Interviewed on May 14, 1979
[This transcript was created at the time of the interview and may contain errors and omissions]
Alice Felt Tyler
Shadow Lane, Wellesley, MA
Horace W. Hewlett
For Amherst College
HWH: This is Horace Hewlett interviewing Mrs. Alice Felt Tyler at her home at 19 Shadow Lane in Wellesley on Monday, May 14, 1979.
I did jot down a few questions, Mrs. Tyler, but first let me say how grateful I am for your being willing to chat with me. I reread your grandfather-in-law’s autobiography and I enjoyed it immensely.
TYLER: Oh, I got it out to show you. Did you try to work out the genealogies that his grandson followed? It took me ages to find out the method by which he was working.
HWH: I had it that the senior Mr. Tyler, who graduated from Amherst in 1830 and taught there until I think it was 1893...
TYLER: Sixty years or so.
HWH: He had three brothers, four sons, four grandsons, one grand-nephew, two great-grandsons who went to Amherst between 1831 and 1951. And there’s one Tyler that lives down in Watchung, New Jersey, who was in the Class of 1951, but he was at Amherst for only one year. He was the grandson of Mason Whiting Tyler and the son of Cornelius Boardman Tyler, but I can’t find anything more about him.
TYLER: I don’t know him. I knew him as a boy and then after he left Amherst. For a while he lived in Washington and was with the Folger Library. The last time I saw him he was there and that was when my son must have been about ten years old. Then he married and was divorced, I think, and went to California. I know his sister, who still lives in New Jersey and I have her address and hear from her, but she never mentions her brother and so I know he doesn’t live in New Jersey any more. Another sister, Margaret, lives in Florida.
HWH: I jotted down a little about each of the Tylers. William Seymour Tyler’s brother, Wellington Hart Tyler, I know, founded the Pittsfield Institute for Young Ladies, and it was when he left Amherst where he was a tutor that William Seymour Tyler came back from New York, I believe, at the time, to take his brother’s place so that he could accept the post in Western Massachusetts.
TYLER: That I don’t know beyond what was in the Autobiography.
HWH: And so many of them, I noticed, too, were lawyers. I know that Edward Griswold Tyler, who was William Seymour’s brother, went into banking out in Canandaigua, New York.
TYLER: I wouldn’t be surprised. Cousin Will and Cousin Boardman, who were my husband’s cousins who graduated from Amherst shortly after 1900 or about 1900, were older than my (husband). Their father was the oldest son and my father-in-law was the baby, the youngest of the four. The eldest son married and lived away and married again and his daughters are the only ones that I knew of that family. One was Miss Amelia Tyler, who lived with her grandparents up on the hill after her mother died. And eventually, after graduating from Smith she became the Librarian at Smith and was there until she retired and died-- quite a number of years ago.
HWH: That was Amelia Whiting...
TYLER: Amelia Whiting Tyler, named for her grandmother. She lived with her grandmother until she went to Smith College and later, after her grandmother’s death, was a librarian at Smith.
HWH: Then she’s the one who contributed that very nice chapter in the Autobiography called “Closing Days.” I couldn’t find any child of a Tyler named Amelia Whiting Tyler.
TYLER: That was Cousin Nellie. Cousin Nellie was very, very devoted to the Tyler family and knew a great deal about it. And of course, she lived in the old house on the hill all through her girlhood. Her sister, her half-sister, lives in Washington still and her name was Mrs. Raynor, and those two I knew very well.
HWH: Now whose daughters were they?
TYLER: They were the daughters of the eldest son, Mason Whiting Tyler, and they were half-sisters. Mrs. Pierce Raynor still lives in Washington. But Amelia Whiting Tyler died about fifteen years or more ago. She was a very great friend of mine. Mason Whiting Tyler is the one who was a Colonel in the Civil War and a very successful New York lawyer. His younger son, Cousin Boardman-- Cousin Will and Cousin Boardman were the sons of Mason Whiting Tyler who was the Colonel and the lawyer-- inherited a very large estate from their successful law practice. Both of them lived in Plainfield, New Jersey, and had law offices in New York. They both died after my husband did in 1923 and after Father John died in 1929.
HWH: Yes. The brothers, William Seymour II died in 1954 and Cornelius Boardman died in 1955.
TYLER: They lived a long time after. They were the trustees of a trust fund for my father- and mother-in-law that their father set up in New York in the early nineteen ‘twenties.
HWH: I was impressed with Cornelius’s record. He was not only a lawyer, but he was engaged in apple-raising out in Washington, he had a wheat farm in Saskatchewan with Harry Leonard who appears to be something of a promoter (Amherst Class of ‘02), and he traveled all over the world.
TYLER: Oh yes. His wife was a very interesting woman who did a great many interesting things. She did sculpture and pottery. The two families, the elder son William and his wife and Boardman and his wife, lived in the same area. The father had bought a large lot in Plainfield that went through from one street to another so that the two houses that were built for the two sons joined, had a fence at the back of each lot so that you could go back and forth. The whole estate was beautifully kept up and it was a lovely place to visit and beautiful houses. Boardman had a summer place in Pittsfield and Will had a summer place at Lake Sunapee, which were both very lovely places.
HWH: Another Tyler was Henry Mather Tyler who graduated from Amherst in 1865.
