COLLECTION GUIDES

1884-2007; bulk: 1902-1930

Guide to the Collection

Restrictions on Access

The Oliver W. Larkin family papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or reference@poscoop.com.


Collection Summary

Abstract

This collection consists of the personal and family papers of art historian, teacher, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oliver Waterman Larkin (1896-1970), originally from Georgetown, Massachusetts, and family members, primarily his wife Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin, his aunt Bertha Mabel Larkin, and his son Peter Sydney Larkin.

Biographical Sketches

Note: The individuals most heavily represented in the collection are highlighted in bold.

Oliver Waterman Larkin (1896-1970) was an art historian, teacher, and author, originally from Georgetown, Massachusetts. His father was Charles Ernest Larkin (1872-1952), an antique dealer, and his mother was Kate Mary (Waterman) Larkin. Oliver also had a close relationship with his aunt Bertha Mabel Larkin (1868-1935), a Georgetown schoolteacher.

Oliver W. Larkin graduated from Harvard College with the Class of 1918 and served as a private in the 73rd Infantry, Company K, during World War I. He was a conscientious objector and worked in the Medical Detachment. After the war, he earned a Master of Arts degree from Harvard and, in 1925, married Ruth Lily McIntire, the daughter of Rose Margaret (Zepfler) McIntire. Oliver and Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin had one son, Peter Sydney Larkin. Oliver was a long-time art professor at Smith College and also taught at Iowa State University from 1925 to 1926. He wrote for many publications, and his book Art and Life in America won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1950, the first art history book to do so. He also wrote two other books: Samuel F. B. Morse and American Democratic Art (1954) and Daumier: Man of His Time (1966).

Peter Sydney Larkin (1926-2019), the son of Oliver and Ruth (McIntire) Larkin, was a scenic and production designer for Broadway plays and movies. He won four Tony awards for Best Scenic Design, for Ondine (1954), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1954), Inherit the Wind (1956), and No Time for Sergeants (1956), and was nominated six additional times. He married twice, first to actor Mary Ann Reeve and second to painter Racelle Strick.

Collection Description

This collection consists of the personal and family papers of art historian, teacher, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oliver Waterman Larkin (1896-1970), originally from Georgetown, Massachusetts, and family members, primarily his wife Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin, his aunt Bertha Mabel Larkin, and his son Peter Sydney Larkin. Family correspondence includes letters Oliver wrote to Ruth and Bertha while he served as a private in the 73rd Infantry, Company K, at Fort Devens during World War I, 1918-1919. Letters discuss his identification as a conscientious objector, efforts to get transferred to a non-combat role, work assisting the surgeon in the Medical Detachment, and the influenza epidemic. Many letters include sketches. Also included are later letters to Peter Sydney Larkin about his career as a Broadway stage designer and about the death and estate of Alice (Larkin) Toulmin, as well as some correspondence of Ruth's mother Rose Margaret (Zepfler) McIntire and Oliver's father Charles Ernest Larkin.

The collection also contains a number of volumes kept by Oliver, Ruth, and Bertha Larkin, including diaries, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, notebooks, poems, and plays. Oliver's volumes include a combination sketchbook, diary, and scrapbook; two other diaries, 1913-1916; copies of two published plays he illustrated by hand; a European notebook; and a volume of Christmas cards apparently designed by him. Papers related to his education at Harvard include a botany lab notebook with drawings of experiments, his diploma (Class of 1918), and his certificate of election to Phi Beta Kappa. The collection also contains original poems, plays, and notes by Larkin.

Papers of Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin include three volumes she kept as a child--an embroidery practice book, a geography notebook, and a book of illustrated original poems--as well as a European travel diary, 1930, and a recipe book. Bertha Mabel Larkin volumes consist of an autograph book with the signature of Henry Nathan Longfellow and other Georgetown High School classmates; a sketchbook; a diary, 1914-1917; and her unfinished memoirs. The collection also contains a Larkin family genealogy apparently compiled by Charles Ernest Larkin, loose biographical material about Thomas Oliver Larkin, and a scrapbook of clippings and loose clippings related to Philip Leslie Hale and other artists and performers.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Wesley and Marla Strick, January 2024.

Restrictions on Access

The Oliver W. Larkin family papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or reference@poscoop.com.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1896-1971

Arranged chronologically.

The bulk of this series consists of correspondence between Larkin family members, primarily letters between Oliver Waterman Larkin and Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin; letters from Oliver to his aunt Bertha Mabel Larkin; and letters to Peter Sydney Larkin. Also included is some correspondence of Rose Margaret (Zepfler) McIntire and Charles Ernest Larkin. A significant number of the letters are undated and filed at the end.

