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Guide to the Culver Family Papers, 1858-1915
Special Collections M0633  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Access Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Culver Family Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1858-1915
    Collection number: Special Collections M0633
    Creator: Culver family.
    Extent: 7.5 linear ft.
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions


    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.


    Gift of Gloria R. Brown and the Palo Alto Historical Association, 1992, and Phyllis F. Dorset, 1996.

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item] Culver Family Papers, M0633, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    John Oscar Culver, born May 2, 1830, was one of ten children born to tailor James Culver and Kezia [Lee] Culver of Sandy Hill, New York (now Hudson's Falls). James Culver's grandfather, resident in New York and Connecticut, had fought for the Colonies in the Revolutionary War. All of James and Kezia Culver's children attended the local schools, and some went beyond grade school; most of them engaged in either commerce, banking, or government service in later life.
    John Oscar Culver graduated from the Albany (NY) Law School in 1857, after having worked for several years in Troy, NY. On graduation, Oscar joined fellow classmates in the practice of law in Wisconsin. In 1860, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the state of Wisconsin, serving under James H. Howe. Coincident with his appointment, Oscar met and married (May 2, 1860) Minerva ("Minnie") Bliss, aged 22, a teacher, and daughter of farmer-businessman, Zebina Bliss, of Burlington, Wisconsin.
    Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Oscar received an appointment as Additional Paymaster in the U.S. Army (August 1861), with the rank of Major. He was posted to the Pay Department, Headquarters, Department of the Northwest, at St. Louis, Missouri. From St. Louis, Oscar journeyed forth at quarterly intervals for weeks at a time paying troops in the field throughout southern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas, and down the Mississippi River during the campaign for Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863. In mid-1864, Oscar was transferred to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to pay troops being mustered out of the Army; he served there until November 1865, when he resigned from the service.
    For the first two years of the War, Minnie Culver and their first son, William, remained with relatives in Wisconsin and Illinois, with infrequent visits to St. Louis. In the last years of the War, Minnie and Will lived on a farm Oscar purchased outside Burlington, WI. Only seldom could Oscar get leave to go home to his family.
    After the Civil War, Oscar served in the solicitor's office of the Chicago, North Western Railway, commuting from Chicago on a weekly basis to the home Minnie and he had established with their now three children (William, Paul, and Julia Louise) in Wawautosa, WI. In 1870, Oscar joined as partner and editor, with David C. Atwood, publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, WI. He also engaged in diverse business ventures, including paper milling, strawberry cultivation, and iron mining, and was active in state politics and the Wisconsin Historical Society (curator). The Culver's last two children (George and Richard) were born in Madison. During this period, the family enjoyed a prominent position in the cultural and political life of Wisconsin's capital city.
    In 1877, the Culvers moved to California, where Oscar became editor of the Alameda (California) Daily Times, with a residence in Oakland, CA. Oscar also purchased homesteads in the Napa Valley of California, and pursued acquisition and operation of gold mines in various parts of the state. In 1879, Culver began a new career as U.S. Postal Inspector, stationed first in San Francisco and later in southern California. In this capacity he traveled from town to town observing post office operations and receiving and investigating the complaints of postmasters and patrons to be adjudicated by his office. He retired from this occupation in 1902.
    During Oscar's several careers, during which he was obligated to be away from home for long periods, Minnie reared their children and managed their several households. In their years of separation Minnie became an accomplished painter, and Oscar turned to writing, his short stories appearing in the Atlantic, Scribner's, and Harper's.
    Two years after Stanford University opened in October 1891, the Culvers moved to Palo Alto, California, built a home, and sent four of their children to the University. Minnie and Oscar were also active in the city of Palo Alto, becoming founding members of the Congregational Church, along with making other contributions to civic life. In addition, they took into their home two foster children, both of whom died in childhood. John Oscar Culver died in 1912, and Minnie in 1916.
    When the family moved to Palo Alto, Will Culver remained in Oakland with his wife, Margaret [Day], and daughter, Kathryn, commuting to business in San Francisco. Paul Culver, a student at Stanford from 1894-1896, married Nina Briggs in 1896, and had one child, Esther Miriam Culver. Paul served as Palo Alto City Attorney, and also managed for a time the Culver family orchard in Lindsay, CA. After the death of his wife, Paul returned to Palo Alto, married Mrs. Sally Waldorf, and operated a jewelry store in Palo Alto until his death in 1931. Julia Louise, known as Lulu, graduated in English from Stanford in 1896, taught high school, married and divorced Walter N. Brown, lost a child in childbirth, became a published poet, and throughout her life maintained ties to campus life; she died in 1959. George Culver received his degree from Stanford in Zoology in 1897, took a position with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., received a law degree from George Washington University, and ultimately returned to California. He became a teacher and a city administrator in southern California, then Dean of Men at Stanford University from 1920 to 1938, and was emeritus until his death in 1949. George and his wife, Sabina [Burks], adopted a son, George Jr., who was killed in World War II. George's twin brother, Richard Culver, graduated from Stanford University in 1899, becoming in his student years an illustrator for The Quad, the campus magazine. Richard went on to become a newspaper cartoonist in Baltimore, Maryland, until his death in 1939.
    Kathryn Culver, who attended Stanford from 1906-1908, married the Rev. Dwight Bradley in Palo Alto in 1914, and was living in Carmel, CA, at the time of her Aunt Lulu's death in 1959. Esther Culver also attended Stanford, from 1919-1920, and resided in Berkeley at the time of her Aunt Lulu's death.
    The California Culver family kept in close contact with their relatives and friends in the East as well as with those who had also come to California. Consequently, there is a strong continuity in their relationships with their extended family (and friends) throughout the period covered by their collected papers, 1858-1915.

    Scope and Content

    The Culver Family Papers collection consists of fourteen boxes (7.5 linear ft.) of letters to and from family members, friends, and acquaintances, as well as manuscripts, journals, and miscellaneous papers. The collection covers the years 1858 to 1915, with the material in the 1860s predominating. Missing, however, are letters from Minnie Bliss Culver to John Oscar Culver for 1865, and from John Oscar Culver to Minnie Culver for 1869. There are also gaps in the correspondence from Minnie to Oscar for 1891, 1894-1896. The decades with fewest letters are the 1870s and 1900s.
    A guide to the individual boxes and folders contains the number of letters in each folder and key names, places, and events treated. An index by date, addressee, sender, and point of origin is also included. Some of the letters are faded and barely legible; for these, photocopies accompany the originals. Also, some letters and papers are written on legal-sized paper. These have been removed to oversized (OS) boxes, and the location of these documents is referenced in the appropriate folders in the guide to individual boxes.
    The Collection reflects J. O. Culver's experience as a lawyer, his service as an Army Paymaster and Post Office Inspector, his endeavors in small fruit culture, and his excursions into prospecting and mining. As a result of these activities, much of his life was spent away from home, with consequent hardship. However, the Collection is also testimony to the fortitude of Minnie Culver in rearing their five children and keeping the family unit whole under trying circumstances.
    In general, the family letters and papers give a panorama of middle class society in New York, Wisconsin and Missouri, and Colorado and California, from 1860 to 1915, a familiar pattern in the United States of looking ever westward for opportunity.

    Access Terms

    Culver, George Bliss, d.1949.
    Culver, John Oscar, d.1912.
    Culver, Louise Julia, d.1959.
    Culver, Minnie Bliss, d.1916.
    Culver, Paul Drury, d.1931.
    Culver, Richard Keith, d.1939.
    Culver, William Lee, d.1920.
    Palo Alto (Calif.)--History.
    Stanford University--History--19th century.