapse after he resumed eating. A letter from April 9 makes a comparison between Edison's draconian diet and the massive layoffs at his company in 1920-1921 "perhaps it was the only way to save the business but it has been death on human beings."
Also included are comments about Dr. Arthur P. Hunter, the Fort Myers physician who tested Edison's sugar level; Mina's interest in bringing in a specialist from Tampa recommended by their property manager, Ben Tinstman; her concern that Edison's diabetic condition might develop into pneumonia; and the impact of his illness on their plans to return to New Jersey (they departed on May 2, almost two weeks later than originally planned). In addition, there are references to other visitors at Seminole LodgeEdith Edison Potter, Thomas's recently widowed first cousin, and Teddy and Jack Sloane (the "darling little boys") who accompanied their grandparents to Florida while Madeleine Edison Sloane remained in New Jersey to give birth to her third child.
The three letters written immediately after Mina's return to New Jersey discuss the impact of Thomas's lingering illness on her longstanding plans to spend the summer traveling in Alaska with Theodore. Included are several references to her unsuccessful efforts to persuade Thomas to accompany them as far as California, which would lessen her time away from him. Also discussed in these letters are Theodore's impending graduation from MIT, his concerns that he would not complete his thesis in time, Mina's plans to travel with Thomas by automobile to Cambridge to attend the graduation, and Theodore's role as an usher at the upcoming wedding of his classmate, Jonathan Brown, III. Included in one of the letters is a clipping from the South Bend Tribune containing the results of a poll of young people in which Edison topped the list as the "greatest man" (although first among the boys by an almost 2-1 margin over second-place Woodrow Wilson, the inventor placed only fourth among the girls, behind Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and Austrian violinist Friz Kreisler).
The nine letters from July and August were all written while Theodore was on his trip to Alaska. Among the topics discussed in the letters are Mina's regret that she could not accompany her son, her belief that her decision to remain with her recuperating husband was the right thing to do, and the possibility of meeting Theodore in California to view the solar eclipse (probably the total solar eclipse of September 10, 1923, which was visible in those parts of California south of Oceanside and Santa Barbara). There are also several references to President Warren G. Harding, who was traveling the same route in Alaska in advance of Theodore and who died a few days after his return to the United States.
Two letters from August deal with Thomas's and Mina's trip to the Midwest, where they attended the funeral of President Harding in Marion, Ohio, along with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone; visited Edison's birthplace home in Milan; and then spent two weeks camping with the Fords and Firestones on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As in the case of the 1921 camping trip, Mina was put off by the promotional character of the proceedings ("two rather shrewd men using father for the newspapers," she complains in one letter) and by Ford's insistence in controlling everything. "I hate to be owned by any one," she tells Theodore,"and that is the feeling one has with Mr. & Mrs. Ford." One letter refers to "a slight attack of lumbago" experienced by Edison, along with Mina's hope that "it will soon pass over." The letter from October relates to Mina's trip to Washington to preside over her first meeting as chaplain general of the DAR; a sightseeing trip in the nation's capital by her traveling companion, Edith Potter; and a luncheon in Mina's honor given at the Ritz Hotel in New York City by Arthur Williams of the New York Edison Co. The letter from December discusses Christmas presents for Mina and Theodore.
The letters contain comments, both laudatory and critical, revealing Mina's attitudes towards various members of the Miller and Nichols families. One letter mentions a flirtatious exchange at a dinner between Edison and Nellie Smith, the widow of druggist and dry goods merchant Albert Dodge Smith, noting that "he has quite a crush on [her] . . . And she acts foolish about him." Later in the letter Mina sarcastically remarks that if she were traveling with Theodore "Papa could have a fine time running around with the ladies and I would be happy with you." Other topics discussed in the correspondence include the success of Edison's battery business; Henry Ford's presidential ambitions and his unwillingness "to open his heart for Chautauqua"; a threat by Charles Edison's friend and assistant, Sumner Williams, to resign if he were not given an adequate pay raise (Williams would remain with the company and rise to the position of executive vice president); a visit by Theodore with new MIT president Samuel W. Stratton; a visit by Charles and Carolyn Edison to Fort Myers a few weeks after the departure of Thomas and Mina; Mina's efforts to find a suitable chauffeur; the redecoration of the living room and bedroom at Glenmont; a trip to Colorado by Mary, Will, and Marian Nichols; and the decision of Robert Franks, Jr., a Llewellyn Park neighbor and friend of Charles, to give up his bond business and move to Cleveland (Franks was arrested a few months later for selling stolen bonds).
As with all the letters written by Mina during this period, there are numerous indications of her insecurity and feelings of inadequacy at being the wife of a great inventor. Expressing regret that she did not accompany Theodore to Alaska, she remarks in one letter that "Father seems perfectly all right" without her "and more than likely he would be glad if he were well rid of me." In another letter she observes that "men don't look at things the way women do. I don't suppose he realizes at all that I have given up any dream [of traveling with Theodore to Alaska]. . . . A man would have gone and left his wife under similar conditions and thought nothing 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.