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   Plimpton Family Papers, 1607-1995 [Bulk Dates: 1892-1980].

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Plimpton Family Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


The Plimpton Family Papers is primarily comprised of correspondence, personal and professional documents, writings and photographs generated by or for George Arthur Plimpton and Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton, their son, Francis T.P. Plimpton, and his wife Pauline Ames Plimpton. Also included are documents and photographs produced by or for other Plimpton, Pearsons and Ames family members, from seventeenth century ancestors to late-twentieth century descendants.

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1005
Bib ID:4079575 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Plimpton, Francis T. P. (Francis Taylor Pearsons), 1900-1983.
Title:Plimpton Family Papers, 1607-1995 [Bulk Dates: 1892-1980].
Physical description:29 linear ft ( 33 document boxes, 9 oversized boxes 7 CMI bozes 3 other boxes).
Language(s): Material is in English.
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 two 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.  More information »



This collection is arranged in five series:

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Scope and Content

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.

Series I: Correspondence, 1848-1994, undated

This series consists of correspondence written to and by the creators for whom the subseries are named. The subseries are arranged in genealogical order; within each subseries, the correspondence is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries I.1: Pearsons, Frances Taylor and Family, 1848-1900

The letters here were written and/or received by the members of the Pearsons family: W.B.C. (William) Pearsons, his wife, Sarah Taylor Pearsons, and their daughter, Frances, the first wife of George Arthur Plimpton.

Included is a love letter written by William to Sarah during their courtship, as well as several letters he sent to her while serving with the Union Army during the Civil War. Also present are letters written by both Pearsons to Frances and her husband, George Arthur Plimpton.

Among Frances's correspondence are letters written to her cousin, and fellow Wellesley College student, Louise Pearsons, during and after her years at Wellesley. Also contained here is correspondence between Louise and other family members, including her parents, around the time of her marriage, in 1892, to George Arthur Plimpton.

Subseries I.2: Plimpton, George Arthur,1892-1941

This subseries contains personal, professional and vocational correspondence of George Arthur Plimpton.

The bulk of the personal correspondence is with Francis T. P. Plimpton, George's son. The professional correspondence comprises letters to and from partners, employees, and aspiring employees of the educational publishing firm, Ginn and Company. Plimpton's interests in collecting portraits and rare books, as well as his engagement in educational institutions, scholarly organizations, foreign relations and philanthropy are represented in this correspondence.

Subseries I.3: Plimpton, Francis T.P. and Pauline Ames Plimpton, 1906-1994, undated

The bulk of this subseries includes the correspondence between Francis T.P. Plimpton and Pauline Ames Plimpton. When separated, due to professional or family obligations or the occasional solo trip, they corresponded frequently. Other correspondents include their children, parents and the extended Ames, Pearsons and Plimpton families.

Also included here is the correspondence they received regarding "Letters in Training" a privately published compilation of the letters George Plimpton wrote to his parents while he was stationed in Italy (1945-1946). Francis and Pauline distributed "Letters in Training" to their friends and family at Christmas 1946.

Francis's correspondence, somewhat more extensive here than Pauline's, includes correspondence with family, friends and teachers dating from his youth. Pauline's correspondence contains letters regarding her writings about Villa Balbianello, a property on Lake Como, Italy, purchased by her uncle, Butler Ames.

Series II: Writings, 1913-1992, undated

This small series includes the writings of two generations: An address delivered by Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton to the Wellesley Club; addresses by George Plimpton; pieces written by Francis T. P. Plimpton dating from a journal he kept in 1913 while on a trip to Europe to drafts dating to 1972; and notes and drafts of several of Pauline Ames Plimpton's works. The material is arranged alphabetically by creator.

Series III: Financial and Real Estate, 1894-1949

This series contains correspondence regarding donations and loans made by George Arthur Plimpton, as well as financial and insurance transactions with which he was involved (including the estates of Ginn and Company partner, Osmyn P. Conant, and his wife Louise Royce Conant). Documents related to various properties owned by the Plimpton family can also be found here. The material is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV: Personal Documents, Ephemera and Realia, 1692-1995, undated

This sprawling series contains genealogies, documents and artifacts of many generations of the Plimpton, Pearsons and Ames families. The earliest document, dated 1697, is a prose narrative by Mary Plimpton, detailing her religious conversion. Nearly as ancient is a 1699 New Testament owned by D.K. Pearsons. Less esoteric items--baby shoes, a baby book, daily agendas and personal documents--provide hints of the quotidian Plimpton family life. Caches of school work, herbarium specimens, drawings, youthful compositions, report cards and diplomas reveal the educational accomplishments of several generations. Awards, clippings, and scrapbooks document professional achievements. The material is arranged alphabetically.

Series V: Photographs and Images, circa 1870s-1990s, undated

Included in this series are individual photographs, negatives and albums of the creators of this collection, their ancestors, their descendants, their properties, and their friends and associates. Material is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries V.1: Albums, circa late 1800s-1983

The albums, some of which were disbound due to preservation concerns, range from a collection of photographs of the Pearsons or Plimpton family dating from the late 1800s to a travel album dated 1982-1983. Included here are albums featuring Francis Plimpton from his childhood through his professional life as an attorney, and at the United Nations. The earliest travel albums are collections of photographs of a trip to Constantinople (1914) and to China (1920). Later photo albums contain pictures of Pauline, Francis, their family and friends on their travels around the world.

Subseries V.2: Photographs and Negatives, circa 1870s-1980s

Found here are photographs of the extended Plimpton, Pearsons and Ames families. Especially numerous are the photographs of Francis T.P. Plimpton, which include baby photos, high school and college pictures, photos of Plimpton with his fellow Amherst College trustees, and many pictures of him at work: practicing law, working at the United Nations, and socializing at diplomatic events. Pictures of Pauline Ames Plimpton include portraits and candid photographs with Francis and with their children and extended family.

Subseries V.3: Special Format Photographs and Images, undated

These images appear in several formats, including glass slides, daguerreotypes, and one autochrome diascope image of an unidentified sitter, and one silhouette of an unidentified man.

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Using the Collection

Partially Offsite

Access Restrictions

 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 two 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.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

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.

Related Material-- Other Repositories

Ames Family Papers, 1812-2008 Smith College

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers Entered in AMC 11/26/90

Letters re. U.N. Processed 03/10/92 HR

Papers Processed 2008 Jennifer A. Buckley, GSAS 2010

Finding Aid Written 2008 Jennifer A. Buckley, GSAS 2010

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion October 21, 2009 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-03-30 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Additional Creators

HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Plimpton, Frances Taylor Pearsons, 1862-1900.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, George Arthur, 1855-1936.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, Pauline Ames, 1901-1995.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Autochromes (photographs).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Financial records.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Photograph albums.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Ames, Blanche.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Amherst College.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Association of the Bar of the City of New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Barnard College. Board of Trustees.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Christian education.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ginn and Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
New England--Education.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
New York (N.Y.)--Politics and government.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Phillips Exeter Academy.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, Frances Taylor Pearsons, 1961-1900.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, Francis T. P. (Francis Taylor Pearsons), 1900-1983.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, George A. (George Arthur), 1855-1936.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, George.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, Pauline Ames, 1901-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Plimpton, Sarah 1936-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Trusts and trustees.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
United Nations.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Villa Balbianello (Lenno, Italy).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

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.

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