University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Clifford-Flanders family papers, circa 1852-1989

Full finding aid (pdf) | Digitized material

Collection Scope and Content

This collection contains biographical and genealogical material, writings, correspondence, photographs and memorabilia. The first series consists of biographical information and birth, marriage, death and estate records, as well as a good deal of genealogical research on the Clifford, Lee, Hawkins and Flanders families (mostly performed by Margaret Clifford Flanders) with additional minimal information on the DeMerritt and Came lines. Of particular interest is the 1989 (Isles of) Shoals “Jingle” program that offers valuable biographical information on Mollie Lee Clifford, her daughter and granddaughter.

The writing series contains poems, plays, stories, essays and books by author Mollie Lee Clifford (nee Mary Jane Lehee or Lee) and a few items by her granddaughter Marion Flanders and others. Notable among the writings of Mollie Lee Clifford is her 1901 detailed handwritten account of the infamous 1873 Smuttynose Island murders from her unique perspective of having been personally acquainted with the victims and the murderer. Particularly illuminating is granddaughter Marion’s biographical sketch of Mollie Lee’s childhood and early literary life.

Correspondence in the collection includes many letters by Mollie Lee Clifford, some to her husband Henry H. Clifford and most to her daughter Margaret in 1913, as well as a few other letters from and to Margaret Clifford Flanders. More than half of the correspondence series, however, is composed of World War II letters to Marion Flanders from various friends and boyfriends along with a small amount of later correspondence. The collection also includes a wealth of photographic images, composed nearly entirely of black and white images from the first half of the 20th century. The memorabilia series contains personal and family items such as the guest book for the Flanders’ family camp on Lake Nippo in Barrington, New Hampshire (1932-1944); Marion Flanders’ Dover, New Hampshire, schooling records, her local theater scripts and programs and her wartime work documents.

Biographical/Historical Note

Spanning three generations of the Clifford-Flanders family, this collection centers around the lives and work of New Hampshire author Mollie Lee Clifford (nee Mary Jane Lehee or Lee), her daughter, Margaret Clifford Flanders and her granddaughter, Marion Flanders, with materials pertaining to the years 1852 to 1989. Mary Jane Lee (later known as Mollie Lee) had the distinction of being the only child born on Londoner’s Island (also known as Lunjen and now Lunging Island) in the Isles of Shoals, a group of eleven islands situated in both Maine and New Hampshire. She was born Mary Jane Lehee, the seventh and last child to Thomas and Mary Lehee in 1865. (The family name was later shortened to Lee.) Mollie was much younger than her siblings and therefore very much alone on the island, roaming its beaches, befriending its creatures and relying on her imagination to amuse her.

Being a very religious Shoals fisherman with extensive knowledge of the Bible, her father Thomas preached from Pulpit Rock to fishermen in their boats. Although he had little education and the family lived in a one-room shack with a loft, Lehee managed to buy Lunging Island at some point during their time there. In a biographical account of the grandmother she never knew, Mollie Lee’s young granddaughter Marion Flanders describes Mollie’s solitary childhood and her good fortune to have the generous, inspiring attention of neighboring Appledore Island poet Celia Thaxter. Thaxter gave the young Mollie books, trinkets, ribbons and even pets, including a homing pigeon and a young bear, and it was she who inspired young Mollie to learn to read and write. Mollie composed her first poem at the age of six, the subject of which was the death of a pet hen, a precursor to her later writings that often focused on her love of animals.

In 1872, when Mollie was seven years old, she and her family moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where she enrolled in school for what was to become a very brief education. At the age of 12, Mollie’s mother died and the young student was forced to leave school and go to work to earn her own living. From then on she took up her own literacy education, reading voraciously from the library in order to learn the rules of grammar and writing, gravitating initially toward writing poems and plays. In 1873, the year after the family left Lunging Island, an infamous double-murder took place on neighboring Smuttynose Island. The murderer had visited the Lee home and the event so captivated Mollie Lee that in 1901 she wrote a detailed handwritten account, partially based upon the 1875 description written by Celia Thaxter and informed by her own unique perspective of having been acquainted with both the Norwegian victims and the Prussian perpetrator.

On April 24, 1889, at the age of 24, Mollie Lee married Henry H. Clifford (1862-1943) of Dover, son of Stuart Clifford (1805-1887) and Margaret A. Hawkins Clifford (1828-1914). A local news clipping described Clifford as one of Dover’s enterprising young business men. The couple made their home at 60 Hill Street, Dover, New Hampshire, and Henry Clifford served as the town’s tax assessor. Mollie Lee was able to resume her education. She wrote many poems and plays, and her first drama was presented in 1890 at the Washington Street Church in Dover. This was the start of a successful string of theatrical productions mounted in the local area, including “Kitty’s Triumph” in 1982 and “Uneta” in 1893.

In 1894, Henry and Mollie welcomed a daughter, Margaret Martha Clifford. While Margaret was still young Mollie Lee completed a story-writing course through the National Press Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, receiving a certificate in 1903. She wrote a great many short stories in subsequent years, and in 1906 both of Mollie Lee’s full-length works of fiction were published by H. M. Caldwell Company in their Animal Autobiography Series. Yoppy: the Autobiography of a Monkey was soon followed by Polly: the Autobiography of a Parrot. Both books were written in the voice of the animal and detailed accounts of their mistreatment at the hands of humans. In addition to these published works, Mollie Lee Clifford often wrote in the voice of her cat, Trudy, especially in letters to her mother.

Margaret was educated at Plymouth Normal School and became a schoolteacher in Newmarket, New Hampshire. In March of 1918, she married Earl Flanders, originally of Goffstown and son of Marion Seavey Flanders and Edgar H. Flanders. Earl Flanders was mechanical arts teacher at Dover High School and later a teacher of mathematics at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Portsmouth. In April of 1918, one month after her daughter’s wedding, Mollie Lee Clifford died. Her husband Henry Clifford then married Alice T. Clifford in June of 1919. In 1920, Margaret and Earl Flanders had a daughter, Marion Lee Flanders, and the young family resided at 60 Hill Street, Dover, while Henry and Alice Clifford lived next door in a two-unit home at 62-64 Hill Street.

Henry also owned residential and commercial properties in Dover. The Flanders and Cliffords spent time at the Flanders family lakeside retreat called Camp Wildwood on Lake Nippo in Barrington, NH, as well as summers at York Beach in Maine during the 1930s and 1940s. During the early 1940s Margaret did a great deal of genealogical research in her pursuit of inclusion in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Marion Flanders attended Dover, NH schools and participated in school plays. During World War II, she worked as a clerk at the War Department, Office of Post Engineer at Camp Langdon, NH. During that time she corresponded with a number of friends and boyfriends, but ultimately she made the conscious decision not to marry. Margaret Clifford Flanders died in 1989. Marion Lee Flanders died in 2000.