Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Papers, 1800-1994 (bulk, 1922-1993)

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Author of nine historical romance novels. Born in Darlington, South Carolina, to Bessie Heard and Purvis Jenkins Boatwright. Graduated from St. John's High School and Converse College. Married Hartsville, South Carolina, industrialist, James Lide Coker, III.

Extent: ca. 28.5 linear ft. + 1 oversize box + multiple volumes
Location: PU-4-G



1909 Elizabeth Boatwright was born to Bessie (Heard) and Purvis Jenkins Boatwright on April 21st in Darlington, South Carolina.
Ca. 1923 Recipient of the Skylark Prize awarded by the Charleston Poetry Society for her poem “Noches.”
1925 Graduated from St. John's High School, Darlington, South Carolina. Entered Converse College (Spartanburg, South Carolina) in the fall of the year.
1928 “Red Moon” received the Carroll Poetry Prize awarded by the Charleston Poetry Society.
1929 Graduated from Converse College. Moved to New York City where she modeled hats and shoes while looking for a writing job. Met future husband, James Lide Coker, III (“Jim”).
1930 EBC and Jim married on September 27th.
1932 Daughter, Penelope, born in March in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hospital.
1937 Attended the first Blowing Rock Writers' Conference, Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
1938 Attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers' Conference sponsored by Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.
1941 Son, James Lide Coker, IV, born in New York.
1950 Daughter of Strangers published.
1952 The Day of the Peacock published.
1953 India Allan published. In July appeared on radio on Edward R. Murrow's “This I Believe” program.
1957 The Big Drum published.
1959 La Belle published.
1961 Jim died after his six-year battle with throat and mouth cancer.
1963 Lady Rich published. The short story “The Wishing Bone” received a third place award in the International P.E.N. competition. It also received a first place award in an American P.E.N. contest.
1968 The Bees published.
1971-1972 Associate visiting professor (guest lecturer), Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina.
1973 Wrote “This Is Billy Boy” for the South Carolina Association of Retarded Children.
1977 Blood Red Roses published.
1978 Wrote The Charleston Coloring Book with niece Ann Boatwright Igoe. EBC wrote the text, and Igoe illustrated the book.
1981 The Grasshopper King published.
1986 Honorary degree recipient, Converse College.
1987 Honorary degree recipient, Coker College.
1990 Inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
1992 Inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.
1993 Died on September 1st in a Hartsville Hospital.

Biographical Sketch

Elizabeth Boatwright Coker was born on April 21, 1909, in Darlington, South Carolina, the daughter of Purvis Jenkins and Bessie (Heard) Boatwright. She attended St. John's High School in Darlington and graduated from Converse College in 1929. As a child, Elizabeth dreamt of becoming a dancer; she even won a “Charleston” dance contest in Myrtle Beach as a teenager. Her second ambition, though, was to become a poet. She came to this realization when, at the age of fourteen, as punishment for daydreaming in class, she was ordered to write down her dream. The result was a poem entitled “Noches” about two cowboys returning home from a rodeo. For this effort, she won the Skylark Prize, given each year by the Charleston Poetry Society for best verse by a high school student. During the remainder of her high school years, she won several other regional and national scholarship awards for her musings.

While at Converse College, Elizabeth was a regular contributor to The Concept, the student literary magazine. In her senior year, she served as the journal's editor. Elizabeth showed literary promise; and her poems appeared in publications such as Harper's, Munsey's, The Saturday Evening Post, andCollege Humor. In 1928 her poem “Red Moon” won the Caroll Prize given by the Charleston Poetry Society for promising college verse. With prize money in hand, Elizabeth left for New York City after graduation. She hoped to find work as a writer for the New York Times; she survived by modeling hats and shoes. While in New York, Elizabeth met James Lide Coker III, of Hartsville, South Carolina, a recent Harvard Business School graduate and a former fraternity brother of her brother P.J. at the University of North Carolina. She and Jim soon became engaged and returned to South Carolina.

They married in 1930, and Elizabeth settled into her role as a corporate wife as Jim assumed the controlling reigns of his family's company, Sonoco Products, in Hartsville. Their first child, Penelope, was born in 1932. Elizabeth continued to write poetry and short stories during the 1930s. The family vacationed in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, during the summer of 1937, where Elizabeth also attended the Blowing Rock Writers' Conference. Elizabeth met many southern writers with whom she shared her writing. Her confidence grew, and she decided to pursue her writing interests. During the summer of 1938, she attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers' Conference sponsored by Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Supposedly, Robert Frost critiqued some of her work and encouraged her to continue writing.

