Guide to the Kezia Payne DePelchin letters, 1878-1879
Kezia Payne DePelchin, Texas nurse, social worker and teacher, was born in the Madeira Islands and moved to Texas at the age of eight. Her father died shortly thereafter, and she was raised and educated by his second wife, an English governess. She gained resistance to yellow fever in 1839 when she survived the disease that killed two siblings and weakened her father, and volunteered as a nurse during the Houston epidemics of 1852, 1854, 1858, and 1867. After her marriage during the U.S. Civil War failed, she lived with a minister’s family and participated in charitable activities with women from Houston’s elite families.
In 1878, she traveled to Memphis, Tennessee from her home in Houston to assist the Howard Association during a yellow fever epidemic known as the Yellow Jack, and worked as a volunteer nurse from August 30 until mid-November. Her devotion to volunteer work was based in her strong religious and charitable sentiments. Though she was well respected in Houston, Memphis society viewed DePelchin’s work as a violation of their expectations of a woman’s proper place. She traveled as a volunteer nurse though Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, following the epidemic, then returned home to Houston in November of 1878. She spent many years as a teacher and matron of an orphanage in Houston.
In the late 1800’s, she took three unwanted babies into a Houston house that, supported by DePelchin and charitable donations, eventually developed into a haven for orphans. In 1893 she officially named the house “Faith Home”, but died three months later from a fever. After the turn of the century, the facility was rebuilt and is now known as the DePelchin Children’s Center.
The collection includes a bound volume of twenty-eight letters and a boxed photocopy. The vast majority of the correspondence is from Ms. Kezia Payne DePelchin to her sister, Sallie Payne, describing her experience as a volunteer nurse from late August to mid-November during the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. The letters explain DePelchin’s motivations for traveling to Memphis and joining the Howard Association as a volunteer nurse, her experiences as a nurse, the reactions of Memphis society to the work of female nurses, and the difficulties of her occupation. The letters also recount the spread and effects of the epidemic, and chronicle her travels through Tennessee and into Mississippi and Alabama as she followed the illness and responded to need. Letters to her sister from 1879, after her return home, are present as well. Also included in the volume were letters to DePelchin from E. Kate Heckle. Heckle, who was also a Houston resident and a friend of DePelchin, had nursed in several epidemics and responded to the same call for assistance from the Howard Assocation, volunteering from September through October. DePelchin and Heckle proceeded separately to Memphis, and saw each other sporadically through their stays. Heckle wrote several letters to DePelchin describing her own experiences and difficulties.
This material is open for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish material from the DePelchin papers must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library. Permission to use quotes must come from DePelchin Faith Home.
Kezia Payne DePelchin papers, 1878-1879, MS 201 Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University
This collection was given as a permanent loan from Charles McBrayer of the DePelchin Faith Home in 1973.
Detailed Description of the Collection