William J. and Leslie Sands Williams Papers, 1930s-1990s

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Williams, William Jackson, Dr., 1914-2008
Dr. William J. Williams and his wife, Irene Leslie Sands Williams, a nurse, were Southern Baptist medical missionaries stationed at Ogbomosho Baptist Hospital, Nigeria from 1944 through 1984. The couple also worked in Gaza and Kurdistan, and were active in several Baptist churches in the United States. This collection contains their diaries, photographs, correspondence, and other items documenting their work and family life as Christians, medical personnel, and educators.
10 Linear Feet
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The collection consists of personal diaries, correspondence, and photographs largely dating from the couple's service in Nigeria from the 1940s-1980s.

The Diaries series contains diaries from both Bill and Leslie; each reflects their personal style of journaling. The William J. Williams subseries contains small datebooks, usually featuring regular entries about his and Leslie's daily movements or activities. Leslie Williams' subseries contains diaries that vary in length and size; for a period of time in the 1940s and 1950s, she used her diary as a sort of scrapbook, which meant volumes arrived with all kinds of letters, clippings, and ephemera tucked in the pages. Because these presented preservation challenges to the volume, and likely difficulty for use in the reading room, archivists separately foldered the inlaid items but attempted to record where in the volume they originated. Thus researchers looking to reconstruct Leslie's correspondence should also check the Diaries series, which includes letters along with other items that she saved in her diaries.

The Correspondence series arrangement largely reflects how the materials were transferred to Rubenstein. The bulk of the letters are from Leslie to friends and family, including Jereen Rugis (her college roommate), May Bernhart, and other stateside friends and family. There are also pockets of correspondence from Bill to Leslie, both dating from the 1930s while each was in school, and from 1976, during a furlough. Other correspondence is more formal, including administrative letters from the Foreign Missions Board regarding their appointments and salaries.

The Photographs series contains albums, slides, prints, and negatives, some captioned but largely uncaptioned. Images date from the 1940s through the 1980s. The bulk of the iamges are from Nigeria, including photographs of Bill, Leslie, and their children; medical care for patients in Ogbomosho, Eku, and various villages and leper colonies; education of student nurses and church services in Nigeria; and photographs of plants and other Nigeria street scenes. Other photographs document their travels to Gaza, El Salvador, Honduras, Gaza, and Kurdistan, as well as their visits to the United States (including images in Texas, Oklahoma, and Detroit).

The Medical Missionary series contains assorted items from Bill and Leslie's theological and medical education in the United States, as well as materials from their appointment as missionaries in Nigeria. The series contains assorted newsletters and administrative materials from the Baptist Mission and other churches that supported their work; travel documents such as passports and shipping logs; their personal banking and cash accounts from the operation of the hospital; two Bibles used by Bill and Leslie; and other ephemeral materials from their missionary careers.

Biographical / historical:

Irene Leslie Sands Williams (Dec. 12, 1913-Dec. 19, 2004) was born near Shawnee, Oklahoma, attended Shawnee High School, and then graduated from Oklahomoa Baptist University in 1935. William J. Williams (Apr. 24, 1914-Feb. 16, 2008) was born in Columbus, Georgia, and attended high school in Birmingham, Alabama, and then graduated from Howard College (now Samford University). The couple met while studying at Southwestern Baptist University in Ft. Worth, Texas; Leslie earned an MRE and Bill earned a degree in theology. They then went to Waco, Texas to attend Baylor University (he graduated from medical school and she graduated as an RN). Leslie and Bill married on Aug. 13, 1940.

The couple worked at Southern Baptist Hospital (New Orleans) and at Norwood Hospital (Birmingham, AL) before being appointed missionaries by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1944. Although they initially hoped to be placed in China, the ongoing World War II and the urgent need in Nigeria led to them being appointed as medical missionaries to Ogbomosho Baptist Hospital. Leslie led the student nursing program while Bill ran the hospital; both traveled and treated patients throughout Nigeria, including frequent circuits to leper colonies and to villages in the north. Their missionary appointments consisted of three years onsite, followed by one year of furlough; they did this for over 25 years before formal retirement. They also served as medical personnel in Gaza for several months, returned to Nigeria in 1983, and Bill traveled in Kurdistan and Khazakstan as a field doctor in the late 1980s. Eventually the couple returned to Oklahoma.

The couple had two sons, William Carey Williams (called Bill Carey in the papers) and Gary Lynn Williams.

Acquisition information:
The William J. and Leslie Sands Williams Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2018.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, Aug. 2018. Accessions described in this collection guide: 2018-0092.


This collection is organized into series: Diaries, Photographs, Correspondence and Personal, and Medical Missionary Training and Service.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], William J. and Leslie Sands Williams Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.