The Coker's second child, a son – James Lide Coker IV – was born in 1941. During the 1940s, Elizabeth continued to hone her writing skills as she raised her children. She also assumed a very active role with the Hartsville community; she was active in many social and civic organizations and associations. In addition, as the wife of an executive, she traveled frequently with Jim on company business. She maintained extensive journals of the trips: in time, many of these travels figured into her novels.

In 1947 Elizabeth finished a short story about a young slave girl (the progeny of a male plantation owner and a female slave) who was wagered and won on a horse race. She showed the tale, “The Red Filly,” to Glen Mullin, the head of Columbia University's Creative Writing program. He encouraged her to develop the story into a novel and mentored her throughout the creative process. In 1950 E.P. Dutton and Company published Elizabeth's first novel, Daughter of Strangers, the outgrowth of “The Red Filly.” It was listed on the New York Times Best Seller List for several months. It was also a book club selection, and Heinneman Publishers published it in England. It was later published in paperback by Dell Publishing. Thus, Elizabeth Boatwright Coker's writing career commenced. Between 1952 and 1981, Elizabeth wrote and published eight more historical novels:

The Day of the Peacock, 1952
India Allan, 1953
The Big Drum, 1957
La Belle, 1959
Lady Rich, 1963
The Bees, 1968
Blood Red Roses, 1977
The Grasshopper King, 1981
Elizabeth was able to combine her interests in history, research, and story telling. Beneath each book's overlay of romanticized plot lines, there was a great deal of solid, fact-based research. She often found inspiration in old diaries, letters, and in her travels. She traveled to England, Mexico, and Kenya (among other locales). More often, she drew on the rich and complex history of her home state.

In 1955 Jim was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent radical surgery and battled his illness for six years. He continued to work, and he and Elizabeth traveled all over the world. These trips were part vacation, part therapy, and part research. In 1961, after a valiant struggle, Jim succumbed to his illness. Elizabeth sought solace in research, writing, and traveling. The publication of her sixth novel,Lady Rich, in 1963 was bittersweet: she and Jim had traveled throughout Europe towards the end of his life as she researched the book.

In addition to her novels, Elizabeth wrote many poems, short stories, and essays. Of significance was her short story, “The Wishing Bone,” which won two awards in the 1963 International P.E.N. competition: a third place international prize and a first place American award. In 1973 Elizabeth composed “This Is Billy Boy,” the tale of a young, mentally disabled boy's relationship with his family, as a gift to the South Carolina Association for Retarded Children. In 1978, Elizabeth collaborated with her niece, Ann Boatwright Igoe, to publish The Charleston Coloring Book, which remains popular to this day.

Elizabeth also delivered many addresses to a variety of audiences; she enjoyed speaking to those interested in hearing about the writing process. She often spoke to young elementary and high school students and was a popular commencement speaker for both high schools and colleges in South Carolina. From 1971 to 1972 she served as an associate visiting professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. She often guest taught at Converse College and Coker College. Elizabeth received honorary degrees from Coker and Converse Colleges -- institutions in which she had personal interest and to which she dedicated a great deal of time and energy. She was a lifetime trustee at Converse College and returned to her alma mater several times a year for various functions. She donated a large portion of her personal library to Converse in the early 1980s. Elizabeth adopted Coker College as a sort of second alma mater. Coker College, which was founded by her husband's ancestors, meant a great deal to her, and she never hesitated to aid the institution in any way she could. In fact, Coker College posthumously named its performing arts center after her in 1997: the Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Performing Arts Center, as it is named, is a community center for many educational and cultural events.

Elizabeth sited several influences and mentors with whom she developed lasting friendships. Among them were Hershchell Brickell, Hodding Carter, Jonathan Daniels, Clifford Dowdey, Frank Durham, Inglis Fletcher, John Jakes, Floyd McGowan, James Michener, Charles Morgan, Ogden Nash, Julia Peterkin, Walter Spearman, and Hudson Strode.

Elizabeth also found time to involve herself in a variety of organizations, including the following:

American Association of University Women
American Republicans Club
Author's Guild
Blowing Rock Horse Association
Converse College Board of Trustees
Episcopalian Club
Garden Club of America
Hartsville School Board
Medical College of Pennsylvania
National Academy of Poets
Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation
Pee Dee Heritage Society
Poetry Society of Georgia
St. John's Heritage Foundation of Darlington
South Carolina Academy of Authors.
South Carolina Poetry Society
South Carolina State Museum
United Cerebral Palsy of South Carolina
University South Caroliniana Society
Elizabeth was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 1991 and into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in 1992. She died in a Hartsville, South Carolina, hospital on September 1, 1993. At the time of her death, she was allegedly working on her tenth book.

