Skip to main content

Mercedes Nelson Papers

Identifier: LP000685

Scope and Content

The papers of Dr. Nelson consist mainly of correspondence and reflect primarily her work as a national AFT Vice-President and organizer. Important subjects covered in the collection are: Academic Freedom William Card Case Independent Caucus Organizing 1948 Strike Tenure

Among the important correspondents are: George E. Axtelle William Card Jerome Davis Mary F. Grossman Irvin Kuenzli Joel Seidman

Series Description: Correspondence, minutes, reports and clippings covering the union activities of Mercedes Nelson. There is also information on the Independent Caucus, AFT Local 59, the 1948 strike, and the WPA Local of the AFT. There are several folders devoted to a hearing of William Card, an AFT organizer, and the events which surrounded the case.


  • 1935 - 1971


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.


Mercedes Nelson was born in Henning, Minnesota and after completing high school attended the University of Minnesota where she earned a B.S. in physical education in 1922 and a M.A. in 1940. She received her Ed.D. in 1951 after attending New York University for several summers. Dr. Nelson began teaching in the Minneapolis Public Schools in 1922 and joined the Minneapolis American Federation of Teachers Local 59 in 1924. In 1935 she was appointed by Governor Olson as the first teacher to serve on the Minnesota State Board of Education In 1936 she was elected as a Vice-President of the AFT and represented the region of Wisconsin-Minnesota until 1939. In 1936 Dr. Nelson and Ralph Ahlstrom, both AFT Vice-Presidents, called a conference of all AFT locals in Minnesota and formed the Minnesota State Federation of Teachers. Dr. Nelson was appointed Chairman of the Council Committee on Arrangements for the 1937 AFT National Convention and in 1939 she served on the editorial board of The American Teacher. During the 1940's, Dr. Nelson served as chairman on various AFT state and local committees and in 1946 was appointed Assistant-Principal of Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, a position she held for 22 years. In 1947 and 1948, Dr. Nelson served as secretary of the "Independent Caucus" of the AFT which advocated more active organization of teachers and elimination of the AFT no-strike policy Dr. Nelson retired in June of 1968. In addition to her educational work she served as Director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, was on the Board of Family and Children's Services, and a member of the Foreign Policy Association, the United Nations Association, the World Federalists, the NAACP, and the Urban League.


1 Linear Feet (2 MB)


The first teacher to serve on the Minnesota Board of Education, Mercedes Nelson served as American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Vice-President and the Wisconsin-Minnesota Region Representative. Dr. Nelson was also active in various social justice organizations, including the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, the United Nations Association, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Dr. Nelson’s papers primarily reflect her work an organizer and as Vice-President of the AFT.


Arranged in 1 series – Series 1 (Box 1). Files are arranged alphabetically by subject or type of material.


The papers of Mercedes Nelson were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in October of 1974 by Dr. Nelson and were opened for research in October of 1984.


One photograph relating to the 1939 Convention at Niagara Falls has been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Collections. Several AFT newspapers received with this collection are available in the Archives Library.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in October, 1984.
Guide to the Mercedes Nelson 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