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The Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Papers ("The Franck Papers")

Identifier: MA.00313

Scope and Contents

As described in the introduction, Reverend William Frederic Williams and his wife Sarah Pond Williams started the missionary enterprise that their descendants inherited and altered to suit their own times. The bulk of papers specifically by or about Frederic and Sarah Williams are in the earlier gift of the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Papers. The Franck Papers contain only a few papers and photographs specifically related to Frederic, and only references to Sarah. These few items are at the beginning of the collection. The Franck Papers contain some correspondence from Frederic’s fourth wife, Kate Pond Williams (1831-1895) and her two children with Frederic, Sophia (known as Sonia) (1870-[1946?]), and Frederic (1871-1944), especially from the period late in Kate’s career and into her retirement. These papers show Kate’s role as an advisor to Cornelia, as well as the younger Frederic’s support role, especially in managing family finances for his half-sister Cornelia and her husband while they were living in the Middle East and he was in the United States.

The Franck Papers also contain documentation relating to Frederic and Sarah’s daughter Cornelia Pond Williams and her husband, Canadian William Nesbitt Chambers (Princeton Class of 1876). A more extensive group of papers relating to the Chambers couple may be found in the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers and the Blaisdell Papers.

The most substantial group of documents in the Franck Papers is that pertaining to the lives of Kate and Laurens Seelye. The Franck Papers contain correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, and other documentation from both Laurens and Kate’s lives before and after their marriage. It includes (but is not limited to):

• Papers relating to Kate’s schoolwork, including scrapbooks • Correspondence between Kate and Laurens before and after their marriage • Correspondence to and from Kate’s large network of colleagues and friends • Photographs of Kate and Laurens before and after their marriage • Papers relating to Laurens’ schoolwork, starting as far back as his grade-school years, with a good selection from his college and graduate school work • Notes and finished sermons and chapel talks that reveal much about Lauren’s philosophies of religion and life, and that comment on topics of the day • Correspondence to and from Laurens’ colleagues in Beirut and in the United States • Personal and professional correspondence related to the charity work Laurens organized to benefit some of the many Armenian orphans who streamed into Beirut during and after World War I • Family letters: the Seelyes wrote decades of correspondence, often typed, which they sent as general family letters and which frequently appear here in multiple copies, many of these with individualized comments added. These letters are useful and interesting both for a history of the Seelye family as well as for accounts of world events, especially in the Middle East and the United States.

The Franck Papers also contain sections focused on the personal and professional lives of the Seelye children: Dorothea Chambers Seelye Franck; Mary-Averett Seelye; Talcott W. Seelye, and Muriel Clarke Seelye Heineman. In particular, these sections contain correspondence among family, friends, and colleagues.

Another strength of the Franck Papers are the five linear feet of materials related to the theatre and dance career of Mary-Averett Seelye, including many photographs from performances. A selection of these images may be seen in the Consecrated Eminence blog post, “A Dancer in the Family: Mary-Averett Seelye.”

Talcott W. Seelye ’44 has a separate collection that contains much more information about his life, especially his diplomatic career. That collection – the Talcott Williams (AC 1944) Papers – has a general list and is accessible but is not yet fully processed as of this writing.


  • Creation: circa 1850-1980


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck 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-Seelye-Franck 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 Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers (“the Franck Papers”) represent the activities of an extended family beginning with William Frederic Williams (1818-1871) and his wife Sarah Pond Williams (1823-1854) through their great-grandchildren, especially the children of Kate and Laurens Seelye. The following biographical sketches describe family members most represented or referred to in the Franck Papers.

The earliest figure to appear in the Franck Papers is William Frederic Williams -- known as Frederic -- who was the son of William and Sophia Wells Williams, of Utica, New York. One of sixteen children (by his father’s two wives), Frederic was born on January 11, 1818. He entered Yale College in 1837 but had to leave on account of illness in the summer of 1838. Frederic worked, including as an engineer, until autumn of 1844, when he entered the Auburn Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1847, but by that time he had already been corresponding with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions about becoming a missionary. In order to obtain some preaching experience, he served temporarily at the First Presbyterian Church in Rome, New York. There, probably in late 1847, he met Sarah Amelia Pond, a teacher and the daughter of Julius and Ann Crary Pond. They were engaged by May of 1848 and married in August of that year.