Scope and Content Notes

The collection consists of approximately 28.5 linear feet of materials (plus one large oversize box and several bound volumes) that document the life of Elizabeth Boatwright Coker (EBC) (1909-1993). In date, the collection ranges from approximately 1800 to 1994, with the bulk of the papers ranging from 1922 to 1993. The collection is comprised of correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, manuscripts, galley proofs, photographs, and original works of art documenting the work of this South Carolina writer. The collection is divided into seven series: (1) correspondence; (2) personal papers; (3) writings; (4) lectures and speeches; (5) professional organizations, conferences; (6) research files; and (7) artwork, maps, photographs, miscellaneous, scrapbooks.

Series I, Correspondence

Series I, correspondence, is organized by incoming and outgoing letters. The correspondence is generally of a personal nature between EBC and her family or friends. She kept letters from close female friends and male suitors sent to her in her high school and college days as well as letters from her fellow writers later in her life. The series is further broken down chronologically (for general correspondence) and by individual (for those individuals with whom EBC corresponded regularly or if she exchanged correspondence with a prominent individual). Generally, the incoming correspondence files are much more complete than EBC's outgoing letters. She only occasionally kept copies of the letters she composed. More often than not, she also composed one letter and forwarded it to several friends.

Notable writers with whom EBC corresponded regularly include:

LeGette Blythe
Jonathan Daniels
Chalmers Davidson
Frank Durham
Inglis Fletcher
Edward Gwathmey
Frank Borden Hanes
Lodwick Charles Hartley
John Jakes
Elizabeth and Eliot Janeway
Floyd McGowan
Chapman James Milling
Charles Morgan
Hilda Vaughan (Hilda Morgan)
Ogden Nash
Julia Mood Peterkin
James Reston, Jr.
Harry Shaw
Katherine Drayton Mayrant Simons
Walter Spearman
Elliott White Springs
Hudson Strode
Elizabeth O'Neill Verner
Louis B. Wright
Notable writers and individuals from whom EBC received a few letters, but with whom she did not correspond regularly include:
William F. Buckley
Norman Mailer
Strom Thurmond
William Childs Westmoreland (fellow South Carolina Hall of Fame inductee)
Joanne Woodward (fellow honorary degree recipient, Converse College)
Others with whom EBC corresponded regularly include:
Naomi Burton (Mrs. Melville Stone) (publisher, friend)
Lambert Davis (children's book illustrator, director of the University of North Carolina Press)
Elliott Graham (publicist at E.P. Dutton and close friend)
Thomas Johnson (University of South Carolina, South Caroliniana Library)
Glen Mullin (mentor, head of Columbia University's Writing Program during the 1940s)
Elizabeth Player (childhood friend)
Mary Prichard Taylor (professor, mentor, close friend)
Strom Thurmond
Mamie Tillman
Isabel Tozzer (close friend from New York days)
Located at the end of the series is family correspondence originating from earlier generations of the Cokers and the Boatwrights. It is organized alphabetically by the sender's last name. These letters represent early generations of both the Boatwrights and Cokers.

Series II, Personal Papers

Series II, personal papers, is divided into four sub-series: (1) EBC; (2) Immediate Family; (3) Family History, Cokers and Boatwright; (4) Friends and Associates.

EBC's personal papers are organized alphabetically by subject name. They include her appointment books, awards and honors she received, Converse College materials, clippings, diaries, financial materials, scrapbooks, and files she maintained on her travels.

The information pertaining to EBC's immediate family includes files on her husband and her two children. The papers are arranged by individual and then alphabetically by subject. Materials on Jim Coker include biographical materials, clippings, limited business correspondence, memorial tributes to him, and materials pertaining to Sonoco Products Co. Jim served as its president from 1931 until his death. Materials pertaining to EBC's son James include a great deal of childhood memorabilia, educational materials, and some information pertaining to his role as president of Sonoco's Canadian Branch, Sonoco Limited. Lastly, materials relating to EBC's daughter, Penelope, include childhood memorabilia and information relating to her various dramatic and modeling pursuits. Penelope pursued a career as a model and as a personality on several television shows in the New York area.

