These documents consist of letters, postcards, and telegrams from Mina Miller Edison to her son Theodore and daughter-in-law Ann. Most of the communications are addressed to Theodore and Ann jointly, but a few are addressed to Theodore by himself. Twelve of the twenty items were written from Seminole Lodge, the family's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida, where Thomas and Mina resided from December 5, 1929, until June 11, 1930their longest stay ever in Florida. The other eight letters, dating from the period August 5-September 15, were written by Mina while Theodore and Ann were vacationing at Monhegan Island, Maine. Most were written from Glenmont, but also included is one letter begun by Mina at Chautauqua on August 14 and continued from West Orange on August 15.
Thomas Edison turned eighty-three in February 1930the last full year of his life. The absence of remarks to the contrary suggest that he was in good health during his stay in Florida. However, the New Jersey summer heat took its toll on the aging inventor, and Mina initially canceled her planned August visit to Chautauqua "because father dear was so miserable and I well shot." However, the "pressure was too great," so she headed off for Chautauqua on August 11. The "pressure" to which Mina refers was most likely a desire on the part of her friends that she attend the graduation ceremonies for the 1930 class of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circlean event for which Mina had been preparing for several years. Her visit was cut short when she learned that Thomas had fallen at Glenmont after waking up in the middle of the night, sustaining a cut on his head and a bruise on his side. Writing on August 17, two days after her return to New Jersey, Mina remarks that family doctor John H. Bradshaw was afraid to give stitches "on account of father's tendency to Erysipelas," so he "fastened the edges together with adhesive plastic." In the same letter, she notes that her husband "is healing nicely and there are no ill effects" while acknowledging that "all were anxious for a while." (A day earlier, the Edison family had issued a statement to the press, denying reports that the inventor was ill.)
Mina's letters also contain comments about the health of other family members, including her sons Theodore, who was suffering from a foot problem that was slow to heal, and Charles, who had a nervous breakdown in December 1929 and spent a month in a New York City hospital in January and then another month recuperating in Arizona. There are also numerous expressions of concern on Mina's part that Theodore is working too hard and might soon suffer the same fate as his older brother. "I plead with you not to go too far as it is so easy to overdo," she writes in March, "and so terribly difficult to regain lost nerves and energy. I wish that I could impress this upon you and get you to stop before you break." Mina also remarks on the health of her sister Grace Miller Hitchcock, who was suffering from "a case of nervous exhaustion"; her grandson Thomas Edison (Teddy) Sloane, who sustained a sunburn while vacationing with his family at Fisher's Island in Long Island Sound; her longtime friend and companion Lucy Bogue, who "seems very tired" and was planning to see her female doctor for a "going over"; longtime chauffeur Sidney Scarth, whose carbuncle problem made it difficult for him to drive; six-year-old Sidney, Jr., who was "very ill with heart & asthma trouble"; and Mina's Llewellyn Park neighbor Friedrike Schenck Merck, who was suffering from some unnamed ailment.
There are other remarks in the letters about various relatives, friends, and acquaintances of the Edison family, including several who spent time at Seminole Lodge during the winter and spring of 1930Mina's sister and brother-in-law, Grace and Halbert Hitchcock; Thomas's cousin, Edith Edison Potter; and Mina's niece, Margaret Miller Newman. Included are comments about the troubled marriage of Margaret, who separated from Henry O. Newman on January 1, 1930, as well as that of mineralogist George Kunz of Tiffany & Co., whose six-year marriage to aviatrix Opal Logan Gilberson was annulled in December 1929. Other family friends mentioned in the letters include Frederick A. Traut, commander of the U.S. Naval base at Key West during World War I, who was now working at a bank in Charleston, South Carolina (the Edisons considered visiting him while in Florida), and Mildred L. Franks, daughter-in-law of Llewellyn Park neighbor Robert A. Franks, who moved with her husband Ralph to Pasadena, California, around 1930.
In addition, there are comments about Edward Dean Adams, banker and former president of the Edison Pioneers, who visited Thomas and Mina at Seminole Lodge in March 1930 to supervise the sculpting of a bust of the inventor for the Edison Pioneers (Mina characterizes him as "very dear . . . most interesting in every way"), as well as remarks about Evelyn Longman Batchelder, one of the foremost women sculptors of her time, whom the Pioneers had commissioned to do the bust. Mina also mentions reading in the newspaper about the divorce of George Putnam and asks Theodore whether the reference is to the father of his friend and MIT classmate, Palmer Cosslett Putnam. [The marriage of Palmer's father, George Haven Putnam, to Emily Smith Palmer ended with his death on February 27, 1930, just three weeks after Mina made her inquiry. The George Putnam mentioned in the newspaper article was Palmer's cousin, George Palmer Putnam (1887-1950), who would marry Amelia Earhart a year after his divorce.] There are also comments about two of the servants who accompanied the Edisons to FloridaQueenie Adams, the family's African American cook ("a great cook") and longtime butler Henry Horsey ("a comfort").
