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From the Wistarchives: A Look at Women's Books

March celebrates Women’s History Month, and our Archivist Nina Long would like to tell you about the book collection of Sarah Toland Wistar, wife of founder Isaac J. Wistar.

The books from Isaac’s library came to the Institute in 1905, and her books were among them. Sarah and Isaac were married July 9, 1862 at the old St. James Church at Seventh and St. James Street in Philadelphia. We don’t know very much about Sarah Wistar; we have no photographs and few of her letters in our collections. However, her collection of books gives us some clues.

Sarah Toland Wistar lived from 1838 to 1895, and was eleven years younger than her husband. She was raised in the Presbyterian Church and became an Episcopalian with her husband after their marriage. (Isaac had been a Quaker, but had been read out of Meeting for his enlistment in the U.S. Army and fighting in the Civil War.) While her husband was away, reading must have been a desirable way to make time pass for Sarah. The Victorian era saw educational opportunities for women become more available, and there was a growth of women’s reading clubs and literary societies. Reading was viewed as an acceptable female pastime, provided that the books were sufficiently feminine.

To this end, smaller books were created for Victorian women. Books of small dimension could be held easily in one’s hands and allow conformity to ladylike stereotypes. Many of the books listed in the accompanying bibliography of Sarah’s library are small in size, less than 5”x5” square.

What do we know about Sarah Toland Wistar from this collection? She was well educated and read in French and German as well as English; she liked poetry, romances, plays and historical topics.  She also kept some of the books from her days as a schoolgirl, as well as the catechisms and books of Common Prayer used by the Episcopal Church. In 1878, the Wistars made a “Grand Tour” of Europe for five months. Isaac kept a detailed notebook of their travels to London, Paris, Berlin, and Heidelberg. They attended plays and operas, visited gardens and shopped for clothing, umbrellas, watches and cigars; it is possible some of the little books in German and French were purchased during this trip. Books also came to Sarah as gifts from family and friends. It seemed to be her habit to make an inscription inside the front cover of her books. A list of the books in our collection and images from some of Sarah’s little books are below.

History of Nourjahad and a dime for size comparison

Above: The History of Nourjahad and Almoran and Hamet, and a dime for scale. (The book is approximately the size of a smartphone.)

Below: Frontispiece from The History of Nourjahad and Almoran and Hamet.

Frontispiece from The History of Nourjahad and Almoran and Hamet

 Flora's Interpreter


Above: Flora's Interpreter. In Victorian times, it was popular to use flowers as a means of communication express feelings. Each flower was accorded its own symbolic meaning, such as secret love, courage, and compassion.

Below: Below, Flora's Interpreter gives the meanings for dahlias (elegance and dignity) and daisies (beauty and innocence).

Flora's Interpreter, dahlia and daisy



Book in German

Above and below: Two of the books Sarah read in German.

Red German book


























Below: This note was found in the purple book shown at the very top of the page.

It reads: "Dearest Sally, You are so near & dear to me that I must always think of you among my very own—which is why I am bold enough to send you this trifling little book. I have only known the collection lately & I think it quite lovely. God bless you & yours dear, & give you your heart’s desire always. Your true friend and lover. A.L.W. 1305 Arch St. Xmas/80."

Archivist Nina Long explains that "A.L.W." is Annis Lee (Furness) Wister. She married Dr. Caspar Wister (note spelling difference) in 1854 and was a well known translator of German literature into English. Her father was the Rev. William H. Furness, by whom she was educated and began doing translations early in her life. Her friendship with Sarah Wistar had many connections: family, literature, German language.

Note found in purple book


Note found in purple book, back

Sarah Toland Wistar’s Book Collection

About, Edmond.  Germaine.  Paris: Hachette, 1859.

Album der neuern Deutschen Lyric.  Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1877.

Alexander, Francesca.  The Story of Ida.  Philadelphia: John Wiley & Sons, 1883.

Angell, Oliver.  The Union, Number Three; or, Child’s Third Book ….  Philadelphia: E.H. Butler, 1848.

