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Vivion Lenon Brewer Papers, 1947-1991
10 boxes (3.5 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 20

Abstract:
Co-founder, Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools; volunteer; banker; and lawyer. A native of Arkansas, Vivion Brewer was an advocate of civil rights and integration and also participated in several women's organizations. This collection sheds some light on her personal and professional life, as well as offering insight into larger questions about the motives and experiences of white Southerners who opposed racism and segregation. Materials include writings, diaries, correspondence, photographs, and various records. Also included are her typescript memoir entitled "The Embattled Ladies of Little Rock;" and organizational material from the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools such as minutes.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open for research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

Vivion Lenon Brewer's niece, Patricia M. Rostker owns copyright to her papers. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

Vivion Lenon Brewer was born on October 6, 1900 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Clara Mercer and Warren E. Lenon, a prominent local Democrat who served as Little Rock's mayor from 1903-1908. After graduating from Little Rock High School, Brewer left the South to attend Smith College, where she majored in sociology. She returned to Little Rock after her graduation from Smith in 1921 and, until 1923, worked as her father's secretary. During the period 1924-26 Brewer worked briefly as a bookkeeper and a gift shop owner before she left to spend a year traveling through Europe. In 1926 Brewer returned to Little Rock once again, resumed working in her father's bank by day, and began working toward her law degree at night. She graduated from Arkansas Law School in 1928, the same year she was elected Vice President of the bank. Despite passing the Arkansas bar exam in 1929, Brewer chose to continue at the bank rather than working as an attorney.

Joe and Vivion Brewer, August 1959

Joe and Vivion Brewer, August 1959

In 1930 Vivion Lenon married Joseph Brewer, the nephew of Senator Joseph T. Robinson who had run for Vice President alongside Democratic Presidential candidate Al Smith in 1928. The couple lived in Washington, D.C. for sixteen years as Joe Brewer held a succession of Federal government positions including secretary to his uncle, then the Senate Majority leader, and executive positions in the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior. During her time in Washington, D.C., Vivion Brewer endured both a serious four-year-long illness and the birth and death of her only child in 1933. She also became close to an African-American woman she employed and, through that friendship, gained new insights about the destructive impact of racism and segregation in the U.S. In 1946, following Joe's return from military service during World War II, the Brewers decided to return to Arkansas. Joe accepted a job as the personnel officer at the North Little Rock Veterans Administration Hospital and the couple settled on a piece of old Brewer family property in Scott, Arkansas.

Over the next decade Vivion spent her time renovating the Brewer property and participating in organizations such as the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters. It was not until 1958, when the crisis erupted over the issue of integrating Little Rock's high schools, that Brewer finally acted on the anti-racist impulses she had discovered in herself twenty years earlier. When Governor Orval Faubus chose to close Little Rock public schools rather than integrate them, Brewer, along with several other prominent local women, organized the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools and became some of the most visible white advocates of integration. After the Little Rock schools re-opened and the Women's Emergency Committee disbanded Brewer continued her activism by organizing educational programs for African-American children. Smith College recognized her work by awarding her an honorary doctorate in 1961. After Joe Brewer died in 1988 Vivion went to Pasadena, California to live with her niece. She died there in June, 1991, at age 90.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Vivion Lenon Brewer Papers include material from 1947 to 1991, with most items dating from 1956 to 1965. The collection contains biographical material, including her 1973 typescript account of the fight for integration, "The Embattled Ladies of Little Rock" (published in 1998), and other writings, clippings, and photographs; correspondence; organizational material from the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools; subject files; and printed material related to segregation.

Major subjects reflected in the collection include the school desegregation crisis in Arkansas and other Southern states, the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., the activities of white racists in the U.S., and the history of Little Rock, Arkansas. Organizations represented include the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, as well as numerous local political and charitable organizations through which Vivion Brewer worked to aid the African-American population of Little Rock. The papers shed some light on Vivion Brewer's life; they also offer insight into larger questions about the motives and experiences of white Southerners who defied their culture by opposing racism and segregation.


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The papers are open for research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

Vivion Lenon Brewer's niece, Patricia M. Rostker owns copyright to her papers. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Vivion Lenon Brewer Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

History of the Collection

Vivion Lenon Brewer donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1968.

Processing Information

Processed by Kate Weigand.


Additional Information
Contact Information
Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Email Reference Form: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/emailform.html
URL: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/

Language
English.