Claude Lewis Family Papers

Identity elements

Reference code


Level of description



Claude Lewis Family Papers


  • 1870-1996 (Creation)


7.52 linear feet

Name of creator


Biographical history

Isabel was the daughter of Claude Lewis, who was the older brother of author Sinclair Lewis.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Freeman was the son of Claude Lewis, who was the older brother of author Sinclair Lewis.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Harry Sinclair Lewis, known to his friends as “Red,” was a prolific American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. Main Street, published in 1920, is Lewis’ best known work.

Born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota on February 7, 1885, to Edwin and Emma Lewis, Lewis had two older brothers, Fred and Claude.

At Yale University where Lewis received a degree from in 1908, Lewis published in the Yale Literary Magazine, the Courant, and the Record. This began a long career of writing novels, plays, and short stories.

Lewis turned down the Pulitzer Prize in literature in 1926, but accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930.

Lewis was married twice: Grace from 1914 to 1925. They had a son, Wells, who was born in 1917. In 1944, Wells died in combat in France during World War II.

In 1928, Lewis married Dorothy Thompson, a well-known journalist. They had one son, Michael, who was born in 1930. They divorced in 1942. Lewis never remarried.

Lewis died in Rome, Italy on January 10, 1951. His cremated remains were interred in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Judy was the wife of Freeman Lewis, son of Claude Lewis. Claude was the older brother of author Sinclair Lewis.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Virginia was the daughter of Claude Lewis, who was the older brother of author Sinclair Lewis.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The Claude Family Lewis Papers are mostly materials related to Claude Lewis and his family: first wife (and mother of his children) Mary, second wife Helen, and his surviving children - Freeman, Virginia, and Isabel. These materials include letters and other papers from his younger brother, Harry Sinclair Lewis, who, as an author, rose to worldwide fame.

When possible, people, especially those with a connection to the Lewis family, are identified to provide context to the materials.

Series 1: Correspondence

This series contains correspondence between members of the Claude Lewis family, others outside of Claude Lewis's family, and with those outside of the family. The letters are organized in sub-series by those who sent them.

Sub-Series 1: Claude and Mary Lewis

This subseries contains mostly letters that Claude wrote to his wife Mary and children Freeman, Virginia, and Isable. Significant are the letters that he wrote while vacationing in Alaska with wife Mary that chronicles their experiences.

Sub-Series 2: Edwin Lewis

This series contains a few letters written to Claude and Mary Lewis regarding life in Sauk Centre.

Sub-Series 3: Freeman Lewis

These letters were written by Freeman Lewis to his parents Claude and Mary from 1933 through 1940 about living in New York, his new family, including wife Judy Jennison Lewis, and the effects of the Great Depression.

Sub-Series 4: Grace Hegger Lewis

Written to various Lewis family members, mostly in the 1920s, Grace describes life living and traveling with her husband Sinclair Lewis. Especially noteworthy are the letters sent to Mary Lewis, often detailing the trials and tribualations of life in Europe.

Sub-Series 5: Helen Lewis

Written mostly after the death of Claude Lewis in 1957, this sub-series includes a single letter written by Michael Lewis.

Sub-Series 6: Judy Jennison Lewis

These letters were written by Freeman Lewis's new wife, Judy Jennison Lewis, to Mary Lewis, Freeman's mother. These describe life during the Great Depression in New York City.

Sub-Series 7: Sinclair Lewis

The letters are organized by receipent, then listed individually by date. The place from where the letters were written are also listed. Most of the letters here that he wrote went to members of the Claude Lewis family and his father.

In these letters, Sinclair discussed his recent travels and what he did during those travels, especially those to his father. Sinclair did inquire about Claude's family, often asking his older brother to travel with him. He also asked about the well-being of Freeman, Virginia, and Isabel - he offered advice about schooling (especially regarding Freeman), as well as career choices.

Sinclair did write of his work, including Mantrap, Dodsworth on Broadway as a play, Jayhawker, and It Can't Happen Here.

Sub-Series 8: Virginia Lewis

The letters in this sub-series were mostly written from the 1950s and on, though there are a few items dated before then. Many deal with the legacy of Sinclair Lewis especially about the records held by the Claude Lewis famliy. Especially noteworthy are the letters from Michael Lewis, as well as those from Marcella Powers.

