William Righter and Mary Wager Fisher papers, 1830-1934

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Fisher, William Righter
4.5 Linear Feet
2,850 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The papers of the lawyer and educator William Righter Fisher and the journalist Mary Wager Fisher consist primarily of correspondence, but also include photographs (several of them tintypes and cartes-de-visite), financial papers, diaries, clippings, printed material, and writings and speeches. Among correspondents are many journalists, physicians, educators, and other notable figures of the late nineteenth century including Lucy Abbott, Mercy Baker, Jennie Chapin, Mary L. Booth, W.S. Burke, James Gowdy Clark, M.E. Dodge, Weston Flint, P. Girard, S. D. Harris, Albert Leffingwell, Henry C. Olney, W. Trickett, George Boyer Vashon, and Frank J. Webb. The collection also includes letters from James B. Hazelton of the First Regiment, New York Artillery. Hazelton's letters describe battles and political events of the Civil War, including Lincoln's re-election campaign and the anti-draft riots. The papers are particularly rich in documentation of women in medicine and women's medical education in the second half of the nineteenth century; the Freedmen's schools in the Reconstruction South; the movement for women's rights; and friendship among American women in the late Victorian era.

The Correspondence Series includes letters from three prominent women physicians of the period (Jennie Chapin, Mercy N. Baker, and Lucy M. Abbott) to Mary Wager before her marriage to Fisher. In their letters they described their medical education, their obstetrical experience, and the high cost of tuition and living expenses at the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia. Letters prior to her marriage in 1876 also attest to Wager's numerous romantic involvements. Among her admirers was lawyer and educator Weston Flint, and the Correspondence Series includes over 100 letters from him describing his political, social, and literary interests as well as his deep affection for Mary Wager. He also wrote about his wartime travels and his interest in helping the contrabands medically and educationally. Flint detailed political events of the Civil War, including Lincoln's re-election campaign and the anti-draft riots, and mentions the Copperheads. He expressed particular interest in the moral state of soldiers, decrying their drinking of alcohol and consorting with prostitutes. Flint sometimes included poetry in his letters.

Also in the Correspondence Series are two letters (1870) from Frank J. Webb, the author of The Garies and Their Friends (1857), a daring novel about an interracial couple. In one of these letters dated May 5, he referred to a 500-page manuscript sent to Harper's for an unpublished novel, Paul Sumner, which he considered to be superior to The Garies. In a four-page letter to Wager (April 9, 1870), African American writer, attorney, and educator George Boyer Vashon provided an autobiography. The events of his life were penned on the letterhead of The New Era: A National Journal, Edited by Colored Men.

The collection offers insight into emotionally intense friendships between women of the nineteenth century. Wager's female friends sent good wishes, but expressed great jealousy at the time of her marriage to Fisher. Young women wrote of both romantic and sisterly love for Mary, and sometimes discussed such issues as women's education, women's dress, women's suffrage, and temperance.

The bulk of William Righter Fisher's letters in the collection were written between him and his parents. A small cache of letters from author and dean of Dickenson College Law School William Trickett, who lived in Germany in 1872, provide a vivid illustration of the political climate and structure of the Germany of Bismarck. Also to be found among letters to Fisher are several written in the late 1860's by agents of the Freedmen's Bureau and the Freedmen's school in Wytheville, Virginia.

While the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, some speeches and writings by Mary Wager Fisher and Weston Flint are included. Of particular interest is a photocopy of Mary Wager's article entitled " Women as Physicians." Also, the Pictures Series includes both cartes-de-visite and tintypes.

The William Righter and Mary Wager Fisher Papers provide numerous windows through which researchers can view aspects of late Victorian America. The collection provides an unusual entree into the private and public lives of nineteenth-century men and women, and particularly provides information about the professionalization of American women, relationships between women in nineteenth-century America, and race relations in the Reconstruction South.

Biographical / historical:
William Righter Fisher
Date Event
1849 June 27
Born in Montgomery County, Pa. to Wiliam A. and Sarah Fisher
Graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
Attended Universities of Heidelberg and Munich
Taught modern languages at Dickinson College
1876 Jan. 4
Married Mary Wager
Admitted to Philadelphia bar and began to practice law
1932 Feb. 18
Died in Philadelphia, Pa.
Mary Wager Fisher
Date Event
Born in Lansing, N.Y.
Graduated from Alfred University
Taught freedmen at Dr. Manly's school in Richmond, Va.
Became journalist, covering political events in Washington, D.C.
Wrote series of articles entitled, "The Traveller Abroad" for The Rural New Yorker
Married William Righter Fisher
1915 July 1
Died in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Acquisition information:
The papers of William Righter and Mary Wager Fisher were purchased by Duke University in 1993.
Processing information:

Processed by Melissa J. Delbridge and Joann Kleinneiur

Completed June 30, 1996

Encoded by Stephen D. Miller

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. There may be a 48-hour delay in obtaining these materials.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in the William Righter and Mary Wager Fisher Papers have not been transferred to Duke University. For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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