Ames Family Papers
The Ames Family Papers span six generations and include two separate families with the surname "Ames," which came together in 1900 with the marriage of Blanche Ames and Oakes Ames. The Butler family is also represented to some extent, notably by Civil War general Benjamin Franklin Butler and his wife, Sarah Hildreth Butler. The following biographical sketches pertain to some, but not all, of the individuals whose papers are in the collection, beginning with Oakes Ames in Generation II and ending with George A. Plimpton in Generation VI. Additional information is located in SERIES I. FAMILY HISTORY, and in the Appendix. This section does not include information about family members whose papers are extremely small in volume, except, in a few cases, to provide context and to clarify familial and generational relationships. Detailed biographies of some individuals may be found in American National Biography, the Dictionary of American Biography, and Notable American Women.
Oakes Ames, the elder son of Oliver Ames and Susanna Angier Ames, was born on January 10, 1804 in Easton, Massachusetts. He was married to Evelina Gilmore, with whom he had four children: Oakes, Oliver III, Frank, and Susan. At an early age he entered into his father's business, Ames Shovel Works, management of which he and his brother, also named Oliver, took over in 1844. The discovery of gold in California in 1849 led to the profitable expansion of the company, which by then had been renamed Ames and Sons. During the Civil War, Oakes Ames was urged to run for government office and in 1862 won a seat in the U.S. Congress, where he served for ten years. He was involved in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, and in the attendant congressional Credit Mobilier stock scandals of 1872-1873. Oakes Ames died on May 8, 1873.
Oliver Ames was born on November 5, 1807 in North Easton, Massachusetts, the second son of Susanna Angier Ames and Oliver Ames. He attended local schools and, after briefly working in a law office, joined his father and brother, Oakes, in the Ames Shovel Works (later renamed Ames and Sons). In 1833 he married Sarah Lothrop, with whom he had two children, Frederick and Helen. The shovel company thrived under the brothers' management and by 1860 was valued at $4 million. Oliver Ames was instrumental in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad; however, unlike his brother, he was not implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandals. After the rail line was completed, he served as President of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1866 to 1869; he remained a director until his death. After leaving the Union Pacific presidency, he turned his full attention to the shovel company, which was facing bankruptcy at the time, and returned it to profitability. He was director of a number of railways other than Union Pacific, and also of several banks in Boston and in North Easton. He was a vice president of the Massachusetts Total Abstinence Society and a member of the Unitarian Church. Oliver Ames died on March 9, 1877.
Benjamin F. Butler and Sarah Hildreth Butler
Benjamin Franklin Butler was born in Nottingham, New Hampshire on November 5, 1818, the son of Charlotte Ellison and John Butler. Having failed to gain admission to West Point, he attended Waterville College (now Colby College), graduating in 1840. He studied law for two years and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1842. Butler served one term as state representative in 1853 and one term as state senator in 1858. His involvement in politics led to a generalship in the Civil War, despite a lack of military training and experience. He served as controversial military governor of New Orleans and, after the war, as Congressman from Massachusetts (1867 to 1875). Butler, a staunch Reconstructionist, supported the first Civil Rights Act as well as efforts to curtail the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1882 he won the governorship of Massachusetts and in 1884 he ran unsuccessfully for President. Benjamin F. Butler died in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 1893.
Sarah Hildreth was born on August 17, 1816 in Dracut, Massachusetts, the daughter of Dolly Jones and Israel Hildreth. Having shown considerable talent in dramatics, she was sent to Boston at the age of sixteen for formal training, after which she acted to great acclaim in Boston, New York, Charleston, South Carolina, and Cincinnati, Ohio. She gave up her stage career after marrying Benjamin F. Butler in 1844. The couple had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood: Blanche, Paul, and Benjamin (aka Ben-Israel). Sarah Hildreth Butler died on April 8, 1876.