Arnold, Edwin, Sir.  The Light of Asia; or, The Great Renunciation (Mahabhinishkramana) being the life and teaching of Gautama, Prince of India and founder of Buddhism.  Boston: Roberts Bros., 1880.

Association of Friends, The.  A Brief Memoir of Elizabeth Fry.  [Reprinted from London Tract Association of Friends.]  Philadelphia: Assoc. of Friends for the diffusion of Religious and Useful Knowledge, 1860.

Baskerville, Alfred.  The Poetry of Germany. Philadelphia : John Weik, 1856.

Bernard, Charles de.  Gerfaut.  Paris:   Calmaan-Levy, 1889.  (Nouvelle ed.)  Autographed Inscription of “Sarah T. Wistar, March 27, 1882.”

Blum, Georg.  Strand und See.  Hamburg: Richter, 1859.

Book of Commerce by Sea and Land, Exhibiting its connection with agriculture….. Philadelphia: Hunt & Son, 1845.

Bossuet.  Discours sur l’histoire universelle.  Edition conforme a celle de 1700; 3rd and last edition reviewed by the author.  Paris:  Librairie de firmin de Firmin Didot Freres, 1850. Autographed inscription: “Sally Toland.”

Braun, Klara.  Ich Soll Dich Grussen! Lyriche Gedichte ausgewahlt von R.C. Kepler. Stuttgart: Greiner & Pfeiffer, [n.d., ca 1890].

Bryant, William Cullen.  Poems.  New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1856.

Byron, George Gordon.  Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:  A Romaunt.  Philadelphia:  Henry Carey Baird, 1854.

Carisomo, Juan.  Carnestoldenas Obra Original.  Philadelphia, 1831.

Corneille, Pierre.  Theatre de Pierre et ce Thomas Corneille; avec notes et commentaries.  Paris, Firmin Didot Freres, 1854.  Autographed inscription of “Sally Toland, Dec. 12, 1856.” (2 Volumes.)

Daudet, Alphonse.  Jack. (Series: Moeurs Contemporaines.)  Treizieme Ed.  Paris: Libraire de la Societe des Gens de Lettres, 1877.  Inscribed “Sarah T. Wistar, 17th & Spruce.”

Dix, Dorothea Lynde.  Conversations on Common Things; or Guide to Knowledge.  Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1841.

Dwight, M.A.  Harvest Gleanings: a holiday book.  New York: Gates, Stedman & Co., 1850.  Inscribed “Sarah Toland by her brother Robert, December 25, 1849.”

Fairy Tales: or Interesting Tales.  By the author of Peter Parley . [Goodrich, Samuel Griswold].  St. Louis, Missouri:  Nafis, Cornish & Co., 1841.

Florian (1775-1794).  Gonzalve de Cordoue, ou Grenade Reconquise.  Paris:  Lecointre, Librairie, Quai des Augustins, No. 49, 1828.  (3 v. in 1.)  Inscription “Sally Toland, June 27, 1855.”

Freytag, Gustav.  Die Valentine: Schauspiel in funf Acten.  Leipzig:  Hirzel, 1858.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von.  Hermann und Dorothea.  Stuttgart and Augsburg: Gotta’scher, 1858.

Goldsmith, Oliver.  Pinnock’s improved edition of Dr. Goldsmith’s History of England. [n.d.]

Goodrich, Samuel G.  Peter Parley’s Common School History.  Philadelphia: Butler, 1845.

Grillparzer, [Franz].  Sappho.  Trauerspiel in funf auszugen.  Stuttgart: Gotta’schen, 1872.

Hale, Sarah Josepha.  Flora’s Interpreter and Fortuna Flora.  Boston: Mussey and Company, 1851.  [By the author of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”]

Hart, Charles Henry.  Memoir of the Life and Services of Colonel John Nixon.  Philadelphia, 1877.

Hart, Fanny Wheeler.  Mrs. Jerningham’s Journal.  New York: Scribner & Company, 1870.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  The Marble Faun; or the romance of Monte Beni.  Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.  (2 volumes)

[Heyse, Paul].  Novellen von Paul Heyse: die Blinden.  Berlin:  Verlag von Wilhelm Hertz, 1858.