TYLER: Yes, that was Uncle Henry. He was a dear. I have a very charming picture of Uncle Henry and Father John sitting on the steps of the house in Amherst with my son about two years old sitting in between them. It was a very charming family. It happened that Uncle Henry started his teaching, after he graduated from Amherst, at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, from which I graduated many years later. His father, William Seymour Tyler, went out to see him and Uncle Henry told me that his father came in to see him in his office at Knox College and saw a big stone on the desk and he said, “Henry what are you doing with that stone?” And Henry said, “Father, this is the largest stone in Knox County, Illinois.” (Laughter) Then he came back from there to teach Greek at Smith College, where he stayed and was Dean, eventually, I think, and had retired by the time I knew him.
HWH: It’s interesting. I’m sure he was named after one of William Seymour Tyler’s early students, Richard Henry Mather, whom everyone called Dickie Mather. He started what was Amherst’s art collection, even though his subject I believe, was Greek and he was a Classicist. But I was very pleased to see that Henry Mather Tyler also taught Greek and was named for one of your grandfather’s first students. I notice, too, that you mention that his wife, Kary Frances Devereaux, came from Galesburg, as did you.
TYLER: Yes. I was going to tell you that he married a Galesburg girl. And then still more complicated a relationship between Galesburg and the Tylers was that my mother-in-law, Mrs. Elizabeth Tyler, came from a family in Illinois that came out from New Hampshire in the same decade that my father’s family came from New Hampshire. The two houses in New Hampshire are only about five miles apart and are still standing. My father’s grandparents came from New Hampshire from a house in Temple, New Hampshire, and his father was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. The graves of the family are all there in Temple, New Hampshire. Mrs. Tyler’s family, the Stearns family, was associated with Peterborough and Jaffrey and they came to Illinois in the same decade. They settled in Illinois within ten miles but so far as I know they never knew each other. Mrs. Tyler and my mother, whose family had come out in the same period from New York to Galesburg, went to the same Academy of Knox College before it was coeducational. It was a Ladies’ Academy then and they were there within a few years of each other. Mrs. Tyler was a little older, but they never knew each other. And Mrs. Tyler’s two brothers went to Knox College in that period, somewhere in the eighteen ‘seventies, so that when I was driving, taking my father and mother-in-law up through New Hampshire up toward Sunapee to see Cousin Will’s family, we stopped to see the house where Mrs. Tyler’s mother came from and the one where my great-grandparents came from to go out to Illinois, and that was the first time I knew it.
HWH: Is that so?
TYLER: On that trip we made that circuit of the century, just about a hundred years before, when those two families had gone to Illinois and settled close together. My mother’s name was Wood, and one of the Professors at Smith College was a Wood from the same family that came from Connecticut-- only his family had stayed there, but they traced that connection.
HWH: Did you ever know Seelye Bixler up in Jaffrey?
HWH: Julius Hawley Seelye was a nephew, a grand-nephew...
TYLER: My grandfather’s name was Seelye Wood and he was connected in some way with the Seelye family, because it’s certainly not a given name ordinarily.
HWH: Well, you know Julius Hawley Seelye was, I think, the fifth President of the College and he lived in that house that became Phi Kappa Psi right opposite the Grosvenors’ house. That’s where Julius Seelye Bixler grew up as a boy.
TYLER: I have no idea where our Seelye connection came from, but that was my grandfather Wood’s name. And one of his grandsons was named Seelye, too. So it’s a name that ran through the family.
HWH: There’s probably a connection there somewhere.
TYLER: There were thousands of families going out from New England to Illinois in those last decades before the Civil War, so that after all they had to marry somebody. And you get them mixed up. But it was strange that I went from Illinois up to Minnesota to do graduate work and one of the first people I met was this young man who came out from Princeton, during the war period, to teach history at the University of Minnesota.
HWH: And this young man was...
TYLER: Mason Whiting Tyler.
HWH: Your husband, yes. It’s interesting that another young man should come out somewhat later than that. We’ll get to John William Ward a little later. He went from Minnesota to Princeton.
TYLER: My husband taught at Princeton for a few years and then he got involved in the war years with the Colonel House Commission and spent the last summer or two working on getting information on the Balkan States and the Near East for the House Commission that was preparing for the possibility of a peace treaty. They started as soon as the war began, because nobody in this country knew much about all that Balkan area. Mason’s book was published after his death-- his book on the Near East that was based on the work that he did then.
HWH: It would be useful if he could be questioned now with all that’s going on over there.
TYLER: He stopped working on it in the last year of his life because he had reached the point where he was waiting for the material that the new German government was beginning to publish, “Die Grossepolitik,” which was the whole evidence of German diplomatic operations in the period before, during, and after the Bismarck involvement in the alliances that were made and so forth. Mason said there was no use in finishing his book until he could check on the material that he’d been able to find elsewhere until Germany published the documents.
HWH: Did you ever know Laurence Packard who taught history at Amherst?
TYLER: No. I don’t know just the years he was there.
HWH: He was there from 1925 to the middle ‘fifties.
TYLER: Well, the name is familiar, but I don’t think he was there in the summers.
HWH: No. They had a place at Woods Hole and they went down there. His widow is there now.
TYLER: So I wouldn’t have known them, you see. I knew only the people who were there in the summer and who were the contemporaries of my father- and mother-in-law.
HWH: Let me ask you a little more about the Tyler house, really two houses. The way the house is described in the Autobiography it sounded like a fabulous place. Up at the top of that hill the view must have been grand.
