Skip to main content

James Farnham Edwards Papers

Identifier: EDW

Scope and Content

Journals, personal correspondence, business correspondence, and memorabilia including broadsides and advertisements, calling and business cards, invitations, announcements, menus, post cards, programs, religious objects, tickets, and passes; class records including student lists, grade books, student exams and class notes, files on student organizations, and other student records; records of the Lemonnier Library including correspondence, library subscription and use records, publishers' notices, book and periodicals lists, notes and articles about the library, and receipts; Bishops' Memorial Hall records (closely connected with the library's) including correspondence, accession and account books, descriptions of artifacts, notes and articles about Bishops' Memorial Hall and its collections, and records of the Columbian Exposition (1893); autographs, church financial reports, manuscripts collected by Edwards, Notre Dame notes, pamphlets, poetry, printed material, speeches, artifacts, and photographs.

Because the calendaring project at the University of Notre Dame Archives was never completed, the papers of James F. Edwards are only partially calendared. The remaining records have been arranged according to the four main activities of Edwards' life. These are: Personal Papers, Class Records, Lemonnier Library Records, and Bishops' Memorial Hall Records. A final category has also been included for miscellaneous notes and collected items found among Edwards' papers which do not belong in the above series. Divisions between the four main series, especially in the correspondence, are often difficult to make; Edwards spent fifty-two years of his life at Notre Dame and his personal life was often indistinguishable from his professional life.

No original order has been kept because of the chaotic state in which these documents had been found. Items within folders are arranged chronologically; undated material, commencement and wedding announcements, business and calling cards, tickets and passes are arranged alphabetically. Although a few family papers dated as early as 1859 in the collection, the bulk of Edwards' own records cover 1880-1909.

Another difficulty which has arisen with this collection is its provenance. Several of the semi-processed 19th-century collections at the Notre Dame Archives contain similar materials and documents from each, over the years, have been inadvertantly placed with the wrong collections. Documents found among Edwards' papers which clearly did not belong, such as letters and other records dated after Edwards' death, have been transferred to the proper collections; however, those which had already been calendared remain with the Edwards papers.

Approximately half of the collection (15 of the original 30 feet) consisted of deteriorating newspapers and newsclippings on various topics. These have been recommended for disposal because of their disorder, high acidity and fragility, availability on microfilm, and original use as a library resource. Exceptions to this include a small collection of clippings on Notre Dame, a substantial collection of articles compromising to Protestants collected by Father Timothy O'Sullivan and given to Edwards, and a collection of Civil War poems clipped and copied by Miss Abby Hemenway. The Notre Dame articles and the Civil War poetry have been separated into individual collections and the clippings photocopied. The O'Sullivan clippings compromising to Protestants have been added to the Timothy O'Sullivan Collection (COSU). Other newsclippings enclosed with letters and telegrams have been photocopied and the originals have been discarded. A small collection of photographs, of Edwards and clergy, has been separated into the James F. Edwards Photo Collection (GEDW).



  • Creation: 1859-1914 (bulk 1880-1909)


Language of Materials

In English, French, Italian, and Latin.


University of Notre Dame history professor and librarian. Edwards devoted most of his fifty-two years at Notre Dame to collecting artifacts and manuscripts from American Catholic clergy for his Bishops' Memorial Hall and Catholic Archives of America. As a result of his acquisition efforts, he knew and corresponded with many prominent Catholics of the late nineteenth century.

James Farnham Edwards, University of Notre Dame librarian and founder of the Notre Dame Archives and Bishops' Memorial Hall, was born 15 April 1850 in Toledo, Ohio to Paul S. and Elizabeth (Rutledge) Edwards, Irish immigrants. Edwards' father, a gregarious man, had several different jobs during Jimmie's youth, including co-owner of Edwards and Steedman Billiard Rooms; proprietor of the Adelphi Theatre in Toledo; Collector of the Tolls on the Miami and Erie Canal; and Inspector of Tobacco, Snuff, and Cigars for the Tenth Collection district of the State of Ohio. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Paul Edwards was the first recruiting officer in Northwestern Ohio, commissioned as Major in August 1861 and later promoted to Colonel and commanding officer of the 182d Regiment.

Edwards came to Notre Dame at the age of nine as a minim. Under the affectionate tutelage of Fathers Sorin and Lemonnier he progressed in his studies, eventually entering the Senior Department in 1866. The idea of a Bishops' Memorial Hall first came to Edwards in the late 1860s. He wanted to create a monument to the leaders of the Catholic Church in America by preserving their vestments, portraits, and other relics, and to this vision Edwards dedicated the rest of his life.

