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Osborne Family Papers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: John Janitz
Date: Aug 1971

Biographical History

Three generations of the Osborne family are represented in this collection. There are, in addition, papers from an earlier generation of the Coffin, Pelham and Wright families. Major figures in the collection are described in the following historical sketch.

The papers of Peter Pelham (b. Dec. 18, 1785) form the earliest body of records. As a U.S. Army officer in the War of 1812, he was wounded and captured by the British, then returned to American lines in exchange for British prisoners. After the war Pelham was promoted to captain and stationed in the Florida Territory as a sub-agent for Indian affairs. Among his correspondents between 1812 and 1826 were Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Col. Henry Atkinson, who was his uncle, Col. Henry Leavenworth, and Col. Josiah Snelling. Later, as an Army recruiter, Capt. Pelham toured the Middle States and traveled the frontier from St. Louis to the Upper Mississippi. Correspondence and military orders are dated from such outposts as Camp Cold Water, St. Peters, Detroit and Prairie du Chien. Pelham married Martha Coffin, the sister of Lucretia Coffin Mott and the daughter of Nantucket and Philadelphia Quakers. They had one child, Marianna. Capt. Pelham again dispatched to the Florida Territory, died on July 10, 1826, near Pensacola.

Martha Coffin Pelham remarried in 1829. Her second husband was David Wright (b. Mar. 18, 1806), who moved from Pennsylvania as a young man and practiced law in Auburn, N.Y. There were six children from the second marriage, among them Eliza (see below); Ellen, who married William Lloyd Garrison Jr; and William, who married Flora MacMartin, a relative of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Wrights and the Coffins, and their relatives in the Mott family, were active in the movements for women's rights and abolition. Martha Coffin Wright died in 1875 and David Wright in 1897.

Eliza Wright, Martha and David's eldest daughter, married David Munson Osborne in 1851. Osborne (b. Dec. 15, 1822) was the son of John Hall Osborne and Caroline Bulkley of Rye, N.Y. When John Osborne died in 1839, David was left to support his mother, brothers and sisters. He began his business career as a clerk in a New York City hardware store. In the course of his work he met James Watrous, an Auburn storekeeper who invited Osborne to become a junior partner in his enterprise. Osborne moved to Auburn and in the following year sent for his family in Rye.

When James Watrous retired, Osborne assumed control of the store but abandoned it soon afterwards to manufacture straw cutters and corn shellers. After the business failed, Osborne moved to employment in Buffalo. As general superintendent of the Buffalo Agricultural Works, he met William Kirby, a mechanic who possessed untried patents for agricultural machinery. Soon Osborne was back in Auburn with Kirby. Their new company turned out 200 combination mowers and reapers in 1857, and in the national trials held in Syracuse that year the Kirby machine took second prize behind the winning entry of Cyrus McCormick. By 1866, having won two blue ribbons in the national trials, D.M. Osborne & Co. was solidly established, and about to distribute machines in Europe as well as America. Eventually there were offices and warehouses in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Hamburg, Paris, Odessa, Sydney and Buenos Aires.

As a Republican, David Munson Osborne took an active part in local politics, being elected alderman from 1871 to 1874 and mayor from 1879 to 1880. After his death in 1886, his wife continued to interest herself in the arts and education in Auburn. She died in 1911.

The Osbornes had four children: Emily married Frederick Harris, a banker from Springfield, Mass.; Florence, the second born, died when she was twenty-one; Thomas Mott (see below) married Agnes Devens of Cambridge; and Helen married James J. Storrow Jr., a financier in the Boston firm of Lee, Higginson & Co. All these people wrote scores of letters around the turn of the century, and the correspondence of Thomas Mott Osborne amounts to thousands of items between 1880 and 1926.

Thomas Mott Osborne (b. Sep 23, 1859), only son of Eliza and David Munson Osborne, acquired a taste for music and the theater from his mother. At Harvard he directed the orchestra and glee club and was a member of the Hasty Pudding Club. Once back in Auburn, he turned his personal recreations into service for the community by inviting troupes of actors to the city and underwriting the cost of their performances. He conducted the city's amateur orchestra, which he founded, and before the concerts he sometimes delivered lectures on the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner. Osborne was acquainted with Walter Damrosch, corresponded with Melville Clark, and on one occasion conducted the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. In spare moments he wrote closet drama. Later in life, as a prison warden, he encouraged inmates to produce musicals, while on other occasions he made them captives for one of his importations.

He performed well in his studies at Harvard, graduating with honors in 1884. The business-sense he gained from his father disposed him to be among the founders. of the Harvard Cooperative Society, but though he later kept careful accounts to survive for twenty years as a corporation executive, he detested the office of a businessman. In 1887 he assumed the presidency of his late father's company. He directed the firm until 1903 when J.P. Morgan and associates purchased factories and stock for the International Harvester Trust Co. Osborne also held the positions of president in the Auburn Iron Works and the Cayuga County Dairy Co. and vice-president in the Eagle Wagon Works and the Columbian Rope Co. He was a principal stockholder of the National Bank of Auburn and one of its directors.

