Fannie B. Rosser papers, 1867-1973, 2012

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Collection is open for research.
More about accessing and using these materials...


Rosser, Fannie B.
Fannie B. Rosser (1884-1973) was an African American businesswoman from Lynchburg, Virginia, and long-term resident of Durham, North Carolina. Correspondence, legal and financial papers, printed materials, ephemera, and photographs document Rosser's personal relationships and professional activities, including her close ties with female family members and friends; the management of properties in Lynchburg and Durham; personal loans; and her financial investments in stocks and bonds. A series of 114 photographs dates from about 1872-1956 and includes several tintypes and albumen prints of Fannie's grandmother, an ambrotype of an unknown young woman of color, and many albumen and gelatin silver photographs of Rosser's African American family and friends from Lynchburg, Virginia, Durham, N.C., and other places.
1.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The papers of Fannie B. Rosser document the personal and professional life of a single Black businesswoman living in Durham, North Carolina in the early to mid-20th century. Correspondence, legal and financial papers, printed materials, and photographs reflect both her business activities and her relationships with close friends and family members, particularly women, from the 1870s to the early 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, Virginia, 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, and were often dependent on her for monetary support. The correspondence illustrates Rosser's financial acumen and the extent to which her personal relationships and business activities overlapped. Of particular interest is an exchange with the Wilhoites, 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 Rosser Penick. There are scattered references to the political climate of the 1960s, and correspondence from Mattie mentions her work with the NAACP. A folder of printed materials includes news clippings on family events and local politics, church programs, and obituaries, as well a 2012 published biography of Mattie written by her granddaughter Sharon Revis-Green.

A large series of financial and legal papers, 1895-1969, document in detail 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 for about 30 years.

The 114 photographs in the collection (early 1870s-circa 1956) are mostly individual portraits and group photographs of Rosser and Harris family members and friends. Among the formats are one ambrotype, several tintypes, and many albumen and gelatin silver prints. The earliest photographs are of Peggy Harris, Fannie's grandmother (c. 1813-1888) and a young woman who is likely Fannie's mother Annetta Harris or a sister. The photographs indicate that both families were of mixed race descent and were people of means; some of the family members may have been free persons of color before the Civil War.

Biographical / historical:

Fannie Jane Brodie Rosser, born in 1884 in Lynchburg, Virginia, was the daughter of Edmond (or Edmund) Burgess Rosser (1851-1929) and Annetta (Nettie) Harris Rosser (1856-1894); her siblings were Maggie, Pansy, Joseph Irvin, and James Boyd Rosser. Fannie's father, Edmond Burgess Rosser, Sr., is recorded as the son of an Edmund Rosser and a woman named "Britania" or Brittania, and was reportedly born in Appomatox; his occupations are listed as working for Norfolk and Western, and as a brakeman and porter for the Pullman Palace Car Company; he owned the family home. He was recorded in official documents chiefly as Edmund Rosser, but is listed on his death certificate as Edmond Rosser, Jr., and his father's name as Edmond Rosser, Sr. Fannie's mother Annetta died in 1894 when Fannie was about 10, and her father married Callie Higginbotham in 1902; she was from Amherst, Virginia. The family on both sides is recorded as mulatto in early censuses and Black or "colored" in later records.

In the 1880 Federal census, Annetta and Edmond's household included Annetta's mother, Peggy Harris, whose name appears on her tombstone as Margrett Harris (ca. 1813-1888), born in Lynchburg, who is featured in several tintypes and in one albumen print in this collection. Peggy Harris's husband, Bucyrus Harris (1808-1867), is also buried with Peggy in Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery. Also in the 1880 household is a sister-in-law, Fanny "Brady" (Broadie or Brodie, a name also appearing in Fannie B. Rosser's name), probably Nettie's older sister.

Fannie B. Rosser moved to Durham, North Carolina in 1914 after an offer of employment from the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, where she worked for the next 32 years. She owned rental properties in both Durham and Lynchburg, and gave out personal loans to friends and family, especially during the Depression. She died in Lynchburg in 1973 and is buried in the Old City Cemetery next to several relatives.

Rosser was a foster mother to Mattie Douglas Burton of Durham, N.C., and was a guardian aunt to her brother Joseph's daughter, June Rosser. Mattie married Dr. Earl Randolph Meyers of Fresno, California in 1946; they had five children. Mattie Meyers became a leader in the Fresno chapter of the NAACP where she served as president for some time. June Rosser married Eugene Hudson Penick in 1961; they had at least three children. She remained financially dependent on her aunt until Rosser's death in 1973.

Acquisition information:
The Fannie B. Rosser Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 1976 and 2012.
Processing information:

Processed by Ginny Daley; Jennifer Morgan, January 1991.

Encoded by Joshua A. Kaiser.

Reprocessing and reparative description by Paula Jeannet, 2016, 2023.

Accession(s) described in this collection guide: 1976, 2012.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Fannie B. Rosser papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.