University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Girvin Family Papers

1869 - 1910
(bulk dates 1895 - 1902 )

Manuscript Collection Number: 394
Accessioned: Gift of the Moyerman Family, 1972.
Extent: 1 linear ft. (ca. 400 items)
Content: Correspondence, receipts, income tax returns, insurance cards.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: August 1999, by Teresa M. Morris

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Physician Robert M. Girvin (1836 - 1900) was a general practitioner with a specialization in obstetrics and gynecology in late nineteenth century Philadelphia. Dr. Girvin and his wife Susan had at least five children: John Harper (1858 - 1938), Robert M., Jr., Charles, Helene, and Mary.

Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Dr. Robert Girvin was graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1862. Robert Girvin used his skills as a doctor during the Civil War before beginning a practice on Walnut Street in West Philadelphia. After the Civil War, Robert Girvin married Susan Bell Harper of Philadelphia. He was a resident physician at Philadelphia Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital, and a consulting obstetrician at Philadelphia Hospital. He was also a member of the Philadelphia College Medical Society.

One of Robert Girvin's sons, John Harper Girvin, followed in his father's profession, and specialized in obstetrics and gynecology with a practice in West Philadelphia. An alumnus of the college and medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, John Girvin served as secretary of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia for sixteen years. John Girvin was a practicing physician, though he appears to have been more involved with medical research than his father. At the University of Pennsylvania he taught courses in obstetrics and gynecology, while also working at the university hospital. John Girvin never married and died at home in West Philadelphia in 1938.

Dr. and Mrs. Robert Girvin had a long-term friendship with German composer Reinhold L. Herman (1849 - 1919). Herman was a composer of operas, chamber music, cantatas and overtures. He conducted at the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston and the Meyer Symphony Concerts in Berlin. He also taught and performed in Berlin and New York. Many of his letters to Dr. and Mrs. Girvin are postmarked from New York, sometimes with a Carnegie Hall address. An intimate friend of Dr. Girvin, Herman was a frequent visitor to the Philadelphia household. Many letters between Herman and Robert Girvin concern travel plans for Herman's visits to Philadelphia; or plans for traveling places in the company of the Girvins. After Dr. Girvin's death, Herman continued to correspond with Mrs. Girvin, but the tone of the letters changes: they are less chatty and more formal.


"Dr. John H. Girvin Philadelphian was Secretary of the College of Physicians," New York Times, 24 October 1938.

Atkinson, William B. A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary American Physicians and Surgeons. Philadelphia: Brinton, 1880.

Thompson, Oscar and Bohle, Bruce. The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians. 11th ed. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1985.

Oberholtzer, Ellis Paxson. Philadelphia: A History of the City and its People. Volume 3. Philadelphia: S. J Clarke Publishing, 1912.

Note: Biographical information is also derived from documents and correspondence in the collection.

Scope and Content Note

The Girvin Family papers span from 1869 to 1910 and consist principally of personal and professional papers of turn-of-the century Philadelphian physicians Robert M. Girvin and his son, John Harper Girvin. The collection consists of two series: correspondence and receipts of various family members.

Highlights of business correspondence to Dr. Robert Girvin include late 1880s letters from Theodore Pruden about the Girvin and Mylin bog in Toms River, New Jersey. Also notable are the letters pertaining to a Dunlow Coal Company lawsuit. Dr. Girvin appears to have been a member of a company attempting to complete payment to the Dunlow Coal Company. The personal correspondence of Dr. Robert Girvin includes letters to Girvin from the family of Isabella Agnew. These letters indicate Robert Girvin was the executor of this disputed estate. Of particular interest about the Reinhold Herman letters are the details about Herman's social and business life. Herman's letters mention in passing news such as "the golden wedding of our Emperor and we have the Exhibition now; the waves of politics are going high and the business-outlook is not quite encouraging yet" (June 26, 1879).

The correspondence of Mrs. Robert Girvin has much less depth over the time span of the collection. Notable among her letters are those from her son reassuring her about her financial situation after her husband's death (F8).