Materials relating to EBC's family history are separated by Boatwrights and Cokers. The subseries provides insight into the histories of both families. Both families claim Revolutionary and Civil War lineage. Additionally, the Boatwright family materials reveal that family's role in Darlington history. The Coker family materials likewise reveal that family's role as one of the founding families of Hartsville. There are also some materials pertaining to the founding of Coker College and the role that the Cokers and Elizabeth Boatwright Coker played in its evolution.

Materials relating to EBC's friends and associates are organized alphabetically by individual. She maintained very close friendships with writers Jonathan Daniels, Clifford Dowdey, John Jakes, Charles Morgan, Walter Spearman, and Elizabeth O'Neill Verner. Mary Prichard Taylor (who taught at several colleges and universities in North and South Carolina) was a mentor and long-time friend to EBC. Isabel Tozzer and EBC met through William Boatwright and maintained a lifelong friendship.

Series III, Writings Series III, writings, is divided into eleven sub-series: (1) books, published; (2) manuscripts/book ideas, unpublished; (3) manuscripts (drafts, galleys for published and unpublished books); (4) copies of EBC's books at the South Caroliniana Library; (5- 9) editorial letters, book reviews, essays, poetry, and short stories written by EBC; (10) publicity re EBC and the publication of her books; and (11) materials pertaining to EBC's publishers and literary agents.

Materials pertaining to EBC's published books include book jacket designs, correspondence with publishers, publicity material for each book, research materials specific to each books, reviews, and royalty statements. In addition to her nine published novels, EBC also published two other works of interest. In the early 1970s EBC agreed to write a short story for the South Carolina Association for Retarded Children as a means of opening up a dialog about the issues that families of mentally disabled children must face. The result was “This Is Billy Boy,” published in 1973. In 1978 she collaborated with her niece, Ann Boatwright Igoe, to produce a children's coloring/history book, The Charleston Coloring Book.

Materials pertaining to EBC' unpublished manuscripts and book ideas include proposed biographies of Elliot White Springs and Sara Delano Roosevelt. EBC never moved beyond the planning stages of Springs' biography when she learned that she would not be granted full access to his papers. EBC did, however, collaborate closely with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. to prepare his grandmother's biography, Sara's Story: A Biography of Sara Delano Roosevelt. The collection includes a completed manuscript; unfortunately, EBC and FDR, Jr. could not find a publisher for their work. This subseries also includes an outline for another novel idea tentatively titled The Heir of Curassow that was not picked up by EBC's publisher.

Housed separately are manuscripts (drafts, galleys for published and unpublished books). Included are draft manuscripts for EBC's published novels The Bees, The Big Drum, Blood Red Roses, Daughter of Strangers, The Grasshopper King, India Allan, and Lady Rich. Also included is a final draft manuscript for Sara's Story. In addition there are manuscripts for several unpublished novels: Miss Elizabeth and the Yellow Corvette; Tyger, Tyger; and The Way of An Eagle.

Also included in this series are general publicity materials and materials pertaining to EBC's relationship with the publishers of her books. The publicity materials include feature articles on EBC and entries for EBC in the Biographical Companion to a Map of South Carolina Writers, 1973, and in the reference guide First Printings of American Authors. Also included is an audiocassette tape of a 1981 radio interview regarding her career as a writer. Additionally, this subseries includes the transcript of EBC's 1945 radio interview on Edward R. Murrow's show, “This I Believe.” Materials pertaining to relationships with publishers are organized alphabetically by company name and include correspondence and contracts generally not pertaining to a particular book.

Series IV, Lectures and Speeches

EBC was a prolific speaker. It seemed that she never passed up an opportunity to share her experiences with an interested audience. This series includes written drafts and notes on speeches she made during her career. It is organized alphabetically by speech title or subject.

The series also includes EBC's lecture materials from Appalachian State University, Coker College, and Columbia College.

Series V, Professional Organizations, Conferences

Over the course of her life, EBC attended many professional conferences and belonged to numerous professional and civic organizations. The conferences subseries is organized alphabetically and includes materials on the Blowing Rock Writers' Conference, the Breadloaf Writers' Conference, and the Carolina Connections Conference. Similarly, professional and community organizations are also organized alphabetically. Professional organizations included the Authors' Guild, Authors' League of America, International Mark Twain Society, PEN, Poetry Societies of Georgia and South Carolina, South Carolina Academy of Authors, and the Tar Heel Writers Roundtable. Civic and community organizations included the Darlington County Selective Service Advisory Board, Garden Club of America, Hartsville School District Board of Trustees, National Trust for Historic Preservation, South Carolina State Museum Foundation, South Carolina Tricentennial Commission, the University South Caroliniana Society, and the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Series VI, Research Files

EBC maintained extensive research files in addition to the files she kept for each book she wrote. The research materials are organized alphabetically by subject and include handwritten notes, clippings, and articles.

