ca. 1846-1992
Inclusive dates
ca. 1846-1992
  • Papers, ca. 1846-1992, of and pertaining to Ella Graham Agnew (1871-1958), an educator, public administrator, and pioneer of the home demonstration movement. Materials include correspondence of both Ella Graham Agnew and various family members, biographical and autobiographical summaries of her life and career, and photographs
  • SERIES I: CORRESPONDENCE, 1854-1989. This series is divided into two subseries. SUBSERIES I.I. contains correspondence, 1880-1957, of Ella Graham Agnew, including several of her letters from her time as a secretary, teacher, and seminary principal in South Africa, 1895-1900. SUBSERIES I.II. features correspondence, 1854-1882, 1980, and 1989, of other Agnew family members. A majority of letters in the earlier group were written to Agnew's older sister, Martha ("Mattie") Agnew Hughes (1860-1934), from her parents and siblings. Letters typically center on family news. The latter letters were written to Helen Wolfe Evans (1935- ), a grandniece of Ella Graham Agnew, and refer to her graduate school research on Ella's life
  • SERIES II: BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 1937-1985. Several biographical sketches, published and unpublished, of Ella Graham Agnew. Also included are some autobiographical works, including three drafts of Agnew's essay recounting her role in the first ten years of home demonstration work in Virginia
  • SERIES III: MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS, 1879-1948. Includes a 10 October 1879 memorial resolution made by the Burkeville (Va.) Town Council upon the death of James Agnew (1828-1879), and a pair of glasses apparently belonging to him; a collection of letters and newspaper clippings kept in a notebook by Ella Graham Agnew to mark her time with the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.); a small file on colleague J. D. Eggleston (1867-1953); handwritten and typed copies Agnew made of various poems; and the 1898 yearbook of Ward Seminary, Nashville, Tennessee. The book was dedicated to the memory of Mary Chaffin Agnew (1866-1897), one of Ella Graham Agnew's elder sisters and Dean of Women at the school
  • SERIES IV: PHOTOGRAPHS, ca. 1846-1992. Portraits and snapshots of Ella Graham Agnew, her parents, siblings, and other Agnew relations. Also included are images of scenes and acquaintances in South Africa; Iverness and other homes; and a group of delegates to the 1913 Girls Canning Club Exposition
Member of
  • Accessioned
  • Described
Biographical or historical data
  • Ella Graham Agnew was born on 18 March 1871 at Roseland, the family home in Prince Edward County, Virginia. She was the ninth of ten children born to Dr. James Anderson Agnew (1828-1879) and Martha Chaffin Scott Agnew (1832-1872). While Ella was still an infant, Roseland was destroyed by fire, prompting the family's move to Burkeville, Nottoway County, Virginia. Her mother died in 1872 after giving birth to Anne Virginia, known as "Jean" (1872-1944). In 1877, her father married Elizabeth McLean (d. 1918), who raised Ella after Dr. Agnew's death in 1879.
  • After taking stenographic courses at Smithdeal Business College in Richmond, Agnew held secretarial positions at Stonewall Jackson Institute in Abingdon, Virginia, and a Long Island, New York, publishing firm. In 1895, she accepted a job as business teacher and secretary at the Huguenot Seminary in Paarl, Cape Colony, South Africa. She remained in the country for five years, spending the second two as principal of the Amajuba Seminary in Wakkerstroom before the Boer War forced its closing. She finished out her time in the country aiding the Boers and the American Consulate with clerical, administrative, and nursing work.
  • Back in the United States, Agnew worked successively as a teacher in Virginia, an office manager in New York, and general secretary of Young Women's Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) chapters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Toledo, Ohio. Returning to Virginia in 1910 to begin a program of vocational education for rural girls, Agnew was soon named the first female home demonstration agent in the country. After ten years in that role, she worked for the finance department of the Y.W.C.A. National Board, 1920-1927, and as the first female editor at the SOUTHERN PLANTER magazine "Woman's Department" section, 1927-1931. She wrapped up her professional life with ten years, 1933-1943, at the head of New Deal relief activities for women with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and its successor, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). When the W.P.A. was disbanded in 1943, she retired, but continued to be involved in civic affairs. Agnew eventually took up residence in the Home for Needy Confederate Women in Richmond. She died on 5 February 1958.
  • The above biographical information was abstracted from the Ella Graham Agnew entry in the DICTIONARY OF VIRGINIA BIOGRAPHY, VOL. I, with additional details taken from the papers.
Cataloging source
Form designation
  • The Library of Virginia
Cumulative index finding aids
  • Inventory
  • Inventory
  • 0.93
  • 1
Immediate source of acquisition
Evans, Helen Wolfe
Organization method
Organized into the following four series: I. Correspondence, 1854-1989. II. Biographical Materials, 1937-1985. III. Miscellaneous Papers, 1879-1948. IV. Photographs, ca. 1846-1992.
Type of unit
  • cu. ft. and
  • oversize folder.

Library Locations

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      37.5415632 -77.4360805
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