These documents consist primarily of letters and postcards from Mina Miller Edison to her son Theodore and daughter-in-law Ann. Many of the communications are addressed to Theodore and Ann jointly, but some are addressed to Theodore by himself and one is addressed to Ann. Other correspondents, who sent letters of sympathy to Theodore shortly before or immediately after Thomas Edison's death on October 18, 1931, include cousin Rachel Miller; friends John H. Hammond, Jr., and Madison Ward; Jeanette Hayden Sears, the mother-in-law of Ann's sister Olga; Henry L. Davisson of the Edison Storage Battery Co.; and Trenton manufacturer Joseph W. Thropp. There are also two postcards from Mina's brother, John V. Miller, who accompanied her to Puerto Rico in December 1931.
The first twelve letters were written from Seminole Lodge, the family's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida, where Thomas and Mina resided from January 21 until June 15, 1931. The first letter, written on February 8, 1931, contains extensive comments about the health of the aging inventor, who would celebrate his eighty-fourth birthday three days later. According to Mina, "Father dear has not been at all well since getting down here." She attributes her husband's health problems to uremia exacerbated by his stubborn adherence to his milk diet, which has created an iron deficiency. She mentions a visit to Seminole Lodge by physician John Harvey Kellogg, superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, who a few months earlier had opened a facility in Miami Springs. Kellogg prescribed a supplement to the milk, which Edison tried for one day before forbidding Mina to put it in anymore. Mina informs Theodore that she plans to surreptitiously add the supplement "from time to time if he will not consent to it himself." By early March, the inventor's health had improved. "His stomach is so much better," Mina writes on March 5, noting that he had finally returned to work in his laboratory. Even so, "long trips tire him very much." A letter from April 23 indicates the recurrence of stomach problems, which would trouble Edison for the remainder of his stay in Florida. One letter comments on Edison's growing deafness, remarking that he had told one correspondent that he was not interested in the "Bell apparatus" because "I am getting too deaf to be able to use it." The letter of February 8, as well as the two letters that follow, entreat Theodore to come to Florida and visit Dr. Kellogg at his new sanitarium as soon as his brother Charles returns from England. "Let him build you up," Mina writes. "You are lacking iron too no doubt."
In a letter of April 10, Mina reacts to Theodore's decision (announced to Charles on April 1) to sever all ties with the Edison company and laboratory and to set up his own company, Calibron Products, Inc. She supports his decision, believing that he will be better off "doing the thing you like" rather than being "absolutely miserable in the work you were doing." At the same time, she acknowledges that she is waiting for "an auspicious moment" to show his letter to Thomas, as "it may be a little difficult for him to see your point of view." In fact, Mina waited for more than three weeks before finally bringing the matter to her husband's attention. He read Theodore's letter quietly and then simply remarked, "the end of a dream." Mina expresses relief that Edison had finally learned the news about Theodore's resignation, since she had been screening the mail out of concern that someone might casually mention it in a letter. She also expresses hope that after Theodore turns his own business into a success, he will return to the Edison laboratory "and make the old place hum again." Mina connects Theodore's desire to grow and develop with what she believes to be Ann's wish to have children. "I feel that Ann has just that same wish to develop," she writes. ". . . Think of her happiness too. Let a woman be a woman . . . And not look for the characteristics of the man in her. Our houses are our machine shops." In the last letter written before her return to New Jersey, Mina again assures Theodore that "Father seems all right about your doing your way. He wants you to know that he is proud of his three youngest and believes in you."
The letters reveal the continued interest of both Thomas and Mina Edison in the affairs of the company, as well as Mina's concern that the inventor will meddle unduly in its management. A letter written a week before their return to New Jersey mention's Mina's unsuccessful efforts to persuade her husband to remain in Florida through the end of the summer so that "we would be out of the way." In the same letter, she expresses hope that once back in West Orange, Edison "will not take up anything but just work at his rubber as he feels like it." As this letter indicates, there are numerous comments in the correspondence about Edison's continued search for a domestic source of rubber and his efforts to vulcanize the rubber in order to transform it into a commercial product. A letter from April 10 alludes to the inventor's "disappointments in the making of his rubber." Two weeks later, Mina again mentions that Thomas "is worried over his rubber problem" and attributes those worries to his inability "to vulcanize it so far to his satisfaction." She points out that the absence of a capable assistant after the resignation of chemist Francis Schimerka has placed the entire burden of research"everything chemically and mechanically"on Thomas's shoulders. "At 84 years old I think it is too much." A letter from May 12 comments more optimistically that "Father is happy. He is making progress with his rubber."
Mina's interest and involvement in the civic life of Fort Myers are also documented in the letters. Included are comments about the impact of the Great Depression on the Fort Myers community ("depression everywhere," she notes in one letter); the hardship caused by the failure of the Bank of Fort Myers; a Red Cross drive, spearheaded by Mina, that "was all done in about ten days and without the least effort"; the beginning of the spring baseball training season, with the arrival of Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics (Mina mentions that she generally takes a box at the Terry Park stadium); and a fair sponsored by the National Plant Flower and Fruit Guild. One letter indicates Mina's interest in the "colored children" of Fort Myers and her support for efforts to organize a troop of colored Boy Scouts. Mina also expresses indignation at the forest fires set by "these selfish, ignorant cattlemen" in order to improve grazing, and she laments that "one feels so helpless to stop them." Mina's involvement in church affairs at Fort Myers is also revealed in the letters. A letter from April 5 discusses her visit to three local churches to celebrate Easter. A letter from April 23 mentions Sidney Davis, a class teacher at the Young Men's Wesley Bible Class at the First Methodist Church, who frequently invited Mina to be guest teacher. (They would become good friends after the death of Thomas Edison.) A letter from June 7 comments on a visit to the Community Congregational Church (now the Thomas A. Edison Congregational Church) and compliments its pastor, Rev. Orvis T. Anderson, whom Mina characterizes as "so wonderful throughout the town in good works."
