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Bliss Family Papers

Identifier: MA.00021

Scope and Contents

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:

Daniel Bliss; Founder and first President of Syrian Protestant College
Frederick Jones Bliss; Son of Daniel
Howard Sweetser Bliss; Son of Daniel; second President of Syrian Protestant College
Paul Blatchford; Brother-in-law of Howard (No material in the Papers)
William Tyler Bliss; Son of Daniel
Daniel Bliss II; Son of Howard; grandson of Daniel
Howard Huntington Bliss; Son of Howard, grandson of Daniel
Daniel Bliss Leavitt; Grandson of Howard

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.

Due to the ill health of her mother, Abby Wood Bliss 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 wife 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.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1856-1922
  • Creation: 1850-1981


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the papers for research use. Fragile items have been enclosed in mylar folders.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the collection 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.


4 Linear feet (2 records storage boxes, 2 archives boxes, 1 half archives box, 1 flat box, 1 map case drawer)

Language of Materials



Correspondence (with other writings, clippings, and photographs) of members of the Bliss and Dodge families, principally of Howard Sweetser Bliss, second president (1902-1920) of Syrian Protestant College (later American University of Beirut), which was founded by his father, Daniel Bliss, in 1866. Two letters by Howard Bliss (age 13) are from 1873; additional letters (to 1920) describe his undergraduate years at Amherst College, his travels to universities at Oxford, Goettingen and Berlin as a travelling fellow of Union Theological Seminary, and his pastorship at churches in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Montclair, N.J., following his ordination in 1902. The correspondence, especially of Abby Wood Bliss between 1874 and 1909, provides insight into marriage and family relationships of the 19th and early 20th centuries, discussing a range of issues from education and the raising of children to health problems and the treatment of illness. The Dodge family was descended from Howard's and Amy's daughter, Mary Bliss Dodge.


This collection is organized into fourteen series:

  1. Series 1: Introductory Material
  2. Series 2: Daniel Bliss
  3. Series 3: Howard Sweetser Bliss
  4. Series 4: Abby Wood Bliss
  5. Series 5: Amy Blatchford Bliss
  6. Series 6: Mary Bliss Dale
  7. Series 7: Frederick Jones Bliss
  8. Series 8: William Tyler Bliss
  9. Series 9: Dodge Family
  10. Series 10: Syrian Protestant College
  11. Series 11: Photographs
  12. Series 12: Supplementary Material
  13. Series 13: Addendum 1
  14. Series 14: Addendum 2

There are essentially three parts to the Bliss Family Papers. Part one consists of the original accession, and is divided into 11 series. Part two is comprised of additional papers to the Daniel Bliss series. And, part three is made up of three sub-series; Daniel Bliss, Abby Bliss, and Belle Dorman Rugh. Parts two and three are described as Addendum 1 and 2 respectively.

Custodial History

This finding aid brings together the four separate accessions of Bliss Family Papers. The original Bliss Family Papers were kept by Margaret Blatchford Bliss Leavitt, second daughter of Howard Sweetser and Amy Blatchford Bliss. Shortly after Margaret's death, the papers were given to the Amherst College Archives in her honor by Daniel Bliss Leavitt, Howard Bliss Leavitt, Margaret Leavitt Peters and Helen Leavitt Campbell.

Donations were added to the papers in 1991 and 1993 by Daniel Bliss II and Belle Dorman Rugh respectively. In 2022 a small cache of letters from Abby Wood Bliss to her son Howard Sweetser Bliss were added to the collection from a donor outside the family. These 2022 materials comprise folders 76 A-B-C-D in Series 4, Box 2.

The additional materials required an updated finding aid which would incorporate the "new" letters into the pre-existing series, while maintaining each accession's individual provenance. Thus, for one series, Daniel Bliss, one will find a grouping of correspondence in three different places; the main listing, Addendum 1 and Addendum 2. All three need to be checked, as there are overlapping dates and subject matter which will surely enrich the pre-existing manuscripts; most notably, the founding of Syrian Protestant College (from Addendum 1) and the earliest correspondence between Daniel and Abby's family (from Addendum 2). The Abby Bliss material has also extended over into Addendum 2, and will need to be consulted in conjunction with the listing in the original body of the finding aid. The scope of Abby Bliss' correspondence is greatly enhanced by the letters included in Addendum 2. Item description remains constant throughout the inventory, as well as arrangement which continues to be chronological within a given series.

The cover page, Table of Contents, Introduction, Scope and Content Note, and History of the Papers have all been updated to reflect the four accessions.

Deborah Pelletier, P. Scott Lapinski.
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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