William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955

A Finding Aid to the William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain Family Papers, 1888-1955, in the Archives of American Art, by Jayna Hanson

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912), known as Robert, was a painter and political activist working in Boston and New York City. Born to a wealthy family in New England, Pearmain attended Harvard University to study architecture and studied painting in Italy under George de Forest Brush.

Between 1907 and 1908, Pearmain travelled through France and Italy studying with Brush and other artists. Upon returning to the United States, Pearmain married the eldest daughter of his mentor, Nancy Douglas Brush in Dublin, New Hampshire. Also an artist, Nancy settled with Robert in Boston and later in New York City. While in New York, Pearmain worked as an assistant to muralist Barry Faulkner. In 1911, the Pearmains welcomed their daughter Mary Alice, whom they called Polly.

While in New York, Pearmain grew dissatisfied with his artistic career. He discovered an interest in the conditions of the working class and his social and political viewpoints became increasingly radical. Despite his privilaged upbringing, he immersed himself in the world of manual labor. Leaving his wife and daughter behind, Robert walked from New York City to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to work at the Westinghouse Electric Company. Additionally, Pearmain became associated with the Industrial Workers of the World organization and participated in anarchist demonstrations.

Soon after arriving in Pittsburgh, Pearmain's health started to fail. His family believed the hard working conditions caused his illness and a doctor suggested that he return to Massachusetts to recover. In September of 1912, Robert Pearmain died of leukemia. Later, Nancy remarried Dr. Harold Bowditch.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter and activist William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912) and the Pearmain family measure 0.4 linear feet and date from 1888-1955. Papers are found for William Robert Pearmain, his wife Nancy Douglas Brush (later Bowditch), their daughter Mary "Polly" Pearmain, and other members of the Pearmain family. There are biographical materials; family correspondence; a watercolor; a travel diary and school essays by Pearmain; printed materials, including clippings and two publications by the Industrial Workers of the World; and photographs of the Pearmain family and artwork.

Scattered biographical information includes materials concerning the Pearmain and Upton families including a wedding invitation, school transcripts, biographical sketches and a debutate ball program from 1931.

Much of the correspondence is from William Robert Pearmain to his family written while in school and in Europe. Pearmain's correspondence with his family discusses his career, marriage, daughter, travel, and political views. Later correspondence is from both Robert and Nancy to family members. Other family correspondence is between Nancy, Polly, Sarah Upton, Sumner, Alice, Margaret, and Jack Pearmain.

There are a few incoming letters to Robert, including one from Margaret Sanger. There are condolence letters to Nancy from John Graham Brooks, Rockwell Kent, William Sanger, and Alexander Beckman. A letter from George de Forest Brush to Robert's mother, possibly dated 1906, discusses her unhappiness about Robert leaving Harvard and staying with the Brushs' in Italy. A photocopy of a letter from Samuel Clemens to George de Forest Brush is found. Additional correspondents include Charles F. Dole and William E. Trautmann.

Artwork consists of one watercolor by William Robert Pearmain. Writings and notes include one diary written by Robert while in Europe (1907), school essays, and a list of European trip expenses. Printed materials include clippings, and one issue each of Solidarity , and Mother Earth. Photographs are of a drawing of William Robert Pearmain by Will Loring and family snapshots of Robert, Nancy, and Polly Pearmain in New Hampshire (1911).

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 6 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • Industrial Workers of the World

Subjects-Topical:

  • Art -- Study and teaching
  • Painters -- Massachusetts -- Boston
  • Painters -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Political activists -- Massachusetts -- Boston
  • Political activists -- New York (State)-- New York
  • Travel -- Europe

Types of Materials:

  • Diaries
  • Photographs
  • Sketches
  • Watercolors
  • Writings

Names:

  • Berkman, Alexander, 1870-1936
  • Bowditch, Nancy Douglas
  • Brooks, John Graham, 1846-1938
  • Brush, George de Forest, 1855-1941
  • Clemens, Samuel Langhorne, 1835-1910
  • Dole, Charles F. (Charles Fletcher), 1845-1927
  • Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971
  • Pearmain, Alice
  • Pearmain, Jack
  • Pearmain, Margaret
  • Pearmain, Mary
  • Pearmain, Summer
  • Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966
  • Sanger, William, b. 1888?
  • Trautmann, W. E. (William Ernst), b. 1869
  • Upton, Sarah

Provenance

The papers of William Robert Pearmain were donated by his widow, Nancy Douglas Bowditch and their grandson, Edward F. McClennen in 1973-1974.

Separated and Related Materials

A drawing by Will Loring of William Robert Pearmain as a child was microfilmed and photographed by the Archives of American Art and returned to William Robert Pearmain, nephew of the sitter.

Also found in the Archives of American Art is the Nancy Douglas Bowditch papers, circa 1900s-1970s that contain materials relating to her first husband, William Robert Pearmain and an oral history interview with Nancy Douglas Bowditch conducted on January 30, 1974 by Robert F. Brown.

