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Vivion Lenon Brewer papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00020

Scope and Contents

The Vivion Lenon Brewer papers include material from 1947 to 2004, with most items dating from 1956 to 1965. The collection contains biographical material, including her 1973 typescript account of the fight for integration, The Embattled Ladies of Little Rock (published in 1998), and other writings, clippings, and photographs; correspondence; organizational material from the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools; subject files; and printed material related to segregation.

Major subjects reflected in the collection include the school desegregation crisis in Arkansas and other Southern states, the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., the activities of white racists in the U.S., and the history of Little Rock, Arkansas. Organizations represented include the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, as well as numerous local political and charitable organizations through which Vivion Brewer worked to aid the African-American population of Little Rock. The papers shed some light on Vivion Brewer's life; they also offer insight into larger questions about the motives and experiences of white Southerners who defied their culture by opposing racism and segregation.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1947 - 2004


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Vivion Lenon Brewer's niece, Patricia M. Rostker, owns copyright to the papers she donated to Smith College. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by Vivion Lenon Brewer, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Vivion Lenon Brewer was born on October 6, 1900 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Clara Mercer and Warren E. Lenon, a prominent local Democrat who served as Little Rock's mayor from 1903-1908. After graduating from Little Rock High School, Brewer left the South to attend Smith College, where she majored in sociology. She returned to Little Rock after her graduation from Smith in 1921 and, until 1923, worked as her father's secretary. During the period 1924-26 Brewer worked briefly as a bookkeeper and a gift shop owner before she left to spend a year traveling through Europe. In 1926 Brewer returned to Little Rock once again, resumed working in her father's bank by day, and began working toward her law degree at night. She graduated from Arkansas Law School in 1928, the same year she was elected Vice President of the bank. Despite passing the Arkansas bar exam in 1929, Brewer chose to continue at the bank rather than working as an attorney.

In 1930 Vivion Lenon married Joseph Brewer, the nephew of Senator Joseph T. Robinson who had run for Vice President alongside Democratic Presidential candidate Al Smith in 1928. The couple lived in Washington, D.C. for sixteen years as Joe Brewer held a succession of Federal government positions including secretary to his uncle, then the Senate Majority leader, and executive positions in the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior. During her time in Washington, D.C., Vivion Brewer endured both a serious four-year-long illness and the birth and death of her only child in 1933. She also became close to an African-American woman she employed and, through that friendship, gained new insights about the destructive impact of racism and segregation in the U.S. In 1946, following Joe's return from military service during World War II, the Brewers decided to return to Arkansas. Joe accepted a job as the personnel officer at the North Little Rock Veterans Administration Hospital and the couple settled on a piece of old Brewer family property in Scott, Arkansas.

Over the next decade Vivion spent her time renovating the Brewer property and participating in organizations such as the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters. It was not until 1958, when the crisis erupted over the issue of integrating Little Rock's high schools, that Brewer finally acted on the anti-racist impulses she had discovered in herself twenty years earlier. When Governor Orval Faubus chose to close Little Rock public schools rather than integrate them, Brewer, along with several other prominent local women, organized the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools and became some of the most visible white advocates of integration. After the Little Rock schools re-opened and the Women's Emergency Committee disbanded Brewer continued her activism by organizing educational programs for African-American children. Smith College recognized her work by awarding her an honorary doctorate in 1961. After Joe Brewer died in 1988 Vivion went to Pasadena, California to live with her niece. She died there in June, 1991, at age 90.


3.5 linear feet (10 containers)

Language of Materials



Vivion Lenon Brewer was a co-founder of Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, a volunteer, banker, and lawyer. A native of Arkansas, Vivion Brewer was an advocate of civil rights and integration and also participated in several women's organizations. This collection sheds some light on her personal and professional life, as well as offering insight into larger questions about the motives and experiences of white Southerners who opposed racism and segregation. Materials include writings, diaries, correspondence, photographs, and various records. Also included are her typescript memoir entitled The Embattled Ladies of Little Rock, and organizational material from the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools such as minutes.


This collection is organized into four series:

  1. I. Biographical Materials
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Organizations and Activities
  4. IV. Subject Files
  5. Books on Shelf

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Vivion Lenon Brewer donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1968.

Finding aid to the Vivion Lenon Brewer papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Kate Weigand
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss169 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:12-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-03-20: Added pencil edits from paper FA and updated finding aid.
  • 2022-03-03: Integrated description of oversized materials

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063