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Series I: Correspondence, 1848-1994, undated
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in five series.
The Plimpton Family Papers contain correspondence, personal and professional documents, writings and photographs produced or gathered by George Arthur Plimpton, his first wife Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton, their son Francis T.P. Plimpton, and his wife Pauline Ames Plimpton. While much of the correspondence is personal, significant portions of Francis T.P. Plimpton's and especially George Arthur Plimpton's letters relate to business and vocational matters. The personal documents and objects in this collection include baby books, baby shoes and scrapbooks, homework, bookplates, and guest lists for parties. Most of the photographic images, which consist of prints, slides, glass slides, negatives, daguerreotypes and one autochrome diascope, depict the four primary creators of the collection, but others depict their ancestors and descendants.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
The following boxes are located off-site: 1-45 and 52. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Box 29, folder 1, is restricted until 2021.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Plimpton Family papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Related Material-- At Columbia
Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs Records, 1914-1996 Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Reminiscences of Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton : oral history, 1967. In: Adlai E. Stevenson project. Oral History Research Office, Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Reminiscences of Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton : oral history, 1981. In: Debevoise Plimpton Lyons & Gates project. Oral History Research Office, Rare Book & Manuscript Library
George A. Plimpton Collection of Portraits, MS#1007 Rare Book & Manuscript Library
George Plimpton Papers, MS #1006 Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Francis T. P. Plimpton papers, 1901-1985, MS#1514 Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Francis T. P. Plimpton papers 1936-1981. Barnard College Archives.
Ames Family Papers, 1812-2008 Smith College
Ownership and Custodial History
Gift of Mrs. Francis T. P. Plimpton, 1984, 1985, 1989& 1992.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers Entered in AMC 11/26/90.
Letters re. U.N Processed HR 03/10/92.
Papers Processed Jennifer A. Buckley, GSAS 2010 2008.
Finding Aid Written Jennifer A. Buckley, GSAS 2010 2008.
2010-03-30 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
2021-01-11 Restrictions expiring in 2021 have been lifted. Finding aid updated by CCR.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
The Plimpton family members represented in this collection descend from some of the earliest English settlers of North America. From the seventeenth century on the Plimptons, Pearsonses, Taylors and Ameses were prominent families, heavily involved with higher education and with public service: John Plympton (sic, circa 1620-1677) arrived in Massachusetts in 1642, settling in the town of Medfield, where he served as constable and then as colonial Sergeant; he also contributed to the founding of Harvard College. Edward Taylor (1642-1729), ancestor of Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton, was a Harvard graduate (class of 1671), Puritan minister to the people of the frontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts, and a prolific poet. Oakes Ames (1804-1873), ancestor of Pauline Ames Plimpton, was a U.S. Congressman; his brother, Oliver Ames, played a large part in building the Transcontinental Railroad. Another Ames ancestor, Benjamin F. Butler (1818-1893) was a Civil War general, later a United States Congressman and then Massachusetts governor. Pauline's mother, Blanche Ames Ames (sic, 1879-1969), graduated from Smith College and worked as an artist, as an activist for women's rights, including access to birth control, and then as the President of the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston; Pauline's father, Oakes Ames (1874-1950), was a Harvard professor of botany. The presence of several genealogical documents in the collection reveal the extent to which the primary creators of this collection valued the heritage they received from this uncommonly well-educated and public-minded family.
George Arhtur Plimpton: "Well-educated" and "public-minded" are only two of the qualities that may be accurately ascribed to George Arthur Plimpton (1855-1936). After a brief stint at Harvard Law School, he worked as the senior partner of the New York-based firm Ginn and Company, which published educational textbooks, but he also served on the board of trustees of Phillips Exeter Academy (he graduated in the class in 1872), Amherst College (class of 1876), Barnard College (as its first treasurer) and the American College for Girls/Constantinople College for Women in Turkey (now Robert College, Istanbul). Further, as his correspondence reveals, George Plimpton devoted a great deal of time and energy to global Christian educational institutions and relief missions; he was particularly invested in Andrew Carnegie's various peace organizations, serving as trustee and treasurer of the Church Peace Union. Plimpton's commitment to education as a public and indeed a global good is apparent in the letters he exchanged with several young people, some non-U.S.-citizens, whom he supported financially so that they could earn college degrees. (For example, see his correspondence with S.Y. Livingston Hu.).
