Collection ID: MS 291

Collection context


Sumner, William Graham, 1840-1910
The papers consist of correspondence, writings, notes and research materials, clippings, memorabilia, photographs and financial records of William Graham Sumner, a sociologist, professor at Yale University, and advocate of free trade and the gold standard. The correspondence (over 13,000 items) documents many of Sumner's interests including the Yale College curriculum and economic and political issues. It also includes substantive accounts from friends in the South about Reconstruction, the Freedmen's Bureau, and the Tilden-Hayes election. Family correspondence spans the years 1863-1908. There are over 100 letters written by Sumner during the last years of his life to Albert Galloway Keller.
60.25 Linear Feet


Acquisition information:
The papers were accummulated as a series of gifts. Between 1920 and 1956, the papers were the gift of Albert G. Keller. After 1956 a portion of the papers were donated by Deane Keller. In 1969 Mrs. Gilbert Troxell, Sumner's niece, donated additional materials. In 1975 Yale University purchased 1300 letters from Margaret L. Sumner. Additional papers were given by Trinity College in 1988.
Rules or conventions:
translation missing: en.enumerations.resource_finding_aid_description_rules.Finding aid created in accordance with Manuscripts and Archives Processing Manual
Scope and Content:

The William Graham Sumner Papers contain the correspondence, writings, and memorabilia of William Graham Sumner. Although some letters and memorabilia concern other members of Sumner's family, the vast majority of materials document Sumner's professional and personal life between 1863 and 1909.


The Sumner correspondence contains over thirteen thousand items. Only four hundred and nine of these items, however, are Sumner's outgoing correspondence. One hundred and three of these letters are "love letters" to his fiancée, Jeannie Whittemore Elliott (1870 Apr -1871 Mar). One hundred more are letters to his disciple, Albert Galloway Keller (1896-1909). The remaining letters are written to various friends and relatives (1862-1909).

Sumner's incoming correspondence, the bulk of the material in this series, begins in 1863 with his trip to Europe. While studying in Geneva, Göttingen, and Oxford (1863-1866), Sumner received letters from his family, his secret society brothers at Yale, and his close friends in Hartford (John Cooke and Reverend E.R. Beadle). These letters responded to Sumner's changing moods and informed him of events in the lives of his friends and relatives. During his stay at Yale as a tutor (1866-1867) Sumner received less correspondence, and what little he did receive came again from close friends and relatives.

During his tenure as editor ofThe Living Church(1869-1870), Sumner's correspondence increased somewhat. He received various requests and opinions from subscribers as well as letters from those closely connected with the journal. The letters of theLiving Church's business manager, Charles F. Roper (twenty-one letters, 1869-1870), and those of Reverends Washburn, Tiffany, Rylance, Potter, and Porter chronicle the financial and editorial difficulties of the short-lived journal. Between May and November 1870 Sumner received forty-nine "love letters" from his fiancee, Jeannie Whittemore Elliott. These letters are filed under "Jeannie Sumner," with the many letters which she wrote after they were married.

Sumner's personal correspondence during these early years also contains many reports on the political conditions of the South. Frederick Judson, a Yale alumnus and former slaveholder, wrote Sumner twenty-eight letters between 1867 and 1876 about Reconstruction in Tennessee. Morton Easton, Sumner's close friend who taught at East Tennessee University, also commented on politics in Tennessee (sixty-two letters, 1866-1896). As a Northerner, however, his view of the situation was somewhat different.

Sumner's brother, Joseph, wrote often from New Orleans during this time (approximately one hundred letters, 1863-1895). "Joe" worked as the chief clerk of the local Freedmen's Bureau and later as a clerk in the Internal Revenue Office. He wrote particularly detailed accounts of the Freedmen's Bureau in Louisiana (1865) while also recording his impressions of the city and its politics.

