Skip to main content

Elizabeth Boatwright Coker papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-5463

The collection consists of approximately 28.75 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 comprises 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 series 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 conference's 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.


  • 1800 - 1994
  • Majority of material found within 1922 - 1993


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.


28.75 Linear Feet (23 cartons 1 oversize box)

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, and College 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 storytelling. 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 cited 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 PEN 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.


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.

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)


Also includes accession number 1001.

Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script