These documents consist primarily of letters and telegrams from Mina Miller Edison to her son Theodore and daughter-in-law Ann. Most of the letters date from the period January-June 1928 and were written from Seminole Lodge, the family's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. Also included are a letter from September, written during a visit with the Ford family in Dearborn, Michigan, and two letters from November addressed to Theodore and Ann on Monhegan Island, Maine.
The five months that Mina and Thomas spent in Florida during the winter and spring of 1928 was their longest stay up to that point, although they would remain even longer during the winters of 1929, 1930, and 1931. Many of the letters contain comments about Edison's search for a domestic source of rubber. "Father dear thinks he is making great progress on his rubber," Mina writes on March 18; "he has absolutely forgotten everything else unless brought to his attention." In April she remarks that Edison "is absolutely possessed over this rubber question" and "is certainly pushing the rubber idea for all it is worth." A letter written a week before their return to New Jersey quotes Edison as saying that "these months down here had been the happiest he had ever spent." Mina, who assisted her husband in his search for new plants, apparently found her five-month stay in Florida more harried than happy. Her letters contain frequent mention of how busy ("swamped") she has been since her arrival. "This is no longer a place of rest and relaxation," she remarks in one letter, "as father has all these men about him."
The Florida letters also illuminate Mina's active involvement in the civic life of Fort Myers. Included are references to her efforts "to help the blacks at Safety Hill" (the segregated black neighborhood of Fort Myers); her organization of the Fort Myers Roundtable to coordinate the efforts of the town's various civic clubs; her leadership role in the local chapter of the National Plant Flower and Fruit Guild; her interaction with Mrs. John Wood Stewart (Laura S. Stewart), the founder and national president of the Guild; and her attempt to organize a Chautauqua reading circle (later named the Valinda Literary Circle) in Fort Myers. In addition, there are references to improvements at Seminole Lodge, some of them supervised by Mina, including a new laboratory on the other side of MacGregor Ave. to replace the old laboratory being shipped to the Ford Museum; a garage with an apartment above it; a sea wall to prevent flooding; and various landscaping projects such as a rock garden, agara garden, salt water garden, and lily pond. One letter contains derogatory comments about the black men who labored on these projects, noting that she was "driving the men like a slave owner" since otherwise "they simply do nothing."
Other topics mentioned in the Fort Myers correspondence include a visit to Terry Park, the spring training site of the Philadelphia Athletics, to watch the last baseball game of the season. Mina notes that all the local shops are closed for the afternoon in honor of manager Connie Mack "to show their appreciation of his choosing Fort Myers." In addition, there are remarks about a visit by Mina and botanist John K. Small to the mountain estate of retired labor leader Margaret Dreier Robins, whom Mina characterizes as "one of ten of the great women of America"; the construction of an experimental radio station for Edison to keep in touch with his office; and Henry Ford's efforts to secure Edison memorabilia for his museum at Dearborn. (Mina acknowledges that she enjoyed her 1928 visit with the Fords "more than I ever have.")
The letters also contain remarks about the health of various family members, including Thomas Edison, who was suffering from stomach problems but "became immediately better" after hearing news of Theodore's "first patent"; Charles Edison, whose kidney problems led to his hospitalization in March; and Charles's mother-in-law, Ada Woodruff Hawkins, who was diagnosed with a heart condition known as angina pectoris. A letter from April 2 comments on the suicide of Joseph Phillips, an Edison employee and second husband of longtime family servant Lena McCarthy, who shot himself after Lena left him for the second time. There are occasional comments by Mina about the business affairs of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., now managed by her two sons. In a letter from March 26, she again pushes for adding radio as a product line. Speculating about the possibility of a merger between the Radio Corporation of America and General Electric, she asks "won't it hurt us even more? Can't you boys come in on it?" (Thomas Edison gave his assent in April, and the Edison company entered the radio business in June.) There are also several references in the letters to the books that Mina was reading as part of a four-year program for admission into the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, including Claude G. Bowers's Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in Americaa 530-page book that went through several editions after its publication in 1925. (Mina graduated from the program in 1930.)
The two letters from early November contain an extensive discussion of the presidential contest between Republican candidate Herbert Hoover and Democratic candidate Al Smith. "Everyone is excited over the election next Tuesday and anxious as to the results," she writes on November 2, remarking three days later that "we are all so full of election these days that we think little else." Mina's own excitement about the election is apparent in her comment that she and Thomas "are going to be at the poles when the doors open and try to be the first to vote for Hoover in our district." Mina compares the qualifications of the two candidates, noting that "while Hoover was feeding 18,000,000 people [as head of the American Relief Administration], Smith was Sheriff of N.Y [County]. . . . While Smith has been making good in one state, Hoover has been making good in 48 States and internationally as well."
The November letters also illustrate the importance of radio during the presidential campaign of 1928. In her November 2 letter Mina mentions the "Brooklyn speeches" made by Smith and gubernatorial candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt at a Democratic rally at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which were broadcast by four New York stations. Also mentioned are radio addresses by Hoover from St. Louis and by Idaho Republican Senator William E. Borah from Boston. (Mina attended a concert that evening and missed all but Borah's address.) The letters also reveal Mina's uncertainly and anxiety about the outcome of the election, which resulted in a landslide for Hoover. Contemplating the possibility of a Republican defeat, she remarks that Hoover "certainly can have a far happier time in his own house at Alto Palo" and wonders "why any one would care to be President of these U.S." In her letter written the day before the election, Mina predicts that Hoover will be elected "if there is not some trick played" but that "all [will be] . . . Well with him if it goes against him." At the same time, she doubts that Hoover will carry her own district with "10,000 Italians under Priest control" voting for Smith. Mina also expresses dismay that her servant Annie is planning to vote for Smith and that "so many of these [Llewellyn] Park people too [are] going for our opponent. These people here in the Park make me sick!!!!"
As with Mina's other letters from this period, the correspondence contains occasional references to her feelings of depression, inadequacy, and insecurity. "I guess that I have been a little depressed," she writes on March 26, "and it is very hard to write or do anything when one is depressed. I have felt that my chilluns were all replete with their very selves, that there was no room for me. . . . The feeling of utter uselessness to my children was one which reflected in everything. . . . [A] mother's love for her children is her whole existence, while to them but a thing apart." Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archive Center.