Papers relating to J.W. Wallace and the Bolton Whitman Fellowship

Scope and Content

The collection contains over 300 pieces of correspondence, including letters and copy letters sent and received by Wallace and Minnie Whiteside. Correspondents include: friends and other members of the Bolton Whitman circle; Whitman enthusiasts throughout Britain; figures involved in the socialist movement, such as Ramsay MacDonald (Eng 1186/1/20), Edward Carpenter (Eng 1186/1/5), Katharine Glasier (Eng 1186/1/32, 3/4 & 5/6) and Robert Blatchford (Eng 1186/1/4); friends of Whitman, such as Horace Traubel and his family, Dr R.M. Bucke and John Burroughs; and other Whitmanites from Canada and the USA, including the great Whitman collector, Charles E. Feinberg (Eng 1186/5/24). Wallace's correspondence with Whitman himself is represented by a series of 54 draft and copy letters to the poet, dating from 1887 to 1891 (Eng 1186/2/2). Also included are news cuttings, offprints and journals relating to Whitman affairs, the Bolton group, and friends of Wallace; and a series of photographic prints, including a photograph of Whitman during his residence at Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey (Eng 1186/11/3/1), and a number of photographs of the Bolton College group at various stages in its history, along with shots of associated individuals. In addition, there is a small quantity of material (songs, addresses and programmes) relating to meetings of the Bolton group and their annual Whitman Day celebrations, a typescript draft of Wallace's diary of his visits to Whitman in 1891 (Eng 1186/4/2), a copy of Wallace's published booklet, Walt Whitman and the World Crisis (Eng 1186/10/6), and a number of miscellaneous items which have some Wallace or Whitman connection.

The collection forms a valuable addition to existing research resources for Whitman studies, and is particularly rich in material relating to: the Bolton group itself and the characters connected with it; early responses to the work of Whitman and the reception of his poetry and ideas in Britain; transatlantic links between Whitman admirers, and the relationships between individuals within the international Whitman circle; and the avid collecting of Whitmaniana which grew to reach a peak in the 1950s, particularly in America. The collection also provides scope for studies of the early socialist movement in Britain, and of religious beliefs and movements during the period, which were themselves often closely related to ideas of democracy and ethical socialism.

Administrative / Biographical History

This archive collection relates to a small but remarkable group of Walt Whitman enthusiasts from the Bolton area of Lancashire. Its scope, however, extends beyond the North-West of England to embrace followers and friends of Whitman throughout Britain, the USA, and Canada.

The nucleus of the so-called 'Eagle Street College' was formed by a small number of lower middle- and working-class individuals from Bolton who shared certain interests and political beliefs, and who met on Monday evenings at the Eagle Street home of J.W. Wallace, the 'Master' of the College and something of a charismatic leader. Papers of and relating to Wallace form the basis of this collection.

Wallace, the son of a millwright, was born in Bolton in 1853 and grew up at 14 Eagle Street, off Bury Road in the Haulgh district of the town. He left school at 14 to join the firm of Bradshaw's (later Bradshaw and Gass) as an architect's assistant. He remained there until his retirement in 1912, despite the poor health which necessitated a move to the more rural Anderton in the early 1890s. He was very close to his mother and after her death in 1885 Wallace, always a great reader, found spiritual solace in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The death of his mother also seems to have precipitated a spiritual transformation in Wallace; he described attaining a new state of consciousness, which seems to have altered his whole outlook on life. He was subsequently looked upon by many as a quasi- religious figure (much like Whitman himself), and a provider of spiritual guidance. Numerous people visited Wallace after undergoing traumatic events or illnesses to receive mental and physical healing from Wallace and his housekeeper and companion, Minnie Whiteside. When Minnie first came to live with Wallace in 1905 she was recently widowed; her husband, a friend of Wallace, died following an industrial accident which happened only two weeks after their wedding. Minnie was devoted to Wallace and remained with him as his companion until he died. He, in turn, educated her and always referred to her as his adopted daughter.

'Eagle Street College' was born in 1885, when Wallace, with his two close friends, Dr John Johnston and Fred Wild, began to hold regular meetings at Wallace's home to read and discuss literary works; Ruskin, Burns, Carlyle, Tennyson, Emerson, and, above all, Walt Whitman, were standard fare. Johnston was a GP based in Bolton, although originally from Annan in Dumfriesshire. Wild was a cotton waste merchant who shared the literary interests of the others as well as being an active socialist. Other members of the group (which subsequently became known as the Bolton Whitman Fellowship) came and went over the years, although there was a remarkable continuity; members often formed lifelong attachments, based on the doctrines they found in Whitman's ideas on 'comradely love'. Not all the members were such avid Whitmanites as Wallace, Wild and Johnston, but the majority of them shared certain political ideals and a number were active in the early socialist movement.

