William H. Osborn Papers, 1895-1921

Manuscript Collection #41

  • Descriptive Summary
    Title: William H. Osborn Papers
    Creator: Osborn, William H. (William Henry), 1856-1921
    Repository: ECU Manuscript Collection
    Language: English
    Abstract: Papers (1895-1921) including correspondence, clippings, diary, invitations, statements, reports, genealogy, etc. relating to a prominent businessman who became mayor (1901-1905) of Greensboro (NC) and commissioner of internal revenue (1914-1917).
    Extent: 0.507 Cubic feet, 297 items , consisting of correspondence, clippings, a diary, invitations, statements, reports, genealogy, photographs, a pamphlet, a bound volume, and a minute book.
  • Description

    The bulk of the correspondence is between Osborn and his wife shortly after their marriage in 1894. Items of interest include mention of business talks with industrialist James B. Duke and a description of a conversation arising from the integration of a train car.

    Business and political correspondence includes letters from Secretary of Treasury William G. McAdoo, President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Comptroller of Currency John Skelton Williams, and others connected with Mr. Osborn's tenure of office. Letters from McAdoo concern support expected from President Wilson in a forthcoming campaign while others touch upon the problems of corporate tax collection. Osborn's resignation and reaction from McAdoo and the President (1917) are included.

    Newspapers and other clippings concern Mr. Osborn's career in government, and the Wilson administration. A significant quantity of material concerns Mr. Osborn's role in the investigation of tax scandals involving the oleomargarine, whiskey, and tobacco industries.

    Of particular interest is Mr. Osborn's diary for 1914, written while he was commissioner of internal revenue. The diary is rich in descriptions of contact with personages of the early Wilson administration, especially those concerned with Mr. Osborn's office, such as Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo. The references to Wilson, though partisan, offer many insights into Wilson and his first term. Examples of entries include criticism of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan's alleged love of money and paid lecture tours, Comptroller of Currency John Skelton Williams's extravagantly furnished offices and his presumed control over McAdoo, and complaints of Democrats over Wilson's refusal to oust Republican employees and his appointment of Roman Catholics to office.

    Many entries concern the problem of patronage, as Osborn had considerable trouble with Congress and Treasury employees. He complained continually about the inefficiency and waste caused by "spoils" adherents controlling government employment. His comments on government workers and the problems within his own administrative capacity are numerous.

    Comments concerning the then current problems of the Democratic Party are rather enlightening. Tammany, payment to Panama, the lengthy session of Congress hampering Democratic campaigning, and Wilson's tendency to regard bearers of unpleasant news as disloyal are included. Congressmen from North Carolina and other states are mentioned in the diary as are Wilson administrative figures.

    Miscellaneous items include a portrait of Osborn's father; photographs of Osborn as a member of an unidentified N.C. political group, W. W. Fuller, Osborn at Fuller's home, and Col. W. H. Osborn at his desk in Washington, D.C.; a report of Internal Revenue activities during his term of office; a family genealogy; a slate of Democratic candidates for the Greensboro, N.C., elections in 1901; a bill for repair of Osborn's summer home; and a copy of his tax return in 1917. This return was reportedly the first to be examined under the new income tax law of that year. Invitations, including three to the White House, reflect Osborn's attendance as an official at Washington social functions. Also included are a circular advertising Keeley Institute; a resolution of appreciation for Osborn's four years as mayor of Greensboro; a leather-bound booklet presented to Osborn on his retirement from the I.R.S. in 1917; a pamphlet entitled Internal Revenue, Brief History of Laws Relating Thereto; and a bound volume To Increase the Revenue, Hearings and Briefs Senate Finance Committee. Minutes (1914-1917) taken by Mrs. Osborn as secretary of the Florence Crittenton Branch of the Sunshine and Community Society of Washington, D. C., are also included. These minutes discuss cost of items given to the Florence Crittenton Home, numbers of women and babies in the home, methods of raising funds, purpose of the home, and lists of members of the society. On the reverse side of the November 1915 minutes is detailed printed information about cattle production on a Cheyenne Indian reservation in Lame Deer, Montana.

  • Biographical / Historical Note

    William H. Osborn (1856-1921) was a native of Granville County, N.C., and a prominent businessman in Greensboro, N.C. An interest in politics led him successfully to the mayoralty of Greensboro (1901-1905) and later to the office of commissioner of internal revenue (1914-1917). His business interests included farming, dealing in leaf tobacco and livestock, and ownership of the Keeley Institute at Greensboro, a sanitorium for alcoholics and drug addicts.

  • Administrative Information
    Accessions Information

    February 19, 1968, 42 items; Correspondence, invitations, clippings, hearings and reports.

    March 27, 1968, ca. 100 items; Correspondence, a diary, clippings, pictures, and miscellaneous.

    October 15, 1968, 42 items; Clippings.

    September 8, 1969, 1 item; Letter of Josephus Daniels to W. H. Osborn, April 2, 1918, and enclosures.

    October 12, 1970, 26 items; Minute book (1913-1917), invitations, photographs, clippings.

    December 1, 1970, 17 items (copies); Correspondence (1914-1917). Gift of Miss Caroline Cunningham, Raleigh, N.C.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Miss Caroline Cunningham

    Access Restrictions

    No restrictions

    Copyright Notice

    Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

    Preferred Citation

    William H. Osborn Papers (#41), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

    Processing Information

    Processed by T. Sloan; B. Howlett, July 1985

    Encoded by Apex Data Services

Container List

Correspondence; diary
Clippings; miscellaneous. Contains folders b–c.
Pamphlet; bound volumes; resolution; notebook; minutes; and photographs. Contains folders a–b.
Pamphlet; bound volumes; resolution; notebook; minutes; and photographs. Contains folder c.
Miscellaneous (photograph)

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Sensitive Materials Statement

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection, without the consent of those individuals, may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which East Carolina University assumes no responsibility.

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Container List

Correspondence; diary
Clippings; miscellaneous. Contains folders b–c.
Pamphlet; bound volumes; resolution; notebook; minutes; and photographs. Contains folders a–b.
Pamphlet; bound volumes; resolution; notebook; minutes; and photographs. Contains folder c.
Miscellaneous (photograph)

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