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Merrill-Magowan Family Papers

Identifier: MA.00207

Scope and Contents

The Merrill-Magowan Family Papers consist of 32 linear feet of material documenting the personal and professional activities and relationships of three generations of family members, dating from 1880 to 2002. The bulk of the material dates from the 1920s through the 1970s. In addition to illustrating relationships between family members, the papers are an extremely rich source for the study of United States social history, providing a view of the personal impact of economic, social and cultural issues on an upper class American family in the twentieth century. The collection also contains genealogical materials and reports.

The bulk of the collection relates to Charles Edward Merrill, his daughter Doris Merrill Magowan and her husband Robert Anderson Magowan. Also included in the collection are papers of Eliza Church Merrill and other family members. Family correspondence makes up the largest portion of the material, with business records appearing in bulk in the papers of Charles E. Merrill, founder of the investment banking and brokerage firm Merrill Lynch. Merrill also had a practice of sending copies of his letters to family members to his daughter Doris, and these can be found in her papers. Merrill's business correspondence provides a view of Wall Street culture before, during and after the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the following years of the Great Depression. Family members' World War II service is well represented by extensive correspondence, a scrapbook and a diary kept regularly by Robert A. Magowan during his time in the Navy. These materials are supplemented with artworks, diaries, memorabilia, photographs, writings and newspaper clippings, and a set of Family Heritage Albums.

Several members of the Merrill family attended Amherst College, including Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908), James Ingram Merrill (AC 1947) and Charles E. Merrill's nephew, Charles Merrill Matzinger (AC 1937). Material related to Amherst College can be found throughout the collection, especially in the Charles Edward Merrill papers and the family heritage albums (Series 11).


  • Creation: 1884-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1926-1975


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the Merrill-Magowan Family Papers for research use. Material written by James I. Merrill is not available for duplication. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the Merrill-Magowan Family Papers should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

The Merrill-Magowan Family Papers represent the activities of the family beginning with Charles Morton Merrill and his wife Octavia Wilson Merrill and following the family primarily through Charles Edward Merrill (1885-1956; AC 1908), his son Charles Edward Merrill, Jr. and daughter Doris Merrill Magowan, her husband Robert Anderson Magowan and their children. The following biographical sketches describe family members most represented in the collection. See the Merrill-Magowan family tree (in External Documents) and genealogical materials in Series I for relationships between family members and birth and death dates for extended family.

Charles Morton Merrill (1856-1928), was the son of Abigail Livermore and Riley Mead Merrill and father of Charles Edward Merrill. He was a country physician and drug-store proprietor in Glen Cove Springs, Florida.

Octavia Wilson Merrill (1861-1933) was the daughter of Emily Grace and Edward Alvah Wilson and mother of Charles Edward Merrill.

Charles Edward Merrill (1885-1956) was an American investment banker and founder of the company that became Merrill Lynch & Co., Pierce, Fenner & Beane, Inc., one of the largest and most successful brokerage firms in the United States. At the time of Merrill's death, Merrill Lynch & Co. had offices in more than 100 cities and was responsible for 10 percent of all business conducted on the New York Stock exchange. The many partners of Merrill Lynch led it to be known as "We the People" and "the Thundering Herd." In addition to his financial success, Charles Merrill's career on Wall Street was notable for two contributions: he was one of the first to appeal to the small investor, members of the middle class who had previously been discouraged from investing in stocks and bonds, and he was one of the few financiers who predicted the stock market crash of 1929. Due to Merrill's foresight, Merrill Lynch & Co., its partners and investors lost less in the crash than many others and fared better in the subsequent depression. Merrill also played an important role in the creation of Safeway Stores, Inc., under which he founded Family Circle Magazine.

Born in Glen Cove Springs, Florida in 1885, Charles E. Merrill attended a preparatory school affiliated with Stetson University and later accepted an athletic scholarship at the Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. Merrill attended Amherst College from 1904-1906 (AC 1908). Though he never graduated, Merrill stayed involved in Amherst alumni activities and committees as well as with Chi Psi, his fraternity. He was awarded an honorary master's degree from Amherst in 1935 and an honorary doctorate in 1948. He became a major donor to Amherst College, and after his death in 1956 his Trust continued to support projects at the college, the largest beneficiary of Merrill's will. Merrill was the father of Doris Merrill Magowan, Charles E. Merrill, Jr. and writer James I. Merrill (AC 1948).