Adelbert Ames and Blanche Butler Ames
Adelbert Ames was born in Rockland, Maine on October 31, 1835 to Martha Tolman Ames and Jesse Ames. His was a seafaring family, descended from both Pilgrims and Puritans, and bore no relation to the family of Oakes Ames. In 1868 Jesse Ames purchased a flour mill in Northfield, Minnesota, which the family developed into a flourishing business. Adelbert Ames graduated from West Point in 1861 and immediately entered the Union Army. A highly decorated officer, he fought in the Battle of Bull Run, for which he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. During his military service, Ames met General Benjamin F. Butler and, later, Butler's daughter, Blanche, whom he married in 1870. In 1868, Ames was appointed Provisional Governor of Mississippi, later serving that state as U.S. Senator (1870-1873) and Governor (1873-1876). After his stint in the South, he moved back to Lowell, Massachusetts and turned his attention the family milling business, which interests he represented in the East. He returned briefly to the battlefield during the Spanish-American War, serving as commander of U.S. volunteers. Adelbert Ames died in Ormond, Florida on April 13, 1933, the last surviving general of the Civil War.
Blanche Butler was born in 1845 to Sarah Hildreth Butler and Benjamin F. Butler. She spent a lot of time with her father in Washington, D.C., where she met her future husband, Adelbert Ames, with whom she had six children: Butler, Edith, Sarah, Blanche, Adelbert, Jr., and Jessie. Blanche Butler Ames did extensive genealogical research on her family, and the portion of the Ames Family Papers pertaining to her life includes a great deal of historical and genealogical information. She was also a gardener and a sculptor known for her fanciful creations, numerous photographs of which are in the collection. In 1935 she compiled a collection of letters that the family published in 1957 as Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche Butler and Adelbert Ames. Blanche Butler Ames died in 1939.
Oliver Ames III
Oliver Ames III was born in North Easton, Massachusetts on February 4, 1831, the son of Evelina Gilmore and Oakes Ames. He married Anna Coffin Ray with whom he had six children: Anna Lee, Evelina, Lilian, Oakes, Susan, and William Hadwen. He served as governor of Massachusetts from 1887 to 1890. Ames was elected an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity in 1917, by the fraternity's Alpha Chapter at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He is the only known honorary member known to be elected after his death. Oliver Ames III died on October 22, 1895.
Paul Butler, married to Joanna H. Butler, had numerous business interests, including the Lowell (Massachusetts) Airport Corp., the U. C. Cartridge Co., and the Butler Ranch in Colorado. He died in Lowell on September 6, 1918.
Adelbert Ames, Jr.
Adelbert Ames, Jr., an ophthalmologist and perceptual psychologist, was born on August 19, 1880 in Lowell, Massachusetts to Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames. He attended Phillips Academy at Andover and earned his undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard in 1903 and 1906, respectively. He was married to Fanny Vose Hazen, with whom he had two children: Adelbert III and Priscilla. After working as a lawyer in Boston for four years, Ames abandoned that career and turned to painting. He collaborated with his sister, Blanche Ames Ames, in developing the System of Color Theory, which involved mixing and charting over three thousand different color variations. This in turn led to an interest in the physics of how the human eye perceives color. In 1914 Ames received a research grant in physiological optics and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts to work with Clark University professor Wallace Baird in that field. He served as an aerial observer in World War I and afterwards (due to Baird's death) relocated to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire to work with Charles Proctor. Fascinated by his inquisitive mind, the Dartmouth administration created the faculty post of Professor of Physiological Optics for Ames, wherein he did not teach and was free to devote all his energies to research. Around 1924 Ames's work yielded the important discovery that in certain people the two eyes do not perceive the same object in the same dimensions; many suffered from debilitating headaches as a result, the source of which had mystified doctors for years. The condition was named "aniseikonia," the Dartmouth Eye Institute was subsequently founded, and people flocked to it for successful treatment in the form of compensating lenses. Ames was also famous for creating the American Indian bust that Shawmut Bank of Boston adopted as its trademark, and he was well-known for inventing the Ames Demonstrations in Perception, the most famous of which is a full-sized room that looks normal but in which people appear to shrink as they walk across it. He also discovered that as many as 20% of humankind cannot perceive level when they see it, a matter of obvious concern to naval aviation, and he worked extensively with aircraft carrier pilots during World War II. After the war he took up the problem of vision in automobile traffic, and his findings have been instrumental to the work of U.S. highway departments and safety organizations. Adelbert Ames, Jr. died in 1955.
