George Arthur Roberts Family papers, 1884-1970s and undated, bulk 1907-1950s

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Roberts, George Arthur, 1882-
4.6 Linear Feet
2240 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The George Arthur Roberts Family Papers span the years from 1884 until the late 1970s (primarily the first half of the twentieth century), and consist largely of visual documents, including photographs, photograph albums, slides, and negatives; a collection of postcards and a small amount of printed material are also included. While the majority of the images are unidentified, they provide a rich and extensive pictorial record of the activities of pioneer Methodist missionaries, the early missions they established, and the personal experience and growth of one missionary family in this setting. George Arthur Roberts' memoir Let Me Tell You a Story..., copies of which are included in the collection, describes life as lived by these early missionaries and contrasts them with conditions in 1964, the time of its writing. In addition to documenting aspects of missionary history, the Roberts papers also depict the landscapes and peoples of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and surrounding areas, particularly the Umtali region (now Mutare), at a time when they remained relatively untouched by western influence. The Papers are organized into the following series based on format: the Photographic Prints Series, Postcards Series, Printed Material Series, Negatives Series, Slides Series, and the Photograph Albums Series.

The Photographic Prints Series and the Slides Series comprise the bulk of the collection. Both series have been organized into the following subseries: People, Mission Activities, and African Scenes/Landscapes. The People Subseries contains numerous portraits of African men, women, and children; missionaries; and primarily the Roberts family themselves, including photos likely taken on various trips both within Africa and to other locations including the United States, Europe, and Asia. Of particular note in the People Subseries are a group of prints of the visit of the British Queen Mother and Elizabeth II to Melsetter Junction in 1948. The Mission Activities Subseries contains images of such school- and church-related events as conferences and gatherings, construction of mission buildings, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Some of the original prints used to illustrate Roberts' Let Me Tell You A Story... can also be found. There is little overlap, in terms of identical images, between the prints and slides series.

The Negatives Series contains 27 rolls of 35mm film, likely dating from the 1950s, from which contact sheets have been made. While the contact sheets are open for research, the master negative rolls themselves are closed to patron use. The series also includes some cut 35mm negative frames and a few medium-format negatives which are open for research. The subject matter of the negatives is similar to that of the Photographic Prints Series and the Slides Series. The majority of the images in this series do not appear to duplicate images found in previous series.

The Photograph Album Series consists of three bound photograph albums, containing a rich variety of images. The collection also includes an extensive Postcards Series, 1918-1965 and undated, from locations largely within Africa but also in Europe, Asia, and North America. The Printed Materials Series contains two copies of Let Me Tell You A Story..., George Arthur Roberts' memoir, and other mission-related material.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
George Arthur Roberts born in Marathon, Iowa
George Roberts received BSA from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
George Roberts became a Methodist Episcopal missionary, based at the United Methodist Church of Marathon, Iowa; sent to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Africa, and began work at Old Umtali (now Mutare)
Roberts married fellow missionary Bertha Fowles
Twin sons, Tudor and Thomas Roberts, born
Moved to Mutambara mission, Umtali
ca. 1920
Daughter, Mary Elma, born
Moved to Nyadiri mission, Umtali
Retired from missionary work to a farm near the Mutambara mission
Bertha Fowles Roberts died; George Roberts remarried a retired local missionary, Lulu Tubbs
George Roberts wrote Let Me Tell You a Story...
Late 1960s
George and Lulu Tubbs Roberts returned to America and lived at the Penney Farms Retirement Community in Clay County, Florida
1973, July 29
George Roberts died in Marathon, Iowa

At Old Umtali, George Arthur Roberts took charge of agricultural training for the recently-established mission. There he taught various subjects at mission schools and conducted projects and experiments, including instituting animal husbandry and introducing a variety of food crops, as well as serving as blacksmith and resident tooth-puller.

The birth of twin boys to Roberts and his first wife, Bertha Fowles Roberts, bore significance due to the apparent local tribal custom calling for twins to be killed at birth, as they were viewed as portents of evil that would cause the deaths of their parents. The Robertses provided an example in opposition to this custom, resulting in increased acceptance of twins in the region. Bertha Fowles Roberts (1883-1957), a native of Oregon, had responsibility for mission bookkeeping and other office duties, as well as teaching and organizing women's conferences.

Acquisition information:
The George Arthur Roberts Family Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 1998.
Processing information:

Processed by Elizabeth Arnold

Completed February 20, 2004

Encoded by Elizabeth Arnold

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Collection is open for research, with the exception of original negatives, where contact sheets have been made for patron access.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], George Arthur Roberts Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.