Scott Maps: The life & work of Alva Scott Garfield [1902-1993], 20th Century female cartographer

I sailed up a river with a pleasant wind,
New lands, new people, and new thoughts to find…

Henry David Thoreau

On Alva Scott Garfield’s amusing & colourful pictorial map of Concord, Massachusetts [c1960], much attention is given to one of the town’s most eccentric and renowned sons, Harvard graduate, Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862], naturalist, philosopher and author, perhaps best known for his book, Walden or Life in the Woods [1854], based upon his two year back-to-nature experiment in simple outdoor living in an authentic log cabin built on land recently acquired by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, beside Concord’s Walden Pond in the mid- 1840s.


Thoreau & Walden Pond, Concord

A Scott-Map of Concord Massachusetts [c1960]

In 1839 Thoreau and his elder brother John had also undertaken a memorable river expedition, published a decade later as A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers [1849]. In fact the book became an elegiac tribute to  Thoreau’s brother (who sadly died in 1842) recounting their (actually) two week long navigation from Concord MA to Concord, NH and through the neighbouring White Mountains.


Title cartouche of Alva Scott Garfield’s Scott-Map of Concord Massachusetts [c1960]

Note the vignette upper left depicting the Thoreau brothers rowing up the Concord River

Garfield and Thoreau in fact had much in common.

As well as being a writer, naturalist and philosopher, Thoreau was also a highly skilled and accomplished surveyor and mapmaker. He described how “Surveying is a noble employment which brings you within hearing of the birds”. During the course of the 1850s Thoreau produced over 200 surveys, mainly of local plots and estates in and around the Concord area, but also as far afield as Cape Cod, Maine and New Jersey.

Almost exactly a Century later, Garfield would herself produce a series of her own colourful & distinctive cartographic surveys – “Scott-Maps” – depicting  many of the principal settlements and regions of New England and New Hampshire that Thoreau would have known & recognized. These included the City of Boston and Town of Concord so familiar to them both. In addition Garfield produced an attractive pictorial & historical map of Salem, as well as one of her own & Thoreau’s alma mater, Harvard University, Garfield having spent time here as a female grad student at Radcliffe College in the late 1920s.


Franconia Notch & N. Woodstock in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

Seemingly the earliest map in the five “Scott-Map” series dates from about 1949 and depicts the natural beauty and outdoor recreational activities of the same White Mountains of New Hampshire that Thoreau had also explored with his brother in 1839 (and which I myself was fortunate to visit in a bitterly cold April of 1980 – I well remember exploring Franconia Notch!). The area in fact lies just to the north of another of Garfield’s residences, Scottswood Farm in Madison NH.


A Scott-Map of Concord Massachusetts [c1960]

Thoreau vividly describes weighing anchor & leaving sight of Concord on the last day of August 1839  as they began their journey along the Concord & Merrimac in a fifteen foot fisherman’s dory. They set off northwards on the Concord River in a light drizzle. Following  a short stop at Ball’s Hill to feast on some overhanging riverside berries, some 7 or 8 miles from their starting point the pair reach Carlisle Bridge….”which consists of twenty wooden piers, and when we looked back over it, its surface was reduced to a line’s breadth, and appeared like a cobweb gleaming in the sun.”

As they reached Carlisle Bridge, one of the most prominent buildings that they would have seen amid the riverside fields and meadows on the left bank would have been a large colonial farmhouse of typical white clapper board design. Known nowadays as River Road Farm, this was in fact briefly, during the early 1940’s, the marital home of Alva Scott Garfield. Built soon after the Revolutionary war, it had suffered much over the years, being truncated & divided in the early 1900s and then surviving two disastrous fires in 1918 and 1936. The whole Farm estate comprised some 360 acres.

In March 1942, divorcee Alva Scott Mitchell, now a resident of Alexandria VA, had married the well-known owner of the River Road Estate, dairy farmer Mason Garfield [1892-1945]. He had first married Harriet Winchester Pew [1894-1979] of Salem in February 1916 and the couple subsequently had four children. Now also divorced, he was the grandson of 20th US President, James Abram Garfield [1831-1881] & son of Harry Augustus Garfield [1863-1942], President of Williams College, Williamstown MA, and his wife, Belle Hartford Mason [1864-1944].

Mason Garfield’s herd of 100 Jersey cows was one of the finest & largest in Massachusetts and the River Road Farm Dairy produced milk of the highest quality, supplying much of the surrounding neighbourhood.

Sadly the couple’s  marriage would last just three and a half years, with Mason passing away on August 31st 1945. The River Road Farm would be sold the following year.

How, when and where the pair had first met is not entirely clear. Both were Arts graduates – Alva had studied at Wellesley College (Class of ’24) and then spent time as a graduate student at Radcliffe College [1926-27] whilst Mason, despite his farming interests, had also been a graduate student in literature from Harvard, after previously studying humanities, under his father’s close tutelage, at Williams College.