Blanche Ames Ames and Oakes Ames
Blanche Ames was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on February 18, 1878 to Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames. She attended the Rogers Hall School in Lowell and earned her B.A. from Smith College in 1899. She married Harvard botanist Oakes Ames (unrelated) in 1900, with whom she had four children: Amyas, Evelyn, Oliver and Pauline. Blanche Ames Ames was an accomplished artist, perhaps best known for the botanical drawings undertaken to illustrate her husband's work. She was a talented portraitist as well, and her oil portraits are in collections at Columbia University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Phillips Exeter Academy, and the Mississippi Hall of Governors. In collaboration with her brother, Adelbert Ames, Jr., she developed the System of Color Theory, based on the relationship between how the human eye perceives color and how painters depict it. Ames was a tireless and dauntless activist for women's rights, notably suffrage and birth control. She was Treasurer of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage League from 1915 to 1918, and in 1916 co-founded and served as first President of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts. Her interest in women's health led her to serve first as board member and later as President of New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. At the age of eighty, Ames researched and wrote Adelbert Ames, Broken Oaths and Reconstruction in Mississippi, 1835-1933, in which she defended her father, Adelbert Ames, whom John F. Kennedy had termed a carpetbagger in his book, Profiles in Courage. Ames was also an inventor and applied for patents for a hexagonal lumber cutter (1939), a propeller snare to bring down low-flying aircraft during World War II (1945), and an anti-polluting toilet (1968). Blanche Ames Ames died at Borderland, her home in North Easton, Massachusetts, on March 1, 1969. (Researchers may also wish to consult My Dear Mrs. Ames: A Study of the Life of Suffragist, Cartoonist and Birth Control Reformer, Blanche Ames Ames, 1878-1969 by Anne Biller Clark (1996), in the SSC Browsing Collection.)
Blanche Ames Ames's husband, Oakes Ames, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts on September 26, 1874 to Anna Coffin Ray and Oliver Ames III, former governor of Massachusetts. He attended the Noble and Greenough School in Boston and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in botany at Harvard in 1898 and 1899, respectively. He was instructor in botany at Harvard from 1900 to 1910, assistant professor from 1915 to 1926, and professor from 1926 to 1932. He served as Arnold Professor of Botany from 1932 until 1935, and as research professor of botany from 1935 to 1941. After his 1941 retirement he held the title of research professor emeritus until his death. In addition to teaching at Harvard, Ames also held numerous administrative posts, including Chairman of the Division of Biology from 1926 to 1935; Assistant Director of the Botanic Garden from 1899 to 1909, and director from 1909 to 1922; Curator of the Botanical Museum from 1923 to 1927; Supervisor of the Biological Laboratory and Botanic Garden in Cuba and of the Arnold Arboretum from 1927 to 1935; and Supervisor of the Botanical Museum from 1937 to 1945, Director of the museum from 1937 to 1945, and Associate Director from 1945 until 1950. Ames's independent family wealth allowed him to pursue intensively the study of orchids, and he was the foremost orchidologist of his day. He traveled worldwide, taking copious notes and collecting specimens; as a result of his work, orchids are today among the best studied of plant families. Oakes Ames died in Ormond, Florida on April 28, 1950.
Butler Ames was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on August 22, 1871, the son of Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1890 and from the United States Military Academy in 1894. He earned his graduate degree in mechanical and electrical engineering at MIT in 1896. He was married to Fifille Willis. Ames served in the Spanish-American War and afterwards as a civil administrator in Puerto Rico. During World War I Governor Calvin Coolidge promoted him to major general and assigned him to reorganize the Massachusetts State Guard. Ames served in the Massachusetts Legislature from 1898-1890 and represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress from 1903 to 1913. He was active in numerous businesses, including the Wamesit Power Co., the Ames Textile Corp., the Union Land Grazing Corp., and the U.S. Cartridge Co. He also invented the Ames Electric Stove; the Odorless Cooker; and the "Silver Slippers," shoe inserts for symptomatic relief of arthritis. In 1919 Ames purchased the Villa Balbianello on Lake Como in Italy, which remained in the family until 1974. Butler Ames died on November 7, 1954 in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.
