Edgerton-Dow Family Papers, 1831-2010 (bulk 1910-2010)

Manuscript Collection #1213

  • Descriptive Summary
    Title: Edgerton-Dow Family Papers
    Creator: Edgerton, Jesse Wilbert
    Edgerton, Marianna Dow
    Repository: ECU Manuscript Collection
    Language: English
    Abstract: This collection contains material (1831, ca. 1910-2010) related to the Edgerton, Cox, and Pearson families who were Quaker families in the Nahunta Community in Wayne County, N.C.; Dow and Brownell families of Clovis, New Mexico, and Massachusetts; Civilian Public Service work during World War II; and the Massey family of Dudley, Wayne County, N.C., including correspondence, photographs, land deeds and publications.
    Extent: 12.0 Cubic feet, 20 boxes, containing correspondence, photographs, land deeds and publications
  • Description

    This collection centers on correspondence and professional papers of Marianna Dow Edgerton (1919-2012) born in New Hampshire and raised in Massachusetts and Jesse Wilbert "Wil" Edgerton (1918-2012) of Wayne Co., North Carolina, of small farming Quaker backgrounds who met at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, in 1936 and were married in 1943.

    As a Quaker, Wil applied and was selected for Civilian Public Service during WWII and served 1942-1945, including work as a laborer on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Buck Creek Camp), an attendant at Eastern State (mental) Hospital near Williamsburg, VA, and on a hookworm control project near Gainesville, FL (Clear Lake Lodge). Papers from this period include art and literature publications arising from CPS units, which discuss the philosophy of Quakerism and the pacifist movement, and their public service work and organization. Correspondence provides rich detail of Wil’s work life and the formation of relationships that would be life long. His work at Eastern State Hospital helped lead him to a life of service in the field of mental health.

    Wil’s career in public mental health led him through four states and back to North Carolina in 1965 and provides source material on the history of mental health services in the state and nation. After finishing work with the Civilian Public Service in 1945, he completed a Masters in Psychology from the University of Florida and PhD at Duke. He started as a psychologist for the Volushia Co. school system in Daytona Beach, FL, then became Director of the state Mental Health Association in Birmingham, AL, working with public and private business partners to establish mental health centers in cities across the state. He then served the US Public Health Service Regional Mental Health system as Consultant in Charlottesville, VA and Program Director in Chicago, IL. He finished with twenty-four years as Professor in the division of Community Psychiatry at the UNC-CH Medical School. His work there began with the establishment of licensing for the practice of psychology in NC and research into rural mental health. At various times he served as President of the NC Psychological Assoc, NC Mental Health Assoc, Mental Health Section of the American Public Health Assoc, and the Community Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association. He served twenty years on the Board of Trustees of Guilford College.

    Marianna’s vita includes social work at Taunton and Danvers (MA) State mental hospitals and Bon Air, VA, Girls Industrial School, 1941-1944, described ably in her correspondence with Wil, along with her social life living with other young single women sharing hospital quarters and meals, and having some disposable income. After raising her family, Marianna returned to school at UNC-CH for a Masters of Public Health in Biostatistics at the age of 53, and worked for fourteen years as a Research Associate at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center in Chapel Hill. She kept journals through her travel with Wil to thirty-nine countries on six continents. Collected correspondence throughout their lives chronicles Marianna and Wil’s widening exposure to the world and includes details of their careers, family life, and travel.

    This collection contains correspondence, photographs, writings, publications, journals, logs, clippings, professional papers, genealogy information, and other items that document their long lives and careers. Much of the prolific correspondence is between Marianna and Wil and their relatives who also experienced very interesting lives. The collection is organized thusly: Series 1 Jesse Wilbert Edgerton Ancestors, Series 2 Marianna Dow Edgerton and her Ancestors, Series 3 Jesse Wilbert Edgerton, Series 4 Oversize Folders. Subseries relate to particular family members and include all relative correspondence, photographs and other documents together.

    Among the earliest correspondence in the collection are letters to Roella Cox (Wil Edgerton's mother) from her mother Talitha Massey Cox (born 1858 near Dudley, Wayne Co., NC) in 1906 and 1907, regarding the construction of dresses for her and her sister, giving great detail as to the materials and styles planned. Talitha was the daughter of Levi H. Massey and Avis Coleman. Fully labeled 1895 (?) and 1908 photographs of Massey family gatherings at the Levi H. Massey home place near Dudley, NC, include generations of Masseys, Coxes, Pearsons, and some Watkins children.

    Letters from Haskell Edgerton (Wil Edgerton's father) to Roella Cox from July to December 1916, precede their marriage in December 1916. A widower with two daughters, Haskell expresses his love and gratitude to Roella, a teacher, for agreeing to marry him, and describes his farming tasks and wagon trips to visit with her.

    The collection includes an 1820 (1830?) survey map of the Ichabod Pearson farm, part of which, including the home place, was purchased in 1902 by Haskell Edgerton, the year he married his first wife, Mary A. Pearson (born 1874, Wayne Co., a descendant of Ichabod). Haskell’s children were born in the home and worked on the farm. There are deeds pertaining to the adjoining farm of Haskell’s father (William Leonard Edgerton, born 1848, Johnston Co.) as it passed to Haskell’s siblings and him. Later deeds convey the W.L. Edgerton farm from heirs to Wil Edgerton.

