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Special Collections and University Archives

Finding Aid

O'Donovan Family Papers
MsC 325
Collection Dates: 1879-1954

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

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Acquisition and Processing Information: Purchased by the University of Iowa Libraries in 2006.

Photographs: None

Letter from lawyer

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of correspondence of the extended O'Donovan family, which includes Timothy C. O'Donovan, son of M. and K. O'Donovan of Walker's Mills, Pennsylvania; his brothers Michael and John O'Donovan; Timothy's wife Lucinda (Lucy) Byrne O'Donovan; and their daughter Catherine.  Timothy and Lucy apparently also had sons or nephews, Timothy John O'Donovan and John Anthony O'Donovan for whom there are World War I materials present in the collection. This family lived at various times in Ebensburg, Boston, Chartiers, Shousetown, and Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. They received letters from their cousins Margaret, W. D., and James Yost in San Francisco. There are also materials here for M.D. O'Donovan (probably Michael) and for Ella Byrne, probably a sister-in-law.

Michael O'Donovan is represented here by a 4-page letter dated 1883, references in others' letters, and newspaper clippings.

Early letters to O'Donovan are from his future wife (romantic content), parents (describing events in their Irish-American neighborhood in Walker's Mills), and cousins living in San Francisco, California (7 letters, 3 dating 1880-1890), who wrote of family political sentiments, Christmas presents, news of Pittsburgh gleaned from California newspapers, and the flu epidemic of 1918.

With Timothy O'Donovan's letters are 14 letters to his wife, 1896-1914, from various friends and relatives, including his own type-written note, September 17, 1896, "Mama will you kindly kiss me? Dont know how I would like this instrument (i.e., his new typewriter) after I had my money in it but this is a sample of the work that I can do on it after only very little practice shall I keep it would you like to write on it? your hubby T. C. O'Donovan"; and 5 letters to Catherine O'Donovan dating 1908-1940, the last of which mentions the novelty of having "about thirty Italians" in their Ebensburg parish church, and other news, including two bits of foreign intelligence that struck home: "Just to think Hitler was once a R. Catholic and Joe Stalin studied for the Priesthood. "

In all, 101 letters (64.4% dating before 1900), small octavo to quarto, totaling 224 pages. Together with 3 postcards, 12 sheets of legal documents, 50 pieces of related ephemera (railroad passes, bills, bank statements, post office return receipts, etc.), and many newspaper clippings. Letters and other papers very good, clean, and legible, most with their postally used envelopes.

Biographical Note

Timothy O'Donovan, originally of Walker's Mills, Allegheny County, worked as a telegraph operator, freight and ticket agent, and supervisor with the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, & St. Louis Railway Co., the New York & New England Railroad, and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad. (25 letters on railroad letterheads, 6 telegrams, and three passes, 1879-1898, document his railroad work, including his regular attempts for promotion.) He had legal aspirations, as demonstrated by an 1880 letter from Pittsburgh attorney L. L. Davis offering advice regarding law studies. Four years later O'Donovan signed a detailed contract (present in the collection) to have a double-tenement built for himself, but not until the turn of the century did he free himself from railroad work. After 1900 O'Donovan's papers indicate he engaged in insurance work and real estate. By late life he had prospered sufficiently to be appointed trustee of the Pennsylvania Training School by Governor George Earle (signed appointment present in the collection). He and Lucy had a son, Henry B., who died at the age of 11 months.

His older brother Michael was a telegraph boy who passed the bar, became President of the McKees Rocks Trust Company, and ran as the Democrats' 1906 U. S. Congressional candidate from Pennsylvania's 32nd District. Clippings from his campaigns are part of the collection.

Box Contents List

Box 1

T. C. O'Donovan correspondence and related documents

T. C. O'Donovan railroad correspondence

Letters to T.C. O'Donovan from relatives in San Francisco

Letters to Lucy O'Donovan

Letters to Catherine O'Donovan

Newspaper clippings and war department documents

Newspaper clippings from Michael O'Donovan's campaign

Financial documents