Paper Archives

Women in Mississippi

On March 22, 2011, in Paper Archives, Photographs, Portraits, by Amanda

March is Women’s History Month and we are recognizing Mississippi women here on the blog! Read on to find out more about some of Mississippi’s notable women and their records at MDAH.

Governor William F. Winter, Eudora Welty, Leontyne Price, and Mrs. William Winter at Governor Winter's inauguration in 1980. Call Number: PI/PER/1981.0024 Item 2 (MDAH Collection)

Governor William F. Winter, Eudora Welty, Leontyne Price, and Mrs. William Winter at Governor Winter's inauguration in 1980. Call Number: PI/PER/1981.0024 Item 2 (MDAH Collection)

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was a major American writer who published novels (including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Optimist’s Daughter), short stories, a memoir, and photographs, and wrote all of her fiction in her family home at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She left her home and collection of books to the state of Mississippi and the home is now open to the public as the Eudora Welty House. The house was restored by MDAH to its mid-1980s appearance, the last period when Welty was still writing daily. Her papers are cataloged in the MDAH collection as the Welty (Eudora) Collection, Z/0301.000/S

Soprano Leontyne Price (1927-) was born in Laurel, Mississippi. As a young woman, she moved to New York City to study at Juilliard and there began a singing career that eventually won her eighteen Grammy awards. In 1955 Price was engaged to sing the lead for the National Broadcasting Company’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. There were strenuous objections, and some cancellations, from local affiliates; nonetheless, her performance was a critical success. By the mid 1960s, Price was considered one of the world’s great divas. Price retired from the opera stage at the Met in 1985 with her signature role, Aida. The live telecast was viewed by millions. There are many photographs, books, and subject files about Price in the MDAH collection.

Burnita Sheldon Matthews. Accession Number: 1993.14.1 (Museum of Mississippi History Collection)

Burnita Sheldon Matthews. Accession Number: 1993.14.1 (Museum of Mississippi History Collection)

Burnita Shelton Matthews (1894-1988) was the first woman to be appointed and confirmed as a federal trial judge in the United States. Born in Copiah County, she received her law degree from the National University Law School in Washington, D. C., and was admitted to the bar in 1920. Unable to find a private firm or government agency that would hire a woman, Matthews opened her own practice. She became an ardent suffragist and feminist. In 1949 President Harry Truman appointed Matthews to the United States District Court in Washington, D. C., where she served until taking senior status in 1968. During this time Matthews served by designation on the United States Court of Appeals as well as on the U.S. District Court. She retired from the bench in September 1983 and died in 1988.

During her distinguished career Matthews presided over several noteworthy legal actions including the bribery trial of Jimmy Hoffa and the passport denial of singer and communist activist Paul Robeson. Her papers are cataloged in the MDAH collection as the “Matthews (Burnita Shelton) Papers,” Z/1965.000/S.

Charlotte Capers

Charlotte Capers

Charlotte Capers (1913-1996) was the first female head of a state agency in Mississippi. She began working at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 1938 under director Dr. William D. McCain (1907-1993). When Dr. McCain was called to active military service from 1943-45 and 1951-53, Capers was acting director of MDAH. After McCain stepped down to become president of Mississippi Southern College, Capers became director, serving from 1955-69. Her major projects included the restoration of the Old Capitol from 1959-61, the construction of a new archives building (completed in 1971 and named the Charlotte Capers Building in 1983), and the restoration of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion from 1972-75. After resigning as department director Capers became Special Projects Assistant and continued working for MDAH, editing the Mississippi History Newsletter until 1987.  MDAH has many of her publications, including The Capers Papers, in the collection. Her papers are cataloged as Capers (Charlotte) Papers, Z/0958.001 and Capers (Charlotte) Scrapbook, Z/0958.000.

For more on Women’s History Month, check out these pieces from the blog-o-sphere:

This series explores the life of Dunbar Rowland (1864-1937), first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He served from 1902 to 1937.

Stephen D. Lee. Call Number: PI/PER/L44.1 Item 9 (MDAH Collection)

Stephen D. Lee. Call Number: PI/PER/L44.1 Item 9 (MDAH Collection)

The germ of the idea for the department started within the Mississippi Historical Society, which was revived in 1898 by Franklin L. Riley (1868-1929) after unsuccessful starts in 1858 and 1890. The society, under the leadership of former Confederate general Stephen D. Lee (1833-1908) and Riley, collected and published historical documents from around the state, the costs of which were paid by the membership. In 1900, the executive committee of the society appealed to the legislature for an appropriation to defray publication expenses, saying:

