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Thelma Stevens Papers

Identifier: M676

Scope and Contents

This collection contains materials from Thelma Stevens personal and professional life, handwritten notes, correspondences, essays, papers, speeches, newspaper articles, and various other forms of documentation, collected by her over her lifetime. Other content includes audio recordings on cassette tapes and photographs. Of particular interest are her collection of speeches and notes from various meetings, and conferences, as well as her personal speeches about the consciousness of the church and the role of women within it.


  • Creation: Circa 1930s - 1980s

Conditions Governing Access

Noncirculating, available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical / Historical

During her lifetime, Thelma Stevens (1902-1990) served as a Methodist advocate for racial justice, international peace, and women’s rights. Stevens' contributions to the Civil Rights Movement can be traced to her early days as a teacher in Mississippi, to her role as Director of the Bethlehem Center in Augusta, Georgia, to her role as part of the Woman's Division of the Methodist Church. Thelma was integral in 1951 in persuading the United Methodist Women’s Division to prepare and publish a ground-breaking publication, “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” a compilation and comparison laws on race that contributed to the formation of the United Methodist “Charter for Racial Justice in an Interdependent Global Community,” which emerged from the Women’s Division and was adopted by the General Conference as denominational policy in 1980.

Thelma Stevens was born in 1902 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. After graduating high school in 1919, Stevens passed a county teaching exam and taught high school in Kemper County, Mississippi for three years, where she found her inspiration to contribute to the civil rights after witnessing a lynching. In 1922, Thelma Stevens was offered a scholarship at the University of Southern Mississippi, or as it was known at the time, the State Teachers College. She irritated several professors due to her beliefs in civil rights during her time as a student. After graduating in 1925, she had a yearlong tenure teaching at a junior college in Perkinston, Mississippi, where she worked closely with Black teachers to secure resources for underfunded school programs. A recruiter at the Methodist Board of Missions in Nashville persuaded her to attend Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, Tennessee through a scholarship, and that is where she truly began her career as a Methodist advocate for social and racial justice. Thelma spent the next decades promoting her ideals for social justice through various organizations, primarily the Woman's Division of the Methodist Church. She was especially involved with establishing and improving the rights and roles of women in church. She attended various conferences and discussions working closely with other like-minded individuals and even organized the first interracial conference for Methodist women in 1938. She later served as secretary for Christian social relations of the Woman’s Division of the Board of Missions of The Methodist Church,Stevens continued to support racial justice and equality until 1968 and even then continued to spread her beliefs and offer her support after retiring. At the end of her life, Thelma Stevens lived at Brooks-Howell Home, a retirement community founded to care for UMC deaconesses and missionaries in Asheville, North Carolina. She passed away on December 10, 1990 and is remembered fondly for her work as a racial justice activist.


1.00 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The Thelma Stevens Papers collection contains personal materials, manuscript materials, published materials, photographs, and correspondence.


The materials within the collection are organized alphabetically by subject. With items grouped together based on organization.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Natalie Swanner in 2021.

Thelma Stevens Papers Collection
Joshua Myers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Historical Manuscripts and Photographs Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001