Sarah and Frederick sailed for the Syria Mission in January, 1849. They located first in Beirut, then briefly outside Beirut, and in early 1851, after the birth of their daughter Cornelia, the couple moved to Mosul. Frederic worked in Mosul until 1859, when he was sent to the station at Mardin. By this time his first two wives – Sarah and Harriet – had died, Sarah in 1854, and Harriet in 1856. Frederic Williams remained a member of the mission station in Mardin until his death in 1871, but he also spent time at the station in Harpoot, a few hundred miles from Mardin. It was there that he met his fourth wife, Clarissa Celinda (known as Kate) Pond, a distant cousin of his first wife. A Mount Holyoke Female Seminary graduate, Kate was a teacher at the girls’ school in Harpoot.

The bulk of papers specifically by or about Frederic and Sarah Williams are in the earlier gift of the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Papers. The Franck Papers contain only a few papers and photographs specifically related to them, but as the foundational figures for the family they’re important to the context of the Frank Papers. In large measure, the history of the family as told in the collections turns on that 1849 voyage to Syria.

Frederic and Sarah had three children, all born in the Middle East: Talcott, born on July 20, 1849; Cornelia Pond, born on December 3, 1850, and Henry Dwight, born in February 1854. Talcott, who was reading Shakespeare as well as the Koran in Arabic at age 10, became a prominent journalist and educator; his papers are found in the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Papers as well as in his own Talcott Williams (AC 1873) Papers.

Henry Dwight Williams – known as Dwight – was taken by his widowed father to live with his aunt Sophia Williams Gardner, who subsequently adopted Dwight against his father’s wishes. Dwight died in 1883 while studying at Harvard University. His memorial in Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, New York lists him as Henry D. Gardner. There is no information directly about him in the Franck Papers, and what little documentation exists is in the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Papers and the Blaisdell Papers.

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 1866. Cornelia attended Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, graduating in 1872. In 1879 she returned to Turkey to join stepmother Kate Pond Williams in teaching at the Home School in Scutari. In 1884, she married William Nesbitt Chambers (usually known as Nesbitt or W. Nesbitt Chambers), a young widower who was a missionary at Erzerum. The couple worked in Erzerum until 1899, and all four of their children were born there. In 1899 they were posted in Adana, where they remained until 1916. The bulk of information about Cornelia and Nesbitt Chambers is located in the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers and the Blaisdell Papers; in the Franck Papers they are represented in the first series with a modest number of documents and photographs.

The chief strength of the Franck Papers lies in the documents relating to the family life of Frederic and Sarah’s granddaughter, and Cornelia and Nesbitt’s daughter, Kate Ethel Chambers, and her husband, Laurens Hickok Seelye (AC 1911).

Kate Ethel Chambers (1889-1973) was one of four children of Cornelia Pond Williams and William Nesbitt Chambers, and one of two who survived to adulthood. Her brothers 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. Kate and her sister Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers attended Bryn Mawr, Kate graduating in 1911 and Dorothea in 1919, and both attended Columbia University, Kate receiving her Ph.D. in 1919 and Dorothea an M.A. in 1920. The bulk of Dorothea’s papers are in the Blaisdell Papers and the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers.

Laurens Hickok Seelye was born in Ohio in 1899. The Franck Papers include a step sideways to the Seelye and Clark lines of his family, including photographs and correspondence to, from, and about his father William James Seelye (AC 1879) (a professor of German and Greek, and later a clergyman); his mother Mary Alice Clarke (known as Alice) and her Clarke and Brown parents; and many of the cousins on both sides. A key relationship in this group is that of Laurens Seelye and his cousin Julius Seelye Bixler (AC 1916): the two were close all their lives, and cousin Julius no doubt took the place in Laurens’ heart of his younger brother Julius, who died while at military training during World War I. Additional papers about the Seelye and Bixler families may be found in the Julius Hawley Seelye (AC 1849) Family Papers, the William James (1797-1868) Family Papers and Sermons, and the Laurens Perseus Hickok Papers, as well as in biographical files for the many Amherst College graduates from these families. Laurens Seelye graduated from Columbia University in 1915, and his first work was as a pastor in the Stanley Congregational Church in Chatham, New Jersey. He married Kate Seelye in the fall of 1915. During World War I, Laurens served briefly in the Army Y.M.C.A. and then as chaplain at Fort Greble in Rhode Island. In March 1919 the Seelyes sailed to Beirut where Laurens took up a position teaching philosophy and psychology at the Syrian Protestant College, later renamed the American University of Beirut. Kate was on the faculty of the American Junior College for Girls in Beirut. In the 1920s the family built a home they called Bushy Rock, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There are a few photographs of the home in the Franck Papers. The elderly Chambers couple eventually moved in with them. Kate and Laurens left Beirut in 1933 and Laurens took temporary faculty positions at Smith College and Bennington College. From 1935-1940 he served as President of St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. In 1942 the Seelyes returned to the Middle East for a 14-year residence, this time in Istanbul, where Laurens taught philosophy at Robert College and the American College for Girls, while Kate taught American literature and English at the latter institution. They returned to the United States permanently in 1957. Laurens continued to teach in retirement, but illness caught up with him in 1959. He died in August 1960. Kate survived him by a dozen years, during which time she remained active in work she loved and continued to be the matriarch of a family now containing several grandchildren.