Hood, Thomas.  Prose and Verse.  New York: Putnam, 1852. 

Irving, C[hristopher].   A Catechism of Universal History: containing a concise account of the most striking events from the earliest ages to the present time: adapted to the use of schools in the United States.  With engraved illustrations.  New York : Collins, Brother & Co., 1844.

Kalidasa.  Urvasi: Indisches Schaufspiel von Kalidasa.  Deutsch metrisch bearbeitet Edmund Lobedanz.  Leipzig, 1873.  [A play in five Acts based on Hindu philosophy by a famous writer of classical Sanskrit.]

Kalidasa.  Sakuntala:  Indisches Schaufspiel von Kalidasa.  Deutsch metrisch bearbeitet von Edmund Lobedanz.  Leipzig, 1874.

Kingsley, Charles.  Andromeda and Other Poems.  Boston:  Ticknor and Fields, 1858.

Korner, Carl Theodor.  Zriny. Ein Trauerspiel….  New York: Lepold & Holt, 1868.

Korner, Theodor.  Theodor Korner’s Sammtliche Werke.  Berlin: Nicholaischen Buchhandlung, 1885.  (v.1 and 3)

Korner, Theodor.  Zriny, Ein Trauerspiel, von Carl Theodor Korner.  With an introduction and notes by Edward R. Ruggles.  New York: Leopoldt & Holt, 1868; Boston: De Vries, Ibarra, 1866

Lamartine, Alphonse de.  Jocelyn.  Paris: Hachette, 1880.

Lessing, Gotthold.  Minna von Barnhelm, oder das Goldatenglud.  Leipzig: Gosschenssche, 1858.

(Lytton, Edward George. Earl Bulwer.) The Lady of Lyons: or Love and Pride.  A play in five acts. By Edward Lytton Bulwer:  From the author’s latest edition, with the stage directions, costumes, etc.  New York: Samuel French, ca. 1856. 

Manuel a l’usage de L’Eglise Episcopale Francaise de Philadelphie, par le Rev. C.F.B. Miel. [Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer.]  Philadelphia:  Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1872.  Authorgraphed inscription  “Sarah T. Wistar, S.E. Cor 17th & Spruce St., March 10th, 1877.”

Marsh, Catherine.  The Life of Arthus Vandeleur, Major, Royal Artillerty.  New York:  Robert Carter & Brothers, 1862.

M’Ilvaine, Charles Pettit.  A word in season to Candidates for Confirmation. Philadelphia: Daniels & Smith, 1852.

Moore,  Henry D., Rev., editor.  The Winterbloom with nine brilliant illuminations.  Philadelphia:  Hogan & Thompson, [n.d.].

Parker, R.G.  Progressive Exercises in English Composition.  (Thirty-first Stereotype Edition.)

Boston: Robert S. Davis; New York: robinson, Pratt and Company.  1841.

People’s Psalter, being the Psalms of David arranged for chanting, The:  With an Appendix, containing hymns from Holy Scripture, and a selection of Chants.  (Revised and enlarged ed.)

New York: General Protestant Episcopal S.S. Union, and Church Book Society, 1868.

Poe, Edgar A.  (Charles T. Eben, trans.)  Vier amerikanische Gedichte.  Philadelphia: Leypoldt, 1864.

Possart Album in wort und bild.  Herausgegeben von Leo von Raven.  New York, 1889. [Souvenir program of actor Ernst Possart with advertising interspersed; mostly in German, but published in New York.]

Prior, Matthew.  The Poetical Works of Matthew Prior.  London: Pickering, 1835.  (V. 1 and 2.)

Reade, Charles.  The cloister & the hearth, or Maid, Wife, and Widow.   A matter of fact romance.  (1st ed.)  New York: Rudd & Carleton;  London: Trubner & Co., 1861. 

Reade, Charles.  Peg Woffington: a novel.  Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1855.  Inscribed “Henry Toland, 1853.”

[Saint-Pierre, Bernardin.]  Paul and Virginia: from the French of Bernardin Saint-Pierre.  Elizabeth, or the Exiles of Siberia, from the French of Madame Cottin.  To which is added The Indian Cottage from the French of Bernardin Saint-Pierre.  London: T. Noble, 1856.  (3 titles in 1 volume).

Schiller, [Friedrich].  Gedichte von Schiller. Mit Illustrationen.  Philadelphia:  bei Schafer und ?oradi,  [1870?].  Inscribed “Sarah T. Wistar from her friend Julia S. Welsh, Christmas, 1872.

Schiller, Friedrich.  Geschichte des dreissegjahrigen Kriegs.  Stuttgart:  Gottasscher Verlag, 1854.  Autographed inscription “Sally Toland November 15, 1859.”  With another inscription from “F.G.K.”  2 volumes.

Schiller, Friedrich.  Schillers Sammtliche werke im zwolf Banden.  Philadelphia:  J. Rohler, 1871-1882.  Autographed inscription of “Sarah T. Wistar, 1880.”  (volumes 1-12)

Schiller, Friedrich.  Wallenstein.  Stuttgart:  Gottasscher Verlag, 1856.

Schiller, Fr[iedrich] Von.  Wilhelm Tell:   A Play with explanatory notes.  Philadelphia:  John Weik, 1856.

Sheridan, F. Mrs. and Dr. Hawkesworth.  The History of Nourjahad; and Almoran and Hamet – an Oriental tale.  London: John Walker & Co., 1814.  (2 titles in 1 volume.)

A Short System of polite learnings, being an epitome of the arts and sciences; designed for the use of schools.  By an eminent writer of Philadelphia.  Philadelphia:  Thomas Davis, 1848.

Southey, Robert.  The Doctor.  London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1848.

Souvestre, Emile.  Peronnik, L’Idiot.  Paris:  Michel Levy Freres, [n.d.]

Sterne, Laurence.  Letters of the late Rev. Mr. Laurence Sterne, to his most intimate friends….. London: T. Beckett, 1776.

Taylor, Bayard.  Hannah Thurston:  A Story of American Life.  (1st ed.) New York:  G.P. Putnam, 1864. 

Trollope, Anthony.  North America.  Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1862.

The True Story of Mrs. Shakespeare’s Life.  Boston:  Loring, 1870.  [Story of Anne Hathaway, based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “True story of Lady Byron’s life,” originally printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine, new series. December, 1869, v. 4.]

Voltaire, Francois.  Siecle de Louis XIV, Suivi de la liste raisonnee des enfants de Louis XIC, des princes del la maison de France de son temps, des souverains comtemporains, des marechaux de France, des ministres, de la plupart des ecrivains et artistes qui font fleuri dans ce siècle …  Paris:  Librairie de Firmin Didot Freres, 1854.

W. von St. [Wilhelmine von Strombeck].  Im Exil:  Roman in drei Theilen.  Braunschweig: E[duard] Leibrock, 1857. 2nd. Aufl.

Warren, Samuel.  Passages from the Diary of a Late Physician.  New York: Harper & Brothers, [n.d.].  3 volumes.

Wharton, Grace and Philip [pseudo. For Thomson, A.T., Mrs.]. The Queens of Society.  New York:  Harper & Bros., 1860.

Wharton, Grace and Philip [pseudo. For Thomson, A.T., Mrs.] The Wits and Beaux of Society.  New York:   Harper & Bros., 1861.

Whittier, John Greenleaf.  Snow-Bound: a Winter Idyl.  Boston:  Osgood and Company, 1872.

Wistar, Thomas.  William Wilberforce Wistar:  A Brother’s Tribute.  Philadelphia, 1867.  Autographed inscription “Isaac J. & Sarah T. Wistar with the affectionate love of their sister A.M. Wistar, 1867.  [Thomas and William Wilberforce Wistar were twin brothers born in 1837.]

Wordsworth, William.  The Prelude: or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind.  New York: Appleton, 1850.