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Edith Farnsworth papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Farnsworth

Scope and Content of the Collection

Mainly Farnsworth's correspondence, memoirs, poetry, poetry translations, photographs of family and friends, and other miscellany, 1900-1977. Correspondence, dating primarily from 1967 to 1977, is with friends and family, publishers and lawyers. There are six letters from Eugenio Montale, two addressed to him, and one to Albino Pierro.

Dating mainly from the period of her retirement, Farnsworth's works include her memoirs, her own poetry and her translations of the verses of Italian poets including Eugenio Montale, Albino Pierro, Vincenzo Cardarelli, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Alfonso Gatto, Mario Luzi, Sandro Penna, Clemente Rebora, Camille Sbarbaro, and Giuseppe Ungaretti. There are also short essays, several on Italian poets.

Included are six journals kept by Farnsworth which contain her memoirs and other writings. In the first three volumes are Farnsworth's memoirs which discuss her childhood in Chicago, Winnetka, and Wisconsin lumbering villages; her education at a Berkshires boarding school, the University of Chicago, and in Italy; her medical internship, fellowship and practice at the Passavant Hospital, and her research work in nephritis; and her association with architect Mies van der Rohe during the design and construction of the Farnsworth House at Plano, Illinois. The fourth journal contains her translation into Italian of "The Little Locksmith" by her life-long friend, Katharine Butler. The fifth and sixth volumes contain poetry translations, as do all the other volumes.

There are also several works by individuals other than Farnsworth, including poems by Eugenio Montale and a journal kept by Albert Martin Kales, a Chicago lawyer.

There are photographs of Farnsworth as a child, alone and with her sister, Marion, and mother, Alice, as well as photographs of other family members and of Eugenio Montale. In addition there are interior and exterior shots of the Farnsworth House, and a ca. 1900 view of lumber workers, probably in Wisconsin, taking a lunch break.


  • Creation: 1900-1977



Materials are in English and Italian.


The Edith Farnsworth papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Edith Farnsworth papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Edith Farnsworth

Chicago physician, translator of Italian poetry.

Edith Farnsworth was born in 1903 to George James Farnsworth, a Wisconsin and Chicago lumber manufacturer, and Mary Alice Brooks Farnsworth. Educated at the University of Chicago (English literature and composition) and the American Conservatory of Music (violin and theory), Farnsworth continued her musical studies with Mario Corti in Rome during the 1920's. There she also learned Italian and studied the country's literature. In the 1930s Farnsworth turned to medicine, graduating from the medical school of Northwestern University. At the beginning of World War II she joined the staff of the Passavant Hospital and specialized in diseases of the kidney.

Farnsworth retired in 1967 and moved to Bagno a Ripoli near Florence, Italy. She spent her final years translating Italian poetry and becoming acquainted with Nobel Prize-winning poet, Eugenio Montale. Three volumes of her translations of the work of Montale, Albino Pierro, and Salvatore Quasimodo were published by the Henry Regnery Co., 1969-1976.

In the late 1940s Farnsworth contracted with Mies van der Rohe to design and build a weekend cottage for her on the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. Tremendous cost overruns incurred during the construction of the "Farnsworth House" led Farnsworth to sue the architect. The home's notoriety made it far from the private retreat Farnsworth had envisioned, and in 1968 she began the process of selling it to Lord Peter Palumbo, a London real estate developer and collector of architects' houses.

Farnsworth died in 1978.


2.6 Linear Feet (3 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, memoirs, photographs, and Italian poetry translations of Edith Farnsworth, a Chicago physician and owner of a Plano, Illinois, home designed by Mies van der Rohe. Farnsworth retired to Italy in the late 1960s.


The papers are organized by type of material: correspondence, photographs, works, works of others, and miscellaneous.

Collection Stack Location

1 17 7; 1 16 5


Gift of Fairbank Carpenter, May 7, 1991.

Processed by

Martha Briggs, 2000.

Inventory of the Edith Farnsworth Papers, 1900-1977
Finding aid prepared by Martha Briggs
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011-08-18: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States