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Henry A. Dickinson Papers

An inventory of his papers at the Syracuse University Archives


Creator: Dickinson, Henry A. (Henry Albert)
Title: Henry A. Dickinson Papers
Dates: 1872-1899
Size: 2 boxes (0.5 linear feet)
Abstract: Correspondence from the late 19th century between Henry A. Dickinson and family members, much of which was written while he was a student at Syracuse University
Language: English
Repository: University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Ave., Suite 600
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010


Henry Albert Dickinson (1859-1917) was a graduate of the Syracuse University Class of 1882.

Henry A. DickinsonDickinson was an influential member of the community in his hometown of Cortland, New York. He was born in the town of Cincinnatus, Cortland County, New York on July 27, 1859 to parents DeWitt C. and Polly (McGraw) Dickinson.

DeWitt Dickinson manufactured boots and shoes in a partnership with Marcus H. McGraw. As Dickinson & McGraw, the two were manufacturers as well as wholesale and retail dealers in boots and shoes based at 23 North Main Street in Cortland. His father, Eli C. Dickinson, had also been a shoemaker in Cortland County. Eli married Sophia Rockwell, whose father Ezra Rockwell came to the Cortland County Town of Taylor from Lennox, Massachusetts in 1793.

Polly Dickinson was a descendent of Samuel McGraw, who emigrated from Connecticut in 1803 and built the first permanent home in what is now McGraw, New York. Polly's mother was a Barnum, daughter of Zalmon Barnum of Vermont, who was in Cortland County by the late 1790s.

A few years after the birth of their only child, DeWitt and Polly Dickinson moved the family to the nearby town of Cortlandville in 1863. The family home, located at 51 Greenbush Street, now sits across from the present-day Cortland County Courthouse, a fitting connection to the legal career Henry Dickinson would establish as an adult.

Dickinson's first step towards pursuing a professional career would not take him far from home -- just across the street. He enrolled in the Cortland Normal School, which stood opposite the Dickinson home until it was destroyed by fire in 1919. While at Cortland Normal School, Dickinson was a member of the Young Men's Debating Club, which is now the Delphic Fraternity. He would not finish his education there, however, opting instead to enter Syracuse University in the fall of 1878.

At Syracuse University, Dickinson completed four years of the classical course, which included classes such as Latin, Greek, French, German, Rhetoric, Elocution, Psychology, English Tongue, Logic, Ancient History, History of English Revolutions, Algebra, Calculus, Trigonometry, Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Constitutional Law and Christian Evidences. Shortly after graduating from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1882, he continued his studies by returning to Cortland to study law with Judge A. P. Smith. His studies were rewarded when he was admitted to the bar on October 10, 1884 and was awarded an M. A. from Syracuse University in 1885.

With his new legal qualifications, Dickinson established his first law partnership in 1889. He joined Judge Smith, the man who taught him law, to form Smith & Dickinson, a partnership which lasted until Smith's death in 1897. Following Smith's passing, Dickinson took in Edwin Duffey to form a new legal partnership, Dickinson & Duffey.

Around this time of professional changes, Dickinson was also preparing for a new stage of his personal life. On June 1, 1899, he married Edna Elizabeth Clark, daughter of Samuel S. and Edna E. Clark of Plattsburgh, N.Y. The two had no children together.

In addition to his personal and professionals commitments, Dickinson was an active and influential member of his community for much of his life. Starting as a young adolescent, he was a member of the Presbyterian Church from 1873. In his adult years, he held a number of local government positions. He was elected a Member of the New York State Assembly from Cortland County each year from 1901 to 1904. He served as the president of the Board of Education in Cortland in 1896, and he acted as a director of the Second National Bank. He served several terms as town clerk and justice of the peace in the town of Cortlandville, and when the time came for the town of Cortlandville to grow into the city of Cortland, he helped draft the city charter.

On February 9, 1917, Dickinson was admitted to the Hospital of the Good Shepherd (now Huntington Hall of Syracuse University). An operation was performed, but he never recovered. He died at 3 o'clock on the morning of February 19, 1917. His wife, her sister, and his law partner Duffey were with him when he died. He was 57 years old, and his wife survived him by many years. The body was brought to Cortland on the 1:03 p.m. train by Undertaker R. H. Beard, and he was buried in Cortland Rural Cemetery.

