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These documents consist primarily of letters and telegrams from Mina Miller Edison to her youngest son, Theodore. Also included are three letters from Mina to Anna Maria (Ann) Osterhout, whom Theodore met in January 1924 and married on April 1925, along with one letter from Ann to Mina. Some of Mina's letters, particularly for the period after the marriage, are addressed jointly to Theodore and Ann. Several letters contain enclosed newspaper clippings relating to the engagement and upcoming wedding. A letter from Clara Ford, wife of automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, is enclosed with one of Mina's letters.
Most of the correspondence dates from March-April 1925 when the Edisons were vacationing at Seminole Lodge, their winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. The letters contain references to activities in Florida, including fishing, swimming, bird watching, and visits to nearby locations such as Bonita Springs, Bradentown, the Everglades, Immokalee, Mountain Lakes, Sarasota, and Tampa. One letter mentions an invitation to visit from Henry D. Silverfriend of The Koreshan Unity, a communal utopia in Estero, Florida. Other topics discussed in the correspondence include Mina's concern about over development in Fort Myers, particularly the growing number of noisy automobiles; her role in the management of the Fort Myers estate; and her frustration about the shortage of carpenters and other skilled workmen ("all are land crazy letting every thing else go by the board," she complains in one letter).
The letters reveal that Ann Osterhout accompanied her fiancÚ to Seminole Lodge and remained with the Edison family until the end of Februarya visit that is not mentioned in the extant newspapers or in Theodore's correspondence. The visit apparently did not go well, since the tone of Mina's letters from March is self-deprecating and apologetic in regard to Ann. "I am afraid [Ann] has lost much of her fondness for me," she laments in one letter, while in another she inquires "is Ann disgusted with me entirely?" "I am longing to improve my beastly self," she assures Theodore, "but I guess I am too old to be any different. I just feel that I have lost in favor with every human being that I ever knew. All are estranged from me." After apparently receiving assurances from Theodore that her future daughter-in-law was not upset with her, she expresses gratitude that "Ann does feel all right towards me."
Most of the letters from Fort Myers contain questions and suggestions regarding preparations for the upcoming wedding, including invitations to the ceremony and reception, ushers, hotel reservations, and plans to travel to Boston after the return from Florida. Mina's frustration at being cut out of the planning for the wedding is evident in the correspondence. In one letter she comments about how she "would love to be North . . . Helping with the things to get over for the wedding." In another she remarks that "it is extremely hard for me to be contented away from [the] seat of action. . . . But you did not want me and father does as it seems, and so here I am."
The nine letters written after the wedding date from June 29-August 24, 1925. During most of that period Theodore and Ann were on their honeymoon, and Mina's letters are addressed to their cruise ship, the SS Franconia,, and to the Copenhagen, London, and Paris offices of their travel agent, Raymond & Whitcomb. In separate letters to Ann and Theodore, dated June 29 but in envelopes inscribed "not to be opened until the 10th of July" (Theodore's birthday), Mina apologizes to Ann for a recent misunderstanding, admits that "I have many, many faults," and asks her to "try to be lenient with me and help me to over come them," while telling Theodore that she wants to be a comfort to him and her other children "but I fall so far short of knowing how." Mina also expresses regret about her lack of a college education, at the same time acknowledging that "one can know very little notwithstanding the fact of having gone thru college" and "it is our own development that counts." Other letters written during this period discuss plans for attending Chautauqua and visiting with Madeleine and her family at Watch Hill, a seaside resort in Rhode island. In one letter Mina explicitly states that there will be "no camping trip this summer." (The 1924 trip to New England would prove to be the last camping trip for Thomas and Mina Edison.)
Insights into the personality and activities of Thomas Edison can also be found in many of the letters, which mention the inventor's love of automobile rides, movies, and cigars. "Father dear has taken to motoring so much, that no one can do anything in a quiet line," Mina remarks in one letter written from Fort Myers. In a letter written after their return from Florida, she comments that her "darling has taken to going to movies every night lately," adding that "I sincerely trust that the fever will end soon. It does take too much precious time. One has no time to do worth while things." The letters also contain several requests to Theodore to ship cigars from Glenmont to his father, who found the local cigars to be "no good." A letter from mid-March thanks Theodore for "attending to the cigars," adding that "Father is fixed for the present. He is smoking a great deal." On the other hand, Mina notes the inventor's lack of interest in fishing ("he never fishes," she states categorically in one letter) and his aversion to social activities ("he is more of a recluse than I am").
Other family-related topics include Mina's sixtieth birthday ("my corner turning," she calls it); her efforts to "thin out" her family correspondence ("it is the hardest thing in the world for me to bring myself to tear up old letters"); Ann Osterhout's graduation from Vassar College; marital problems between Ann's parents, which would lead to divorce a few years later; Marion Edison Oeser's return to the United States after thirty years in Germany and her move into an apartment in East Orange above Charles Edison's; the second pregnancy of Mina's sister-in-law Florence Nichols Miller (her son, Stuart Alexander Miller, was born on July 21); and problems experienced by Charles and Madeleine with their servants. The letter from Clara Ford mentions a visit to educator Martha McChesney Berry in Savannah, Georgia, and Miss Berry's desire for Mina to visit her school, which the Fords financially supported. (Mina did visit the Martha Berry School in Mt. Berry, Georgia, in 1935 and perhaps on other occasions.)
Business-related topics discussed in the correspondence include the repayment of Henry Ford's 1912 loan; the decline of Edison's phonograph business; and the death of William Maxwell, former general manager of the Musical Phonograph Division of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. There is also mention of a serious injury sustained by Charles M. Viley of the Phonograph Sales Department in an airplane accident, which impels Mina to admonish Theodore not to fly "in any of those cheap machines."
As with all the letters written by Mina during this period, there are numerous indications of her insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. For example, after lamenting that Nellie Tinstman, the property manager for the Florida estate, hardly ever came around any more, Mina admits that "I am far from agreeable in my old age, and things I used to do, I do no more. I have grown very intolerant and uncompanionable. I feel that I love no one but my very own and it is an effort for me to be decent in any way. I have allowed myself to be so complaining and suspicious of peoples' motives and the feeling that only father dear counts in any one's eyes that I am wholly unlovable these days." Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center.