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Anderson Family Papers M0051
M0051  
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Description
Family of Scottish-English origins which came to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The family settled on the East Coast, later moving West; the Andersons contributed to society in the fields of theology, education and literature. Melville Best Anderson was an author, translator and teacher whose particular interest was the work of Dante. From 1891-1910, he taught in the English Department at Stanford University, serving as first chairman of the department.
Background
The Anderson Family Papers cover the history of a distinguished family that, up to a point, followed a somewhat typical pattern in America. Of Scottish-English origins, with a short history in the Maritime Provinces, Canada, the family came to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. They settled on the East coast, later moving West. Here the Andersons diverged from the usual pattern. They made major contributions to society in the fields of theology, education and literature. They were intellectual people rather than industrialists. They did not lay railroads or pan for gold or wage wars with the Indians on the frontier. They did, however, found schools, preach sermons, write books and make substantial scholarly and scientific contributions to the community. Edward Coffin Anderson, the first member of the family for whom there are extensive records, was born on Prince Edward Island, Maritime Provinces, Canada, in 1821, the fourth of thirteen children. His grandfather, John Anderson, had migrated to North America from Scotland with his brother, David, and son, David. David Anderson, the son, married Miss Jeanette Coffin, whose father had come to Prince Edward Island from Nantucket. Edward Coffin Anderson received his education in Nova Scotia at Acadia College, and later went to Newton Seminary near Boston for further theological study. While he was attending Acadia College at Wolfville, Nova Scotia, he met Miss Helen Best, a teacher in a school for girls. The Best Family was also of Scottish descent. Helen's mother, Isabella Playfair, was a daughter of Robert Lawyer Playfair and a niece of John Playfair, the great mathematician of the University of Edinburgh. Her mother, Margaret McNevin was said to have been a brilliant and clever woman. When John Playfair was contemplating marriage, a friend advised, If you marry Margaret McNevin, all your children will be gifted. Isabella was educated at a school for young ladies conducted by her two aunts in Edinburgh. At sixteen she married Henry Best, of the British Navy, and they settled in Nova Scotia. They had thirteen children. Later, to help out the family finances, she established a school for girls in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Isabella, herself, served as headmistress and two of her daughters, including Helen Best, were teachers in the school. In 1850, Helen Best became the wife of Edward Coffin Anderson and later that same year the young couple emigrated to the United States where they lived for the rest of their lives. Anderson, when he finished his training at Newton Seminary, was ordained in the Baptist Church and began his long career of preaching and teaching. His first appointment was at Kalamazoo, Michigan. Edward and Helen Anderson had three sons, Melville Best Anderson, Robert Playfair Anderson (who died in infancy), and Edward Playfair Anderson. From Kalamazoo, the family went to Newton Center, Massachusetts, to Milford, New Hampshire, and back to Kalamazoo where Mr. Anderson was professor of Classical Languages and acting president of Kalamazoo Baptist College. From Kalamazoo, they went to Margett, Michigan where Anderson was pastor. In 1866, the Andersons went to Portland, Oregon where Anderson assumed the post of pastor of the Baptist Church, and from there he went to San Jose, California. After a short time in San Jose, the family returned to the East coast, to Groveland, Massachusetts, where Mr. Anderson was pastor and also principal of Highlands Academy in Petersburg, Massachusetts. He became president of Ottowa College in Ottawa, Kansas, and pastor of Lake City Baptist Church in Lake City, Minnesota. About 1880, he became president of McMinnville College, McMinnville, Oregon, a post he held for seven years. In 1887, he had a stroke, and died three years later, in 1890, at the home of his son, Edward Playfair Anderson, in Lansing, Michigan. From this varied background comes the central figure in the ANDERSON FAMILY PAPERS collection, Melville Best Anderson. The first son of Edward Coffin and Helen Best Anderson, he was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1851. He attended Cornell University where, to a great extent, he worked his own way. The Papers indicate that he was an excellent student. At Cornell, he met David Starr Jordan and began a friendship that lasted for more than