During the turbulent Tilden-Hayes Presidential election Sumner received reports from various Southern sources. Joseph Sumner feared that his public career in the South depended on the defeat of Tilden and often wrote despairing letters on the absolute corruption of the local Democracy (1876). Frederic Elliott, Sumner's brother-in-law, also relayed stories of anarchy and terror in the South (1876). Other correspondents were not so sympathetic to Northern impressions. Edward Booth wrote detailed accounts of the presidential recount in Louisiana (thirty-one items, 1876 Nov 2-1877 Jan 30) and came away horrified at the corruption of the local Republicans. Booth also reported on the defeat of the Republican radicals in the Louisiana State government.

Sumner's incoming correspondence remained primarily personal until he was appointed Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale in 1872. After 1872 he was inundated with professional and business correspondence, the largest portion dealing with issues of currency, free trade, and tariffs (1872-1900). As a leading authority on the American economy and as a combative spokesman for free trade, Sumner received hundreds of requests for advice and many invitations to speak. Moreover, many leaders of the free trade movement discussed their plans and problems with him.

From a national perspective, Sumner's most articulate free trade correspondents were Alfred Bishop Mason (approximately forty-five letters, 1875-1880, 1882, 1891) and David Ames Wells (approximately eighty-five letters, 1872-1892). Mason tried to form state and national coalitions of free trade leagues during the 1870's and wrote Sumner about his progress. He wrote even more about his setbacks. David A. Wells, economist and advisor to Presidents Grant, Garfield, and Cleveland, contacted Sumner as soon as the young minister joined the Yale faculty in 1872 and kept up a steady flow of correspondence for twenty years. Wells discussed his lobbying efforts in Congress, his dealings with Democrats and his progress on books. Edwin Godkin, the influential editor ofNation, also wrote fifty-four letters to Sumner during the 1870's and 1880's. But except for a brief period when Sumner objected to his editorial policy (1873), Godkin discussed little of substance with Sumner.

On a regional level, Sumner was in contact with many free traders in the East and Midwest. Abraham L. Earle, founder of the Free Trade Alliance and leader of the American Free Trade League, wrote fifty-eight letters to Sumner between 1873 and 1884, keeping him abreast of free trade activities in New York City. Elsewhere across the country, Henry J. Philipott of Iowa kept Sumner informed of Iowan politics and local free trade organizations (forty-five letters, 1881-1887). Lewis Howland of Indiana reported on local politics in fourteen letters between 1876 and 1908. And Fred B. Ward recorded tensions within the Illinois Tariff Reform League during the 1880's (sixteen letters, 1880-1890).

Sumner also received scores of requests to speak before free trade organizations. Most of these organizations were based in New York and New England, although some operated from as far away as the Midwest. Some of these organizations were: the Brooklyn Revenue Reform Club (twenty-two letters, 1881-1886), the New York Free Trade Club (nineteen letters, 1878-1886), the Connecticut Tariff Reform League (ten letters, 1897-1900), and the American Tariff Reform League of Chicago (two letters, 1888).

Sumner received fewer requests to speak on American currency issues. Even so, he wrote often about the subject, and his correspondence is filled with business letters from his publishers. These included Henry Holt and Company, Putman and Sons, and Dodd, Mead, and Company. Sumner also received many requests from newspapers and magazines throughout the country for articles on the American economy.

Sumner's correspondents usually avoided discussion of economic theory, preferring instead to deal with specific issues such as the free coinage of silver. Among the few who did discuss pure economic theory were: Irving Fisher (1899), Simon Newcomb (seven letters, 1884-1896), C. Francis Bastable (seven letters, 1886-1890), and A.L. Perry (nine letters, 1874-1883).

Although Sumner turned to sociology in the 1890's, few wrote to him about this portion of his career. Irving Fisher talked briefly about the intersection of economics and sociology (1899) and Albert Keller discussed Sumner's work on the science of society (approximately one hundred and fifty items, 1896-1909). Ginn and Company also kept a fairly detailed correspondence with Sumner on the production of Sumner's book,Folkways(thirty-one letters, 1906-1908). But aside from this, no other major correspondent wrote about substantive sociological issues.

