Betsy Brinson | Virginia Museum of History & Culture A Guide to the Betsy Brinson Papers, 1894-1999
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Betsy Brinson

A Guide to the Betsy Brinson Papers, 1894-1999.
Call Number Mss1 B7725 b FA2

Administrative Information


Collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Betsy Brinson Papers, 1894-1999 (Mss1 B7725 b FA2), Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Betsy Brinson, Richmond, Va., June 29, 1999. Accessioned September 26, 2008.


Descriptive Summary

Collection Number: Mss1 B7725 b FA2
Collection Name: Betsy Brinson Papers, 1894-1999.
Size: 2000 (ca.) items (6 linear feet).
Language: English
Abstract: Research and administrative materials compiled by Betsy Brinson while working for the ACLU Southern Women’s Rights Project, the Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project, the Richmond, Va., YWCA, and while writing on women’s history subjects.

Scope and Content Information

This collection is comprised of research and administrative materials compiled by Dr. Brinson in the course of her work for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Southern Women’s Rights Project, the Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project, the Richmond, Va., branch of the YWCA, the Virginia Commonwealth University Women’s Studies Task Force, and while conducting her dissertation research as well as research on a variety of subjects relating to women’s history, including the history of African American women in Richmond, the history of Richmond during the 19th and 20th centuries, labor history in the South, especially in relation to discrimination against women and African Americans, the impact of women on Virginia’s history over four centuries, racism and sexism in American culture, and biographical information on notable Virginia women.

Of additional interest are biographical information on Lucy Randolph Mason and her work with the Young Women’s Christian Association and the National Consumers’ League (Series 3), and a copy of Dr. Brinson’s dissertation, “Helping others to help themselves" : social advocacy and wage-earning women in Richmond, Virginia, 1910-1932 (Series 14).

Biographical/Historical Information

Dr. Brinson holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (American history) and a Ph.D. from the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities in Cincinnati, Ohio (Women’s studies). In the course of her career she has worked for the ACLU as North Carolina state director (1970-1974), Virginia state director (1974-1977), and program director of the Southern Women’s Rights Project (1977-1981). Her work experience also includes positions as executive director, Southerners for Economic Justice (1981-1982) and community relations director for the Richmond (Va.) Branch of the YWCA (1982-1984). She has served on the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University (adjunct faculty, 1982-1998; assistant professor, Medical College of Virginia, Dept. of Family Practice, 1991-1993; assistant professor/program coordinator, Medical College of Virginia, School of Medicine, 1993-1998), the University of Richmond (adjunct faculty, 1982-1984), and Mary Baldwin College (adjunct faculty, 1982-1986). Voluntary positions include membership on Virginia’s Commission on the Status of Women (1982-1984), on the executive board of the Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project (1982-1984), as a member of Virginia Commonwealth University Women’s Studies Task Force (1982-1986), and as executive director of the Central Virginia AIDS Services and Education and the Richmond AIDS Ministry (1990-1991). She has published extensively on women’s history, African American history, and racial and gender discrimination in education and employment.


These materials are grouped into fourteen series as follows: Series 1. African American women’s history; Series 2. ACLU Southern Women’s Rights Project; Series 3. Notable women; Series 4. Quaker history; Series 5. Racism/Sexism in American culture; Series 6. Richmond history; Series 7. Southern history/Southern women’s history; Series 8. The Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project (VWCHP); Series 9. Woman and work; Series 10. Women in Virginia history; Series 11. Women’s issues and concerns; Series 12. Women’s Studies (including the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Women’s Studies Task Force); Series 13.YWCA Richmond branch; and Series 14. Personal materials. Researchers should keep in mind that many of the series overlap subjects, and that those series pertaining to Dr. Brinson’s work for the ACLU and the YWCA also include historical data on those and related institutions.