Sub-Series 9: Dorothy Thompson

Only a small numbers of item in this sub-series, the correspondence is from Dorothy Thompson, Sinclair Lewis's second wife. Interesting items include a postcard with the likeness of Adolph Hitler, which was sent to Sinclair Lewis in the mid-1930s, as well as correspondence with Claude Lewis's second wife, Helen, regarding the decision to bury Sinclair Lewis's ashes in Sauk Centre after his 1951 death.

Sub-Series 10: Other Correspondence

This sub-series contains other correspondence received by the Lewis family.

Sub-Series 11: Acquistion of the Claude Lewis Family Papers

These records document the appraisal of value and the purchase of the bulk of the Claude Lewis Family to St. Cloud State by Freeman, Viriginia, and Isabel Lewis.

Series 2: Isabel Lewis Agrell subject files

These records contain mostly correspondence between Isabel Lewis and her family and other outsiders, almost exclusiverly dated after 1950. Notable correspondents include Ida and Charles Compton, Minnesota author John Koblas (who wrote several books about Sinclair Lewis), Lesley Lewis, and Marcella Powers.

Most notable are the letters from Lewis family members. Kay Cardew, grandmother of Lesley Lewis, wrote Isabel encouraging her to be in contact with Lesley, since her mother and father were deceased. Lesley Lewis wrote Isabel about her life and early career, while Jennifer Lewis Newsome reported on the health and, later, death of Michael Lewis. Marcella Powers, though not a Lewis family member, wrote of her life after her friendship with Sinclair Lewis ended. Mary Branham would write Isabel reporting on the death of Marcella, her close friend, in March 1985.

Isabel and her sister Virignia also organized a reception at St. Cloud State in August 1986 in which they gifted a 24 volume set of Sinclair Lewis works, edited by Japanese professor Hiroshige Yoshida. Included here are the correspondence regarding this reception, brochures from the event, the guestbook signed, and the audio recorded. The reception was held in the Lewis House (then known as the Alumni House), the former home of Claude Lewis and his family.

Series 3: Travel Journals and Related Material

This series contains materials related to the travels of Claude Lewis, who traveled with his first wife Mary and his second wife Helen, as well as his younger brother Sinclair. Material after 1957 were created by Helen when she traveled after the death of Claude.

Material here, organized by date of trip, are varied. These mostly contain typescript accounts that appeared in Claude's journal. There are some handwritten travel journals that were transcribed and are here also.

Most notable are the two trips that Claude took with his brother Sinclair - Saskatchewan in 1924 and Europe in 1949. The Saskatchewan trip contains a typescript of Claude's journal, which appeared twice in published form - Sinclair Lewis & Mantrap: The Saskatchewan Trip, edited by John Koblas and Dave Page in 1985, and Treaty Trip, which appeared in 1959. Sinclair used information from this trip for his 1926 book Mantrap. A photo album, which includes images of Sinclair, is included here, too.

After the death of his first wife Mary in 1949, Claude traveled to Europe with his brother Sinclair in 1949. A typescript of Claude's travel journal details life on the road with his famous younger brother. Claude would never see his brother alive again - Sinclair Lewis died in Rome in January 1951.

Series 4: Images

Material in this series are images of Claude Lewis and his extended family, including brother Sinclair and father Edwin, as well as early images of the sons of Sinclair, Wells and Michael. Images are organized by subject.

Photos are numerous for Claude Lewis and his family, including several formal portraits, though it does not include son Freeman.

Other notable images include Edwin and his second wife Isabel, Winnie Lewis, wife of Fred Lewis, Claude and Sinclair's oldest brother, and Sinclair's first wife Grace Hegger Lewis visiting Sauk Centre, MN. There are several images of Sinclair with Marcella Powers, including an autographed portrait of Sinclair that he gave Marcella in September 1939 and photos of them performing together in the play Shadow and Substance. There are images of Sinclair at his home in Duluth in the mid-1940s, as well as an image of Sinclair as a baby and portraits of him while attending Yale University.

People who were identified were included in the notes field for specific folders.