Eliza Church Merrill (1912-1973) was the first wife of Charles Edward Merrill, and mother of Doris Merrill Magowan and Charles Edward Merrill, Jr.

Doris Merrill Magowan (1914-2001) was the first child of Charles Edward Merrill and Eliza Church Merrill. Born in Montclair, N.J. in 1914, she was the sister of Charles E. Merrill, Jr. and half-sister of James I. Merrill. Magowan attended the Ethel Walker School and the Florentine School for Girls in Florence, Italy. In 1935 she married Robert Anderson Magowan and had five children, Robert, Jr. ("Robin"), Merrill, Stephen, Peter and Mark. Magowan became an active philanthropist and worked with charitable organizations in the cities where she lived. In San Francisco, she worked with the Children's Hospital, Fine Arts Museum, Strybing Arboretum and Grace Cathedral; in New York City, she served on the boards for the Greenwich House, Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association and New York Infirmary; in Southampton, she sat on the boards of the Fresh Air Home, St. Andrews Dune Church and Southampton Hospital; in Palm Beach, she was on the board for nonprofits such as Bethesda-by-the-Sea and the Society of the Four Arts. She also served on the board of national and international groups including the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Smithsonian Institution, World Wildlife Fund and the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, where she was promoted to the rank of Dame in 1982 in recognition of her support of the St. John Eye Hospital. An avid antiques collector, she founded the San Francisco Antique Show in 1979. Doris Merrill Magowan died in 2001.

Robert Anderson Magowan (1903-1985) was born in Chester, PA and graduated from Harvard University in 1927. During his years at Harvard he was Editor of the Harvard Crimson and manager of the baseball team, and earned a living as a stringer for the Boston Globe and the New York Times. He began his business career as a men's wear buyer with R.H. Macy & Co. (Macy's) and became a vice president of the advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Co. in 1934. Magowan married Doris Merrill in 1935 and was hired by Charles E. Merrill to work for the supermarket chain Safeway Stores, Inc. In 1938 he left Safeway to become a Vice President of Merrill Lynch. From 1942-44, he took a leave from Merrill Lynch to serve as a Navy air combat intelligence officer during World War II. He remained with Merrill Lynch until 1955, when he returned to Safeway as chairman and CEO, a post he held until he retired in 1971. Under Magowan's leadership, Safeway laid the groundwork to become the nation's largest food retailer. Robert Anderson Magowan died in 1985.

Charles E. Merrill Jr. (1920-2017) attended Harvard University from 1938-1941 and 1945-1946, and obtained an AB degree in 1946. From 1942-1945 he served in World War II forces, first as part of the Canadian military and then for the U.S Army. In 1946 Merrill co-founded the Thomas Jefferson School in St. Louis, and in 1957 founded The Commonwealth School in Boston. He served as The Commonwealth School's headmaster until his retirement in 1981 and remains a member of the Board of Trustees. Merrill wrote a history of the School's first twenty-three years, "The Walled Garden." Merrill was also Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Morehouse College in Atlanta and has been a trustee at Hampshire and Marlboro Colleges, and faculty at Spelman, Guilford, Warren Wilson, and Moravian Colleges.

Hellen Ingram Merrill Plummer (1898-2000) was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She was the second wife of Charles E. Merrill and the mother of James Ingram Merrill. Charles and Hellen Merrill divorced in 1939. Hellen's second marriage was to Colonel Plummer, who she survived by more than 30 years. She lived in Atlanta, Georgia and was a strong supporter of the arts there; she died in Atlanta on December 18, 2000. Plummer's trust established the The Hellen Plummer Charitable Foundation.