TYLER: William Seymour Tyler bought about seven acres that went from-- I can’t remember the name of the street at the back -- but it went over the hill and down to what was eventually Tyler Place, and the old house was there. That was a pre-Revolutionary house. After William Seymour Tyler died, Mason Whiting Tyler, who was his son and the one who lived in New Jersey and was the corporation lawyer in New York, took over the house and built an enormous addition to the back of it-- almost like a dormitory-- so that he’d have plenty of place to entertain all of the Class with which he had graduated when they came back for Commencements. So that when I first saw it, it was this old pre-Revolutionary house, with this peculiar addition at the rear, which had room for dining room, bedrooms, kitchen, and so forth to be able to entertain the classmates of his when they came back!
HWH: I believe there was an enormous hedge, too, around the property.
TYLER: A hedge went all the way down from the house on the hill to Tyler Place and then all the way at the back of the property down separating that property to the other street at the bottom of the hill. When Father John and Mrs. Tyler were married, her mother, I think, built the other house. Father John’s parents divided the lot and gave them the title to the lower part of the property. Mrs. Tyler’s mother lived with them until she died a few years later. She died about the time, a little after, my husband was born, which was 1884, and she died shortly after that. She lived with them and I understood from Mrs. Tyler that she provided the funds for building the house. She was a relative of the Greenes who lived in the house at the bottom of the hill. He was an Admiral in the Civil War and came after that to Amherst and bought that house at the bottom of the hill. His wife was an Ainsworth and Parson Ainsworth had married Mrs. Tyler’s mother’s elder sister. So when Mrs. Tyler’s mother brought Mrs. Tyler to Amherst as a girl, they stayed with the Greenes-- that’s where Father John met her. Then they were married and lived in the house they built at the bottom of the hill.
HWH: That is the house that has since burned? Or is that the one that’s still standing?
HWH: The house at the bottom of the hill that the Greenes lived in.
TYLER: I don’t know. Has it burned?
HWH: Well, there was an enormous house. it was painted a dark green and, it burned-- oh, quite a few years ago. Friends of ours owned it then and they have rebuilt a much smaller house. It really doesn’t matter, but I’m interested.
TYLER: Well it was just over the hedge. The hedge separated the two lots.
HWH: Oh that was on Tyler Place?
TYLER; On Tyler Place, yes.
HWH: Because the road from which Tyler Place takes off is Lessey Street, and the road behind the property is Triangle Street.
TYLER: Yes, I know that. But this house was just outside the hedge.
HWH: Well that’s still standing then.
TYLER: Yes, that’s what I thought, because we drove through there to show my daughter-in-law the house.
HWH: I think it’s a rooming house now. I went by it just to check, and there were several cars parked there and fire escapes on the outside.
TYLER: It must be, or apartments or something. But I don’t know who lived there when I was going there. That had been long since sold. Had nothing to do with the Tylers except that that was where Mrs. John Mason Tyler stayed when she first came to Amherst, where she met Father John, because he was going up and down the hill.
HWH: Something else you mentioned is going to drive me back to the library. There’s a minister from a long family of ministers whose name is Thayer Ainsworth Greene, and he was Chaplain of the College for a period.
TYLER: I didn’t know that.
HWH; They are also related to the Seelyes that I mentioned earlier, and they always go to Jaffrey in the summer.
TYLER: Well, you see Parson Ainsworth was the minister of the church in Jaffrey for fifty years and it must have been his daughter who married the Greene, because we drove from Amherst up to Jaffrey to see people who were connected with the Ainsworths who were still there, when my son was a little boy. I never knew them, but I did meet some Ainsworths at that time and we went through the cemetery and saw all these stones that were connected with the family. My mother-in-law’s mother, Elizabeth Stearns, married a man from Peterborough who was descended from a Scotch-Irishman named Smith. He was involved in business arrangements with companies that had to do with trade with the Middle West, so when they were married they went out and settled at LaHarpe, Illinois, which is on the Mississippi River a little north of Quincy, and that was where the Felt family lived, just a town a few miles above them. A very peculiar combination.
HWH: You have a marvelous memory and recollection of these things.
On other things, Mrs. Tyler: do you know whether the property that William S. Tyler bought was once owned by Edward Dickinson?
TYLER: I wouldn’t be surprised, because the families were closely connected and the Dickinson property on Main Street runs right up that hill. I understood that the fraternity houses just above the Dickinson houses...
HWH: That was Phi Gamma Delta?
TYLER: Yes. That house was on land that belonged originally to the Dickinsons, so I wouldn’t be surprised. But I know nothing about it.
HWH: Well, on to the Dickinson family. You used to visit there summers. Was Emily Dickinson well thought of at that time, or did that come later?
TYLER: Madame Martha was, of course, my connection with Emily Dickinson things. She was working at that time on, and gave me all the books she’d written about, Emily Dickinson and the Dickinson family. But I think that period was about the time that Emily Dickinson really began to be considered a leading American poet. I know when I was in College I never heard of her. Ten years later I did. So I think it must have been in that interval.
HWH: Did you ever know George Whicher-- George Frisbie Whicher?
HWH: I think he was one of the earlier English professors, anyway, to recognize her abilities.
TYLER: He was working on Emily Dickinson material in the years that I was there, but I didn’t know them very well. Again, they weren’t there much in the summer.
HWH: No, that’s right. We bought their house, as a matter of fact, in 1948 and lived in it for eighteen years down on Amity Street.
TYLER: Well that’s interesting.
