Industrial photographer and librarian, Providence, R.I.
Size: 2 lin. ft.
Catalog number: MSS 1025
Processed by: Robin Flynn
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Laurence Edward Tilley, the son of Charles E. and Laura (Sawin) Tilley, was born in Providence, Rhode Island on January 2, 1899. He attended Hope High School and was a 1920 graduate of Amherst College. Tilley left Providence for New York in 1923, working in sales and writing, and remained there until the mid-1930s, when he moved to Washington, D.C. with his new wife Mildred (Cornelius), whom he had met in New York and married in 1934. Mildred was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1902, the daughter of Chester and Gertrude (Smith) Cornelius. She grew up in El Reno, Oklahoma and was a graduate of the University of Kansas. After graduation from college Mildred went to Chicago, where she worked for department stores and for the magazine Photoplay, with assignments in Hollywood, and then New York.
In Washington, Laurence worked as a representative of the Automatic Electric Company of Chicago, and for the Office of Price Administration. During their years in Washington and at later intervals, Laurence and Mildred produced games which were sold nationwide, and produced articles and photographs which were published in such magazines as Family Circle and The New Yorker. The couple returned to Providence permanently in 1947, at which time Laurence developed his photography hobby into a business, establishing himself as an industrial photographer in an office in the Providence Arcade. Mildred worked for advertising agencies and as a librarian at the Rhode Island Historical Society. She also collaborated with her husband in producing whimsical photographs of objects assembled to represent people and animals, which were published in newspapers in the United States and Europe.
From the 1970s onward, Laurence was an occasional contributor to the editors of the Providence Journal and the Wall Street Journal. He remained an active correspondent with former Amherst classmates and wrote obituaries for Amherst alumni. In 1983, a collaboration by Laurence and Mildred titled Oddsburg, USA, was published. The book is a compilation of imaginary characters assembled from stationery supplies, and photographed in black and white.
Mildred became ill in the late 1980s, and died in Providence in 1990. Laurence died January 23, 1999 at the age of 100. There were no children of the Tilleys' marriage.
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Scope and content:
Approximately half the collection is comprised of personal correspondence. The earliest correspondence is to Laurence's mother, Laura (Sawin) Tilley. Letters range from 1893 to 1998; correspondence from the 1980s forward frequently mention issues of aging among the Tilleys and their friends. Most of the correspondence is in the form of Christmas cards, in which most correspondents tended to catch up with Laurence and Mildred about annual events.
The collection contains relatively little pertaining to Laurence's career as an industrial photographer or, generally, about his life prior to his marriage to Mildred. There is a small amount of manuscript material for projects he submitted to magazines and publishers. There are more papers pertaining to Mildred's personal affairs than there are for Laurence; for instance, papers concerning her mother's ancestry and parents' estates, Mildred's inheritances of land and oil and mineral exploration rights out West, and research notes on American Indians and her work as a librarian at the Rhode Island Historical Society. Other papers for both Laurence and Mildred include vital record information, wills and like legal documents, and papers for their house in Providence.
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The papers were donated to the Manuscripts Division by Laurence Tilley in October,
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Most of the correspondence (especially Christmas cards) came to the library in chronologically-arranged bundles. This arrangement was generally undisturbed during processing. Other groups of papers arrived similarly arranged, such as papers pertaining to the Tilleys' Providence house; Mildred's mother's ancestry; Mildred's research notes on the Iroquois; and papers relating to Mildred's land inheritances and her parents' estates. As with the correspondence, rearrangement of these groups was minimal. All papers were placed in acid-free folders and boxes.
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Series 1. Correspondence.
Folder 1. Laura (Sawin) Tilley, 1893, 1895.
Folder 2. LET and MCT, 1923-1974.
Folder 3. LET, to Providence Journal and Wall Street Journal, 1976-1996.
Folder 4. LET and MCT, 1978, 1979.
Folder 5. LET, letters concerning Sawin family genealogy, 1978.