James Ingram Merrill (1926-1995) was born in New York City on March 3, 1926, the son of Charles Merrill and his second wife, Hellen Ingram. He was raised in Manhattan and Southampton. He was enrolled at Amherst College from 1943 to 1947, with a leave from 1944-1945 to serve in the U.S. Army. Merrill taught for a year at Bard College following his graduation from Amherst in 1947. His volume of poetry First Poems was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1951. Over the next decade he authored two novels, The Seraglio (1957) and The (Diblos) Notebook (1965) and two books of poems, The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace (1959) and Water Street (1962). His 1966 collection of poems, Nights and Days, won the National Book Award and he earned numerous other awards in his lifetime, including the Bollingen Prize for Braving the Elements (1972), the Pulitzer Prize for Divine Comedies (1976), and a second National Book Award for Mirabell (1978). In 1983, his epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover (1982) won the National Book Critics Circle Award. James I. Merrill died on February 6, 1995.


32 Linear feet (28 archives boxes, 11 half archives boxes, 1 wrapped package, 7 flat boxes, 36 heritage albums, 18 framed items)

Language of Materials



The Merrill-Magowan Family Papers document the activities and relationships of three generations of Merrill and Magowan family members, dating from 1880 to 2002. Family correspondence makes up the largest portion of the material, with business records appearing in bulk in the papers of Charles Edward Merrill (AC 1908), founder of Merrill Lynch & Co. These materials are supplemented with artworks, diaries, memorabilia, photographs, writings and newspaper clippings, and a set of family heritage albums. Genealogical research material and notes can be found throughout the collection.


The Merrill-Magowan Family Papers are arranged by family member. Materials are arranged by type within each series. Oversize items are stored separately. Cross reference sheets to materials stored in these locations are placed throughout the papers and a listing of the contents of the oversize boxes is available as part of the folder-title list.

This collection is organized into eleven series:

  1. Series 1: The Merrill-Magowan Family,1894-1982
  2. Series 2: Charles Morton Merrill, 1884-1928
  3. Series 3: Octavia Wilson Merrill, 1901-1933
  4. Series 4: Charles Edward Merrill, 1900-1956
  5. Series 5: Eliza Churchill Merrill, 1912-1972
  6. Series 6: Doris Merrill Magowan, 1914-2002
  7. Series 7: Robert Anderson Magowan, 1927-1986
  8. Series 8: Charles Edward Merrill, Jr., 1920s-1985
  9. Series 9: Hellen Ingram Merrill Plummer, 1926-1956
  10. Series 10: James Ingram Merrill, 1938-1995
  11. Series 11: Family Heritage Albums, 1904-1960s

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The majority of the material in this collection was gathered and maintained by Doris Merrill Magowan (1914-2001), with additional compilation by other family members. The collection was gifted to the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections in 2004 by Mark, Merrill, Peter and Robin Magowan.

Related Materials

  1. Charles Edward Merrill Trust Papers, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  2. Charles E. Merrill in Alumni Biographical Files [1908], Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  3. Charles Merrill Matzinger in Alumni Biographical Files [1937], Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  4. Hellen's Book, a book of writing about Hellen Ingram Merrill Plummer by Doris Magowan, Charles E. Merrill, James I. Merrill and others. [Amherst College Archives and Special Collections PS3525.E6645 Z64 1991]
  5. James I. Merrill (AC 1947)-William S. Burford (AC 1949) Correspondence, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  6. Material from James I. Merrill and Hellen Plummer in the estate of Rosemary Sprague
  7. Merrill Center for Economics records, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  8. James Ingram Merrill Papers, University Libraries, Washington University, St. Louis, MO
  9. James Ingram Merrill Collection, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
  10. James I. Merrill biographical files in Alumni Biographical Files [1947], Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  11. Several genealogies refer to a genealogical account by Samuel Merrill, "A Merrill Memorial," not included in this collection. The publication can be found in the following libraries: American Antiquarian Society, New England Historic Genealogical Society, New Hampshire Historical Society and the New York Public Library.

Processing Information

Processed 2004-2011 by Sara Smith, Archives &Special Collections Specialist; Seth Laymon, AC 2005, Student Assistant; and William Miglore, AC 2006, Student Assistant.

Sara Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299