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Brisbane Family Papers

An inventory of their papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: KM
Date: Nov 1991

Biographical History

Albert Brisbane (1809-1890), social reformer, was born in Batavia, N. Y., the son of James and Mary (Stevens) Brisbane. He was sent to a boarding-school on Long Island, and then studied in New York City under private tutors. He traveled to Europe, where he was influenced by the ideas of Charles Fourier, the French utopian socialist. Poor health on his return to the United States in 1834 dampened his Fourierism campaign, but in 1840 he published Social Destiny of Man: or, Association and Reorganization of Industry. After striking up a friendship with Horace Greely, he began writing for the Tribune. His "hasty propaganda" gave birth to numerous experiments in Associationism, as he called his theories, the general failure of which caused a waning of interest in the whole movement. In 1876, he published General Introduction to Social Sciences containing the essence of Fourier's social theory and a translation of his History of Universal Unity. Brisbane was a highly educated man with a vigorous mind, but he failed as a social reformer because he lacked an ability to lead, as well as a realization of the practical difficulties in the way of a universal panacea for evil. He wrote with comparative ease as well as fervor, but only as object lessons in social reform have his writings survived the movement of which they were a part. [adapted from American Authors 1600-1900, (1938)]

With his first wife, Sarah White, Albert had three children, one of whom, Arthur (1864-1937), would go on to become a successful writer and newspaper editor. After completing his education in the United States and Europe, Arthur Brisbane took his first newspaper job as a reporter with the New York Sun. He went on to hold jobs as an editor at the Sun, the New York World, and the New York Evening Journal. He remained editor of the Evening Journal until 1921 and continued to write for the paper as a columnist until his death. Brisbane was known for his punchy prose style and fondness for short, blaring headlines. By the time of his death he was the highest paid newspaper writer in the world ($260,000 a year). [ Adapted from from World Authors 1900-1950, (1996)]

Born in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (1864-1922) adopted the pen name Nellie Bly from a popular song when working as a journalist for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, where she reported on issues of reform and taboo subjects such as divorce. Moving to New York, she worked for Joseph Pulitzer's World, writing dramatic exposés of working conditions, women prisoners, and other issues. She was given an assignment to travel around the world in less than 80 days, which she achieved in 1889. Her accounts of the expedition, which was undertaken by public transport, became front-page news. She worked with Arthur Brisbane at the New York World and the New York Evening Journal. [from Chambers Biographical Dictionary, (1997)]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Brisbane Family Papers are a collection of documents, mostly correspondence dated 1819 to 1965, by and about the Brisbane Family. The collection includes two accessions, which have not been integrated: the original Brisbane Family Papers and the February 2001 Addition.

The Brisbane Family Papers has been divided into three sections: items relating to social reformer Albert Brisbane (1809-1890); those of his journalist son, Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936), and his descendants; and Arthur's correspondence with Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) (1867-1922).

The Albert Brisbane documents (Box 1) include Biographical Material by Arthur E. Bestor and Brisbane's great-grandson, Michael McCrary; Family correspondence; and Writings. Family correspondence comprises the bulk of the material, and includes transcripts of letters dated 1819 to 1844 from the Cary family. Also included are letters to Albert's wife, Sarah White, and letters from Adele Le Brun Della Rocca to the Carys. The collection also contains a number of Albert Brisbane's letters to his children, and while most were written to son Arthur between 1886 and 1889, there are also a number of letters dated 1875 through 1889 to his daughter Alice. Writings include both published and unpublished material, and feature an item entitled "Biography," designated "London, June 16, '81," and two diaries (1830-32) which were written while Albert toured Italy, Paris, and Berlin. The original copies of the diaries have been restricted but are available on microfilm. In addition, there is a copy of General Introduction to Social Science (1876) to which Albert Brisbane contributed "Introduction to Fourier's Theory of Social Organization."

The Arthur Brisbane section of the Papers (Boxes 2-11) has similarly been organized into Biographical material, Correspondence, Writings, and Memorabilia. The Biographical Material includes two typescript manuscripts, "A Talk with Arthur Brisbane" by Samuel Crowther and "The Early Arthur Brisbane" by David Gray. In addition, there is a one-page travel log from 1927-1936 which outlines Brisbane's travel agenda during those years.

