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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 226

Papers of Frances Euphemia Thompson, 1897-1983


Correspondence, speeches, photographs, etc., of Frances Euphemia Thompson, African American artist and educator.


  • Creation: 1897-1983

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Frances Euphemia Thompson as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Unrestricted.


1.67 linear feet ((4 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 oversize folder, 17 folders of photographs)

The collection, while small, provides documentation of Frances Euphemia Thompson's work and experiences as an African American teacher of art in an African American school, as well as her experiences as a student of art at a time when few African Americans were receiving or providing formal training in art or art education. Before donating them to the library, Thompson annotated many of the documents in the collection, shedding light on the period when they were created, the occasion, or the person(s) by or about whom they were created.

Series I, Biographical, #1-61, includes photographs of and clippings about Thompson and her family, and a biographical sketch. There are also materials collected by Thompson that she found of interest, correspondence and clippings about awards and honors and about organizations with which she was involved, and printed materials about her friends. Thompson's education is documented in this series by official records of the Massachusetts College of Art and Radcliffe College, as well as papers she wrote as class assignments. There are also materials from the Rosenwald Fund and correspondence, clippings, mementoes, and writings by Thompson about her fellowship.

Series II, Correspondence, #62-75, consists almost entirely of personal letters received by Thompson. Folders of letters from friends are arranged alphabetically at the beginning of the series, followed by single letters from individuals filed chronologically. Family letters and correspondence about Thompson's education are in Series I; business correspondence about Thompson's artwork, Tennessee A&I, and letters from ex-students are in Series III; and correspondence about speaking engagements is in Series IV.

Series III, Work, #76-106, contains printed materials about Tennessee A&I, Thompson's course materials, examples of student artwork, and flyers and programs from organizations within the institution. There are also samples of her artwork, and programs, flyers, and correspondence about exhibitions of her work.

Series IV, Speeches and writings, #107-120, consists of typed and manuscript drafts of speeches, and correspondence, flyers, programs, invitations, and clippings about speaking engagements. There are two copies of Art in the Elementary School, both annotated by Thompson, and correspondence about the manual. There are also published and draft copies of articles by Thompson, and correspondence about them.


Frances Euphemia Thompson wrote that she was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 11, 1896. After the death of her father, Archer, in 1907, her mother, Harriet, raised Thompson and her eight siblings with the help of "Aunt Judy," an elderly friend of the family and a former slave. Thompson attended public elementary schools through the 9th grade, when the family moved across town; she completed her high school education at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School (Tennessee A&I, now Tennessee State University). She was supported through her early years by a strongly religious home and the guidance and encouragement of Olive Giovanne Taliaferro, a teacher of art education at Tennessee A&I who became her mentor.

Taliaferro, an alumna of the Massachusetts School of Art (now the Massachusetts College of Art), sponsored Thompson's college education there. After graduating in 1923 Thompson returned to Nashville, where she began a career in art and art education at Tennessee A&I that was to span five decades. She served as department director, became professor of art in 1944, and professor emerita in 1974.

In 1936, after she received a B.S. in art education from MCA, she was encouraged to apply for a Rosenwald Fellowship for further study in Europe. In September 1937 she set sail for Sweden, from there traveling through Denmark and Germany to Prague, Czechoslovakia. There she lived in a student dormitory run by the Protestant church, studying art education, visiting museums, and learning the Czech crafts of silversmithing and lacework. Until her fellowship was cut short by German military actions in 1938, she also gave recitals of African American folk songs and spirituals, lectured, and took advantage of opportunities for travel to England and France.

Upon her return to the United States, Thompson resumed her teaching position at Tennessee A&I. After three years she once again became restless, and enrolled as a graduate student at Radcliffe College. She studied education and fine arts, and in 1945 was awarded a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT).

Again returning to Tennessee A&I, Thompson continued to teach a heavy course load in a continually understaffed and underfunded department, devoting her "free time" to committee and club work. She was an organizer of and frequent participant in the "Faculty Breakfast Group," a cooperative effort among faculty at three predominantly African American institutions in Nashville: Meharry Medical College, Fisk University, and Tennessee A&I. The organization hosted lectures and discussions on topics in fields such as religion, education, history, literature, science, and government. She was also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Gaiete de Coeur Art Club, and the National Art Education Association.

Thompson also worked as a freelance artist. She designed the official seal of Tennessee A&I and the bas-reliefs that were carved into the facades of many of its buildings. She drew cover illustrations for publications, designed certificates for Tennessee A&I and other organizations, and painted murals and oil paintings of landscapes and portraits.

Thompson was also a writer and public speaker. In 1943 she wrote Art in the Elementary Schools: A Manual for Teachers, published by the Tennessee State Department of Education. This work is an early example of Thompson's efforts to publish writings about her ideas on education and religious and secular art. Thompson lectured not only to Tennessee A&I classes and at numerous club gatherings, but also gave speeches on education (especially art education), Christianity, and art at numerous schools in Tennessee and elsewhere. She also gave demonstrations of various art techniques.

After her retirement from the faculty of Tennessee A&I in 1969, Thompson remained in Nashville, maintaining her contact with the school and continuing to lecture, paint, and draw. She died on January 30, 1992.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. I. Biographical
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Work
  4. IV. Speeches and writings

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 75-144, 75-176, 75-364, 76-142, 76-189, 77-M5, 77-M29, 77-M47, 77-M166, 77-M193, 78-M70, 78-M114, 78-M115, 78-M163, 78-M219, 79-M20, 79-M64, 79-M103, 79-M158, 79-M213, 79-M233, 80-M29, 80-M173, 80-M219, 81-M2, 81-M75, 81-M90, 81-M221, 81-M243, 82-M6, 82-M126, 82-M200, 83-M27, 83-M125, 83-M269, 84-M215, 85-M93, 86-M189, 87-M106, 88-M166

The papers of Frances Euphemia Thompson were given to the Schlesinger Library by Frances Euphemia Thompson between May 1975 and November 1988.


  1. Box 1: Folders 2-35
  2. Box 2: Folders 37-69
  3. Box 3: Folders 70-96
  4. Box 4: Folders 97-120

Processing Information

Processed: May 1993

By: Susan von Salis

Thompson, Frances Euphemia, 1896-1992. Papers of Frances Euphemia Thompson, 1897-1983: 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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