Series VII, Artwork, Maps, Photographs, Miscellaneous, Scrapbooks

Most of the materials in this series are oversized and are housed in separate boxes or with oversize flat files. The artwork generally relates to cover illustrations for EBC's books. Additionally there is a large pastel painting of James Lide Coker, III, as a young boy drawn by Haskell Coffin as well as a portrait of EBC drawn by A. Brook.

Most of the maps are materials that EBC collected during the preparation of her books. There are several reprints of old Hilton Head maps that she used while writing Blood Red Roses.

EBC created several scrapbooks that chronicle her life between 1937 and 1977. The scrapbooks are still intact and include photographs, clippings, articles, and correspondence.

The collection contains one carton of photographs. Images of EBC with family, friends, and peers dominate the photographs. The collection also contains a number of studio photographs taken for her book covers as well as publicity stills.

Additional Note

Several children's books were removed from EBC's personal papers and transferred to Special Collections at Thomas Cooper Library.

Bobo Goes to Town, copyrighted by Leda H. Plauche, 1937

Cock Robin's Death and (title page torn), undated (gift to Purvis Jenkins Boatwright from Uncle Louis)

Mother Goose ABC and Other Jingles,” ca 1870s? (Possibly James Boatwright's book)

“Old New Orleans Characters,” Leda Plauche, 1931

The Story of Little Black Quibba,” Helen Bnnerman, 1903 (Penelope Coker's book)

Talkative Toby, undated (Purvis Jenkins Boatwright's book)

Ten Little Nigger Boys,” ca 1870s (Purvis Jenkins Boatwright's book. Possibly a Christmas gift.)

Ten Little Nigger Boys and Ten Little Nigger Girls,” Nora Case, 1962

Uncle John's Drolleries' Simple Addition by a Little Nigger,” ca 1880

A Visit from Santa Claus, copyright 1898 (a gift to EBC from Rietta Boatwright)

Description of Series

Correspondence, 1860s-1994, undated (bulk 1922-1993) (Boxes 1-4, 13)

Arranged by chronologically and by individual.

Personal papers, ca 1833-1993, undated (bulk 1925-1993) (Box 4-7, 13-15; Oversize flat files; Manuscripts in separate boxes)

Arranged by family and individual names. Includes appointment books, diaries, scrapbooks, awards and honors, biographical materials, clippings, business papers, genealogical materials, realia, and miscellaneous materials.

Writings, ca 1928-1992, undated (bulk 1950-1981) (Boxes 8-10, 13-15, 19. Bound volumes; Oversized volumes; Manuscripts in separate boxes)

Arranged topically. Includes manuscripts, drafts, proofs, research materials, correspondence, published books, drawings, clippings, articles, notes, contracts, and royalty statements.

Lectures and Speeches, 1953-1992, undated (Box 10, 13)

Arranged alphabetically. Includes handwritten and typed drafts of speeches, clippings, articles, lecture materials.

Professional organizations, conferences, 1937-1994 (Box 11)

Arranged alphabetically. Includes correspondence, clippings, correspondence, membership cards, journals, and notebooks.

Research files, undated (Boxes 11-12)

Arranged alphabetically by topic. Includes clippings, articles, and notes.

Artwork, maps, photographs, miscellaneous, scrapbooks, 1930s-1988, undated (Boxes 15-18; Oversize flat files; Art files)

Arranged on paper topically and then alphabetically. Includes a pastel drawing, an oil painting, several watercolor drawing, sketches, map reprints. Photographs of varying sizes and dates in varying conditions. Oversized scrapbooks contain mixed materials.

Container List

The container list for the Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Papers consists of a twenty-seven page file available in

Adobe Acrobat PDF formatPDF Version (To update software visit Adobe Acrobat homepage.)

Microsoft Word formatMS Word

Administrative Notes

Location: PU-4-G
Processed: Meg Moughan, Project Archivist (March 1999)
Notes: Information concerning copyright must be secured in writing from the Director of the South Caroliniana Library.

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