Mary Brevard Alexander Howell Papers, 1833-1988
The Mary Brevard Alexander Howell papers span the years 1833-1988, with 1833 as an outlier. The bulk of the materials are dated during her young adult years and her later years.
Collection materials include correspondence, photographs, photo albums, scrapbooks, and printed materials. The correspondence is predominantly personal in nature, and centers on Howell, her mother, Mary “Two” Robertson Alexander, and her husband, Billy Shaw Howell. There is a large photograph collection that portrays the Howell and Alexander families. Printed materials include memorabilia, which provide interesting examples of church and social functions and a wide assortment of newspaper clippings.
Almost all of the materials are of a personal nature. Strengths of the collection are the groups of correspondence from college, her engagement and early married years, and letters received from soldiers during both World Wars. Many items of interest from the Charlotte area can be found in the printed materials series. This collection does not contain extensive information pertaining to her many civic and club activities.
Together, the all the materials yield a revealing overview of the family life and personal relationship of one of Charlotte’s prestigious families.
- 1833 - 1988
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to duplicate or publish material from this collection must be obtained from the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Biographical / Historical
Mary Brevard Alexander Howell was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1901, the only child of Sydenham B. Alexander, Jr. and Mary Watson Robertson Alexander. Mary Brevard Alexander Howell’s relatives included paternal grandfather Sydenham Benoni Alexander, who served as a congressional representative and paternal Aunt Julia McGehee Alexander, the second licensed woman attorney in North Carolina.
Howell, called “Vard” by family and friends, attended Charlotte High School and graduated in 1919. She went away to college and spent two years at Gunston Hall in Washington, DC.
In 1922, Howell married Billy Shaw Howell, who was also a Charlotte native. His education included Charlotte University School, Major Baird’s School and Davidson College. He was an Army combat pilot in France during World War I. Following their marriage; Billy Shaw Howell traveled while employed by the Luce Furniture Company. Later he was associated with the Shaw Distributing Company and Shaw Manufacturing Company.
Howell gave birth to two sons, Sydenham Alexander in 1923 and Billy “Wool” Shaw Howell, Jr. in approximately 1930. Their elder son died in 1938 after a brief illness while at boarding school.
During her adult years, Howell was very active in civic affairs. At various times, she was a board member for a number of charitable organizations including the Florence Crittendon Home and the Presbyterian Foundation. She was a board member of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County from 1941 until 1971. She was very active in the Junior Leagues of America, serving as the local chapter president in 1931 and as national vice president in 1937.
Howell’s husband died in 1949. Howell died in 1988 and was survived by her son and four grandchildren.
10.68 Linear Feet
7.23 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
Mary Brevard Alexander Howell was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1901, the only child of Sydenham B. Alexander, Jr. and Mary Watson Robertson Alexander. In 1922, Howell married Billy Shaw Howell, with whom she shared two sons, Sydenham Alexander Howell and Billy “Wool” Shaw Howell, Jr. Howell was very active in civic affairs. At various times, she was a board member for a number of charitable organizations including the Florence Crittendon Home and the Presbyterian Foundation. She served as a board member of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County from 1941-1971. Additionally, she was very active in the Junior Leagues of America, serving as the local chapter president in 1931 and as national vice president in 1937.
The papers of Mary Brevard Alexander Howell span the years 1833-1988. Family photographs and materials belonging to her mother and husband contribute to items which predate Howell’s birth in 1901. The major portion of the materials reflects various periods in her life: high school and college, her early years as a wife and mother in Charlotte, North Carolina, and her later years.
The collection is arranged into 10 series:
Series 1: Correspondence-Mary Brevard Alexander Howell, 1910-1982. Arranged chronologically into sub-series which are in alphabetical order. This series contains primarily personal correspondence sent and received by Mary Brevard Alexander Howell. The largest groups of letters sent are ones mailed to Billy Shaw Howell during the months before they were married and the first year of their marriage when he traveled for business purposes. A second group contains letters Howell sent to her mother and son during a 1953 trip to England to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Letters, which were received by Howell, span the years 1912- 1982. Some interesting groups of letters include ones received during her school years at Gunston Hall in Washington, DC, and mail received from soldiers in both World Wars. Other types of correspondence included in this series are greeting cards (one in which was enclosed a family history prepared by her aunt Violet Alexander, postcards and telegrams.