HWH: One of his very able students taught at Minnesota for some years-- that was my classmate, Charles Howell Foster.
TYLER: In what department?
HWH: He was Chairman of the English Department-- briefly. He’s retired now.
TYLER: Well he must have been Chairman sometime after I left, because I knew a great many people in the English Department because very close friends of mine taught in that department. But it’s a huge department and I don’t remember his name. And I would have known his name if he had been head of the department in that period.
HWH: He was a protege of Robert Frost’s and, as a matter of fact, received the first fellowship at Middlebury, at Breadloaf, that was given in honor of Robert Frost. Did you happen to know Robert Frost, incidentally?
TYLER: No. He never was around Amherst at the time that I was there. I told you that my knowledge is purely summers and mostly the elderly people who were left there in the summer when everybody else went away.
HWH: Well, knowing Mme. Martha Dickinson Bianchi so well, did you come to know Mabel Loomis Todd?
TYLER: No. No, and the Todd house at that time-- was it on Main Street? Well, a college classmate of mine married a Mr. McFall who taught in Amherst at what was called the Agricultural College then and later became the University, and they lived, as I remember it, in the house that the Todds lived in and we used to joke about the relationship, Marjorie and I, between the Todds and the Dickinsons. But I didn’t know any Todds.
HWH: But you did know Mme. Martha well-- as you said.
TYLER: I knew Mme. Martha. Mme. Martha was one of my closest friends. Mme. Martha gave me a beautiful paisley shawl that belonged to the Dickinsons. I thought I’d give it to the College, when I give it. I don’t know whether it came to her, whether she owned it originally, or whether it came from her mother, Mrs. Susan Dickinson, or whether it came down from the other house. But anyway, we played bridge, I think, at least once a week-- one time at the Tylers and then one time at Mme. Martha’s. Mme. Martha used to walk a great deal and she would stop for me and we took long walks, because I needed exercise and needed to get away from babies and grandmothers, so that I really knew Mme. Martha very well and was very fond of her. She was a rare person to talk to because she had very wide interests and experiences and a very keen sense of humor. And very positive opinions about everybody in Amherst and elsewhere, so that my ideas about a great many Amherst people that I never met were formed either because of some thing that the Tylers or Mme. Martha said about them.
HWH: She spent quite a bit of time out of Amherst, too.
TYLER: Well she married a man named Bianchi who, as I got it from my father-in-law, was an Italian in the Secret Service of the Tsar. Now that is legendary, maybe. But apparently, after consuming considerable of Mme. Martha’s inheritance, he disappeared, and Mme. Martha lived abroad a good deal and in Amherst a good deal and was there as she grew older, most of the time. But she still traveled quite a bit, mostly in the winter, and she was always there in the summer until I stopped going there.
HWH: Did she have many friends in Amherst?
TYLER: Oh yes. Have you seen that little pamphlet that friends of hers wrote about her after her death?
HWH: No, I don’t believe I have.
TYLER: I have a copy of it upstairs; I’ll go get it for you after a bit. Yes, she and some of the people who wrote for it were Amherst friends.
HWH: Were the Skillings in Amherst summers?
TYLER: I don’t remember that name at all.
HWH: Pete Skillings. Then there were the Hillses-- I think both of them were associated with hat factories along with George Burnett.
TYLER: I didn’t know any of them.
HWH: There’s a wonderful woman, Susan Skillings, who was a Hills-- this is all mixed up, too.
TYLER: That’s the trouble with New England families.
HWH: I don’t think Mme. Martha had much connection with the College, did she? Didn’t she sort of withdraw from that axis?
TYLER: Again, I’m limited because of the fact that I was there only in the summer and there wasn’t much College activity in the summer. She kept a close connection through the Church; she was interested in the old church there, but the College, I don’t think so. I don’t remember. She remarked about friends who were in the faculty or connected with the College and about people she didn’t like who were connected with the College, but I don’t think she, herself, had much connection with it.
HWH: Was Alexander Meiklejohn in Amherst during the summers?
TYLER: He was no longer there by the time I got there.
HWH: I see. He left in 1923.
TYLER: Oh, he was there.
HWH: He was President from, I think, about 1912 to 1923.
TYLER: So far as I know, no one that I knew-- either Tyler or otherwise-- had any very pleasant recollection of Meiklejohn. And I know that they disapproved heartily of a good many of the things that he did, particularly in regard to sciences and things of that sort. But despite the fact that he didn’t approve, I never heard my father-in-law make any comment about it, because he retired about that time, more or less because of Meiklejohn policy.
HWH: Well, there were some members of the faculty you wouldn’t have known, because they were not there in the summer, who left Amherst in sympathy with Meiklejohn, as you know.
TYLER: Younger members of the faculty probably.
TYLER: My only recollection of hearing much about that episode was one time when I was there at Commencement time and the Tyler house was full of-- more or less an open house for-- Alumni. And I do vaguely remember comments going back and forth in regard to the tragedies that had beset Amherst.
HWH: That was a very bitter time.
TYLER: And I know that there was a good deal of bitter feeling on the part of a good many older people.
HWH: Well, then Georgie (as they all called him) Olds came along.
TYLER: He was a dear.
HWH: He must have been.
TYLER: And I loved his wife. She lived to be 90 or more and her daughter married into that Bissell family that I think is one of the famous families of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and she came out to visit her, and Mrs. Olds came on to Minnesota to see me. I saw Mrs. Olds in one of the last years of her life. I drove out from here to see her in the early nineteen ‘sixties and she was then well over ninety. She, I think, and Mme. Martha were Mrs. Tyler’s closest friends in Amherst and I saw a great deal of Mrs. Olds who lived in the lovely house there that was built for her.
HWH: By the Alumni.
TYLER: Yes. And she used to chuckle. She said, “The house was built for George, for George and his wife, as long as we lived. I’m living as long as I can.” And she was well over ninety!
HWH: I remember her.
TYLER: She was a joy.
HWH: I’ve heard so many stories involving particularly President Olds, but I remember seeing Mrs. Olds many times.
TYLER: I don’t remember when President Olds died. It was, I think, after my father-in-law’s death.
HWH: Yes, I think he died around 1930, maybe ‘31.
TYLER: Well Father John died in 1929. So it was just about that period. And from then on until 1937, I was in Amherst every summer and saw a good deal of Mrs. Olds and Mme. Martha and Mrs. Grosvenor.
HWH: I lived in the fraternity across the street from the Grosvenors, the Grosvenors’ house, where my office happens to be at this moment, and I well remember seeing old Edwin Grosvenor.
TYLER: There was a good deal of rivalry between Mrs. Olds and Mrs. Tyler over their gardens. Mrs. Olds specialized in phlox and various other perennials, and Mrs. Tyler’s great joy was her rose garden and they used to inspect each other’s gardens evenings. Father John was no gardener. Mrs. Tyler was an ardent gardener. But every evening Father John said he would go out and like the Lord, he would look upon the work of the day. (Laughter.) That was his only connection and Mr. Grosvenor was about the same, so the two old gentlemen would inspect the work that their wives had done in the garden.
HWH: That’s great.
[END OF SIDE ONE. BEGINNING SIDE TWO]
HWH: To further our conversation-- you taught history at the University of Minnesota.
TYLER: Yes, I was working for my Master’s Degree when I was married. I mean I had got my Master’s Degree just before I was married, and when my husband died in 1923, I went back immediately to work for my Doctor’s degree and after that I taught in the department, the history department, from 1927 to 1960. I went in as an Instructor, I wound up as a full Professor, and in the meantime had published three books, and then I retired and came here. And now I don’t have to do anything.
HWH: What was your field?
TYLER: American history, particularly after I got sufficiently advanced so I could choose what I taught and taught what I chose and not what somebody else didn’t want. I taught American Colonial history and American social and intellectual history.
HWH: Did you know Ralph Gabriel at Yale?
TYLER: No. I read his books, I knew about him, and I think I met him once at a Historical Society meeting.
HWH; He’s one of our closest friends. I studied history at Yale after Amherst and he was my mentor. I did not get a Doctorate. I was there two years and then went away to teach. But there was also Leonard Labaree who was in Colonial history.
TYLER: I’ve used his text, too.
HWH: Samuel Flag Bemis.
TYLER: Yes, indeed.
HWH: In diplomatic history. Hayo Holborne.
TYLER: That one I don’t know.
HWH: He had just arrived, but he is the father of the new President of the University of Chicago. Hannah Holborne, I’ve forgotten her married name.
Did you know Cohn Goodykuntz out at Boulder?
HWH: He was in American history there. How about a young fellow named John William Ward?
TYLER: Yes, I’ll never forget. He missed two seminars in succession, and when he came back he said that he was sorry he was gone, but he had to get married one weekend, and the other weekend he had to get a job for his wife. He was in a small group in American Cultural History. I think his major was in English and not history. But I got all kinds of people in those graduate courses and the last ten years that I taught I taught nothing but senior and graduate work because they were people who were majoring in other things. I had people from English, from Journalism, even from Music, who wanted American history from the cultural and intellectual end of it, so that I sat in on 15 Doctor’s Orals in one semester one year, of which in the group there were at least five different departments involved. I was just sort of there for one small field that was a minor for the people who were graduating. I learned an enormous amount by going to doctors’ examinations, from everything that I didn’t want to know to what I did. One candidate’s thesis was a symphony, which was completed and played by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra at a practice session-- just so that he could hear it, where the head of the Music division was chairman and one of the other examiners was the conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. I went to another doctor’s exam where the head of the examining committee was a specialist in Beowulf and pre-Beowulf English literature, where I didn’t learn anything that I wanted to know! And another one in that same year was one where the candidate was majoring in journalism and had just completed a long paper for my course on the subject of journalism in the state of Louisiana during the period of the Civil War. So my education was continued until I retired.
HWH: Was this peculiar to the University of Minnesota or to you? This kind of program?
TYLER: Well, you see, after the end of the War, there was a great deal of interest in American Studies, as they were called-- they were popping up all over-- and I was on the American Studies committee. In other words I had to go to committee meetings, which was about all my contribution to it. But my course in American Cultural History began as a sort of “must” for the American Studies people, so that I got a great many of them as well as students of American history who were registered as majors in the History Department.
That course in American Social Intellectual History usually had between 90 and 100 people in it-- they were all seniors or graduate students-- and they came from a great many different departments and usually they chose a wide variety of subjects which they wanted to write long papers about. I had one student who was in Music who did American folk music as a special study, and so forth. So they chose what they wanted to develop for themselves.
HWH: At Yale in the middle ‘thirties they developed a program called History and the Arts and Letters and they combined...