In 1871, Edwards became a formal candidate for the Holy Cross Community; however, due to poor health he was forced to abandon the priesthood. Instead, twenty-one-year-old Edwards was appointed assistant professor of Rhetoric and Latin in the Preparatory School at Notre Dame while he continued to study for a Bachelor of Laws degree. During 1872-73 Father Lemonnier established the circulating library and gradually turned over its control to Edwards. In 1874 Father Lemonnier died, and Edwards renamed the library after his mentor and friend. During this time he also continued to build his Bishops' Collection and Gallery in the Main Building.

After receiving his degree in 1875, Edwards was appointed assistant professor of English and History, and in 1876-77 he became a regular professor of history. Although he wasn't the best or most interesting of professors, Edwards was very fond of his young students and often treated them to parties. Parents sought his advice because they knew the kind professor would look after their sons. One of his particular friends, George Rhodius, came under Edwards' influence because of his mother's confidence in his reliability. The Rhodius family of Indianapolis was quite wealthy from extensive real estate, and Marie Rhodius depended on Edwards to give George personal attention. The professor and student became friends and went on several European trips together. They remained close, even through George's scandalous "playboy" years before his death in 1909.

As a result of the April 1879 fire, most of the library's holdings and the Bishops' Collection was destroyed. Although valuable artifacts and books had been lost, Edwards was not disheartened and began to collect more vigorously than ever. He had an exceptional talent for increasing the library on a small budget; and generous clergymen, parents, students, and friends donated money, books, and artifacts. In 1886 Edwards sporadically began to publish a list of acquisitions to the Bishops' Memorial Hall, and notices of new relics appeared in the Scholastic . Included as part of the Hall were the Catholic Archives of America and the Catholic Reference Library of America. Portraits, mitres, croziers, manuscripts, books, etc. were all included in Edwards' collections and he travelled extensively to acquire them.

Although Edwards' preservation efforts interested many Catholics around the world and he gained several prestigious friends, he never felt his work was truly appreciated by his colleagues at Notre Dame. Father Daniel Hudson and Professor Maurice Egan seem to have been his main supporters on campus. The friction between Edwards and those who controlled the college became so unbearable in 1888 that he sent in his resignation to Father Thomas Walsh, President of the University. His unhappiness, however, was relieved by the offer of a collection trip to Europe. Edwards also wished for a separate building for his Bishops' Memorial Hall but this never materialized. Portraits and display cabinets lined the third and fourth floors of the Main Building, and his library looked more like a museum; Edwards was obviously a much better collector of artifacts than librarian and professor. Most Notre Dame faculty thought it best to humor him, since Professor Edwards had gained so many prominent friends for the University including John Gilmary Shea, Ellen Ewing Sherman, Archbishop Robert Seton, Cardinal Gibbons, and Cardinal Newman.

Edwards and his Bishops' Memorial Hall participated in the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The exhibit received awards for excellence and Edwards received a special Diploma of Honor for his "untiring zeal in the interest of the Catholic Church's Historical Matters." Professor Edwards and his plan to preserve Catholic history in America became well publicized as a result of the Exposition and contributions to the Hall increased.

In 1906 Edwards gave up his post as Professor of History but continued on as full-time librarian and collector. He had never enjoyed good health and as he got older, his energy waned. In 1909 Edwards suffered a serious paralytic stroke which forced him to resign from all active duty. When he was able to travel, he tried to regain his strength at various health resorts but to no avail. In the summer of 1910, he suffered a second stroke and in January 1911, the life of James Farnham Edwards came to a quiet end in St. Joseph's Hospital in South Bend, Indiana. A Requiem Mass was said for him at the Sacred Heart Church, Notre Dame and, escorted by the Notre Dame Battalion, the body of Professor James Edwards was laid to rest in the Holy Cross Cemetary.

[Sources for biography include: "James F. Edwards: Pioneer Archivist of Catholic Church History," Master's Thesis by Sister Damien Tambola, O.S.B., 1958; Obituary of James F. Edwards, January 1911 (Box 18 Folder 20); Certificates of Appointment for Paul Edwards and James Rutledge, 1859-1866 (Box 18 Folder 21); and Autobiographical and Genealogical Notes, 1887-1907, nd (Box 18 Folder 23).]


15.5 linear feet. 5 linear inches of photographs.

James Farnham Edwards Papers
University of Notre Dame Archives
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Archives Repository

607 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame Indiana 46556 United States
(574) 631-6448