Besides his reputation as a scholar and publicist, Sumner gained an impressive reputation as a master teacher. Much of his correspondence during the 1880's reflected his efforts to influence Yale College's curriculum and faculty. Sumner received many revealing letters when Yale's President, Noah Porter, asked him to ban Spencer'sStudy of Sociologyfrom the classroom (1879). Letters of advice came from faculty members Simeon Baldwin, Henry Beers, Franklin Carter, Timothy Dwight, and Thomas A. Thacher as well as from friends such as J. Frederic Kernochan, Charles Grinnell, Charles Owen, and Henry Holt. Timothy Dwight in particular wrote an exceedingly candid letter about the effect Sumner's use of Spencer would have on Yale's endowment (1880).

The most candid letters on policies at Yale came from faculty members E.S. Dana (thirty-one letters, 1884-1906), Henry W. Farnam (fifty-four items, 1883-1908), George T. Ladd (six items, 1884-1886), Irving Fisher (thirty-one items, 1886-1906) and Andrew Phillips (eighty items, 1873-1908). Interested alumni also discussed actions of the Yale Corporation. These included John Addison Porter (twelve letters, 1885-1887), Louis DuPont Syle (1887), and Howard Mansfield (nine letters, 1873-1880, 1891).

Sumner's correspondence also reflected his educational interests outside of Yale. As a member of the Connecticut State Board of Education from 1882 until his death, he received over five hundred letters from Charles Hine, the board's secretary. Most of these letters dealt with school board policy and the execution of that policy. In addition, Sumner constantly received letters from various school officials around the state.

In addition to the main correspondents of Sumner's professional life, many personal friends wrote to Sumner about other concerns. One of these friends was Lord Archibald Campbell of Scotland. Campbell met Sumner while studying in Europe and kept up a constant correspondence with him thereafter (one hundred and seven letters, 1865-1908). Campbell commented on such topics as Gladstone (1885), the problems of the British Empire (1884-1885), and the nature of the American people (1881).

Charles Grinnell also studied with Sumner in Europe and became another close friend (one hundred and sixty-one items 1865-1907). Grinnell, a Unitarian, entered the ministry after studying in Europe, and from 1866 to 1873 wrote about his life in the pastorate. Grinnell discussed the problems of orthodoxy and the difficulties in dealing with prohibitionists in his congregation. He also commented occasionally onThe Living Church. In 1873 Grinnell left the pastorate to become a lawyer. Nevertheless, he continued to discuss his difficulties with Sumner and often counselled him on a number of problems, including the Spencer controversy (1880).

William C. Whitney was another close friend of Sumner (sixty-five letters, 1863-1890). As classmates at Yale they became "brothers" in the secret society, Skull and Bones. When Sumner travelled to Europe, Whitney wrote him about his religious beliefs, his reactions to New York City, and his opinion of Lincoln (1864-1865). When Sumner entered the ministry, Whitney candidly discussed Sumner's sermon-making abilities. And when Sumner's health broke down in 1890, Whitney with the help of friends sent Sumner a note with three thousand dollars to take a leave of absence.

During the 1880s Sumner maintained a rich correspondence with Sophie Raffalovich, daughter of a French banker who later married the Irish patriot, William O'Brien (thirty-seven letters, 1883-1889). Raffalovich followed French politics closely, especially during the Boulanger crisis (1887-1889), and wrote Sumner about her impressions. Raffalovich also studied economics and commented on her work with the French economists Guyot and Chailley. As a woman economist, Raffalovich occupied a unique position in nineteenth century French society. She realized the precariousness of her position and often discussed the difficulties she faced in a world dominated by men (1884, 1885, 1887).

Charles Francis Adams, Jr. was another correspondent who wrote to Sumner about a variety of topics (eighteen letters, 1876-1889, 1908). These topics ranged from discussions on the tactics of political reformers (1876) to observations on William James (1899) to comments on choosing presidents (1877).

