ESTHER J. WALLS (1926- )
PAPERS, 1860s-1996 and undated
(bulk dates 1944-1996)
1.75 linear feet
and audiovisual material
The papers (donor no. 393) were donated by Esther J. Walls in 1996 .
The papers are open for research.
One videocassette shelved in videocassette collection (V180).
Copyright has been
transferred to the
James Zachary Henshaw, 1997, and Kathryn M. Neal, 1998. [WallsEsther.doc]
Esther Jean Walls, librarian, administrator, and educator, was born to Eldist (E.S.) and Jewette Walls on May 1, 1926 in Mason City, Iowa. In 1944, Walls graduated from Mason City High School, the valedictorian of her class. She attended Mason City Junior College before transferring to the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa), where she majored in romance languages with a minor in education. She was the first African-American female student at the State University of Iowa to be elected to the Alpha of Iowa Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and was a member of Phi Sigma Iota, an honorary Romance Languages fraternity. She graduated summa cum laude in 1948 with a B.A. Although she found no teaching positions open to her in Mason City, Walls did secure employment at the Mason City Public Library. She went on to attend Columbia University, where she received an M.S. in Library Science in 1951.
Walls began working for the New York Public Library in 1950 and held various professional assignments, including serving as director of the North Manhattan Library Project and as head of the Countee Cullen Regional Library. From 1965 to 1970, Walls worked for the non-profit international publishing organization Franklin Book Programs, Inc. She served as program officer, supervising and administering activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. She also served as director of Book and Library Services, assistant director for Africa, and director of Adult New Literates Project.
Walls was elected director of the United States Secretariat for the International Book Year 1972. In this capacity, she coordinated the activities of the U.S. Secretariat, an agency established to promote the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-sponsored year during which all member states of UNESCO focused attention on the role of books and related materials. Her other duties included lecturing, writing, and stimulating interest in the International Book Year through education, promotion, and publicity.
In 1973, Walls became head of the Teachers Central Laboratory at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY). She served as associate director of Libraries at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Stony Brook from 1974 until her retirement in 1988. Walls served as chairperson of the International Relations Committee of the American Library Association (ALA) and as a commissioner and member of the executive board of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. She also served as vice president of the United States Committee for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Walls traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as a consultant on books, libraries, and women’s activities and lectured to business, professional, and educational groups. Throughout her career, she focused on issues pertaining to youth literacy, both in the United States, with particular focus on the urban environment, and abroad, with particular focus on African nations. She has publicly addressed issues relating to the African-American experience in the United States and the role of women in society.
Scope and Content Note
The Esther J. Walls papers date from the 1860s to 1996 and measure 1.75 linear feet, plus audiovisual material. The papers are arranged in five series: Biographical material, Correspondence, Writings, Photographs, and Scrapbooks. The bulk of this collection documents Walls’s educational and professional activities from 1944 to 1996.
The Biographical material series (1946-1996 and undated) includes dance cards and programs that Walls collected as a college student. Messages from her then-boyfriend and names of bands at the dances are found within these memento booklets. Bandleaders, such as Woody Herman and Tex Benke signed some of these items. The series also includes material that reflects Walls’s participation in International House, a New York-based organization devoted to promoting peace, an open exchange of ideas, and international understanding. Additional material in this series includes journal and newsletter articles in which Walls was featured, transcripts of two interviews with Walls, and a videotaped interview with Walls.
The Correspondence series (1949-1991 and undated) contains greeting cards, correspondence, invitations, and programs. Walls received some of the greeting cards from acquaintances who were affiliated with the United Nations. The correspondence includes letters received by Walls in connection with her student life and with her professional career. Of particular note are two letters written to Walls by Des Moines attorney S. Joe Brown in 1949. In one letter, Brown, a State University of Iowa alumnus who was the first African American man to be elected to the Alpha of Iowa chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, congratulates Walls on becoming the first African-American woman to attain the honor. The correspondence relating to the Franklin Book Programs consists of letters and schedules associated with Walls’s trips, primarily to Africa, to promote literacy. The series also includes correspondence, arranged chronologically, from authors such as Chinua Achebe and Phyllis A. Whitney, bandleader Lawrence Welk, and television broadcaster Hugh Downs. Invitations to and programs from various events held both in the United States and in various African countries are also included in this series.
