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Collection Wm. Oland Bourne Papers

About this Collection

The papers of reformer, poet, editor, and clergyman William Oland Bourne (1819-1901) span the years 1841-1885, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1856-1867. As editor of the periodical The Soldier's Friend, Bourne sponsored a contest in 1865-1866 in which Union soldiers and sailors who lost their right arms by disability or amputation during the Civil War were invited to submit samples of their penmanship using their left hands. The contest, which awarded a total of $1,000 in prizes for the winning entries, was followed in 1867 by a second contest, which awarded $500 in prizes.

Bourne’s papers are arranged alphabetically by type of material and therein chronologically. They contain correspondence and broadsides concerning the contests, many of the penmanship entries submitted, and photographs of some contest participants.  The latter are mostly in container 6, although photographs with metal frames are stored separately in Container OV 1 and are represented by photocopies in container 6.

The Left-Hand Penmanship Contest submissions are arranged in two series (1865-1866 contest and 1867 contest), and then by the number Bourne assigned to each entry in the order of receipt.  The finding aid to the collection identifies which entries are in which folder, and various name indexes provide the series and entry number for individual submissions.  Eventually these name indexes will be consolidated and added to this Web site with hyperlinks to the individual entries.

Left-handed penmanship samples recopied in another hand, presumably by Bourne, can be found with some contest entries. In most cases a page of The City Record was used as a sort of folder, with identifying information written on what would have been the front of the folder. When a copy of The City Record was used to separate recopied penmanship samples, the front and back of The City Record page are presented first in this online presentation, followed by the recopied pages. Examples of this may be seen in the entries of William H. Thomas and Julius V. Wood. In some cases, like that of Seth Sutherland, the recopied pages are not housed in a City Record wrapper and simply follow other documents in the file.

During the Civil War, Bourne served as a chaplain at Central Park Hospital, a military hospital in New York City where he collected three autograph books of reminiscences by patients. He began Volume I on September 16, 1864; Volume II on January 11, 1865; and Volume III on May 2, 1865. The reminiscences generally include information concerning places and dates of enlistment, descriptions of major battles, wounds suffered, and the dates and circumstances of the patients’ admittance to the hospital. Some of the patients included in these autograph books had lost their right arms during the war and wrote with their left hands, pre-dating the Left-Hand Penmanship Contest entries that comprise the majority of the collection.

Bourne was interested in politics and active in the New York affiliate of the Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association. His correspondence documents the history of this association and his other political activism between 1841 and 1885. Examples of broadsides and periodicals related to Bourne’s political work can be found in Oversize material.

Bourne generally signed his name as “Wm. Oland Bourne,” which is the official name authority assigned to him by the Library of Congress. Other sources record his name as “William Oland Bourne.” Newspaper and periodical articles related to Bourne may include various misspellings of his middle name, including “Hand,” “Orlan,” “Orland,” and “Orlando.” Researchers interested in searching for more information on Bourne, particularly in keyword-searchable digital resources, may wish to search with these name variations.