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Scope and Contents

From the Collection:

The Mary Bywater Cross papers date from 1819 to 2016 and measure 15.5 linear feet in 18 boxes. The papers are arranged in 6 series: Family History, Ray and Janet Bywater, Mary Bywater Cross, Photographs, Audiovisual, and Artifacts. The first several boxes of the collection deal with genealogical research into several generations of Mary Bywater Cross’s ancestors, while the rest represents her and her parents’ personal lives.

The Family History series (1814-2016) is made up of genealogical history collected by Mary Bywater Cross and her mother, Janet McNeill Bywater. The documents are a mix of photocopies and original materials. The series is split into five subseries reflecting different generations, largely along Cross’s matrilineal line: Campbell family, Smith family, Whittemore and Hutchins family, McNeill family, and Bywater family.

The Campbell family subseries traces several generations of the Campbell family and their ancestors in Connecticut back to Timothy Pierce (1673-1748). Photocopies of genealogical documents such as family trees, indenture contracts and military service records from the Revolutionary War and French and Indian Wars make up a large portion of this subseries. It also contains invitations and news clippings related to a Campbell family reunion in 1925 and photocopies of correspondence of the Campbell family in 1800s. Besides documentation of the Campbell family, this subseries includes a small number of photocopies of research into the families of Sarah Dixon Campbell, Phebe Stewart Campbell, and Experience King Campbell. Images of some of these family members, the Campbell family home, and the 1925 Campbell reunion can be found in the Photographs series.

The Smith subseries covers three generations of the Smith family. They moved from Salem, Massachusetts, to Dubuque, Iowa in the 1850s. The subseries begins with general documents such as inventories of correspondence between family members and of the family home. There are two folders concerning the lives of George King Smith and Mary Davis Smith, who moved with their children to Iowa in the 1850s. These folders contain mostly family correspondence spanning their lives before and after moving to the Midwest. Some of the letters are transcriptions, some are photocopies, and some are original documents. There are folders dedicated to four of their children: Henry Dwight, Edward Howard, Emily, and Mary Julia. Edward Howard Smith’s folder contains records of his Civil War enlistment. Emily and Mary Julia Smith’s folders include many letters home from Jenifer, Alabama where they ran a school for Black children.

The rest of the Smith Family subseries concerns Henry Dwight and Harriet Lavancha Campbell Smith and their children. Their biographical information spans three folders and contains correspondence between family members, some newspaper clippings, and vital statistics including obituaries and estate settlement documents. As with the rest of the collection, original documents are interspersed with photocopies and transcriptions.

The Whittemore and Hutchins family subseries contains materials about the family of Martha “Mattie” Hutchins Smith and her mother, Lydia Louisa Whittemore Hutchins. Hutchins Smith married Douglas H. Smith, the son of Henry D. Smith and Harriet Lavancha Campbell Smith in 1870. The subseries includes photocopied materials about the family’s history and locations where they lived along with several transcripts and original correspondence from the Hutchins family. Highlights include letters from William S. Hutchins to his wife Lydia Louisa Whittemore Hutchins while he was a representative in the New Hampshire state house and the diaries and correspondence of Martha Hutchins Smith and Lydia Louisa Hutchins shortly after they moved to Iowa in the 1860s. These record their impressions of Bowen’s Prairie, Iowa along with their daily activities. The Abbie Whittemore Whitney letters include letters from her family members serving in the Civil War.

The McNeill family subseries covers the family and life of Harriet Smith McNeill and her husband Albert McNeill. Harriet Smith McNeill was the daughter of Douglas H. Smith and Martha “Mattie” Hutchins Smith. The subseries begins with genealogical research into the McNeill family and an inventory of items in the family home in Monticello, Iowa. The original materials in the subseries include newspaper clippings about Albert McNeill’s business, McNeill Hardware and Harriet McNeill’s extensive correspondence with her extended family.

The Bywater family subseries consists of materials related to the family of Mary Bywater Cross’s father, Ray Bywater, and his parents Edward N. Bywater and Bertha Mercer Bywater. The subseries begins some genealogical records of Edward N. Bywater’s family and includes copies of some Civil War era military records belonging to Napoleon Bywater. This section of the subseries also has the narrative medical records of Edward N. Bywater’s final years spent as a patient in the Oregon State Hospital. The Mercer section of the subseries focuses on the family in Iowa City. It includes limited material on the family business, Economy Advertising, but has obituaries of several individual family members and two summaries of the family history written by Richard Mercer and Solomon Mercer.

The Raymond and Janet Bywater series (1903-2014) documents the lives and interests of Ray and Janet Bywater and their family. The series is split into five subseries: Biographical, Correspondence, Genealogy, Economy Advertising, and Travel.