It would be assuredly unreasonable to expect a few public-spirited citizens to do all of this work and to pay besides the expenses of issuing the necessary publications, even if they could do so. This is a public work and should command the interest of every citizen who loves his State and has a pride in its history.1

In addition to the appropriation, they asked the legislature to appoint five persons from within the society to a Mississippi Historical Commission. The purpose of the commission would be,

without expense to the State for their labor, to make a full, detailed and exhaustive examination of all sources and materials, manuscript, documentary and record, of the history of Mississippi from the earliest times, whether in the State or elsewhere, including the records of Mississippi troops in all wars in which they have participated, and also of the location and present condition of battlefields, historic houses and buildings.2

The commission would then present a report on the condition of the records to the next session of the legislature, along with their recommendations on their care. The proposed bill passed on March 2, 1900, and the legislature appropriated $1,000 annually for 1900 and 1901 for publishing expenses.

Franklin L. Riley Papers, MDAH Collection. Z/0583.000F. Circular letter announcing the Historical Commission in 1900, page 1

Franklin L. Riley Papers, MDAH Collection. Z/0583.000F. Circular letter announcing the establishment of the Mississippi Historical Commission in 1900, page 1

The Historical Commission submitted its report to the governor on November 1, 1901. The report was later published in volume five of Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society (1902). Along with an extensive catalog of manuscript collections and archives from around Mississippi and in other states, the commission members recommended that the collections of the society be donated to the state to form the “nucleus” of a Department of Archives and History and “that a Director of Archives and History be chosen who shall have charge of the proposed Department.”3

Andrew Longino. Call Number: PI/1989.0008 (MDAH Collection)

Andrew Longino. Call Number: PI/1989.0008 (MDAH Collection)

Governor Andrew Longino approved these recommendations, because at the next session of the legislature, which began on January 7, 1902, he submitted a letter (January 14) to the legislators asking them to establish a Department of Archives and History “under the auspices of the Mississippi Historical Society, to prescribe its functions and duties, and to provide for its maintenance and for the issuing of future publications of the Mississippi Historical Society.” The next day, Senate Bill No. 26 was introduced by Senator E. H. Moore of Bolivar County. This bill passed the Senate within a month’s time and was approved by the House of Representatives on February 24, 1902, becoming law on February 26, 1902. Senate Bill No. 72, the act for the maintenance of the new department, became law the same day.4

The newly created department now needed a director.

1 Franklin L. Riley, ed., Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. III, (Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Historical Society, 1900), 17.

2 Riley, Publications, vol. V (Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Historical Society, 1902), 7.

3 Ibid., 32, 34.

4 Dunbar Rowland, First Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi from March 14, 1902, to October 1st, 1902, 2nd ed. (Jackson, Miss: MDAH, 1911), 5-6 (MDAH).

Tagged with:

In this post, Blog Editor Amanda Lyons and Alanna Patrick, director of Paper Archives, take a look at the history of the Piney Woods School.

MDAH Collection. Laurence Clifton Jones (November 21, 1884-July 13, 1975). Call Number: PI/ED/J65.7.

In 1955, Lawrence Clifton Jones, founder of The Piney Woods School, was honored with a special state celebration in Mississippi during which Governor Hugh White declared him “Mississippi’s First Citizen.” Jones continued to serve as president of Piney Woods until his retirement in 1974. In 1981, he became the first African American to be admitted to the Mississippi Hall of Fame.

The Piney Woods School, Rankin County, was founded in 1909 by Laurence Clifton Jones with the purpose of providing the rural African American community with academic, moral, and practical training in agricultural and industrial trades. Jones began teaching informally under a cedar tree in the fall of 1909. Within three months, he had twenty-nine students. By the start of school in the autumn of 1910, Piney Woods had five teachers and a student body of one hundred that included adults as well as children.

MDAH Collection. “Graduation day at the Community School” (ca. 1931). Call Number: Z/2111.000/S, Box 12, folder 33, #7B. A young Laurence Jones is in the upper-left.

At first, the faculty taught adults and children together; there was no organized class system. By 1918, the school was divided into grades, including an elementary school. From 1923 through the early 1950s, the elementary students were taught at the Rosenwald Elementary School on the Piney Woods campus. The elementary school was discontinued in the early 1980s, revived with a pre-kindergarten program and discontinued again in 1995.

MDAH Collection. “Girls Dormitory 1931” Dulaney Hall. Call Number: Z/2111.000/S, Box 12, folder 33, #32.

Piney Woods grew during the early twentieth century through a combination of self-sufficiency, private contributions, and effective public relations. The students and faculty built the first buildings at Piney Woods, quarrying limestone and making bricks. The family of George W. Dulaney of Iowa contributed funds for the construction of a girls’ dormitory. The building, completed in 1921, was named Dulaney Hall in honor of the family.

