The Fairbank Family Papers consist almost exclusively of correspondence written between members of the Fairbank family and their religious associates. The letters, carried by steamer between India, America and other parts of the world, span the years 1837-1971, with the bulk occurring between 1905 and 1940. Earlier letters were sent by Samuel Bacon, Katie, and Emily Fairbank and Thomas Snell Smith to Samuel's brother and other relatives in the United States.
This collection is useful in providing a comprehensive view of the religious, educational, bureaucratic and financial aspects of mission work in an underdeveloped country. Since this is documented by letters written by the missionaries themselves, it provides personal insights into their daily life and work. The lives of women missionaries in particular are well-documented, since many of the correspondents were female. Despite the fact that the Fairbanks worked in India during a period of British occupation, involvement of the British government in mission activity is rarely noted in the correspondence.
A number of themes run consistently through all the correspondence. There is a great deal of family news, including accounts of trips ranging from ocean voyages to family visits and vacations in India and America. Births, deaths, weddings and illnesses are chronicled in detail. Letters also include descriptions of church and school activities, work-related trips, meetings, conferences, and visits by religious and government officials and missionaries from other parts of the world. There is occasional discussion of contemporary world events, such as World War I, the Great Depression, and the rise of Gandhi in India. Yearly letters from a missionary friend in Foochow, China relate the turbulent events and political climate there between 1911-1931 in detail, including the Foochow rebellion of 1911. Observations and anecdotes about the Indian people, their religion, food and way of life; discussion of the political and economical climate in India; and descriptions of the physical environment and climate are woven throughout, although they rarely dominate any one letter. Many letters were written in a round-robin format and passed through the hands of different family members. Most of the correspondence is one-sided, generated in India and sent to the United States.
According to background material found in the Printed material series, the Fairbanks worked as agents of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.), a religious organization that was later known as the United Church Board for World Ministries, and had its home offices in Massachusetts. The A.B.C.F.M. established a network of boarding schools, trade schools, hospitals and churches at its mission sites. Schools and hospitals were divided by gender into male and female units. The mission's major goals were to: increase the literacy of the Indian people, educate women, establish good health care practices, improve agricultural productivity, develop industry, raise the standard of living of the lower classes, and, ultimately, to train Indians to be their own Christian leaders in all of these areas. Involvement of Fairbank family members in all of these activities is documented in the Correspondence and Beals Family series. The American Marathi Mission, where most of the Fairbanks worked, was located in West Central India in an area which included Bombay, and eventually covered 80 villages within 500 square miles.
Most of the letters fall into two generational groupings: those of Samuel Bacon Fairbank and those of his children. These are contained in both the Correspondence and Beals Family series.
Samuel's letters, 1837-1898, were sent regularly to America. They include detailed accounts of his agricultural and teaching projects in and around Vadala, as well as descriptions of the Indian environment. He conducted experiments with agricultural methods and farm machinery to increase the productivity of the land and people, who were subject to frequent droughts and famine. He started a boarding school in Vadala and a higher school in Ahmednagar. He also taught the singing of hymns in Marathi, the dialect of India spoken in that region.
There are quite a few letters from Samuel's daughters, Katie and Emily, and his son-in-law, Thomas Snell Smith. They describe their activities as missionaries to friends and relatives in America. Katie, who left a teaching career in the United States, taught rug-weaving and lace making at a girls' school in Ahmednagar. Later, stationed at Wai, she gave religious counsel and led Bible readings for patients in the women's hospital. Emily ran a girls' boarding school in Ceylon, while Thomas helped administer the school system throughout the district, attending to a variety of religious, financial and educational duties.
Letters from Samuel's son, Henry Fairbank and Henry's wife, Mary ("Momo"), written from Ahmednagar, comprise the majority of correspondence during the period 1905-1926. They describe his work while serving as chairman of the Ahmednagar mission and pastor of the church, and in various other capacities for famine relief and religious leadership as needed. The first portion consists mainly of weekly letters sent to their children while attending school in America. Later letters are addressed collectively to other relatives in Illinois and Massachusetts. After Henry's death, Mary assumed the role of chief correspondent from Ahmednagar. She eventually became the head of the village schools and their teachers in the Ahmednagar District, but her letters focus more on family news than on meetings and professional activities.
From about 1926 until 1940, the majority of letters are round-robin notes from Edward Fairbank and his wife, Mary, in Vadala to relatives and friends in America. Much of the time he was away from home, touring in the villages of his district. He paid frequent visits to the Indian and American teachers and pastors who worked in the mission, hearing reports and offering consultation and guidance for the administration of churches and schools. He also had charge of a language school in Mahableshwar, where Americans were trained in the Marathi dialect. Mary was involved in orphan care and famine relief, as well as various religious and educational interests. She began a lace-making industry in Vadala for girls. These letters are written mostly by Edward. Letters from their son, Robert, who assisted Edward in these duties, become frequent in the late 1920s. There is very little correspondence after 1940.
The Beals Family series consists of accounts of mission work done by Rose and Lester in the hospital at Wai. There are also quite a few printed newsletters sent to patrons in America which include accounts of hospital activity and Indian life and culture. Rose had charge of health care for women and children at the hospital.
Scattered throughout the Correspondence series are handwritten letters from other family members and friends living in both India and America, mostly containing family news. Letters printed for distribution among patrons in America containing descriptions of mission activities and the development of new facilities can be found at regular intervals.
Related manuscript collections in the Rubenstein Library are the papers of E.Loleta Wood and the papers of Joseph L. Moulton, both of whom worked in the Ahmednagar District.