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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 383: T-212

Papers of Mary Gibson Hundley, 1862-1985 (inclusive), 1934-1975 (bulk)


Legal records, scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence, etc., of Mary Gibson Hundley, educator and civil rights activist.


  • 1862-1985
  • Majority of material found within 1934-1975


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mary Gibson Hundley is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


4.38 linear feet ((9 file boxes, 3 half file boxes) plus 3 folio folders, 3 folio+ folders, 2 oversize folders, 1 folio volume, 1 audiocassette)

This collection of Mary Gibson Hundley's personal and professional papers is arranged in the following four series:

Series I, Personal and family, #1-35 (1874-1979), includes the history of the Syphax and Gibson families; papers of Hundley's husband, Frederick F. Hundley; photographs; scrapbooks of clippings; school and college papers; and legal records of the Hundleys' civil rights case.

Series II, Professional, #36-87 (1866-1982), consists of records of Hundley's teaching career at Dunbar High School, 1920-54; drafts of The Dunbar Story, 1870-1955, with background material on the history of African American education and Dunbar High School alumni; part- time teaching at Miner Teachers College, and subsequent teaching at Eastern High School, 1954-59, and Howard University, 1959-64. There are also musical compositions, talks, and articles.

Series III, Correspondence, #88-103 (1917-1985), includes correspondence with former students, educational and political leaders, and others.

Series IV, Memberships and volunteer activities, #104-126 (1921-1982), includes correspondence, certificates, minutes, and reports pertaining mainly to women's organizations and those with an international focus.


Educator and civil rights activist Mary Gibson Hundley was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 18, 1897, the daughter of Malachi Gibson, a lawyer, and Mary Matilda Syphax, a teacher. On her mother's side, Hundley was a descendant of Martha Custis Washington and granddaughter of William Syphax, the first African American to serve as president of the Board of Trustees of Colored Schools of Washington and Georgetown. Hundley graduated from Dunbar High School (then known as the "M" Street school) in Washington DC in 1914. At Radcliffe College she concentrated in English and composed songs for her class and for college theatrical productions. Her financial difficulties, compounded by Radcliffe Dean Bertha May Boody's insistence that she work her way through college as a maid, would have led to her withdrawal from college had not President Le Baron Russell Briggs intervened to arrange a loan for her. She graduated cum laude in 1918. She later pursued graduate study in French at Middlebury College (AM 1929) and the Sorbonne.

After teaching for two years in Baltimore, Hundley moved back to Washington and taught French, English, and Latin at Dunbar High School, 1920-1954, and part-time at Miner Teachers College, 1931-1932. She was chairman of the College Bureau of Dunbar High School, 1943-1949, and a member of the Guidance Committee. She organized after-school enrichment programs for Dunbar High School students: the Coleman and Margaret Jennings Clubs (social service clubs) and Le Cercle Francais. Hundley was credited with inspiring generations of African American students to go on to higher education and enroll in Ivy League colleges.

Wishing to participate in integrated education, she transferred to Eastern High School where she taught English and Latin (1955-1959). From 1959 to 1964 she taught at Howard University, and thereafter tutored pupils privately in French.

Her pride in the achievements of alumni of Dunbar High School led her to write The Dunbar Story, 1870-1955 (New York: Vantage Press, 1965). The book describes the history of Dunbar High School from its founding in 1870 as the first college preparatory school for African American students in the United States, with a roster of notable alumni including teachers, politicians, clergy, and members of other professions. In 1973 Hundley led the Dunbar Alumni Association's campaign to prevent the demolition of the original school building; despite agitation by alumni and a national press campaign, the building was demolished in 1977.

She was married first to William M. Brewer (divorced, 1935) and second to Frederick F. Hundley (1938), a public school art teacher, who died in 1955.

The Hundleys purchased and moved into a house with a restrictive racial covenant in January 1941. Their white neighbors brought suit against them and won the case in December 1941. The Hundleys were enjoined from occupying their house and were evicted in July 1942. The judgment was reversed on appeal in December 1942 (Hundley et ux. v. Gorewitz et al. No. 8154 U.S. Court of Appeals for DC, 1942). The case was one of those cited in Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 US1-23 (1947), which established that covenants restricting use and ownership of property to whites violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Hundley was a member of numerous women's organizations, including Alpha Kappa Sorority, The Links, the Women's Auxiliary of the Freedmen's Hospital, the Radcliffe Club of Washington, the American Association of University Women, and the International Federation of University Women. She was a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church and active in Washington organizations that provided escorts and interpreters for foreign visitors. She served as tour leader for the National Education Association in 1958, traveled abroad frequently, and was an avid theater- and concert-goer. From 1974 to 1979 she was a docent at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian. Radcliffe College honored her at its Centennial Awards ceremony in 1978 with the Alumnae Recognition Award for her service as an educator and "courageous citizen." She died in 1986.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Personal and family, #1-35 (1874-1979)
  2. Series II. Professional, #36-87 (1866-1982)
  3. Series III. Correspondence, #88-103 (1917-1985)
  4. Series IV. Memberships and volunteer activities, #104-126 (1921-1982)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 86-M233, 2003-M5

The papers of Mary Gibson Hundley were given to the Schlesinger Library by her heir, Orlando Hobbs, in December 1986. Two 1950 issues of The Dunbar News Reel were given to the library in January 2003 by Sylvia McDowell.


  1. Box 1: Folders 7-12; Box 1a: Folder 13v; Box 1b: 14v
  2. Box 2: Folders 16-24
  3. Box 3: Folders 25-35
  4. Box 4: Folders 36-47v
  5. Box 5: Folders 48v-58
  6. Box 6: Folders 59-66
  7. Box 7: Folders 67-76
  8. Box 8: Folders 77-91
  9. Box 9: Folders 92-112
  10. Box 10: Folders 113-126

Processing Information

Processed: December 1987

By: Jane S. Knowles

Folders 26ao, 27af+, and 76af+ were added to the collection and two 1950 issues of The Dunbar News Reel were added to folder 50f+ in March 2018 by Johanna Carll.

In May 2023, Susan Earle revised this finding aid to bring it into alignment with Schlesinger Library's inclusive and reparative language guidelines. In the biographical section of the finding aid she replaced the term "Blacks" with "African American students." She retained any original terms that are part of the names of organizations, publications, or within original folder titles for historical context.

Hundley, Mary Gibson, 1897-1986. Papers of Mary Gibson Hundley, 1862-1985 (inclusive), 1934-1975 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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