    The collection includes correspondence of a group of Wil Edgerton’s aunts and uncles who resided together on an adjoining farm where they and Wil’s father, H. Haskell (Haschal) Edgerton (b. 1875), were born. The papers of one aunt, Saphronia P. Edgerton, includes information pertaining to her nursing training at Cumberland County Hospital, Fayetteville, NC, and long lasting relationships with members of her graduating class of 1915. Another aunt, Maude H. Edgerton, was institutionalized with paranoid schizophrenia in 1936; her papers pertain to her commitment and subsequent care in V.A. hospitals and foster homes, detailed case histories written by her RN sister, and her letters home – normal and delusional – through 1966. Memories about this family group are included in transcribed interviews from 1984 with neighbors Martha Garris, Flossie Johnson, and Rosa Crawford who grew up with them.

    Continuing correspondence from Wil Edgerton’s sister, Esther Edgerton (Allen), born 1911, details her nursing training at Parkview Hospital in Rocky Mount beginning in 1940. Letters from their brother Howard Edgerton in the same period describe the campus and educational experience at Western Carolina Teachers College (Cullowhee). Description of their earlier years on the farm is provided by a transcribed 1992 interview of Wil and Howard.

    Wil Edgerton’s correspondence includes letters from his mother’s sister, Florence T. Cox (b. 1900), who had a notable career with the NC Agricultural Extension Service until 1960.

    Letters (1936-1963) between Wil and his mother, Roella Cox Edgerton (b. 1885 in the Quaker Neck area of Wayne Co., NC), describe the struggles and pleasures of Eastern North Carolina farming life (characterized by hard work, good food, and scarce finances) beginning in the Depression era through the introduction of plumbing, electricity, radio, telephone, and television; and a social life centered at Nahunta Friends Meeting. Wil’s correspondence from his siblings and friends back home during his college years highlights the social activities of rural youth in the period.

    Marianna Dow’s family members were avid correspondents, as well. Her parents, Stephen A. Dow (born 1884 in Bolton, MA) and Stella V. Brownell (born 1884 in Taylorville, IL) met and married near Clovis, New Mexico, where Stephen and the Brownells homesteaded on the prairie beginning in 1907. Besides farming, Stephen worked with a land company and drove and worked on the first automobiles in the area. Stella taught school. After marriage and the birth of one child, the couple returned to New England (2,750 miles on dirt roads in a Model T Ford), raised their family and continued farming, then moved to a small farm near Gibsonville, NC, in 1945. The papers include photographs from the prairie, letters, a journal, and interviews. Two genealogical booklets on Dows and Brownells, written by Marianna, also include Holder and Randall families on the Dow side.

    Dow family correspondence in Marianna’s adult life took the form of “circle letters” between her mother, sister and her, in which they passed-on the others’ correspondence to the next, adding their own. Her collected letters home from Guilford College provide engaging detail of college life 1936–1940.

    Rounding out the collection are oversize photographs, deeds, legal documents, publications, genealogy chart, and diploma.

  • Biographical / Historical Note

    Jesse Wilbert (Wil) Edgerton was born November 21, 1918, to Hardy Haskell Edgerton (1875-1956) and Roella Cox Edgerton (1884-1963), a Quaker farming family living in Nahunta near Goldsboro, North Carolina. He graduated from Guilford College in 1940, taught high school until entering Civilian Public Service for his World War II service from 1942 to 1945. He received a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Duke University in 1953. His career took him to Volusia County, Florida, the Alabama Association of Mental Health (as Executive Director), the National Institute of Mental Health in Charlottesville, VA, and Chicago, ILL, and finally to Chapel Hill, NC, where he served as a professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel HIll from 1965 to 1989. Edgerton also served in many organizations involved in mental health issues and as a lobbyist at the NC Legislature for mental health issues; for 30 years he served on the Board of Trustees of Guilford College. He married Marianna Dow in 1943 and they had four children. Edgerton died on October 1, 2012, in Greensboro, NC.

    Marianna Dow was born on January 19, 1919, in Concord, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, to Stephen and Stella Brownell Dow and was director descendant of the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams. She grew up on a small farm in Myricks, MA, and chose Guilford College because of her Quaker roots. She met Wil Edgerton in the choir there. She graduated in 1940; worked as a social worker until she had her first child; and after raising her children she got her M.A. in biostatistics from The School of Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. Edgerton then worked as a research associate for thirteen years at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center. She died on November 30, 2012, in Greensboro, NC.




  • Administrative Information
    Accessions Information

    January 15, 2014, (unprocessed) 12.0 cubic feet; This collection contains material (1831, ca. 1910-2010) related to the Edgerton, Cox, and Pearson families who were Quaker families in the Nahunta Community in Wayne County, N.C.; Dow and Brownell families of Clovis, New Mexico, and Massachusetts; Civilian Public Service work during World War II; and the Massey family of Dudley, Wayne County, N.C., including correspondence, photographs, land deeds and publications. Gift of Elizabeth Edgerton Albright.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Elizabeth Edgerton Albright

    Access Restrictions

    No restrictions

    Copyright Notice

    Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

    Preferred Citation

    Edgerton-Dow Family Papers (#1213), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

    Processing Information

    Processing completed May 2015 by Elizabeth E. Albright; revised February 2017 by Martha Elmore.

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