In 1886 Osborne married Agnes Devens of Cambridge, Mass. They had four children, all boys: David Munson Osborne II, Charles Devens Osborne, Arthur Lithgow Osborne and Robert Klipfel Osborne. Agnes Devens died at thirty-one, a month after giving birth to her fourth child.

After losing his wife, Osborne channeled more energy into politics, philanthropy and social reform. In the first presidential election in which he had been eligible to vote he abandoned the Osborne heritage of Republicanism and the politics of James G. Blaine to support Grover Cleveland and the Democratic Party. Thereafter he was generally found among the Democrats, except for recurring intervals when his principles forced him into short-lived third parties or back to the fold of Republicans.

In 1894 he was candidate for Lt. Governor of New York on the Citizen's Union ticket. As an eastern manufacturer, Osborne bolted Bryan's plank of "Free Silver" in 1896 and 1900; but when the silver issue was dead in 1908, Osborne returned to Bryan and the Democratic Party. When the Buffalo Democratic Convention (1906) nominated William Randolph Hearst for governor, Osborne was among the "Honor-Democrats" who campaigned for the Republican, Charles Evans Hughes. With the patrician's contempt for Hearst's "hysterical journalism," Osborne denounced the publisher as a self-advertised "saviour" who played to the ignorance of the multitude while trading secretly with Tammany Hall and the trusts. Osborne went out on the stump for Hughes, who, when elected, rewarded Osborne with a seat on the Public Service Commission.

Osborne worked for the Hughes administration two and a half years, during- which he wrote two striking opinions against the New York Central Railroad. In the first case, he employed a tactic to which he reverted throughout his life: he obtained first-hand information by use of a disguise. Soon Commissioner Osborne was riding the rails in the rags of a hobo. Observing railroad procedures between New York and Albany, he perceived that the crews of heavy freights could not be reduced from six men to five without a loss of safety and that a second brakeman was essential for switching operations, especially at night.

In another decision, Osborne revealed an inclination to challenge wealth and power when they were used irresponsibly. His dissenting brief in the Buffalo, Rochester & Erie Railroad case argued against a continuation of the New York Central's monopoly along the westward route from Albany. He accepted the proposition that public service corporations confined to a small community might be maintained as "local monopolies" but he would not countenance a state-wide utility in private hands, "even with the curb of the Public Service Commission." According to Osborne, willing competitors like the B.R. & E. should not be discouraged by state agencies from challenging established monopolies. Public convenience and the state's network of transportation benefitted from sound competition.

Osborne resigned from the Public Service Commission to convene the Saratoga Conference, out of which emerged the Democratic League with Osborne as chairman. His political aspirations crested when Cayuga County put him forward as a gubernatorial candidate. He failed in the nomination of 1910 but remained with the Democratic Party. The winner and a lukewarm political ally, Governor John A. Dix, tucked him away as Forest, Fish and Game Commissioner, a post Osborne soon resigned.

Osborne was a leader of the Democratic Party of Cayuga County and a factor in New York State politics between 1905 and 1912, when he canvassed the state for Woodrow Wilson. In his first campaign for mayor of Auburn, Osborne had breathed new life into local politics. Among his achievements, he introduced new efficiency into municipal administration and won a home rule charter for the city. As Osborne left the mayor's office in 1905, he founded the Auburn Publishing Co. Through its daily newspaper, The Auburn Citizen, he extended his influence as the prod behind Democratic successes upstate. His "political dynamite," as a Harvard friend called it, pushed national issues into the background and battered the Republican steamroller to a standstill.

Concurrent with his activism in business, public administration and politics, Osborne carried a full burden of philanthropic obligations. The George Junior Republic of Freeville, N.Y., absorbed his time and money for fifteen years. The Republic accepted marginally delinquent youth and experimented with the honor system, paid labor and self-government to guide its "citizens" away from new brushes with the law.

In 1896 Osborne was a trustee and later was elected President of the Board. From this station he was able to translate into action his theories on education and citizenship. An indication of the mutual trust which tied "Uncle Tom" to the young who gave him the nickname was the heavy correspondence he maintained with them after they left Freeville. Osborne followed many a career with counsel and cash. At least three of the brightest young men Osborne spotted at the Republic were financed through prep schools and then, like his own sons, sent on to Harvard. It was much the same later with convicts whom he befriended, for his work at the George Junior Republic led to a concern for inmates of the state's prisons.

