These documents consist of letters from Mina Miller Edison to her son Theodore and daughter-in-law Ann. Most of the letters are addressed to Theodore and Ann jointly, but a few are addressed to Theodore by himself. Several of the letters contain newspaper clippings. All of the letters were written from Seminole Lodge, the family's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. The first eight letters date from the period January-June 1929. The last letter, dated December 19, 1929, was written two weeks after Thomas and Mina returned to Florida for what would prove to be their longest stay ever at Fort Myersslightly more than six months.
Thomas Edison turned eighty-two on February 11, 1929, and the inventor was honored at a birthday celebration at Seminole Lodge that included President-elect Herbert Hoover, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and scores of his Florida neighbors. Among the highlights of the day was a birthday address by Edison, which was broadcast nationwide over station WJZ, the flagship station of the NBC Blue Network. Mina comments on this event in her letter of March 1, noting that her new radio "was perfect for the first night," without the static interference that made some of the stations, such as the ones in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, difficult to hear. Mina also mentions listening to the remarks of Charles Edison, who introduced his father from the WJZ studio in New York City. Several other letters contain remarks about difficulties experienced in receiving radio broadcasts, and one includes a suggestion that Theodore come down to Florida to investigate the matter. Referring to his recent five-week trip to the West Coast to troubleshoot problems with poor radio reception, she asks "is not Florida as important as California." In addition to repeated requests for Theodore and Ann to visit, there are references to visits by other family members including Charles and Carolyn Edison, Madeleine Edison, and Ed and Betsy Miller. Mina also mentions that Ed and Betsy are planning to acquire an Edison Radio-Phonograph
Mina's letters contain several comments about the health of her aging husband, as well as her own health and that of other family members and friends. In her letter of March 1, Mina notes that Thomas "has been having a bad spasm with his stomach," adding that "his stomach has been very bad down here ever since his birthday." She expresses hope that "he may be better after Mr. Ford goes," since when Ford is around her husband tries too hard to keep up with him "more or less forgetting that he is years younger." A letter from May 9 reports that the inventor is "fine now" and speculates that the spasms he had earlier experienced may have been the result of the milk sent from Detroit not agreeing with him. She again opines that "Mr. Ford's being here made him a little nervous. . . . Nerves of the stomach has a lot to do with his trouble." Mina also mentions Edison's milk diet in a letter from April 25, noting that "he is taking nothing but milk every two hours and is keeping in better shape than he has for years." Mina discusses her own health problems in the letter written after her return to Fort Myers in December. (She had contracted a severe cold over the summer and was still not feeling well when she departed for Florida.) "At first I was so crippled up I could hardly move." She felt much better after she "went on milk diet with father and stayed in bed nearly three days, so [I] am keeping up the milk diet."
There are also remarks about the health of Madeleine Edison Sloane, who visited Seminole Lodge for two weeks in late March-early April. Mina attributed her health problems to the heat and to "worn out nerves," but in reality she was suffering from a gallbladder condition that necessitated an operation in mid-May. (Mina briefly returned North to be with her ailing daughter.) In addition, there are references to the health of Madeleine's three childrenTeddy, Jack, and Peterall of whom came down with the chicken pox during the winter of 1929. The letters indicate that Peter's illness prevented him from coming down to Florida with Charles and Carolyn in early March. Mina also mentions the illness of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Perine, who watched over Glenmont when the Edisons were out of town, and laments having to leave for Florida "with so many sick." A letter from January 23 encloses a newspaper clipping warning about how the lowered resistance of influenza victims makes them susceptible to other diseases. Undoubtedly remembering the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 that claimed the lives of 675,000 Americans, many from post-flu complications such as bacterial pneumonia, Mina comments "I have such a horror of this influenza."