Among the visitors to Seminole Lodge mentioned in the letters are Charles and Carolyn Edison; sister Grace Miller Hitchcock (whose husband Hal had died in December 1930); sister Mary and brother-in-law Will Nichols; Mina's close friend, Lucy Bogue, who "lost everything" in the Depression; Ethel Lamont, the mother of Mina's goddaughter, Phoebe Lamont; and Llewellyn Park neighbor Friedrike Merck. There are also remarks about a visit by Mina's cousin, wealthy paper manufacturer Lewis Miller Alexander ("a big paper man of Wisconsin"), who showed great interest in the "calibrating ruled paper for engineers" that Theodore was developing. Two pages of "scrappy notes" made by Miller after a conversation with Thomas Edison are enclosed with one of Mina's letters.
Other family-related topics discussed in the documents include the birth of Madeleine Edison's fourth son, Michael Edison Sloane, on January 8; the health of Will Nichols, who visited Kellogg's Miami sanitarium in February, complaining of poor eyesight and a ringing in the ears; the death of Llewellyn Park neighbor Robert Day Carter; the celebration of the Edisons' forty-fifth wedding anniversary in February 24; a visit to Harvey Firestone's winter estate at Miami Beach in March; the engagement of Ann's sister Olga to Harold Bright Sears in April; Mina's hope that Ann's estranged parents will reconcile; and her concern about what will happen to Mrs. Osterhout, after Olga leaves, if they don't. Also included are comments about Madeleine's upcoming seventeenth wedding anniversary and the personalities of her two oldest sons, Ted and Jack, whom Mina characterizes as "diametrically opposite."
In addition, there are remarks about the radio business ("it is the selling end that is the trouble," Mina writes, "for as to its marvel there is nothing yet so wonderful"); an automobile trip to "that out-of-the-world Bonita Springs," where Mina heard a sermon by Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick on a car radio "as distinct and perfect as though in the church"; a book on Soviet Russia that Mina was reading; Ann Edison's involvement in beautification and clean-up projects in West Orange; and the controversy over whether Route 10 should be extended through West Orange near Llewellyn Park (the plan was opposed by many Park residents but supported by real estate interests who believed the extension would boost the economy and raise property values). There are also comments about an unfinished portrait of Edison by Lucius Hitchcock (Hal's brother), begun on the occasion of Grace's sixtieth birthday party in December 1930 (the portrait now hangs in Glenmont's second floor living room), and about an almost life-size photograph of Edison, Ford, and Firestone presented to the Edisons by real estate developer and family friend Jimmie Newton.
The last letter written by Mina before Thomas's death, dating from July 12 and addressed to Ann Edison, contains extensive remarks about the health of the ailing inventor. A week before leaving Florida, Mina had described her husband's condition as "not well," and the summer heat of West Orangewhich Mina pronounced to be "far hotter . . . When it is hot" than in Fort Myersdid nothing to improve his condition. Noting that Thomas was now sleeping most of the time under the attendance of a full-time nurse, Mina describes the insulin regimen administered by diabetes specialist Dr. Frederick Madison Allen and expresses doubts about its efficacy as well as concern about the discomfort it is causing her husband. Neurologist Hubert Shattuck, who was also treating Edison, is mentioned in the letter, along with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who had unsuccessfully tried to wean him away from his milk diet in Florida. "Each man has his hobby or theory and rides it," she writes. "Three things must go together Digestion, Dr. Kellogg Albumin & sugar, Dr. Allen Brain & nerves, Dr. Howe. Now the point is combining these three elements."
The last five items consist of letters and postcards written by Mina and her brother John Vincent Miller during a trip to Puerto Rico in December to visit sister-in-law Louise Miller and her daughter Rachel, who ran a gift shop in Ponce. Mina was impressed by the natural beauty of the island and by its people, whom she described as a "strange mixture" of "the very rich and the very poor but all happy." "Music in the air everywhere," she writes, "and even in the poorest hut there is light and joyous faces. A very happy race as some one once said, 'it is the place to be if one must be poor.'"
As with other letters from this period, the correspondence from 1931 contains occasional self-deprecating remarks relating to Mina's feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and failure to live up to her own standards. After opining about "how deeply and truly Ann has wanted a little one" and observing that "motherhood is a precious possession," Mina laments about her own failure as a mother. "It makes my heart ache to think how far short I have fallen in being a true mother." After asking Theodore to forgive her "for all worry and sorrow I have caused you," she explains that her shortcomings as a mother have not been the result of "my desire" but rather the product of "my disposition & ignorance. . . . My prayer is that in the few years left that I may be unselfish and do some little good."
The following items have not been selected: sympathy cards from Mrs. Robert Day Carter, Llewellyn Park; Uncle George and Aunt Gene, Sacramento, California; Baldwin Guild; Mrs. Bruce Lee Johnston, New York City; Mrs. Clarence E. Morse; Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Adelbert Norton, Jr., Llewellyn Park; Mr. and Mrs David Valentine, Llewellyn Park; and Miss Vincent, Llewellyn Park. Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archive Center.