These documents, which cover the years 1938-1939, consist primarily of letters, telegrams, 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. There are also a few letters from Theodore to Mina. Many of Mina's letters were written from Seminole Lodge, the family's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida, and from Chautauqua, New York, where Mina spent considerable time during the summer. Also included is a letter from Valdosta, Georgia, where Mina stopped on the way home from Florida in 1938. The last letter, dated September 7, 1939, was written from West Orange shortly after Theodore and Ann returned from a vacation in the West. Enclosed with the letter is a newspaper clipping about an artificial glass heart developed by aviator Charles A. Lindbergh.
The Florida letters from 1938 discuss general conditions in Fort Myers, recovering from the Great Depression. Mina characterizes the town as "lively and progressing if one calls it progress to become more and more mechanized" and adds that "every body seems happy and thriving." She notes that "the colored people even are in better condition" and mentions the "good work" carried on by African American civic worker and businesswoman Ella Mae Piper. There are occasional references to Thomas Edison, such as a comment made on their fifty-second wedding anniversary (which Mina mis-remembers as their fifty-third): "Nothing but love all through the yearsmore and more every minute of these later years for me. A blessed memory!" In a letter from March 12 she remarks about how different things are in Florida now "than when darling was with me. Then everything seemed worth while but now so many, many gone." Also mentioned in the letter are the recent deaths of guide and family friend J. Fred Menge, industrialist Harvey Firestone, and botanist John Kunkel Small.
In addition, there are comments about Mina's grandson Peter Edison Sloane, who spent part of the winter at Seminole Lodge, and her second husband Edward Everett Hughes (referred to as "The Judge" and "Dadden" in the letters). Included are remarks about Mina attending a Catholic Church service with Peter, his desire to become a doctor, and a sailboat that Theodore and Ann sent down to Florida, which Peter used frequently during his stay. Other family members mentioned in the 1938 letters are Mina's youngest grandson, Michael Edison Sloane, whom she notes has been exposed to measles, and her oldest grandson, Thomas Edison (Ted) Sloane, who secretly married Elaine Bernice Levy shortly before his graduation from Yale. In a letter written from Chautauqua in July, Mina urges Theodore not to be too critical of Ted's impulsive decision but, instead, "try to see his point of view and be a true, real uncle to him." There is also a reference to Mina's oldest son, Acting Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison, who spent time in a Navy hospital in March.
Among the topics mentioned in the 1938 letters from Chautauqua are recent improvements in the buildings, which Mina fears may result in "a little loss of charm," her decision to resign as president of the Bird and Tree Club after a six-year tenure, and plans for the celebration of the birthday of Chautauqua co-founder Lewis Miller. There are also several references to problems with Mina's leg and knee (probably the rheumatism mentioned in one of her 1939 letters), which prevented her from fully enjoying the many physical activities at Chautauqua. Visitors mentioned in the letters, in addition to various family members, include noted conservationist and Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Jay Norwood (Ding) Darling and ornithologist Gladys Gordon Fry. The references to Darling discuss Mina's involvement in a campaign to save the redwood forests in California and other forests in Florida from indiscriminate cutting.
The letters from 1939, which were primarily written from Seminole Lodge in March and April, contain several references to the health problems of Ed Hughes, who would pass away on January 19, 1940. A letter from March 31 mentions high blood pressure and kidney problems, while a letter from April 16 discusses an automobile accident in Fort Myers that left him bruised and shaken but otherwise uninjured. The one letter from Chautauqua, written at the end of July, characterizes him as "very miserable." Among the visitors to Seminole Lodge mentioned in the letters are daughter Madeleine Edison Sloane, Madeleine's three youngest children (Mina notes that this is Michael's first visit), and Jule Day, the future wife of John Edison (Jack) Sloane. Other visitors who appear in the letters include Mrs. Ethel W. Lamont of Newark, the mother of Mina's goddaughter Phoebe Lamont Mansfield; Juliet Branham Williams, wife of TAE Inc. Executive Vice President Charles Sumner Williams (a former classmate of Charles Edison at MIT); and Chief Silver Tongue, a Native American tenor who entertained Mina and her Seminole Lodge guests at Easter.
Among the topics discussed in the letters are Mina's plans to build an Edison memorial library across the street from Seminole Lodge; her indecision about what name to give to "father dear's garden"; Peter Sloane's love of fishing; Grace Miller Hitchcock's winter home in Fort Myers ("a gem," according to Mina); and the impending marriage of Elizabeth Lewis Miller, the widow of Mina's brother Edward, to Cleveland jeweler Hugh Wilson Beattie. A letter from March 22 mentions a "new discovery" by Albert Einstein and expresses Mina's wish that Theodore had someone with a mind like Einstein's working with him.
The three letters by Theodore Edison date from March, April, and August 1938. The March letter chides Mina for her gloomy outlook on life and urges her to "quit being so introspective. Forget that 'nobody loves ME.' Give yourself to OTHERS and you'll find they respond much better than when you spend all your energy trying to draw them to YOU." The April letter playfully informs Mina that he and Ann went to Easter services "to show off our snappy clothes" and reports that prospects for his company, Calibron Products, Inc., "are brighter than ever before" although "business in the main [Edison] industries continues to be very slack." The August letter updates Mina on activities at Calibronincluding a survey for the American Tobacco Co. and a "nice order" from Wright Aeronautical Corp.and mentions that the National Park Service believes that the Save-the-Redwoods League, which with Mina was involved, "has done fine work." Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center.