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Cobb Family Papers

A description of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 3 May 2010

Biographical History

The Cobb family was a large and important New England clan (see Philip Cobb's A History of the Cobb Family, Cleveland:1907). The main branch of the Cobb family descended from Ebenezer and Elizabeth Cobb, both of whom were descended from Elder Henry Cobb who arrived in America on the second voyage of the Mayflower. One of their eight children, Sylvanus, was born in 1798 and grew up in Norway, Maine, and it is his branch of the family that is represented in this collection.

As a young man Sylvanus showed an aptitude for journalism, and wrote poetry and prose for the Republican war party of 1812. At sixteen he converted to the Universalist faith and a few years later studied for the ministry under Sebastian Streeter. After his ordination he traveled across Maine, preaching the Universalist doctrine. Because his views opposed the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, he met with considerable hostility and was attacked in the press. He was also active in politics and served two terms in the state legislature.

In 1828, amid controversy and protest, Sylvanus became pastor of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Malden, Massachusetts. Shortly after his installment he was elected to the Massachusetts legislature where he made the acquaintance of many important politicians, including Leverett Saltonstall. This did not prevent him from pursuing his primary calling as a clergyman, and his influence within the Universalist movement continued to grow. As his reputation expanded he developed friendships with most of the major figures in the movement, especially Hosea Ballou. He attended, and was one of the leaders of, the Universalist General Conventions, speaking out vigorously in many of the debates. In 1839, while living in East Boston, he founded the newspaper Christian Freeman and Family Visitor, which under his editorship supported such causes as abolition, temperance, and of course the Universalist movement. Some of the greatest debates of the era between orthodox Calvinists and Universalists were carried on in the pages of the Freeman. Sylvanus also wrote several books, of which Compend Divinity and New Testament of Our Lord and Savior were the most significant.

Sylvanus Cobb Jr. was the eldest son of Sylvanus and his wife, Eunice Hale Waite, born in 1823. As a young man he joined the Navy, and during his service he traveled throughout Europe, building a storehouse of knowledge that would serve him well in his later career as a novelist. Soon after his marriage in 1845, he began to write short stories for his own newspaper, Rechabile, which was notable for its attacks (in the name of temperance) on President Polk, Daniel Webster and others. Later he wrote for Robert Bonner's New York Ledger. He became one of the most prolific fiction writers of his time.

On August 6, 1834, twin boys were born to Sylvanus and Eunice. Darius and Cyrus grew up in the family home near Boston and studied art, music and literature, becoming skilled enough artists that they eventually started their own portrait business. After brief service during the Civil War with the 44th Massachusetts regiment, the two men returned home and married sisters Laura and Emma Lillie. The two men took up art again, Darius concentrating on painting and Cyrus on sculpture. In time Cyrus became a lawyer with the intention of supporting his brother's artistic endeavors. After ten years as an attorney Cyrus again took up art but, although he achieved some success (most notably with his design and execution of the Cambridge Soldiers' Monument), Darius became far better known. John Greenleaf Whitter judged his painting "Christ Before Pilate" to be "the best ideal of Divine Humanity I have ever seen" and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow -- a personal friend -- headed a list of subscribers for steel plate engravings of the work. Darius also became known for his portraiture and historical pieces, particularly "Washington at Dorchester Heights."

Both twins had large families and several of their children became famous. Ernest Cobb, son of Cyrus, was a well-known educator and the author of a number of children's books, as well as One Foot on the Ground, a plea for reconsideration of the Progressive Education method. Stanwood, son of Darius, was valedictorian of his class at Dartmouth and studied at Harvard Divinity School. As a young man he traveled in Europe with Porter Sargent's Travel School for Boys, and taught at Robet College in Constantinople. Out of his experiences in Turkey grew a lifelong interest in the Near East, particularly in the Baha'i religion, which he espoused. In 1919 he founded the Chevy Chase Country Day School in Maryland and the Progressive Education Association; he became editor of a major Baha'i publication and the author of numerous books on Baha'i, mysticism, the Near East, and education.

A family tree of the Cobb family is available here (if online) or at the end of this inventory (if in hard copy). Names given in capital letters signify individuals with related material in the collection.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Cobb Family Papers consist of materials created by various members of one small branch of a very large and important New England family, and offer a window into both their careers and private lives. The papers provide valuable information on Universalism, Progressive Education, Baha'i, and the cultural history of Boston during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Span dates for the collection are 1823-1968, with the heaviest concentration in the period 1850-1955, when the main branch of the family resided in Massachusetts.

The majority of the papers relate to Stanwood Cobb and his activities as author and educator. There are also substantial sections associated with Stanwood's father Darius Cobb, a popular Boston artist, and his grandfather Sylvanus Cobb Sr., Universalist clergyman, author, and editor-publisher of his own newspaper, Christian Freeman and Family Visitor. The extensive diaries kept by Sylvanus Cobb Sr. and Darius Cobb are perhaps the most important part of the collection, of interest to cultural historians of Boston as well as to students of the history of education or religion. Other Cobb family members represented include Sylvanus Jr., Ernest, Eunice Hale Waite, and Percival B. Cobb.

The papers are divided into five sections, as follows.

The six boxes of Correspondence span more than 140 years and a wide range of topics from family matters to religion and politics.

Drawings and related material contains original artwork and sketches by Darius Cobb and his twin brother Cyrus.

Financial and legal records consists of account books, lists of subscribers for Darius' paintings, several books belonging to Stanwood Cobb recording college and other expenses, and a variety of legal documents such as mortgages and agreements.

Memorabilia, subdivided by individual, encompasses a vast range of material including clippings, Bahai material, college catalogs, diaries, drawings, genealogies, invitations, lecture notes, obituaries, photographs, and a small group of French periodicals and pamphlets.

Writings, also subdivided by individual, includes articles, books, essays, sermons, speeches and more. The bulk of this section is comprised of Stanwood Cobb's writings on Progressive Education, Bahai, social criticism, and literary subjects. Other significant items include Darius Cobb's diaries, which span more than sixty years, and his fiction and non-fiction writings.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is in chronological order. For the other series, other than their alphabetical subdivision by individual family member, there is no discernible order.


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


Cobb family.
Cobb, Cora, 1868-1960.
Cobb, Cyrus, 1834-1903.
Cobb, Darius, 1834-1919.
Cobb, Eunice Hale, 1803-1880.
Cobb, Laura Lillie, 1846-1919.
Cobb, Stanwood, 1881-1982.
Cobb, Sylvanus, 1798-1866.
Cobb, Sylvanus, 1823-1887.

Corporate Bodies

Grand Army of the Republic.
Progressive Education Association (U.S.)
Unitarian Universalist churches -- Clergy.

Associated Titles

Christian freeman and family visiter.


Antislavery movements -- United States.
Artists -- United States -- 19th century.
Bahai Faith -- History -- 19th century.
Capital punishment -- United States.
Clergy as authors.
Painting, American -- 19th century.
Progressive education.
Temperance -- Addresses, essays, lectures.


Boston (Mass.) -- History.

Genres and Forms

Account books.
Autobiographies (literary works)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Drawings (visual works)
Genealogies (histories)
Manuscripts for publication.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

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

Acquisition Information

Gift of Stanwood Cobb, 1964-1969.

Additions, unspecified, 1971-1972.

Table of Contents


Drawings and related material

Financial and legal records