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Spelman Family papers

Identifier: MS-0392

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Scope and Contents

The collection consists primarily of writings with additional family papers, photographs, and correspondence. The materials range in date from 1726 to 1972. The content is mostly related to the lives of Leolyn Louise Everett Spelman and Timothy Mather Spelman, both of whom moved frequently throughout their lives.

Parts of their lives are well-documented, while other areas are not. They were both prolific writers; Leolyn of poetry, stories, plays, novels, and historical studies and Timothy of music and plays. The Spelmans were quite careful in preserving this record of their lives. The daily record of their lives is less complete. Both Spelmans were sporadic diarists and the majority of the surviving diaries date from the late 1940s and 1950s. A glimpse of their lives in Florence comes from the kitchen and garden diaries. The kitchen diary records the menus for meals served at the villa and the garden diary has notes on the plantings. One obvious omission in the record of the Spelmans' lives is their correspondence, both personal and business. There are caches of letters, a group from Leolyn's mother when she was young and some of Leolyn's early letters to Timothy. The one period that is well-covered is 1931-1945. During this time the Spelmans were living in New York and then at their home Five Chimney's in Dublin, New Hampshire. It appears that the contents of a desk at Five Chimney's was emptied into a steamer trunk and shipped to the villa in Florence where it remained packed until 1997. Leolyn's life and thought dominate the collection, and the papers reveal much about her and her outlook on life. The most revealing part of the collection is her 1000+ page autobiography which she began in 1927 and is continued in a series of journals dating from 1930-1939. It is also clear she was taken with Freudian thought (indeed a copy of Freud's Dream Psychology is in the library at the villa). Leolyn's autobiography is full of her evil, sexually repressed mother and adored, philandering father. These recollection could be balanced with the series of letters written to Leolyn by her mother (1908-1915) and Leolyn's sporadic diaries (1914-1929; 1947-1957) as well as the personal and business letters from 1931-1945.

Leolyn's writings include myriad notes and drafts for the poems, stories, plays, novels, and especially her magnum opus "A Mirror for France," a history spanning the years 363 to 1793. Leolyn began her literary career as a poet and enjoyed some success in being published. The work is well-preserved as she had the copy books she wrote in bound. She continued writing poetry in her later life and the collection contains numerous drafts. Leolyn moved from poetry to plays and short stories with an occasional try at a novel. Both Leolyn and Timothy wrote plays, and many of the plays appear to have been submitted to a literary agent. Many short stories were written under the name John Kent, and there is some speculation these were a joint effort between Leolyn and Timothy.

Timothy Mather Spelman's maternal ancestors are represented in a series of papers that include legal documents, letters, and financial records all dealing with the Beal family of Hingham and Cohasset, Massachusetts in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The final part of the collection is a selection of photographs many of which are formal portraits of Leolyn from infancy to middle-age including those of the Spelmans' wedding in 1915. Other formal and informal photographs picture the Spelmans with friends, their dogs, the gardens and furnishings at the villa in Florence, and some of their travels elsewhere.


  • Creation: 1726 - 1972


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information.

This collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical note on Leolyn Louise Everett Spelman

Leolyn Louise Everett Spelman was born in Cleveland, Ohio August 5, 1888. She was the daughter of Henry A. (1856-1917) and Josephine (Pettengill) Everett (1866-1937).

Leolyn was admitted at age 10 to Cleveland's Hathaway Brown School. When Leolyn later wrote about her childhood, the material comforts were always overshadowed by contrasting impressions of her parents, a "cruel" and "wicked" mother and an adored father.

During her last year at the Hathaway Brown School, Leolyn was editor of the school's literary journal, Specularia, and was chosen for a role in the school's production of Rostand's Les Romanesques.

Leolyn managed to convince her parents to allow her to leave Mt. Vernon Seminary and moved to New York City. She formed friendships with persons in the musical theater and enjoyed a cultural life that included recognition as a published poet. Life magazine began publishing her poems.

Leolyn traveled to Italy in 1914. Her brief joy in Italy ended with the start of world war in August. She returned to America after nearly being stranded in Naples. The following winter in New York, she was introduced to Timothy Mather Spelman.

