University Archives


Rare Presidential Spouse, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur's Intriguing Letter,

Two page autograph letter signed, 4.75" x 5.75". Dated on verso "123 Lext Ave, Oct 23d", and signed by Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur "With Love, Ellen L.H. Arthur"  
Circa  [1871−1878]. Ex. Sotheby's, from the collection of Elsie and Philip Sang (for additional information on the Sang collection please see the biography below).

New York Senator Roscoe Conkling controlled political patronage in that state absolutely after the Civil War. He managed to have President Grant install one of his followers, Chester A. Arthur, as Collector of Customs at the Port of New York, from which position Arthur controlled almost a thousand jobs. In the present letter, Mrs. Arthur provides an introduction to the husband of a friend who was evidently seeking employment.

"Please ask your good husband to go to the Custom House just as soon as he likes, the sooner the better of course—and ask for [preceding name crossed out] Mr. Phillips in the Collector's office."

Ellen Arthur died of pneumonia in January 1880, before her husband was nominated as the Republican candidate for vice president, from which office he would succeed to the presidency, after the assassination of James Garfield. An intriguing letter by Ellen Arthur, one of the rarest of presidential spouses, providing a glimpse at the Conkling patronage machine.

The Sang Collection:

The original five-part sale from 1978-1981 of “Highly Important American Historical Documents, Autograph Letters, and Manuscripts” from the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Foundation, was a watershed event in American collecting. The breadth and depth and sheer size of the collection—1,342 lots comprising several thousand manuscripts, as well as books, broadsides, maps, and artifacts—is almost unimaginable today. Even more astonishing is the consistently high significance of the content of the manuscripts. Letters and documents dispersed in the Sang Sale became the foundation stones of two equally distinguished aggregations of historical American manuscripts, the Forbes Collection and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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