Index Terms

African American women – Virginia – History.
African Americans – Virginia – History.
Discrimination – Law and legislation – United States.
Quakers – Virginia – History.
Race relations – United States – History.
Richmond (Va.) – History.
Sexism – United States – History.
Southern Women’s Rights Project (American Civil Liberties Union)
Virginia Commonwealth University – Curriculum.
Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project.
Women – Legal status, laws, etc. – United States – History.
Women – Southern States – History.
Women – Virginia – Biography.
Women historians.
Women’s studies.
Young Women’s Christian Association (Richmond, Va.) – History.
Young Women’s Christian Association (Richmond, Va.) – Officials and employees.


Series 1. African American Women’s History

This series contains background research as well as materials compiled for a course taught at the Open High School, Richmond, Va., in 1979, including the work of some of the participating students. The “Brooks Chronicle” traces a Richmond African American family from the early 19th century, when they were enslaved, until the early 20th. The file on Education also includes information on Hartshorn Memorial College, Richmond. The file on Medical Care includes information on African American female physician Sarah Garland Jones and on the Richmond Community Hospital. The file on Teaching Black Women’s Heritage contains an article by Dr. Brinson by that title, as well as other articles on the difficulties to be overcome teaching African American history.

Box 1

Folder 1 African American life in 19th century Richmond
  2 Biographical sketches and chronology
  3 Black Women in History and Culture (Open High School Course, 1979)
  4 Black Women Oral History Project Guidelines, Radcliffe College (1977)
  5 Brooks Chronicle : the Lives and Times of an African American Family (1989)
  6 Education
  7 Medical care, medical education, and public health
  8 Teaching Black women’sheritage

Series 2. American Civil Liberties Union

This series reflects Dr. Brinson’s work with the ACLU, in particular her term as the first director of the Southern Women’s Rights Project, a regional effort to coordinate advocacy efforts and programs. Also of interest in this section is the file on Mary Ware Dennett, who in 1929 was convicted of sending pornography through the mail. A copy of her pamphlet, The Sex Side of Life, is included, as well as information on her defense, which was coordinated by the ACLU.

Folder 9 Equal Rights Amendment
  10 History of the ACLU, 1920s-1960s
  11 History of the ACLU, Sources for
  12 History of the ACLU, Women’s involvement in
  13 Mary Ware Dennett Case (includes copy of The Sex Side of Life)
  14 Newsletters, etc.
  15 Newspaper articles concerning ACLU Activities
  16 Southern Women’s Rights Project correspondence, 1973-1981
  17 Southern Women’s Rights Project descriptions
  18 Southern Women’s Rights Project programs and conferences, 1979-1980
  19 Southern Women’s Rights Project publications and publicity, 1973, 1978-1980
  20 Southern Women’s Rights Project writings by B. Brinson, 1978-1979

Series 3. Biographies of Notable Women

These files vary in content from a few photocopied pages to extensive research notes. The files on historic preservationist Isobel Lamont (Stewart) Bryan, feminist and ACLU co-founder Crystal Eastman, author Ellen Glasgow, suffragist Mary Johnston (includes copy of her journal , 1906-1911), educator Brownie Lee Jones (includes transcript of oral history), African American physician Sarah Garland (Boyd) Jones, YWCA official, suffragist and National Consumer’s League officer Lucy Randolph Mason (includes several oral histories with individuals who knew Mason), Virginia state legislator Dorothy McDiarmid (includes oral history), and historian Sheila Rothman (includes interview text) are the most extensive.

Folder 21 Andrews, Marietta Minnigerode (1869-1931), artist
  22 Anthony, Susan B. (1820-1906), suffragist
  23 Barrett, Janie Porter (1865-1948), African American social welfare leader
  24 Beard, Mary Ritter (1876-1958), feminist, historian
  25 Bethune, Mary McLeod (1875-1955), educator, civil rights worker
  26 Bryan, Isobel Lamont Stewart (1847-1910), historic preservation proponent, philanthropist
  27 Clark, Adele (1882-1983), artist, suffragist
  28 Crumpler, Rebecca Lee (b. 183), African American physician
  29 Davis, Helen Alling (d. 1950), YWCA officer
  30 Eastman, Crystal (1881-1928), ACLU co-founder, feminist
  31 Glasgow, Ellen (1873-1945), author
  32 Hatcher, Orie Latham (1888-1946), English scholar, educator
  33 Hawes, Katharine Heath, Virginia Urban League and YWCA officer
  34 Houston, Nora (1883-1942), artist
  35 Johnston, Mary (1870-1936), author, suffragist
  36 Jones, Brownie Lee (b. 1897), educator
  37 Jones, Sarah Boyd (1865-1905), African American physician
  38 Jones, Sissieretta (1869-1933), African American singer