Correspondence sent in 1918 and 1919 consists of many letters from Oliver to Ruth and Bertha during his World War I service at Fort Devens with the 73rd Infantry, Company K. Oliver describes daily life at Fort Devens, fellow soldiers, and drilling, etc.; his religious beliefs, identification as a conscientious objector, interrogation, and successful efforts to get transferred to a non-combat role; his work assisting the surgeon in the Medical Detachment of the 73rd; and the influenza epidemic. Some of his letters include sketches, and many are undated.

Peter Sydney Larkin's correspondence includes letters from his parents Oliver and Ruth about family matters and Peter's career as a stage designer, 1943-1971, as well as letters about the death and estate of Alice (Larkin) Toulmin.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 1-9
Correspondence, 1896-1919
Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 10-12
Undated wartime letters from Oliver W. Larkin, [1918-1919]
Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 13-24
Correspondence, 1924-1971
Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 25-34
Correspondence, undated

II. Oliver W. Larkin personal papers, 1902-1930

Arranged chronologically.

This series consists primarily of volumes of Oliver Waterman Larkin, including sketchbooks, diaries, notebooks, and plays. Also included is his Harvard diploma, certificate of election to Phi Beta Kappa, military draft notice, and other papers.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 35Vol. 1
Sketchbook, diary, and scrapbook, 1902-1915

This volume is a combination sketchbook, diary, and scrapbook containing pencil sketches, 1911; a few diary entries describing a trip to Boston, 15-18 July 1913; and photographs, poems, and printed matter pasted in, 1902-1915. Included is a sketch of Abraham Lincoln, racist caricatures of African Americans, and drawings by Larkin published in newspapers.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 36
Items removed from Vol. 1
Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 37Vol. 2
Diary, 1913-1914

This pocket diary was kept by Larkin at Georgetown and Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 25 September 1913-6 December 1914, and describes his home and family life; schoolwork; social activities, including parties and plays; and his first semester at Harvard. Larkin reviewed the plays he saw and the actors' performances and illustrated scenes from them. He also performed recitations and plays himself. Included are many sketches.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 38
Items removed from Vol. 2
Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 39Vol. 3
Diary, 1915-1916Disbound volume.

This diary, kept while Larkin was a student at Harvard, 12 October 1915-19 January 1916, describes his classes, exams, social activities, plays, sports, etc. Included are many sketches.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 40-41
Personal papers, 1915-1921, undated

Included is Larkin's military draft notice, 1918, as well as miscellaneous poems, scripts, and notes, mostly undated.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 42-43Vol. 4
"Laboratory exercises in Botany I," 1916Disbound volume.

This lab notebook was kept by Larkin for his Botany I class at Harvard and includes color illustrations of experiments.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 44
"Three's Company," 1918

Included are two manuscript copies of an original one-scene play written by Larkin.

Mss. X-Large (20 June 1918)
Oliver W. Larkin Harvard diploma, 1918

Stored onsite at Mss. X-Large, 20 June 1918.

Mss. X-Large (20 June 1918)
Certificate of election to Phi Beta Kappa of Harvard, 1918

Stored onsite at Mss. X-Large, 20 June 1918, with the diploma above.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 45Vol. 5
Prunella [manuscript copy], 23 December 1918

This volume is a copy of the text of Prunella, a 1906 play by Laurence Housman and Harley Granville-Barker, handwritten and illustrated in colored pencil by Larkin as a gift for his future wife Ruth.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 46Vol. 6
Maistre Pierre Pathelin, 1919

This volume is a printed copy of the 15th-century farce Maistre Pierre Pathelin, as translated by Richard T. Holbrook, with select pages illustrated in watercolor by Larkin.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 47Vol. 7
European notebook, 1930

This notebook was kept by Larkin on a trip to Europe in 1930 and contains addresses, accounts, memoranda, and copies of artworks in watercolor and ink.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 48
Items removed from Vol. 7
Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 49Vol. 8
Christmas card designs, undated

This volume contains sample designs for small Christmas cards pasted in, apparently designed by Larkin, with prices for each.

III. Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin personal papers, 1908-1931

Arranged chronologically.