Series 2: Correspondence-Mary Robertson Alexander, 1900-1945. Arranged chronologically into sub-series, which are in alphabetical order. Letters received by Howell’s mother, Mary Robertson Alexander, are contained in this series. All correspondence is personal in nature. The first major group contains letters she received from her mother, Mary Grattan Robertson, and other relatives during their 1900 tour of Europe. She also corresponded with soldiers during the both World Wars and their letters to her are in this series.
Series 3: Correspondence-Billy Shaw Howell, 1906-1943. Arranged chronologically. This series contains a small group of personal and business correspondence sent and received by Billy Shaw Howell. Letters included are from his parents and mother-in-law. A 1915 invitation to join a fraternity at Davidson College is part of this series.
Series 4: Correspondence-other, 1896-1918. Arranged chronologically. This series contains letters exchanged between Howell’s family members and friends.
Series 5: Printed Materials, 1918-1983. Arranged chronologically by type. This series contains an assortment of various printed materials collected by Howell that reflect different activities and events in her life. Included in this series are church bulletins, programs, news clippings, as well as a dance card from 1918 and her report cards from Gunston Hall. Clippings encompass many family members’ lives highlights and obituary notices.
Series 6: Literary Productions, 1833-c1980. Arranged by type. This series contains poetry written to Howell by friends on the occasion of her eightieth birthday. The books in this series include Flora’s Dictionary by a Lady written in 1833, the 1919 Charlotte High School yearbook, Snips and Cuts and Charlotte in Picture in Prose written by Howell’s aunt, Julia M. Alexander in 1906.
Series 7: Financial Documents, 1921-1926. Arranged by type. A small collection of materials cannot be classified as personal. There are only four items: two receipts from the 1920s, a 1926 promissory note and a 1933 deposit ticket from the Union National Bank.
Series 8: Photographs, Late 1800s-1980s. Arranged alphabetically. A sizeable collection of family photographs comprise this series.
Series 9: Photograph Albums, 1897-1950s. A photograph album belonging to Mary Robertson Alexander and three of Howell’s make up this series. Alexander’s album spans the period from 1897-1927 and includes images of family and trips taken to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina in 1902, Niagara Falls in 1899 and Washington, DC in 1899. One of Howell’s albums chronicles her early years. The second one shows in the early years of her marriage and as a mother in Charlotte. The latter album includes photographs of Sydenham Hall at Darlington School in Rome, Georgia which was dedicated in 1939 in memory of her son, Sydenham Alexander Howell who died while attending the school.
Series 10: Scrapbooks, 1885-1941. Two of Mary Robertson Alexander’s scrapbooks are in this series. The first cover the years 1885 to the 1920s and contains memorabilia from her wedding and honeymoon, family occasions, Howell’s birth and childhood, as a number of other events. Her second album records the deaths of her husband, Sydenham B. Alexander, Jr., and her grandson, Sydenham Alexander Howell. The last scrapbook in this series is one kept by Howell to chronicle her engagement and wedding to Billy Shaw Howell in 1922.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
This collection was donated to the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room by Billy S. Howell, Jr., October 1991.
Materials are in good condition
Box 10 is misplaced, but likely stored with photograph collection.
Boxes 20, 21, 22, and 23 are unprocessed.
The processing, arrangement, and description of this collection was completed by Susan Smith.
- Correspondence Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Family Papers/Genealogy Subject Source: Local sources
- Financial documents Subject Source: Local sources
- Military correspondence Subject Source: Local sources
- Photographs Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Scrapbooks Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- World War, 1914-1918 Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- World War, 1939-1945 Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Mary Brevard Alexander Howell Papers, 1833-1988
- Susan Smith
- Language of description
- Script of description
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Part of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Repository
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library-Main
310 N. Tryon Street
Charlotte NC 28202 USA