University of Texas, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

A Guide to the Woman's Commonwealth Archive, 1760-1993

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Woman's Commonwealth
Title: Woman's Commonwealth Archive
Dates: 1760-1993
Abstract: Correspondence, ledgers, photographs, journals, company records, newspaper clippings, membership lists, account books, legal documents, financial records, greeting cards, and miscellaneous printed material relating to the history, development, membership, and activities of the Woman’s Commonwealth and to Martha McWhirter, organization president, during its years in Belton, Texas, and Washington, D.C. (ca. 1860s-1920s).
Accession No.: 88-179; 92-204; 95-073; 97-038; 2015-243
OCLC No.: 707927352
Extent: 5 ft.
Language: Materials are written in English.
Repository: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Historical Note

The Woman’s Commonwealth originated in Belton, Texas, in the 1860s, as the Belton Woman’s Commonwealth, a commune founded on the principles of religious perfectionism, celibacy, and Wesleyan sanctificationism. The Commonwealth was primarily composed of middle-class Protestant women. Martha McWhirter, who founded a Methodist woman’s study and prayer group, had a religious vision and proclaimed that she was sanctified and encouraged other women to seek divine revelations. Many of these women had to deal with controlling husbands prone to drinking and physical abuse. McWhirter counseled these women to complete their domestic duties, but to limit social and sexual interactions with their unsanctified husbands. Eventually an alternative communal life developed, which involved women living apart from their husbands and making a living by selling eggs and dairy products, doing laundry, working as domestic servants, and running a boarding house/hotel. The Commonwealth’s membership averaged around thirty people, mostly women and their children.

The Belton Woman’s Commonwealth became administratively and financially independent by the early 1880s. Though initially the Belton community blamed Martha McWhirter for various separations and divorces, the Woman’s Commonwealth became more popular and accepted during the next two decades. In 1899 the women retired from their various business ventures in Belton, and purchased lands in Washington D. C. and Maryland. They incorporated in 1902 as the Woman’s Commonwealth of Washington. When Martha McWhirter died in 1904, Fannie Holtzclaw became the Commonwealth’s leader. The Woman’s Commonwealth endured until 1983 when their last member passed away.

Source: Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "Belton Woman’s Commonwealth," (accessed May 19, 2010).

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, ledgers, photographs, journals, company records, newspaper clippings, membership lists, account books, legal documents, financial records, greeting cards, and miscellaneous printed material compose the Woman’s Commonwealth Archive (1760-1991), which documents the history, development, membership, and activities of the Woman’s Commonwealth during its years in Belton, Texas, and Washington, D.C. (ca. 1860s-1920s). Furthermore, the archive pertains to the Commonwealth’s founder and first president Martha McWhirter. The collection primarily consists of correspondence and records, dealing with the Commonwealth’s economic situation and legal issues. Additionally, the collection contains Martha McWhirter’s correspondence and a small amount of unidentified tintypes and photographs.


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions apply. Some literary rights are restricted.

Index Terms

Subjects (Persons)
McWhirter, Martha, 1827-1904--Archives.
Holtzclaw, Fannie--Archives.
Subjects (Organizations)
Woman's Commonwealth (Belton, Tex.)--Archives.
Woman's Commonwealth (Belton, Tex.)--History.
Collective settlements--United States--History.
Methodists--United States--History.
Belton (Tex.)--History.
Washington (D.C.)
Mount Pleasant (Md.)

Separated Material

Some materials have been separated to the Artifact Collection and the Library Unit.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Woman's Commonwealth Archive, 1760-1993, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Processing Information

Basic processing and cataloging of this collection was supported with funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the Briscoe Center’s "History Revealed: Bringing Collections to Light" project, 2009-2011.