TYLER: And they got people from all kinds of departments. I think the University really was endeavoring to prevent-- that is in the College of Science, Literature and the Arts-- to prevent too much specialization in just one thing, that you were led from one interest. One interest had many more peripheral things that could be worked in.
HWH: Well this certainly was Bill Ward’s major area of interest, cultural and social history.
TYLER: That’s where he started. And I got him that one year that he was there. I don’t think he stayed but one year (on the faculty). He went to Princeton from Minnesota quite soon after that.
HWH: Henry Nash Smith was the speaker at his Inauguration and you undoubtedly knew...
TYLER: And Leo Marx came from Minnesota to Amherst, before Mr. Ward did.
HWH: That’s right. Leo came about 1949 or ‘50. He left to take a post at M.I.T. where he is now.
TYLER: I haven’t seen or heard of him since he left, but I did know him there. Again, meeting largely on things like the committees or examinations.
HWH: He took his Doctorate at Harvard and then went to Minnesota to teach. I gather Bill Ward had no trouble getting through the program at Minnesota.
TYLER: No, no, I enjoyed him. There were about, oh ten people, maybe, in that group and they were all interesting. One of our graduate students at that time is now the President of Goucher; one of the people who was in this course that John Ward took is about to retire next year from Salisbury College in Salisbury, Maryland; and another one of our graduate students in that period is just retiring as the President of the University of Oklahoma, who has also been President at one time of the University of North Carolina; so that that post-war period was a very interesting period for the graduate students, and for the faculty.
HWH: A distinguished group.
TYLER: Many of them had just come back from years in the Army or Navy or some place.
HWH: I know Bill spent war service in the Marine Corps.
TYLER: Well I had two students-- one as I say is this man who is just retiring from the University of Oklahoma, Paul Sharp, and another of the same period who went into the Army and then came back and did his graduate work. We were crowded for office space, but a new building was being built which was to house most of the social sciences, and we had only a large amount of office space in the first floor of what was the old university library at that time. So when these people came back, there wasn’t enough room; they came back as teaching assistants. So I said, “Well there’s room enough for two more desks in my office.” And so these two moved in. Years later I said to one of them once that we got along very well and I couldn’t see any difficulty in the department at that time. And Don said, “Well it was just fine, but we knew there was a sign on the door.” And I said, “What sign?” He said, “It says ‘Don’t step on me.’” I’ve kept in touch with that crowd from that day to this.
HWH: Did you have women as graduate students?
TYLER: Oh yes. I should say about half of our graduate students in that period were women. One of them left us to go and finish her degree-- for some reason or other, her family moved-- to finish her degree at Bryn Mawr. I remember talking to her when she came back one time. I said, “Did you find very much difference at Bryn Mawr from Minnesota?’ And she said, ‘Well, they’re a little more provincial.” In other words, we had much more of a mixture.
HWH: Well you were right when you said earlier that Bill Ward’s field was basically English. But I think at Princeton he got into teaching not only English but history. And you commented on the growth of American Studies programs after the War. I’m sure that’s why he came to Amherst, because George Rogers Taylor, whom you may have known, was really the father of our American Studies program. He’s the one who brought Bill up from Princeton.
TYLER: The man who started it at Minnesota was in the English Department and he got the American history people, American literature people pretty well involved in it. Probably the reason that John Ward came to Minnesota was because the department was one of those that had been quite popular with the collaboration of the different departments that were involved. The committee, the American Studies committee, so called, had someone from history, political science, School of Business, American literature-- oh half a dozen different departments would provide one person to serve on the committee so that they could make a program. And that’s the way I inherited a lot of these people who educated me so well for the next ten years.
HWH: Of course, your husband’s interest was in...
TYLER: European history.
HWH: European. And I take it from his activities in the Balkan states and the Near East...
TYLER: Yes, he traveled extensively in that area and was very much interested in it, although his Doctor’s thesis at Harvard was back in the period of the English diplomacy at the time of the involvement of England, Portugal, Spain, and so forth. So he moved across the continent when he had developed his own interest.
HWH: I was delighted and very impressed with William S. Tyler’s description of his travels in the Near East, Middle East, in his Autobiography.
TYLER: When I had to clear out that house in Amherst after Mrs. Tyler’s death, she had lived there her entire married life from 1880 to 1937. It had an attic, three floors, and a huge basement, and nobody’d ever thrown anything away. When the old house on the hill was closed and the things were divided, what nobody else wanted went down into the attic or the basement of the house at the foot of the hill. And I had all that. There were boxes and boxes and boxes of letters that I didn’t know what to do with. And I called the woman who was in charge-- I cannot for the moment remember her name. They lived on the same Street with the Grosvenors and across the street. Hitchcock, the Hitchcock family-- and Miss Hitchcock was in charge of Amherst College’s Memorabilia.
HWH: Peggy Hitchcock.
TYLER: Peggy Hitchcock. I had known her quite well. And I said, “What shall I do? Here are these boxes and boxes and boxes of letters to and from the various Tylers when one of them was studying abroad or was traveling and wrote back to Madame.” (What they always called Mrs. William Seymour Tyler, Madame Tyler.) All kinds of letters that involved people that I knew nothing about. I said, “Does the College want them?” She said, “Do we want them? Send them down.” So that Father John’s enormous desk went down to the College and all these boxes of papers. A year or two after that, I had a letter from Miss Hitchcock wanting to know if she could seal some of the letters, not to be used for the next ten or fifteen years. She said, “I don’t care if some of MY relatives got involved in difficulties in Amherst, but,” she said, “there are still people living who would be quite alarmed to know what Madame Tyler thought about them!” [Laughter] So I said, “You can do anything you please with them.” But if you’re interested in Tyler letters you probably could find them in Memorabilia somewhere.
