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Joseph Kirkland Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Kirkland

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, literary works, and a small miscellany of Joseph Kirkland, 1842-1939. The letters are mainly from Kirkland to his wife and children in which he describes his life in Chicago while they are abroad and the progress of his novel-writing, a few letters from his wife and daughters to him and to each other, plus several others. Included are copies of transcriptions of twenty letters Kirkland wrote to Hamlin Garland in 1887 and 1888, the originals of which are elsewhere.

Among the works are articles, notes, some poems, two plays, a story and a journal kept when the young Kirkland went to England in 1847. The miscellaneous material consists of articles about Kirkland, biographical sketches, and a long sketch on the Kirklands and their Chicago neighbors, genealogical information, obituaries, three photographs of Kirkland and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings.


  • Creation: 1842-1939



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Joseph Kirkland Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Joseph Kirkland 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.

Biography of Joseph Kirkland

Chicago lawyer and author.

Joseph Kirkland was born in Geneva, New York in 1830 and lived mostly in the East until he entered private business in Illinois in 1856. He first worked as an auditor for the Illinois Central Railway, then a supervisor of mining operations for a coal company. During the Civil War he was aide-de-camp to Generals George McClellan and Fitz-John Porter, and afterwards he tried establishing a coal-mining enterprise before becoming an agent for the Internal Revenue Service. Finally, in 1880 at age fifty, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and practiced law for the next ten years. However, what he really wanted was to become a serious author, which meant his writing career came rather late in life.

Kirkland had been developing his literary talent by experimenting with playwriting and writing book reviews for the Chicago Dial. During the 1870's and 1880's he had poems, articles and stories published in various Chicago newspapers and periodicals, but his literary reputation, albeit a modest one, rests on the publication of the first of his three novels, Zury: The Meanest Man in Spring County (1887). The book, based on his own experiences and his keen ear for Midwestern speech and character, received good reviews and sold well, though the following two novels, The McVeys in 1888 and The Captain of Company K in 1889 were not as accomplished. Because of Zury Kirkland has been credited as a pioneering realist, the first to present a truthful portrayal of Midwestern farm life, and apparently the novel inspired both Stephen Crane and Hamlin Garland.

In 1889 Kirkland was the literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, which two years later printed his series of letters from Nicaragua where he had gone as a special correspondent, and he continued to be published in Century, Scribner's and Atlantic. His last works were local histories, The Story of Chicago (1891) and The Chicago Massacre of 1812 (1893).

Joseph Kirkland married Theodosia B. Wilkinson and they had four children. He died in Chicago of a heart attack in 1894.


0.4 Linear Feet (1 box)


Correspondence, mainly written by Chicago lawyer and author Joseph Kirkland to and from members of his family, and copies of letters he wrote to Hamlin Garland. Also, a few of Kirkland's works, and some miscellaneous material including biographical, genealogical and social information regarding Kirkland, his family and his literary career.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1842-1938, bulk 1880-1890
Box 1
Series 2: Works, 1847-1894
Box 1
Series 3: Miscellaneous, 1863-1939
Box 1

Collection Stack Location

1 23 7


Gift of Joseph Kirkland's granddaughters, Louisa Sanborn Hill (Mrs. Boyd Hill) and Caroline Sanborn Krum (Mrs. Morrow Krum), 1945.

Processed by

Virginia H. Smith, 2005.

Inventory of the Joseph Kirkland Papers, 1842-1939
Virginia H. Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

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

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States