Oberlin College Archives


PAPERS, 1882 (1910-72)-1981, n.d.


The papers of Mary Elizabeth Johnston consist largely of scrapbooks assembled between 1910 and 1972 by Miss Johnston as a record of her family life in Oberlin, her teaching career and travels, and activities in retirement. Overall, the collection offers little reseach potential to the biographer, since the correspondence is almost entirely incoming and the diaries are, on the whole, unrevealing. Nevertheless, the papers may interest researchers studying educational opportunities for blacks in the South prior to desegregation.

The collection is arranged into five records series: Series I. Correspondence; II. Diaries and Memoranda Books; III. Biographical Miscellany; IV. Scrapbooks; and V. Photographs. Within series, files are typically arranged alphabetically by topic or type of material or chronologically. The present arrangement maintains the foldering established by the archivist in 1984.

Mary Elizabeth Johnston's close ties with her family are revealed in correspondence (1925-66) from her sister, Ruth Phillips Freeman (1895-1966), and from her niece, Pauline Johnston Webb (1918-57). There are a few letters written by her mother, Mary Phillips Johnston, during the two years prior to her death in 1932. Letters from her cousin, Theodore D. Phillips, a former Head of the Music Department at West Virginia State College, describe his family life and activities in retirement. Miscellaneous family papers provide biographical information on Miss Johnston's brother, Byron B. Johnston, his first wife, Rose Lowry Johnston (d. 1920), and his children, Pauline Mary and Byron, Jr. (d. 1922). Files include wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, and Mary Johnston's grade reports from Oberlin High School (1905-07) and Oberlin College (1910-12). Photographs of the Johnston family are housed in Series V.

Lecture notes, scrapbooks, photographs, and miscellaneous printed material document Miss Johnston's teaching career in North Carolina and New Jersey (1912-55) during the period prior to desegregation. These materials may constitute among the richest documentation in the collection. Scrapbooks assembled during her twenty-six-year career at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh contain newspaper clippings relating to the prominent evangelicals, Gypsy Rodney Smith and Billy Graham (b. 1918). Later scrapbooks document the controversy surrounding the conversion in 1955 of the Bordentown (New Jersey) Manual Training School for Negroes into a school for mentally retarded boys, a move that cost Miss Johnston her teaching position there.

Five of eleven scrapbooks pertain to Miss Johnston's activities in Cleveland during her retirement (1955-82). Johnston collected clippings, church bulletins, conference programs, notes, cards, invitations, brochures, and other ephemera for her scrapbooks, each of which was devoted to a particular interest. These interests included her work as a successful United Thank Offering fund raiser for the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, as a member of the Cleveland Public Library's "Live Long and Like It" Club, the "Karamu House", the Phyllis Wheatley Association, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer Senior Club. Two scrapbooks contain clippings relating to the family of Oberlin College President William E. Stevenson (1900-85) and Robert Kenneth Carr (1908-79). It was during the end of Stevenson's administration in 1958 that Miss Johnston began donating money to the college. Correspondence from Annual Fund Director Edward S. Tobias (b. 1928), and from other Oberlin College Development Office personnel, relating to the management of Johnston's reversible trust, is housed in Series I.


Series I. Correspondence, 1908, 1918-81, n.d. .4 l.f.

Correspondence of Mary E. Johnston organized into two subseries: 1. Correspondence (alphabetically arranged); and 2. Correspondence (chronologically arranged).

Series II. Diaries and Memoranda Books, 1937-46, 1962-66, 1968-69, n.d. 6 vols.

Diaries in the five-year format, chronologically arranged. Also includes two memoranda books containing poems and sayings.

Series III. Biographical Miscellany, 1882-1981, n.d. .4 l.f.

Wills; birth and marriage certificates; cemetery, property, and warranty deeds; telegrams; grade reports; tax bills; commencement programs; and other miscellaneous printed materials. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Series IV. Scrapbooks, 1910-72, 1979, n.d. 11 vols.

Bound and disbound scrapbooks, containing newspaper clippings, photographs, and printed memorabilia. Arranged under the following headings: Early Career; Cleveland Years; and Oberlin College. Scrapbooks under "Early Career" are chronologically arranged. Those under "Cleveland Years" and "Oberlin College" are alphabetically arranged by the album title supplied by the archivist in 1992.

Series V. Photographs, 1899-1978, n.d. .4 l.f.

Loose photographs and portions of disbound albums, arranged alphabetically by subject. Most photographs are undated and unidentified.


The papers of Mary Elizabeth Johnston were transferred under deed of gift to the Oberlin College Archives in 1982. They were received from Ellen N. Lawson.


The student file (28) of Mary Elizabeth Phillips Johnston contains little information about her. Record Group 24, the Oberlin Kindergarten Primary Training School Records, contains data cards for Ruth Johnston Freeman, class of 1915. For papers concerning Ellen Lawson's research leading to the publication of the pamphlet "Across A Stage" (1981), see the papers of Ellen Lawson, 30/193. See also the article, "For Coeducation we've come: five alumnae look back" by Carol Lasser and Kathie Linehan in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Winter 1983, Vol. 79, No. 1).

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Last updated: 9 July 1996