Folder 6. LET, "Kill the Lawyers" bumper sticker requests, 1978-1980.
Folder 7. LET and MCT, 1982-1984.
Folder 8. LET and MCT, 1985.
Folder 9. LET and MCT, 1986.
Folder 10. LET and MCT, 1987, 1988.
Folder 11. LET and MCT, 1989.
Folder 12. LET and MCT, 1990, 1991.
Folder 13. LET, copies of outgoing correspondence, 1990-1992.
Folder 14. LET, 1992, 1993.
Folder 15. 1994-1998 and undated.
Folder 16. Christmas card mailing lists, 1982-1994.
Series 2. LET and MCT, professional and freelance projects.
Folder 17. 1933c-1986 and undated.
Folder 18. 1936-1949 and undated.
Folder 19. Oddsburg, USA, 1957-1983.
Folder 20. MCT, "References accumulated during R.I.H.S. library work" (2 notebooks) and address book, undated.
Folder 1. MCT, freelance income, 1974-1977.
Folder 2. MCT, research notes, Iroquois Nation, ca. 1950s-1970s.
Series 3. Tilley and Cornelius family histories.
Folder 3. Army discharge certificate, Charles H. Tilley, 1865.
Folder 4. Laura (Sawin) Tilley, books kept on childhood development of LET, 1899, 1904 and published version in Association of Collegiate Alumnae, 1910.
Folder 5. Laura (Sawin) Tilley, books kept on childhood development of Winthrop Sawin Tilley, 1902.
Folder 6. LET, birth record (copy, 1942) and driver's license; MCT baptismal certificate (copy), 1902.
Folder 7. MCT, grammar school memory book, 1908-1916; high school diploma, 1920.
Folder 8. LET, discharge from U.S. Army, 1918.
Folder 9. LET and MCT marriage certificate, 1934.
Folder 10. LET, personnel documents, Office of Price Administration, 1944, 1945; photography certificate, 1968.
Folder 11. LCT, self-written obituary drafts, undated.
Folder 12. Notes and correspondence concerning ancestry of Gertrude Smith Cornelius, ca. 1870s-1930s (folder contains photographic material).
Folders 13 and 14. Papers and correspondence concerning the estate of Gertrude Smith Cornelius, 1939-1959.
Folder 15. Papers and correspondence concerning the estate of C. P. Cornelius, 1934.
Folder 16. Correspondence concerning MCT land in New Mexico, 1962-1972.
Folder 17. Documents concerning Eddy County, New Mexico land, 1964-1977.
Folder 18. Correspondence and papers concerning MCT's oil and mineral exploration rights in the West and/or Mid-West, ca. 1980s.
Folder 19. Ownership transfers, oil and mineral rights, 1991, 1992.
Series 4. Vital records and legal papers.
Folder 20. LET, wills and obituary, 1972-1999.
Folder 21. MCT, wills, obituary, death certificate, 1972-1990.
Folder 22. LCT and MCT, living trust agreements and powers of attorney, 1986, 1987.
Folder 23. Documents for house at 9 Hidden Street, Providence, 1953-1987.
Folder 24. LCT, Charlesgate Nursing Center lease and documents, 1981-1997 and undated.
Series 5. Miscellaneous.
Folder 25. Obituaries written for Amherst College alumni by LET, undated.
Folder 26. Amherst College publications concerning Class of 1920, 1920-1973.
Folder 27. Marriage contract, Leandre Isac Parent and Angelique Dion, 1831.
Folder 28. Diary by Laura Gertrude (Smith) Cornelius, written while visiting daughter Mildred in Chicago, June 1926. See diary guide.
Folder 29. N.Y., N.H., & Hartford Railroad stock certificate, Nina Chapman, 1937.
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Tilley, Laurence Edward (1899-1999)
Tilley, Mildred (Cornelius) (1903-1990)
Tilley, Winthrop Sawin (1902-1993)
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