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Eli Whitney Blake (1867-1902) papers

Biographical note

Eli Whitney Blake was born in New Haven, Connecticut on February 13, 1867. He was the son of Eli Whitney Blake, Jr. (1836-1895) and Helen Mary Rood Blake (1832-1869). He had one sister, Alida Blake Hazard (Mrs. Barclay Hazard) (1861-1938). Blake's father was the Hazard Professor of Physics at Brown University from 1870 until shortly before his death in 1895.

Blake studied zoology and English at Brown University. He was interested in the theater, as evident in many of his letters, and participated in several productions while at Brown. He was also one of the editors of the Brunonian, the student newspaper, and a member of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and Phi Beta Kappa, the national academic honor society. He graduated from Brown in 1888.

Blake received his LL. B. degree from the Harvard Law School in 1891. Rather than begin a law practice he moved to Hampton, Virginia, to teach at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University. Hampton was founded in 1868 by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839-1893) with help from the American Missionary Society and other philanthropic organizations. Its purpose was to provide education and vocational training to freed slaves. In 1878 the first American Indian students were admitted. While at Hampton, Blake taught Greek and geometry and was on the editorial staff of the school's magazine, The Southern Workman, to which he contributed occasional articles and book reviews. He was also the Assistant Disciplinarian in charge of the American Indian students. Blake continued to visit Hampton for many years after he left his position there. In 1905 his sister contributed $5000 to the school to establish the Eli Whitney Blake Museum endowment fund. The museum would house the Indian artifacts collected by General Armstrong and other faculty at Hampton.

Blake returned to Providence in June 1892 to work as the general manager of the Providence Society for Organizing Charity, now Family Services, Inc. In 1894 he moved to Syracuse, New York, where he was employed at the Solvay Process Works. This chemical plant produced soda ash and caustic soda, used in the making of glass. The plant was owned in part by members of the Hazard family of Rhode Island, to whom Blake was related. Richard M. Atwater, Sr., with whom Blake corresponded, was recruited to work there in 1893. Atwater was a chemist noted for his contributions to the manufacture of scientific glassware.

After leaving the Solvay Process Works Blake moved to New York City, where he practiced law. He passed away on August 30, 1902, at the age of thirty-five. In her memoir, The Blakes of 77 Elm St., his sister Alida described her brother Whitney as a man with a unique and brilliant personality, who not only made friends but kept them and was lovingly remembered by all his contemporaries.

Richard M. Atwater, Sr., (1844-1922) was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Brown University in 1865. In 1867 he married Abby Sophia Greene (1844-1935). Richard and Abby had nine children, among them Sophia Mead Atwater, Elizabeth Arnold Atwater and Marjory Garrison Atwater. Atwater was made Quaker Trustee of Brown University in 1878. After a successful career as a chemist and businessman both in the United States and in Europe, he and his wife retired to a farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, in 1906.

Little is known about Sophia and Stephen Atwater. Sophia was born on or around 1869. She was living with her parents in Chadds Ford in 1920. The vendor who sold this collection to the Brown library describes Sophia and Stephen as siblings, but there is no evidence in these papers that they were brother and sister.