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Olive A. Colton Papers - MS 201

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series DescriptionInventory


The papers of Olive A. Colton consist of one-half linear foot of correspondence, autobiographical essays, a journal/scrapbook, memorials, poems, newspaper clippings, photographs and books.

The papers of Olive A. Colton were loaned for photocopying by the Women's Studies Archives Project (WSAP) of the Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University through the cooperation of Virginia Secor Stranahan, Perrysburg, Ohio, and Ann Bowers, Curator of Manuscripts, Center for Archival Collections (CAC). Literary and property rights have been dedicated to the public and duplication is permitted for the purposes of scholarly research. The register was prepared by Paulette J. Weiser, Graduate Assistant for the WSAP.

Biographical Sketch

Olive A. Colton was born September 2, 1873, in a house next to her father's office building on Madison Avenue and Erie Street in Toledo. Her parents were Catherine Van Horn Colton (d. 1930) and Abram W. Colton (d. 1908). Her father owned the Lake Erie Transportation Co., a line of lake freighters, and often took young Olive with him to the docks where he talked and joked with the company's employees. Olive's older sister Cornelia (ca. 1871-January 13, 1955) married E. Griswold Hollister (d. 1933) in 1899; they had no children. Cornelia was active in Republican politics and the Toledo musical scene.

The Colton family was well-to-do, but clandestine excursions to "Smoky Hollow," a poor section of north Toledo, left strong impressions on the young Olive of those less fortunate than herself. She resolved then to help when she got older.

She attended kindergarten at Miss Forsythe's school, a year in public school, and then completed her formal education through high school at the Smead School for Girls (later the Maumee Valley Country Day School).

She continued to educate herself with extensive travels all over the United States and Europe, beginning with a trip to California in 1885, and not stopping until she was well into her eighties.

Colton usually summered with her sister and friends at the Curtis Hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts, where Cornelia was instrumental in organizing the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood, and where the Colton sisters became friends with the director, Serge Koussevitzky, and his wife Olga.

Colton was deeply involved in social and political issues throughout her life. She helped organize the District Nurses Association, League of Women Voters, Social Service Federation (later the Child Welfare Agency), Consumers League, and participated in lobbying efforts for the minimum wage, child labor laws, woman's suffrage, protection for working women, unemployment relief, and world peace. While involved in these activities, she met and worked with such well-known women as Carrie Chapman Catt and Florence Kelly. Toledo friends with whom she was involved in social, civic, and philanthropic work included Amy G. Maher (ca. 1884-1965), Mary "Mame" Secor Suydam (1878-1946), Rachel Shaw Gallagher (1886-1956), Nettie Poe Ketcham (1865-1950), and Grace Frost (1873-1962).

Colton was often sick, surviving several bouts with illness requiring hospitalization, including surgery for cancer. She did not allow her illnesses to deter her from her work and writing until late in life. A severe case of hives is the subject of one or her more humorous essays. Lois Coffin and Florence Diehl (ca. 1889-1958) were private nurses who worked for Colton and with whom she developed close friendships. Diehl frequently drove on automobile trips from Toledo to the East and South.

Colton lived in her family home at Woodruff and Collingwood Avenue until her mother's death, then lived in the Park Lane Hotel from February 1931 until about 1966, when she moved to the Cherry Hills Nursing Home. She died at Cherry Hills on August 7, 1972, less than a month before her 99th birthday.

Scope and Content

The papers of Olive A. Colton document the life of a socially, politically, and philanthropically active woman from the turn of the century into the early 1960s. Most of the papers are autobiographical chapters and essays and journal entries on her life and work. Also included are a few letters, some miscellaneous writings, and a number of newspaper clippings.

Of the three letters, two are from Amy G. Maher, a close friend and fellow social activist, and are indicative of the friendship, discussing literature, philosophy, family, and mutual friends. The third is not totally identified and discusses family and weather.

The autobiography and essays chronicle Colton's family background, childhood, young adulthood, a romantic relationship with an Englishman, early recognition of poverty and problems of the poor, the long political reforms for women, children, and the working class, travels in Europe and the United States, her friends and colleagues, and memorable incidents and persons in her life, such as an audience with Pope Pius X, the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Washington in 1939, the Smead sisters, and Carrie Chapman Catt.

