Papers of Thomas Newbold Codman (1868-1963)

Collection Type

  • Manuscripts


1797-1961, undated



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Thomas Newbold Codman began to save his personal correspondence in 1875, when he was seven years old, and he continued until 1958, when he was ninety. Some of the most interesting letters of this voluminous correspondence are those from fifteen-year-old Harry Thorndike. Harry's family, like the Codmans, had lived many years in Dinard, France, where Harry had been Tom's schoolmate at the College de Saint Servan. In 1883, the Thorndikes returned to Boston and the perceptive Harry describes the excitement of Boston for the school boy. He tells of the first Christmas trees to appear in the formerly Puritan city. He sends a pen and ink sketch of the new horse cart with "booby hut" explaining that the Back Bay line is the "swellest, no woman with a market basket or workman with tools to be seen, six rides for twenty-five cents." He discusses the half cut-away jackets and pumps the boys wear to Mr. Papanti's dancing class. He complains of the 100 lines of Virgil he must do daily at Mr. Noble’s. He gives details of the snow cave and the rugby games at the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley Streets. He boasts of his new tricycle and the two sparrows and a cat which he shot in Cambridge and the wager he won on the Harvard boat races. He bemoans the difficulties in finding a new German governess and other servants at 258 Beacon Street and at cottages at Beverly (seven bedrooms, tennis court, and stable), Bar Harbor, and Lennox. Letters from the family are spiced with the latest gossip of Boston and of Americans in France. Two bound volumes of Ogden's neatly typed letters tell of dinners with Edith Wharton and Cole Porter and architectural plans for Chateau Gregy and the Villa Leopolda. Seven bound volumes of Hugh’s letters tell of the musical world of Boston from 1922 to 1939. Cousin Ben Crowninshield II requests Tom to purchase for him in France and ship secretly, a pair of geese. The most intriguing as well as the largest correspondence is from Adrien Yaouang, "Didi, Tom's young Breton friend."

There are some 650 French letters describing concerts and parties and frequently pleading for money. There are also many bundles of Tom's letters to Adrien, "returned to sender" because of the German occupation. Adrien is left $50,000 in Tom's will. As Treasurer of the American Fund for French Wounded (AFFW) Tom kept accounts of money collected and packages sent. After 1925, the AFFW facility in Riems became the American Memorial Hospital under the direction of Dr. Marie Lefort. Tom remained one of its Directors. For forty years a large part of his correspondence in French or English came from Yvonne Carbone, Bessie Winters, Edith Bangs, Katherine Bliss, and Madame Klug, who were all deeply involved in this work and became Tom's friends as well. Other groups of letters are from the French war prisoners to whom he wrote personally: Eugene Vermesse, Louis Hadingui, H. Delley, Louis Badoux, and M. Torillot. More interesting is the correspondence with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bernard, which lasted until 1940, and with the Gustav Pierce family, which continued into his ninetieth year. There is also a large and long French correspondence with the two orphaned Lecoublet sisters and Visele Boschel, the nun who cared for them in a Dinard orphanage. These letters to Tom as godfather begin in 1927 and continue to his death, including photos of Tom, showing the girls growing up, marrying, and finally having babies of their own. Another forty-year correspondence is that of Tom with Dr. Philip Place, beginning in 1914 when Philip is a medical intern at Yale and anxious to have Torn arrange for him to serve with the ambulance corps. After the war, for reasons not clear, Dr. Place gives up medicine and becomes the caretaker on the Lincoln estate, living in a house on the property and being left $500 in Tom's will. Generous as Tom was to servants, wounded prisoners, and orphans, several amusing letters indicate his stubbornness when he was asked to pay $75 by Eugene Garipay, the desperate New Hampshire owner of a cow, pregnant with heifer, which his car had hit. After World War II, there are eighty-seven letters from Daisy Henney, the servant who had cared for Ogden for twenty-five years, telling of the war years and Ogden's last illness. Tom translated, typed, and duplicated these and others of his letters from France and mailed them on to friends and relatives. There are many letters from the overseers of Codman properties here and abroad, Frances White's neatly typed English letters from Ogden's Chateau Gregy, Robert de Montoron-Brackets earlier French ones, Paul Arrecky's from La Leopolda, David Sibley's semi-legal comments on the French properties as well as the letters from Dr. Place regarding repairs on the Lincoln estate. Letters from friends, Gaby Gigout, Molly Borda, Sophia Masterman, Gerry de Kossekowsky and her niece Rosemary Howard, Blanche D'Anglemont, Sophie Ritchie, Louise Leavitt, and Henrietta Lowell are primarily from abroad, describing first the round of parties all over the continent, then the devastation of the war, and finally gratitude for the C.A.R.E. packages Tom is constantly sending. Tom kept copies of his important letters, sent after 1940 to France because of the uncertainty of their arrival. Many, in fact, were returned undelivered. His many postcards include interesting World War I cartoons and cards from the wounded French prisoners. The telegrams deal primarily with arrival and departure times. More interesting are those sent in search of Ogden and Adrien. Most of the unrelated letters are copies sent to Tom in his capacity of Treasurer of AFFW and Director of the American Memorial Hospital.