In 1913 Osborne was appointed chairman of the New York State Commission on Prison Reform. He cast about for a device to excite the public imagination and turned to his old tactic. In the guise of a sentenced criminal, Osborne had himself incarcerated in Auburn Prison as "Tom Brown-33333." A book-length account of his ordeal and that of the men forgotten there, Within Prison Walls (1913), created a sensation. The power of the state was committed to his reforms, and the politicians would have to give way. Osborne began to prune his interests in the field of Progressive reform in order to concentrate his energies in the service of an enlightened penology.

With Warden Charles Rattigan at Auburn, Osborne organized a self-governing body of convicts within the prison. The Mutual Welfare League, as it was called, took over large shares of prison management after an election of officers among the prisoners.. Old timers held their breath as Osborne spun out his theories. According to Osborne, the "old system".had crippled men by telling them when to move or speak; the "new system" loosened the lockstep of prison regime and prepared a man to live in freedom without being a threat to society. For too long, prisons had been "nurseries. of crime" where society retaliated against the "criminal type." Osborne rejected "bad seed" theories and proposed to cultivate the positive human instincts implanted in every man. On a few occasions Osborne was betrayed by a man in his custody, but for a decade in a handful of prisons he broke the cycle of revenge between society and the convict. The function of state prisons was "not revenge but education." The Mutual Welfare League became a school of reformation inside the walls, and an "outside branch" was to help parolees secure jobs. Otherwise, three out of every five men who left prison would return, convicted of a new crime.

A corollary of Osborne's doctrine of developing social responsibility was his active opposition to capital punishment. A scientific basis was lacking for the claim that fear of execution deterred major crimes and, in Osborne's opinion, the death sentence was proof of the system's ethic of reprisal.

Osborne wanted fundamental changes in the judicial structure to incorporate the "indeterminate sentence." This idea demanded the ultimate flexibility on the part of the state. In essence, it provided that men who were ill-equipped to function in society would not be released at the end of a fixed term, which was determined by the crime and not the evolving attitudes of the criminal. By the same token, a reformed man should not be required to go stale in prison until his sentence expired:

The whole of criminal legal procedure and prison government must be recast and should consist of two kinds of court. First, courts of condemnation, whose duty is to ascertain whether a given man had done a particular act. If so the man must receive an indeterminate sentence. And, second, courts of Release, Commissioners or Experts, whose duty shall be to decide when and whether it is safe to let the criminal out.

In December, 1914, Osborne began to implement some of his ideas as the new warden of Sing Sing Prison at Ossining, New York. His administration produced mixed results. A profound change occurred inside the prison as conditions leading directly to physical and psychological breakdowns were immediately attacked. Judging by the transformation of spirit which followed, the Sing Sing chapter of the Mutual Welfare League bore out Osborne's theories about tapping the good will of convicts. But outside the prison Osborne ran into a wall of obstruction. The Westchester County machine, which had counted the wardenship among its plums of patronage, regarded Osborne, the upstate reformer, an alien twice over. Other wardens and high administrators in the New York prison system were out of sympathy with his moral agitation, and a chorus within the press never let him off for "sentimental coddling." In this atmosphere political enemies plotted to defame Osborne before having him removed from office.

Late in 1915 Warden Osborne was summoned into court on trumped-up charges. The Westchester Grand Jury indicted him, but the absurdity of the charges was manifest when Judge Arthur S. Tompkins dismissed the case in mid-trial without hearing the case for the defense. Sing Sing celebrated the return of its warden, but though Osborne had been vindicated, the allegations remained fastened to his reputation. The atmosphere between Ossining and Albany turned sour. Osborne hung on till October, 1916, when, in an open letter of resignation, he blasted away at Governor Whitman for his lack of resolution and principle:

But I do so desire to influence the future, so far as I may, to the end that no man so weak as yourself, so shifty, so selfish, so false, so cruel, may be trusted with further power.

Osborne's effective service at Sing Sing amounted to little more than sixteen months. With George W. Kirchwey, Harry Elmer Barnes, Samuel A. Eliot and others, Osborne continued to advocate the cause of penal reform, but through private agencies. At the same time, Osborne sent out inquiries to Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania and elsewhere for another job as warden.

While many avenues of Progressive reform were barred by the advent of World War I, Osborne was offered, through the good offices of his friend, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the wardenship of the U.S. Naval Prison in Portsmouth, N.H. Political mountebanks, hard-line penologists and a few ranking navy men received Lt. Cmdr. Osborne's unsparing criticism when they interfered with his program at the naval stockade, but at Portsmouth Osborne had the counsel and backing of the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and his assistant, Roosevelt. Osborne's work at the Naval Prison was thus a success, despite the anticipated obstruction. It might also be noted that Osborne ushered in his mission to Portsmouth with a hitch in the Navy as "Landsman Tom Brown." By design, Brown served a stretch in the brig and had his enlistment cut short by a dishonorable discharge.