Kate and Laurens had five children: Dorothea (1917-1988); Mary-Averett (1919-2013); Talcott (1922-2006), Muriel (1925-2009), and Katherine (1930-1934). The Franck Papers contain personal and professional material for all the children except Katherine, who died in childhood.

Eldest daughter Dorothea Chambers Seelye (m. Franck) was born in Chatham, New Jersey, but she spent most of her formative years in Beirut. Following in her mother and aunt’s steps, she graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. During World War II she served in Egypt in the Office of Strategic Services, where she used her language skills to translate for the Allies. The focus of her life’s work was to promote understanding of the Middle East, and to that end she coordinated cultural exchange programs for the Department of State; worked for the Washington, D.C. offices of the American Friends of the Middle East; helped organize the Middle East Network in Syracuse, New York, and later edited the Americans for Justice in the Middle East News (AJME News). She was also a writer and editor, including for the “Christian Science Monitor.” Her manuscript “Yankees from New York to the Garden of Eden” (a copy is in the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Papers) is a valuable resource for her family’s history in the Middle East as it both transcribes early family letters and describes them in the context of time and place. In addition, Franck wrote two children’s books, “The Cat Who Loved Bach” and “Mother Adz.” She was also a peace activist and was on the board of the Dunbar Center in Syracuse, New York. Dorothea married Professor Peter Goswyn Franck in June, 1940. They had two daughters, Karen and Marianne.

Peter Goswyn Franck was born in Berlin in 1913. He earned law degrees from the University of Berlin (1936) and the University of Basel (1938). In 1954, responding to a shift in his interests and professional positions, he earned an Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He then worked as a consultant for private and government entities in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. He was a professor of economics at Robert College between 1956 and 1965. In 1966 he joined the faculty of Syracuse University where he taught international trade and investment. He also served as Director of the Business Research Center there. After his retirement in 1980, he taught at the American University of Beirut and then at the University of Sfax in Tunisia. He was an expert in Islamic banking and a United Nations adviser in Syria. Peter Franck died at his home in Virginia in 1989.

Mary-Averett, the second child of Laurens and Kate Seelye, was also born in New Jersey, but the family moved to Beirut (then in Syria) when she was only a few months old. She attended the American Community School in Beirut and then – because her family had moved back to the United States -- the Mary Burnham School in Northampton, Massachusetts. Mary-Averett graduated from Bennington College in Vermont in 1940. By this time it was clear that theater and dance would be her career. She continued her education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she took an M.A. in 1944. Her long career is well documented in Series 8, and a post for the Consecrated Eminence blog features photographs from various stages of her life: . Seelye died in 2013 at the age of 94.

Laurens and Kate’s son Talcott Williams Seelye was born in Beirut. His first schooling was in the American Community School, followed by Canton High School in New York and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. He entered Amherst College as a member of the Class of 1944 but interrupted college to serve in the army. He returned to Amherst and graduated in 1947, taught at Deerfield Academy for a year and then, in 1948, entered the Foreign Service. He was a career diplomat, serving in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Syria. His long career and his many additional activities were detailed in his obituary (he died June, 2006) in the October 2006 issue of the “Foreign Service Journal” – a copy of the obituary is in his Archives and Special Collections biographical file. In 1950 Seelye married Joan Hazeltine; the couple had four children: Lauren, Ammanda, Talcott (AC 1978), and Kate (AC 1984). The bulk of material about Talcott Seelye is in the Talcott W. Seelye (AC 1944) Family Papers.

