Scope and Content Note
The Sanborn Tenney Papers, 1854-1920, document the publishing efforts of Sanborn, and his wife Abby, in the area of natural history. While a professor of natural history at Vassar and Williams Colleges, Sanborn Tenney (1827-1877) wrote a variety of articles and books regarding natural history, geology and zoology. Abby Amy (Gove) Tenney (1836-1903) wrote children’s natural history books and may also have illustrated her husband’s works. The Tenney Papers also reflect Sanborn’s career as a professor at Vassar and at Williams, his efforts to establish and extend specimen collections at these institutions, and his field work in the western U.S. The Papers are organized into two series, Papers and Artifacts.
The Tenney Papers series is divided into two sub-series: Sanborn Tenney Papers, and Family Papers. Sanborn’s papers are organized by type of material, and then chronologically within. The correspondence includes letters regarding Sanborn’s trips west. These describe preparations for his trip in 1872, which he made to gather information for one of his series of lectures at the Lowell Institute, and the Rocky Mountain expedition of 1877. Documentation of this second journey includes letters of introduction to Brigham Young and others from Cyrus Field (who’s son, Cyrus Jr., Class of 1879, was to be a member of the group), requests from other professors detailing needed specimens, requests to travel with the party, and information regarding routes and safety concerns. Also included are Sanborn’s correspondence with his publishers regarding his works and the use of the Tenney illustrations by other authors, his letter to Vassar’s President Jewett specifying needed specimens for his teaching of natural history, and his 1872 report on the teaching of natural history at Williams to our Board of Trustees. The letters also contain several from A.E. Verrill, professor of zoology and geology at Yale, discussing scientific classification, etc.
The remainder of Sanborn’s papers comprise legal and financial materials regarding his books; published and manuscript material for various writing projects; speeches made at Williams’ Jackson Supper and at an Alumni Association meeting; notes made for lectures, books and field work; and a variety of collected materials including maps, specimen catalogues, and actual specimens.
The Tenney Family papers document activities of Abby Amy (Gove) Tenney, and Sanborn and Abby’s daughter, Amy. Abby’s papers include letters, legal and financial papers with publishers regarding her works and, following his death, her husband’s estate. Also included are deeds to land in Williamstown. Abby’s manuscript is a youthful collection of essays and poems designed as vol. 2, number 7 of “The Normal Banner.” Her illustrations are primarily printing proofs for her and her husband’s books, although one original piece of artwork is included here. Amy’s letters are to her father and mother when she was a child. Family photographs include a tintype of Sanborn with one of his children.
Although the Artifacts include a small selection of Sanborn’s laboratory equipment, the bulk of this series comprises the plates and blocks used to illustrate Abby and Sanborn’s books. These have been divided into the groups delineated by the Tenney books: birds, mammals, insects (including spiders and centipedes), crustaceans (such as lobsters, shrimp, horseshoe crabs and barnacles), worms and protozoans (including sponges), reptiles and amphibians, mollusks (including cuttlefish, snails, squids and octopi), fish (including eels, seahorses, and skates), radiates (such as starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, sea anemones and corals), and miscellaneous. Among the plates are carved wooden blocks, metal plates, and metal plates mounted on wooden blocks.