Brown family papers

Collection 4201

1902-1942, undated
(0.6 Linear feet ; 2 boxes)

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Brown family
Brown family papers
1902-1942, undated
0.6 Linear feet ; 2 boxes
Finding aid prepared by Lindsey Schwartz.
Care of this collection was supported in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and by the Young Friends of HSP.
This collection consists of letters, photographs, and personal writings of the Brown family of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, as well as collected ephemera and printed matter. The materials range in date from 1902 to 1942. The collection provides an overview of the daily life and activities, including school endeavors, courtship, and family matters, of an African American family living in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the early to mid-20th century.

Preferred citation

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Brown family papers (Collection 4201), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Background note

The Browns were an African American family that lived in Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania, from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Edward S. Brown and Ellen "Ella" (Wright) Brown had at least eight children, including Mabel Melinda Brown (1899-1996) and Earl Johnson Brown (1915-1991). As of 1930, Edward and Ella appear to be the owners of their 517 South Street home, to where many of the letters in this collection are addressed.

Both Mabel and Earl graduated from Kennett Square High School in 1918 and 1933, respectively. Mabel later graduated from West Chester State Normal School in 1922, and she worked as a teacher in the Avon Grove Consolidated School District. Earl studied at Lincoln University before enlisting in the United States Army in 1942.

Mabel married Reverend David M. Harmon in 1943. In addition to teaching, she was the president of the Peoples Conference of Pennsylvania and Delaware. She was also an active member of the New Memorial Church at Kennett Square, while her husband was the pastor at the Union Methodist Church in Camden, New Jersey.

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Scope and content note

This collection, housed in two boxes, consists of letters, photographs, and personal writings of the Brown family, as well as collected ephemera and printed matter. The materials range in date from 1902 to 1942. The collection provides an overview of the Brown family's daily life and activities including school endeavors, courtship, and family matters. A few of the letters in the collection document encounters with the law.

A large portion of the collection consists of letters primarily between family members, but also includes correspondence from other individuals and organizations such as lawyers and schools. A majority of the letters were written between the 1920s and 1940s to siblings Mabel Brown and Earl Brown from various family members and acquaintances. There are some letters addressed to Ella Brown discussing her brother's incarceration in 1904, as well as a letter to Mabel Brown in 1940 regarding her cousin's arrest. Other letters to Mabel discuss family matters and daily life; some are from suitors. At least some of the letters to Earl Brown in the 1940s relate to his activities while in school at Lincoln University and his romantic entanglements.

Photographs in the collection primarily depict family members and school classes. There are a couple of images of a sailor training on a ship in 1937 that are located with letters from 1937. There are also a handful of negatives and tin types. Most images are undated, but likely date from the 1910s to 1940.

Ephemera and printed matter in the collection range in date from the 1920s to 1942 and include greeting cards, business cards, receipts and bills, ticket stubs, invitations, postcards, telegrams, school materials, drivers' licenses, calling cards, and other items. School materials include graded exams, class schedules, a blank application for admission to Howard University, forms to sell back textbooks, a commencement program, report cards, and a course catalog. The school materials mostly relate to Lincoln University but other schools are represented including West Chester State Normal School, several elementary schools, and Kennett Square High School. There is one folder that contains both personal writings and additional printed matter from 1930s and early 1940s.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2020.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Access restrictions

None. The collection is open for research.


Purchased, 2017.

Accession number 2018.008.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Lincoln University (Pa.).

Family Name(s)

  • Brown family

Geographic Name(s)

  • Camden (N.J.)
  • Chester County (Pa.)
  • Kennett Square (Pa.)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Brown, Earl, 1915-1991
  • Harmon, Mabel Brown, 1899-1996


  • African American families.
  • African American universities and colleges.
  • African Americans--Education.
  • African Americans.
  • Courtship.
  • Education.
  • Prisoners.
  • Teachers.

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Collection Inventory


Box Folder

Letters (1902-1929) 

1 1

Letters (1935-1938) 

1 2

Letters (1940-1941) 

1 3

Letters (1942) 

1 4

Letters (undated) 

1 5

Greeting cards (1931-1941, undated) 

1 7

Greeting card (undated) 

Scope and Contents note

** Contains erotic imagery **

1 8

Postcards, telegrams, envelopes (1902-1942, undated) 

1 9

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Box Folder

Photographs and negatives (undated) 

1 6

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Box Folder

Ephemera - Bills, receipts, registrations, business cards, miscellaneous (1925-1942, undated) 

2 1

Ephemera - School (1922-1942, undated) 

2 2

Ephemera - Miscellaneous and printed (1930-1941, undated) 

2 3

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