Following Dickinson's death, a local paper printed a letter of appreciation from someone who knew him well. In this letter, he is described as a modest man whose remarkable abilities far surpassed his humble ambitions, whose commitment to quality work expressed itself in a strong sense of duty, and whose sensitive personality made him an invaluable friend.

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Scope and Content Note

The Henry A. Dickinson Papers comprises correspondence dating from 1872 to 1899. Most of the correspondence in this collection is between Dickinson and those closest to him: his father, DeWitt, his mother, Polly, and his wife, Elizabeth. The correspondence with his parents is dated during his college years, 1878 to 1882, while the correspondence with Elizabeth comes from 1898 to 1899, the time leading up to (and shortly after) their marriage.

The letters Henry Dickinson wrote home to his parents in Cortland, N.Y. while attending Syracuse University were transcribed in 2005 and have been included in this collection. As a student, Dickinson usually wrote home on Sundays, often stating that he had nothing to say. His letters, however, are a font of information about campus life and activities, friends and family. Much of what he mentions is supported by campus newspapers of the day, The Syracusan and The University Herald. Additional research in local Syracuse and Cortland newspapers, libraries, cemeteries, and the Internet provide explanations of the people and places he mentions and add historical context to the chatty letters home. Some of this information has been included as annotations in the transcribed letters.

This collection also includes letters from other family members, and some of the letters are exchanges between them that do not involve Henry Dickinson directly. Some of the other people featured in this collection include Aden Withey (Henry's cousin), Caroline McGraw (Polly's sister and Henry's aunt), Ida Dickinson Hall (Henry's cousin), Aruba Dickinson (DeWitt's sister and Henry's aunt), and Clark Stiles (Elizabeth and Henry's nephew).

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advance 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 University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

The Archives holds a clipping file on Henry A. Dickinson.

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Selected Search Terms


Dickinson, Henry A. (Henry Albert)
Syracuse University.


College students -- 19th century.
Student activities.
Higher education.

Types of material


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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Henry A. Dickinson Papers,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gifts of John M. Delaney in 2001 and 2005 and Ron Atkinson in 2022. Most of the collection materials were won by Delaney in an auction in 2001, which he later donated to the Archives.

Processing Information

Materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: Edward L. Galvin
Date: 2005
Revision history: Converted to EAD by Sean Molinaro, 2013.; Letter added - January 2023 (HVA)

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The items are arranged in alphabetical order.

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Box 1 Dewey, Charles O. to Dickinson, Henry A. 1880
Box 1 Dickinson, Aruba F. to Dickinson, DeWitt C. 1872
Box 1 Dickinson, DeWitt C. to Dickinson, Henry A. 1878-1882
Box 1 Dickinson, Edna Elizabeth Clark to Dickinson, Henry A. August-September 1898
Box 1 Dickinson, Edna Elizabeth Clark to Dickinson, Henry A. October-December 1898
Box 1 Dickinson, Edna Elizabeth Clark to Dickinson, Henry A. 1899
Box 1 Dickinson, Edna Elizabeth Clark to Dickinson, Henry A. undated
Box 1 Dickinson, Henry A. to Dickinson, DeWitt C. and Polly M. 1878
 Annotated transcription, 4 letters
Box 1 Dickinson, Henry A. to Dickinson, DeWitt C. and Polly M. 1879
 Annotated transcription, 7 letters
Box 2 Dickinson, Henry A. to Dickinson, DeWitt C. and Polly M. 1880
 Annotated transcription, 10 letters
Box 2 Dickinson, Henry A. to Dickinson, DeWitt C. and Polly M. 1881
 Annotated transcription, 8 letters
Box 2 Dickinson, Henry A. to Dickinson, DeWitt C. and Polly M. 1882
 Annotated transcription, 4 letters
Box 2 Dickinson, Henry A. to Dickinson, Polly M. 1877
Box 2 Dickinson, Kittie to Dickinson, Polly M. 1878
Box 2 Dickinson, Polly M. to Dickinson, Henry A. 1878-1882
Box 2 Hall, Ida Dickinson to Dickinson, Polly M. 1878, 1879, 1896
Box 2 Haven, Theodore to Dickinson, Henry A. 1880
Box 2 McDowell, Boyd to Dickinson, Henry A. 1872
Box 2 McGraw, Caroline H. to Dickinson, Polly M. 1879
Box 2 Stiles, Clark to Dickinson, Henry A. 1899
Box 2 Withey, Aden to Dickinson, Henry A. 1872
Box 2 Wilkins, Fred H. to Dickinson, Henry A. 1878

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