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J. S. Bliss Correspondence

An inventory of his correspondence at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Bliss, J. S.
Title: J. S. Bliss Correspondence
Inclusive Dates: 1867-1882
Quantity: 48 items.
Abstract: Papers of the Wisconsin-based lecture agent and promoter who arranged for both American and European speakers to tour the American West. Includes incoming letters from social reformers, political activists, authors, journalists, and performers concerning arrangements for their lecture tours. Letters include discussions of lecture fees, subject matter of lectures, scheduling, and accommodations. Correspondents include Charles Bradlaugh, B. Gratz Brown, Jason Mason Brown, Ned Buntline, Will Carleton, Lewis Carmichael, Mrs. Edwin Hubbell Chapin, Robert Laird Collier, Russell Conwell, Charlotte Cushman, Washington Donaldson, Neal Dow, Paul DuChaillu, Volney French, Grace Greenwood, Asa Burnham Hutchinson, Judson Kilpatrick, Dio Lewis, David Locke, Olive Logan, J.E. McCarthy, John J. Pinkerton, John Wesley Powell, Abby Sage Richardson, John Ripley, John Godfrey Saxe, John Strachan, David Swing, Benjamin Franklin Taylor, George Francis Train, O.P. Whitcomb, Victoria Woodhull, and others.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

J. S. Bliss was a Wisconsin lecture agent and promoter who arranged for both American and European speakers to tour the western United States.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The J.S. Bliss Correspondence contains 47 incoming letters. Most of the letters are responses to a circular and/or business card from Bliss' North Western Lyceum Bureau urging prospective clients to allow him to handle arrangements for their speaking engagements. Among the correspondents are well-known social reformers (Charles Bradlaugh, Neal Dow, Dio Lewis, Victoria Woodhull); political activists (B.G. Brown, Judson Kilpatrick); authors (Ned Buntline, Will Carleton, Grace Greenwood, Asa Burnham Hutchinson, Abby S. Richardson, George Stevenson, G.F. Train); and journalists (D.R. Locke, Olive Logan). Bliss also represented performers of lighter sorts of entertainment, including actress Charlotte Cushman and balloonist Washington Donaldson.

The letters contain many discussions about lecture fees, which ranged from $75 per night for J.J. Pinkerton's "Sir Philip Sidney the Gentlemen" to $300 an evening for a Charlotte Cushman reading ("tickets $1.50 each"). Author Abby Sage Richardson declares (13 Apr. 1872) that she receives $100 for an evening, however she prefers to manage her own business affairs and offers Bliss a supply of her circulars. Writes Robert Laird Collier (7 Feb. 1871): "My lecture on 'The Follies of the Woman Movement' I can give at $100 every night of the month should I care to go East, but I do not wish to be so far from home now," while Victoria Woodhull suggests (29 Dec. 1873):

I will lecture in such places as you may appoint for one hundred & fifty dollars per night. I already have several engagements in Wis. at that price; or I will lecture thirty consecutive nights for one hundred dollars per night (Chicago & St. Louis excluded from both).

A few of the prospective clients ask Bliss' advice concerning appropriate subject matter for possible lectures. B. Gratz Brown (20 Sept. 1882) inquires about the feasibility of a lecture tour on prohibition, while Ned Buntline proposes (13 Apr. 1871) several topics, including "America for Americans" and "Woman as Angel and as Friend." Asked by Bliss to supply newspaper articles for advance publicity, Buntline writes (15 June 1871):

I do not send you Press notices, because I deem it beneath my position as a lecturer and writer to depend on them for calling up an audience. I am sufficiently well known to have an audience wherever I go, whether it be from curiosity to see what kind of animal I am, or from a knowledge of my capability, I cannot say. It is enough for me that it is!

Citing the discomforts of railway travel and primitive accommodations, many correspondents (Hutchinson, Lewis, Logan) ask Bliss to schedule a cluster of events in cities which are in close proximity to one another, best summed up by David Swing (14 Oct. 1876) as "$100 places and cosy of access." Two letters in particular suggest the hardships associated with a lecture tour of the 19th century American West. John Wesley Powell writes from Milwaukee during mid-tour that Bliss should not schedule any more lectures using the agreed upon terms, as he is unable to meet his expenses (4 Mar. 1872): "I shall not receive enough to pay hotel bills here." And temperance reformer D.R. Locke sends this desperate message (28 Feb. 1881):

Close up as quickly as you can. Riding all night an freight cars and being away from my business, don't pay me at $50 a day I never should have started had I got my route in time, and found the terms that you made. It don't pay me. I only started because I did not want to disappoint societies, but now that I have yielded that point and filled all that was originally arranged for cancel and stop till next fall, when a route can be made early enough to make it satisfactory. I have 156 miles to travel tomorrow for $50. And I have to get up at 5 a.m., to do it for two days. Close it up at once. I am tired, and won't do it. I have filled every point thus far, by riding nights and driving overland, but I can't do it but a few days longer.