fifty years, and later brought Anderson to Stanford. In 1872, he graduated from Cornell and for several years he taught in the secondary schools in Appleton, Wisconsin. Jordan was also teaching there at the time. In 1875, Melville Anderson married Miss Charlena van Vleck. Miss van Vleck, a student at Lawrence College, and her mother, Mrs. Louisa Gurnee van Vleck, widow of a Union soldier, had a home in Appleton. The van Vleck family came from the Hudson River country and were of Dutch descent. Charlena's mother was also from the Hudson Valley, but of English stock. In 1875, Melville Anderson went to Gottingen, Germany and then to the University of Paris. In 1877, he returned to the United States and began his literary and professorial career. He went first to Butler University where he was awarded an M. A. degree and became professor of Modern Languages. Three years later, 1880, he went to Knox College where he remained for six years. After leaving, Knox, Melville Anderson spent a year at Purdue University and in 1887 he went to the State University of Iowa. During these years, he was writing and translating as well as teaching. In October of 1891, he came to the newly established Leland Stanford Junior University, at the invitation of its president, David Starr Jordan. Anderson became the first chairman of the English Department, and it was at Stanford that he did the greater part of his teaching and writing. He taught from 1891 until 1910, retiring somewhat earlier than the usual age. A Carnegie grant enabled him to live in Italy where he continued his studies of Dante, the great work of his literary life. During this time, Mrs. Anderson and the two sons remained at home. Melville Anderson returned to California, but never lived permanently at Stanford. He went to LaJolla to be near his brother Edward, and died there in 1933. Edward Playfair Anderson, second son of Edward Coffin and Helen Best Anderson, was born in 1856 and also pursued a teaching career. He received his A. B. degree from the University of Michigan in 1879 and his PhD. in 1886. He studied in France in 1880 and was professor of Latin and French at McMinnville College for two years, 1882-84. He returned to the University of Michigan to work on his doctorate. In 1888 he resumed teaching, first at Ohio University, then at Michigan Agricultural College and at Miami University in Ohio. Edward married Miss Hattie Amelia Baker and they had eight children. He moved to LaJolla, California where he died in 1951. Melville Best Anderson had two sons who lived to maturity. Malcolm Playfair Anderson, born in 1878, was from his earliest boyhood interested in natural science and natural history. He graduated from Stanford as a zoologist. After graduation, his work and interests took him to many parts of Asia, chiefly China, Korea and Japan. In 1904, he lead the Duke of Bedford Expedition to the Orient, collecting mammals for the British Museum. He took many photographs and made full notes on the collections. Also, he left notes on several short stories which dealt with the lives of the people with whom he lived and worked in the Orient. Malcolm married Miss Elizabeth Gurnee, a distant cousin, and they had one son who died in infancy. In 1919 Malcolm Anderson was killed in an accident in the shipyards at Oakland, California. His death cut short a promising career as a naturalist and explorer. The youngest of Melville Best Anderson's sons, Robert van Vleck Anderson, was born in 1884 and like all the Anderson children, received the early part of his education in Germany. Robert Anderson attended Stanford, graduating as a geologist. He also was interested in natural history and archeology. He was in Asia for a time with his brother, Malcolm, and then went to North Africa as an oil geologist. In North Africa, he discovered some hitherto unexplored prehistoric caves. He was fully aware of the importance of this discovery and, with grants from the United States Geological Survey and with help and encouragement from the Oriental Institute and James H. Breasted, he was able to excavate them. In 1923, he married Miss Gracella Rountree of Berkeley, California. They had three children. The Andersons lived in North Africa for many years and traveled widely in Europe, Asia and South America. He worked in Washington, D. C. with the United States Geological Survey from 1906-1913. After that time he worked for several oil companies, including Whitehall Petroluem in London, one of two British firms, and as a consultant to many others in various parts of the world. Upon his retirement in 1945, he lived near Stanford-company whitehall Petroleum in London where he was a research associate until his death in 1949. His widow, children and grandchildren are still (1963) living in the vicinity.
Extent
32 Linear Feet (65 boxes; circa 45,000 items)
Restrictions
While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.
Availability
Open for research. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use.