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Lillian W. Voorhees papers

Identifier: 375

Scope and Contents

The Lillian Welch Voorhees papers consist of 21.7 linear feet of items typical of the life of a 20th century educator. The collection also reflects Voorhees's literary and theatrical interests with examples of her own writings, as well as those of her students.

Correspondence, 1900-1973 (ca. 8450 items), comprises the largest part of Voorhees's papers. Her literary efforts, 1907-71, are another large section. These include bibliographies; articles; a fragmentary autobiography and several curricula vitae; and two short biographies about actress Rose McClendon, published in Notable American Women, 1607-1950, and professor and Voorhees classmate Mildred Evelyn Bassett, published in Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly [Spring, 1964?]. The papers also include Voorhees's book reviews; school and college term papers, themes, and notebooks; editorials and news items; plays; a few short stories; two of her many speeches; her dissertation (1925) and her thesis (1943), both for Columbia Teachers College; a few poems; and other material (1932-1935, 1969), such as advertising, correspondence, proof sheets, plays and poems, relating to The Brown Thrush: Anthology of Verse by Negro Students of which she was co-editor [1st ed., 1932; 2nd ed., 1935]. In addition, Voorhees collected other literary work by her students (1929-1972), which included articles, plays, short stories, and poems. Other papers include announcements, invitations, and programs; bills and receipts; constitutions, amendments, by-laws, and minutes; five volumes of diaries, all fragmentary; a few pamphlets, booklets, and periodicals; records of family, school, college, travel and honors conferred; reports; scrapbooks; photographs; news clippings; and phonograph records.

The papers of Voorhees contain information on the history and development of Tougaloo and Talladega Colleges and Fisk University, as well as collegiate drama and speech education. Other subjects of importance include educational theater; children's theater; the little theater movement, plays, actors and actresses (especially Rose McClendon, mentioned above, and Paul Robeson); professional speech and drama organizations (particularly the National Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts (1936-1970); the American Educational Theatre Association (1943-1963); and the American National Theatre and Academy (1947-1963)); the opening of new fields for employment and activity to Blacks (1942-70); black servicemen in the armed forces (1940-1964); student demonstrations (1960-1971); the American Missionary Association (1917-1960) and in lesser degrees, the American Friends Service Committee and the Young Men's Christian Association; graduate education (1925-1944); women professors (1917-1970); women's education at Mount Holyoke College (1913-1917); the role of and prejudices against women in the 1920s; and activities open to and /or chosen by retired persons (1930-1972).

Among members of Voorhees's family, a cousin, Helen McNair Voorhees (b. 1892) corresponded most frequently. Besides members of the family and several classmates of the Mount Holyoke College Class of 1917, principal correspondents are colleagues and students at Tougaloo and Talladega Colleges and Fisk University. Included are Roger Lee Askew, Eleanor H. Augur, Adam Daniel Beittel, Frederick Leslie Brownlee, Lyman Van Law Cady, Helen Cassilly Silsby Cross (Mrs. Robert C.), Gerald Lewis Davis, Hilda A. Davis, Gladys Inez Forde, Doris B. Garey, Martha Jane Gibson, Mrs. Fannie Ella Frazier Hicklin, the Gordon Henry Kitchen family (G. H. Kitchen, his wife, Dorothea Hughes Kitchen, and their daughters, Victoria Nan Kitchen Steele [Mrs. Warren B.] and Joy Adelyn Kitchen Ward [Mrs. Clinton, Jr.]), Ethel S. Miller (Mrs. Minuard B.), Willis Norman Pitts, Margaret Helen Scott, Anndell Sturgies (Mrs. Calvin), and Carolyn Reid Wallace (Mrs. Addison N.).


  • Created: 1892-1973
  • Other: Date acquired: 01/01/1970


Conditions Governing Access

The Lillian W. Voorhees papers are open and available for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Biographical or Historical Information

Dr. Lillian Welch Voorhees was a civil rights activist and educator who taught at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi (1917-1927), Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama(1928-1943), and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee (1943-1970). Voorhees had a particular interest in race relations, discrimination in accommodation, missionary work, and theater. Voorhees, daughter of Emma Welch and Garrett Scott Voorhees, was born on February 6, 1896 in Bedminster, New Jersey. She was the older sister to Garrett Scott Voorhees, Jr. (1900-1921) who died in a railway accident while a Junior at Rutgers University. After her early education in the public schools of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Voorhees attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts (1913-1917). After receiving her bachelor's degree, Voorhees started teaching at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi as a missionary-teacher employed by the American Missionary Association in 1917. Voorhees originally intended to become a missionary in China, however she was advised to acquire experience in the field home missions work first. From 1920-1924, Voorhees spent the summers studying at the Teacher's College of Columbia University in New York. After the death of her younger brother Garrett in 1921, Voorhees' parents moved from Basking Ridge, New Jersey to Tougaloo and her father became the superintendent of the Tougaloo College farm (some 400 acres) while her mother worked as the director of the girls' dormitory and residences. During the summer of 1924, Voorhees assisted Olivia M. Hunter, a student and informally adopted sister, to live in New York City to study music. Hunter spent the summer at the Voorhees' farm in Basking Ridge, New Jersey where she rested and studied organ with the local church organist. In collaboration with Hunter, Voorhees arranged "An' de Walls Came Tumbling Down: an Evening with Paul Laurence Dunbar," a dramatization with songs for 45 poems and two short stories. This would be her first play, which was produced at Tougaloo College in 1926 and 1927. In 1927, Voorhees left Tougaloo to accept a new position at Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. Voorhees participated in an international summer theater tour (England and Germany) and was awarded a Drama League Scholarship to study at the Central School of Speech in London, England in 1932. In 1943, Voorhees received her doctorate in Speech Education from Teachers College at Columbia University. During this same year, Voorhees became a professor of Speech and Dramatics at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. At Fisk, she helped established a drama major at the institution and was named the first chairperson of the new Department of Speech and Dramatics. She retired from this position in 1963. Voorhees associated herself with a predominately black church, the Union Church (Congregational) at Fisk University, which she served as treasurer (1944-1970), and to which she left a considerable sum upon her death. She also worked closely with the Eighteenth Avenue Community Center in Nashville (1955-1971), holding various administrative offices. She attempted to persuade the Children's Theatre of Nashville to accept an open policy of admission, and to reopen the Fisk University Social Center as a gathering place for neighborhood children. Voorhees was a member of numerous professional speech and drama organizations such as the American Educational Theatre Association (1943-1971), the American National Theatre and Academy (1947-1963), and the National Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts (1936-1971. In all cases, she sought to have conventions held in cities and hotels where accommodations were available to all and where everyone had access to meetings. Dr. Voorhees died in 1972.

Note written by G. M. H.


21.70 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Physical Access Requirements

The aluminum electrograph records within the collection are currently unavailable for research use. Please contact the reference services department for more information.

Source of Acquisition

Ms. Lillian Welch Voorhees

Method of Acquisition


Appraisal Information

This collection documents African American education in the United States, specifically in Alabama and Mississippi. The history and development of Toogaloo College (Mississippi), Talladega College (Alabama), and Fisk University (Tennessee), as well as collegiate drama activites, and professional theater organizations are the strenghts of this collection.

Accruals and Additions

An addition to the papers was received in 1973, which included the bulk of the materials Voorhees generated throughout her lifetime.

Related Materials

The records of the American Missionary Association and the papers of Fred L. Brownlee are closely related to the Voorhees papers.

Other Descriptive Information

Correspondence Index attached as PDF.

Processing Information

This collection was processed in 1975.

Lillian W. Voorhees papers
G. M. H.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222