William Hadwen Ames
William Hadwen Ames was born on March 1, 1861, the eldest son of Anna Coffin Ray and Oliver Ames III. He attended the MIT School of Mechanical Arts from 1879 to 1880. He was employed as secretary of the Ames Shovel Works, and later as president of American Pneumatic Services Co. He was first married to Mary Elizabeth Hodges and then to Fanny Elizabeth Holt. He served in the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1905-1906. William Hadwen Ames died in Boston on March 26, 1918.
Winthrop Ames was born in North Easton, Massachusetts on November 25, 1870. He was the son of Cathrine Hobart and Oakes Angier Ames, and a first cousin of Oakes Ames, the husband of Blanche Ames Ames. He married Lucy Fuller and with her had two children: Catherine and Joan. Ames was a theatrical producer and manager, and in 1904 traveled to Europe to study the management of sixty opera and theatre companies. After co-managing a Boston theatre, he became managing director of New York City's New Theatre (1908-11). He founded the Little Theatre (now the Helen Hayes Theatre) and the Booth Theatre, where he produced and directed such plays as The Philanderer (1913), Beggar on Horseback (1924), and a series of Gilbert and Sullivan revivals (1926-29). His Snow White (1913) was the first play produced in the U.S. especially for children. Winthrop Ames died in Boston on November 13, 1937. Sarah Ames Borden
Sarah Ames was born on October 1, 1874, the daughter of Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames. She was married to Spencer Borden with whom she had four children: Blanche, Joan, Ames, and Richard. She corresponded extensively with her family, notably her sister, Blanche Ames Ames. She died on February 18, 1931.
Jessie Ames Marshall
Jessie Ames was born on November 2, 1882, the daughter of Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames. She was married to Andrew Marshall with whom she had four children: Andrew, Jr., Blanche, Jessie, and Malcolm. She corresponded extensively with her family, notably her sister, Blanche Ames Ames, with whom she also worked in the birth control movement. Jessie Ames Marshall died on February 9, 1967.
Edith Ames Stevens
Edith Ames was born on March 4, 1873, the daughter of Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames. She was married to C. Brooks Stevens with whom she had four children: Ames, Edith, Harriet, and C. Brooks, Jr. She corresponded extensively with her family, notably her sister, Blanche Ames Ames. She died on December 6, 1958.
Amyas Ames was born in Sharon, Massachusetts on June 15, 1906 to Blanche Ames Ames and Oakes Ames. He attended the Country Day School for Boys of Boston, received his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1928, and went on to earn his MBA from the Harvard Business School. He was married to Evelyn Ingeborg Perkins with whom he had four children: Oakes, Edward, Olivia, and Joan. He married his second wife, Lucia Millham, in 1995. During World War II he served as an administrative officer of the War Shipping Administration in Washington. He went into banking and was a managing partner at Kidder, Peabody and Co. An amateur musician and lover of the arts, he was a member of the board of the New York Philharmonic from 1955 to 1983, and from 1970 to 1980 served as chairman of Lincoln Center. Amyas Ames died in Lexington, Massachusetts on January 24, 2000.
Oliver Ames was born on May 20, 1903 to Blanche Ames Ames and Oakes Ames. He attended the Country Day School for Boys of Boston and received his B.A. from Harvard in 1927. He was married to Ellen Moseley, with whom he had three sons: Oliver, Angier and Thomas. During World War II he served in the U.S. Navy, both as an aviator and as commanding officer of an aircraft carrier. He was president of the Ames Aircraft Corp., and a director of the First National Bank of Easton and of the Ames Shovel and Tool Co. He was a trustee of the North Easton Savings Bank and of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Oliver Ames died in 1971.
