The papers of Fannie B. Rosser document the personal and professional life of a black businesswoman within a fiscally sound African American community in Durham, N.C. Correspondence, legal and financial papers, printed materials, and photographs reflect both her business activities and her relationships with close friends and family members from the turn of the century to the 1970s.
The bulk of the correspondence until the 1950s pertains to Rosser's business ventures, including maintenance of her property, personal loans made to family and friends, and her investments in government stocks and bonds. Letters from her lifelong friend and business partner, Virginia Randolf of Lynchburg, Va., document the process of maintaining Rosser's rental property over the course of thirty years. They highlight, among other things, the apparent ghettoization of the neighborhood in which her houses were situated, and Randolf's personal and financial response to that process.
Friends and family members often deferred financial matters to Rosser, a careful and respected business woman, and were often dependent on her for monetary support. The correspondence illustrates Rosser's financial acumen and demonstrates the extent to which her personal relationships and business activities overlapped. Of particular interest is an exchange with the Wilhoite's, a couple to whom she loaned $1000, during the Depression. Their correspondence illustrates the personal nature of her business dealings and the difficulties Rosser had in balancing finances and friendships.
Later correspondence centers around Rosser's relationships with her foster daughter Mattie Burton Meyers and niece June. There are scattered references to the political climate of the 1960s, and correspondence from Mattie mentions her work with the NAACP. Also, in the printed materials there is a 2012 published biography of Mattie written by her granddaughter Sharon Revis-Green.
The printed materials consist of materials such as news clippings on both family events and local politics, church programs, and obituaries. A large series of financial and legal papers, 1895-1969, provide extensive detail on Rosser's investments, insurance policies, and legal activities. Many of these documents are associated with firms such as the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, where Rosser was employed.
The photographs in the collection date back to the early 1860s and are mostly individual portraits and group photographs of African American family members and friends. An unidentified ambrotype of an African American woman dated prior to the Civil War indicates that the family might have been free.
The collection consists largely of family correspondence based in and around Harpers Ferry, which is arranged chronologically from 1838 through 1936. Since three of the four Chambers sisters never married, there are many letters from their friends and suitors. In particular are courtship letters from Jennie's suitor Charles Davies, a lawyer who wooed her for fifteen years. Although she appears to have loved him, her parents disapproved and the couple never wed; Davies eventually married someone else. There is also significant correspondence from the Castle sons to their mother in Harpers Ferry.
Along with correspondence, the collection includes some legal and financial papers, loosely arranged by date. Of note in the legal papers is a handwritten copy of John Brown's will, although no context is provided as to why it is present in the family's papers. Also present in the collection are drafts, poems, and essays, both by Jennie Chambers and unidentified authors. Of note are the drafts from Chambers' article, What a School-Girl Saw of John Brown's Raid, eventually published in Harpers Magazine in 1902.
There is a file with evidence of Chambers' interest in painting, including her notes about mixing paint colors and some sketches. The collection also contains several daybooks and a few photographs, largely unidentified.
The papers of Nancy Hanks span the years 1894-1987 with the bulk occurring during the 1940s to 1983. Included are correspondence; minutes; reports; typed, mimeographed, and printed material; financial papers; clippings; mail logs; telephone records; calendars; office files; interviews, questionnaires; and diaries. In addition there are scrapbooks, pictures, photograph albums, slides, audio cassettes, videocassettes, and electronic documents. One series contains awards, honorary degrees, and memorabilia.
The Nancy Hanks collection is useful as a study of the development of private and governmental arts programs, in particular through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the personal life and career (1950s-1970s) of an upper-class single woman. Arts and the federal government is a recurrent theme. The collection also contains information about a variety of arts organizations in which Hanks was involved, often as a board member. Although the papers here document both her personal and professional life and present a balanced account, there are relatively few professional papers in the collection concerning her early career, 1951-1968.
The private life of Nancy Hanks is chiefly documented in the Personal Series. Although there are no diaries in the collection, the letters she wrote to her parents from the 1940s through the 1970s form a type of diary. This correspondence in the Personal Series often contains a detailed accounting of daily events from her college years at Duke University, where she majored in political science, and her early career in Washington, D.C., through the NEA years. Letters from her parents reveal their influence on her and often note their advice to her. Other correspondence is from friends, some during World War II, including extensive correspondence from 1946 to 1949 with William A. Carpenter, a former college friend. Other correspondents were Louis E. Reid, 1955-1961; John F. Watkins, 1949-1950; and Duke University Dean of Chapel James T. Cleland, 1949-1969. The financial papers in that series reveal her wealth, such as in real estate and stocks, as well as her long illness. There are gaps in the tax returns and bank statements from 1966-1975 and after 1979.
