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RG1052.AM:  Albert Watkins, 1848-1923

Papers:  1888-1943

Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska:  Historian

Size:  1.5 cu.ft.; 3 boxes


Albert Watkins was born in Worcester, England, on November 16, 1848. His family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Wisconsin when he was a year old. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin law school in 1871, Mr. Watkins served as county superintendent of Iowa County, Wisconsin, and newspaper editor at Mineral Point between 1874 and 1877. In 1877 he became the editor of the Sioux City Tribune and in 1882 he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he became a partner of General Victor Vifquain in the publishing of the Lincoln Daily Democrat.

As a tariff reformer and a gold standard democrat, Mr. Watkins allied himself with the J. Sterling Morton wing of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Following the election of Grover Cleveland as President in 1884, Mr. Watkins was appointed postmaster in Lincoln, an office which he held for four years. After the second election of President Cleveland in 1892, Mr. Watkins became a receiver of national banks of Nebraska, especially the one at Ponca.

After free-silver became a political issue in 1893, Mr. Watkins became one of the most active champions of the Grover Cleveland- J. Sterling Morton gold standard wing of the Nebraska Democratic Party. William Jennings Bryan’s victory in 1896 left the gold standard democrats in Nebraska few in numbers and stranded politically. Efforts to maintain a separate organization proved a failure, so most of them, including Mr. Watkins, rejoined the reorganized democratic party under the Bryan leadership where they enjoyed a little more independence then they had before.

In 1898, during the Omaha Exposition, a “History of Nebraska” was undertaken mainly by Iowa people, including Mr. Clarence S. Paine. J. Sterling Morton was chosen as literary head of the publication. He, in turn, persuaded Mr. Watkins to assist him in the editorship of the project. Mr. Watkins ended up doing most of the editorial work and the narrative writing except for some special articles by well-known Nebraskans. Preparation and publication of three volumes of this history lasted from 1898-1911.

From 1911 until his death, Mr. Watkins held the position of Historian of the Nebraska State Historical Society and, as such, did the editorial work on volumes 16-20 of the Historical Society Reports. His work as a whole is a distinct contribution to Nebraska history. Much of it is scattered in various publications but forms an interesting commentary on Nebraska life in its formative period.

Albert Watkins died in Lincoln on November 19, 1923.


This collection consists of three boxes of material arranged in four series: (1) General Correspondence, 1888-1943; (2) Manuscripts; (3) Printed Matter, and (4) Legal Documents.

Most of the correspondence in this collection relates to the business management and publication of the Morton-Watkins Illustrated History of Nebraska. The second series contains manuscript material and speeches relating mainly to the history of Nebraska, settlement of Nebraska Territory, Indian problems, politics and prohibition. Some of the articles also deal with the Civil War, the Negro Question, and World War I. Although the origin of many manuscripts is unclear, most appear to be written by Albert Watkins.

The printed matter and newspaper clippings relate mostly to the history of Nebraska. Legal documents such as deeds, bank notes, and mortgages comprise the remainder of the collection.

Note: Copies of the Illustrated History of Nebraska and other published works by Albert Watkins are available in the Library. Photographs are available in the photo component of the collection (RG1052.PH).


Series 1 – General Correspondence, 1888-1943

Box 1


  1. 1888-1907

  2. 1908-1912

  3. 1913-1916

  4. 1917-1920

  5. 1921-1943

  6. Undated Letters

Series 2 – Manuscripts

Box 2


  1. Speeches and articles relating to capitalism and prohibition

  2. Articles relating to free press, the Civil War, the Negro Question

  3. Politics, personalities

  4. History of Nebraska

  5. History of Nebraska

  6. History of Nebraska

Box 3


  1. History of Nebraska

  2. Education, Women’s rights

  3. Miscellaneous articles

  4. Bibliographies and book lists

  5. “Czechs in Nebraska” by Sarka B. Hrbkova

Series 3 – Printed Matter

Box 3


  1. Miscellaneous printed matter

  2. Newspaper clippings relating to the history of Nebraska, politics and finance

Series 4 – Legal Documents

Box 3


  1. Mortgages, deeds, and certificates


Subject headings:

History — Nebraska

Morton, Julius Sterling, 1832-1902

Nebraska — History

Politics — Nebraska

Watkins, Albert, 1848-1923


Revised TMM        04-26-2007