Skip to main content

Elizabeth Cunningham family papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG5-347

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the lives of Elizabeth Cunningham, her husband William, and her mother Jennie Ault, especially during the years 1950 through 1967. The bulk of the collection consists of personal, professional, and family correspondence, primarily that of Elizabeth and William. These letters from the first decade of the couple's marriage discuss their involvement in the Society of Friends and its social concerns, especially Friends Weekend Workcamps; their children and other relatives; the couple's time in public housing in Philadelphia; their brief move to Maryville, Tennessee; William's academic studies; and their financial difficulties.

Other material of interest includes documents from Elizabeth's work as a computer programmer for Remington Rand; Jennie Ault's letters to Elizabeth at college and her long running correspondence with pastor, missionary, and historian Carl T. Smith; Elizabeth's writings; and photocopies of documents from Elizabeth's grandfather, German immigrant Nicholas Friedrich Wilhelm Fuehrer.


  • Creation: 1914 - 2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1950 - 1968


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to reuse, publish, or reproduce items in this collection beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to copyright law must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns. See

Biographical / Historical

Elizabeth Cunningham (1934-2020), born Elizabeth Anne Ault, was a Quaker from Philadelphia. She worked as an accountant for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting from 1980 to 1989, and as the organization's Associate Secretary from 1989 through 1992. She was active in various social concerns throughout her life.

Born on May 3rd, 1934, at Temple Hospital, Elizabeth was the eldest child of Elmer Ault and Jennie Fuehrer Ault. Her father Elmer died in 1948. Elizabeth attended Philadelphia Girls' High and in 1950 enrolled at Ursinus College, where she majored in mathematics and graduated in 1955. After college she worked briefly for Remington Rand, where she received training in programming on UNIVAC computers. Elizabeth left fulltime work soon after marrying William Cunningham in 1956. However, the couple experienced financial difficulties for the next decade as William pursued higher education, and Elizabeth took on occasional part-time work in programming and writing for magazines in addition to caring for their six children. Between 1958 and 1965 the family lived in the Schuylkill Falls public housing complex, apart from the 1960-1961 academic year, when they briefly moved to Tennessee while William finished his bachelor's degree. As Elizabeth "cheerfully" said in a 1964 newspaper article, "We didn't starve but we came close" ("All East Falls Takes Pride," Germantown Courier, 1964-06-11).

Elizabeth and William joined the Society of Friends in 1958 through Green Street Monthly Meeting; they had previously been active in the United Church of Christ and Presbyterian Church, respectively. The couple's early exposure to Quakerism came through Friends Weekend Workcamps, in which they remained active after their conversion. Elizabeth began working as an accountant for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1980 and took part in a staff exchange with London Yearly Meeting from 1988 to 1989. Shortly after her return she was promoted to Associate Secretary and served in the position until 1992. She later worked as an accountant for Tenants Action Group. Elizabeth died June 11, 2020.

William Alexander "Bill" Cunningham (1930-2019) was a convinced Friend and philosophy professor from Philadelphia who spent much of his career at Cheyney University. He was active in various social concerns.

William was the eldest child of Alexander and Elise Cunningham of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. He grew up as a Presbyterian, and as a young man he briefly pursued a career in that church's ministry. William attended Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, where he was active in the choir and studied religion and philosophy, but he left school around 1955 before completing his degree requirements. In 1956 he married Elizabeth Ault, and in 1958 the couple joined the Society of Friends. William's difficulty finding employment and the birth of the couple's first three children spurred him to return to Maryville, finishing his degree in 1961 with a major in philosophy and minor in music. On returning to Philadelphia, he enrolled in master's degrees in religion and philosophy at Temple University, completing them in 1964. William spent the next several years working in Temple's financial aid office, and in 1969 he obtained a position in the philosophy department of Cheyney University, where he taught until 1994. He died January 16, 2019.

Elizabeth and William had six children together: William Alexander Jr. ("Sandy"), David, Judy, Andrew, and twins Philip and Jonathan. Sandy (1957-1962) died at the age of 5 after the snowsuit he was wearing caught fire. His parents sued the manufacturers of the garment.

Jennie Ault (1906-1995) was the mother of Elizabeth Ault Cunningham. Jennie was born June, 1906, in Philadelphia to Nicholas and Elizabeth Fuehrer. She ran the Merry Shop, a toy and gift store on Frankford Avenue, from 1936 until about 1981, taking over full management of the store after her husband Elmer's death in 1948. Jennie was a founding member of St. Stephen's United Church of Christ and played organ there and at Frankford Baptist Church. She spent most of her life in Philadelphia, but several years before her death she moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, where one of her daughters lived. Jennie died in Lawton on November 10, 1995.


1.25 linear ft. (3 boxes)

Language of Materials



Elizabeth Cunningham (1934-2020) was a Quaker who held administrative positions at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the 1980s and 1990s. He husband William Cunningham (1930-2019) was a philosophy professor at Cheyney University. This collection documents the couple's lives, as well as that of Elizabeth's mother Jennie Ault, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s.


  1. Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Correspondence
  3. Papers
  4. Visual material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Judy and Michael Van Hoy, FHL Acc. 2016.051.

Related Materials

Judy and Michael Van Hoy Papers. SFHL-RG5-341.

General Secretary, General Services, Financial, and Administration of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Records. Series 17, Associate Secretary's Office: Elizabeth Cunningham. QM-Phy-325.

Friends' Workcamp Program Records. QM-Phy-774

Processing Information

The donor, Judy Van Hoy, organized and annotated this collection before giving it to Friends Historical Library. Repository staff further processed the collection in 2022.

Elizabeth Cunningham family papers
James Truitt
2022 February
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA