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William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955

Pearmain, William Robert, 1888-1912


The papers of William Robert Pearmain in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 666 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 0.4 linear feet

Summary: 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).

Biographical/Historical Note

William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912) was a painter from Dublin, N.H. The Pearmain family were neighbors of George de Forest Brush in Dublin, N.H., where many artists lived. Samuel Clemens was also a neighbor. Pearmain left Harvard after his first semester to study painting with Brush in Italy. He married Brushs' daughter, Nancy, in 1909, and returned to New York and became active in socialist causes, joining the I.W.W. and working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the Westinghouse Electric Co. He died of leukemia in 1912. Nancy later married Dr. Harold Bowditch.


Donated 1973 and 1974 by Nancy Bowditch and Edward F. McClennen, Pearmain's widow and grandson. The photograph of the drawing was lent for microfilming by W. Robert Pearmain, Pearmain's nephew, 1974. Some of the items have been annotated by Pearmain's younger brother, Jack. The collection was microfilmed in 1993.

Related Materials

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.


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

Location of Originals

  • Drawing of a young Pearmain by [Will?] Loring: Original returned to W. Robert Pearmain after photographing.