Bliss Family Papers
Scope and Contents of the Collection
General information about the Bliss Family, including genealogical charts, is contained in Series 1. Daniel Bliss and his three sons, as well as both of Howard's sons, were graduates of Amherst College. Amy Blatchford's brother was a member of Howard's class. Daniel Bliss Leavitt, Howard's grandson, and one of the donors of the Papers, is also an Amherst alumnus. Biographical files on all of these family members are available in the Archives. A list, including their class years, follows:
There is also a biographical file for Edwin Elisha Bliss, Class of 1837, containing some of his diaries and those of his wife, Isabella Holmes Porter Bliss, who were missionaries in Turkey. Ebenezer Bliss (1683-1717), great-great-grandfather of Edwin Bliss, and Thomas Bliss (1668-1733), great-great-grandfather of Daniel Bliss were brothers. While there does not appear to be a close connection between these branches of the Bliss family, Howard Bliss does mention Edwin and "poor cousin Bella" in one of his letters, and there was apparently some contact.
Photographs of some family members are included in their biographical files or in class albums (compiled for graduating classes), available in the Amherst College Archives. A few photographs are contained in Series 11.
Brief biographical sketches of all Amherst College alumni from 1822 through 1971 appear in the Amherst College Biographical Record, 1973 edition, available in the Amherst College Archives.
Reminiscences of Daniel Bliss, edited and supplemented by Frederick Jones Bliss, published in 1920, provides additional information about the early life of Daniel Bliss; his marriage and the time he spent as a missionary in Syria before the College was founded; the founding of the College, the Presidency of Daniel Bliss, and the years following his retirement. In 1989 the book was edited by Carleton S. Coon, Jr., and published under the title Daniel Bliss and the Founding of the American University of Beirut. The introduction and other material provided by Frederick Jones Bliss in the first edition have been replaced in the second edition by a prologue and an epilogue by Daniel Bliss II. These books are located in Box 4 of the Papers, and additional copies may be available in the general collection of the Amherst College Library.
Other published material relating to the Bliss Family or to the history of American University of Beirut may be available in the general collection of the Amherst College Library. Pieces of wood and pressed flowers, believed to have been sent to the Dickinson Family by the Bliss Family, are part of the Dickinson collection in Special Collections.
Insofar as possible, information in these papers has been made accessible by name of individual, by date, by name of institution or by event. Most of the material in the papers is original. In a few cases fragile material has been removed, due to preservation concern, and replaced with photocopies. Furthermore, Addendum 2 contains hand written transcripts by Mrs. Rugh of about 75% of the letters included in that accession. The originals are included with each transcript in their own folder.
The Bliss Family Papers, according to a member of the family, were probably preserved because of the distance the letters had traveled. The papers consist primarily of the correspondence, from the early 1850s to the early 1920s, of a missionary family whose members lived in different parts of the world. As a whole, it gives a clear picture of the lifestyle of such a family. Perhaps due to distance and the infrequency of personal visits, the family members generally wrote in detail. Howard Bliss is particularly notable for this attention to detail, as well as for his sense of humor.
Daniel Bliss began his work as a missionary in Syria in 1856. He was one of the founders and the first President of Syrian Protestant College (now American University of Beirut). His letters in this collection date from 1856 to 1908. Daniel's son, Howard, succeeded his father to the Presidency in 1902. While both were ordained ministers, their focus as missionaries was on education.
Abby Wood Bliss, Daniel's wife, due to the ill health of her mother, grew up in Amherst in the home of her uncle, Luke Sweetser. She was a childhood friend of Emily Dickinson. Although the Daniel Bliss series is not extensive, a great deal of information about him and about Syrian Protestant College is contained in Abby's letters, which date from 1856 to 1909. Her news to the family about Daniel's activities and the activities at the College, like his, reflects both the history of the institution and nineteenth century thought on education. Their discussion of the Lewis Affair is a good example.
Howard's lifelong connection with Amherst (and with the College) began when he visited Amherst with his mother and became friends with Ned Dickinson. His letters from Amherst College describe student life, as well as social life in the town of Amherst and his friendship with the Dickinson family and other Amherst families. The twenty years between Howard's graduation and his acceptance of the Presidency of Syrian Protestant College included teaching, study, travel, and ministry to two churches, as well as marriage and the birth of four of his five children. From 1919 until his death, he writes about his illness and treatment, as well as about his continuing work.
The papers reveal much about late nineteenth and early twentieth century family relationships in general, and provides specific information about each of the members of this particular family, both as they write about themselves and as other family members write to and about them. Howard and Amy's correspondence, while it recounts the events of their lives, also shows the lasting intimacy of their relationship, and provides insight into marriage and family life around the turn of the century. Finally, the papers offer an opportunity to study letter-writing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This collection is organized into sixteen series:
There are essentially three parts to the Bliss Family Papers. Part one consists of the original accession, and is divided into 12 series. Part two is comprised of additional papers to the Daniel Bliss series. And, part three is made up of three series; Daniel Bliss, Abby Bliss, and Belle Dorman Rugh. Parts two and three are described as Addendum 1 and 2 respectively.