These documents, which cover the years 1922-1947, consist primarily of correspondence from Mina Miller Edison to Marian Nichols (1897-1988), stepdaughter of Mina's sister, Mary Miller Nichols. Mary and her husband, William W. Nichols, are frequently mentioned in the letters. Also included are two letters to Marian written by her stepfather, lover, and future husband Baron Albert (Bert) de Marconnay (ca. 1874-1949), as well as letters from Marian to her aunt Ida Nichols Holt, her step-cousins Theodore and Marion Edison, and Theodore's wife Ann. The last item is a typewritten biographical sketch, probably written shortly after Marian's death on September 12, 1988.
Among the topics discussed in the letters are the rapid downsizing of Edison Industries during the early 1920s, which led to the dismissal of thousands of workers. "Uncle Thomas has made most awful drastic moves," Mina writes Marian in March 1922, "so the organization is pretty well out of business in a way." In the same letter Mina shares her low opinion of Sherwood Troop (Sam) Moore, who had worked as Edison's personal machinist for more than a decade. "I have no faith in Moore but Uncle Thomas can't see his defects." A letter from Marian to Ida Holt, which was later published in the Manitou Springs [Col.] Journal, describes her visit to Dearborn, Michigan, in October 1929 to attend the Golden Jubilee (fiftieth anniversary) of the invention of the incandescent light. She mentions meeting President Herbert Hoover, aviator Orville Wright, and humorist Will Rogers whom she characterizes as "a perfect dear and more fun than a barrel of monkeys." A letter from October 6, 1931, contains extensive comments about Thomas Edison's final illness, noting that "he is a whole lot sicker than the newspapers say" and taking exception to the "inconsiderate" coverage of his sickness by the press. Marian praises Edison for his "most amazing vitality," remarking that despite his afflictionsdiabetes, Bright's disease, and uremic poisoning"he is up & dressed & sitting in his chair every day." Writing three days later, Marian observes that Edison is in a comatose state and that most of those attending to him hope that he will pass away soon "for though he isn't in pain he certainly has no pleasure, & it is hard on those who have to stand by & watch him gradually slip away."
Several of the letters written after 1931 contain references to Thomas Edison, whom Mina refers to as "Dearie." Commenting in 1937 on the recent death of Marian's Aunt Ida, Mina remarks that "she was one of those . . . Personalities you feel though far away." Mina compares Ida in that regard to her late husband who "seemed to live in peoples hearts altho they never knew him and is living now in everything we see or do. Oh, how I miss the touch of his hand and his smile of welcome whenever I came in. His happy smile no matter how busy he was. . . .There is comfort in sweet memories. If we had not those it would be still harder. We can always still live in happiness with those, while those who have nothing pleasant to remember have nothing left." An undated letter by Mina, written shortly after the Christmas holidays in January 1938, remembers the trip to Puerto Rico that she took with her brother John during the first holiday season after Edison's death, noting that "Dearie was too much a part of that blessed day" to spend it at Glenmont. A letter by Mina from early January 1938 comments that her second husband, Edward Everett Hughes, will be traveling to Florida in a few days, but that she plans to remain in New Jersey for another five weeks to celebrate Thomas Edison's ninety-second birthday with the Edison Pioneers. In an undated letter written from Fort Myers on the fifty-third anniversary of the day "that I became Dearie's bride" (February 24, 1886), Mina laments that no one but her daughter Madeleine remembered to send a telegram "and I feel lost, alone in my grief."
Other topics include Mina's reaction to the upcoming wedding of Marian and Albert ("our loss is another one's gain"); her thoughts about the Great Depression ("had people stood back of Hoover we would have a much more sane country than we have today"); her plans to visit Chicago in October 1933 to see the Edison Memorial Building at the Century of Progress Exposition; the activities of the Chautauqua Bird and Tree Club, of which Mina became president in 1933; the financial difficulties of Chautauqua, which went into receivership in 1933 and faced the threat of foreclosure; a cookbook with recipes by famous women that Mina was putting together in 1934; repairs and renovations at Glenmont; and Mina's impressions of Norway and Sweden, which she visited during the summer of 1937 with Edward Hughes ("Norway is dramatic, Sweden lyric"). In addition, there are comments by Mina about World War II, her desire for peace, and her concern for her grandsons Jack and Peter Sloane, who were fighting in the Italian campaign. The last letter by Mina, dated January 5, 1947, discusses the physical and mental condition of Will Nichols following the death of his wife on November 21, 1946. She complains about a severe cold that had been afflicting her since Christmas and mentions her plans to attend a luncheon in honor of the centennial of Thomas Edison's birth before going down to Fort Myers. She also informs Marian about an airplane accident in which aviatrix Clara Livington, a close friend of her niece Rachel Miller, was seriously injured (ironically, Clara was traveling as a passenger on a commercial flight).
The letters also contain references to the health problems of various members of the Edison and Miller families including Theodore Edison, who had an appendix operation in 1934; Mary Nichols, who was hospitalized for ten days in 1933 with an undisclosed ailment; and Richard Tildon Edison, the brother of Mina's friend (and Thomas's first cousin) Edith Edison Potter, who was suffering from a heart condition. A letter by Mina from January 1939 describes the condition of her brother John as "badly run down" (he died on August 16, 1940 at the age of sixty-six). Mina also mentions her own stay at the Woman's Christian Association Hospital in Jamestown, New York, where she remained for three months during the summer and early fall of 1942 after being stung by a wasp at Chautauqua and developing an infection. Several letters from the late 1930s and the 1940s refer to the declining health of Bert de Marconnay, who passed away on March 28, 1949. The last letter was written by Marian on August 18, 1947six days before the death of Mina Edisonin response to a letter from Marion Edison Oeser. Expressing optimism that Mina would recover from her illness, Marian also speculates on the nature of death"we go from a very imperfect to a very perfect world, where we meet again all those we love who have gone on before." Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center