Series 5: Other Personal Papers

This series contains a wife variety of material related to the Claude Lewis family, as well as items from or related to Sinclair Lewis.

There are many items here, including account books calculating the cost of the higher education of Freeman, Virginia, and Isabel Lewis, a journal describing life at a lake cabin, wedding announcements, obituaries, and two semi-published works by Isabel Lewis Agrell and Mary Agrrell Stroeing about Sinclair Lewis and Viriginia Lewis.

Particularily significant is a typescript of a play, Angela is Twenty-Two, written by Sinclair Lewis and actress Fay Wray. Other significant items include the bill for the funeral of older brother Fred Lewis in 1946, program for Sinclair Lewis's memorial service in January 1951 in Sauk Centre, MN, shortly after his death, and a silk scarf given by Grace Hegger Lewis to Mary Lewis in the 1920s.

System of arrangement

The records are arranged in five series:

Series 1: Correspondence

Within this series, there are 11 sub-series. They are:

Sub-Series 1: Claude and Mary Lewis

Sub-Series 2: Edwin Lewis

Sub-Series 3: Freeman Lewis

Sub-Series 4: Grace Hegger Lewis

Sub-Series 5: Helen Lewis

Sub-Series 6: Judy Jennison Lewis

Sub-Series 7: Sinclair Lewis

These letters are identified individually by place sent and date.

Sub-Series 8: Virginia Lewis

Sub-Series 9: Dorothy Thompson

Sub-Series 10: Other Correspondence

Sub-Series 11: Acquistion of the Claude Lewis Family Papers

Series 2: Isabel Lewis Agrell subject files

Files are organized alphabetically by author.

Series 3: Travel Journals and Related Material

Files are organized by date.

Series 4: Images

Images are organized alphabetically.

Series 5: Other Personal Papers

Files are organized alphabetically.

Records are located at 27B.5d-7b, 1A.2b, and Oversize drawer 2.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

There are no access restrictions.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Permission to publish, quote, and reproduce must be secured from the copyright holder.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

    Language and script notes

    Finding aids

    Acquisition and appraisal elements

    Custodial history

    Immediate source of acquisition

    Purchase and donation

    Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information


    This collection was acquired in several different pieces. In 1973 and 1975, the children of Claude and Mary Lewis, Freeman, Virginia, and Isabel, sold the autographed books (that belong to their parents) and some manuscript material to St. Cloud State. In 1986 and 1987, Isabel gifted books and additional manuscript material.

    In 2012, Bradford Lewis, son of Freeman and Judy Jennison Lewis, donated letters that his parents wrote to Claude and Mary in the 1930s. In 2013, Mary Agrell Stoering, daughter of Isabel Lewis and Robert Agrell, donated a guest book used at the Claude Lewis home, now St. Cloud State's Lewis House.

    Related materials elements

    Existence and location of originals

    Existence and location of copies

    Related archival materials

    Claude and Mary Lewis received many autographed books from Sinclair Lewis. These have been removed and placed in the Rare Books collection in University Archives. Search using the term "Claude Lewis Family Papers."

    In addition, a 24 set volume of Sinclair Lewis's books, as edited Hiroshige Yoshida, with an accompanying lexicon were gifted by Virginia Lewis and Isabel Lewis Agrell in August 1986.

    Related descriptions

    Notes element

    General note

    When processing, Tom Steman removed the books that were originally housed in this collection and added to Rare Books; other books that were part of this collection but not part of the purchase/donation by the Lewis family were added to the circulating collection if necessary.

    Photocopies of Sinclair Lewis's short stories, poems, literary and social criticism, and other non-book writings were removed and made into its own collection. This material was collected by St. Cloud State librarian Dwight Burlingson in the early 1970s.

    In addition, materials from the three St. Cloud State University Sinclair Lewis conferences were removed and made into its own collection.

    Steman incorporated the later material donated by Isabel Lewis Agrell as well as the material gifted in 2012 and 2013 by Bradford Lewis and Mary Agrell Stoering.

    Specialized notes

    Alternative identifier(s)

    Description control element

    Rules or conventions

    Sources used

    Archivist's note

    Tom Steman reprocessed the collection in May 2013.

    Access points

    Subject access points

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    Accession area