The Correspondence has been arranged in three categories: Family, General, and Legal. The Family correspondence (Boxes 2-5) spans 1907 through 1965, and includes over 500 letters between Arthur and his wife, Phoebe (Cary) Brisbane. Also included are letters between Arthur Brisbane and his children, as well as those with other family members. The Family correspondence continues with Phoebe Brisbane's correspondence with her children and various family members, and is followed by the Brisbane children's correspondence with their siblings and other family members. Arranged such that incoming and outgoing letters are interfiled, the relationship between parties is indicated where known. General correspondence (Boxes 5-8) encompasses both incoming and outgoing business and personal letters, and includes those of Arthur Brentano, Robert Hobart Davis, Thomas Alva Edison, Edward Filene, James Farley, Bernard Gimble, William Randolph Hearst, Fiorello LaGuardia, Mabel Dodge Luhan, John D. Rockefeller, and William Butler Yeats. Also among the General correspondence are a number of letters relating to the Boy Scouts of America. Legal correspondence (Boxes 8-9) reflects Arthur Brisbane's extensive business dealings and real estate holdings.

Writings (Boxes 9-10) include autobiographical material as well as notes, drafts and published versions of Arthur Brisbane's journalistic work. There are also writings by other family members, including that of cousin Jim Mullins, and Arthur's sister, Alice (Brisbane) Thursby.

Memorabilia (Box 10-11) includes French cartoons, children's drawings and writings, clippings about Arthur Brisbane, financial material, memo pads, photographs, report cards, and two miscellaneous items of writing by Mabel Dodge Luhan and Wendell Phillips. There are also 63 oversize scrapbooks (Oversize 1-63) which contain correspondence, newspaper clippings, writings by and about Brisbane, and other items of memorabilia.

The Nellie Bly documents (Box 12) encompass more than 60 items of correspondence dated 1907 through 1914 between Bly and Arthur Brisbane. The Nellie Bly material also includes three letters to her mother, six items of correspondence between Bly and Alice Brisbane Thursby, two letters from Arthur Brisbane in which Bly is the subject, and a few miscellaneous pieces of her correspondence. The original correspondence between Arthur Brisbane and Nellie Bly is fragile and therefore restricted, however photocopies of these documents are provided.

The February 2001 Addition to the collection comprises Biography-Interviews and notes, a Biography manuscript by Boyden Sparkes, Business correspondence, Family correspondence, Newspaper articles and editorials, material relating to biographer Boyden Sparkes, and Memorabilia.

Biography-Interviews and notes (Boxes 1-3A) consists of clippings and handwritten notes collected for a biography of the Brisbane Family. This series is arranged alphabetically by interviewee or subject. The Biography manuscript (Box 4) consists of various chapters, pages, and sections of the manuscript by Boyden Sparkes, many of which are incomplete. Business correspondence (Box 4-5) includes miscellaneous articles and editorials, fan mail, and letters arranged alphabetically by recipient. Family correspondence (Box 5) includes a letter from Seward Brisbane, letters arranged alphabetically by recipient, and letters to miscellaneous friends. Newspaper articles and editorials (Box 6) consists of a bound volume spanning 1884-1940, in addition to columns, ideas, and miscellaneous items. The Boyden Sparkes material includes letters and writings. Memorabilia contains addresses, manuscripts, photographs, postcards, writings by others, and miscellaneous items.


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.

Subject Headings


Bly, Nellie, 1864-1922.
Brisbane family.
Brisbane, Albert, 1809-1890.
Brisbane, Arthur, 1864-1936.
Brisbane, Phoebe Cary.
Brisbane, Redelia Bates.
Britton, Edward Elms, 1864-1925.
Carey family.
Della Rocca, Adele Le Brun.
Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951.

Corporate Bodies

Brook Farm Phalanx (West Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)


Journalists -- Family relationships.
Journalists -- United States.
Newspaper editors -- United States.
Publishers and publishing -- United States.
Social reformers -- United States.
Women journalists -- United States.


France -- Description and travel.
Italy -- Description and travel.

Genres and Forms

Autobiographies (literary works)
Cartoons (humorous images)


Social reformers.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Brisbane Family Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Sarah Brisbane Mellen, 1963-1973.

Table of Contents

Albert Brisbane 1809-1890

Arthur Brisbane 1864-1936

Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) 1867-1922

February 2001 addition