The Duke University, Bryan and Virginia Hanks, Larry Hanks, and Pictures Series all complete the story. In the Duke University Series, Hanks' financial contributions to the university are documented, including the Hanks Family Endowment Fund and the Hanks Family Chapel Fund.
The Bryan and Virginia Hanks Series and Larry Hanks Series contain records of Hanks' parents, Bryan Cayce Hanks, Virginia Wooding Hanks, and brother Lawrence (Larry) Wooding Hanks. Included in the Bryan and Virginia Hanks Series are late-nineteenth century documents, letters of Hanks' father from France during World War I and from a Colorado sanatarium, 1931-1932, as well as their courtship letters. Bryan Hanks was a lawyer in New York, Miami, and Fort Worth, and became president of Florida Power and Light Company in 1937. Also there is some Hanks and Wooding families history, including a few papers of Benjamin Franklin Wooding, Nancy's maternal grandfather. He was a medical doctor and inventor who developed an automatic train control device and automatic block controls for prevention of railroad accidents. The Larry Hanks Series tells the story of the early death of Nancy Hanks' younger brother, who was killed in a truck accident in California in June, 1950 at the age of eighteen while a student at Southwestern University.
In this collection it is primarily the NEA portion of Hanks' career, 1968-1977 during the Nixon and Ford years, that is represented. However, there is some information in the letters to Hanks' parents in the Personal Series which reflects her early work, 1951-1968. During her tenure at NEA there were vast increases in NEA funding. The NEA was established in 1965 with the National Endowment for the Humanities as components of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities. In the National Endowment for the Arts Series there is a narrative entitled, "Ten Years for Tomorrow," which contains much biographical information about Hanks' NEA years. While at NEA Hanks delivered numerous speeches; in fact from 1971 to 1974 she made about 100 addresses. These years are also documented in the American Film Institute (AFI), Commission on Critical Choices for Americans, and National Council on the Arts series, which depict related responsibilities of Hanks. AFI files document the organization's efforts to preserve the heritage and art of both film and television in America. National Council on the Arts files reflect programs in the areas of architecture, dance, education, expansion arts, literature, museums, music, visual arts, exhibitions, and theater. The Personal Series, Pictures Series, and Awards and Memorabilia Series provide supplemental information. Letters Hanks wrote to her parents as well as other correspondence and notes in the Personal Series relating to the NEA show her continuing interest in the agency after retirement. Related papers for the NEA are housed at the National Archives.
The alphabetical files in the Personal Series document her board work, memberships, and interest in a variety of organizations and institutions, including those related to the arts. They include the Awards in the Visual Arts, Commission on Museums for a new Century, Continental Oil Company (Conoco), the Conservation Foundation, the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S., the Independent Sector, the Indo-U.S. Subcommission on Education and Culture, Partners for Livable Places, the Phillips Collection, Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, Scholastic, Inc., and Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. One measure of the public recognition of Hanks' work is the fact that during 1970 to 1981 she received 27 honorary doctoral degrees. The National Endowment for the Arts Series office files, Rockefeller Brothers Fund Series, and the Personal Series alphabetical files all contain single folders for a variety of art, dance, and music organizations.
Papers relating to Nelson Rockefeller are scattered throughout the collection. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund Series contains material relating to Nelson A., John D., 3rd, and Laurance. In the Personal Series is information on Nelson A. Rockefeller and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Hanks' correspondence with her parents also discusses her relationship with Nelson Rockefeller.
There are papers in the collection that reflect both Hanks' retirement years as well as activities of colleagues after her death in 1983. One measure of Hanks' post-NEA involvement is that in 1982 she was on the boards of three corporations and a foundation, as well as being trustee or advisor for 20 non-profit organizations. Related materials are in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center, Inc. series. The papers of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, where Hanks was a vice chairman, do not appear to provide a complete record of her work there. These files are probably scattered ones that she kept at home and often were not clearly defined.
The U.S. government designated the Old Post Office space on Pennsylvania Avenue as the Nancy Hanks Center. The Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center was formed to initiate programs commemorating Hanks' life and advancing her values. Most of the interviews in this series were conducted by Peter Jessup, but Donna Mitchell conducted a number of them. Many of these interviews exist as electronic files and are available to researchers. These files are listed in the container list for the Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center, Inc. Series.
A related collection in the Duke University Special Collections Department is the Philip Hanes collection. In addition, Hanes material appears in the Hanks Papers in the Personal Series both under his name and in the Awards in the Visual Arts folders.