Papers of Mary Perrin (May) Bradlee (1815-1877)

Collection Type

  • Manuscripts


1786-1877, undated



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Mary Perrin May Bradlee's collection provides insight into the life and manners of nineteenth century women. Her correspondence series contains letters primarily from family members. The letters sent from Benjamin W. Crowninshield, husband of her daughter, Katherine, are enlightening. His caustic remarks on all of his acquaintances, including his own son, give one the impression there were few who would qualify as acceptable companions. When Mary's daughter Mary Bradlee Gaillard married Louis Dieudonne Gaillard in May, 1868, several members of the family traveled to France to attend the ceremony. They remained in Europe from April through October. James Bowdoin Bradlee kept a travel log for the entire trip. This is now in Mary's collection. Mary's financial records are the most reflective of her lifestyle. Her education bills are those which were paid by her father, Perrin May, who paid for her schooling. They tell us what courses she took and which texts she read. One of her courses was political economy, while she studied the history of Russia in French. Mary paid her own personal bills with an income from her father. Throughout her life she paid for her own clothes and those of her children. There is a large volume of clothing bills for 1837, the year she married James Bowdoin Bradlee. They are all purchases for her wedding trousseau. A bill dated 17 October 1848 shows that she paid for "nineteen dozen cloths" at sixty-two and a half cents a dozen. This was the nineteenth century version of the diaper service. After her husband's death in January of 1872, Mary became financially responsible for the entire household. After that date "personal" bills include those for clothing and medical expenses. All other bills are included under "household." Mary Perrin May Bradlee's will can be found in her son-in-law Theodore Chase, Jr.’s papers. In her last testament, she leaves all of her possessions at 34 Beacon Street to two of her five daughters, Alice Bowdoin Bradlee Chase and Frances Bowdoin Bradlee. This series also contains the papers of Perrin May.


Collection Code


Collection Name

Codman family papers

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Record Details

Description Level


Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

Mary Perrin May Bradlee, the daughter of Perrin May and Delia Scarborough, was born 1 January 1815. Her father was a merchant in the China trade for many years. He lived on his estate on Washington Street, devoting much of his time to his very large garden, of which the product, especially in pears and grapes, was almost unmatched in his day. Mary's grandfather, Moses May, kept a store on Orange (now Washington) Street selling West-India, British, and French dry goods. Mary had a half-brother, George, and another brother, Frederick, two years older than her. Her mother died three years after Mary was born. Mary married James Bowdoin Bradlee on 27 April 1837, at the age of twenty-two. Her beauty is preserved in the portrait Francis Alexander painted of her in 1840, now hanging in the library at Codman House, Lincoln, Massachusetts. She bore James Bowdoin Bradlee five daughters and two sons. Their daughters were Mary May, born 6 December 1840, Sarah Fletcher, born 19 July 1842, Katherine May, born 3 January 1844, Alice Bowdoin, born 8 August 1846, and Frances Bowdoin, born 3 August 1849. Their two sons, James Bowdoin Bradlee, Jr., born 1850 and George Minot Bradlee, born in 1855, died three months apart in 1855. Mary was associated with some of Boston’s most well- known families, including William Dawes of Revolutionary War fame, who was married to her cousin, while Louisa May Alcott was another relation. Mary kept her social circle small and intimate. She could be temperamental, and as James wrote to their daughter Mary, "I can't conceive of your mother's [ever] being contented and if she is not, no one in the same household can have a pleasant time of it." Although he did not like to summer in North Conway because of the difficulty in getting there, he went nevertheless to satisfy her desire to be near the "right people." Mary was always called upon when illness occurred in the family, and she traveled to be near one of her sick relatives. She was particularly distressed when her daughter, Fanny, had a nervous breakdown in 1876. Mary remained at 34 Beacon Street for five years after James passed away. She died of cancer 18 December 1877.



The series is arranged alphabetically by record type, then by topic.

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