The journal entries are scattered through the years 1919 and 1946 to 1961. The entries pertain primarily to her travels; weather; her illnesses; the activities, illnesses, marriages, births, and deaths of family and friends; and world and national events such as wars, the establishment of the United Nations, and presidential elections. Also included are newspaper clippings of poetry and prose, family social and political activities, various obituaries, and a few of her published essays and letters to the editor on contemporary political and social issues, which are useful in delineating her views and philosophy in those areas. Additionally, a published work, Rambles Abroad, written by Colton in 1904, which describes her journeys abroad, is included in the collection. The Romance of Royalty, 1908, portrays the lives and personalities of members of the royal families of Denmark, Austria, Russia, Prussia, France, and England.

Series Description


July 22, 1951-December 10, 1959.
Arranged chronologically
Contains two letters form Amy G. Maher and one from Marion ? regarding activities and news of family and mutual friends.


Ca. 1878-1960 (years covered).
Autobiography chapters arranged by table of contents, essays alphabetically.
Contains chapters of an autobiography and essays regarding Colton's family, upbringing, friends and acquaintances, and philanthropic, political, and social activism.

1956-1959, n.d.
Arranged roughly chronologically.
Contains memorials to Rachel Shaw Gallagher, poem, page from an unidentified memoir, and two photos of Colton.

One item--no arrangement.
Contains poem written about Colton by her former nurse, Lois Coffin.


1919, 1946-1961.
Arranged chronologically
Contains Colton's handwritten entries of activities, travels, weather, family and friends; clippings of deaths of relatives and friends and of poetry and prose; and a few photos of Colton.

Arranged roughly chronologically.
Contains newspaper clippings of sister Cornelia's wedding and death, published essays and letters to the editor by Colton, and obituaries for Frank Suydam, Grace Frost, Amy Maher, and Olive Colton.


Contains a printed copy of a speech by Carrie Chapman Catt delivered at her eightieth birthday celebration in New York, with a signed note from Catt to Colton tipped in.

Contains a narrative of Colton's travels and experiences in and impressions of Europe, including Italy, Austria, Hungary, Germany, France and England at the turn of the century.

Contains stories of the personalities and the lives of members of the royal families of Austria, Denmark, England, France, Prussia, and Russia in the 19th and very early 20th centuries.


Box 1

  1. Correspondence from Amy G. Maher, July 22, 1951, January 10, 1954; Correspondence from Marion (?), December 10, 1959
  2. Little Bits of Life--Table of Contents and Foreword, n.d.
  3. Little Bits of Life--Post-School Education
  4. Little Bits of Life--New Mexico
  5. Little Bits of Life--Paris
  6. Little Bits of Life--A Good Deed That Went to the Bad
  7. Little Bits of Life--Before and After; an Audience with the Pope
  8. Little Bits of Life--My Father
  9. Little Bits of Life--Thun, Switzerland
  10. Little Bits of Life--The Adirondacks
  11. Little Bits of Life--Adventures in Philanthropy
  12. Little Bits of Life--Adventures in Politics
  13. Little Bits of Life--Apologia Pro Vita Mea
  14. Little Bits of Life--A Formula for Fame
  15. Little Bits of Life--Adventures in Peace
  16. Little Bits of Life--A Nice Long Rest
  17. Little Bits of Life--Anticipation Versus Realization
  18. Little Bits of Life--A Cat Looked at a King and Queen
  19. Little Bits of Life--Page Mr. Keats
  20. Little Bits of Life--(autobiography)The Trail that is Always New
  21. "Adventures in Industry," n.d.
  22. "A Hybrid Education," n.d.
  23. "Just Hives," ca. 1958
  24. Miscellaneous information on family, n.d.
  25. "Will the Aging Swamp Civilization? 1953
  26. Writings on presidents and others influential with Colton, n.d.
  27. Miscellaneous (poem, memorials to Rachel Shaw Gallagher, photos of Colton), 1956-1959, n.d.
  28. "An Ode to O.A.C." from Lois Coffin (ex-nurse), n.d.
  29. Pages from journal/scrapbook, 1919, 1946-1961
  30. News clippings, 1899-1973
  31. Then and Now, by Carrie Chapman Catt, 1939
  32. Rambles Abroad, 1904, and The Romance of Royalty, 1908

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