After leaving Portsmouth Osborne redoubled his efforts through private agencies and led a column of the Progressive drive deep into the Twenties. He was honorary chairman of the National Committee on Prisons, president of the New York State Prison Council, and chairman of the National Society of Penal Information. His practical efforts gave temporary relief to the people with whom he had personal contact, and the societies he founded continue to function. The National Society of Penal Information, the Welfare League Association and the Osborne Association banded together in 1932 under the name of the last agency. With headquarters in New York City, the Osborne Association continues to provide ex-prisoners with lodging, job information and social services which are calculated to discourage recidivism. At the same time, the Association provides information to active penologists in an effort to raise the nation's correctional standards.

During his life Osborne routinely collided with entrenched ignorance. At times he was close to despair: "It is no use talking, the politicians are too strong for us." Soon he would recover his former zest. Based upon Osborne's personal inspection of more than thirty prisons in the Twenties, reports were published on prison conditions in the United States, Britain and Greece. His film, The Right Way, enabled him to tour the country to spread the message of prison reform.

On the lecture circuit in Nashville six months before his death Osborne summed up his program:

Now what I have been trying to get at in my life-time is that in the vast majority of instances a prisoner is bound to take his place again in society. He can either be prepared for that obligation in a manner that will deter him from being a future menace, and make him a useful member, or he can be so treated during his incarceration that when he gets out again he will be a positive evil and tenfold more troublesome than before. My position on the problem is that criminals are prepared for a return to society neither by brutality and harshness, nor by sentimental, slushy treatment. My program has been to find out what good qualities• the prisoner has and to work on those qualities until his point of view toward life has been changed.

Thomas Mott Osborne died on October 20, 1926, while returning home from an evening at the theater.

Lithgow Osborne (b. Apr. 2, 1892) was the third son of Thomas Mott Osborne. When he was in the middle of his senior year at Harvard, Joseph C. Grew snapped him up for an assignment in the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. That was 1914, when American overseas staffs were expanding rapidly to deal with the repercussions of the European War. As private secretary to Ambassador James W. Gerard, and later as third secretary of the embassy, Lithgow Osborne was plunged into the diplomatic and social life of wartime Germany. His journals recount the excitement and the routine between 1915 and 1917. Shortly before President Wilson broke relations with Germany, Osborne was transferred to the American Legation in Havana. Because of his familiarity with European affairs he was soon returned to the Continent as Secretary of the American Legation in Copenhagen. There he met Countess Lillie Raben-Levetzau, whom he married. They had three sons: Richard, Lithgow Devens and Frederick Raben-Levetzau.

After the Paris Peace Conference Osborne returned to Washington, D.C. He worked within the State Department for a few years but resigned to cut a new career as a publisher. At Harvard Osborne had excelled in English and been elected to the Crimson. In 1922 he became the vice-president and editorial writer of the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser. A decade later he was back in government when Governor Herbert H. Lehman appointed him Commissioner of Conservation. After another ten years he departed Albany for Washington and a desk in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Late in the war, when Lehman was shaping the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), Osborne joined his staff. A little later, President Roosevelt made Osborne. Ambassador to Norway, a post he held until May, 1946.

For several years after his return from Oslo Lithgow Osborne was chairman of the board of trustees for the American-Scandinavian Foundation. In 1954 he helped draft the original Declaration of Atlantic Unity, which was both a statement of purpose and an agency designed to bolster the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A second Declaration of Atlantic Unity (1962) was sponsored by 270 American and European statesmen, some of whose correspondence is present in the collection.

Non-correspondence materials in the collection mostly relate to members of the Osborne family who have been described here, but there is an abundance of letters from other relatives and business acquaintances. A list of important correspondents is found in the description, which follows, and the accompanying genealogical charts will help in the identification of secondary figures in the family.

Genealogical charts:

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Osborne Family Papers consist of correspondence and private records of the Osborne family and related branches of the Coffin, Devens, Garrison, Harris, Mott, Pelham, Storrow, Wright and Yarnall families. The bulk dates of the papers are 1812-1968, with a concentration in the period 1880-1925. Auburn, New York, has been the Osborne family home since the early nineteenth century. Relatives whose correspondence is well represented among the papers also resided in Boston, Cambridge, and Springfield, Mass., and Philadelphia, Penn. Genealogical charts have been prepared (see end of Biographical History section); while they are not meant to be comprehensive, the charts will assist in identifying members who figure prominently in the correspondence.

The major contributor to the collection was Thomas Mott Osborne. He accumulated approximately half the papers in the course of a career in business, education, politics and penology. Other contributors include Peter Pelham, frontier army officer, David Wright, New York lawyer, David Munson Osborne, manufacturer of harvesting machinery, and Lithgow Osborne, diplomat, conservationist and foundation executive.