Among Tom’s papers are detailed lists of plays, movies, concerts, ballets, teas, and dinner parties which he attended. There are lists of Christmas presents sent and received, books and records purchased, photographs taken, letters, and packages sent and received. There are lists of the 16 tips he gave weekly at the Hotel L'Albion, Paris. On the Cunard liner, he ''was quite gratified to know that what [he] had arranged to give for tips was just what the Carnegies were giving" as "they are very economical and not at all anxious to splurge." There is a list of the prices of rooms and service in all the Paris hotels in 1923. There are account, address, and appointment books. There is a "Dinner Book" with menus, recipes, guest lists, and comments. There are books of memoranda and books of automobile expenses, a subject on which Tom was very knowledgeable. There are records of the Ogden Codman, Sr. Trust, which Tom managed for the family, and details of just how the approximately $10,000 annual dividends for each were spent, since Tom kept the personal accounts for Dorothy and Hugh as well as his own in detail. Among the printed matter there are significant propaganda leaflets for World War I from France, England, and Germany. There is, finally, as large collection of explicit visual material, including lithographs, limericks, cartoons, photographs, and a 1797 edition of the Marquis de Sade's "Justine," which Tom carefully hid in a hollowed-out account book.


Collection Code


Collection Name

Codman family papers

Reference Code


Record Details


Folders 143.2189 and 170.2568 are closed until 2034.

Description Level


Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

Thomas Newbold Codman was born in Lincoln, Massachusetts, on 17 May, 1868, the third child of Sarah Fletcher Bradlee and Ogden Codman, Sr. In 1872, when Tom was four years old, the great Boston fire caused the Codmans to move to Dinard, France, a coastal resort where they had previously wintered. Tom had his earliest classes in the school room of the Dinard house with his siblings Ogden and Alice Codman. He later attended the College Communal de Saint Servan, where he received certificates of excellence from the principal and played the saxophone. By the time he was fifteen, he was taking exceptional photographs and experimenting with chemicals and papers in his own darkroom. This became a lifelong hobby, at which he achieved professional excellence. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1890 and settled comfortably into his family's pattern of summering at the family estate in Lincoln and travelling abroad to France each winter. He attended the theatre, ballet, opera, or concerts each evening, writing charming letters about the performances, the performers, the dinners before, the suppers afterwards, and the Americans in the audience. At one time, he wrote a critical column for The Musical Record. When Ogden, Sr. died in 1904, Tom was thirty- five years old and took over the fiduciary management of the family estate and trust funds. Although he continued to love Europe, his serious commitment to every detail of the Lincoln estate forced him home each spring to supervise the opening of the house. He managed to staff homes abroad and in Lincoln and to provide cars and chauffeurs to meet the family at boats and trains. He left instructions for closing up houses and always tried to place his servants in new positions where they would fit. About Claudine, his former cook, he wrote to Ogden, "She is economical and very clean, but she can't possibly make a sauce hollandaise and that, in the asparagus season, would be fatal."

In 1922, Tom's mother died, as did his sister, Alice, a year later. Tom travelled independently for the next sixteen years, as his sister, Dorothy, and brother, Hugh, often preferred to stay in Boston or Lincoln. As World War I began, Tom started the work which was to be important to him for the next forty years and win for him in 1943 "La Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise," and in 1947, the "Legion of Honor." Along with other former expatriate Americans, he began to collect funds to help the French wounded (American Fund for French Wounded, or AFFW). Several of these prisoners of war became his lifelong correspondents, to whom he personally sent letters and packages during the two world wars. The AFFW hospital at Riems accommodated refugees and orphans in 1918 as well as the returning wounded. In 1925, it was expanded and renamed the American Memorial Hospital. With Dr. Marie Lefort directing, it specialized in maternity and children's cases. Tom, as treasurer, collected funds when he was in America and visited the hospital when he was in France. When the American army liberated it from the Germans after World War II, the 2,000-bed facility was one of the finest on the continent. Hugh and Tom renovated the house at five Marlborough Street, where they had stayed occasionally since 1924. This building became the headquarters for Tom's extensive involvement in AFFW, the French library, and other pro-France groups. Hugh died in 1946 and Ogden in 1951. In 1952, basic renovations, having been completed on the Lincoln estate, Tom, then eighty-four, and Dorothy, fifty-nine, returned to the home in which they had been born. It was here Tom succumbed to pneumonia on 13 March 1963.



The series is arranged in nine subseries.

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