MDAH Collection. “Pine Straw Baskets and Rag Rugs” (ca. 1931). Call Number: Z/2111.000/S, Box 12, folder 33, #10A.

Under Jones, who stressed the dignity of labor, Piney Woods focused on academic subjects that could be applied practically to agriculture and the mastery of two or three trades. Girls as well as boys were taught practical skills. Grace Morris Allen Jones (wife of Laurence C. Jones) taught English and handicrafts, such as sewing and weaving, at the school. Jones also organized activities for women in the community, including a Mother’s Club, which taught the women of the area housekeeping methods, sewing, childcare, and nutritional practices.


Day, Beth. The Little Professor of Piney Woods: The Story of Professor Laurence Jones. New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1955.

Harrison, Alferdteen B. Piney Woods School: An Oral History. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.

Piney Woods School. “History of the Piney Woods School,” 2007. Online <>. (accessed June 21, 2010).

Purcell, Leslie Harper. Miracle in Mississippi: Laurence C. Jones of Piney Woods. New York: Comet Press Books, 1956.

Tagged with:

Documenting Secession

On January 7, 2011, in Government Records, Paper Archives, by Amanda
Today we welcome guest blogger Alanna Patrick, director of the Paper Archives section at MDAH. In the coming months, she will bring us a series on secession-related documents from the MDAH collection.

When the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, many in the South believed he would undermine the institution of slavery and reduce or eliminate the rights of the southern states to govern themselves. This opinion, together with the widespread fear of slave insurrection—Jim Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was still fresh on the nation’s memory—made the election one of the most contested in American history.

Governor Pettus' address 353.9762 M69gp (MDAH Collection)

MDAH Collection. Governor Pettus' Address. Call number: 353.9762/M69gp

When the results of the national elections became known in Mississippi, Governor John J. Pettus called an extraordinary session of the legislature for the purpose of electing delegates for a convention to consider seceding from the Union. The secession convention convened in Jackson on January 7, 1861, and elected William Barry as its president. Former United States Senator L.Q.C. Lamar was elected chairman of the committee charged with drafting the ordinance of secession. On January 9, 1861, the Ordinance was approved by a vote of eighty-four to fifteen and signed by all but one delegate.

Miller Family Papers, Z 2215.000 (MDAH Collection)

Miller Family Papers, MDAH Collection, Z/2215.000, Box 12. Hugh Reid Miller's certificate as a delegate to the Mississippi secession convention

Hugh Reid Miller of Pontotoc served as representative in the Mississippi House of Representatives and, later, circuit judge of the Seventh District of Mississippi. He was elected a delegate to the Secession Convention on December 20, 1860, and was one of the “Committee of Fifteen” who drafted the Ordinance of Secession. Miller organized the “Pontotoc Minute Men” (later Company G, Second Regiment, Mississippi Infantry, Confederate States Army) and was elected captain of the unit. He went on to organize the Forty-Second Regiment, Mississippi Infantry, which took an active part in the Gettysburg Campaign (June-July 1863). Miller was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cemetery Hill, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.

John L. Thornton Scrapbooks, Z 0146.000 (MDAH Collection)

John L. Thornton Scrapbooks, MDAH Collection. Z/0146.000, Box 2, folder 1. John L. Thornton’s certificate appointing him Surgeon of the 22nd Mississippi Militia.

Physician John L. Thornton of Brandon carries the distinction of being the only delegate not to sign the Ordinance of Secession. In a newspaper article written several years after the Civil War, a colleague quoted Thornton as telling the convention “his constituents elected him to vote and work against secession, and the fame of Ceasar’s [sic] or Alexander could not induce him to forfeit the trust imposed in him.” Thornton would go on to serve as surgeon of the Twenty-Second Regiment, Mississippi Militia, and later as colonel of the Sixth Regiment, Mississippi Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, April 1862. Thornton resigned from the Confederate States Army on May 25, 1862, and returned to Brandon to resume his medical practice.


Boatner, Mark Mayo. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: Vintage Books, Inc., 1991.

Busbee, Westley F. Mississippi: A History. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 2005.

Tagged with:
Sesquicentennial website screen shot

Screen shot of the new website (click the image to go to the site).

Check out the new website from the Mississippi Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission! It was recently unveiled and will serve as a clearing house for the various statewide events commemorating the 150 anniversary of the Civil War. Other fun stuff on the website: a timeline of Civil War action, photos, videos, reading lists, visitor information, related collections at various institutions (including MDAH) and more!

The website was developed by the Mississippi State University Libraries Web Services Department.

Tagged with: