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MC 444

Ragland, Martha Ragsdale, 1906-1996. Papers of Martha Ragsdale Ragland, 1852-1997 (inclusive), 1921-1997 (bulk): A Finding Aid.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

The collection was processed with funds provided by Sandra R. Demson.

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 444
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Ragland, Martha Ragsdale, 1906-1996
Title: Papers of Martha Ragsdale Ragland, 1852-1997 (inclusive), 1921-1997 (bulk)
Date(s): 1852-1997
Date(s): 1921-1997
Quantity: 7.09 linear feet (16 file boxes, 2 half file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 8 photograph folders)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, speeches, scrapbooks, etc., of civic worker, political campaigner, and advocate of civil rights, birth control, and women's rights, Martha Ragsdale Ragland.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 92-M40, 92-M76, 92-M85, 92-M143, 92-M163, 93-M168, 94-M31, 94-M42, 94-M119, 95-M9, 95-M116, 96-M30, 96-M37, 2008-M104, 2008-M141
These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library between March 1992 and August 1995 by Martha Ragsdale Ragland, and, after her death, by her daughter, Sandra R. Demson, between March 1996 and September 2008. Accession numbers 2008-M104 and 2008-M141 were added to the collection in December 2013.

Processing Information:

Processed: October 1997
By: Glynn Edwards
Updated: December 2013
By: Anne Engelhart


Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Martha Ragsdale Ragland is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Martha Ragsdale Ragland Papers, 1852-1997; item description, dates. MC 444, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Donors: Martha Ragsdale Ragland and Sandra R. Demson
Accession numbers: 92-M40, 92-M76, 92-M85, 92-M143, 92-M163, 93-M168, 94-M31, 94-M42, 94-M119, 95-M9, 95-M116, 96-M30, 96-M37
Processed by: Glynn Edwards
The following items have been removed from the collection:


Civic worker, political campaigner, and advocate of civil rights, birth control, and women's rights, Martha (Ragsdale) Ragland was born in Paducah, Kentucky, in May 14, 1906, the daughter of Joseph Senter Ragsdale and Viva Jane (Troutt) Ragsdale. Her father later served as dean of Athens College (Athens, Alabama) where her mother was also on the faculty. She had a brother Maurice (married Betty Parsons) and a sister Murrier (married George Ferry). Ragland graduated from Vanderbilt University (B.A. 1927, M.A. Economics 1928). From 1929 to 1933 under a grant with the National Records Council, Ragland was a researcher in Washington, D.C., for Ellsworth Huntington, and co-authored a book on eugenics with him. She returned to Tennessee and married Thomas Ragland in 1932; they had two children: Thomas, born November 24, 1934, and Sandra Jane (married David Demson), born October 28, 1937. Thomas Jr., graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1957 and Sandra from Radcliffe College, magna cum laude, in 1958. Thomas Ragland, Sr. was president of the Mountain City Mill Co. while the family lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1950 when Thomas Ragland, became the manager of the Knoxville branch of the Ragland Bros. Co., a state-wide family wholesale grocery, the family moved to Knoxville. A year later, they moved to Nashville. Thomas Ragland, was active in Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal political group. In 1946, Ragland taught economics at the University of Chattanooga to a class of 150 freshman war veterans.
During the 1930s and early 1940s Ragland helped organize Planned Parenthood groups at the local and state levels, and in 1938 organized a speaking tour for Margaret Sanger in Tennessee. She was a very outspoken proponent of women's participation in politics. Ragland and Dorothy Stafford were responsible for reviving the Tennessee League of Women Voters (LWV), which had disbanded in 1920 after women received the vote. She held offices in the LWV at the local, state, and national levels (president, Tennessee League of Women Voters, 1945-1946; Nashville League of Women Voters, 1946-1947), where she worked for better housing and health services, children's issues, and for tax equalization and reform of the Tennessee constitution.
Ragland headed the women's division of the Democratic Party in the 1948 general election, and chaired the women's division in the Estes Kefauver (1948) and Albert Gore (1952) campaigns for United States Senate. In the 1956 presidential campaign she was vice-chair of National Volunteers for Stevenson-Kefauver. Ragland was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and member of the Platform Committee in 1952, a member of the Democratic National Committee (1952-1956), and Tennessee delegate to the National Women's Conference in Houston (1977). Ragland was president of the Tennessee Political Caucus; and, with the help of Carleen Waller, organized the Volunteer Women's Roundtable (VWR) which spawned the Women's Political Caucus (WPC). Ragland worked tirelessly to promote women, motivating and encouraging many to work in politics or run for office. She often suggested names of women she thought were good candidates for positions in politics.
Ragland was also very interested in civil and human rights, education, and women's rights. She served as a U.S. delegate to the Atlantic Congress of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries in London (1959); a delegate to the White House Conference on International Cooperation (1965); the Tennessee Citizens Committee for Better Schools (board member, 1949-50); Tennessee Commission on Children (vice chair, 1950); Tennessee Library and Archives Commission (chair, 1951-1952); Federal Advisory Council on Employment Security (1963-69); Tennessee Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (chair, 1963-1969); Southern Regional Council (board member, 1965-); Citizens' Research Foundation (trustee, 1976-1983); Tennessee United Organizations for Education; Tennessee Representative of the National Committee for Support of the Public Schools; Tennessee Council on Human Relations; and the Tennessee Friends of the Libraries. Ragland was also a member of the American Library Association and the American Political Science Association. In 1995, Ragland was inducted into the YMCA's Academy of Women of Achievement, and was included in an exhibit sponsored by the League of Women Voters called Women in Action: Rebels and Reformers. Still active in her 80s, she died on January 18, 1996.