There are in excess of 150,000 letters, telegrams and postcards; with few exceptions the letters are arranged in chronological order. Correspondents include authors, bankers, businessmen, U.S. cabinet officers, churchmen, civil service employees, congressmen, convicts, diplomats (both American and European), educators, state governors, inventors, journalists, lawyers, musicians, politicians, publishers, U.S. presidents, reformers of every stripe and students. Particularly noteworthy are 80 letters from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1910 to 1932) not counting those of his wife Eleanor; several hundred from Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (1917 to 1920); Katrina Trask, who endowed Yaddo, a writers' colony in Saratoga Springs; Attorney General Charles Devens (1873 to 1891); and tens and scores from Lucretia Coffin Mott (1835 to 1875), George Foster Peabody (1903 to 1926), Christian A. Herter (1923 to 1966), Louis M. Howe (1912 to 1924), German General Ludwig Klipfel (1890 to 1915), Herbert H. Lehman (1901- 1963), Gerrit Smith Miller (1898 to 1926), Alfred E. Smith (1918 to 1928), Oswald Garrison Villard (1896 to 1913); a handful from frontier generals Henry Atkinson and Henry Leavenworth (1812 to 1822); and one by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1926).

Non-correspondence materials include account books, diaries and journals, institutional files, legal documents, photographs, speeches and the manuscript versions of published and unpublished writings. The papers comprise a range of subjects; among them, manufacturing, anti-imperialism, abolition, the social life and customs of Auburn, N.Y., the Auburn Barge Canal Project, Auburn Prison, campaign literature on the local, state and national levels, capital punishment, Cayuga County social life and customs, the Civil War, the Colorado State Penitentiary, conservation, convict labor, Creek Indians, crime and criminals, the Declaration of Atlantic Unity, the Democratic Party, disarmament, diplomacy, World War I, frontier and pioneer life in the American South and West, the George Junior Republic, gold mining in California, Harvard University, the International Harvester Trust Company, lawyers, the League of Nations, municipal government, music, the Mutual Welfare League, NATO, Norway and Norwegians, D.M. Osborne & Company, paroles and pardons, the Philippine Islands, Portsmouth Naval Prison, N.H., the Prison Association of New York, prisoners of war, probation, the Public Service Commission of New York, sawmills, Sing Sing Prison, Tammany Hall, temperance, travel, UNRRA, the U.S. Army, the War of 1812, Wells College, women's rights, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

To guard against disorientation in a collection of this scope, the materials have been organized into five major groups, then subdivided by type of document or subject. Within the various sections items are organized either chronologically or under proper names which are alphabetically arranged. The five groups are: (I) Communications & Writings, (II) Organization Records, (III) Financial Papers, (IV) Legal Records, and (V) Memorabilia. The major groups and their subdivisions are as follows:

Individual folders in the collection are fully labeled, beginning with the collection name followed by the category/ies and if applicable the names of individuals or organizations and the inclusive dates. For example:

Osborne Family Papers > Communications and writings > Correspondence > Smith, John 1877-1883

Osborne Family Papers > Financial records > Record book > D.M. Osborne & Co. Board of directors minutes 1875-1912

I. Communications and writings

A wide range of materials is located within this group: correspondence, speeches and sermons, diaries, journals and a number of writings prepared for publication or entertainment.

A. Correspondence

Letters, telegrams and postcards are arranged in chronological order, down to the month (Boxes 1-205). The correspondence opens in 1812 and closes in 1968. There are few gaps of more than one month's duration after 1842, and the correspondence is particularly heavy between 1880 and 1925.

Incoming and outgoing correspondence is interfiled. Carbon copies of business correspondence are often stapled to the incoming letter to which they explicitly refer whenever the dates of incoming and outgoing business correspondence are less than thirty days apart. Thus, the carbon of an outgoing letter by Thomas Mott Osborne, dated 1907 Apr 27, is attached to the incoming letter sent by G.S. Pierson, dated 1907 Apr 23.

Letters which could be dated down to the year, but not the month, are located in a "General" folder, which precedes the monthly folders of a given year. Correspondence which cannot be dated is arranged alphabetically under the name of the sender (Boxes 206-207). A folder of unidentified correspondence is included in Box 207.

There are eighteen letter books of outgoing correspondence by Thomas Mott Osborne (Boxes 208-225). All are carbon copies or roller letter impressions on lightweight paper. The first fifteen volumes comprise the business and personal correspondence of. Osborne between 1892 and 1906. The remaining letter- books contain his correspondence (1898-1900) as a trustee of the George Junior Republic in Freeville, N.Y. Each letter- book contains its index of correspondents.