Among the correspondence are several letters of refusal, a few of which cite an already crowded lecture schedule (Kilpatrick), poor health (Russell H. Conwell), and a reluctance to travel so far for so long (Greenwood, Collier). And while many of the lecturers admit some curiosity about the West, Benjamin Franklin Taylor (1 Nov. 1873) makes no such claim: "I cannot think of going to Minnesota. Being compelled to visit Nebraska, that is quite all the Northwestern experience I desire."

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Arrangement of the Collection

Letters are arranged chronologically.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Bliss, J. S.
Bradlaugh, Charles, 1833-1891.
Brown, B. Gratz (Benjamin Gratz), 1826-1885.
Brown, John Mason, 1837-1890.
Buntline, Ned, 1822 or 1823-1886.
Carleton, Will, 1845-1912.
Carmichael, Lewis.
Chapin, Edwin Hubbell, Mrs.
Collier, Robert Laird, 1837-1890.
Conwell, Russell Herman, 1843-1925.
Cushman, Charlotte, 1816-1876.
Donaldson, Washington.
Dow, Neal, 1804-1897.
Du Chaillu, Paul B. (Paul Belloni), 1831-1903.
French, Volney.
Greenwood, Grace, 1823-1904.
Hutchinson, Asa B. (Asa Burnham), 1823-1884.
Kilpatrick, Judson, 1836-1881.
Lewis, Dio, 1823-1886.
Locke, David Ross, 1833-1888.
Logan, Olive, 1839-1909.
McCarthy, J. E.
Pinkerton, John J. b. 1836.
Powell, John Wesley, 1834-1902.
Richardson, Abby Sage, 1837-1900.
Ripley, John, 1822-1892.
Saxe, John Godfrey, 1816-1887.
Strachan, John, 1838-1918.
Swing, David, 1830-1894.
Taylor, Benjamin F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1819-1887.
Train, George Francis, 1829-1904.
Whitcomb, O. P., 1831-
Woodhull, Victoria C. (Victoria Claflin), 1838-1927.


Commercial agents -- United States.
Lecturers -- United States.
Lectures and lecturing -- Economic aspects.
Lectures and lecturing -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
Lyceums -- United States.
Social reformers -- Correspondence.

Genres and Forms



Commercial agents.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

J. S. Bliss Correspondence
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Finding Aid Information

Created by: KM
Date: Nov 1988
Revision history: 6 Sep 2007 - converted to EAD (MRC)

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SC 58 Bradlaugh, Charles 1875 (1 letter)
SC 58 Brown, Benjamin Gratz 1882 (1 letter)
SC 58 Brown, Jason Mason 1872 (1 letter)
SC 58 Buntline, Ned 1871 (2 letters)
SC 58 Carleton, Will 1878 (1 letter)
SC 58 Carmichael, Lewis 1872 (2 letters)
SC 58 Chapin, Edwin Hubbell (Mrs.) 1873 (1 letter)
SC 58 Collier, Robert Laird 1871, 1874 (2 letters)
SC 58 Conwell, Russell Herman 1867 (1 letter)
SC 58 Cushman, Charlotte Saunders 1873 (2 letters)
SC 58 Donaldson, Washington 1872 (1 letter)
SC 58 Dow, Neal 1877 (1 letter)
SC 58 DuChaillu, Paul Belloni 1870 (1 letter)
SC 58 French, Volney 1870 (1 letter)
SC 58 Greenwood, Grace 1873 (1 letter)
SC 58 Hutchinson, Asa Burnham 1871 (1 letter)
SC 58 Kilpatrick, Judson 187? (1 letter)
SC 58 Lewis, Dioclesian 1873 (1 letter)
SC 58 Locke, David Ross 1881 (2 letters)
SC 58 Logan, Olive 1873 (3 letters)
SC 58 McCarthy, J. E. 1867 (1 letter)
SC 58 Pinkerton, John J. 1871 (2 letters)
SC 58 Powell, John Wesley 1872, 1874 (3 letters)
SC 58 Richardson, Abby Sage 1872 (1 letter)
SC 58 Ripley, John 1878 (1 letter)
SC 58 Saxe, John Godfrey 1874 (1 postcard)
SC 58 Smith, Henry 1872 (1 telegram)
SC 58 Stevenson, George 1867 (1 letter)
SC 58 Strachan, John 1875 (1 letter)
SC 58 Swing, David 1876, undated (2 letters)
SC 58 Taylor, Benjamin Franklin 1873 (1 letter)
SC 58 Train, George Francis 1870 (1 letter)
SC 58 Whitcomb, O. P. 1872 (1 letter)
SC 58 Woodhull, Victoria Claflin 1873 (1 letter)
SC 58 Miscellaneous 1867-1878 (3 letters, 1 undated fragment)

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