The Calvin College Library Archives, which have assembled the Dutch Immigrant Letter Collection, stem directly from institutions founded by nineteenth-century Dutch immigrants. Calvin College and its sponsoring denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, date respectively from 1876 and 1857. The archives, begun in 1961, contain a wide spectrum of institutional and personal papers from the Dutch Reformed community and include four thousand linear feet of manuscripts together with a selected seven-thousand-volume collection of books, pamphlets, and periodicals to accommodate a wide variety of Dutch American studies. Although the archives' holdings conform generally to the social and institutional shapes of nineteenth-century Dutch Calvinism in North America, the Dutch Immigrant Letter Collection includes a wider spectrum of Dutch immigrant experience—Protestant, Catholic, and secular—and it is the only major collection of its kind.
To assemble the Immigrant Letter Collection the archives conducted four major manuscript collection campaigns in the Netherlands and the United States between 1976 and 1990. These efforts accumulated at least eight thousand items—letters, travel accounts, immigrant memoirs, and photographs. Of the 4,970 letters gathered ( 1838-1930), 2,793 were American postings and 2,179 were from the Netherlands to the United States. Half of the letters from immigrants cluster between 1873 and 1893, accurately reflecting the numerical configuration of Dutch immigration. Moreover, immigration peaks in 1848-1857, 1867-1888, and 1892-1915 are followed a year or two later by peaks in correspondence. Unfortunately we acquired no useful examples of two-way correspondence. Furthermore, the immigrant letters represent at best 0.0032 percent of an estimated 889,000 letters mailed from the United States to Holland between 1820 and 1930. 1 Of all these letters the most pertinent____________________