Detailed Description of the Papers



3F1 Correspondence
W. T. Davidson to Martha McWhirter and Fannie Holtzclaw 1899-1904, undated
Battle and Stone, pertaining to Waco Real Estate 1885-1905
Miscellaneous correspondence, printed material 1903-1949, undated
Miscellany, 1904, undated
Pension records, financial and legal records, McWhirter, Holtzclaw, Pratt, etc. 1877, 1891-1908, 1923, 1926, 1958, undated
Financial records
1892-1911 undated
Receipts, White family and G. M. McWhirter 1809-1847, 1864-1889, undated
Clippings, obituary of Mrs. McWhirter 1893, 1897, 1898, ca.1904, undated
Deeds 1854-1901
3F2 Financial and legal records, insurance policies 1875-1913
Wills and indentures 1817-1818, 1865, 1875, 1889-1902
Miscellany 1909, undated
Printed material 1900, 1904, undated
Legal documents 1800, 1808, 1842
Early history 1836-1867, undated
Dr. J. Kappel 1887, 1888, undated
Property related correspondence and financial records 1890-1904
Fannie Holtzclaw correspondence 1904-1910, undated
James E. West correspondence 1904-1916
W. T. Shannon, Stone and Battle correspondence 1902-1906
3F3 1437 Kenesaw, Washington, D. C. 1898-1899
Florida property, correspondence and legal documents 1945-1949
Maryland property, deeds and correspondence 1903, 1945-1946, 1963-1966
Kenesaw property, correspondence, legal documents, miscellaneous 1895-1900
Yarrell Savings Bank, Wholesale Grocer 1902-1905
Legal and financial documents 1879-1912, 1945, 1971-1973
Correspondence: Tyler, Rumfield, Long, Duncan, miscellaneous 1898-1911
Property and taxes 1899-1904
Correspondence, legal and financial documents 1893-1908, 1929-1934, 1945-1952, undated
Colesville, Maryland, house 1947-1948
3F4 Correspondence related to legal matters 1898-1916, 1934, undated
Correspondence, and legal documents 1833-1866, 1895-1906, 1934-1935
George W. Tyler correspondence 1899-1903
Property; Fisher and Hammersmith; Letters to Holztclaw 1881-1917, 1946-1952, undated
Financial documents 1893-1907
Lee Peyton correspondence 1902-1909
Allen Dow, Holman, Monteith, Fisher, Belton Club, Becker and Barlow correspondence 1894-1906
Ledger page 1898-1899
Yarrell Savings Bank, correspondence 1900-1911
3F5 Legal documents and literary productions by Mrs. McWhirter and Henry Johnson 1852, 1874-1912, 1945, undated
W. T. Shannon correspondence 1901-1910, undated
Clippings 1893-1898, 1947, undated
Journal 1901-1902
Corporation Record 1891-1899
Central Hotel Company account book 1902-1903
Notebooks 1889-1891, 1921-1929, 1934-1937, 1971-1980
Miscellaneous fragments undated
3F6 Tyler and Rutherford correspondence 1903
Miscellaneous receipt 1898
Central Hotel correspondence 1899-1904
Deeds from Texas properties and related documents; The Belton Club 1851-1904, 1934
Literary production, “Soldiers” undated
“The Dream,” "The Diary of the Dream," diary and literary productions 1893-1903, undated
Correspondence 1896, 1903, 1932-1933, 1949, undated
Shakers, correspondence and printed material 1874, 1892-1903
Religious pamphlets
"The Heartease Circle" April 1903
"Facts Worth Knowing" ca. 1903
Membership lists and minutes 1896-1903
Literary production, "Are the Majority of Men Better Than Christ?" undated
Feminist material 1892, 1901-1906, undated
Koreshan correspondence 1882-1901
Fragments 1897-1898, 1909, 1912, undated
Correspondence from Mexico 1897
Death and burial information relating to various member 1899-1904, 1935, 1941, 1952-1956
Post-it notes removed from various documents
2.325/G267 Financial documents 1888-1983
4Aa6c Clippings, correspondence, articles and research materials 1974-1993 and undated
Thumb drive undated
2.325/D35a Oversized materials
Newspapers and clippings 1883-1904
Deeds, 1852-1903
Letter August 8, 1898
The Woman's Tribune March 28, 1903
Central Hotel ledger 1894-1898
Ledger 1880s, 1896-1897
Cash ledger 1880's, 1896-1898
2.325/V60 Deeds, grants, and legal documents 1760-1768, 1812-1818, 1848, 1877-1879, 1913
Military commission 1848
“Decoration Day” 1903
3T89 Photographic materials
Three tintypes, unidentified undated
Miscellaneous, unidentified undated
Unidentified children 1904
Commonwealth Winter Guest House undated
Cental Hotel 1884-1885
Color photo showing unprocessed collection 1988
3S129a Banquet at Central Hotel for 2nd Texas Volunteer Infantry October 5, 1898
Three unidentified undated
Group portrait ca. 1901
Susie Carter portrait ca. 1904
Central Hotel, Belton, Texas June 30, 1898
3S36 Photos of George and Martha McWhirter house and McWhirter family undated
3E507 Classified files (Literary rights are restricted on the following material)
Robert 1898-1901
Robert 1902-1935
Sam McWhirter, correspondence and property 1892-1900
Sisters letters 1890-1898
Ada Haymond 1888-1898
J. B. Barlow 1895-1904
Emma Haymond 1896-1898
Hattie Haymond Weatherford 1898-1901
Family to McWhirter 1897-1903
Letters to McWhirter 1895-1904
Letters by McWhirter 1888-1904
Hattie prior to 1898
Nannie Davenport and family 1891-1903
Agatha Pratt 1898-1910
Ada Pratt 1893-1910
Robert prior to 1898
Martha Scheble and Gertrude 1889-1904, 1952-1955