The late nineteenth century in Britain saw the growth of an active and diverse socialist culture: there were many local socialist clubs, Clarion clubs and debating societies, as well as the Labour Church movement and its associated activities. In addition, there were the national political organizations, such as the Social Democratic Federation, founded in 1884, and the Independent Labour Party, founded in 1893. Members of the Bolton Whitman circle were involved in a number of these local and national movements. They had links with the local Labour Church; and Wallace's interpretation of Whitman's work echoed the Labour Church concept of socialism as a living and loving fellowship between Man, Nature and God.

Walt Whitman (1819-92) was born on Long Island and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He had little formal education and moved through various temporary occupations, including journalism, before publishing the first edition of his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, in 1855. Written in a simple style and dispensing with traditional poetic devices, these poems represent an early form of free verse. Whitman spent the rest of his life revising and expanding this volume, producing nine editions in total. The third edition of 1860 contained the 'Calamus' group of poems, which has often been taken as evidence of his homosexuality, although the poet denied this and instead emphasised its meaning as a celebration of the natural affection of man for man or 'comradely love'. His work as a whole celebrated America, democracy, and the lives of the ordinary working people. Despite his own efforts at publicity, however, Whitman's work was largely ignored by the general public in America until the 1870s, when favourable reviews of his poetry appeared in England written by respected men of letters such as William Rossetti and John Addington Symonds. Whitman died at his home in Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, in 1892.

Whitman was quickly adopted in Britain as a prophet for the socialist cause; his ideas on love and comradeship, democracy and nature proved very attractive to members of the early socialist movement. The Bolton group, inspired by Wallace, did much to gain wider recognition for Whitman in Britain. They built up a network of contacts across the country, which included such figures as Keir Hardie, Katharine Conway and later her husband John Bruce Glasier of the ILP, Edward Carpenter, and writer and journalist Robert Blatchford of The Clarion. Through his wide circle of contacts, Wallace became influential in the ILP, addressing a number of conferences on the subject of Whitman and his ideas. His home at Anderton was visited by a number of prominent ILP members. The annual Whitman Day celebrations held by the Bolton group on or near 31 May (the poet's birthday) often attracted visitors from outside and included messages from absent friends.

Wallace also cultivated contacts in America and Canada among people who had been acquaintances and personal friends of Whitman. These included Horace Traubel, his wife Anne, and later also his daughter, Gertrude; John Burroughs, naturalist, writer and friend of Whitman; and Whitman's close friend and official biographer, Dr Richard Maurice Bucke. Wallace and Dr Johnston corresponded with Whitman himself from 1887 to 1892. Johnston made a pilgrimage to America in 1890, visiting Whitman himself in Camden, as well as fellow American Whitmanites and various localities associated with the life of the poet. He kept detailed 'Diary Notes' of his experiences and his conversations with Whitman, which were printed as a pamphlet for private circulation in 1898. Wallace made a visit in 1891, staying in the home of the Traubels; he too kept a diary, which was subsequently published, along with Johnston's, as Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890-1891 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917).

The Whitman Fellowship in Bolton continued to be active in one form or another up to and beyond Wallace's death in January 1926. His death robbed the group of its leader, and the two remaining founder members died within the next decade - Dr Johnston in 1927 and Fred Wild in 1935. The movement was kept alive, however, by Minnie Whiteside, along with the few remaining members, notably John Ormrod and William Broadhurst, as well as a second generation of Whitman admirers. Whitman Day continued to be celebrated at least into the 1950s, and Minnie also maintained contact with Whitmanites in America, such as Anne and Gertrude Traubel.

Minnie devoted the last years of her life to disposing of Wallace's papers to appropriate institutions; she was keen for the Bolton group to be remembered and appreciated, and she recognised the value of the papers for research. She remarried in 1957; her wedding to an old friend, Edward Bull, took place on 4 July.


The material in the collection has largely been rearranged by the archivist. This was necessary due to the somewhat arbitrary way in which the collection was amassed, as outlined above. It appears that by December 1956, all the papers Minnie had so far donated to the Library had been arranged to form Rylands English MS 1186, and all subsequent donations up to November 1958 were incorporated into this collection.

The collection is therefore a composite one and does not reflect the way in which the various originators of the material ordered their papers. Minnie appears to have bundled the material together as she came across it, and sent it off ad hoc to various individuals and institutions. The Rylands collection includes much loose material with no discernible order at all; and in general, aside from a few bundles, there was no chronological ordering, or sorting by subject or correspondent. After the material arrived, some of it appears to have been brought together by Library staff into rough subject or physical groupings, such as 'Wallace Miscellanea', photographs, or news cuttings, but this arrangement omitted much of the material altogether.

The collection has now been arranged into series, predominantly based on the physical nature of the material, although a number of the series are composite. Material which was obviously Minnie's own, such as her own correspondence and copy extracts from letters and articles made after Wallace's death, have been allotted separate series. Otherwise the principle of original order has had to be disregarded, and the material listed according to type. The English Manuscript number allocated to the collection has been retained.

