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Alexander T. Stewart papers
mssSAT 1-161  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administration Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Arrangement
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Alexander T. Stewart papers
    Inclusive Dates: 1859-1876
    Bulk Dates: 1871-1876
    Collection Number: mssSAT 1-161
    Creator OR Collector: Stewart, Alexander Turney, 1803-1876
    Extent: 162 letters plus photographs and ephemera in four boxes
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Manuscripts Department
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: The collection consists of letters that Alexander T. Stewart received from strangers requesting financial help, jobs, loans, or other forms of assistance. The majority of the letters are dated 1871 to March 1876.
    Language of Material: The records are in English.

    Administration Information


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Alexander T. Stewart papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased from M & S Rare Books, October 2006.

    Biographical Note

    Alexander Turney Stewart, an Irish American entrepreneur and philanthropist. Stewart was born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, to a Protestant family. Stewart graduated from Belfast Academical Institution, and in 1818 left for New York. There he was hired as a tutor at Isaac N. Bragg's Academy, and jointed the Rev. Edward Mitchell’s Episcopal Church. There he met his future wife Cornelia Mitchell Clinch, the daughter of a wealthy ship chandler. They were married on October 16, 1823. On September 1, 1823, Stewart opened his first store, located at 283 Broadway. His business grew rapidly, in large part due to skillful advertising. In 1848, Stewart moved to his famous new building, the Marble Palace at 280 Broadway. The establishment, one of the earliest department stores, made A.T. Stewart & Co. one of the top American retailers. In the 1850s, he also opened a store on “Ladies’ Mile," on Broadway and Sixth Ave. In 1862, Stewart’s “true” department store, the Iron Palace, was completed. The impressive cast-iron building occupied a large part of the city block from Broadway and Ninth to Tenth Street and Astor Palace; the store’s nineteen departments sold everything from dress goods to toys. Stewart also established one of the first mail-order businesses in the country. In 1868, he started offering his female customers outside New York City mail order purchases. Stewart's success gained much attention, and other big retailers adopted his practice.
    In 1869 and 1870, Stewart built the first of the grand Fifth Avenue mansions. Stewart also succeeded in establishing his own manufacturing plants, textile mills located in New York and New England. He also began the construction of Garden City, at Hempstead Plains, Long Island, with the purpose of providing his employees with healthy housing at a moderate cost. Stewart was an active philanthropist, contributing to various humanitarian causes, including the relief for the victims of the Great Irish Famine, the United States Sanitary Commission, and the survivors of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.


    Arranged chronologically. Box 1: 1859-1871, April; Box 2: 1871, September-1874; Box 3: 1875, January-October; Box 4: 1875, November-1876, undated and ephemera.

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists of letters that Alexander T. Stewart received from strangers requesting financial help, jobs, loans, or other forms of assistance. The majority of the letters are dated 1871 to March 1876.
    Correspondents include Civil War veterans, immigrants, charities, disabled persons (including children) seeking assistance with medical expenses, etc. There are letters from Civil War veterans; Western farmers devastated by the Grasshopper Plague of 1874; loans requests from men and women trying to set up their own businesses or to finance their inventions; young men and women asking for financial assistance to receive an education or training and clergymen soliciting funds for building or maintenance of their churches, missions, or assistance with disabled or impoverished congregants. A few letters express the authors’ disappointment because their previous letters had not been answered. There are a few letters written by African Americans. William H. Miller, born on March 30, 1839 in Vicksburg, Miss., a "reputed" son of Sergeant Smith Prentiss and his slave and a minister assigned to preach to the Freedmen in East Tennessee. D.W. Lynch, writing from the Hampton Normal School (the future Hampton University), thinks that he could do much good “for my race” teaching literacy in Africa. Correspondents include John J. Flournoy (1808-1879), an advocate for the deaf; Sister Mary Francis Clare (Margaret Francis Cusack, 1829-1899), the founder of the Irish order of Poor Clares, and Stephen H. Taft (1825-1917), the founder of the Humboldt College (Iowa) and the town of Sawtelle, California.
    A large portion of the authors are women – widows, including women who had lost their husbands in the Civil War, spinsters, wives of ill or alcoholic husbands, or young women seeking employment; a few correspondents propose a tryst or other “situation.” There are also letters from various individuals claiming to be Stewart’s long lost relatives, some admirers requesting an autograph, and even a prank letter written by two schoolgirls. One 1874 letter contains a bill in the amount of $3.38 for pies devoured by Stewart’s “carriage dog” in 1866.
    Related Material: Alexander T. Stewart correspondence at Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

    Indexing Terms

    Personal Names

    Stewart, Alexander Turney, ǂd 1803-1876 -- Archives


    African Americans -- Correspondence
    Irish Americans -- Archives
    Locusts -- West (U.S.)
    Philanthropists -- United States -- Archives
    Poor -- United States -- History -- Sources
    Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)
    Women -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources

    Geographic Areas

    United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
    United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Veterans


    Letters (correspondence) -- United States ǂy 19th century