Muriel Clarke Seelye (m. Heineman) was born in Beirut in 1925. Muriel’s early school years were spent at the American Community School in Beirut. She was a 1947 Bennington College graduate with a degree in drama. After World War II, Heineman worked with refugee children in France and Spain as well as with the American Friends Service Committee. In 1957 she earned an M.A. at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and then taught English at the Mount Vernon Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She also worked for the United States Information Agency and the National Geographic Society. Heineman performed with the Theatre Lobby, the group her sister Mary-Averett had co-founded; Muriel is visible in some of the photographs in Series 8. She married architect Paul Turner Heineman in 1961 and the couple moved to Baltimore, where they raised two sons. From 1971 to 2004 Muriel taught literature and drama at Villa Julie College (Stevenson University). She died in 2009. Additional materials about the Seelyes of this generation may be found in the Williams-Chambers Seelye Family Papers and the Talcott Williams (AC 1944) Family Papers.


18 Linear feet (15 record storage boxes, 2 archives boxes, 1 half-archives box, and 1 oversize flat box)

Language of Materials



The Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers (the Franck Papers) include correspondence, photographs, juvenilia, memorabilia, manuscripts, teaching materials, and publications relating to several generations of missionaries, educators, public servants, and artists. In addition to describing the lives of multiple members of the family, subjects include missionary work in Turkey in the late 19th century into the 20th century; World War I and Armenian history in the period as reported by missionaries and educators in Turkey; life at the American University of Beirut from about 1920-1935; religious and intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century, and many other topics. The collection also includes a section devoted to the life and career of dancer Mary-Averett Seelye. The material dates from about 1850-1988, with the bulk of the material dating from about 1890-1940.


The Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers are organized into eleven series, organized primarily by family groups and individuals.

  1. Series 1: Williams-Chambers Family Photographs and Documents, circa 1850-1930
  2. Series 2: William James Seelye (AC 1879) Family Materials, circa 1865-1935
  3. Series 3: Seelye Family Photographs, circa 1870-1960
  4. Series 4: Kate E. Chambers Seelye, 1897-1973
  5. Series 5: Laurens H. Seelye (AC 1911), 1895-1960
  6. Series 6: Kate E. Chambers Seelye and Laurens H. Seelye: Correspondence and Other Shared Materials, 1914-1973
  7. Series 7: Dorothea C. Seelye Franck and Peter G. Franck, circa 1924-1988
  8. Series 8: Mary-Averett Seelye, circa 1925-2006
  9. Series 9: Talcott W. Seelye (AC 1944) and Joan Hazeltine Seelye, 1929-2000
  10. Series 10: Muriel C. Seelye Heineman and Paul T. Heineman, circa 1930-2000
  11. Series 11: Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck: Miscellaneous Materials, circa 1860-1939

Custodial History

The Williams-Chambers family group has had a long history of saving family papers and of giving them to Amherst College. The gifts arrived over decades, beginning with gifts of the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers, the William James Family Papers and Sermons, and the Talcott Williams (AC 1873) Papers from Dorothea S. Franck and Mary-Averett Seelye in the 1970s and 1980s. The Talcott Williams (AC 1944) Family Papers arrived in the 2000s. The Franck Papers and the Blaisdell Papers were gifts from Karen Franck and Ann Irvine respectively in the 2010s, and Nesbitt Chambers Blaisdell (AC 1951) gave some of his personal papers and a collection of theater-related items in 2014.

Each gift was given by descendants of Frederic and Sarah Williams who inherited certain portions of the papers and created others, and who desired to see them housed together at Amherst College. All the collections include information from some or all of the families related to the Williams family through marriage, including in particular the Pond, Chambers, James, Seelye, Franck, and Blaisdell families.

Related Materials at Amherst College

The Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers represent one gift of several from the family. 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 (MA.00321) The Talcott Williams (AC 1873) Papers (MA.00273) The Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Family Papers (MA.00270) The Talcott Williams Seelye (AC 1944) Family Papers (MA.00383) The Nesbitt Chambers Blaisdell (AC 1951) Correspondence and Theater Collection (MA.00390) The Julius Hawley Seelye (AC 1849) Papers (MA.00031) The Reverend William James Family Papers (MA.00095) The Laurens Perseus Hickok Papers (MA.00088)

Related Materials at Other Institutions

Samuel Wells Williams family papers, MS 547, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University (

For additional information about William Frederic Williams: Miscellaneous Personal Papers Collection, Record Group 30, Yale Divinity Library, Yale University (

Peter G. Franck Papers, 1974-1976, Syracuse University (

Processing Information

Processed and listed by Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist, with assistance from Ann Irvine, Sylvia Hickman (AC 2014), An Hoang (AC 2018), and Rosemary Frehe (AC 2017).

Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist
2017 March
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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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