Elmira College and Mark Twain

Elmira College has a strong, proud history associated with Samuel Langhorne Clemens, most famously known as Mark Twain, and some of the author’s most well-known books.

Jervis Langdon

This proud tradition began with Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s future father-in-law.  A prominent Elmira businessman, Jervis Langdon was one of the seven progressive civic leaders, who in 1853 began to formulate the plans and the design for Elmira College – the first college in the nation founded for women to offer a course of study and a degree equal to that earned by men.  He was later appointed to the first Elmira College Board of Trustees, a position he held until his death in 1870.

Langdon’s youngest daughter, Olivia enrolled into Elmira College as a member of the Class of 1864. After an unusual courtship, Olivia became the wife of Samuel Langhorne Clemens on February 2, 1870.  They were married in the Langdon family parlor in Elmira.  Officiating were the family’s friend and minister, the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher, minister of Elmira’s Congregational Church (and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher), and the Rev. Joseph Twichell, pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregationalist Church in Hartford, Connecticut. Both men became close friends of Mark Twain. At the time of her death, Olivia belonged to the Elmira College Club of New York City.

Starting in 1870, Twain and his family summered at Quarry Farm in Elmira, the home of Olivia’s sister, Susan and brother-in-law, Theodore Crane.  At Quarry Farm the family was more isolated and away from distractions, creating an environment that was conducive to relaxation and where Twain could concentrate on his writings.  Additionally, Livy could be close to her family.  All three of Twain’s daughters were born in Elmira, two at Quarry Farm.

Olivia Langdon Clemens, with her three daughters, Clara (left), Jean (middle), and Susy (right)

In 1874, after Twain had already successfully published several books, Susan and Theodore Crane surprised him with a small octagonal study built on a secluded high knoll, one hundred yards from the Quarry Farm main house.  In this small structure Twain wrote many of his best works, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Prince and The Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). 

The Clemens family spent its last summer at Quarry Farm in 1903.  Mark Twain spent the rest of his life abroad and in various places in the United States until his death on April 21, 1910.  He was buried in the Langdon plot in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery, alongside his wife and four children.

In 1952, Twain’s niece, Dr. Ida Langdon, a respected scholar and professor of English literature at Elmira College, presented Twain’s Study to Elmira College, relocating it to the heart of the Elmira College campus where it remains on display for the general public.  It is one of the most well-known literary landmarks in the United States. 

In 1983, Jervis Langdon, Jr., the great-grandnephew of Twain, donated Quarry Farm to Elmira College, with the stipulation that the property be used as a temporary home for scholars and graduate students interested in Mark Twain, his literature, and the environment in which he lived.  This intention created the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies and to this day, the Center offers fellowships-in-residence to scholars from around the world pursuing research or writing in the field of Mark Twain Studies. 

Elmira College continues its proud tradition with Mark Twain and the Langdon family into the 21st century. EC students participate in internships with CMTS and work as Mark Twain Ambassadors, sharing the history of Twain in Elmira with visitors from around the world. However, the strongest Elmira College tradition associated with Mark Twain and Quarry Farm is Mountain Day. In 1918, Dean Anstice Harris instituted the Mountain Day tradition – a day in which classes are cancelled allowing students, faculty, and administrators to connect with each other in memorable and less formal ways.  Students, faculty, and administrators enjoyed a picnic lunch and hiked to Quarry Farm on East Hill. They also participated in games, planting projects, relaxing, and enjoying the colorful fall foliage. Mountain Day continues to this day and the hike or run up to Quarry Farm still continues, along with a number of campus activities, followed by campus-wide games and outdoor events.