There are numerous references in the letters to the radio business and to Mina's own radio-phonograph, which she had difficulty operating. In a telegram sent on New Years Day, Mina writes that she has been "listening to radio WEAF as though in the room. Clear and beautiful." A week later, she tells Theodore that her "radio is wonderful," but she hasn't figured out how to use the phonograph and plans to call on Freddy Ott to help her. "I don't know all the tricks," she writes. On January 20 Mina again remarks about her difficulties operating the phonograph component of her machine and asks Theodore if the Edison company can "do something to indicate the method [of operation] in a little better way for blockheads?" She returns to the subject on February 3, complaining that she sometimes has difficulty getting music from the records after the radio is turned off. "Block heads (like myself) are sort of stupid about it. I suppose it is simple enough but we all were puzzled over it. . . . I just tell you this so you can make it more fool proof." Several letters contain complains about interference from nearby stations that made it impossible for Mina to listen to the Edison Orchestraa radio program that aired on station WJZ in New York City on Monday nights from 1928 until 1931. Thomas Edison's own pessimistic attitude toward radio is mentioned in several of the letters. "He thinks it is going down as an industry," Mina remarks on January 20. Four months later, the inventor's opinion about the prospects of the new technology had not changed. "He has no faith in the radio," she writes on May 14, "and never has had."
The letters also contain comments about Thomas Edison's work habits and his search for a domestic source of rubber. Writing in January, Mina remarks that her husband is "happy as a king" and has been so busy that the unopened mail in his "little office" is "miles high." A letter from May 14 reports favorably on the progress of Edison's rubber experiments, noting that the goldenrod "so far is the best" and that "he has fields of it planted along the way." No one but Thomas Edison, she adds, would have "the patience to work out something so entirely new and absolutely pure experimenting and research. . . . Father has grown to be a great Botanist. . . . When I think that three years ago he did not know a rose from a turnip I am astounded. Of course it has to have the promise of rubber in it or he is not interested but when it comes to weeds, he is an authority."
Mina's continued interest in the business of the Edison company and her concerns about her husband meddling in its affairs are evident in several of the letters. Lamenting in January about being so far away from her children for such a great length of time, she adds that she would be willing to stay in Florida even longer "if for business reasons it would be better [for Charles and Theodore] to be alone." A letter from February indicates her desire "to know how everything is moving," expresses regret that the company has discontinued the production of disc records, and inquires about the status of specific product lines, including the radio-phonograph, Ediphone, Edicraft, cement, storage battery, and primary battery. "In fact," she adds, "everything I am interested in." An undated letter, probably written in March, voices satisfaction that "things are moving along in great shape outside of the radio."
The Florida letters also illuminate Mina's interest and involvement in the civic life of Fort Myers. Writing in January, she mentions her strong disapproval of the administration of William J. Wood, who in July had been elected mayor in the first election following a change from the commission to the alderman form of government. Characterizing the mayor as "more or less a socialist in the poor sense of the word," she opines that "his faction is certainly a poor help to the advancement of the town." Nonetheless, "much that is beautiful is going on in spite of their disagreeable attitudes and many friends are having good times." Mina also comments on the town's efforts to recover from "the ravages of the storm"possibly a reference to the Okeechobee (or San Felipe Segundo) hurricane of September 1928 which caused catastrophic devastation in southern Florida. Several letters contain remarks about Mina's involvement with her garden group, including a "Garden Tea" of garden-group chairmen held at Seminole Lodge, which she pronounces to be a "great success." Mina also mentions efforts to abolish the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, as well as a meeting to urge its continuance that she attended. "Everywhere good things have to be fought for, it seems," she writes.
Other topics mentioned in the letters include plans for Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to attend Edison's eighty-third birthday celebration on February 11; Mina's desire that her children attend the Edison birthday dinner in New York City sponsored by the Edison Pioneers; plans to begin manufacturing starter batteries for the Ford Motor Co.; 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); and Mina's misgivings about holding a second Edison scholarship contest, which she believed would cut too much into her husband's time. Also mentioned in the correspondence is Theodore's interest in purchasing a home in Llewellyn Park and a vacation house on Monhegan Island.
As with other letters from this period, the correspondence contains occasional references to Mina's feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and failure to live up to her own standards. Commenting about how a phone call from Cousin Edith cheered her up after returning from Chautauqua to tend to her injured husband, Mina remarks that "sunny people are indeed great blessings. . . I long to be that way but alas, I am generally the thunder cloud instead." Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center.