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Elizabeth Cunningham family papers

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Held at: Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College [Contact Us]500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. 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

Elizabeth Cunningham (1934-2020), born Elizabeth Anne Ault, was a Quaker from Philadelphia. She worked as an accountant for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting from 1980 to 1989, and as the organization's Associate Secretary from 1989 through 1992. She was active in various social concerns throughout her life.

Born on May 3rd, 1934, at Temple Hospital, Elizabeth was the eldest child of Elmer Ault and Jennie Fuehrer Ault. Her father Elmer died in 1948. Elizabeth attended Philadelphia Girls' High and in 1950 enrolled at Ursinus College, where she majored in mathematics and graduated in 1955. After college she worked briefly for Remington Rand, where she received training in programming on UNIVAC computers. Elizabeth left fulltime work soon after marrying William Cunningham in 1956. However, the couple experienced financial difficulties for the next decade as William pursued higher education, and Elizabeth took on occasional part-time work in programming and writing for magazines in addition to caring for their six children. Between 1958 and 1965 the family lived in the Schuylkill Falls public housing complex, apart from the 1960-1961 academic year, when they briefly moved to Tennessee while William finished his bachelor's degree. As Elizabeth "cheerfully" said in a 1964 newspaper article, "We didn't starve but we came close" ("All East Falls Takes Pride," Germantown Courier, 1964-06-11).

Elizabeth and William joined the Society of Friends in 1958 through Green Street Monthly Meeting; they had previously been active in the United Church of Christ and Presbyterian Church, respectively. The couple's early exposure to Quakerism came through Friends Weekend Workcamps, in which they remained active after their conversion. Elizabeth began working as an accountant for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1980 and took part in a staff exchange with London Yearly Meeting from 1988 to 1989. Shortly after her return she was promoted to Associate Secretary and served in the position until 1992. She later worked as an accountant for Tenants Action Group. Elizabeth died June 11, 2020.

William Alexander "Bill" Cunningham (1930-2019) was a convinced Friend and philosophy professor from Philadelphia who spent much of his career at Cheyney University. He was active in various social concerns.

William was the eldest child of Alexander and Elise Cunningham of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. He grew up as a Presbyterian, and as a young man he briefly pursued a career in that church's ministry. William attended Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, where he was active in the choir and studied religion and philosophy, but he left school around 1955 before completing his degree requirements. In 1956 he married Elizabeth Ault, and in 1958 the couple joined the Society of Friends. William's difficulty finding employment and the birth of the couple's first three children spurred him to return to Maryville, finishing his degree in 1961 with a major in philosophy and minor in music. On returning to Philadelphia, he enrolled in master's degrees in religion and philosophy at Temple University, completing them in 1964. William spent the next several years working in Temple's financial aid office, and in 1969 he obtained a position in the philosophy department of Cheyney University, where he taught until 1994. He died January 16, 2019.

Elizabeth and William had six children together: William Alexander Jr. ("Sandy"), David, Judy, Andrew, and twins Philip and Jonathan. Sandy (1957-1962) died at the age of 5 after the snowsuit he was wearing caught fire. His parents sued the manufacturers of the garment.

Jennie Ault (1906-1995) was the mother of Elizabeth Ault Cunningham. Jennie was born June, 1906, in Philadelphia to Nicholas and Elizabeth Fuehrer. She ran the Merry Shop, a toy and gift store on Frankford Avenue, from 1936 until about 1981, taking over full management of the store after her husband Elmer's death in 1948. Jennie was a founding member of St. Stephen's United Church of Christ and played organ there and at Frankford Baptist Church. She spent most of her life in Philadelphia, but several years before her death she moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, where one of her daughters lived. Jennie died in Lawton on November 10, 1995.

This collection documents the lives of Elizabeth Cunningham, her husband William, and her mother Jennie Ault, especially during the years 1950 through 1967. The bulk of the collection consists of personal, professional, and family correspondence, primarily that of Elizabeth and William. These letters from the first decade of the couple's marriage discuss their involvement in the Society of Friends and its social concerns, especially Friends Weekend Workcamps; their children and other relatives; the couple's time in public housing in Philadelphia; their brief move to Maryville, Tennessee; William's academic studies; and their financial difficulties.

Other material of interest includes documents from Elizabeth's work as a computer programmer for Remington Rand; Jennie Ault's letters to Elizabeth at college and her long running correspondence with pastor, missionary, and historian Carl T. Smith; Elizabeth's writings; and photocopies of documents from Elizabeth's grandfather, German immigrant Nicholas Friedrich Wilhelm Fuehrer.

  1. Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Correspondence
  3. Papers
  4. Visual material

Gift of Judy and Michael Van Hoy, FHL Acc. 2016.051.

The donor, Judy Van Hoy, organized and annotated this collection before giving it to Friends Historical Library. Repository staff further processed the collection in 2022.

Publisher
Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
Finding Aid Author
James Truitt
Finding Aid Date
2022 February
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reuse, publish, or reproduce items in this collection beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to copyright law must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns. See http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-RUU/1.0/.

Collection Inventory

Jenny Ault memorabilia of Elizabeth Cunningham, 1934-1963.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

Jennie Ault's folder of things about her daughter Elizabeth Cunningham. File includes Cunningham's baby book, birthday and holiday cards, Cunningham's college commencement program, a photo of Ault and Cunningham, and a few letters and writings.

Memorabilia from Ursinus College and Cape May, 1951-1955.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

File contains pamphlets, programs, report cards, etc. from Cunningham's time at Ursinus College; a map and hotel ephemera from her summers working on Cape May, New Jersey; a pamphlet from the 1952 Friends General Conference meeting in Cape May; and several pamphlets from the Friends' Weekend Workcamps which she attended during this period.

Nicholas Friedrich Wilhelm Fuehrer materials, 1914-1926.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

File contains photocopies of German bonds and of a 1926 invitation to a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Germantown.

Blog post on Sherwood Fuehrer and Gismo the Peaceful, 2013.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

File contains a printout of a cyberneticzoo.com page discussing "Gismo the peaceful," a robot made by Elizabeth Cunningham's cousin Sherwood "Woody" Fuehrer.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1958 September-1959 September.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

File consists mainly of William Cunningham's correspondence in search of a job at a Quaker school, fund-raising material from Quaker meetings and organizations, and letters from the managers of the Cunningham's apartment complex, Schuykill Falls.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1959 September-1960 April.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

Many of the letters discuss William Cunningham's plans to return to Maryville College to complete his bachelor's degree. File also contains family correspondence, letters from the National Consumer Panel and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's social order committee, and material on Weekend Workcamps.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1960 May-August.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

Correspondence mostly relates to William Cunningham's return to Maryville College to finish his bachelor's degree, including the logistics of moving to Tennessee and some discussion of Quakers in that area. File also includes several letters to elected officials objecting to U.S. espionage in Russia.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1960 August-October.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

Correspondence mostly relates to William Cunningham's return to Maryville College to finish his bachelor's degree, including the logistics of moving to Tennessee and some discussion of Quakers in that area. File also contains correspondence with Elizabeth and William's parents as well as several letters from David Richie about Friends Weekend Workcamps.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1960 November-December.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

File contains family and personal correspondence (mostly to Elizabeth and William's parents) written while the couple lived in Maryville, Tennessee.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1961 January-August.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

File primarily contains family and personal correspondence (mostly to Elizabeth and William's parents) written while the couple lived in Maryville, Tennessee. Letters frequently discuss the family's financial difficulties and occasionally bring up war tax resistance. Includes a letter from Elizabeth Cunningham to a friend who had recently separated from or divorced her husband.

Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1961 April-1963 December.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File primarily contains personal and family correspondence in addition to William Cunningham's applications to graduate programs and his correspondence while a student at Temple University. Other items of interest include:

  1. Several scattered items on war tax resistance
  2. Letters to the editor about Russia, alcohol advertisements, and food stamps
  3. Letters to the Consumer Union
  4. Elizabeth's letters to her cousin Sherwood "Woody" Fuehrer, who had recently had a brain tumor removed
  5. Letters from the managers of the Cunningham's public housing complex, Schuylkill Falls
  6. A photo of Rev. Carl T. Smith with a Buddhist priest in Bangkok, 1963
  7. Instructions for how receptionists at a meetinghouse in Philadelphia should respond to visitors asking for money or other assistance
  8. The announcement of the birth of Elizabeth and William's twin sons Philip and Jonathan
  9. Material about the death and funeral of their son Sandy (William Jr.) and legal correspondence about the resulting lawsuit
Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence, 1964-1967.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File contains general family and personal correspondence. Items of note include:

  1. Material on from a racial discrimination case that Elizabeth and William Cunningham filed against a rental agent for refusing to rent to African Americans
  2. A letter to "the Back Benchers" describing the Cunningham's thoughts on issues raised by "Quakerism: a view from the back benches."
  3. A copy of "Newsman's Gadfly" by Walter Gormley
  4. A document from Westside Neighborhood Council
  5. Material about School Lane First Day School
  6. Letters to Elizabeth Cunningham's cousin Sherwood "Woody" Fuehrer
Elizabeth Cunningham correspondence with mother and parents-in-law, 1960-1961.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File contains Elizabeth Cunningham's lettersto her mother Jennie Ault and her parents-in-law Alexander and Elise Cunningham from Maryville, Tennessee, where the family lived while William Cunningham finished his bachelor's degree. Most letters are duplicates of items in the Elizabeth and William Cunningham correspondence files.