Biographical note on Timothy Mather Spelman

Timothy Mather Spelman was born in Brooklyn, NY January 21, 1891, the son of William Augustus and Julia Beal Spelman. Timothy was descended from a line of New England clergymen that included Cotton Mather (1663-1728). The Spelmans and Beals of the 19th century who settled in New York were involved in commercial interests. Timothy was educated at Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, entered Harvard in 1909, and graduated with a B.Sc. degree in 1913. At Harvard, he studied music with W.R. Spalding and E.B. Hill. He was awarded the Elkan Naumburg Fellowship in Music and studied with Walter Courvosier at the Conservatory in Munich until the outbreak of war in 1914. Timothy returned to New York where he worked on his own compositions, taught musical theory, and gave lecture recitals on the history of opera. Among his works performed on stage were Snowdrop (Brooklyn, 1911) and The Romance of the Rose (Boston, 1913). The Spelmans married on July 7, 1915. During the early days of their marriage, they turned their apartment into a salon for friends from the theater and gave recitals of Timothy's music and readings from Leolyn's poetry. One professional program was presented at the Punch and Judy Theater (W. 49th St.) in April 1916. Their early theater experiences ended in 1917 when Timothy was called to Washington to serve as assistant director of Band Musicians' Training in the War Department. Timothy Mather Spelman died in Florence, August 21, 1970. Leolyn Louise Everett Spelman died on November 3, 1971.

Historical note on the Villa Spelman

In 1919, the Spelmans leased the Villa Razzolini in Florence, Italy. The villa became theirs through purchase in May 1931. The Spelmans lived mostly in Europe during the period between the two world wars. They maintained the Villa Pamela, (Menton, Alpes Maritimes, France), traveled to Algeria in 1923, and traveled twice to Egypt where they had a native dahabieh on the Nile.

Threatened by another war, they left Italy to return to America. They lived at various times in Oberhofen, Switzerland, Harrison, New York, and settled in a country house in Dublin, New Hampshire in the early 1940s. There was also an apartment in New York City. During the period of the Second World War, the Spelmans stayed mostly at Five Chimney's in Dublin, New Hampshire, where they continued writing, composing, and entertaining friends. Leolyn's mother, Josephine, died in 1937, leaving a large inherritance. They returned to the villa in Florence in 1947 where they continued restoration work on the house and its gardens.

The Villa Razzolini, so loved by the Spelmans, was bequeathed to The Johns Hopkins University and dedicated to the noted Dante scholar and Hopkins professor of Italian and Humanistic Studies, Charles S. Singleton. A brass plaque to the right of the main entrance identifies the villa as the Charles S. Singleton Center for Italian Studies. Known to the Hopkins community as Villa Spelman, it is a gathering place for art historians in Florence, Hopkins doctoral candidates, scholars writing books on the Renaissance, and Hopkins faculty members.


28.27 Cubic Feet (16 record center cartons, 7 letter size document boxes, 9 legal size document boxes, 3 legal half-size document boxes, 2 flat boxes (15.5 x 12 x 3 inches), 1 over-sized folder, 1 phonograph, 1 flat box (11 x 9 x 1.5 inches))

Language of Materials



The collection consists primarily of writings with additional family papers, photographs, and correspondence. The materials range in date from 1726 to 1972. The content is mostly related to the lives of Leolyn Louise Everett Spelman and Timothy Mather Spelman.


The collection has been artificially arranged into five series. Series 1: Personal; Series 2: Writings; Series 3: Correspondence: Series 4: Beal Family; and Series 5: Photographs.

Custodial History

The villa in Florence was the last residence of Leolyn and Timothy Spelman, and in it they left an accumulation of papers relating to their lives.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Spelman Papers were part of the University's collections at the Villa Spelman, Florence, Italy.

Related Materials

Johns Hopkins Unviersity collection RG.04.290, the Villa Spelman records, contains administrative records of the property under the ownership of Johns Hopkins University. Additional photographs of Timothy Mather Spelman can be found in Series 2: Photographs. The Peabody Archives at the Friedheim Library, Baltimore, Maryland, holds a collection of Timothy Mather Spelman's musical scores (PIMS.0061).

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan and Cynthia Requardt in January 1998. The archivists noted the relative lack of correspondence, whereas as the Spelmans were careful to save material relating to their writings.

Guide to the Spelman Family papers
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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA