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Walt Whitman Collections

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The Kislak Center holds a number of manuscript collections, an important collection of books by and about Whitman, including a sizeable collection of rare first edition Whitman publications, and three paintings by Herbert Gilchrist, currently on display in the Reading Room. 

The bulk of the Walt Whitman Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Library was acquired from Mrs. Frank Julian Sprague of New York, a collector of Whitmania, with additional contributors including Mrs. Charles Cridland (the granddaughter of David McKay) and John R. Stevenson. The manuscript collection contains important correspondence, manuscripts, and memorabilia that primarily represent Whitman’s life and career after the Civil War and until his death, a period from 1867 to 1892. It also holds letters and papers of early supporters, biographers, and guardians of the Whitman legacy: these letters shed particular light on Whitman’s relationship with William Michael Rossetti, the Gilchrist family, and Whitman’s publishers in the 1880s. More generally, the collection provides a picture of the tremendous forces that shaped public and scholarly reception of Whitman’s work, forces that ensured the poet’s entry into the canon of American literature.

The Gilchrist Collection comprises a small but interesting collection of letters and the diaries of Grace Gilchrist Frend from 1907 to 1939, the younger daughter of Anne Burrows Gilchrist. Grace lived in Philadelphia with her mother, sister Beatrice, and brother Herbert during their extended visit with Walt Whitman.

Edward Sculley Bradley (1897-1987), a scholar, author, educator, and administrator at the University of Pennsylvania, was considered an international expert on American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), editing several important editions of the poet's Leaves of Grass. He was also a general editor and contributed to the 14-volume  Collected Writings of Walt Whitman from 1961 to 1984, and was a trustee of the Walt Whitman Foundation. He was instrumental in Penn acquiring numerous important literary collections, including the Walt Whitman collection.

The E. Sculley Bradley Collection of Print Material Relating to Walt Whitman contains articles, books, journals, essays, newsletters, exhibition information, catalogs, pamphlets, and publications of the Walt Whitman Fellowship (including event information and papers) compiled by Bradley.

The E. Sculley Bradley Papers contains a series of Walt Whitman material begins with drafts for the three editions of Leaves of Grass that Sculley Bradley worked on: the  Comprehensive Reader's Edition (1965), the  Norton Critical Edition (1973), and the  Textual Variorum (1980). Drafts for the first two are less complete than for the Variorum and focus mainly on the “Excluded Poems and Passages” section. Drafts for the  Norton Critical Edition are grouped into sets labelled “copy 2” and “copy 3 and 4” following Bradley’s original organization of the papers.The Whitman ephemera assembled by Bradley includes brochures, printed maps, typed inventories and bibliographies, newspaper and magazine clippings (including a copy of Whitman’s “A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads” published in The Critic in 1884), correspondence about Whitman, book reviews and book publication notices, manuscript texts and printed articles of other scholars, cards, invitations, a photostat of Whitman’s manuscript of “Good-Bye my Fancy,” and two Whitman family autographs (envelopes addressed in the hand of Whitman's mother and Whitman himself, respectively). Also included are notes by Bradley on Whitman. The Whitman graphics includes engravings, photographs, and reproductions of paintings of Whitman, buildings associated with Whitman, and monuments to the poet. Also included are some negatives and postcards.

The Delaware River Port Authority Records on the Naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge, a single-level, seven-lane suspension bridge reaching across the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Gloucester City in Camden County, New Jersey, which opened to traffic in May 1967, deal with the highly controversial naming of the bridge. The Delaware River Port Authority's records document the support and criticism of selecting Walt Whitman as the person for whom the bridge was named. The bulk of the collection consists of letters to the Delaware River Port Authority from concerned New Jersey and Philadelphia area citizens, but researchers will also find Delaware River Port Authority meeting records, clippings, and an essay related to the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge.

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