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An Inventory of Papers in Syracuse University Libraries

Communications & Writings

[*NYCHS Webmaster Note:
In organizing the Osborne Family papers, the finding aid groups together Correspondence, Speeches and Writings into a category called Communications and Writings. Part of the guide's description of materials in that category are the letter lists, excerpted on the preceding three pages of this web presentation -- Pages 10, 11 and 12. The excerpts below are taken from the rest of the guide's description of materials in that Communications and Writings category.]

. . . .

There are 18 letterbooks of outgoing correspondence by Thomas Mott Osborne . . . All are carbon copies roller letter impressions on lightweight paper. The first 15 volumes comprise the business and personal correspondence of Osborne between 1892 and 1906. The remaining letterbooks contain his correspondence (1898-1900) as a trustee of George Junior Republic in Freeville, N.Y. . . .

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

These papers. . . include notes, drafts, typescripts and printed speeches delivered by Thomas Mott Osborne, Lithgow Osborne, and others, mainly within the period 1895-1945. . . . 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 the recurring topics.

The distinguished career of Lithgow Osborne as U.S. State Department diplomat and New York State Department of Conservation Commissioner (those agencies' current logos are shown, above and below, respectively and respectfully) generated many of items in the Osborne Family papers collection.

Early in his foreign service career, Lithgow found himself investigating conditions encountered by prisoners but not the category of inmates with whom his father dealt at Sing Sing. Rather, these were POWs -- captured Allied soldiers -- in German camps. Before the U.S. entered WWI, Lithgow and other staffers at the American embassy in Berlin would inspect and report on the camps' compliance or noncompliance with standards for humane treatment under various international treaties and conventions.

Despite serving at top levels of government, he tended to stay out of the limelight. One of his rare moments of high visibility came in the Nobel Institute auditorium, Oslo, the afternoon of Dec. 10, 1945, when as U.S. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Norway, Lithgow accepted for the "Father of the United Nations" Cordell Hull the 1945 Nobel Prize for Peace. Osborne delivered the brief acceptance speech on behalf of the former Secretary of State who was too ill to participate personally.

While perhaps his most important work was done in the international sphere, the Lithgow legacy most blest to this day involved his conservation work in and for New York State.

For example, avid Catskill Mountains fly-fishermen who consider the Beaverkill River a sacred place credit his foresight for why the lower Beaverkill remains open to fishermen. As state conservation commissioner in the 1930s, Lithgow used a portion of fishing license fees to buy up fishing rights of private landowners along the river. The 23-mile stretch is considered the only uninterrupted public fishing water of appreciable size in the Catskills.

Conservation Commissioner Lithgow Osborne is revered for his role at the 1938 NYS Constitutional Convention where he helped thwart the private interests who sought to weaken the "forever wild" provisions concerning the Forest Preserve. Osborne later became president of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. He is counted among those who led the association during the mid-years of the 20th century in vigorous preservationist activity on behalf of the forest region.

Actually his first name was Arthur. Lithgow was his "middle" name that he came to use instead. His mother, Agnes Devens Osborne, had a brother Arthur Lithgow Devens. Their father also was Arthur Lithgow Devens whose brother (their uncle) was Charles Devens, the Civil War general and U.S. Attorney General noted on Page 9 of this web presentation.

[Image selection & caption by NYCHS webmaster]

Within this section . . . are gathered the writings of several members of the family. The 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, travelogues and verse. The materials are arranged alphabetically, first under authors' names, next by type of writing and finally by title or subject.

The major contributors are Agnes Devens Osborne, David Munson Osborne, Eliza 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 film script for The Right Way (1921) and
  • Within Prison Walls (1913),
  • Society and Prisons (1916) and;
  • the second half of Prisons and Common Sense (1924).

There are unpublished articles, film scripts and plays, as well chapter drafts of a book, variously entitled, Reforming Sing Sing and Politics and Prisons. Near completion at the time of his death in 1926, the book is an extended narrative and defense of his tenure as warden of Sing Sing Prison.

There are several diaries and journals. The diaries were kept by

  • Agnes Devens Osborne (1882-1895),
  • David Munson Osborne (1839-1856),
  • Eliza Wright Osborne (1867-1894),
  • Jane Abbey Osborne (1884),
  • Lithgow Osborne (1904-1933),
  • Thomas Mott Osborne (1877-1926),
  • David Wright (1843),
  • William Pelham Wright (1862-1863) and
  • an unidentified businessman of New York City (1846).

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 always focus on a activity or event. The writing may range over many but the theme continually reverts to a central occupation 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 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 (1914-1917), first as personal secretary to Ambassador James W. Gerard, and later as third secretary of the American Embassy in Berlin. . . .

Other works in the writings section include

  • the galley proof of There is No Truce (1935), a biography of Thomas Mott Osborne by Rudolph Chamberlain;
  • essays by convicts in Auburn and Sing Sing prisons;
  • an eyewitness account of the San Francisco earthquake and fire (1906);
  • the M-G-M 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.
The Osborne Family Inventory text ©1971 by Syracuse University Libraries
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