The last box of correspondence (Box 226) holds transcriptions of letters sent home by William Morris Davis during a world tour. He was a companion of Thomas Mott Osborne during their travels in 1877-1878.

The genealogical charts (see end of Biographical History section above) may be of assistance in identifying correspondents of all periods. The names of principals who figure in the correspondence are written in upper case letters. Birth, death and marriage dates have been provided whenever available, as well as nicknames and initials of correspondents who signed in the familiar form. A complete list of initials and nicknames is available at the repository. A card index, which was maintained by Thomas Mott Osborne and Lithgow Osborne, is available in Box 323. From it may be obtained the names and addresses of recurring correspondents and, occasionally, notes on the business conducted between these correspondents and the Osborne family.

B. Speeches

These papers (Boxes 227-232) include notes, drafts, typescripts and printed. speeches delivered by Thomas Mott Osborne, Lithgow Osborne, and others, mainly within the period 18951945. There is also a reminiscence delivered by David Wright in the 1880's on farming in Pennsylvania during the 1820's. The materials are arranged under the names of speakers, in alphabetical order, then by title or general subject, also alphabetically arranged. New York politics and prison reform are the recurring topics.

C. Writings

Within this section (Boxes 232-254) are gathered the writings of several members of the family. Items include articles and essays, books (both fiction and non-fiction, whether published or unpublished), editorials, diaries, film scripts, journals, notes, plays, reminiscences, reviews, short stories, travelogs and verse. The materials are arranged alphabetically, first under authors' names, next by type of material, and finally by title or subject. The major contributors are Agnes Devens Osborne, David Munson Osborne, Eliza Wright Osborne, Lithgow Osborne, Thomas Mott Osborne -- all of whom have diaries here -- and various inmates of Auburn, Portsmouth, and Sing Sing prisons.

A substantial part of this section is taken up by the writings of Thomas Mott Osborne. The materials are in draft and printed form. Among his published works found here in various stages of draft are the articles and essays "Prison efficiency" (1915), "The prison of the future" (1917), and "Prison reform" (1915); a serial narrative, "The tale of a green duck on the Susquehanna" (1910), a discursive essay which sometimes dips into New York politics and newspaper wars; the script for the film "The right way" (1921); and three books, Within Prison Walls (1913), Society and Prisons (1916), and the second half of Prisons and Common Sense (1924). There are several unpublished articles, film scripts, and plays, as well as chapter drafts of a book, variously titled "Reforming Sing Sing" and "Politics and Prisons." Near completion at the time of his death in 1926, the latter is an extended narrative and defense of his tenure as warden of Sing Sing Prison.

There are several diaries and journals. The diaries include those of Agnes Devens Osborne (1882-1895), David Munson Osborne (1839-1856), Eliza Wright Osborne (1867-1894), Jane Abbey Osborne (1884), David Wright (1843), William Pelham Wright (1862-1863), and an unidentified businessman of New York City (1846). The two vest pocket diaries of William Pelham Wright record his experiences as an artillery lieutenant from the Peninsular Campaign to Gettysburg, where he was wounded.

Journals are here distinguished from diaries in that they are often transcribed, do not form units coinciding with the beginning and end of the calendar year, and focus on a special activity or theme. The writing may range over many topics, but the theme continually reverts to a central occupation, such as travel or diplomacy, and the journal closes with the termination of that activity. The travel journals were written by Eliza Wright Osborne and another unidentified member of the family on trips through the American West between 1871 and 1880; by Thomas Mott Osborne on European, Caribbean, and world tours (1877-1884); and by Lithgow Osborne on journeys to Australia and Norway (1944-1946). There is also a 63-page journal by David Munson Osborne II, on leaving Paris for the United States in August and September of 1939. Some journals cover a shorter period, such as that of David Wright for March, 1828. The most extended are those of Thomas Mott Osborne as head of D.M. Osborne Company (1891-1896), and Lithgow Osborne (191417), first as personal secretary to Ambassador James W. Gerard, and later as third secretary of the American Embassy in Berlin. The journal of Lithgow Osborne includes incoming and outgoing letters which supplement his day-to-day reporting of embassy activity between 1914 and 1917.

Other works in the writings section include the galley proof of There is No Truce (1935), a biography of Thomas Mott Osborne by Rudolph W. Chamberlain; essays by convicts in Auburn and. Sing Sing prisons; an eyewitness account of the San Francisco earthquake and fire (1906); the MGM film script for Osborne of Sing Sing (1939); annotated scripts used by the Hasty Pudding Club at Harvard (1883-1884); articles on prison life and penal systems by a number of reformers and convicts; and miscellaneous compositions by members of the Osborne family.

II. Organization records

All government, fraternal, social and institutional records, are located within this group. The materials include agendas, constitutions and by-laws, directives, membership lists, memoranda, minutes, reports, printed materials and scrapbooks. The records of prisons and prison societies are filed separately at the end of this group.

