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John Lawrence Sullivan papers

Collection MS-2012-013: John Lawrence Sullivan papers


  • Creation: 1887-1938, undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1908 - 1908

Scope and Contents

The John Lawrence Sullivan papers contain correspondence, writings, newspaper clippings, ephemera, photographs, and artifacts including a crystal bowl and wooden brush engraved with Sullivan's initials, a printing plate featuring Sullivan, and an autograph book. Correspondence makes up the bulk of the collection and dates from the 1890s to 1912. Letters relate mainly to Sullivan's career on the stage but also include correspondence with boxers such as Ike Weir and Martin Flaherty. Other notable correspondents include Theodore Roosevelt and his secretary, William Loeb, Jr. Writings include a poem by Sullivan and three articles related to Sullivan's boxing and stage careers by an unidentifed author. Newspaper clippings date after Sullivan's death and were most likely compiled by his nephew and heir, Arthur Lennon.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research. Access to the oversized framed photograph of Sullivan is restricted due to preservation concerns.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note

John Lawrence Sullivan was born to Irish immigrants Michael Sullivan and Catherine Kelly on October 15, 1858, in Boston's South End. Although he later claimed to have attended Boston College, college records do not confirm this, and his formal education likely ended at the age of fifteen. He began boxing in 1878 and was known as the "Boston Strong Boy." From 1882 to 1892, he was the American heavyweight champion. His most famous bout was the last bare-knuckle heavyweight championship with Jake Kilrain in Mississippi in 1889, which Sullivan won in seventy-five rounds. After losing a bout to James J. Corbett in 1892, Sullivan turned to the stage with a vaudeville act in which he read monologues and sometimes staged sparring exhibitions. He also owned a series of bars and a hotel in Boston, although he quit drinking in 1905 and became a temperance advocate. Sullivan was a popular public figure and became friends with Theodore Roosevelt, some of whose correspondence with Sullivan survives in this collection.

Sullivan's first marriage, to Annie Bates Bailey in 1883, ended in divorce in 1908 after a long separation. He remarried in 1910 to Katherine Harkins and retired from the stage in 1911, moving with Harkins to Abington, Massachusetts, where he died on February 2, 1918.


Cox, James. A. "The Great Fight: 'Mr. Jake' vs. John L. Sullivan." Smithsonian Dec. 1984: 152 on. Gale Biography in Context (GALE A3538503).

Davis, Luckett V. "Sullivan, John L." In American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, Feb. 2000. Accessed January 28, 2012.

Isenbeg, Michael T. John L. Sullivan and His America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.


5.25 Linear Feet (4 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, ephemera, photographs, and artifacts owned by or relating to John Lawrence Sullivan (1858-1918), the first American heavyweight champion boxer.


This collection is arranged in four series: I. Artifacts; II. Clippings and ephemera; III. Correspondence and writings; IV. Photographs.

Artifacts are arranged alphabetically. All other series are arranged chronologically.


Gift of Megan A. Halligan, November 2012.



John Lawrence Sullivan Papers
1887-1938, undated (bulk 1908)
Adrienne Pruitt
January 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States