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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the O'Donovan Family Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1879-1954
Creator: O'Donovan Family
Extent: .25 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0325
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Letters of an extended Irish family from Allegheny and Cambria counties. Includes, among other items, correspondence with several railroads, for whom Timothy O'Donovan worked, letters from Lucinda Byrne to her future husband, World War I documents, and correspondence with cousins in San Francisco.

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: Purchased by the University of Iowa Libraries in 2006.

Preferred Citation: O'Donovan Family Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Timothy O'Donovan, originally of Walker's Mills, Allegheny County, worked as a telegraph operator, freight and ticket agent, and supervisor with the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, & St. Louis Railway Co., the New York & New England Railroad, and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad. (25 letters on railroad letterheads, 6 telegrams, and three passes, 1879-1898, document his railroad work, including his regular attempts for promotion.) He had legal aspirations, as demonstrated by an 1880 letter from Pittsburgh attorney L. L. Davis offering advice regarding law studies. Four years later O'Donovan signed a detailed contract (present in the collection) to have a double-tenement built for himself, but not until the turn of the century did he free himself from railroad work. After 1900 O'Donovan's papers indicate he engaged in insurance work and real estate. By late life he had prospered sufficiently to be appointed trustee of the Pennsylvania Training School by Governor George Earle (signed appointment present in the collection). He and Lucy had a son, Henry B., who died at the age of 11 months. Their surviving children are Catherine (July 7, 1888-April 27, 1972), Edmund Anthony (December 12, 1891-March 23, 1954) John Anthony (February 21, 1894-September 22, 1955), and Timothy Joseph (December 24, 1899-November ?, 1969)

His older brother Michael was a telegraph boy who passed the bar, became President of the McKees Rocks Trust Company, and ran as the Democrats' 1906 U. S. Congressional candidate from Pennsylvania's 32nd District. Clippings from his campaigns are part of the collection.

This collection is comprised of correspondence of the extended O'Donovan family, which includes Timothy C. O'Donovan, son of M. and K. (Michael and Katherine) O'Donovan of Walker's Mills, Pennsylvania; his brother Michael O'Donovan; Timothy's wife Lucinda (Lucy) Byrne O'Donovan; their son John; and their daughter Catherine. There are World War I materials present in the collection for their sons John Anthony O'Donovan and Timothy Joseph O'Donovan . This family lived at various times in Ebensburg, Boston, Chartiers, Shousetown, and Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. They received letters from their cousins Margaret, W. D., and James Yost in San Francisco. There are also materials here for M.D. O'Donovan (probably Michael) and for Ella Byrne, Lucy's sister.

Michael O'Donovan is represented here by a 4-page letter dated 1883, references in others' letters, and newspaper clippings.

Early letters to O'Donovan are from his future wife (romantic content), parents (describing events in their Irish-American neighborhood in Walker's Mills), and cousins living in San Francisco, California (7 letters, 3 dating 1880-1890), who wrote of family political sentiments, Christmas presents, news of Pittsburgh gleaned from California newspapers, and the flu epidemic of 1918.

With Timothy O'Donovan's letters are 14 letters to his wife, 1896-1914, from various friends and relatives, including his own type-written note, September 17, 1896, "Mama will you kindly kiss me? Dont know how I would like this instrument (i.e., his new typewriter) after I had my money in it but this is a sample of the work that I can do on it after only very little practice shall I keep it would you like to write on it? your hubby T. C. O'Donovan"; and 5 letters to Catherine O'Donovan dating 1908-1940, the last of which mentions the novelty of having "about thirty Italians" in their Ebensburg parish church, and other news, including two bits of foreign intelligence that struck home: "Just to think Hitler was once a R. Catholic and Joe Stalin studied for the Priesthood. "

In all, 101 letters (64.4% dating before 1900), small octavo to quarto, totaling 224 pages. Together with 3 postcards, 12 sheets of legal documents, 50 pieces of related ephemera (railroad passes, bills, bank statements, post office return receipts, etc.), and many newspaper clippings. Letters and other papers very good, clean, and legible, most with their postally used envelopes.

Browse by Series:

  • Box 1:
  • T. C. O'Donovan correspondence and related documents
  • T. C. O'Donovan railroad correspondence
  • Letters to T.C. O'Donovan from relatives in San Francisco
  • Letters to Lucy O'Donovan
  • Letters to Catherine O'Donovan
  • Series 2: CLIPPINGS
  • Box 1:
  • Newspaper clippings and war department documents
  • Newspaper clippings from Michael O'Donovan's campaign
  • Box 1:
  • Financial documents
  • Miscellaneous
  • Photographs

This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.