HWH: I shall...
TYLER: One thing that I did keep was all the letters written by Mrs. Tyler’s mother to her family in New England after she had married and moved to Illinois and all the diaries that she had kept. Apparently she was the youngest of twelve children. Her eldest sister was this Mrs. Ainsworth There were six boys and six girls in the family and she was the youngest. She was being educated, apparently, by her two older sisters who were school teachers. They’d plan things that she should read, and from the time she was about twelve years old until she was, oh twentyish, she kept a diary and I have the diary.
HWH: Oh, that must be interesting.
TYLER: And after I finished my last book, Freedom’s Ferment, that was published in 1944 and, by the way, has been re-published several times since. It’s sold 100,000 copies in paperback by Harper-Rowe.
HWH: I’ve not read it. I shall.
TYLER: Well I’ll show it to you. Anyway, that’s aside from the point. After I’d finished that, I got all these diaries and letters and I wrote for my son about a hundred pages of partly direct quotations, partly connection between letters and periods, and so forth, for the family. And then it was too short, not long enough, for a book and too big for an article. So I broke it up into three pieces. “The New England Girlhood” was published in the New England Historical Magazine, “The Illinois Years” was published in the Illinois Historical Collection, and “The Minnesota Years,” because her sons went up and homesteaded in Minnesota, was published in the Minnesota Historical Review. So the three pieces made three articles and my family has the original manuscript from which the three pieces were made. But it was lots of fun doing it.
HWH: It must have been.
TYLER: She was evidently a charming person and her daughter, my mother-in-law, was a character.
HWH: I’m sure the College could have access to those publications, but would there be any possibility of borrowing your manuscript and making a copy for Archives?
TYLER: The College probably has the collections of the Historical Societies. You could probably find them in there. In each place the article was cut to fit what they, the publishers, wanted, so the total wouldn’t be as much as the original. I think my daughter-in-law still has the original.
HWH: Perhaps I can write to her and borrow that.
TYLER: You probably can. I can ask her if she’s willing, if she can find it and is willing to send it, but you can write to her. She’d probably think that was a much better plan.
HWH: I would check with the Library first. Where might I reach her?
TYLER: Well, I’ll give you her name and her address. If you want it now, I can give it to you later.
HWH: Fine. We can get it afterwards.
TYLER: But back to the memorabilia I mentioned just a moment ago. I just deposited it on the College and so the College has it if you want it. I never could wade through it. We had a man who used to work for Mrs. Tyler in the garden. He came every day and he had a bonfire down in the driveway back of the house of things that I couldn’t give away and nobody would want and I couldn’t manage. That bonfire went for seven days.
HWH: Oh my.
TYLER: My son was about fifteen, sixteen, second year at Deerfield. I would call him in and say,
“Do you think we want to keep this?” And a boy of that age trying to make a decision on what I wanted to keep-- he said, “Do what you want to,” so it threw it all back on me. So the College did get some of it-- things that I knew that I shouldn’t throw away or give away or didn’t want.
HWH: I shall be interested in checking on that.
TYLER: Well, it’s there, probably the old desk, too. That desk was a charm. It was as big as a dining room table with drawers on both sides, drawers on the side where you sat and drawers on the other side. And it was absolutely jammed with things. In that third floor study there was an old chest of drawers that was full of things, and on the desk was an enormous, vast brass kettle-- open kettle-- that would contain everything that Father John was interested in but didn’t want to bother with. All his letters went into that, and he said, “You know, child, that if you leave letters in that brass kettle for three months, most of them you don’t need to answer.” [Laughter]
HWH: He’s right.
TYLER: So you can see the problem was enormous.
HWH: It must have been.
TYLER: There were top hats, the kind that you could smash down. What did they call them, opera hats?
TYLER: There were old riding clothes, there were letters written from every part of the world practically. My husband’s sister, Elizabeth, died in France during the first World War. She was with the American Red Cross. She had a Ph.D. in French, old French; graduated from Smith and a degree from Columbia, and there were all her letters which I didn’t send to the College. I had to get the thing done. It came between the time the University ended and the time that summer school began in August, and I had to get it done and get out. All the furniture had to be packed and taken out too.
HWH: We had such an experience about two years ago with an aunt who left an enormous amount of things that nobody had seen that went back to the early history of Wyoming. I started to go through some of the more valuable things, but it was not possible so I gave them to the University of Wyoming.
TYLER: Well, they have both the interest and the equipment and the clerical help and all that kind of thing to do it.
HWH: I don’t want to prolong this longer than you feel like it, Mrs. Tyler. There are a few little...
TYLER: Well, you ask your questions and I won’t wander. I begin to ramble.
HWH: There are just a few names of people, and, as you say, you were there only in the summer, but I wondered if you have any recollection of Harold Plough, who was a biologist, studied under John Mason Tyler, in the Class of ‘13.
TYLER: I didn’t know him. The people who came back at Commencement and just flocked in-- everybody apparently, who ever knew him loved him. He was one of the most remarkable men, but unless they came at the time that I was there, I wouldn’t have known them.
HWH: No, of course not.
How about on the faculty, George Bosworth Churchill. He was probably away during the summers.
