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Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Family Papers ("The Blaisdell Papers")

Identifier: MA.00270

Scope and Contents

The Blaisdell Papers contain correspondence, photographs, and documents from the descendants of Frederic and Sarah Williams, especially from their daughter Cornelia Pond Williams and her husband William Nesbitt Chambers, and their daughter Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers and husband Donald Blaisdell. The papers include some material from other family members such as Frederic and Sarah's son Talcott Williams (AC 1873), as well as correspondence to and from Cornelia and Nesbitt's daughter Kate Seelye. The collection also contains a series -- Series 4 -- comprised of correspondence primarily from Cornelia's stepmother Kate Pond Williams and Kate's daughter Sophia Wells Williams, especially from the latter's time as a student at Mount Holyoke Seminary.

The strength of the collection is in its documentation of the lives of people living in Turkey during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, and especially of the family's experience during massacres in Erzerum in 1895 and then again in Adana in 1909.


  • Creation: circa 1845-2010


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Family Papers for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell 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 main figures in the Blaisdell Papers are Cornelia Pond Williams Chambers, William Nesbitt Chambers, and their daughter Dorothea Chambers Blaisdell. The following biographical notes describe these three figures, but notes about other family members who appear in this collection may be found in the finding aids for the William-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers and the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers.

Cornelia Pond Williams (1850-1940) was born in Beirut, then part of Syria, to Reverend William F. and Sarah P. Williams, missionaries on their way to a station in Mosul. In 1854, Cornelia’s mother died in the summer heat after an illness of several months and during an attempted trip to the cooler climate above Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran. Widower Frederic Williams subsequently returned to the United States on a furlough, at which time he left his youngest child, Dwight, with Sophie Gardiner (Frederic’s sister) and her husband. Against Frederic’s wishes, the Gardners adopted Dwight and changed his name. Frederic and Sarah’s first two children, Cornelia and Talcott, continued to live with their father in the Middle East.

After the deaths of their mother and the first two (Harriet and Caroline) of three stepmothers, Cornelia and Talcott traveled to the United States for schooling in the spring of 1865. Cornelia attended Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, graduating in 1872. After a few years teaching and working in the Missionary Home in Auburndale, Massachusetts, she returned to Turkey in 1879 to join stepmother Kate Pond Williams (Frederic Williams' fourth wife) in teaching at the American School for Girls in Scutari (now called Uskudar, a municipality of Istanbul). She taught there for five years before marrying William Nesbitt Chambers in 1884, who had arrived in Turkey a month after her in 1879.

William Nesbitt Chambers (1853-1934), known as Nesbitt, son of Catherine Nesbitt and Robert Chambers, was born in North Norwich, Ontario, Canada in 1853. His first college years were at Queens University between 1871 and 1873, but he transferred to and graduated from Princeton College in 1876. He took a later degree in theology from Union Seminary in 1879. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) then sent him to join his brother Robert in missionary work in Turkey. His first work – work that lasted two decades -- was in the mission at Erzerum.

In Erzerum Chambers met Mary Frances Bliss, a teacher and new missionary originally from Illinois. Theirs is a story told within two and a half years: she arrived in Erzerum a year before him, they married six months later, and she died in childbirth a year after their marriage.

The loss of his wife caused Chambers to reconsider his commitment to mission work, but he persevered and decided to remain in Erzerum. The ABCFM’s biographical notes for Chambers describe his occupations: “Here he spent twenty years in energetic work among the Armenians, sharing their experiences and doing evangelistic and relief work with and for them. He visited the outlying district in every direction, and became thoroughly acquainted with Kurds, Turks, Armenians, and others. He made an ascent to within a thousand feet of the top of Mt. Ararat, and in more practical ways, showed his fearless determination and zeal.” (For the ABCFM’s full note, see the personnel cards and memorial book at

The 1884 marriage of Nesbitt and Cornelia Chambers resulted in four children, all born in Erzerum. Only two – daughters Kate and Dorothea -- survived to adulthood. Sons Ralph and Talcott both died early, Ralph shortly before his third birthday and Talcott in a fall in the Swiss Alps when he was 15, a tragedy documented in the Blaisdell Papers as well as in the Franck and Talcott Williams Seelye ’44 papers.

