Collection ID:

Collection context


Curtis, George William, 1824-1892
The Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences had, over the years, received many single gifts of Curtis materials. They are governed by 48 accession numbers and were the gifts of 22 individuals and institutions. Many of these items existed in the collections of the Institute at the time that Mabel Abbott was Curator of History and Literature. It was her initiative which brought all the items together under the label of the George William Curtis Collection, resulting in an exhibition and subsequent gifts of letters, scrapbooks, paintings, and memorabilia. A major part of the most recent gifts were given by descendants and relatives of George William Curtis: Bridgham, Constance, and George William Curtis; Marian Holyoke; Mrs. William Tidball. The Institute, at the request of Miss Abbott, made a few purchases to augment the collection. These purchases were made through the Crooke Fund or through the Museum Purchase Fund. The period of time covered is from 1918 through 1967, with the greatest activity being between the years of 1949 and 1954.
15 Linear feet


Scope and Content:

The George William Curtis Collection documents the life and times of George William Curtis. The collection covers the period between 1788-1925 and contains different types of materials pertaining to Curtis. Curtis was a man of letters and was deeply interested in a variety of subjects surrounding him. The collection reflects this by compiling his letters and scrapbooks which chronical subjects such as Staten Island History, the abolitionist movement, the creation of the Republican Party, English history, and contemporary news. The collection itself is a resource for historians looking to find a greater understanding of the time before and after the Civil war, as well as those who wish to have a better understanding of George William Curtis himself. The collection also contains prints, paintings, books, manuscripts, ephemera, publications, and other material.

Biographical / Historical:

George William Curtis was born February 24, 1824 at Providence, Rhode Island, the second son of the George and Mary (Burrill) Curtis. His brother, James Burrill Curtis, had been born in 1822. He and his brother attended C. W. Green's boarding school, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Mary Burrill Curtis died in 1826; the boys were in school from 1830-35. George Curtis remarried: the daughter of Samuel W. Bridgham of Providence. At about this time the teachings of Emerson began to influence both the Curtis youths. George finished his schooling in Providence in 1839 and the family moved to New York City, where George received private tutoring. In 1840, Mr. Curtis placed George as a clerk in a German importing house in Exchange place. He was poorly suited to this and soon left. The influence of Emerson flowed into an interest in the Transcendental movement and he spent the summers of 1842 and 1843 at Brook Farm. The following years, both the brothers spent their summers studying and farming at Concord Mass, where George William became good friends with Emerson, Hawthorn, and Thoreau. From 1846 to 1850 George William traveled over Europe, Africa, and the Near East, acting as correspondent for the Courier and Inquirer in New York and had kept a journal. In 1851 he became music critic and editorial writer for the New York Tribune and published his first book, "Nile Notes of a Hawadji," and gave his first lecture. "Lotus Eating" and "The Howadji in Syria," were published in 1852, and the following year, he was editor with Parke Goodwin and Charles F. Briggs on Putnam's Weekly, and published two more books: "Potiphar Papers" and "Prue and I." In 1854, he became Editor of the Easy Chair column in "Harper's Monthly Magazine," a position he maintained the rest of his life. He married Anna Shaw, daughter of Francis G. Shaw of Staten Island, at her father's home by the Rev. John Parkman. The young couple took up residence on the island. This was also the first year in which he evidenced deep interest in abolitionism and in politics in general, campaigning for Fremont in the fall of the year. He accepted a partnership of the publishing firm of Dix, Edwards and Co., the new owners of Putnam's Monthly in 1856. In April 1857 the company failed and Curtis accepted a large indebtedness he felt morally, even though he was not legally responsible for it. It took him almost twenty years on the strenuous lecture circuit before he was able to repay the debt, and force him to forego his development as a creative author. He came through this to be considered to have been the greatest orator of his time. In 1857, his first child, a son, was born on Staten Island and the following year his novel "Trumps," was serialized in Harper's Weekly. His interest in politics grew and he became very active in the Richmond County Republican Party Organization. In 1860 he was nominated as a delegate to the national convention in Chicago where he made a speech in favor of the resolution that all men are created equal to be endorsed by the party. He became political editor of Harper's Weekly in 1863 and the following year again was delegate to the Republican National Convention where he was and ardent supporter of Lincoln and wrote the letter officially notifying Lincoln of his renomination. He was nominated for Congress from Staten Island and was defeated, as he expected to be. Curtis continued to be very active in subsequent years, and in 1868 was Elector on the Republican ticket, casting his vote for Grant. The New York Times offered him the editorship of the Times, which he refused, in 1869 and the same year he declined a nomination for the office of Secretary of State. One year later, he was Chairman of the Civil Service Reform Commission which he accepted. He resigned this by 1874, doubting the willingness of the Grant administration to support Civil Service Reform. President - Elect Hayes unofficially offered him an ambassadorship, possibly to England, which he declined after consideration. In 1880, the New York Civil Service Reform Association was founded and he in and he in attendance was elected president, a post which he kept until his death. The 1884 Republican National Convention which nominated Blaine at which he was, as usual, a delegate disappointed him. He gave his support instead to the Democratic nominee, Cleveland because he believed that Blaine would not support needed reforms. This constituted a complete break with the Republican Party, and in 1888, he supported Grover Cleveland's bid for reelection. In 1890, he was appointed Chancellor of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, which post he held at the time of his death. His last lecture on the Staten Island was delivered on Charles Sumner at the YMCA Building in Tompkinsville. His last public address, on his dear and late friend James Russell Lowell, was delivered in New York. He became seriously ill early in June 1892 and after a period of acute suffering, died at his Staten Island home on August 31st.


The collection covers many different aspects of Curtis’s life and times. The first series of the collection is composed of prints of Curtis and his family. The second series are original Paintings of Curtis and his family. The third series is composed of books by and about Curtis. The fourth series is where the bulk of the collection is maintained. This series is devoted to the boxed writings and memorabilia of Curtis. Letters between Curtis and other important people of the time are part of the first group of boxes. These letters are national in scope but also mention New York and Staten Island. In the beginning of this subseries there is also some work on Curtis Genealogy. The next subseries in the box series is devoted to manuscripts by and about Curtis. These manuscripts include the work of Staten Island Museum Archivist Mabel Abbott’s writings about Curtis and the origins of the collection. The next subseries is devoted to the scrapbooks of Curtis. These books deal with a variety of subjects including Staten Island History, News Clippings from contemporary newspapers, anti-slavery writings, the Civil War, and the reconstruction era. The Ephemera subseries is dedicated to pamphlets collected by Curtis and the Publications subseries is dedicated to printed works of Curtis. All series and subseries are arranged by date.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: a Content Standard



As noted, otherwise none.


As noted, otherwise none.

Building A
1000 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island, NY 10301, United States