Richey, Cunningham and Douglass Families Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
Mary Ellen Douglass Cunningham, teacher, was born in Missouri on January 4, 1862 to Benjamin Franklin Douglass and Elizabeth Northcutt (the 1857 marriage certificate to Benjamin Douglass lists her name as Elizabeth C. but Mary Ellen's death certificate lists her mother's name also as Mary Ellen). Her mother died at an early age and her aunt, Sallie Douglass, raised her and her brothers William O. and Willis. According to a biography written by Dean Richey and Harvey Neufeldt the family moved to Creedmoor (Willow Spring), Texas when Mary Ellen was a baby because Unionist forces burned their house down. There are indications that the family still had ties to Missouri and possibly moved back for periods of time. Mary Ellen married Charles Cunningham, also from Missouri, in Travis County, Texas in 1878 and they had two children, Willis Oscar and Gerda. Gerda's birth certificate indicates that the Cunninghams also moved back to Missouri for a time. Mary Ellen's husband died of typhoid fever when Mary Ellen was 19. Back in Texas and as the sole bread winner of the family Mary Ellen became a teacher. Mary Ellen would go on to teach in Central Texas schools for more than 65 years, and in 1902 she was assigned to the Fulmore School in South Austin where she would finish out her career. In 1890 she built a house at 1701 South Congress, Austin, where she would live until her death in 1957.
Her brother William moved to Orange, Texas and died in November of 1881 of typhoid fever. Mary Ellen's father, Benjamin, married Florence Josephine Merrifield and had another daughter Maud Douglass Blomke in 1883. She would go on to be the first women elected to public office in Travis County in 1913 as the County Schools Superintendent.
Florence Ellen Criswell Richey was born in Carl, Texas around 1901. She attended Fulmore School, Austin High School and then the University of Texas for both her B. S. in Home Economics (graduated in 1921) and master's degree. Richey was raised by Mary Ellen Douglass Cunningham after the age of 5 (Florence's mother's maiden name was Douglass so there was family relationship, Richey and Neufeldt say she was Mary Ellen's half-sister). She married William E. Richey and they had two children, Claude and Mary. She began her career as a school teacher in the 1920s in Fort Stockton, Falfurrias, and Galveston, Texas before joining the Austin High School faculty in 1928. After a stint teaching at the University of Texas and Mary Hardin-Baylor Florence went on to become the supervisor of Home and Family Life Education in Austin's public schools from 1949 to 1969. Richey was responsible for setting up the Child Development Laboratory at Austin High School in 1946. She was widowed in 1967 and herself died in 1997.
SOURCE: Richey, Dean and Harvey Neufeldt. "Mary Ellen Cunningham: One of Austin's Finest." 2003. Additional information found in the Austin History Center Biography File for Mary Ellen Douglass Cunningham.
The Richey, Cunningham and Douglass Families Papers contain correspondence, marriage certificates, newspaper clippings, legal documents, real estate documents, educational records and photographs that document the lives of Mary Ellen Douglass Cunningham and her father Benjamin Franklin Douglass, her brother William O. Douglass as well as her foster daughter Florence Ellen Criswell Richey and date from 1828 to 1973. The collection is arranged into four series: Douglass Family, Cunningham Family, Richey Family and Photographs.
The Douglass Family series (1828, 1854, 1878-1899) contains marriage licenses for W. M. Douglass (Willis) and Ellen McTagant, Mary Ellen Douglass and C. R. Cunningham, and Alice Douglass and H. H. Criswell; family correspondence, the majority of which was written by family members to W. O. Douglass in Orange, Texas; newspaper clippings from the late 1800s; and assorted receipts for food and dry goods, notes and legal agreements. In addition to general Douglass family news the correspondence documents the death of William O. Douglass in 1881 of a "fever". Amongst the legal documents is a bill of sale dated July 4, 1854 from Eli Northcutt to his daughter Elizabeth Northcutt for a 6 year old slave.
The Cunningham Family series (1871-1944, 1973) contains real estate transaction documents and materials related to Mary Ellen Cunningham's career as a teacher at the Fulmore School with Austin Public Schools. The real estate materials include abstracts of title, deeds, tax receipts and loan agreements for a parcel in the J. P. Wallace League in Travis County, Texas on the "east side of the Colorado River, about three and half miles north of the City of Austin"; several lots in block 26 of the Swisher Addition (1701 South Congress Avenue, Austin); and a portion of Block 12H in Fairview Park Addition.
The Richey Family series (1921-1965) includes real estate transaction documents for Block 31 and 32 in Fairview Park Addition, as well as school transcripts and teaching certificates for Florence Criswell Richey, a limited amount of correspondence sent and received by Richey from public officials and an article from the November 1948 issue of Holiday about the agriculture boom in the Rio Grande Valley. One of the letters is to then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the visa problems of Mexican citizens Juan De la Rosa Espinoza and his wife. Along with the letter there is an "Alien Laborer's Permit" for De La Rosa Espinoza who was admitted to the United States through Hidalgo County on December 29, 1954. He was "admitted to" William H. McDonald, his employer. He is listed as an agricultural laborer and Richey owned an orange grove in the Rio Grande Valley which might explain the relationship between Florence Richey and De la Rosa Espinoza.
The Photographs series (circa 1880s-1950s) contains 39 black-and-white photographs and cabinet cards. About a third of the photographs are portraits, the majority of which are unidentified. There are also photographs of groups of teachers and students at Fulmore School, men dressed in military outfits posing in front of the Texas State Capitol, and a photo postcard from Samuel Albert Woolsey who was stationed in France during World War I.
Restrictions on Access
Open to all users.
Restrictions on Use
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Richey, Cunningham and Douglass Families Papers (AR.1993.008). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1983/067
Donation Date: 1993, 1996
Finding aid created and encoded by Molly Hults in 2016.
Detailed Description of the Collection