Evelyn Ames Davis
Evelyn Ames was born on January 10, 1910 to Blanche Ames Ames and Oakes Ames. She attended the Winsor School in Boston and received her undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1932. She was married to Episcopal minister Rev. John Paschall Davis, with whom she had four children: Blanche, John P., Jr., Evelyn, and Ames. She lived with her family in Tennessee, where in 1964 she co-founded the Planned Parenthood Association of Nashville. She served as the organization's southeastern representative for nine southern states, and on the executive committee of the national board of directors of Planned Parenthood-World Population. She was also a founder and member of the board of the Nashville chapter of Concern for Dying, an advocacy group for the right to die. Correspondence with her sister, Pauline Ames Plimpton, is voluminous. Evelyn Ames Davis died in 1993.
Pauline Ames Plimpton
Pauline Ames Plimpton was born on October 22, 1901 to Blanche Ames Ames and Oakes Ames. She attended the Winsor School in Boston and graduated from Smith College in 1922. She was married to lawyer and diplomat Francis T. P. Plimpton, with whom she had four children: George, Francis, Jr., Oakes, and Sarah. Civically and philanthropically active throughout her life, she served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the Institute for World Affairs, the Public Education Association, and the New York House of School and Industry. She was also actively involved in the libraries of Amherst College, Columbia University, and Smith College, and with the Smith College Museum of Art and the Smith College Alumnae Association. She authored several books about her family: Oakes Ames: Jottings of a Harvard Botanist (1979), The Plimpton Papers: Law and Diplomacy (1985), The Ancestry of Adelbert Ames and Blanche Butler Ames (1987), A Window on Our World: More Plimpton Papers (1989), and A Collector's Recollections: George Arthur Plimpton (1993). Pauline Ames Plimpton died in New York on April 15, 1995.
Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton
Francis T.P. Plimpton was born on December 7, 1900, the son of Frances Taylor Pearsons and George Arthur Plimpton. His mother died when he was born and he was raised by his father, his maternal grandmother, and governesses. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, received his undergraduate degree from Amherst College in 1922, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1925. He worked for the law firm of Root, Clark in New York from 1925 until 1933, when he joined Debevoise and Stevenson as a full partner (the firm was subsequently renamed Debevoise, Stevenson and Plimpton). Plimpton served as Ambassador to the United Nations under the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations from 1961 to 1965, as President of the New York Bar Association from 1970 to 1972, and as Chairman of the New York City Board of Ethics from 1966 to 1980. He died in Huntington, New York on July 30, 1983.
George A. Plimpton
George A. Plimpton was born in New York on March 18, 1927, the eldest child of Pauline Ames Plimpton and Francis T.P. Plimpton. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and at Harvard (B.A. 1950), and went on to earn a second B.A. at King's College, Cambridge. He was married first to Freddy Espy, with whom he had two children, Medora and Taylor; the marriage ended in divorce and he later married Sarah Dudley, with whom he had twin daughters, Lauren and Olivia. Plimpton co-founded The Paris Review in 1953 with Harold L. Humes and Peter Matthiesson, whom he met while at Cambridge, and served as that magazine's editor until his death. Plimpton came into his own as a writer after publishing the widely acclaimed books Out of My League (1961) and Paper Lion (1966), based on his experiences as a temporary guest member of professional baseball and football teams, respectively. He successfully pursued this unique form of participatory journalism by entering a match against boxing champion, Archie Moore; playing percussion for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic; swinging from a trapeze in a circus's big tent; and playing golf in a pro tournament, bridge with professionals, and tennis with Poncho Gonzales. He acted in several films and served, unofficially, as New York's first Fireworks Commissioner. Plimpton, a long-time friend of the Kennedy family, was with Bobby Kennedy when he was assassinated and, in the ensuing chaos, helped subdue Sirhan Sirhan. Genial and well-liked, he was famous for the parties he frequently gave in his home above The Paris Review offices in New York. George A. Plimpton died in New York on September 26, 2003.