Featured in the Writings series (1944-1980 and undated) are essays written by Walls when she was a student, her published articles, professional reports, and speeches. The student essays include biographies of two African-American women whom Walls knew while growing up in Mason City. Elderly at the time that Walls wrote the essays during the 1940s, each woman had direct ties to slavery. In a course paper dating from the same period, Walls describes having been a young African-American woman reared in a predominantly white city. Topics examined in the professional reports include public libraries, youth literacy, vocational education, African literacy and libraries, book procurement, and African-American history. In her speeches, Walls addressed such subjects as the role of African-American women in society and in librarianship.
The Photographs series (1860s-1994) include photographs and color photocopies of photographs. They feature members of Walls’s family, including a color photocopied image of ancestors who were homesteaders in Kansas that dates approximately from the 1860s. Walls’s grandparents and parents are also featured in photocopies of photographs that date from approximately the 1890s and early 1900s. The series also consists of images of Walls as a college student, as a librarian, and as a promoter of literacy around the world. Included among these photographs are images of Walls and the other women who integrated Currier Hall at the State University of Iowa in 1946 and images of Walls with nationally and internationally known authors, photographers, and performing artists.
The Scrapbooks series (1971-1972) includes two volumes documenting the International Book Year 1972, during which Walls served as director of the U.S. Secretariat. Pamphlets, flyers, and articles describe the efforts to promote International Book Year, particularly Walls’s participation.
Virginia Harper papers.
Virginia Harper was one of the women who integrated Currier Hall
dormitory with Esther Walls at the State University of Iowa (now the
University of Iowa).
Box no. Description
Awards, appointments, and resumes, 1958-1996 (scattered) and undated
Certificates, 1974, 1982 [shelved in map case: drawer 10]
Dance cards and programs, 1946-1948
International House, 1949-1951
Transcript of dissertation research interview with Esther J. Walls conducted by Miriam Braverman, and related correspondence, August-September 1972
“Speaking Volumes,” radio program transcript, undated
Videotaped interview with Esther J. Walls, October 1986 (VHS, 23 mins.) [shelved in videocassette collection: V180]
Journal and newsletter articles
Newspaper clippings, 1951-1991 and undated
Cards, 1960-1969 (3 folders)
Franklin Book Programs
Trip 1, December 1965-August 1966
Trip 2, August 1966
Trip 3, April-May 1967
Trips 4, 6, and 8, May 1968-1970
1949 (includes letters from attorney S. Joe Brown)
Prominent figures, 1955-1991 (scattered) and undated
Mordvinoff, Nicolas, autographed program, 1955
Whitney., Phyllis A., 1958
Erlich, Lillian (Mrs. John), 1963
Miller, Michael M., 1972
Welk, Lawrence, 1972
Jeffries, Susan, 1974
Downs, Hugh, 1984
Prominent figures, 1955-1991 (scattered) and undated
Hamilton, Antonia W., 1991
Ives, Burl, autographed program, undated
Achebe, Chinua, undated
Panteleone, Helenka, undated
Invitations and programs
1966-1978 and undated
Student essays, 1944?-1946
“Stella Penny,” 1944?
“She Climbed the Hills [Carrie N. Reeler],” 1945
“My Racial Inheritance and Its Effect on My Personality,” 1946
1964-1968 and undated
1959 and circa 1959
Family life, 1860s-1994
Student life, 1946-1951
Professional life, 1963-1973
Includes photographs of:
De Carava, Roy
Jones, Leroi (Amiri Baraka)
International Book Year 1972 (no. 1), 1971-1972
International Book Year 1972 (no. 2)