Box 2

Folder           39 Kenyon, Dorothy (1888-1972), feminist, civil libertarian
  40 Lockwood, Belva (1830-1917), lawyer, advocate for women’s rights
  41 Mason, Lucy Randolph (1882-1959), YWCA official, suffragist, National Consumer’s League officer
  42 McDiarmid, Dorothy (1912-1994), educator, Virginia state legislator
  43 Munford, Mary Cooke Branch (1865-1938), educator, reformer, civil leader
  44 Randolph, Mary (1762-1828), author of The Virginia House-Wife
  45 Rothman, Sheila, historian
  46 Terhune, Mary Virginia Hawes, a.k.a. Marion Harland (1830-1922), author
  47 Tompkins, Sally (1833-1916), Civil War nurse
  48 Valentine, Lila Meade (1865-1921), suffragist, civic leader, philanthropist
  49 Walker, Maggie (1867-1934), African American banker, civic leader
  50 Washington, Josephine Turpin (b. 1861), African American educator, feminist
  51 They Chose Greatness : Women who shaped America and the World, Michigan Dept. of Education, Office for Sex Equity (1980)
  52 Twenty 19th Century Black Women, National Council of Negro Women (1979)
  53 Miscellaneous biographies (include Nancy Astor, Sarah Dooley (Mrs. Maj. James Dooley), Laura Anne Hennighausen, Pocahontas, Mary “Molly” Tynes, Ella May Wiggins)

Series 4. Quaker History

These materials provide background information for a history of the Richmond Friends Meeting, of which Dr. Brinson was a member. The Friends Association for Children was an orphanage established in the 19th century by the Richmond Friends Meeting to provide for African American children.

Folder 54 Friends Association for Children, Richmond, Va.                                                               
  55 General history
  56 Issues, trends, etc.
  57 Quakers in Virginia, History of
  58 Richmond (Va.) Friends Meeting, History of

Series 5. Racism/Sexism in American Culture

One of the most valuable files in this series is the newspaper articles, drawn from both main-stream and special interest publications, citing examples of and efforts to address racism and discrimination in education, employment, health care, and other areas.

Folder 59 African American women’s organizations                                                                         
  60 Ageism
  61 Bibliographies of sources
  62 Education, Discrimination in
  63 Hispanic women, Discrimination against
  64 Jews, Discrimination against
  65 Native Americans, Discrimination against
  66 Newspaper articles
  67 Pamphlets, brochures, newsletters
  68 Research and notes

Series 6. Richmond (Va.), History of

This series contains general information on Richmond’s historic buildings and neighborhoods, as well as on Richmond society. The file Richmond in the Late 19th Century contains copies of two newspaper series from 1995 describing the city of a hundred years before and in particular the wedding of socialite Irene Langhorne to artist Charles Dana Gibson.

Folder 69 Confederate Ladies’ Home; also United Daughters of the Confederacy                                               
  70 First Capitol
  71 Richmond in the late 19th century
  72 Richmond in the 1920s
  73 Shockoe Slip
  74 Notes and miscellaneous materials

Series 7. Southern History/Southern Women

While much of this information could be interfiled in other series, it is presented here to reflect a more regional approach to women’s history. Of particular interest are files on the Virginia Bureau of Vocations for Women, begun in the early 20th century as a means to facilitate the entry of women into the workforce, and Lucy Randolph Mason’s writings on labor issues. Additional Lucy Randolph Mason information is contained in Series 3.