Dr. John Girvin's personal correspondence includes a group of letters from an unidentified woman with initials W.W.P. From her home in Syracuse, New York, this woman wrote very intimate letters to John Girvin about their relationship and also about local happenings. Dr. John Girvin's business letters are sparse. Most notable are two letters from a New York doctor concerning a pregnant teenager sent to John Girvin's care in Philadelphia during her confinement.

The family letters from Europe to John Girvin in April - July 1902 are highly detailed. Mrs. Girvin wrote to John Harper Girvin almost daily, often writing jointly to him and his brother Robert M. Girvin, Jr. His sister Helene wrote frequently to him, though not every day. Other correspondents are "Edith" and "Jane," who are not clearly identified from the letters, but might be relatives of John Girvin. There is also a letter from Helene to Robert Jr. (F19). The Girvin women traveled to many countries beginning with Italy in April 1902. In May, they visited Italy, Switzerland, and Paris. In June, they visited Scotland, Paris, London, and Oxford; and in July, they stayed in London, Amsterdam, and Heidelberg.

The second series of the collection consists of various receipts of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Girvin and Dr. John H. Girvin. These receipts offer a panoramic look at domestic and business accounts and other financial matters.

Series Outline

I.  Correspondence, 1869-1910
    1. Dr. Robert M. Girvin 
    2. Mrs. R. M. Girvin (Susan)
    3. Dr. John Harper Girvin
    4. Girvin Family

II. Receipts, 1863-1902
    1. Dr. Robert M. Girvin
    2. Dr. John Harper Girvin
    3. Estate of Dr. Robert M. Girvin

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

1          Series I.  Correspondence, 1863 - 1910
                This series contains letters to Robert M. Girvin, John H. Girvin, Mrs. R. M. 
                Girvin, and Robert Girvin, Jr.  A mixture of business and personal 

           Series I.1.  Robert Girvin, Business, 1882 - 1896
                Subjects covered in this series include the Girvin and Mylin Bog and the 
                Dunlow Coal Company lawsuit.

	F1	1882 - 1888

	F2	1893 - 1899

	F3	1 letter, n.d.

           Series I.1.  Robert Girvin, Personal, 1869 - 1900
                Subjects covered in this series include the dispute over Isabella Agnew's 
                estate and a plea from a woman for employment assistance.  The Herman 
                letters consist of his news and arrangements for visiting the Girvins.

	F4	1869 - 1893

	F5	1895 - 1900

	F6	Undated letters and drafts

	F7	Letters from Reinhold Herman, 1876 - 1891

           Series I.2.  Mrs. R. Girvin, Personal, 1869 - 1904
                Included are letters from her son John and also included are condolence 
                letters about her husband's death.  The Herman letters concern visiting the 
                Girvin home.

	F8	Letters, 1869 - 1901 and undated

	F9	Letters from Reinhold Herman, 1896 - 1904

	F10	Draft n.d. 

2          Series I.3.  John Girvin, Business, 1895 - 1902
                This set includes two letters about a pregnant teenager, Carrie.

	F11	1895 - 1902

           Series I.3.  John Girvin, Personal, 1897 - 1910
                Includes multiple letters from W.W.P., multiple condolence letters from 
                friends and colleagues, and letters from his sister Helene.

	F12	1897 - 1910

	F13	Undated

	F14	Drafts

           Series I.3.  John Girvin, Personal, 1902
                This set includes letters from his mother, sister Helene, and other female 
                correspondents during their trip to Europe.

	F15	Apr 

	F16	May 

3	F17	Jun 3-15

	F18	Jun 16-30

	F19	Jul 1-8

	F20	Jul 10-30

           Series I.4.  Girvin Family
                Two letters to "Dr. Girvin." Unclear to which Girvin the letters are 

	F21	1884 May 7
		1892 Feb 1

           Series II.  Receipts, 1863 - 1902
                This series consists of business and household receipts from all three 
                predominant family members.

3          Series II.1.  Robert Girvin, Business and Personal, 1863 - 1902
                This set includes receipts from livery stables, medical suppliers, journal 
                subscriptions, natural gas providers, church giving, rent and a federal tax 

	F22	1863 - 1873

	F23	1881 - 1902

            Series II.2.  John Girvin, Mrs. R. Girvin and the estate of Robert Girvin, 
                          1900 - 1902

	F24	1900 - 1902

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