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Helen Norris Cummings Papers (MS072)

Identifier: MS072

Content Description

This collection consists of the research materials of Helen Norris Cummings, founder of the Cameron Club, member of the Federation of Women's Club, and local historian.

The correspondence spans the period from 1870 to 1943. Most of the pre-1905 letters deal with genealogy, and the majority of these are addressed to Emma, Helen's mother. Approximately half of the 1905 to 1920 letters are also Emma's. Many of Helen's letters deal with political issues, such as immigration and radicalism. Box 72E Folder 4 contains numerous letters from congressmen. These appear to be responses to her comments on immigration. Among the agencies from which she received letters are the National Republic, The Movement Against Socialism in the Church, and the Industrial Defense Association. The subject files contain mostly printed matter and a few pieces of correspondence and appear to largely center aroound communist and socialist activity. They served to keep track of supposed subversive activity by groups and people that were either openly or suspected socialists, or communists. This material was not only for personal reference, but was shared amongst the many womens groups she was a part of. These files are divided into two subseries: "Subject-Who's Who" and "Subject." Handwritten notes on many documents indicate that Helen kept files on (at least) people, legislation, nations, and organizations. She wrote "Who's Who" on materials relating to particular individuals. Only part of the index to her files remains. It appears that she divided the subjects into broad topics and then alphabetized them within each topic. According to the surviving index (Box 72N Folder 15), File #5 was "Patriotism and History," and File #3 was "Radicalism." Because it is impossible to reconstruct the entire filing system, the folder titles reflect either folders that remained from her file cabinets, or were created because Cummings labelled papers. For example, when Lloyd House received this collection there was not a folder labelled "Labor." One was created, however, because Helen wrote "Labor" at the top of a pamphlet. The miscellaneous sections at the end of each subseries are a catch-all, not created by Helen. Because of the overlap of people with subjects, and subjects with other subjects, information in folders are not exclusive. For example, there is a "Who's Who" folder on Earl Browder, the Communist Party's candidate for president in 1936 and 1940. These is also a "Subject" folder on the Communist Party. Necessarily, these two overlap. The folders "Trials," "Citizenship," "Immigration," and "Constitution-U.S." contain articles about, or letters to newspaper editors, written by Helen. Several folders, particularly "Immigration," and "Subsidiary Movements," contain issues of "The Daily Data Sheet of the Key Men in America." The purpose of these appears to provide information about Communist and Socialist activities in the U.S. At least one clipping in the subject files was printed after Helen's death. This may have occurred because Esther Green continued to maintain these files. The Personal/Family series contains genealogical information, as well as obituaries of Helen, Norris, William Cummings (Helen's grandfather), and various other relatives. The oversize materials include a clip sheet from the National Patriotic Council and approximately a dozen posters in Russian. There are also a few anti-Communism and anti- Socialism posters. The bound volumes include Helen's diaries from 1894 to 1929 (not a complete set), an account book, a letter book, a prayer book, and an autograph book.


  • 1865 - 1949


Biographical / Historical

Helen Norris Cummings, daughter of Norris Cummings (1834-1904) and Emma Ricketts Cummings (d. 1930), resided in Alexandria from about 1894 until 1949, the time of her death. The family came from Philadelphia, where Norris had been involved in "William Cummings and Son," his family's international shipping business. Helen was active in community affairs. In 1894 she founded the Cameron Club, a member of the Federation of Women's Clubs. (See Cameron Club Collection). She also held various positions in the Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs. Much of her activity within the clubs, particularly starting around 1920, was devoted to tracking communist, socialist, and jewish groups and dispersing anti-radical literature within her womens groups.


10.97 Cubic Feet (25 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection is organized into five series: Correspondence, Subject Files, Personal/Family, Oversize, and Bound Volumes. Also, at the end of the collection (Boxes 72V and 72W) are two boxes of unidentified photo plates.

Separated Materials

Photos were transferred to the photograph collection. The photos from this collection and the Esther Green Collection are mixed. Also, papers relating to the Ricketts family are now in the Ricketts Collection.

Helen Norris Cummings Papers Finding Aid
Under Revision
Michele Lee, Reference Librarian and Adrian Vaagenes
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Local History and Special Collections Branch, Alexandria Library Repository

717 Queen Street
Alexandria VA 22314 United States