The biographical subseries covers the Bywater’s personal lives and involvement in the University of Iowa. Along with information on their educations, their wedding and their children Bill and Nancy, it contains folders on their strong support of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Articles about their attendance at games can be found in the Iowa Hawkeyes folder, and information on their other support of the University of Iowa is in the Alumni Service Award folder.

The correspondence subseries makes up the bulk of the series and consists of letters between the Bywaters, their children, and their extended family. Much of this consists of correspondence between Janet Bywater and her eldest daughter, Mary Bywater Cross. There are several folders of correspondence between Janet Bywater and her cousin Muriel VanCamp about family history. The two shared an interest in genealogy and exchanged family photographs and documents.

The Genealogy subseries concerns Janet Bywater’s involvement with the Society of the Colonial Dames of America and its Iowa chapter.

The Economy Advertising subseries contains just a few folders about the Ray Bywater’s business, Economy Advertising, which was later taken up by his son, Bill. This section mostly consists of newspaper clippings from local papers.

The series ends with a travel subseries that has travel diaries from several of the Bywaters trips, most taken after their children were grown. One diary of interest may be their trip to Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympics.

Contains some newspaper articles about the family business Economy Advertising, but mostly deals with their personal lives. The series ends with files on two of their children: Bill “Willis” Bywater and Nancy Bywater Dornfeld.

The Mary Bywater Cross series (1942 – 2015) houses documents related to the life of Mary Bywater Cross and her immediate family. It is organized into five subseries: Childhood and Education, University of Iowa, Correspondence, Family and Community, and Quilting.

The Childhood and Education subseries consists of materials related to Cross’s student life and extracurricular interests including the Girl Scouts and The Order of the Rainbow Girls. It also includes one diary and memorabilia from her time at City High School in Iowa City, Iowa.

The University of Iowa subseries covers Cross’s schoolwork while a student at the University (then called the State University of Iowa) and also her social life. It consists of folders about her involvement in the sorority Pi Beta Phi and a series of handbooks aimed at foreign exchange students meant to assist them in adjusting socially to campus life in the United States by giving instruction on things like dating and making friends.

Correspondence is the largest subseries. A significant portion of it consists of a circle letter Cross participated in with members of her extended family. In a circle letter, each participant writes a letter to update the entire group and sends it to the next person in the circle along with all the other participant’s most recent letters. After a letter goes around the full circle, the writer removes it and replaces it with a new one for the next round. The subseries continues with Cross’s correspondence with her grandmother, Harriet Smith McNeill, and several extended family members including Muriel VanCamp, who also corresponded with her mother and grandmother about genealogy.

The Family and Community subseries covers Cross’s personal life including her marriage to Jim Cross and their children, Steven and Carol. It also contains small amounts of information about her professional and volunteer work in teaching, and her personal interest in genealogy.

The Quilting series contains a few folders about Cross’s work as a quilt historian and includes several articles written by Cross on the subject of quilting history as well as an article about a sampler by her great-great grandmother, Lydia Louisa Whittemore Hutchins. There are also several documents surrounding the publication of her 1993 book Treasures in the Trunk: Quilts of the Oregon Trail.

The Photographs series (1861-2004) consists of photographs and slides of Mary Bywater Cross and her family. This series is split into five subseries: Campbell family, Smith family, Whittemore and Hutchins family, Bywater family, and Mary Bywater Cross. Each subseries corresponds to an earlier subseries in the Family History series, apart from the Mary Bywater Cross subseries. Photographs of Cross, her parents, siblings, and children, make up the bulk of the series. However, the series does contain some images of her grandparents and great-grandparents and their families along with photographs of houses and house interiors, particularly in Monticello, Iowa. This series also includes a few stereographs of Keene, New Hampshire. The stereograph places two slightly different images next to each other on a card. When viewed through a stereopticon, the image appears three-dimensional.

The Audiovisual series, (1974-2002), includes several interviews that Mary Bywater Cross and others did with Smith and Mercer relatives in the 1970s and 1980s. There are also scanned images of family photographs, scanned pages of an autograph book belonging to Laura C. Smith, and a presentation about the Bywater family and their contributions to business in Iowa City given by Hills Bank in Iowa City.

The Artifacts series largely consists of materials related to textiles. Along with an assortment of Harriet Smith McNeill’s sewing notions there are two complete sewing kits belonging to the Mercer and Smith branches of Mary Bywater Cross’s family. The two kits are filled with a variety of sewing accoutrements and fabric scraps from the early 20th century, and possibly represent multiple generations of the family. This series also includes a ship’s log and a sampler which was completed by Lydia Louisa Whittemore Hutchins in the mid-1800s. This sampler was the subject of an article written by Mary Bywater Cross.


  • Creation: 1819-2016


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.


From the Collection: 15.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)