A 1935 listing in the Library of Congress’ Copyright entries for Plays provides a curious clue, suggesting it might perhaps have been their mutual interest in literature and theatricals that first brought them together. Copyrighted on Sept 30th 1935, “Toy Boy; a play in 3 Acts” is officially recorded as the collaborative work of Mason Garfield of Concord and Alva Scott Mitchell of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Alva Scott Mitchell was originally born Alva Bennett Scott on August 18th 1902 in Montgomery, AL, the eldest daughter of prominent local Republican, businessman and entrepreneur, Charles Herrington Scott [1870-1930] and Emma Josephine Bennett [1877-1928] of Jefferson, GA.


Alva Bennett Scott, Durrant Scholar, Wellesley College, 1924

[Legenda, Wellesley College, 1924]

Little is known of Alva’s early childhood or education, though she is listed in the 1910 Federal Census in Montgomery. By the time she had gained a place at Wellesley College in 1922 (Class of ’24), she was living in the artistic & bohemian heartland of 1920s New York, Greenwich Village’s Washington Square.

Indeed the Scott family, Charles (49) & Josephine (42) – her father listed as an exporter of woollen goods and her mother listed, interestingly, as “author” – together with Alva (17) & her two younger siblings, Mary Adelaide (16) & Thomas (14) are recorded as living at 68 Washington Square (South) in the 1920 US Federal Census, one of ten families listed at this address.

Alva was later rewarded with a Durrant Scholarship and took an especially active part in the literary & artistic life at Wellesley. In 1924 she served as one of the Assistant Arts Editors on the Board of Wellesley’s Student magazine, Legenda, and was head of work in the Soriety of Tan Zeta Epsilon.


The Board of Legenda, Wellesley College, 1924

In February 1925 she married James Armistead Mitchell [1898-1964] , a graduate of the US Naval Academy and subsequently a Harvard MBA, business consultant & broker. By the late 1920s the couple had settled in Brattle Street, Cambridge, very close to the Radcliffe campus. They would have three children but eventually divorce, James Mitchell remarrying in 1941.


James Armistead Mitchell, circa 1921

Alva’s first widely recognized cartographic project appears to have been the design & publication a decorative pictorial map of her own alma mater, entitled a Newe Mapp of Wellesley, 21 x 22 1/2 inches, on a scale of 400ft to an inch, which was copyrighted on October 29th 1926 & first announced in the Wellesley College News [Vol XXXV, No.6] early the following month. It is interesting to discover that the idea for the map had first been mooted by two other well-known female mapmakers, fellow Wellesley graduate Helen McMillin (also Editor of the Wellesley Alumnae Magazine) and the latter’s frequent cartographic collaborator, Miss Elizabeth Shurtleff.

Lacking the time to complete the project themselves, it eventually devolved on Mitchell to complete the design of the map & its publication herself with the assistance of fellow Class of ’24 graduate, Elizabeth Paige May (Thompson) [1902-1986]. She was actively involved with Legenda in the late 1920s and, like McMillin, Editor of the Alumnae Magazine, 1931-45.


Elizabeth Paige (May Thompson) [1902-1986]

Collaborated with Alva Scott Mitchell on pictorial maps of Wellesley [1926] & Wheaton [1929]. She also designed (with Nadine Evers) a pictorial map of the University of Minnesota [1927]*, where her father was Emeritus Professor of Law

[Legenda, Wellesley College, 1924]

As the 1926 Wellesley College News article notes:

In planning her map, Mrs Mitchell went back to Dutch and English maps of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for the general idea. From them she also gained suggestions for certain details and the idea for having sketches on either side of the map. Mrs Mitchell has been working on the map in her spare moments since last July. She has kept up her artwork since she left college, especially in the line of sculpture, where her greatest interest lies.

Mrs Mitchell has taken the entire responsibility of publishing the map. Five thousand copies  have been printed in the first edition….

“The Newe Mapp of Wellesley is so delightful that every Wellesley and Dana girl will surely want one” concludes the article effusively.

The map included not only the College but Dana Hall & the village. It was printed in five soft colours and richly embellished with portraits of leading figures in the history of the College and with the College seals and coat of arms. Also included were vignettes of well-known campus sites & landmarks and of familiar College rituals & student traditions.

In 1929, Alva and her former class mate, Elizabeth Paige (May Thompson) would cooperate on another similar & equally decorative pictorial map depicting the campus of Wheaton College, Norton, MA

Little is known of Alva Scott Mitchell’s activities during the 1930s though she collaborated in Cornelia Stratton Parker’s autobiography, Wanderer’s Circle [Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1934], designing the map endpapers which portray the Parker farm, Swiss Meadows, at Williamstown, MA.

In 1936 she took a summer trip to Europe.

The following year’s Cambridge Directory gives her profession as Art Teacher at the local Browne & Nichols Lower School.

In the late 1940s Mason Garfield’s first wife, the former Harriet Winchester Pew (confusingly, like Alva,  sometimes also referred to as “Mrs Mason Garfield”) was appointed Resident Head of Briggs Hall (Dormitory) at Radcliffe College.