The series are as follows: 

  • Eng 1186/1 Letters to J.W. Wallace
  • Eng 1186/2 Letters from J.W. Wallace
  • Eng 1186/3 Letters between other individuals
  • Eng 1186/4 Miscellaneous papers of J.W. Wallace
  • Eng 1186/5 Letters to Minnie Whiteside
  • Eng 1186/6 Letters from Minnie Whiteside
  • Eng 1186/7 Copies, extracts and notes of Minnie Whiteside
  • Eng 1186/8 Bolton Whitman Fellowship material
  • Eng 1186/9 News cuttings, offprints and journals
  • Eng 1186/10 Miscellaneous printed and published material
  • Eng 1186/11 Photographs
  • Eng 1186/12 Miscellaneous material

Access Information

Open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.


This collection was used as a source for Paul Salveson's 'Loving Comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is described in the Guide to English Manuscripts.

Archivist's Note

Many thanks to Dr Carolyn Masel, who produced a detailed inventory of much of this collection during the course of her work, and who has provided much useful information.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

J.W. Wallace's papers appear to have been left to Minnie Whiteside on his death in 1926. From the late 1920s to the 1950s she was engaged in disposing of his books and papers relating to Whitman and the Bolton group; correspondence in this collection contains various references to the possibility of selling Wallace's Whitman books. A letter from J. Bodgener (Eng 1186/5/14) suggests that by 1949 Minnie was investigating the possibility of publishing Wallace's collected papers. This never happened, and instead the papers were dispersed to various institutions, as well as to various friends and Whitman admirers who had an interest in their content, or required them for research, such as Dr Seaborne (Bucke's son-in-law) and Professor Will S. Monroe (who published various works on Whitman). Minnie donated a large collection of papers to Bolton Central Library, some to the Walt Whitman Foundation in Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, and some to the John Rylands Library. Correspondence between Minnie and the Librarian held in the Library's archive spans the period from early 1956 to November 1958. During this time, Minnie frequently sent the Librarian packages of letters, papers and photographs, which she admitted were bundled together often without being sorted beforehand; she relied on Library Staff to sort the material and select the items they wished to keep for the collection. Although many of the papers were clearly Wallace's own, some of the material was acquired by Minnie from other Whitman enthusiasts and sent on to the Library; for example, the copy of J.H. Bodgener's thesis (Eng 1186/12/7) came from Bodgener himself; Will Hayes, in his letter of 9 February 1957 (Eng 1186/5/18/4) promises to look out any relevant material to send to the John Rylands Library; and the letters from Wallace to his cousin, James, came to Minnie after James's death. Other papers were generated by Minnie herself in the course of her correspondence with various admirers of Whitman and Wallace, and other individuals connected with the Bolton group.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library houses four other manuscript collections with a Whitman connection which were bequeathed to the Library by Charles F. Sixsmith, a member of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship: Eng Ms 1170 includes papers relating to the Bolton circle and Whitman in general, including a bundle of autograph letters sent to Whitman by various individuals during 1880; Eng Ms 1172 is a collection of correspondence relating to Horace Traubel, principally letters from Traubel to Wallace, Dr Johnston and Sixsmith; Eng Ms 1330 is a collection of miscellanea, including a small quantity of papers relating to the Bolton Whitman group; and Eng Ms 1331 is a collection of journals, cuttings, other printed material, and photographs relating to Whitman, Edward Carpenter, and various other interests of Sixsmith.

A much larger collection of Bolton Whitman Fellowship material is held at Bolton Archive Service, based in the Central Library, Bolton, Lancashire: ZWN  . This includes: some original letters from Walt Whitman to Wallace, Johnston and others, copies of these, and copies of their letters to him large quantities of other correspondence, between members of the Bolton circle and with Whitman enthusiasts overseas (including extensive Traubel correspondence) numerous papers relating to the Bolton group and its activities, photographs, mementos and ephemera.


This collection was used as a source for Paul Salveson's 'Loving Comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Bevir, Mark, 'Labour churches and ethical socialism', History Today, 47, 3 (April 1997), 50-55.

Blodgett, Harold, Walt Whitman in England (New York:Cornell University Press. London: Humphrey Milford, 1934).

Eccles, Caroline A., James William Wallace, an English comrade of Walt Whitman: a memoir (London: C.W. Daniel, 1936).

Grant, Douglas, Walt Whitman and his English admirers: an inaugural lecture (Leeds: Leeds University Press, 1962).

Johnston, J. and Wallace, J.W., Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890-1891 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917).

Kaplan, Justin, Walt Whitman: a life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980).

Karsner, David, Horace Traubel: his life and work (New York: Egmont Arens, 1919).

Krieg, Joann P., 'Without Walt Whitman in Camden', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 85-112.

Salveson, Paul, 'Loving comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Geographical Names