The papers are divided into five series:


The collection documents many aspects of Ragland's professional career and some areas of her personal life. Most of her correspondence with friends is in Series I but, as she had many friends in the political sphere, personal correspondence is also found in other series. Similarly, information about Ragland's professional activities can be found in her personal papers, especially the scrapbooks and correspondence in Series I.
Some of Ragland's files, a campaign scrapbook and political ephemera concerning Estes Kefauver were given to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (see Series III, #128).
Series I and II reflect the order maintained by Ragland except that correspondence with Wilma Dykeman and Pauline La Fon Gore were added to Series I. Ragland arranged most of the remainder of the collection chronologically; it is now arranged by subject or organization. Ragland's notes and commentary identifying people or events, written as she arranged the papers for the Schlesigner Library, remain in the files. Folder headings used by Ragland appear in quotation marks. A selected index to correspondents is located towards the end.
Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-31, 220-242), includes a sketch of Ragland's work in the women's movement and the Women's Political Caucus, obituaries, correspondence, photographs, awards, and scrapbooks containing clippings, memos, pamphlets, resumes, etc. The order of items in the scrapbooks was maintained, with fragile items removed and replaced with reference copies.
Series II, Speeches (#32-59, 243-247), is arranged chronologically. In addition to speeches and outlines, it includes drafts of speeches and letters, clippings, invitations, mailings, programs, and photographs relating to events at which Ragland spoke. This series also contains a short story Ragland wrote in the 1930s; a paper, "U.S. and China," by Jane Williamson (a pseudonym Ragland used early in her career); Ragland's "History of the Democratic Party"; and reminiscences of her stay on the S.S. Hope while recovering from an illness.
Series III, Democratic Party (#60-141, 198m-202m), includes the following major sections: Ragland's work in electoral campaigns, her years as Democratic National Committeewoman from Tennessee, her work in the Volunteer Women's Roundtable, and political correspondence, arranged alphabetically. Also included are political pins and campaign stickers.
Series IV, Other activities (#142-196), is arranged alphabetically by subject or organization. The major areas include birth control work, Church Center for the United Nations, Citizens' Research Foundation, civil and human rights, educational work, NATO, and other non-partisan political activities including the League of Women Voters, the National Women's Political Caucus and its Tennessee and Nashville affiliates.
Series V , Genealogical and Viva Troutt Ragsdale (#203-219), contains genealogical material on the Troutt, Wightman, and Ragsdale families, Viva Troutt Ragland's diaries, writings, and family correspondence.
Materials received by the Schlesinger Library in 2008 were added to the collection in December 2013 and are represented in #203-247. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numeric, order.


Container List


This index includes the names of selected writers and recipients. Information about persons and subjects is not indexed. The numbers refer to folder numbers.
Key: no symbol = Writer and recipient; * = Written to Ragland; # = Received from Ragland

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Birth control--Tennessee
Campaign management--Tennessee.
Civic leaders--Tennessee
Civil rights
Political campaigns
Political refugees--Palestine
Politics, Practical
School children--Food--Tennessee
School milk programs--Tennessee
Tennessee--Politics and government--1865-1950
Tennessee--Politics and government--1951-
Women--Political activity--Tennessee
Women--Southern states
Bowles, Chester, 1901-1986
Browning, Gordon, 1889-1976
Chattanooga League of Women Voters
Church Center for the United Nations
Democratic National Committee (U.S.). Women's Division
Democratic Party (Tenn.)
Democratic Party (U.S.)
Derian, Patricia M.
Dykeman, Wilma
Edwards, India
Gore, Albert, 1907-1998
Gore, Pauline La Fon
Gorman, Joseph Bruce
Kefauver, Estes, 1903-1963
League of Women Voters (Nashville, Tenn.)
League of Women Voters (Tenn.)
Lilienthal, David Eli, 1899-1981
McGrory, Mary, 1918-2004
McKinnon, Edna Rankin, 1893-1978
Miller, Freda D.
Miller, Mariko T. (Mariko Terasaki), 1932-
National League of Women Voters (U.S.)
National Women's Political Caucus (U.S.). Tennessee Chapter
North Atlantic Treaty Organization--Congresses
Orgill, Edmund
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Ragland, Martha Ragsdale, 1906-1996
Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966
Scott, Anne Firor, 1921-
Southern Regional Council
Tennessee Democratic Women's Council
United States Commission on Civil Rights. Tennessee State Advisory Committee