The letters contain references to Thomas Edison's work habits and to his progress in finding a domestic source of rubber. A letter from early March laments that the high expectations raised by the press are causing Edison to work harder that he should. "He just works and nothing else," leaving the house at nine in the morning to go to the new laboratory across the street, returning home exhausted at six, and, after a few hours of sleep, waking up in the middle of the night to spend several hours reading. "Great life!" she sarcastically remarks, adding that "of course it keeps me irregular too." Mina also expresses concern about the possibilities of her husband succumbing to heat exhaustion, with the sun beating down on the roof of the laboratory with no shade. "He gets so tired and hot but will not confess to it." On the other hand, Mina's letters reveal her pleasure at Edison's success with his rubber experiments. Writing on April 25 that he has vulcanized his rubber for the first time, Mina exclaims that "he is as happy and proud of it as a king." Austrian-born chemist Francis Seraph Schimerka and longtime associate Charles Thompson Dally are mentioned in the letters in connection with Edison's rubber experiments.
In addition, the correspondence sheds light on Thomas Edison's relationship with his company after he turned control over to his sons Charles and Theodore in 1926. Writing on March 9a day before Charles's expected arrival at Fort MyersMina quotes Thomas as saying "I am not going to talk business" because "I have given it all over to the boys." A week before their return to New Jersey, Mina expresses hope that Thomas will find a practical chemist as soon as they get home "so that he will get busy with his rubber immediately to avoid his being restless and then finding it hard to keep out of other matters which might be upsetting to you boys." The last letter, written in December after the onset of the Great Depression had forced Thomas A. Edison, Inc. to stop production of phonograph records, suggests that the elder Edison's meddling in the affairs of the company had created some tension with his sons. After apologizing for "the last days at home with everything so upset after the hard work of you and brother," Mina expresses relief that "all was adjusted and that you can go ahead with your plans more or less." "Father has always been that way," she adds, attributing his behavior to "his anxiety that we may lose everything."
The Florida letters also illuminate Mina's active involvement in the civic life of Fort Myers. Included are references to two organizations that Mina had founded during her previous visitthe Roundtable, a group of local leaders who coordinated the efforts of the town's various civic clubs, and the Valinda Literary Circle, a Chautauqua reading course. According to Mina, "both seemed to be flourishing." Mina's concern about overdevelopment and its deleterious impact on the environment is also revealed in the letters. "Beautification is the incessant call here," she writes on April 25, "and I think they destroy faster than they beautify."
In the same letter, Mina rails at the practice of burning brush and trees to clear areas for development, noting that the efforts of town officials to regulate these burns have met with little success. "The whole country is on fire down here. I never saw it worse." She also complains about the removal of live bushes and bamboo from a neighbor's yard, which has not only destroyed the resting place for a variety of birds but has also ruined the seclusion of her pool and garden. "I feel like putting up a twelve foot wall all about our place," she writes. Mina's interest in the black population of Fort Myers is also evident in the letters, as she comments on her efforts to establish garden groups at Safety Hill, the town's segregated black neighborhood, and to develop a color scheme for the houses that will match her garden scheme. "Those colored people have grasped the vision," she writes, "and now I believe that they will just make Safety Hill the beauty spot of Fort Myers." In addition, there are descriptive observations about daily routines at Seminole Lodge, such as Mina and Thomas sitting outside for a few minutes every morning after breakfast to watch the birds.
Other topics discussed in the letters include Mina's reminiscences of a visit to Lick Observatory during her trip to California in 1915; a visit to Seminole Lodge by Mrs. Laura S. Stewart of the National Plant Flower and Fruit Guild; an invitation by the Fort Myers Press for Mina to write a column for the paper; and an exhibition baseball game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals that Mina took a bridal party to. As with other letters from this period, the correspondence contains occasional references to Mina's feelings of depression, inadequacy, and insecurity. Writing to Theodore and Ann in April on the occasion of their fourth wedding anniversary, she asks them "to forgive all my short comings and all that I have done that has been wrong, for I am grieved and sorry for all misdoings and long instead to be a comfort and a joy." Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center.