This series consists of five volumes of Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin dating from before and after her marriage to Oliver in 1925.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 50Vol. 9
Embroidery practice book, 1908

This volume contains samples of embroidery patterns worked by Larkin in kindergarten, as well as other pages of artwork.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 51Vol. 10
Geography notebook, [ca. 1911]

This volume contains exercises from Larkin's third-grade geography class at Lowell School, as well as later fragments of a story apparently in her husband Oliver's handwriting.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 52Vol. 11
"Poems," [ca. 1914-1918]

This volume contains original manuscript poems by Larkin about happiness, nature, love, and other subjects, illustrated in crayon and dedicated to her mother. Based on one poem about war, they were probably written sometime during World War I.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 53Vol. 12
European travel diary, 1930-1931

This diary was kept by Larkin in Paris, France, 31 July 1930-21 January 1931. Entries describe her daily activities, activities of her son Peter and husband Oliver, sightseeing, visits to art galleries and the theater, people she met, meals, and French lessons. Entries in November-December 1930 relate to Peter's hospitalization for croup and bronchitis.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 54Vol. 13
Recipe book, undated

Included are recipes written in other hands.

IV. Bertha Mabel Larkin personal papers, 1884-1917

Arranged chronologically.

This series consists of four volumes kept by Oliver's aunt Bertha Mabel Larkin of Georgetown, Massachusetts.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 55Vol. 14
Autograph book, 1884-1886

This volume contains signatures, poems, and sketches from family and friends in Georgetown, including Larkin's classmates at Georgetown High School. Included are messages from Larkin's brother Charles Ernest Larkin, with drawings, and Henry Nathan Longfellow, the son of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 56Vol. 15
Sketchbook, 1913

This sketchbook is mostly blank, but contains a few pages of drawings made by Larkin at Haskell Island, Maine.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 57Vol. 16
Line-a-day diary, 1914-1917

This line-a-day diary was kept by Larkin in Georgetown, 1 January 1914-20 May 1917, with gaps. Brief entries describe her daily activities and activities of family members, including her father Charles O. Larkin, her brother Charles Ernest Larkin, and her nephew Oliver; local news; her work as a schoolteacher; sewing; and volunteer work, such as making bandages, after the outbreak of World War I. The diary has no entries for 1916.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 58Vol. 17
Memoirs, undated

This volume contains an unfinished memoir by Larkin primarily describing her childhood and the Georgetown neighborhood where she grew up.

Carton 1SH 1B8LFolder 59
Items removed from Vol. 17

V. Genealogical papers, 2007, undated

This series contains a volume of genealogical notes on Larkin family members compiled by Oliver's father Charles Ernest Larkin, as well as miscellaneous loose genealogical and biographical material, including papers related to Thomas Oliver Larkin (1802-1858).

Box 1SH 1B8MFolder 1Vol. 18
Larkin genealogy, undated
Box 1SH 1B8MFolder 2
Loose genealogical papers, 2007, undated

VI. Printed material, 1910-1970, undated

This series contains a scrapbook, compiler unknown, containing clippings related to Philip Leslie Hale and other artists and performers, as well as miscellaneous newspaper clippings and other printed items. Many of the clippings also relate to Hale, who apparently sketched Ruth Lily (McIntire) Larkin.

Box 1SH 1B8MFolder 3Vol. 19
Scrapbook, undated
Box 1SH 1B8MFolder 4-5
Loose printed material, 1910-1970, undated

Preferred Citation

Oliver W. Larkin family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.

Persons:

Hale, Philip Leslie, 1865-1931.
Larkin, Bertha Mabel, 1868-1935.
Larkin, Charles Ernest, 1872-1952.
Larkin family--Genealogy.
Larkin, Peter Sydney, 1926-2019.
Larkin, Ruth Lily McIntire.
Larkin, Thomas Oliver, 1802-1858.
Longfellow, Henry Nathan, 1868-1913.
McIntire, Rose Margaret Zepfler.
Toulmin, Alice Sistare Larkin, 1879-1963.

Organizations:

Georgetown High School (Georgetown, Mass.)--Students.
Harvard College (1780- ). Class of 1918.
Harvard University--Students.
Phi Beta Kappa. Massachusetts Alpha (Harvard University).
United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 73rd. Company K.

Subjects:

Art historians.
Authors, American.
Autographs--Collections.
Botany--Study and teaching.
Christmas cards.
College teachers.
Conscientious objectors--Massachusetts.
Cookbooks.
Drawings.
Embroidery (visual works).
Family history--1850-1899.
Family history--1900-1949.
Family history--1950-1999.
Fort Devens (Mass.).
Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919.
Plays--1918.
Plays--1919.
Poetry.
Scrapbooks--1902-1915.
Set designers.
Sketchbooks.
World War, 1914-1918--Massachusetts--Ayer.
World War, 1914-1918--Medical care.
World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1914-1918--Pictorial works.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives. Drawings have been removed to the MHS Graphics Collection.