A. General

All government, fraternal, social and institutional records, other than prison records, are located in this section (Boxes 254-267). The papers are filed alphabetically under the names of organizations, then alphabetically by type of record. Within folders items are filed in chronological order.

Among the papers are records of federal, state and municipal agencies of government. There are special orders and memoranda exchanged between the U.S. War Office and Capt. Peter Pelham between 1814 and 1822. The subjects relate to Indian affairs, stolen slaves, army recruiting and frontier settlement from St. Augustine, Fla., to the Upper Mississippi in the present Wisconsin. Diplomatic papers are filed. under the heading, U.S. Department of State. All were collected by Lithgow Osborne, who served in American embassies and legations in Berlin (1914-1917), Havana (1917), Copenhagen (1917-1919) and Oslo (1944-1946). Other papers in this category relate to his service with the American Peace Commission in Paris (1919), the Arms Limitation Conference in Washington (19211922), the Office of Strategic Services (1942-1944), the Atlantic Council of the United States (1955-1967) and the Declaration of Atlantic Unity (1956-1967). Of the diplomatic papers in this collection, the largest single gathering derives from Mr. Osborne's work in Berlin during the First World War. The records include copies of dispatches, memoranda of conversation with German officials (some in the German language) and reports on conditions in prisoner-of-war camps. As with other organization records, these papers are supplemented by letters in the correspondence section, journals in the writings section, miscellaneous items in the financial records group and photographs located under memorabilia.

New York State records were accumulated by Thomas Mott Osborne and his son, Lithgow. They served in elected and appointed office between 1903 and 1942. Among the papers are records of the state commissions on crime, prisons, and public utilities, the departments of conservation and correction, and the New York National Guard.

There is an extensive file which chronicles municipal government in Auburn, N.Y., where David Munson Osborne, Thomas Mott Osborne and Charles Devens Osborne -- father, son and grandson -- were elected to the office of mayor. The topics include charter revision, police and fire protection, municipal finance, street railways and the water board.

Among the political, social, fraternal, charitable and educational institutions represented are the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the Auburn Beethoven Club, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, the George Junior Republic, for which there is an extensive file between 1896 and 1932, the League of Nations Non-Partisan Committee, the National Conference of Social Work, the Osborne School, Wells College in central New York, the Women's Educational and Industrial Union of Auburn, and the Yaddo reservation at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

B. Prisons

The records of Auburn and Sing Sing prisons, and those of the Portsmouth Naval Prison constitute the bulk of this section (Boxes 268-278). Privately instituted and supported prison reform societies are also located in this section, among them, the Mutual Welfare League, the National Committee on Prisons, the Prison Association of New York, and the Prison Discipline Society. There are several reports prepared by the National Society of Prison Information on conditions in major prisons of the United States between 1920 and 1925.

III. Financial records

The financial papers are divided between corporate and private records, The materials are arranged in alphabetical order under the name of a person or company, then by type of record. Items include audits, bills and receipts, insurance policies, inventories, ledgers, minutes of board meetings, stock certificates, trust accounts and wage books. Loose materials are arranged chronologically within folders.

A. Corporate

The several firms represented in this section (Boxes 278284) include the Auburn Iron Company, the Auburn National Bank, the Auburn Publishing Company, the Auburn Savings Bank, the Buffalo Transparent Products Company, the Ellis Adding-Typewriting Company, D.M. Osborne & Company and the Osborne Hotel. The larger part of the records date from the period 1890-1910, with a handful of earlier records, such as the executive minutes of the Steam Saw-Mill Association, Manhattan Island (1824-1825), the accounts of Capt. Peter Pelham (1806-1826) and the receipt book of New York building contractor Ferris Pell (1824-1827). There is also a fine broadside, in color and dating from about 1875, which illustrates a variety of binders and reapers sold by D.M. Osborne & Company.

B. Personal

The family members whose financial papers appear in quantity include Thomas Mott Osborne, Lithgow Osborne and David Munson Osborne (Boxes 284- 294).

IV. Legal records

Legal records (Boxes 294-299) are arranged in alphabetical order under individual or corporate names then by type of document, also arranged alphabetically. Items include affidavits, contracts, deeds dating from 1808, guardianship papers from the eighteenth century, leases, mortgages, patents and wills of the Osborne family and the clients of David Wright. Court suits (Boxes 300-314) are filed together at the end of this group.