Plimpton was connected to Columbia University through two main channels, each of which represents one of his major passions: books and international affairs. An ardent bibliophile and an unparalleled collector of rare educational books, documents, and objects (specifically of hornbooks), as well as of medieval illuminated manuscripts, historical correspondence, and portraits of English authors, he founded the Friends of the Columbia Libraries with Professor David Eugene Smith of Teachers College. (Smith wrote the book Rara Arithmetica (1908) largely based on his study of Plimpton's collection, and Plimpton himself authored The Education of Shakespeare (1933) and The Education of Chaucer (1935), drawing heavily on the medieval and early modern educational items he had gathered.) Plimpton was also heavily involved in the establishment of Columbia's political science department. An early supporter and later treasurer of the American Academy of Political Science, he founded the journal Political Science Quarterly in 1886. Though Plimpton was never a professor in any university department, he was an active member not only of various academic political science organizations, but of the American Philological Society, the Modern Language Association, the Grolier Club, and various antiquarian societies.
Plimpton was also devoted to Lewis Farm, the estate and working farm he owned in Walpole, Massachusetts; these papers include several photographs of the residential and farm buildings, and of Plimpton and his family enjoying the property.
But his letters and photographs suggest that Plimpton's greatest interest was reserved for his family. He writes with admiration of his first wife, Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton, and appears smiling affectionately with her in several photographs. After her death in 1900, Plimpton focused intensively on their son, Francis T.P., to whom he wrote inventive and age-appropriate letters, often in the form of collages illustrated by cut-outs from magazines and newspapers. Plimpton married Fanny Hastings in 1917, with whom he had two children, Calvin H. and Emily Plimpton. Calvin, a medical doctor, served as the president of Amherst College from 1960-1971.
George Arthur Plimpton donated his rare book, historical correspondence and author portrait collections, containing about 20,000 items, to Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1935. He died in 1936.
Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton: Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton (1862-1900) was herself very well educated; daughter of a judge and Mount Holyoke College benefactor, W.B.C. Pearsons, she graduated from Wellesley College in 1884 and later served as the President of its Alumnae Association. She was also a fine writer; her letters to her cousin and fellow Wellesley student Louise Pearsons, reveal both her warmth and her wit.
Like her husband, Frances was a collector of rare books, focusing on Italian books and manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Her husband donated her book collection to Wellesley after her death in 1900, which immediately followed the birth of their son, Francis T.P.
Francis T.P. Plimpton: Like his many of his ancestors, Francis T.P. Plimpton (1900-1983) attained prominence as a public servant. A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, Amherst College, and Harvard Law, Plimpton started practicing law at the New York firm of Root, Clark, and in 1933 became a senior partner at Debevoise, Stevenson & Plimpton. He would continue to practice as a lawyer for several decades, earning a reputation for thoroughness and unshakeable integrity. That reputation led to his position as president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (1970-1972) and to the chairmanship of the New York City Board of Ethics (1966-1980).
Plimpton served as deputy United States ambassador to the United Nations, working with his friend, the ambassador Adlai Stevenson, from 1961-1965, and sat on State Department advisory committees during the 1960s and 1970s. He was active in higher education as well as in law and in government: like his father, Francis devoted much energy to advising educational institutions, including those from which he graduated.
Throughout his career, Plimpton was unafraid to take progressive public stances on controversial issues: in 1963, as deputy ambassador to the UN, he made a visit to Pope Paul VI, urging the pontiff to change the Catholic Church's position on birth control. At the age of 72, he took a major role in organizing the lawyers' march on Washington to protest the U.S. military's bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
Francis Plimpton was not only a successful lawyer and diplomat; his writings in this collection show the verbal wit (and the social grace) for which he was celebrated. From his student days, Francis wrote poetry and prose, but law firm celebrations gave him the opportunity to perform his gently satirical light verse, examples of which are included in his papers in this collection. A very funny essay delivered as an address at the Amherst College chapel in 1957"In Praise of Polygamy" was published in several magazines and later as a pamphlet. The essay counseled the young men of Amherst to delay marriage for as long as possible in the interests of individualism and experience; he did not follow his own advice, it seems, for Francis was married to Pauline Ames Plimpton for over fifty years. The correspondence between them testifies to a strong, affectionate and devoted partnership. They had four children: Oakes Ames Plimpton; George Ames Plimpton, the journalist and founder of The Paris Review; Francis T.P. Plimpton, Jr.; and Sarah Plimpton, copies of whose artist's books are also housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Pauline Ames Plimpton: The daughter of two prominent figures, the daughter-in-law of one renowned man and the wife of another, Pauline Ames Plimpton (1901-1995) came into her own as an author and editor in her late seventies. A fine writer, she published several books about her family and its history, including Oakes Ames: Jottings of a Harvard Botanist (1979); The Plimpton Papers: Law and Diplomacy (1985); and A Collector's Recollections: George Arthur Plimpton (1992). A graduate of Smith College (class of 1922), Pauline was throughout her adult life active in arts and government policy organizations including Planned Parenthood, the Public Education Association, the Institute for World Affairs, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; she also worked with several libraries, including that of her alma mater, Smith College.