Skip to main content

William and Mary Howitt Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG5-181

Scope and Contents

The collection contains mainly personal correspondence. Some translations from Swedish are included. There are scattered references to their developing interest in spiritualism after the 1840s, and in some letters, William Howitt expresses his positions on topics such as the degradation of the working classes because of drink, the decadence of politicians, and the evils of vivisection. There are also some manuscript copies of poems and stories by both Howitts.

Ser. 1 Correspondence: Miscellaneous recipients, many unidentified. Letters are largely concerned with matters relating to writers' publications, contributions to Journals, instructions to illustrators. Also includes letters to friends and others arranging visits and other personal matters.
Ser. 2. Literary Works: Poems and short prose, fragments of articles, etc.
Ser. 3. Pictures


  • Creation: 1827-1886


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Friends Historical Library believes all of the items in this collection to be in the Public Domain in the United States, and is not aware of any restrictions on their use. However, the user is responsible for making a final determination of copyright status before reproducing. See

Biographical / Historical

William Howitt (1792-1879) and his wife, Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888) were both born into Quaker families of the English Midlands, he in Derbyshire and she in Staffordshire. Both early determined to make their living by their pens. William rejected his early apprenticeship as a builder-carpenter and at first supported his family as a druggist until their joint success as writers enabled them to devote themselves entirely to writing.

They both were professional writers in every sense, writing books on a wide range of topics from their experiences and interests. Early books included volumes of ballads and other poems, works on natural history and the countryside, descriptions of ancient castles and historic mansions, "homes and haunts of the poets," etc. They were liberal, even radical, in their views of social and political matters and actively supported the causes of abolition, women's rights, temperance, and the improvement of the conditions of the lower classes. In the years between 1846 and 1848, they took over the publication People's Journal, designed to "teach and enlighten" the working classes. This soon failed, and they launched their own periodical, Howitt's Journal, which survived only one year. During its life, however, their journal published Elizabeth Gaskell's earliest stories, and they were helpful in launching her literary career.

During a period of about ten years in Heidelberg, William produced works on student and social life in Germany. Together with Mary, he wrote a book on the literature of Northern Europe. Mary wrote many books for juvenile readers and translated works from Scandinavian literature, including the first translations into English of Hans Christian Anderson. In August 1847, the Howitts resigned from the Society of Friends. They had become interested in mesmerism and spiritualism, and in 1863, William produced "The History of Spiritualism. Beginning in 1852, William Howitt had spent two years in the gold mines of Australia, a visit which resulted in several books about that country. In later years, the Howitts spent their time in the Austrian Tyrol and in Rome. William died in Rome in 1879. Mary Howitt became a Roman Catholic in 1882, and died in Rome in 1888.


0.5 linear ft. (1 box)

Language of Materials



William Howitt (1792-1879) and his wife, Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888), were English Quaker writers of miscellaneous poetic and narrative materials for children and adults. The collection contains mainly personal correspondence. Some translations from Swedish are included. There are scattered references to their developing interest in spiritualism after the 1840s and manuscript copies of some of the poems and stories by both Howitts.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was largely purchased, 1966, 1968, 1969.

Other donations from Charles F. Jenkins, before 1951; Albert A. Merritt.

Processing Information

Formerly cited as Howitt Manuscripts, the collection was compiled from a few gifts and then a significant number of purchases 1966-1969. A complete, detailed inventory is included with the collection, and significant individual items are fully catalogued in the FHL Manuscript card catalogue.

An Inventory of the William and Mary Howitt Papers, 1827-1886
FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA