Special Collections and University Archives

by Audrey Dubois

Author, historian, fixture of the North Carolina writers’ community: Emily Herring Wilson has carved a broad niche as a notable Woman’s College alumna. Her collected papers, held at SCUA, provide a snapshot of the North Carolina literary community, women’s history, and Woman’s College history.

Emily Herring Wilson at the McDowell Colony writers’ retreat (not dated)

A graduate of the Woman’s College class of 1961, Wilson was an active member of the campus community who served as president of the Student Government Association. Her papers highlight this period in Woman’s College history with a scrapbook and personal mementos from her time at Hinshaw Hall; flyers for events like SGA dances, and student publications like the Coraddi; and student documents of Wilson’s including university identification, grade reports, and writing assignments. An English major, Wilson studied during poet Randall Jarrell’s tenure as an instructor at the College; her papers include writings by Wilson graded by Jarrell. The papers also include extensive correspondence with Wilson’s classmate and fellow prominent NC poet Heather Ross Miller. The two writers share goings-on in North Carolina literary circles, memories of Jarrell and Woman’s College, and early drafts of their own poetry with written feedback for each other. 

Wilson’s Woman’s College student card (1961)

Active in academic and literary life from her home in Winston-Salem, Wilson founded Triad-based publishing house Jackpine Press with Betty Leighton. Jackpine published primarily poetry and short fiction. Materials from Jackpine include correspondence with authors like Josephine Jacobsen and J.D. Marion, and drafts of works the press published such as Jacobsen’s A Walk With Raschid and Adios, Mr. Moxley. 

Of Wilson’s own major works held in the collection, most focus on women’s history- including North Carolina Women, a comprehensive history of women in the state, and The Three Graces of Val-Kill, a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt told through the lens of her friendship with Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook. Perhaps of greatest interest are the papers associated with Hope and Dignity: Older Black Women of the South, a book of oral history, biography and portraits Wilson compiled in collaboration with photographer Susan Mullaly. The subseries for Hope and Dignity is rich with primary sources on prominent Black women including HBCU luminaries Helen G. Edmonds and Susie Williams Jones; artist Minnie Evans and musician Elizabeth “Babe” Reid; and centenarian Betty Hill Lyons. Maya Angelou wrote the foreword for the project. Angelou and Wilson shared academic and literary circles in Wake Forest, and the collection contains letters from Angelou to Wilson. 

Letter from Maya Angelou inquiring after the project that would become Wilson’s Hope and Dignity (1979)

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