Box 3

Folder 75 Conference on Economic Conditions in the South, Report of, 1938                                           
  76 Education, General
  77 Education, Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance
  78 Education, Virginia Bureau of Vocations for Women
  79 Labor history
  80 Mason, Lucy Randolph, Writings on labor issues
  81 Suffrage
  82 Women’s rights

Series 8. Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project

Dr. Brinson served on the Executive Board of the VWCHP from 1982-1984, as a member of the Audio-Visual and Research committees. The Project resulted in an award-winning exhibit, “A Share of Honor,” and a film, “A Common Wealth of Women,” as well as generating statewide interest in women’s history exhibits and programs. These files reflect in part the day-to-day work of the Project members, as well as the development of the exhibit and the film. The exhibition narrative was written by historian Suzanne Lebsock, and her attention to the African American woman’s experience led to some dissent among the VWCHP board. The Publicity file includes newspaper articles about the overall project, as well as announcements, brochures, and information about concurrent exhibits and programs.

Folder 83 Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws, etc., 1983                                                                             
  84 Audio-Visual Committee. 1983-1984
  85 Board of Directors’ correspondence, 1982-1985
  86 Board of Directors’ minutes, 1982-1985
  87 Brochures for concurrent events
  88 Exhibit, “A Share of Honor”
  89 Film, “A Common Wealth of Women”
  90 Fundraising
  91 Position announcements
  92 Programming
  93 Publicity
  94 Research Committee, 1984
  95 Texas Women’s History Project
  96 Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Grant, Application and administration
  97 Miscellaneous

Series 9. Women and Work

The theme of women in the workforce runs throughout Dr. Brinson’s research and employment history. This series pulls together information from a variety of sources discussing the impact of urbanization on labor in general, and on women in particular.

Box 4

Folder 98 Background articles                                                                                                                        
  99 Fashion history, 1850-1940
  100 Feminist movement
  101 Images
  102 International Conference on Working Women, Convention, 1919
  103 Labor laws
  104 National Conference on Women and the Law, 1982
  105 National Consumers’ League
  106 Pay equity
  107 Social history, 19th and 20th Centuries
  108 Social history, The 1920s
  109 Social history, The Great Depression
  110 Southern Council for Women and Children in Industry
  111 Telephone industry
  112 Tobacco industry
  113 Women in the Virginia State Legislature
  114 Miscellaneous

Series 10. Women in Virginia History

The bulk of these files are general background information; however, the “Richmond Women in Virginia History” course materials and the “Women of Richmond Self-Guided Tour” project give detailed information about studying Virginia history from the women’s viewpoint.

Folder 115 Background reading and research                                                                                                          
  116 Civil War and women
  117 Education, General
  118 Education, Richmond Female Seminary
  119 Equal Suffrage League of Virginia
  120-121 Medicine (2 folders)
  122 There is no folder 122
  123 Richmond Women in Virginia History (VCU Course, 1985)
  124 Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Virginia Branch
  125 Women of Richmond Self-Guided Tour (1991-1992 VFHPP grant application)

Series 11. Women’s Issues (Current)

Following her term as ACLU Southern Women’s Project Director, Dr. Brinson served on the Virginia Commission on the Status of Women from 1982-1986. While by no means complete, these materials reflect some of the ongoing issues facing women in the 20th century. Of particular interest is the file on “Birth Control,” which contains several early pamphlets published by the Birth Control League of New York.

Box 5

Folder 126 Birth control                                                                                                                                                 
  127-128 Equal Rights Amendment (2 folders)
  129 Peace
  130 Politics
  131 Report on the Survey of Concerns of Virginia Women (1984)
  132 Toward the Future : Final Report of the Virginia Women’s Meeting (1977)
  133 Where We Stand : The Virginia Woman in the Seventies (1977)

Series 12. Women’s Studies

This series reflects Dr. Brinson’s interest in various ways to make women’s history more accessible. Included are women’s history program descriptions from academic and government institutions; sources for research on women’s history; newsletters and conference programs from national and state women’s studies associations; minutes, 1982-1986, from the Virginia Commonwealth University Women’s Studies Task Force; information on women historians; and information concerning the establishment of Women’s History Month.

