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Parsons Family Papers

Call Number

MS 481


1824-1956 (Bulk 1889-1939), inclusive



1.3 Linear feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


The Parsons Family Papers contains correspondence and memorabilia. The correspondence is generally among family members, particularly letters from eldest daughter Mary Parsons, and describes their trips abroad, their life in New York City and Lenox, Massachusetts, and general family relationships.

Biographical Note

John Edward Parsons was born in 1829 in New York City to Edward Lamb Parsons and Matilda Clark Parsons. He attended a private school in Rye, New York and graduated from New York University in 1848. Parsons continued his schooling with a Master's degree at NYU in 1851 and was admitted to the bar in 1854. He formed a legal partnership with Lorenzo B. Shepard and became his assistant when Shepard was named District Attorney in 1854. Parsons was a partner in the law firm Man & Parsons as well as in Parsons, Shepard, & Ogden which became Parsons, Closson, & McIlvaine in 1902. In addition to his legal career, Parsons was also recognized for his efforts to reform the corruption of Tammany Hall and for his philanthropic work with the New York Cancer Hospital, the Woman's Hospital, Cooper Union, the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, and the American Bible Society.

On November 5, 1856 John E. Parsons married Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine, the daughter of Bowes Reed McIlvaine and Catherine Dumesnil. Together they six children who lived to adulthood: Mary (1864-1940), Edith (1865-1942), Helen (1867-1892), Herbert (1869-1925), Gertrude (1870-1927), and Constance (1873-?). John E. Parsons's successful career and his efforts for civic and political reform brought further social respect to the family. The family members divided time between their home in New York City and Stoneover, their estate in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1896, Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine Parsons died and John E. Parsons remarried to Florence Bishop in 1901. He had no children with his second wife. In 1915 after only a short illness, John E. Parsons died of the lung disease pleurisy.

The oldest daughter Mary never married and lived at Stoneover after her father's death. She was active in wildlife preservation and in several Lenox and New York City charities until her death in 1940. Edith married David Percy Morgan and had four children, and Helen died unmarried at the age of twenty-five. Herbert became a Republican, unlike his father, and was a member of the House of Representatives from 1905 to 1911. He had four children with his wife, anthropologist and folklorist Elsie Clews, and died suddenly in 1925 from injuries sustained while riding his son's motorcycle. Gertrude Parsons also never married and lived at Stoneover with her sister Mary until her death while traveling in Perugia, Italy in 1927. Constance married attorney Montgomery Hare and had two children.


The correspondence in the collection is arranged by family member and then chronologically. The memorabilia is grouped by type of material.

The papers are organized into the following series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Correspondence
  2. Series II: Memorabilia

Scope and Content Note

The Parsons Family Papers consists of correspondence between family members and a small amount of family memorabilia. The material largely documents the travels of Mary Parsons, the eldest daughter of John E. Parsons, and her reactions to her trips abroad. Nearly all of the collection is personal or family related, and there is no material relating to the career of attorney John E. Parsons or his congressman son, Herbert. The collection is mostly correspondence from Mary Parsons to other family members. Her letters record her travels, her daily life at home in New York City or Lenox, and familial relations. The collection also contains letters to Mary Parsons and Constance Parsons Hare, as well as general correspondence among the Parsons family. One folder of correspondence contains letters dated 1824 from Bowes Reed McIlvaine to Catherine Dumesnil (the parents of Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine) shortly before their wedding. The collection also contains memorabilia from the Parsons family.

List of Places From Which Mary Parsons Writes:

1889 Bremenhaven, Bremen, Southampton, Berlin, Dresden, Bad-Kissengen, Bad-Bruckenau, Wurzburg, Bayern, Frankfurt, Salzburg
1893 London, Paris
1894 Paris, Champagne, Paris, Cannes
1895 Rome, Florence, Naples, Cairo, Perugia, Milan, Siena, Lucerne, London
1896 New York City
1901 Paris, Tirol, Cortina, Bayreuth, Baden, the Black Forest, Paris
1906 Versailles
1908 Lenox
1909 Pointe-au-Pic, Lenox
1910 Gloucester, Loches, Amboise, Venice, Bologna, Como, Lenox
1923 Kyoto, Hong Kong
1924-1926 New York City and Lenox
1927 Rome, Lenox
1929 Paris, Amsterdam
1932-1939 New York City and Lenox

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Parsons Family Papers, MS 481, the New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Further material relating to the Parsons family and Constance Parsons Hare can be found within the Hare Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

Collection processed by

Maurita Baldock

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:49:28 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived fromparsons01mb.xml


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
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New York, NY 10024