How the Collection was Processed

The William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers were microfilmed upon receipt. The collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Jayna Hanson in 2009 and digitized in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The William Robert Pearmain papers were digitized in 2009 and are available via the Archives of American Art's website.

How to Cite this Collection

William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1888-circa 1955
(Box 1; 5 folders)

Scattered biographical materials relate to William Robert Pearmain, his wife Nancy, their daughter Polly, and the Pearmain family. Also found are documents concerning the Upton family, from which Robert descended through his mother, Alice. Mostly ephemera, there is a doctor's bill from William Robert Pearmain's birth, transcripts from Milton Academy, a bursar bill from Harvard University, Nancy and Robert's wedding invitation, a program from Polly's debutante ball, a funeral announcement for a Sarah M. Upton, and transcripts of notes found in the Pearmain family bible. Some materials have been annotated by Jack Pearmain, Robert's brother.

Box Folder
1 1 Pearmain Family, circa 1955
1 2 Pearmain, Mary "Polly," 1930-1931
1 3 Pearmain, Nancy, 1909
1 4 Pearmain, William Robert, 1888-1914, circa 1955
1 5 Upton Family, 1903-1907

Series 2: Correspondence, 1899-1955
(Box 1; 0.25 linear feet)

Correspondence includes many letters from Pearmain to his mother and other family members written while he was attending the Milton Academy and Harvard, ca. 1900-1906, and while studying art and traveling in Paris and Italy, 1907-1908. There are letters from Pearmain to his wife Nancy, and from both of them to their parents, written from New York City, Dublin, New Hampshire, the Adirondacks, and Pittsburgh. The majority of William's letters discuss his education, time spent in Europe between 1907-1908, his marriage and family, dissatisfaction with his career, and his factory work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

There are a few letters to Robert, including one from Margaret Sanger thanking him for the use of the Dublin house and asking him to write about the "Pittsburgh situation for the Call"; letters to Nancy, mainly of condolence, from John Graham Brooks, Rockwell Kent, William Sanger, and Alexander Beckman. There is a letter from George de Forest Brush to Robert's mother, circa 1906 or 1907, discussing her unhappiness about Robert leaving Harvard and staying with the Brush family in Italy; a copy of a letter from Samuel Clemens to George de Forest Brush is also found.

Other family correspondence is between Nancy, Polly, Sarah Upton, Sumner, Alice, Margaret, and Jack Pearmain.

Box Folder
1 6 General, circa 1900s
1 7 Condolence Letters, 1912
1 8 Brush, George de Forest, circa 1907
1 9 Clemens, Samuel, 1908
1 10 Denton, William D., 1906
1 11 Henderson, C. Handford, 1902-circa 1909
1 12 McClennen, Joshua, 1934
1 13 Osgood, Dr. Hamilton, 1905-1906
1 14 Pearmain, Alice Upton, circa 1910s
1 15 Pearmain, John "Jack," 1955
1 16 Pearmain, Margaret, 1907
1 17 Pearmain, Mary "Polly," circa 1920s
1 18-19 Pearmain, Nancy, 1907-1916, 1942, circa 1910s
(2 folders)
1 20-23 Pearmain, William Robert, 1899-1912
(4 folders)
1 24 Sanger, Margaret, circa 1912
1 25 Upton, Sarah M., 1906

Series 3: Artwork, circa 1910, 1955
(Box 1; 1 folder)

There is one watercolor by William Robert Pearmain circa 1910. Accompaning the watercolor is a note written by John Pearmain to his niece, Polly concerning the drawing.

Box Folder
1 26 Watercolor by William Robert Pearmain, circa 1910, 1955

Series 4: Writings and Notes, circa 1900s-1908
(Box 1; 3 folders)

This series consists of a diary by Robert Pearmain recounting his time spent in Europe and notes concerning expenses of the trip. Also found are two school essays by Pearmain.

Box Folder
1 27 Diary, 1907
1 28 School Essays, circa 1900s
1 29 Trip Expenses, circa 1907-1908

Series 5: Printed Material, 1907-1913
(Box 1; 3 folders)

This series consists of newspapers clippings relating to events in Robert Pearmain's life including his death and marriage. Also found are one issue of the International Workers of the World publication Solidarity and an issue of Mother Earth.

Box Folder
1 30 Clippings, 1907-1912
1 31 Mother Earth, 1912 October
1 32 Solidarity, 1913 January 4

Series 6: Photographs, circa 1900-1911
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Found here is a photograph taken by the Archives of American Art of a drawing by Will Loring of William Robert Pearmain as a child. Other family photographs are of the Robert, Nancy, and Polly Pearmain in New Hampshire in 1911.

Box Folder
1 33 Drawing by Will Loring, circa 1900
1 34 Pearmain Family, 1911