Folder 134 Conference and program descriptions, Examples of                                                                                            
  135 National Women’s Studies Association Conference, 1979-1984
  136 Newspaper articles, 1981-1984
  137 Sources for research
  138 VCU Women’s Studies Task Force, 1982-1986
  139 Virginia Women’s Studies Association, “Women’s Times,” 1982-1986, 1989
  140 Women historians
  141 Women’s History Week/Month

Series 13. Young Women’s Christian Association. Richmond, Va., Branch

Dr. Brinson was Director of Community Relations for the Richmond (Va.) Branch of the YWCA from 1982 to 1986 and served as Program Director on the National Board from 1986 through 1987. These materials are a mix of current and historical records, chiefly reflecting the establishment and growth of the Richmond Branch, compiled in preparation for the writing of an updated history. The file on the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Richmond YWCA includes audio tapes of interviews with women instrumental in the work of that branch.

Folder 142 Early Histories of the YWCA                                                                                                                                  
  143 History of the YWCA, Background Materials on
  144 Industrial Department, YWCA
  145 Sub-Teen Program, YWCA
  146 War Work of the American YWCA, 1917-1919
  147 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Annual Reports, 1924-1933
  148 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Branch History, 1894-1940
  149 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Branch History, 1941-1983
  150 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Business and Professional Dept. Programs, 1928-1929
  151 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Capital Fund Campaign Application and Correspondence, 1959-1961
  152 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Locations of facilities
  153 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Officers, Lists of
  154 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Phyllis Wheatley Branch (African American)
  155 YWCA. Richmond (Va.) Branch. Miscellaneous materials
  156 Histories of YWCA Branches other than Richmond
  157 History of the Greenville (S.C.) Branch, YWCA

Series 14. Personal Materials

Included in this series are materials related to Dr. Brinson’s education and career, as well as her work as a consultant for the Chesterfield County Museum, the Henricus Foundation, the North Carolina Museum of History, and Virginia Church Women United. Also included are materials related to her work with the Central Virginia AIDS Services and Education (CVASE) and Richmond AIDS Ministry, her coordination of Women’s History Month activities at the Hermitage Retirement Community, Richmond, which included a welcome address by former First Lady of Virginia Lynda Johnson Robb; and a sampling of Brinson’s writings on various subject.

The “Appointments and Awards” file contains Dr. Brinson’s appointment to the Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project. The Biographical file includes an audio tape of an oral history, 1999, with Dr. Brinson at the time these papers were donated. The “Central Virginia AIDS Services & Education” file also contains photographs, largely unidentified, of workshops and events promoting AIDS awareness. The materials in the correspondence files are scattered and contain chiefly letters of appreciation and congratulations for various programs or jobs, as well as letters relating to Brinson’s personal research and writing activities. Dr. Brinson’s dissertation, “Helping Others Help Themselves,” relied in part on several oral histories conducted in the early 1980s; audio tapes of those interviews are included. The “Henricus Foundation” files are chiefly copies of historical articles produced by the Foundation. The “Journal and Newspaper Articles” file consists of articles about Dr. Brinson, and include the issue of Ms. Magazine in which she was named as one of “80 Women to Watch in the 80s.”

Box 6

Folder    158 Appointments and awards, 1981-1996
  159 Biographical Information, Oral History, and Photographs
  160 Central Virginia AIDS Services & Education [includes the Richmond AIDS Ministry], 1990-1993 (2 folders)
  161 Chesterfield County Museum, Chesterfield, Va., Lecture Program, 1986
  162-164 Correspondence, 1978-1992 (3 folders)
  165-166 “Helping Others Help Themselves : Social Advocacy and Wage-Earning Women in Richmond, Va., 1910-1932 (Ph.D. Dissertation, 1984, Union Graduate School, Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities] (2 folders)
  167-168 Henricus Foundation (2 folders)
  169 Hermitage/Westminster-Canterbury Women’s History Month, 1989
  170 Journal and newspaper articles
  171 North Carolina Museum of History Women’s History Exhibit, 1985
  172 Richmond (Va.). Commission on Human Relations. Human Relations Awards and Ceremony. Steering Committee, 1982-1983. List of members
  173 Virginia Church Women United [grant application, 1983, to the VFHPP for a radio program on women’s issues]
  174 Writings

Last updated: September 30, 2008

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