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Papers of Mary May (Bradlee) Gaillard (1840-1903)


Mary's papers reflect her husband's position in the French army and contain many valuable documents relating to the diplomatic service. In her scrapbook series are a number of invitations and calling cards from important foreign dignitaries. Her correspondence also shows her aristocratic associations. The Bradlees maintained active communications within the family through extensive letter-writing. Those from James Bowdoin Bradlee provide good reading as well as an insight into his character and those of his immediate family. Letters from Mary's sister and brother-in-law, Alice Bowdoin Bradlee Chase and Theodore Chase, Jr., give eyewitness descriptions of the Paris Commune in 1871. The most significant manuscripts in the collection are the voluminous set of letters from Mary's husband Louis, all of which are in French. He wrote to Mary almost daily during their separations. They include descriptions of the Franco-Prussian War and the Russian court amid the Russo-Turkish War. These letters originally included reports for the French ambassador in St. Petersburg, but these sections were removed and delivered to their original destinations. Mary's diary was written in during the first week of each year for six consecutive years, 1856 through 1861. They illustrate the spiritual awakening she experienced which led to great concern for the plight of the common man. Her memoranda primarily concern the extensive entertaining she and Louis did while he held high government positions. They contain several lists of dinner guests and elaborate descriptions of then-current prices. Her legal records contain several unique documents. The burial certificates for their son, Jules Bowdoin Bradlee, include both civil and church documents. Jules died in St. Petersburg while they were residents of that city. His body was shipped back to Paris to be interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Elaborate embalming and documentation was required for transportation across state borders.

Mary's first will was in the form of a letter to her family's attorney in Boston. In it she describes her father's initial reluctance toward Louis' inheriting her estate. When she had married Louis in 1868, James Bowdoin Bradlee specified that Mary's entire estate return to the family should she die without heirs. In 1870, she wrote to her father's attorney to intervene with her father "to beg him to enable me to leave this property to my husband." James Bowdoin Bradlee had already signed a document specifying that Louis would receive the income, for life, from Mary's property. There are fifty sketches drawn by Mary. They range from a view of provincial France to portraits of statues, all of which testify to her considerable artistic talents.

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Collection Name
Codman family papers
Collection Code
1849-1901, undated
Collection Type
Description Level
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

Mary May Bradlee Gaillard was born in Boston on 6 December 1840 to James Bowdoin Bradlee and Mary Perrin May Bradlee. Her father and her grandfather, Josiah Bradlee, were prominent Boston merchants in the China trade. Mary Bradlee attended Mrs. Hodges' school for girls along with her sisters. Mary participated in the popular activities of young women of her social class. She skated on the Boston Common during the winter months and rode horseback in warmer weather. In the early 1860s, Mary experienced a spiritual awakening. Her restlessness led her to spend a few years in France with the Frothingham family. There she met Louis Dieudonne Gaillard, a widowed officer in the French army with two young children. At that time, 1867, he held the rank of major. The next few years were turbulent ones for Mary. She bore a son, Louis James Gaillard, but the child died shortly after birth. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870, followed immediately by the Paris Commune, made her a refugee in her new homeland, finally gaining refuge in a convent in 1871 while her husband was away on duty. He was seriously wounded in the head, became a prisoner of war, and was taken to Cologne. Mary left everything and traveled there to be with him throughout the winter until his release in the spring. In 1873, the Gaillard family journeyed to Russia where they lived for five years. That same year, her second son Jules Bowdoin Bradlee died at three and one-half years of age. As the military attaché to the French ambassador to Russia, her husband’s role was mainly diplomatic. The Gaillards were required to be guests and hosts to many European heads of state and royalty. When Louis retired from active service, they purchased a home in Pau, Basse Pyrenees, where they remained until his death in 1888. Mary traveled throughout Europe after her husband's death and eventually returned to Boston. She renewed her acquaintance with Eugenia Mifflin Frothingham and moved into Eugenia's house at 476 Beacon Street, Boston, where she remained until her death on 15 January 1903.


The series is arranged in four subseries.