As indicated, Alva had herself been a graduate student at Radcliffe twenty years earlier, in 1926-27 – her original student file is in the Harvard Archives (Series 1, Box 84).

The further fact that both of Alva’s husbands were Harvard alumni and that her first marital homes in the late 1920s and early 1930s had been in Dunster & Brattle Streets, Cambridge, the latter just a stone’s throw from the Radcliffe campus (and visible below, adjacent to the Leverett coat of arms) may have influenced her decision to

Detail 2 - A Scott-Map of Harvard University and of Radcliffe College, Cambridge Massachussets - Alva Scott Garfield - 1959

design & publish another decorative pictorial map depicting the two combined campuses, A Scott-Map of Harvard University and of Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, first registered for copyright on 20th May 1959:


A Scott-Map of Harvard University and of Radcliffe College…[1959]

Per the Wellesley Bulletin, in about 1954, Alva appears to have returned to her alma mater to take up a post similar to that of the other Mrs Mason Garfield (at Briggs Hall, Radcliffe) as the Resident Head of Claflin Hall, one of Wellesley’s 14 dormitories. It was a position which she appears to have held until at least 1960.

Claftin Hall - Wellesley College - Postcard c1940

During this period, she continued to maintain a home in central Boston and also worked as a Senior Art Assistant for respected Boston publishers, D C Heath & Co, whose headquarters were at 285 Columbus Ave.

From the late 1950s and until at least 1969, she was also a Director of Morville House, a small well-to-do all- female residential retirement home supported by the Episcopal City Mission & located on the City’s Clarendon Street. It is not clear if her directorship was a residential position.


Detail of Central Boston (wth Clarendon Street)


A Scott-Map of Boston, Massachusetts Designed & Drawn by Alva Scott Garfield [c1955]

“And this is good old Boston,

The home of the beans & the cod,

Where the Lowells speak only to Cabots,

And the Cabots speak only to God.”

An 1951 announcement in the magazine Appalachia promoting the Scott-Map of the White Mountains (for sale unmounted $1.00, mounted $3.50!) indicates that Garfield’s residence at this time was 3 Hawthorne Lane, Concord.


A Scott-Map of the White Mountains of New Hampshire [1949]

By the time of the marriage of  Alva’s daughter Josephine to Edward D Degener in August 1955, she is also recorded as living at Scottswood Farm, Madison NH.

The family connection with Madison NH in fact went back many years, as the US Federal Census recorded the entire Mitchell family, James, Alva and their three young children residing here in 1940, presumably just prior to the couple’s divorce. The farm’s name may suggest the connection goes back even further: it is known that Garfield’s father had numerous interests & connections with the American lumber industry in the early years of the 20th Century.

It is hard to deduce a clear publication sequence for the Garfield’s “Scott-Map” series as none of the individual maps are dated. Both the Concord & Harvard are recorded as being published in Madison, NH, which suggests they were published slightly later than the others. The Boston map is recorded as being published in Concord. Neither the Salem or White Mountains offer a place of publication, though the 1951 Appalachia advertisement clearly indicates that it had been privately published in 1949 in Concord. The design style & spiral border decoration of these latter two maps are also very similar, suggesting they may have been designed and published in close succession to each other in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

All five maps are certainly highly decorative, distinctive and humorously individual in their pictorial vignettes & designs. Those of Boston, Concord & Salem focus particularly strongly on the colourful history and legend of Colonial and Revolutionary New England, into which Garfield’s own richly textured colonial ancestry and creative artistic talents readily tapped.


A Scott-Map of Salem Massachusetts

Designed, Drawn & Published by Alva Scott Garfield  [c1950]

Garfield’s Salem was an equally familiar location, Alva & her first husband having had a vacation home here in the early 1930s. The map itself focuses strongly on the Port’s maritime wealth & colonial history. As she also does on the Boston map, Alva must have delighted in including  a vignette of her direct ancestor, John Winthrop [1587/88 – 1649], from whom she was descended on her father’s side through the Williston & Van Ness families. The Puritan lawyer and Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is depicted arriving in Salem harbour from England on board the ship Arbella in June 1630:


And with Salem’s dark association with the infamous late 17th Century Witch trials, Alva offers some light-hearted & tongue-in-cheek relief in the revelation that Salem was the spot where aviation first took off (so to speak) and where local mermaids were still to be found beautifying themselves in the waters of the North River!


“Aviation started in Salem”

One final literary work to which Garfield is known to have contributed is as illustrator for Mary McClure Hutchinson’s 1959 book, Gaining Self-Confidence in Reading, published by the Reading Institute of Boston.

Sadly we have little information on Alva Scott Garfield’s later life after 1960. Official records indicate that she passed away in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April 1993 aged 90.


  • David Rumsey Collection
  • *Nadine Evers & Elizabeth Paige May: A Map shewing the Campus, Buildings and Idiosyncracies of the University of Minnesota Designed, Executed and Published by Nadine Evers and Elizabeth Paige May. 65 South Tenth Street [Copyright, Ibidean Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1927] – David Rumsey Collection