Besides correspondence from friends and colleagues, Sumner received many letters from his family. These letters show one side of Sumner's personality which the public never saw. Letters from his wife, Jeannie (approximately four hundred items, 1870-1903) and his two sons, Eliot (one hundred and thirty-one letters, 1890, 1895-1908) and Graham (one hundred and twenty-five letters, 1900-1908) portray Sumner as a concerned family man. Letters from Sumner's in-laws, Julia, Henry and Frederic Elliott also reveal much about Sumner's personal life.


Series II, WRITINGS, has nine catagories or sections: articles, essays, books, sermons, lectures, notebooks, subject files, miscellaneous writings, and notecards, indexes, and booklists. Sumner's writings extend from 1859 to 1910, but the bulk of the material falls between 1869 and 1909.

The Sumner papers contain sixty-four articles (1876-1910, n.d.). Most appeared between 1880 and 1900, and nearly all deal with specific political or economic issues. The five articles published after 1900 concern sociological issues. The papers also contain forty-one essays (1872-1909, n.d.) and forty-five essay fragments. Essays dated before 1889 generally deal with financial or political topics, while those after 1889 concern topics of sociology. Several long manuscripts on demonism, the institution of marriage, and witchcraft are not dated. All forty-five essay fragments have no date and probably were used in the preparation ofFolkways(1906).

Sumner's writings include eight books or parts of books (five published and three unpublished). Proof sheets with Sumner's corrections forAndrew Jackson As A Public Figure(1882) and a typed copy ofA History of Banking in the United States(1896) are contained in this section, as are the rough drafts for several chapters ofFolkways(1906). This section also contains two unpublished books on paper money. One book discusses the world history of money (1873). The second and longer book examines the history of paper money in the American colonies (n.d.).

Fully one half of this section is devoted to Sumner's huge project,Science of Society, which served as the basis for Albert G. Keller'sScience of Society(1927). Besides seventeen chapters in manuscript form, there are two typewritten copies, one revision, and expansions of several chapters. These revisions and expansions were written by Albert Keller in the years immediately after Sumner's death, and they eventually became part of the final draft ofScience of Society. Typewritten copies of these expansions remain in the Sumner papers primarily because Sumner's handwritten notecards are attached. Keller's original handwritten manuscript, without Sumner's notes, remains in the Keller papers.

This section also contains typewritten copies of two books published posthumously:Essays of William Graham Sumner(1924), edited by Albert G. Keller and Maurice R. Davie, andSumner Today: Selected Essays of William Graham Sumner with Comments by American Leaders(1940), edited by Maurice R. Davie.

Series II holds one hundred and forty-six sermons (1868-1872), most of which were written between 1870 and 1872 when Sumner served as an Episcopal minister in Morristown, New Jersey. There are also sermons from Sumner's tenure as assistant pastor at the Calvary Church in New York City. With several exceptions, the collection of sermons is complete.

Sumner saved over seventy lectures and addresses (1872-1908). About one-third of these were delivered as political economy lectures before 1880. After 1880 the topics of Sumner's speeches and lectures generally follow the pattern of his essays and articles. Up until the 1890's they examine political and economic issues. After that time they concentrate more on sociological topics. This section also contains lecture notes from some of Sumner's students. Complete notes exist for Sumner's American History, Industrial Organization, and Science of Society courses.

Besides the notebooks of others, this series holds fifty-five of Sumner's own notebooks and journals. Twenty-six were written between 1862 and 1865, and most contain notes of Sumner's course work. Ten cover Sumner's course work at Yale (1862-1863), nine cover his study of French, Hebrew and German in Europe (1863-1865) and four cover his study of theology and philosophy at Göttingen (1865). Sumner also kept two personal journals while studying in Geneva (1863-1864). One other notebook dated 1893 to 1896 contains a list of addresses and a record of Sumner's finances. This section also contains sixteen of Sumner's grade-books (1890-1908) and eight notebooks on the writings of other sociologists (1893-1897, 1901, 1904, 1909).

