Anna Russell Jones papers
Held at: African American Museum in Philadelphia [Contact Us]701 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA, 19106
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Anna Rachel (Rae) Malinda Russell was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1902 to John C. Russell (1867?-1911) and Anna M. Evans (1871?-1959). Anna had two older brothers, Thomas E. (1897-1927) and John W. (1899-1981) Russell. While she was still very young, Anna’s family moved to Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, where her father had found work as a Pullman porter on the Pennsylvania Railroad. After her father passed away in 1911, Anna's mother eventually settled the family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Anna M. encouraged her daughter to educate herself, as a way for African Americans to succeed despite race-related societal obstacles. Anna Rae followed her mother’s advice, graduating from William Penn High School for Girls in 1920. She had a strong interest in art and one of her teachers, recognizing her artistic abilities, recommended her for a four year scholarship from the Philadelphia Board of Education that allowed her to attend the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (later known as the Moore Institute of Art, Science, and Industry, and now known as Moore College of Art and Design). Anna was the first African American woman to receive this award.
Anna majored in textile design and in 1925 became the first African American graduate of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. At graduation, she received awards for her carpet and wallpaper designs and a drawing of hers was selected for the cover of the school catalog. After graduation, the Dean of Women at the School of Design recommended Anna for a job as a carpet designer at the James G. Speck Studio in Philadelphia. She was hired and remained there for four years. After leaving the Speck Studio, Anna was offered other jobs, but instead she decided to work as a freelancer and establish her own studio. She sold her wallpaper and carpet designs to firms in Philadelphia, New York, and Canada, a difficult and rare accomplishment for an African American woman in the 1930s. She also illustrated and sold Christmas cards depicting African American school children during this time.
Wallpaper and carpet sales declined during the Great Depression, and Anna began designing educational posters, some of which related to African American history and featured illustrations of prominent African Americans including George Washington Carver and Sojourner Truth. She sold the posters to various schools in Eastern states. The Free Library of Philadelphia purchased some of these posters and also displayed other works created by Anna such as paintings of Santa Claus and other Christmas scenes. Leading up to World War II, Anna gave public lectures and lessons on African American history.
When the United States entered World War II, Anna joined the Gray Lady Service of the American Red Cross. In September of 1942, shortly after finishing her training for the Red Cross, Anna was accepted into the United States Army as part of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), later known as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), becoming the first African American woman from Philadelphia to join the Armed Forces during World War II. Anna was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, a military base where African American troops were trained. For just over three years she worked as a graphic artist for the army, designing maps, posters, booklets and various other things for military publications. By the end of her service she had attained the rank of sergeant, and had received the WAAC Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
In 1947, Anna returned to her alma mater, Moore College of Art and Design, to complete one year of post-graduate work in textiles. Among other educational pursuits at this time, she studied medical illustration under the G.I. Bill (Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944) at Howard University College of Medicine (Washington, D.C.) from 1948 to 1952. Anna worked at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia as a licensed practical nurse in the 1950s and also was employed as a graphic artist and illustrator for several years in the civil service. Additionally, she continued to paint, sketch, draw, and do freelance artistic work in her spare time.
In 1952, Anna married William Albert Marsh Jones Jr. The two spent the next thirty-four years together, until his passing in 1986. Anna was awarded the Honor of Excellence Award from the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (now African American Museum in Philadelphia) in 1986, and the following year received an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, from Moore College of Art. Anna died in Philadelphia in 1995.
William Albert Marsh Jones Jr. (1900-1986), often called “Albert”, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the oldest child of William Albert Marsh Jones Sr. and Clara B. J. Croston. Albert had four siblings: James R. S., Naomi Elizabeth, Chauncy D., and Clara M. His parents also had an adopted son, William M. Jones. Albert’s sister, Naomi (1902-1973), married John Thomas Jenkins in 1922 and had eight children. As a boy, Albert attended Hancock School in Philadelphia, and later played trombone in a band. In 1930 Albert became an elevator operator, a position he held for thirty years until his retirement in 1960. In 1964, Albert became the Court Crier for Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. (1928-1998) when Higginbotham was appointed as a district judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Judge Higginbotham was a prominent African American civil rights advocate who would go on to become a federal appeals court judge.
