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Woolson family papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Woolson

Scope and Content of the Collection

Letters, genealogical research, photographs, scrapbooks, and other items related to the Woolson family of Chicago, Ohio and New Hampshire.

The papers include materials related to Woolson family members, primarily Alvin M. Woolson and his daughter Weona Woolson Engle. Included are a diary, a memoir, a volume of Civil War stories and a travelogue of a trip to Florida written by Alvin M. Woolson, and also correspondence related to him. There is a short story written by Weona Woolson Engle, as well as correspondence from her husband Walter Engle, mementos from various travels, and items from her childhood. Also included is the Life of Elijah Woolson, written entirely in cipher by his son Ira Knight Woolson and translated by Alvin M. Woolson, Elijah Woolson's grandson. There are also transcribed copies of some Woolson family historical documents.

The collection also contains genealogy materials collected by Ira H. Woolson, including family trees, questionnaires, and other research, Woolson family photographs, and scrapbooks kept by Weona Woolson Engle and her mother and grandmother, Frances Delia Woolson and Eliza Squire Tillinghast.


  • Creation: 1856-1950
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1889 - 1910



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Woolson family papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Woolson family papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Woolson Family

The materials in this collection are related primarily to Alvin M. Woolson (1841-1925), a merchant and businessman in Toledo, Ohio, and his daughter Weona Woolson Engle (1879-1970), who lived in Chicago after her marriage to Walter J. Engle.

Alvin Mansfield Woolson was born in Huron, Erie County, Ohio, in 1841, the son of Ira Knight and Arietta Mansfield Woolson. As a boy he worked on his family's farm and was also hired out as a printer's apprentice. At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted in the First Regiment, Ohio Volunteers Heavy artillery, formerly the 117th Regiment of Infantry, Ohio Volunteers, and attained the rank of sergeant major. After the war, Woolson worked with the Union Pacific Railway in Kansas and traveled extensively in the west before returning to Ohio in 1868 and establishing a store in the town of Berlin Heights. Woolson married Frances Delia Tillinghast in 1870, and the couple lived briefly in Wauseon, Ohio, before relocating permanently to Toledo in 1875. Woolson established the Woolson Spice Company in 1882, and built it into a successful coffee business which became well known for its printed trade cards. Woolson sold the company in 1897, and for the remainder of his life was active in many civic activities and clubs in Toledo. Alvin and Frances Woolson had three daughters: Maude (1873-1929), married to Herman Brand; Weona (1879-1970), married to Walter J. Engle; and Constance (1885-1970), married to John Barney. Constance was named for her father Alvin's cousin, the novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, a grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper.

Weona Woolson Engle was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1879. She grew up with her sisters Maude and Constance in an affluent environment made possible by her father Alvin's successful coffee business. After her marriage to Walter J. Engle, the couple settled in Chicago, where they maintained a home on East Division Street. The Woolson family owned automobiles and took many driving trips which are documented in the photo album Weona Woolson Engle kept. Weona and Walter Engle had one daughter, Weona Charlotte (1902-2001). Weona Charlotte married William Armstrong and had one daughter, Weona, born in 1925 and married to Henry Sutton in 1944. Weona Sutton lives in the Chicago area and is a member of Ballet Chicago's Board of Directors.

The Woolsons are descended from Thomas Woolson, born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1630, and his wife Sarah Hyde, and can trace the family lineage to Great Britain. Branches of the family settled in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California and Ohio, and include the McFarland, Yerington, Claflin, and Hunt families. Other family members include the novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894), and Albert Woolson (1850-1956), the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War.


2 Linear Feet (3 boxes and 4 volumes)


Letters, scrapbooks, photographs, diaries, clippings, and genealogical materials concerning the Woolson family of New Hampshire, Ohio, and Chicago.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Family papers, 1856-1950
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Genealogy materials, 1896-1928
Boxes 2-3
Series 3: Photographs, 1888-1934
Box 3, 1 volume
Series 4: Scrapbooks, 1889-1911
Volumes 1-3

Collection Stack Location

1 36 7


Gift of Weona Sutton, 1989.

Processed by

Kelly Kress, 2009.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Woolson family papers, 1856-1950, bulk 1889-1910
Kelly Kress
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022-05-20: Materials donated by Bonnie Serra in 2019 added to collection.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States