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Nathaniel Sawyer family papers

Call Number: RH MS 1460


This collection includes correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other legal and personal papers from the Nathaniel Sawyer family, a prominent Topeka, Kansas-based family of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Materials are both originals and photocopies, including copies of materials related to Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, husband to Alta Sawyer. Most of the collection pertains to Daniel Smith Sawyer II, his children (especially Constance Sawyer), and Aaron Douglas and Alta (Sawyer) Douglas.


  • Creation: circa 1880-2012 (bulk 1950s-1990s)


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

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

History of the Sawyer family

Nathaniel Sawyer was born to Daniel and Anne (Clnkscale) Sawyer in 1867. He had four siblings: Simeon, Naomi, Rebecca, and Lucillius. He attended public schools in Chillicothe, Livingston County, Missouri before attending Drake University for two years.

In early adulthood, around 1887, Sawyer moved to Topeka, Kansas, and spent the following 34 years teaching in Topeka public schools, including at Lane, Madison, Monroe, and Washington. Sawyer was a founding member of the 1913 Topeka chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as its acting President at one time. He was an active opponent to the expansion of segregation in Kansas schools, helping to defeat a 1918 legislative bill that would have allowed communities with as few as 2,000 people to segregate their public schools.

Nathaniel Sawyer married Grace Ann Smith in 1898. They had seven children: Annabel, Alta, Daniel II, Nathaniel II, Nathella, Charles and Charline (twins), and Eugene. Nathaniel Sawyer died in August 18, 1922 at the age of 55. He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery alongside his wife, who died on January 16, 1936 at the age of 61.

Annabel Sawyer was the oldest of the Sawyer children. Born in 1899, she went on to become a teacher and later taught for the Kansas Vocational School (KVS).

Alta Sawyer was born in 1900. Like Annabel, she enrolled at the Kansas State Teacher's College in 1917, seeking a degree in mathematics. After graduation in 1922, she was offered a teaching position by the University of Kansas. After her first marriage and subsequent divorce, she met Aaron Douglas. The two married in 1925 and would remain married until Alta's death in December 1959.

Daniel Smith Sawyer II was born in 1903 and was in poor health at a young age, suffering from asthma. Around 1935, he married Fayetta "Cyrene" Smith, and would go on to have 6 childen: Constance, Daniel Smith III, Grace Anne, Cyrene, Mary Belle, and Sophia. Like his father Nathaniel, he would go on to be a part of an NAACP branch and have some involvement with the Brown v. Board of Education cases.

Nathaniel Sawyer II was born in 1904, but died within 5 months.

Nathella Sawyer was born in 1905, and was described by her sister Annabel as "extremely competitive." She graduated from the University of Kansas in 1925 (1922-1925) and went on to teach. She later met Frank Bledsoe, whom she married in June 1930. Afterwards, she fulfilled a dream to become a social worker.

Charles and Charline Sawyer, the twins, were born in 1906. Annabel describes them as inseperable, "always together, always a team."

The youngest, Eugene Sawyer, was born in 1911.


5 Linear Feet (7 boxes + 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The Nathaniel Sawyer family collection contains materials ranging in date from 1880 to 2012. The collection's finding aid has been intellectually organized by family member in generational order. Many individual's materials typically have been further divided into correspondence and personal papers. Other series in the collection are generally for the Sawyer family but not necessarily from a specific individual, as well as materials of general interest to the family on topics such as the NAACP, the Topeka community, etc.

Photographic materials and oversize materials have been physically separated from the rest of the collection and are located at RH MS-P 1460 and RH MS R437.

Most of the collection pertains to Nathaniel and Grace's son Daniel Smith Sawyer II, his children (particularly daughter Constance Sawyer), and Aaron Douglas and Alta (Sawyer) Douglas.

Physical Location

RH MS 1460

Physical Location

RH MS-P 1460

Physical Location

RH MS R437

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Cyrene C. Holt, 2015.

Existence and Location of Originals

Photocopied correspondence to and from Aaron Douglas in this collection came from Aaron Douglas papers, SC Mg 308, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library.

Separated Materials

A Thing of Beauty: 100 Years of Service by Fisk University 1866-1966. Nashville, Tn: Fisk University, 1998. Video cassette. Located at Spencer Research Library at KC AV 56.

Garvin, Leroy. Sit Down Servant: Spirituals and Other Songs Sung by Leroy Garvin. Topeka: Leroy Garvin and Tobias Schlingensiepen, 2002. Compact disc. Located at Spencer Research Library at KC AV 57.



Guide to the Nathaniel Sawyer Collection
Nathaniel Sawyer family papers
Finding aid prepared by mwh, adc. Finding aid encoded by adc.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Support for the processing of this Collection was provided by the Dana and Sue Anderson African American Collecting Program Endowment Fund.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Nathaniel Sawyer family papers, RH MS 1460, 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