Thomas Edward Russell (1897-1927) was the first child of John C. Russell and Anna M. Evans and Anna Russell Jones’s oldest brother. His middle name likely came from his father’s brother, Edward S. Russell, who lived with Thomas’ family in Jersey City, New Jersey before they moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Thomas married Josephine L. Walker in 1924, but was tragically killed when he was hit by a car in the Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1927.
John Warner Russell (1899-1981) was the middle child of John C. Russell and Anna M. Evans and Anna Russell Jones’s older brother. Warner, as he was known to family and friends, worked for the postal service and married Ann Elizabeth Broomes in 1947. Ann had a daughter from a previous marriage to James M. Broomes, Hortense Broomes Heath (died 1964).
This collection chronicles the life of an African American woman who, in serving in the military during World War II and in training and working as a professional artist from the 1920s through the late 20th century, was at the vanguard of her race and gender. Her personal interests included African American history and civil rights, medical illustration, carpet and fabric design, and religion (Christianity). This collection documents the life of Anna Russell Jones, particularly her time in the military, her career as a civil service illustrator and freelance designer, and her art education and job searches. Also covered are other aspects of Jones' personal life and the lives of her family members, particularly her husband (William Albert M. Jones), mother (Anna Evans Russell), and brother (J. Warner Russell). The collection is organized into five series by format type: "Series I. Papers, 1897-1989"; "Series II. Photographs and scrapbooks, circa 1892-1987"; "Series III. Artwork, circa 1940-1970"; "Series IV. Objects, circa 1940-1982"; and "Series V. Printed materials, circa 1900-1961." Correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, paintings on paper, pen and ink illustrations, ephemera, printed materials, certificates, personnel records, and other papers comprise the collection.
Series I. Papers, 1897-1989 includes a large amount of correspondence, particularly relating to Jones's freelance work as a carpet designer; personnel records and papers from Jones's job searches; and documents and ephemera relating to her education. A quantity of papers pertain to Jones's husband, William Albert M. Jones. Additional family members are represented in certificates, correspondence, genealogical information, and other documents.
The largest segment of Series II. Photographs and scrapbooks, circa 1892-1987 date from Jones' period in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. Featured are many photographs of Jones and her compatriots, as well as scrapbooks she assembled documenting WAC training, daily life at Fort Huachuca, and furlough travel. Additionally, the series includes photographs of Russell family members, Anna's marriage to William Albert M. Jones, and other family photographs. There are also two scrapbooks Anna Russell Jones compiled for classes on art education and art history.
Series III. Artwork, circa 1940-1970 is the largest series in this collection, comprised primarily of carpet designs, medical illustrations, government and military illustrations, and posters, many of which are of prominent figures in African American history, all created by Anna Russell Jones. There are also some greeting cards, religious artwork, sketches, and other artwork by Jones, as well as a small amount of art reference materials.
The highlight of Series IV. Objects, circa 1940-1982 is Anna Russell Jones's WAC uniform. The collection also includes a military medal for good conduct, several printing blocks, a wooden plaque carved by Jones, and many other items.
Series V. Printed materials, circa 1900-1961 is comprised of military news, newsletters, and publications, many of which feature artwork created by Jones; newspaper clippings collected by Jones about herself, World War II, African Americans in the military, and other topics; books, periodicals, and pamphlets about African American history and civil rights; and a large amount of books and publications on art technique and art history. An inventory is available on-site.
Gift of Anna Russell Jones, 1986 (accession AAMP.1986.040)
This collection was processed in 2014 by staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). The HCI-PSAR project was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- African American women
- African American women artists
- Civil service
- Graphic artists
- Medical illustrators
- Women artists
- Women in the civil service
- Women textile designers
- World War, 1939-1945
- African American Museum in Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
- This finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- Access Restrictions
Contact African American Museum in Philadelphia for information about accessing this collection.