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Coffey family papers

Call Number: RH MS 692


The Coffey family papers contain the papers of Vernon C. Coffey, a train porter who played an important role in the Brotherhood of Trainmen, Brakemen, Porters, Switchmen, Firemen, and Railway Employees, Inc. The Coffey family papers also includes the papers of Cornelius R. Coffey, a pioneer in the field of aviation, and Ada E. Coffey Williams, who has been influential in nursing and vocational education in Kansas.


  • Creation: 1908 - 2005


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Vernon Coffey (1894-1991)

Vernon Carson Coffey was born April 18, 1894 in Brinkley, Arkansas to Henry and Ada (Wright) Coffey. He graduated from high school in Newport, Arkansas and attended Shorter College in North Little Rock, AR for a year; he earned a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1938 from the University of Omaha.

Beginning in 1912, Coffey worked as a train porter for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. From 1917 to 1919 World War I and its aftermath interrupted his work for the railroad. Returning to Kansas City, Kansas, Coffey returned to the railroad until 1960, at which time he became a salesman for the Financial Industrial Fund (FIF).

In 1948, Coffey unsuccessfully ran for office as State House Representative from the 8th District. He left FIF in 1972, at which time he began work at Waddell & Reed, Inc., where he stayed until his 1979 retirement. He also was a notary, a licensed life insurance agent, and became ordained in 1982, working as an assistant minister at First AME Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

Coffey was greatly involved in union work. He became a general attorney for the Brotherhood of Trainsmen, Brakemen, Porters, Switchmen, Firemen, and Railroad Employees, Inc. Prior to this position he also worked with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Coffey was involved in other organizations, such as the Widow's Son Lodge No. 17 F. & A.M., Phi Beta Sigma, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the American Legion, where he served as Commander of the Argonne Post No. 217.

Coffey married Vera Lee Menefee; the couple had two children, Vernon Jr. and Ada. After the death of Vera, Coffey married Mary Craig. Vernon C. Coffey died in March 1991.

Biography of Cornelius Coffey (1903-1994)

Cornelius R. Coffey was born September 6, 1903 in Newport, Arkansas to Henry and Ada Coffey and younger brother of Vernon C. He graduated from Capital High School in Omaha, Nebraska. He then graduated as an Auto Master Mechanic from the Automotive Engineering School (1927), as an Aircraft Master Mechanic from the Curtiss Wright Flying Service (1931), as Aircraft Engine Mechanic from the Aeronautical University (1939), as a Flight Instructor, and as a Test and Assistant Operator (1956), all in Chicago, Illinois. In 1927, Cornelius began Coffey Flying Service in Oak Lawn, IL. During the 1930s, he also worked as a mechanic for a number of companies, including the US Post Office.

Coffey began training men as a contractor for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in 1940, and in 1942 he became a commissioned Captain in the Civil Air Patrol. After World War II, Coffey worked in a variety of positions including as a teacher at Chicago's Dunbar Vocational High School and at the Coffey School of Aeronautics. In 1993, he began the Cornelius R. Coffey Aviation Education Foundation to aid women and minorities entering aircraft maintenance.

Coffey's flying career saw a number of firsts: he was the first African American to establish an aeronautical school, and that school became the only non-university affiliated program to become a major part of the Civilian Pilots Training Program, which produced some of the first African American pilots in World War II. In enrolling at the Aeronautical University in Chicago, Coffey became one of the first two African Americans in that institute; when he earned his A & E mechanic's certificate in 1931, he became the first African American to hold such a certificate. Coffey was also the first African American to hold both a mechanic's and a pilot's license.

For his long career, Coffey earned a number of honors and distinctions, including being selected as an Elder Statesman of Aviation by the National Aeronautic Association. As a tribute to his contributions to aviation the Coffey Intersection was established, as was the Cornelius R. Coffey Waypoint near Lake Culmet, Illinois. During the early 1980s, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum included him in an exhibition on African American Aviators, an exhibit that also included such historic aviators as the Tuskegee Airmen, many of whom Coffey had trained.

Cornelius married Ann. He died March 2, 1994.

Biography of Ada Coffey Williams (1931-)

Ada Elizabeth Coffey Williams was born in Kansas City, Kansas on June 23, 1931 to Vernon Carson Coffey and Vera Lee Menefee Coffey. She graduated with a diploma in nursing from the Bryan Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1952 and a bachelor's degree from Wesleyan University in June 1954. Williams received a certificate in Public Health Nursing from the University of Minnesota Medical School in March 1958 and her master's degree from Kansas State University of Agriculture and Applied Sciences in 1974.

Williams worked as a staff nurse at the Bryan Memorial Hospital from 1952 to 1954 and the VA Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri from 1954 to 1955. In 1959, Williams became a school nurse and teacher for Unified School District (USD) 500 in Wyandotte County, Kansas. She worked as a school nurse and teacher until 1970, when she became the supervisor of the Practical Nursing and Health Organizations Program. Williams retired in 1991 after 31 years of work in the vocational education field with a long list of professional accomplishments in the field of nursing and education.

[Information taken from biography provided in the acquistion paperwork for the 2020 addition.]


2 Linear Feet (4 boxes + 2 oversize boxes, 3 oversize folders)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This collection contains the papers of three members of the Coffey family: Vernon C. Coffey, Sr., Cornelius R. Coffey, and Ada E. Coffey Williams. The collection date span ranges from 1908 to 2005. Within this collection, the papers have been arranged into three series by individual family member: Vernon C. Coffey, Sr., Cornelius R. Coffey, Ada E. Coffey Williams. Photographs and oversize materials have been described separately.

Vernon Coffey, Sr.'s papers include correspondence, clippings, and information regarding his union work. Cornelius Coffey's papers include correspondence, clippings, and other information on his flight career. Folders arrangement within these two series is alphabetical.

Ada E. Coffey Williams's papers contains scrapbooks and photo albums showcasing her nursing and vocational education career and include commencement and class reunion programs, newspaper clippings, correspondence with the American Nurses Association, photographs of Williams with her colleagues and family, correspondence, and certificates from various health organizations, technical schools, and courses at hospitals and medical schools. This series also includes plaques honoring Williams' achievements in the fields of nursing and education and a membership directory for Tuskegee Airman, Inc.

Photographs from the Coffey family papers are located at RH MS-P 692. Oversize items are at RH MS Q153, RH MS R141, and RH MS R478.

Series List

The Papers of the Coffey Family date from 1908 to 1994 and are arranged in three series by individual family member: Vernon C. Coffey, Sr., Cornelius R. Coffey, and Ada Coffey. There is a separate series for Photographs.

Physical Location

RH MS 692

Physical Location

RH MS-P 692

Physical Location

RH MS Q153

Physical Location

RH MS R141

Physical Location

RH MS R478

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts, Vernon C. Coffey, 1987; Ada Coffey Williams, 1996; Ada Coffey Williams, 2020.

Processing Information

Conservation staff removed certificates from frames, March 2021.

Guide to the Coffey Family Collection
Coffey family papers
Finding aid prepared by mbw, 2006. Finding aid encoded by mbw, 2006. Finding aid revised by cl, 2010; skt, 2010; cmp, 2021.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Coffey family papers, Kansas Collection, RH MS 692, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States