In 1899 the Chambers family was posted in Adana, where they remained until 1916. In Erzerum they had witnessed the massacre of Armenians in 1896; in Adana they would experience the massacre of 1909. Nesbitt Chambers documented these events in his memoir, “Yoljuluk,” and the collection contains many other summaries of their experiences.

By May of 1915 the Chambers family had witnessed the deportation of most of the Armenians from Adana. The family left for the United States, where they remained until 1917, when they left for Geneva, where Nesbitt represented the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief and Cornelia worked with the YMCA helping British prisoners. They returned to Adana in May, 1919, and then, in 1922, went to live with their daughter Kate and her husband in Beirut, where they assisted Armenian refugees. He remained in Beirut even after retirement and died in the nearby hills of Shemlan, Lebanon, in 1934. Cornelia outlived him and returned to the United States with the Seelyes in 1936. She died in Washington, D.C. in 1940.

Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers Blaisdell, daughter of William Nesbitt and Cornelia Williams Chambers, was born in 1896 in Erzeroom, Turkey. In 1899, the family moved to Adana, Turkey. At 14, Dorothea left Turkey for Utica, New York, where she attended high school. After graduation she returned to Turkey for a year and then -- at the beginning of World War I -- left again for Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1919 and then earned a master’s degree at Columbia University.

Dorothea's first job after graduating from Columbia was with the YWCA in Adana, Turkey, where she remained until the center closed, ca. 1921. She moved to Istanbul, where she worked for the YWCA until her contract expired. She then taught at Constantinople College. Her memoir, “Missionary Daughter," and her letters in this collection describe this tumultuous time in the Middle East.

In Istanbul, Dorothea met Donald Christie Blaisdell, a professor at Robert College. After a courtship of a few years --during which time Dorothea continued to work for the YWCA -- the couple married in 1926. The Blaisdells lived most of their married life in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Although she never lived in the Middle East again, the region remained an important part of her life. During World War II Dorothea used her Turkish language skills to translate for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Foreign Economic Administration. She also maintained contact with her many Greek, Turkish, and Armenian friends throughout her life and often visited relatives who lived and worked in the Middle East. In 1976, at a dinner given by the American Armenian community, Dorothea and her niece Dorothea Franck were honored for their family's assistance to Armenians in the Middle East. Dorothea C. Blaisdell died in 1985.


6.0 Linear feet (5 records boxes and 2 archives boxes)

Language of Materials



The Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Papers ("the Blaisdell Papers") contain correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, and documents from the family of missionaries William Nesbitt Chambers and Cornelia Pond Williams Chambers and their children, especially their daughter Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers (later Blaisdell). The papers include material (primarily correspondence) from other family members such as Nesbitt and Cornelia's siblings and relatives. The bulk of the material dates from about 1885-1930, and there is much correspondence from the era of World War I.


The Williams-Chambers-Blaidell Family Papers are organized into six series, organized primarily by family groups and individuals.

  1. Series 1: Miscellaneous General Records
  2. Series 2: W. Nesbitt and Cornelia P. Williams Chambers: Miscellaneous Records and Related Correspondence
  3. Series 3: Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Correspondence
  4. Series 4: Sophia Wells Williams (1870-[1946]): Incoming Correspondence, ca. 1874-1894
  5. Series 5: Dorothea N. Chambers Blaisdell Correspondence, 1903-1951
  6. Series 6: Digital Copies of Cased Images and Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Family Papers were the gift of Ann Lang Irvine in 2014.

Related Materials

The Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Family Papers represent one gift of several from the Williams-Chambers family group. Depending on research interests, related material (such as the other half of a set of correspondence) might be found in the following collections, each of which has a finding aid or general list: The Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers The Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers The Talcott Williams Seelye (AC 1944) Family Papers The Talcott Williams (AC 1873) Papers The Nesbitt Chambers Blaisdell (AC 1951) Papers The Julius Hawley Seelye Family Papers The Reverend William James Family Papers The Laurens Perseus Hickok Papers.

Processing Information

Processed in 2016-2017 by Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist.

Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist
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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