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Mary White Ovington Papers

Identifier: UP000323_MWO

Scope and Content

Important subjects covered in the collection are: Unpublished autobiographical material by Miss Ovington Living conditions of the poor in New York City in the early 1900s Negroes in the American South in the early 1900s Foundation and growth of the NAACP The Civil Rights Movement, in general, up to 1947 Ovington family history, 1800-1948

Among the important correspondents are: Jane Addams Herbert Lehman Arna Bontemps Claude McKay Benjamin Cardozo Elmer Rice John White Chadwick Robert H. Schauffler LorenzaCole A. B. Spingarn Babette Deutsch J. E. Spingarn W. E. B. DuBois Carl Van Vechten Louis Gannett Oswald Garrison Villard William J. Ghent Lyman Ward Shirley Graham Beatrice Webb Roland Hayes Walter White John Haynes Holmes Roy Wilkins Langston Hughes Richard Wright James Weldon Johnson Max Yergan

Series Description: Series 1: Autobiographical Writings Series 2: Correspondence Series 3: Published Writings Series 4: Personal Financial Accounts Series 5: Published Books- Recordings and Manuscripts Series 6: Early Unpublished Writings Series 7: Later Unpublished Writings Series 8: Ovington Family Papers Series 9: The Diaries of Charles K. Ovington Series 10: Writings by Friends Series 11: Miscellaneous


  • 1854 - 1948


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Mary White Ovington was born in Brooklyn in 1865. In 1895, after education in private schools and at Radcliffe College, she began a career as asocial worker. From 1904 on, she devoted herself to the particular problems of Negro populations in New York and other cities. In 1909 she participated in the founding of the NAACP. She remained an officer and prominent figure in the organization until her retirement in 1947.

Miss Ovington was the author of several books and numerous articles. Her history of the NAACP, The Walls Came Tumbling Down, is in both the Archives Library and the Wayne State Purdy Library collections. Miss Ovington died in New York in 1951.


6.25 Linear Feet (13 MB)


Mary White Ovington began her career as a social worker, devoting her efforts to the problems of African-Americans in New York and other cities. She helped found the National Association for Advancement of Colored People and remained an officer and prominent figure until her retirement in 1947. Her papers reflect her interest and involvement with the living conditions of the poor in New York City and African-Americans in the south in the early 1900s; the foundation and growth of the NAACP; the civil rights movement; and her family history.


Arranged in 11 series – Series 1 (Box 1), Series 2 (Boxes 1-3), Series 3 (Box 3), Series 4 (Box 4), Series 5 (Boxes 4-5), Series 6 (Boxes 5A-6), Series 7 (Boxes 6-7), Series 8 (Boxes 7-8), Series 9 (Boxes 9-10), Series 10 (Box 10), and Series 11 (Boxes 10-12). Folders are arranged chronologically.


The papers of Mary White Ovington were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs by Mrs. Carrie Burton Overton, Miss Ovington's secretary, in 1969, 1971 and 1973.


Approximately 50 photographs relating to Miss Ovington and the NAACP have been placed in the Archives' Audiovisual collection.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in 1973.
Guide to the Mary White Ovington Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA