The core of this extensive collection relating to the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) consists of the archive of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship, a group of local men and women dedicated to the study and appreciation of Whitman and his work. The central figure in the group was J. W. Wallace who was a draughtsman with the Bolton architectural firm, Bradshaw Gass (later Bradshaw, Gass and Hope). The first meetings were held in his house in Eagle Street, Bolton, about 1885. Another prominent member of the Fellowship was Doctor John Johnston, a medical practitioner in Bolton who came originally from Annan in Dumfriesshire. Although Wallace moved to Adlington in the early 1890s, the group continued to meet in members' houses. Both Wallace and Johnston visited Walt Whitman in America and the Bolton Fellowship received visits from some of the poet's prominent American friends and supporters. Members of the Bolton group also had close contacts with a number of leading political and literary figures including Edward Carpenter, Katherine and John Bruce Glasier and Keir Hardie and the collection includes publications of these individuals as well as correspondence with them.
The most important day in the calendar of the Bolton Fellowship was Walt Whitman's birthday, the 31st May, which was usually celebrated with an open air tea party and toasts from Whitman's Loving Cup (presented to the group in 1894). Although its activities reached their heyday in late Victorian and Edwardian times, the Fellowship continued into the 1950s, largely through the influence of Wallace's adopted daughter, friend and housekeeper Minnie Whiteside and John Ormrod of Walker Fold. In recent years the Fellowship has been revived and the celebration of 31st May continues. Bolton Archive and Local Studies Service continues to collect significant current publications about Walt Whitman. Correspondents include Whitman's close friends Horace Traubel and Dr R. M. Bucke.