TYLER: He was away. I knew Mrs. Churchill and I suppose I met him, but only casually. They weren’t there very much.
HWH: Did you ever know Benjamin Kendall Emerson, B.K. Emerson?
TYLER: I met Professor Emerson, I know the name is familiar, but I have no recollection.
HWH: Well, the Peggy Hitchcock you were speaking of, you probably know, married his grandson. She’s now Peggy Hitchcock Emerson, the former archivist at the Library.
TYLER: Is she still there at the Library?
HWH: No she’s not; she’s retired. I think she’s moved up to Pelham, too, as a matter of fact.
Did you have any connection at all with Thomas Cushing Esty? Dean Esty?
TYLER: I remember the name, that’s all.
HWH: There were scads of Estys, of course; and you did say you knew the Grosvenors.
TYLER: Yes, quite well. Because they were always there in the summer. Their house was so interesting, because he’d been in the Near East and it was crowded with all the things that he and his sons had collected.
HWH: When I came to Amherst in 1946, my office was in one of the downstairs rooms-- the College had purchased the property from the Grosvenors.
TYLER: I knew they’d bought it.
HWH: Then I moved all over-- Johnson Chapel, Walker Hall, College Hall, Converse-- and now I’m back in Grosvenor House and love it.
TYLER: Well, I used to be there quite often in the summer.
HWH: Did you know Alfred S. Goodale who was a botanist? He would certainly have been a student of your father-in-law’s. Frederic B. Loomis? Probably not-- he was the geologist.
TYLER: I would remember the name but that’s all.
HWH: And I asked you about the Todds.
TYLER: I knew the Boydens quite well and at Mr. Boyden’s urging, my son went to Deerfield for four years.
HWH: One of Mr. Boyden’s sons was a classmate of mine and another the year ahead of me. He’s down on the Cape now.
There was also Frederic Lincoln Thompson who was THE American historian at Amherst. I don’t think he was an outstanding teacher, but he was someone you would enjoy taking a course with. His nickname was “Croc” Thompson.
I think I’ve gone over the things I had jotted down.
TYLER: And you can cut all the irrelevancies off the tape when you put it together.
HWH: Is there anything that you think might be of interest to the College from your recollections of your summers there?
TYLER; No, I don’t think so. My recollections are mostly personal rather than College. I did do a little work in the College library and of course I was interested. I was there at the time they were building the town Library, the Jones Library. Father John was the head of the group, the Trustees of the Jones Library, to start with.
HWH: That’s what I am, now.
TYLER: Are you?
TYLER: What was the man’s name who gave the money, the Jones man?
HWH: Samuel Minot Jones.
TYLER: Yes, and it was given with the provision that Father John and Mr. Cutler and somebody else would be the first Trustees.
HWH: Probably Ernest Whitcomb.
TYLER: Whitcomb, I think. They were to select their successors, weren’t they, according to the grant or something of that sort?
HWH: Yes, just three.
TYLER: And Father John dug the first spadeful of earth for building it. I have a picture, an enlargement of a kodak picture about this large (demonstrates), with Father John with his foot on the spade and my four-year-old son with his little shovel, digging a hole for the library.
HWH: Well, Father John’s portrait is hanging in the Library now.
TYLER: I know. It was there when he died and we left it. The best picture of him, I think-- that’s a very dark picture and doesn’t show him well at all-- is the one that the College Library has that they commissioned. It’s done by some Italian artist, I think. He did a small copy of it for Father John, which I have, that is very much more like him. And before you go I’d like to show you what Mrs. Tyler did. She could do anything with her hands. She carved wood beautifully; she did pottery; she did bas-relief portraits-- the best one was of Father John; she did a head of my son when he was three or four years old that is the most beautiful thing of a child that I have ever seen; and she did exquisite embroidery. She was the most remarkable woman as far as being able to express herself in a good many different ways.
HWH: I didn’t know that.
TYLER: As I said, Father John admired her tremendously. She was a very domineering-- I don’t mean domineering-- but positive person. I would get a letter from him from Italy, saying, ‘We have been looking at so many churches and it’s so cold in churches, but Bess hasn’t made up our mind yet when we can go away any place else.” It was always, “when Bess makes up our mind, we will do it.” My husband’s favorite name for his mother was the grand mumbo-jumbo of the Ethiopians, Titty-Bo, the grand mumbo-jumbo of the Ethiopians, or, short of that full title was Ti-Bo. That was his favorite name for her; never called her anything but Ti-Bo.
TYLER: Ti-Bo, the grand mumbo jumbo of the Ethiopians.
HWH: That’s great. I’d like to thank you very much for letting me come in here.
TYLER: Well, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s not often that I have an opportunity to go backwards.
HWH: And I’m very sorry I was late.
TYLER: That’s all right.
[Final draft typed June, 1979]
Mrs. Tyler added two anecdotes to this transcript told by Prof. John Mason Tyler about Prof. John Franklin Genung:
“After an Amherst faculty meeting when Father John was walking out, a somewhat bewildered young instructor, Professor Genung, said to him: ‘John, Amherst Faculty taken separately, all fine gentlemen; taken collectively, one damn fool.’”
“The other told of Professor Genung and Prof. William S. Tyler going out to select lots in the new cemetery. Professor Genung liked one looking out on the Holyoke Range. Professor Tyler preferred the Pelham view. Fifty years later, Father John said: ‘Such a joke on them both. The trees have grown so neither of them can see his favorite hill!’”