A. General

Many of the legal papers come from the files of David Wright and pertain to the sale of patents for farm machinery. Wright was on retainer for inventor William A. Kirby and businessman David Munson Osborne as their firm moved to the front rank in manufacturing. Several documents trace real estate transactions of the Osborne and Wright families in Cayuga County, N.Y. Among the corporate bodies represented here are the Auburn Gas Company, the Dolphin Point Association, the East Genesee Street and Seward Avenue Railway, the George Junior Republic, the Lake Ontario, Auburn & New York Railroad, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the New York, West Shore & Buffalo Railway, the New York Telephone Company, the Lippincott Publishing Company and the Owasco Valley Oil Company. Among the curiosities are a draft petition (ca. 1843) addressed to the New York State Legislature from a county Temperance Society, the indenture for an apprentice cordwainer in Massachusetts (1794), a will dating from 1778, a plan of Silas Kirby's land in Dartmouth, N.H. (1786), warrants for school taxes (1822), a deed of New York City property signed by Thomas Ludlow Ogden (1824), a sharecropping agreement in Putnam County, Fla. (1878) and miscellaneous papers on real estate holdings of the Swan family (1809-1842).

B. Suits

Court suits are arranged alphabetically under the name of a case, expressed as Plaintiff v. Defendant. There is a complete trial record of New York v. Osborne, with supporting documents for the defense. There are also several affidavits, briefs and trial transcripts for litigation pleaded by David Wright in behalf of David Munson Osborne. Patent rights were generally at issue in these cases.

V. Memorabilia

Memorabilia are divided into three sections: general; genealogies; and photographs. The materials, which include non-manuscript items such as engraving plates and phonodiscs are organized under individuals' names, alphabetically arranged, then subdivided by type.

A. General

This section (Boxes 315-344) contains papers and objects derived almost exclusively from the main branch of the Osborne family. Among the items are address books, appointment books, biographical data, book orders, commissions to appointive office, diplomas, guest lists, invitations, itineraries, medals, membership cards, newspaper clippings, notebooks, obituaries, political ephemera, school records, scrapbooks, transcripts of interviews and visas. One notable item is the scrapbook maintained by Lithgow Osborne during his years in the American Embassy in Berlin (1914- 1917). In it are notes and letters from Walter Hines Page, James W. Gerard and Robert Lansing.

B. Genealogies

The genealogies (Boxes 344-346) trace the lineage of the Osborne family and related branches back to the seventeenth century. The materials are organized under the name of family heads and include notes, charts and searches, both bound and unbound. Several family trees are also available (see Biographical History section, above).

C. Photographs

There is an extensive collection of unmounted photographs (Boxes 346-358). As with the assortment of general memorabilia, the photographs are mostly of the Auburn branch of the Osborne family. Other subjects include the George Junior Republic, Sing Sing Prison, agricultural machinery, travel in. Europe and the Carribean and German prisoner-of-war camps during World War I. There are autographed photos of Lucretia Coffin Mott and Charles Evans Hughes Nine albums and one box of glass negatives are located at the end of this section.

Bound volumes and oversize materials

Bound volumes, such as notebooks, published works and ledgers, are numbered consecutively throughout the collection and recapitulated at the end of the Shelf List. Oversized items, also numbered consecutively at the end of the Shelf List, are situated at the end of the boxed collection. Dummy folders for the oversized packages have been placed among the boxed papers.

Arrangement of the Collection

See Scope and Contents above.

Other Related Finding Aids

Several additional lists are available in the finding aids file, including:


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.

Material relating to W. R. George restricted until 2020 at the request of Lithgow Osborne.

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


Daniels, Josephus, 1862-1948.
Devens, Charles, 1820-1891.
Herter, Christian Archibald, 1895-1966.
Howe, Louis M. (Louis McHenry), 1871-1936.
Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963.
Mott, Lucretia, 1793-1880.
Osborne family -- Genealogy.
Osborne family.
Osborne, David Munson, 1822-1886.
Osborne, Lithgow, 1892-1980.
Osborne, Thomas Mott, 1859-1926.
Peabody, George Foster, 1852-1938.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945.
Smith, Alfred Emanuel, 1873-1944.
Trask, Katrina, 1853-1922.
Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949.
Wright, David Minton, 1809-1863.
Wright, Martha Coffin, 1806-1875.

Corporate Bodies

Democratic Party (N.Y.)
George Junior Republic (Freeville, N.Y.)


Capital punishment.
Philanthropists -- United States.
Prison reformers -- United States.
Prison wardens -- New York (State)
Prisoners -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- New York (State)
Social reformers -- United States.
Suffragists -- United States.
Upper class -- United States.
Women's rights.


Auburn, N.Y. -- History.
Cayuga County (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs.
New York (State) -- History.
New York (State) -- Officials and employees.
New York (State) -- Politics and government.
United States -- Foreign relations -- 1913-1921.
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century.

Genres and Forms

Account books.
Financial records.
Letter books.
Speeches (documents)


Prison reformers.
Social reformers.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

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

Table of Contents

Communications and writings

Organization records

Financial records

Legal records