Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

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Jeanne McHugh Kerr papers relating to Alexander Lyman Holley (Ms.2012.016)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Tel: 401-863-2146

Biographical note

Alexander Lyman Holley was born in Lakeville, Connecticut, on July 20, 1832, to Alexander Hamilton Holley, who was the governor of Connecticut from 1857 to 1858, and Jane Lyman Holley. Holley earned a Bachelor of Philosophy from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1853. He was the first student to graduate from Brown with a major in engineering. After graduation he worked at the Corliss Steam Engine Company (later Corliss and Nightingale) in Providence. After leaving that position in 1855, Holley worked for several other railroad companies, edited a magazine called Holley's Railroad Advocate, and traveled to Europe to study railroad design.

In 1863 Holley purchased the rights to the Bessemer steel manufacturing process. He designed the first Bessemer Steel Works in Troy, New York, in 1864. Holley went on to design most of the largest steelworks in America during the 19th century. He was considered to be the foremost designer and engineer of steel manufacturing plants of his time. Of the patents Holley held, ten were for improvements in the Bessemer process.

In addition to his work as a metallurgist and engineer, Holley wrote two books. The first, The Permanent Way and Coal-Burning Locomotives of European Railways (1858), was based on his travels in Europe studying railroad design. The second, A Treatise on Ordance and Armor (1865), concerned the design of guns for naval warfare. He also wrote numerous articles in professional journals and over three hundred articles on engineering topics for the New York Times. In 1880, he founded the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He also served as the president of the Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers and the vice-president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Holley married Mary Slade in 1855. They had two daughters.

Holley died on January 29, 1882, in Brooklyn, New York, after a short illness. A memorial to Holley was unveiled in 1890 in Washington Square Park in New York City. In 1965, the Barus and Holley building at Brown University was named in honor of the physicist Carl Barus and alumnus Alexander Lyman Holley.

Biographical note

Jeanne McHugh Kerr was born in 1908 in Cleveland, Ohio. She began studying piano at the age of six and received a degree in education from the Junior Teacher's College in Cleveland. In 1925 she began to study piano with Harrison Kerr, a composer of contemporary classical music, whom she married in 1928. That year she and her husband accepted positions at the Chase School (a private day school and junior college for girls) in Brooklyn, New York, where Harrison Kerr was appointed the director of music and art. In 1932, the Kerr's became coeditors of a fine arts quarterly called Trend, which ceased publication in 1935. After resigning her position at the Chase School in 1934, Mrs. Kerr enrolled in a business school in New York City to study filing systems. She then took a position at the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), where she organized the filing sytems and created a library. To improve her knowledge of the processes used in the iron and steel industry, she took classes in metallurgy at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

Mrs. Kerr was the first woman to be promoted to an executive position at the AISI. She was both the librarian and the Assistant to the Vice-President of Sciences and Technology. She resigned in 1949 to move to Norman, Oklahoma, where her husband had been appointed Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma. During the years she lived in Norman, Mrs. Kerr continued her research on the life of Alexander Lyman Holley and the history of the iron and steel industry. Her book entitled Alexander Holley and the Makers of Steel, published under the name Jeanne McHugh by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 1980.

Mrs. Kerr was a member of the American Society for Metals and the Society for the History of Technology. When the AISI was given a Distinguished Service Award from the Ordnance Department of the United States Army in 1944, the President of the AISI, Walter S. Tower, presented Mrs. Kerr with a personal copy of the award in recognition of the part she played in gaining it for the Institute.

Jeanne Kerr passed away in Norman, Oklahoma, on December 24, 1986. Harrison Kerr passed away in August 1978.