University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Guide to the Corkins Family Manuscripts.

MSN/EA 8013


Collection Summary

Title: Corkins family manuscripts
Dates: 1824-1885 (bulk 1824-1856)
Collection No.: MSN/EA 8013
Creator: Towslee, Sarah Corkins, 1833-1898
Creator: Corkins, Melitta Morley, ca.1799-1855
Creator: Corkins, Mary, 1829-1861
Extent: 6 folders; 1 container; 2 linear inches
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: Three manuscript journals and albums kept by female members of the Corkins family of Vermont and Massachusetts. Included is a personal journal of Sarah Corkins Towslee (1833-1898), describing her years as an operative in the mills of the Connecticut River Valley.

Selected Search Terms

Diaries--Women authors
Women textile workers--New England--History
Franklin County (Mass.)--Industries
Franklin County (Mass.)--Social life and customs

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: Corkins Family Manuscripts, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Corkins manuscripts were acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2013, from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List 119, Item 15). Arranged and described by George Rugg, 2013. Finding aid by George Rugg, 2013.

Biographical Note

The chief creator of this small group of albums and journals was Sarah Corkins Towslee (1833-1898), the second child of Joseph Corkins and Melitta Morley Corkins of Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont. With the death of Joseph Corkins in April 1843 the family household appears to have dissolved; Sarah spent her early adolescence under the care of the proprietors of a local tavern, performing domestic chores while attending school in the winter. In 1848, at the age of fifteen, Sarah left Vermont for the textile mills of Colrain, Franklin County, Massachusetts, where her older sister Mary (b. 1829) was already working. By mid-century the manufacture of cotton textiles was an important feature of the local economy, with mill settlements at Griswoldville and Shattuckville in Colrain's North River valley. Corkins worked in the Colrain mills, and subsequently at Samuel Williston's factories in Easthampton (down the Connecticut River, in Hampshire County) on and off for more than four years, earning money for room and board and for her continued schooling. By 1851 she had begun to fulfill her ambition of teaching school, though factory work continued. In February 1853, at the age of 20, Corkins married Frank C. Towslee (1831-1884), and left New England for her husband's farm in Chenango County, New York. A daughter, Ida, was born ca. 1856. Sarah Towslee died in 1898.

Scope and Content Note

The most notable item in the collection is a personal journal kept by Sarah Corkins Towslee from 1844 to around 1860. There is also a commonplace book of Sarah's (ca. 1852-1856), and a copy- and commonplace book used by her mother, Melitta Morley Corkins, and her older sister Mary.

Arrangement Note

Volumes are arranged chronologically, in folders, with insertions in a folder following each volume.

Container List

  • Copy- and commonplace book: Melitta Morley Corkins and Mary Corkins, 1824-1885 (bulk 1824-1845). Folder 1 (MSN/EA 8013-1).
    1 vol., 20 cm., 30 leaves, with 53 pages of manuscript; 14 newspaper clippings tipped in.
    The principal creators of this album (and of the miscellaneous sheets bound into it) were Melitta Morley Corkins (b. ca. 1799) and her oldest daughter, Mary (1829-1861). Melitta's dated entries range from 1824 (before her marriage to Joseph Corkins) into the 1830s. Mary's dated entries are from 1843-1845 (around the time her younger sister Sarah began her journal, see MSN 8013-2 below). There are also three pages of family birth, marriage, and death dates, with one entry from as late as 1885. The content is varied, with copybook exercises, sentiments directed to Melitta and Mary, and a good deal of poetry.
    • Journal: Sarah Corkins Towslee, vol. 1, 1844-1854. Folder 2 (MSN/EA 8013-2).
      1 vol., 22 cm., 55 leaves, with 112 pages of manuscript entries. Quarter-bound in sheep, with marbled boards.
      The two volumes of Sarah's personal journal contain entries ranging over a period of some sixteen years, from 19 February 1844 (when she was eleven) to ca. 1860. Entries were made sporadically—just how sporadically, it is often difficult to ascertain, for after 1848 dates are generally lacking, making matters of chronology sometimes ambiguous. Many of the entries are of substantial length, however; the entire text runs to perhaps 50,000 words. One of the persistent themes of the text is the author's love of learning, her determination to educate herself whatever the obstacles, and this engagement with education is apparent in the competency of her writing, even in adolescence. Her prose is confidential, and frank. Sarah writes a good deal of personal relationships, of her feelings towards family, friends, and acquaintances, and of the (generally unwelcome) advances made upon her by young and older men: "Is there no such thing as friendship with the other sex?" She also comments a good deal on her experiences in the mills: conditions there, workplace injuries, the influx of Irish immigrants, and mill culture generally. The first volume concludes with Sarah's marriage to Frank Towslee in February 1854. Volume 2 describes events following her move to rural New York State; the writing lacks the exuberance of the earlier volume, dominated as it is by accounts of the physical demands of farm life and the emotional difficulties of separation from friends and family.
      • Journal: Sarah Corkins Towslee, vol. 2, 1854-ca.1860. Folder 3 (MSN/EA 8013-3).
        1 vol., 22 cm., 12 leaves, with 19 pages of manuscript entries. This is an unbound, hand-stitched booklet with leaves cut down to match those of vol. 1.
        • Insertions in Sarah Corkins Towslee journal, 1852, 1881, and n. d. Folder 4 (MSN/EA 8013-4).
          8 items.
          • Commonplace book: Sarah Corkins Towslee, ca. 1852-1856. Folder 5 (MSN/EA 8013-5).
            1 vol., 20 cm., 45 leaves, with 88 pages of manuscript entries. Quarter-bound in sheep, with marbled boards.
            Prose pieces copied or authored by Sarah, many of a personal or introspective nature.
            • Insertions in Sarah Corkins Towslee commonplace book, n.d. Folder 6 (MSN/EA 8013-6).
              4 items.