Sumner's subject files contain fifteen scrapbooks. Boxes 75 through 88 contain one scrapbook apiece. The bindings have been removed and the contents of each leaf have been put in a separate folder. The scrapbooks hold notes, pages of books, newspaper clippings, and citations on the political and economic history of the United States. They also contain several manuscripts. Box 82 holds two manuscripts: one entitled "American Democracy Chapter III" and another untitled manuscript which appears to be an essay on the administration of Andrew Jackson. Box 83 contains a manuscript on United States banking, and box 86 holds a manuscript entitled "Doctrine of Democracy" which is an outline on the nature of democracy. In addition to these scrapbooks, there are two boxes of newspaper clippings and scattered notes.

Under the section of notecards, indexes, and booklists there are sets of notes on the Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution, the Renaissance, Manors, and the Middle Ages. There are also complete indexes forFolkwaysand several volumes of booklists for Sumner's private library and the social science library at Yale. In addition, this section contains thirty-two drawers of notecards (about 250,000) used in the preparation ofScience of Society.

Miscellaneous writings include several short stories written by Sumner while in high school (1859), several proposals and memoranda by Sumner while at Yale and one piece of fiction entitled "Cooperative Commonwealth" written sometime in the 1870s or 1880s. Miscellaneous writings also holds an essay on monopolies (1909) that has no indication of authorship. It is a carbon copy of a typewritten copy and has no marks by Sumner on it. The title, "On the Concentration of Wealth," seems to have been penciled in by Maurice Davie, an editorial assistant for Albert Keller who later became a prominent sociologist. This essay does not appear in any bibliography of Sumner's writings, and the content differs from Sumner's earlier writings on the subject. One must assume the essay was not written by Sumner.


Series III, MEMORABILIA, has four catagories or sections: scrapbooks, printed material, photographs, and financial records.

Series III contains six scrapbooks. Three hold Yale memorabilia from 1873 through 1901, one holds a collection of Sumner's obituaries (1910) and two more (in microfilm form) contain newspaper and magazine clippings about Sumner while he was alive. The Sumner Papers also include a variety of printed material belonging to Sumnerâ€"his first books, his Bible, several copies of theYale Banner, and menus and programs from banquets he attended. Of the twelve photographs in this series, ten are of Sumner, one is of Phillip Brooks, and one is of an unidentified woman. The financial records in this series contain mostly royalty statements from Sumner's publishers.


Since 1920 a variety of sources have contributed to the Sumner Papers. It is therefore impossible to date the acquisition of every single item. However, it is possible to describe the acquisition of the papers' four major sections. In 1914 the Sumner family gave Albert G. Keller control over all of William Graham Sumner's "notes, manuscripts, and other materials." Between 1920 and 1956 Keller donated portions of these materials to the Yale University Library. These materials found their way into two collections the Sumner-Keller Collection (see Appendix 1) and the William Graham Sumner Papers (see Appendix 2). After 1956 Keller's family particularly his son, Deane continued to give materials to the library.

In 1969 Mrs. Gilbert Troxell, Sumner's niece, donated several hundred letters, notebooks, financial reports and memorabilia (see Appendix 3). Finally, in 1975, Yale University bought from Margaret L. Sumner approximately thirteen thousand Sumner letters. These letters now account for most of the incoming correspondence in the papers.

From time to time since January 1977, when this register was prepared, small additions, most of them purchased from Maurice Sagoff, have been incorporated into the collection. As a result, quantities given in the Description of the Papers (numbers of letters from particular correspondents, of writings, of photographs, etc.) are no longer exactly accurate; and the dates assigned to individual folders are now inclusive, suggestive of the span of years rather than exhaustive.

Biographical / Historical:

William Graham Sumner was born to Thomas and Sarah Sumner on 30 October 1840 in Paterson, New Jersey. William's father, Thomas, was a mechanic who moved his family from one town to another until 1845, when the Sumners settled in Hartford, Connecticut. William grew up in Hartford, attended its public schools, and then entered Yale College in 1859 with the intention of becoming a minister.

Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, Sumner achieved an impressive record at Yale as a scholar and orator. Sumner graduated in 1863 and then, with the financial help of his friends, set off for Europe to study theology at Geneva, Göttingen, and Oxford. He returned to America in 1866 to serve as a tutor at Yale.

Although a successful teacher, Sumner did not abandon his plans to enter the ministry. On 28 December 1867 he was ordained by the Episcopal Church and three months later moved to New York City to serve as the assistant rector at the Calvary Church. One of his major accomplishments as assistant rector was to found and edit a religious journal called The Living Church. (The journal lasted barely a year, 1869-1870.) He also delivered an occasional sermon at the church and translated W.F. Bahr's Book of Kings.

During this time, the young minister found time to woo and marry Jeannie Whittemore Elliott. The two were married 17 April 1871 and had three sons, one of whom died in infancy.

After personal difficulties with the rector of Calvary Church in 1870, Sumner accepted the post of rector at the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey. He remained in Morristown until 1872 when the Yale Corporation appointed him to the new chair of political and social science. Sumner stayed at Yale for the rest of his career, serving as a teacher, administrator, scholar and publicist.

Sumner was undoubtedly Yale's most dynamic teacher of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Students clamored to enroll in his classes, and years later they continued to testify to the impact he had on their thinking. Sumner was also a champion of academic freedom and a leader in modernizing Yale's curriculum.

This devotion to academic reform nearly cost him his professorship. On 6 December 1879 Yale's President, Noah Porter, asked Sumner to ban Spencer's Study of Sociology from the classroom, arguing that it would "bring intellectual and moral harm" to impressionable undergraduates. Sumner saw this as a threat to academic freedom and bluntly refused Porter's request. The faculty soon split into two factions one supporting and the other opposing Sumner's defiance. Sumner seriously considered resigning, but friends persuaded him to stay. Eventually, his opponents capitulated and allowed Sumner to use any textbook he wanted.

Sumner's refusal to compromise and his ability to speak and write bluntly served him well outside of Yale as a publicist. From 1872 until the early 1890's Sumner wrote and spoke constantly on the economic and political issues of the day. He vigorously opposed protectionism, bimetallism, imperialism, and socialism in an acidic style which infuriated his opponents and delighted his supporters.

Sumner was a dedicated scholar as well as a nationally known polemicist. His scholarly books on economic history include: A History of American Currency (1874), Alexander Hamilton (1890), The Financier and the Finances of the Revolution (1891), and A History of Banking in the United States (1896). As an economist, however, Sumner broke no new intellectual ground. He accepted the doctrines of earlier classical economists and applied their theories to specific events.

It was as a sociologist that Sumner made his most lasting mark as a scholar. During the 1890's Sumner turned his attention to the field of sociology, or, as he later called it, the science of society. Compiling thousands of notes on the practices of various cultures, he envisioned writing a systematic work entitled Societology which he later changed to The Science of Society. After writing seventeen chapters of his book, Sumner realized his chapter on customs or "mores" was nearly a book in itself. He took time off from his main project and turned this chapter into Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores and Morals (1906). While never a best seller in his lifetime, Folkways became Sumner's greatest scholarly achievement, establishing him as one of America's foremost sociologists.

Following the publication of Folkways, Sumner's health, which had been poor since 1890, declined precipitously. Realizing he had neither the strength nor the energy to finish his Science of Society, he entrusted the project to his disciple, Albert Galloway Keller. Sumner never saw the finished project, which did not appear until seventeen years after his death.

Soon after his retirement in 1909, Sumner's health broke down completely. He died on 10 April 1910 in Englewood, NJ.


Arranged in three series and one addition: I. Correspondence. II. Writings. III. Memorabilia.


Sterling Memorial Library
Yale Campus
New Haven, CT, USA
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