Jump to Navigation

Avis Dungan Carlson Papers, 1927-1982

Ms. Collection 749



Avis Dungan was born June 25, 1896, in Moline, Kansas, to Cyrus Oliver Dungan and Mary Alice (Mamie) Howard. Later, Avis was joined by five siblings, one brother and four sisters (one of whom died at an early age). The Dungans lived on a farm and participated in rural activities.

As a child, Avis was only prone to mild illness until she caught pneumonia which left her weak for some time. Avis and her siblings were brought up in a devoted religious background where spanking and talking back were not tolerated.

Besides being well-mannered, the children were hard workers. They all were required to work on the farm and in the house completing daily chores. They worked in the morning, attended school during the day, and worked in the evening. Their Grandmother Dungan taught them and other rural children at the local one-room schoolhouse. Avis completed classes through the eighth grade at the rural school and then moved to Winfield, Kansas. There, she attended an academy, or prep school. Next, she attended Southwestern College, also in Winfield. Later, she attended the University of Illinois to obtain her master's degree in English. After graduating from Southwestern, she taught at Kinsley School. Her teaching career did not last long because she and Harry Carlson married in August 1917.

Avis had met Harry at Southwestern through a mutual friend and professor. Harry and Avis shared many interests including politics and teaching. In 1929, Avis and Harry adopted and raised two children, Eric and Jill. Harry became a law student at the University of Illinois, and then they returned to Wichita where Harry practiced law. In 1941, the family moved to Washington, D.C., so Harry could work for the National Labor Relations Board. In 1943, the family returned once again to the Midwest, near St. Louis, where Harry worked at the regional office as the regional attorney. Avis remained in St. Louis from 1946 until 1987.

Avis Carlson was a multitalented woman. She was a mother, housewife, English teacher, free-lance writer and later an active American citizen. Avis quit teaching after she got married and devoted her life to writing. She wrote articles and short stories about life in Kansas, her personal life, the Dust Bowl and other areas of interest. Her large projects include three published books and one unfinished manuscript.

Besides writing, Avis was active in the League of Women Voters. She wrote articles and speeches in support of the League. She attended seminars and conferences including a post-war conference in Wichita, Kansas. She became the president of the St. Louis League of Women Voters in 1953 and remained in that post until 1955. Avis continued to be involved in the League throughout her life.

During the last half of her life, Avis spent time writing two books, A Goodly Heritage (c.1962) and Small World, Long Gone (c.1975). She also wrote short articles for magazines such as Redbook, Reader's Digest, Ladies Home Journal, and Harper's Magazine. When Harry Carlson passed away in 1970 of a brain tumor, Avis began writing her third book, In the Fullness of Time (c.1977) about growing old. She wrote a regular column with advice and antidotes for the St. Louis Post - Dispatch from the 1950s through the early 1980s. Avis retired from the newspaper in 1982 and spent the next few years relaxing. She passed away in January 1987.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of manuscripts of published and unpublished magazine articles and short stories; manuscripts of large projects, published and unpublished; diaries; a scrapbook; and personal items. The manuscripts for the large projects include a copy of A Goodly Heritage and Small World, Long Gone (published) and “The Kansas Legend” (unpublished). The Kansas State Historical Society library owns a copy of Carlson's published works: A Goodly Heritage (1962) (call number: K B D918), Small World, Long Gone (1975) (call number: K B C197), and In the Fullness of Time (1977) (call number: K 301.435 C197).

The Carlson diaries start in 1923 and end in 1943; however some entries are blank, so the diaries are incomplete. The diary contents range from personal thoughts and experiences to information about her literary career.

The scrapbook contains articles written about Carlson's successes and also copies of her published materials. Also in the scrapbook are articles pertaining to family members such as her mother, Mamie, and her sister, Hildred.

Besides the manuscripts, diaries, and scrapbook, the collection contains a few personal items. There are employment records (1942); two valentines written to Mrs. C. H. Brooks; and a memorial for her husband, Harry Carlson, used at his funeral service. An obituary and poem for Avis can be found in the collection as well.

This collection is arranged into four series: Primary Activities, Other Activities, Diaries, and Miscellaneous. Within each series, the contents are divided by subject matter and chronological order. The Primary Activities series is divided into sub-series such as Personal Papers, Poems, Manuscripts, and Large projects. In the Other Activities series, the contents are divided by sub-series including Carlson's career as an educator and political activist. Also found here are articles noting Carlson's literary achievements, notes from lectures Carlson attended and articles about her life in Kansas. The Diaries series contains her diaries ranging from 1923 until 1943. The Miscellaneous series contains other papers.

A microfilm copy of her Diaries, 1923-1943 (series 3), is held by the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) (collection sl-419). In addition, UMSL holds a collection of her Papers, 1940-1976, pertaining to her career in St. Louis (collection sl-463). On-line descriptions of her Diaries and Papers at UMSL are on their website at http://www.umsl.edu/~whmc/guides/whm0419.htm and http://www.umsl.edu/~whmc/guides/whm0463.htm respectively. UMSL also has records of the Missouri and St. Louis Metropolitan Leagues of Women Voters and Vertical File material that provide additional information on Avis Carlson's activities.

Contents List

Series 1: Primary Activities  
  subseries 1: Personal Papers
  subseries 2: Poems - published and unpublished
  subseries 3: Magazine and newspaper articles
  subseries 4: Manuscripts for articles and short stories - published
  subseries 5: Manuscripts for articles and short stories - unpublished
  subseries 6: Manuscripts for articles of general information
  subseries 7: Large Projects
Series 2: Other Activities  
  subseries 1: Carlson as an educator
  subseries 2: Literary Reviews
  subseries 3: Carlson as a political activist
  subseries 4: Scrapbook (reproduced)
Series 3: Diaries  
Series 4: Miscellaneous  

Additional Information for Researchers


This collection was donated by Avis Carlson to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1981.


Citations referring to this collection should include the Avis Dungan Carlson Papers, 1927 - 1982, series and subseries, Library and Archives Division, Kansas State Historical Society.

Processed by

Monica Oliver, intern

Date of processing



1 ft. + oversize material