Skip to main content

Rakestraw-Whitson Family Papers

Identifier: MS442

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, poetry, personal narratives, biographical information, genealogies, obituaries, and photographs documenting the lives of the Whitson and Rakestraw families of Chester and Lancaster counties, Pennsylvania. The bulk of the collection consists of letters exchanged between the members of the Theodore and Eliza Rakestraw Whitson family, dating primarily from the years between the oldest children's departure for school at West Chester State Normal School and the oldest son's death in 1901. The collection also includes correspondence between Martha Whitson and her future husband, Frank Fetter as well as letters from other family members and friends. In addition to the correspondence, the collection contains poetry and essays by Eliza Rakestraw Whitson including a bound, handwritten volume entitled "Poems by the Way"; an obituary and biographical sketch dealing with the life of Thomas Whitson V, Theodore Whitson's father; a tribute to Theodore and Eliza Whitson by Theodore's brother, Thomas, delivered on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary; Theodore Whitson's "Personal Recollections of the Civil War," Lydia Rakestraw Bushong's "History of Our Great Grandfather, Henry Bushong," Sarah Rakestraw Bower's recollections (Sarah was Eliza Whitson's oldest sister); "Sketch of My Mother and Father Abraham and Lydia Bushong Rakestraw" by Eliza Rakestraw Whiston; and papers related to the life of Olive Whitson including "Recollections of My Early Life," "Portraits - New and Old," and "Recollections of My Father, Theodore Whitson" written by Olive in the years between 1954 and 1970. A few photographs of the family and of one of their residences are included in the collection.


  • 1862-1901

Conditions Governing Use

Archives and Special Collections of McNairy Library will reproduce Special Collections material to the extent that physical condition and copyright or other legal restrictions permit. Reproduction is available in the form of photocopies and digital images. All reproduction requests must be approved by a member of the professional staff. Decisions will take into account the type and condition of the binding, the brittleness of the paper, the size and the general size and fragility of the item.


Theodore Whitson, the son of Thomas Whitson V and Martha Hobson Whitson, was born on February 12, 1840, into a Quaker family whose Lancaster County home served as a station on the underground railroad. Whitson attended Millersville State Normal School during the 1857-1858 academic year. Despite his Quaker beliefs, he joined Company E of the 122nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War and saw action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The company was mustered out on May 16, 1863, and Theodore returned home to Lancaster County. On January 26, 1865, he married Eliza Rakestraw, the daughter of Abraham and Lydia Bushong Rakestraw. For much of his life, Theodore Whitson was a farmer, farming land, at various times, in the Chester County communities of Kennett, Homeville, and Atglen. As his health declined in the early 1890s, the family moved to Atglen where Theodore operated a nursery business, growing primarily flowers. Theodore Whitson died in Atglen on January 5, 1899. Eliza Rakestraw Whitson was born on December 6, 1840. She also attended Millersville State Normal School during the 1857-1858 academic year, then taught for a few years before her marriage. In addition to raising her family, Eliza was a poet and writer whose contributions were published in the Lancaster newspaper. After her husband's death, she sold her home in Atglen and moved to Ithaca, New York, where one of her daughters was then living. For the remainder of her life, she lived with or near her married daughters, spending time both in Ithaca and in Princeton, New Jersey, when a son-in-law's job took him to that area. Eliza Rakestraw Whitson died in August of 1921. Theodore and Eliza Whitson had seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Their second son, Edward, died in infancy, while the fourth son, Thomas, died of diphtheria at the age of 14 in 1890. Sumner, the oldest son, was born on April 30, 1866. He attended West Chester State Normal School and was employed by the First National Bank of West Chester, then by Pyle and Brown, a West Chester-based firm with interests in the west. In 1892, he was sent to Kansas to collect money owed to the Southern Kansas Mortgage Company. He settled in Wellington, Kansas and married Lula Frantz on October 20, 1896, with whom he had three daughters. The couple moved to Wichita where Sumner died of typhoid on December 26, 1901. Martha Whitson was born on June 23, 1868. She also attended the West Chester State Normal School, then taught school in several locations including Oxford, Ohio and at the Friends School in Wilmington Delaware. While furthering her education at Cornell University during the 1894-1895 school year, she met Frank Fetter, an economist. The couple were married on July 16, 1896, eventually becoming the parents of three children. They moved several times during the early years of their marriage, eventually returning to Ithaca, where Frank Fetter taught at Cornell University from 1901 to 1911. In 1911, he accepted a position at Princeton University as the first chairman of Princeton University's Department of Economics and Social institutions. Two years later, he became president of the American Economic Association. Frank Fetter died on March 21, 1949. Martha Whitson Fetter died on April 4, 1954. Henry Whitson was born on April 2, 1872. He attended West Chester State Normal School, then worked in the insurance business in Baltimore. When his father's health began to fail in the early 1890s, Henry returned to Atglen and joined Theodore in his nursery business, also starting a mushroom growing operation. When income from the business was insufficient to support the family, Henry went to work for a real estate business in Philadelphia until the time of his father's death. He then went into the real estate and insurance business with his brother, Sumner, in Wichita. continuing the business for a few years after Sumner's death. Henry eventually moved to Boise Idaho, marrying Hester Grey on December 14, 1910. He died on July 26, 1952. Mary Whitson was born on July 16, 1878. She attended Swarthmore College and the University of Indiana, teaching school for a few years before completing her education at Cornell University in 1905. After teaching for an additional year, she married George F. Warren, soon to become the chairman of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Cornell University. The marriage produced six children before George Warren's death in 1938. Mary Whitson Warren was active in a number of organizations in the Ithaca area, including the Girl Scouts. She died on April 23, 1958. Olive Whitson was born in Homeville, Chester County on December 22, 1882. She attended West Chester State Normal School from 1900 to 1902, then taught school in Chatham and Baltimore before continuing her education at Cornell. She graduated from Cornell in 1910, then became one of the head workers at the Hudson Guild on New York City's Lower West Side, a position she held for more than thirty years. Later she worked with a Quaker program serving European refugees based at Powell House in New York then undertook responsibilities at Quaekerhaus in Vienna from 1955 to 1957. She died on December 10, 1977 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.


1.00 Cubic Feet (Received Extent)

Language of Materials


Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Millersville University Special Collections Repository

9 North George Street
McNairy Library, PO Box 1002
Millersville University
Millersville 17551-302 US