Elizabeth Cunningham miscellaneous correspondence, 1969-1992.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File primarily contains letters to friends and family. Items of note include:

  1. A 1980 letter to the Commission on Human Relations involving an inappropriate workplace incident in Germantown
  2. A letter about a COBOL computer program used by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for its accounting
  3. A letter about a person with mental illness who sporadically visited Germantown Meeting
  4. A letter asking the Selective Service System to remove someone's conscientious objector status because of his deteriorating health
Elizabeth Cunningham letters, 1988-1989.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File contains Elizabeth Cunningham's letters from the U.K. while on a staff exchange trip with London Yearly Meeting.

William Cunningham correspondence, 1950-1958.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File mostly contains letters from before Cunningham joined the Society of Friends. Contents primarily concern Cunningham's calling to join the ministry of another Protestant denomination, his time at Maryville College, and his attempts to return there after marrying in 1956. A few letters also discuss Elizabeth and William's conversion to Quakerism.

William Cunningham correspondence, 1963-1968.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File contains job search correspondence with various colleges and universities, along with a copy of Cunningham's resume, a cover letter template, and lists of institutions contacted. Also present is a 1968 letter to the president of Temple University discussing the school's response to Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and relationship with the North Philadelphia community.

Jennie Ault letters to Elizabeth Cunningham, 1950-1956.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File contains letters sent to Elizabeth Cunningham from her mother Jennie Ault while Cunningham was at Ursinus College. Some letters refer to Cunningham as "Kollege Kid" or "KK".

Jennie Ault correspondence with George and Dorothy Fuehrer, 1948-1984.
Box 2
Jennie Ault correspondence with Carl T. Smith, 1951-1994.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

File primarily contains correspondence but also includes a half-dozen sermons delivered by Smith in the 1950s.

School papers and memorabilia, 1941-1982 (1941-1951).
Box 3
Scope and Contents

Includes report cards, essays, and drawings from elementary and high school (Philadelphia Girls' High); memorabilia from concerts, museums, and graduations; and the obituary for Elizabeth's father Elmer Ault, who died in 1948.

Writings and rejection letters, 1951-1994 (1951-1961).
Box 3
Scope and Contents

Elizabeth's writings from college and after: college essays (including one on George Fox's Journal), articles submitted to magazines, instructions on childcare, and a 1994 article published in

Friends Journal. Also includes rejection letters from magazines.
Remington Rand material, 1955-1959.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File contains material related to Elizabeth Cunningham's work for Remington Rand as a computer programmer, including memorabilia from a trip to New York City for training, a handful of technical documents on the UNIVAC 120, travel reimbursement forms from Remington Rand, volume calculations for an Army Corp of Engineers project related to dredging the Delaware River, and 1955 W2 tax forms for Cunningham and her eventual husband William.

Quaker ephemera, 1958-1989.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File contains a photocopy of a 1958 Friends General Council program, a 1988 letter from Elizabeth Cunningham's daughter Judy about the Weekend Workcamp program, and a 1989 copy of The Friend with Cunningham on the cover.

Programs and production notes for church plays, 1955-1956.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File contains programs, scripts, and sketches for plays at St. Stephen's Church.

Material on Cunningham family's time in public housing, 1961-1996 (1961-1965).
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File comprises the Cunningham's 1961 lease for an apartment in the Schuylkill Falls complex, a Philadelphia Housing Authority brochure, household accounts from 1961, a letter to the school superintendent, a 1965 property deed, and newspaper clippings from 1964 and 1996.

William Cunningham papers, 1951-2009 (1951-1961).
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File mainly includes documents related to William Cunningham's higher education and his pay stubs. Other contents include a wedding announcement and invitation for his marriage to Elizabeth Ault Cunningham and a copy of his CV from 2009 or later.

Letters and legal papers related to Willam Cunningham Jr.'s death, 1957-1967.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File primarily contains sympathy letters for Sandy's death and legal documents from the suit his parents brought over the flammability of the snowsuit he had been wearing. Also includes a stereogram of Sandy and a copy of his birth announcement.

William Cunningham Sr. memoir on William Cunningham Jr.'s death, around 2000.
Box 3
Jennie Ault church pamphlets, 1950, 1966, 1970.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File contains three pamphlets from churches at which Jennie Ault was an organist.

Photographs, 1958-1964.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

File mostly contains black-and-white exterior photographs of Quaker meetinghouses, taken soon after Elizabeth and William Cunningham joined the Society of Friends. Photographs also depict a graveyard (possibly Fair Hill Burial Ground, where their son Sandy was buried), a parking lot, a child at the base of a highrise (Schuylkill Falls?), and (in color) two women in traditional Quaker dress.

Copperplate printing block of William Penn, undated.
Box 3
Scope and Contents

Found in Elizabeth Cunningham's house by her daughter Judy Van Hoy.

Print, Suggest