The Influences of Lydia Folger Fowler

This year, my holiday preparations include not only frantic knitting but also frenzied preparation of a paper that must be sent out on January 5.  There is nothing special about this situation, as some sort of writing to some sort of deadline is part of the academic professional’s condition.  It bears mention here because it takes me back to where I left off writing about Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s travel journal in (cringe) September.

The paper focuses on the business interests of Laban Morey Wheaton and David Emory Holman, and it includes some discussion about Lydia Folger Fowler, her travels in Europe between 1860 and 1862, and her influence on the journeys of the Wheatons and Holman in England and Europe.  My ideas about that influence have been percolating since late summer, and now that I have time to turn attention to some additional background research about Fowler’s travels in Europe, I am convinced that her influence offers a solution to a longstanding question in the interpretation of Eliza B. Wheaton’s herbaria.

My colleague and frequent co-author Wheaton College Archivist Zephorene L. Stickney (Zeph) is the real expert on the Wheatons and their papers.  Ever since we began working together on what has become the Wheaton College Digital History Project, she has emphasized the significance of the herbaria for our being able to develop a full understanding of the European trip.  The travel journal itself is quite short.  Eliza B. Wheaton described the time she spent in London through the first few weeks that she, her husband, and Holman spent in their rooms on Sloane Street, but her entries stopped at the end of May and did not begin again until July, when the travelers crossed the Channel to France. As I noted here on April 17, Eliza B. Wheaton wrote the travel journal retrospectively. Both Eliza and Laban Morey Wheaton made notes of their activities on various days, probably as an aid to memory for future entries in the journal. The gaps represent moments for which either the couple could not remember what they had done or Eliza Wheaton lacked time to go back to fill in descriptions of the experiences.  In fact, we might conclude that the wealth of ephemera that Zeph and I have relied on for parsing the travelers’ European itinerary represents an unfulfilled intention on Wheaton’s part to complete those descriptions after the trip had ended.

The ephemera is only one part of the Wheaton Family Papers collection that Zeph knew could help us describe the itinerary. Eliza B. Wheaton also compiled herbaria as a record of her journey. An avid gardener, she picked flowers and took clippings from trees at many sites, including the thorn tree in Glastonbury that vandals damaged last week. The herbaria introduced some confusion, however, because some of the evidence it included contradicted more reliable evidence from the ephemera. The herbaria contain clippings from Rome and Florence, but hotel receipts preserved in the collection provide evidence that the group traveled directly from Lyons to Geneva from there up the Rhine to Brussels. They did not go to Italy.

But Lydia Fowler did. And one of my tasks this week is to look through the Phrenological Journal for reports that might indicate she could have collected the specimens that appear in Eliza B. Wheaton’s herbaria and shared them with her friend when the activities of Garibaldi and his army prevented her visiting the sites herself. The game is afoot!


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Herbaria, and Ephemera, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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