Collection ASM0203 - Minnie Moore Willson papers

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Minnie Moore Willson papers


  • 1888-1949 (Creation)


78 Boxes

Name of creator

Biographical history

Minnie Moore Willson was born to a well-to-do country family near the town of West Newton, Pennsylvania, on August 14, 1859. Willson was a relative, through her mother, of President James Polk. Minnie Moore married James Mallory Willson, a native of Somerset, Kentucky, but a resident of Chicago, Illinois, on September 3, 1890 in West Newton Pennsylvania.

Willson's acquaintance with Kissimmee, Florida, began in the early 1880s. Wilson visited the area during the winter season and developed an interest in the Seminole Indians. Both Willsons were nature lovers and Minnie wrote for a number of wildlife magazines. The Willsons were active members of the Audubon Society of Florida and through Mrs. Willson's writings and influences, the town of Kissimmee served as one of the first towns in the state to become a bird sanctuary.

Through contacts with the Southern Baptist Organization, James Willson helped organize Baptist missionary crusades for the Seminole Indians. The Willsons were instrumental in the society known as "Friends of the Florida Seminoles". This organization dealt with the Indians through education and attempts to raise their standard of living. The Willsons proved instrumental in the passage of an act by the Florida Legislature in 1913, setting apart 100,000 acres in the extreme southern portion of the state for use by the Seminoles. The Willsons worked closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the resident Indian Agent, and the National Indian Association, and their efforts culminated with passage of the bill.

Minnie Moore Willson served as first president of the Kissimmee Women's Club and thereafter was elected honorary president for life. She was also a member of the American Pen Women and other literary groups. Willson published The Seminoles of Florida in 1895. The book contained a vocabulary of the language by James Willson and the volume achieved unusual success. The Seminoles of Florida was rewritten, enlarged and re-edited in later years.

Willson also wrote short stories, the most famous of which was a collection of "slave" stories taken from an old slave woman from Virginia who lived among the Seminoles and claimed to have cooked the "treaty dinner" that marked the end of the Seminole War. Willson's last works included a short history of Osceola County and a monograph of the Indian Chief, Osceola. Minnie Moore Willson was an invalid a great part of her life, suffering from headaches and hip problems that required two major operations. Willson died on August 12, 1937. James M. Willson, also an invalid the last few years of his life, died on August 5, 1943.

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Scope and content

The Minnie Moore Willson Papers document the life and career of a noted Florida writer and advocate for the Seminole Indians of Florida. The Papers also include materials related to her husband James Mallory Willson, a prominent Kissimmee businessman and a defender of Seminole Indian rights. The Papers were purchased by the University of Miami in the late 1940s from the Elizabeth Aultman Cantrell Historical Museum in Kissimmee, Florida. Selected materials from the Papers, including books, maps, pamphlets and some periodicals were removed from the collection and sent to the appropriate areas in the Library.

The collection includes material from Minnie Moore Willson as well as material from her husband James Mallory Willson. The Minnie Moore Willson Collection consists of correspondence with individuals including Florida Senator Duncan Fletcher and Florida Representative Ruth Bryan Owen.  Correspondence files also include letters with Seminole Indians such as Billy Bowlegs, Tony Tommie and other prominent Seminole Indian chiefs. The collection contains a number of manuscripts by M.M. Willson related to the Seminole Indians and such issues as the equality of blacks and Southern politics. Additional material relates to the creation of a bird sanctuary in Kissimmee, Florida.

James M. Willson's papers contain business records including correspondence, abstract of titles (original and copies) scrapbooks, and financial records from the 1880's to the 1930's (in the latter years Minnie Moore Willson handled the business correspondence due to illness). Correspondence deals with Mr. Willson's real estate and insurance business in the Kissimmee area. The files also contain manuscripts, correspondence and material collected or written by Elizabeth Cantrell, niece of James Mallory Willson. Correspondence to and from S.B. Aultman (Elizabeth Cantrell's father and brother-in-law of J.M. Willson)and letters with Dr. Howard Kelly, a family friend and widely known surgeon are also organized in these files.

The collection also includes several newspaper clippings from the late 1800's through the 1930's. The majority of these clippings are from Florida-based newspapers. Several maps of Florida have been removed from the collection and placed with Map Collection.

Also included are photographs of the Willsons, Seminole Indians, plants, and animals. The collection also includes postcards depicting scenes from Florida and the United States.

System of arrangement

SERIES I: MINNIE MOORE WILSON PAPERS, consists of nine boxes of correspondence, manuscripts and other materials related to Minnie Moore Willson from 1889-1937. Boxes 1-3 contain correspondence to and from Minnie Moore Willson. Boxes 4-8 contain manuscripts and box 9 contains general material related to Willson.

SERIES II: JAMES MALLORY WILLSON PAPERS, consists of 44 boxes of correspondence, legal material, financial material and business files from 1888-1938. This series is divided into four sub-series : Correspondence (boxes 10-41), Legal Material (boxes 42-45), Financial Material (boxes 45 and 46) and Business File (boxes 47-53).

SERIES III: AULTMAN/CANTRELL CORRESPONDENCE, consists of 4 boxes of correspondence, financial material and general material on Elizabeth Aultman Cantrell and S.B. Aultman from 1906-49. This series is divided into three sub-series: Correspondence (boxes 54-55), Financial Material (box 56) and General Material (box 57).

SERIES IV: GENERAL FILES, consists of 18 boxes of Correspondence (boxes 58-59), Financial Material (boxes 60-61), Florida Printed Material (boxes 62-63), Indian Material (boxes 64-66),  Kissimmee Material (box 67), Periodicals (boxes 68-70), General Material (boxes 71-73) and Blocks from Books (boxes 74-75), dated 1889-1949

SERIES V: PHOTOGRAPHS, consists of 2 boxes of photographs and negatives arranged by topic.

SERIES VI: POSTCARDS, consists of 1 box of postcards, arranged by topic.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

This collection is open for research.

Physical access

Items from this collection are kept on-campus and may be requested from the first floor Kislak Center in the Otto G. Richter Library at University of Miami.

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Minnie Moore Willson Papers Finding Aid © 2009 University of Miami. All rights reserved. Requests to reproduce or publish materials from this collection should be directed to

Languages of the material

  • English

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