Guide to the George Arthur Roberts Family Papers, 1884-[1970s] and undated (bulk 1907-[1950s])
The George Arthur Roberts Family Papers span the years from 1884 until the late 1970s (primarily the first half of the twentieth century), and consist largely of visual documents, including photographs, photograph albums, slides, and negatives; a collection of postcards and a small amount of printed material are also included. While the majority of the images are unidentified, they provide a rich and extensive pictorial record of the activities of pioneer Methodist missionaries, the early missions they established, and the personal experience and growth of one missionary family in this setting. George Arthur Roberts' memoir Let Me Tell You a Story..., copies of which are included in the collection, describes life as lived by these early missionaries and contrasts them with conditions in 1964, the time of its writing. In addition to documenting aspects of missionary history, the Roberts papers also depict the landscapes and peoples of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and surrounding areas, particularly the Umtali region (now Mutare), at a time when they remained relatively untouched by western influence. The Papers are organized into the following series based on format: the Photographic Prints Series, Postcards Series, Printed Material Series, Negatives Series, Slides Series, and the Photograph Albums Series.
The Photographic Prints Series and the Slides Series comprise the bulk of the collection. Both series have been organized into the following subseries: People, Mission Activities, and African Scenes/Landscapes. The People Subseries contains numerous portraits of African men, women, and children; missionaries; and primarily the Roberts family themselves, including photos likely taken on various trips both within Africa and to other locations including the United States, Europe, and Asia. Of particular note in the People Subseries are a group of prints of the visit of the British Queen Mother and Elizabeth II to Melsetter Junction in 1948. The Mission Activities Subseries contains images of such school- and church-related events as conferences and gatherings, construction of mission buildings, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Some of the original prints used to illustrate Roberts' Let Me Tell You A Story... can also be found. There is little overlap, in terms of identical images, between the prints and slides series.
The Negatives Series contains 27 rolls of 35mm film, likely dating from the 1950s, from which contact sheets have been made. While the contact sheets are open for research, the master negative rolls themselves are closed to patron use. The series also includes some cut 35mm negative frames and a few medium-format negatives which are open for research. The subject matter of the negatives is similar to that of the Photographic Prints Series and the Slides Series. The majority of the images in this series do not appear to duplicate images found in previous series.
The Photograph Album Series consists of three bound photograph albums, containing a rich variety of images. The collection also includes an extensive Postcards Series, 1918-1965 and undated, from locations largely within Africa but also in Europe, Asia, and North America. The Printed Materials Series contains two copies of Let Me Tell You A Story..., George Arthur Roberts' memoir, and other mission-related material.
- Collection Number
- George Arthur Roberts Family papers
- 1884-1970s and undated, bulk 1907-1950s
- Roberts, George Arthur, 1882-
- 4.6 Linear Feet, 2240 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research, with the exception of original negatives, where contact sheets have been made for patron access.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], George Arthur Roberts Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Because the majority of prints were no longer in their original order, this series was organized into the following subseries based on content: People, Mission Activities, and African Scenes/Landscapes. While most of the slides and prints are uncaptioned, a number have identifying information hand-written on them, including some very detailed accounts. The captions appear to have been written primarily by Bertha Roberts and Lulu Tubbs Roberts.
This subseries is the largest, and includes portraits of African men, women, and children; missionaries; and primarily the Roberts family themselves. The Roberts family portraits cover not only their time in Rhodesia, but also include later locations and generations. Tudor and Mary Elma Roberts both married and had children; Tudor and his wife, Emelie Roberts, stayed in Africa as missionaries, while Mary Roberts married Richard Clark and settled initially in Hawaii. The earliest photographs are albumen prints of Bertha Fowles as an infant and of her parents.
People also includes photos likely taken by the Robertses on various trips to the United States, including a visit to Mary Elma in Hawaii, Asia, Europe, Australia, and other locations. Also of note are a group of prints of the visit of the British Queen Mother and Elizabeth II to Melsetter Junction in 1948, where they were introduced to George Roberts.
This subseries contains images of school- and church-related events, conferences and gatherings, construction of mission buildings, agriculture, and animal husbandry, among other practices. Included in this subseries are some groupings of pictures as they were originally arranged, pertaining to Bible Schools, various mission locations including Nyadiri, Old Umtali, and Sunnyside, and a folder containing some of the original prints used to illustrate Roberts' Let Me Tell You A Story..., the contents of which overlap with other established subseries.
Includes various images of African village scenes, wildlife, and tourist areas (1 folder).
Includes a Roberts family portrait, landscape shots, and a large print (in 2 pieces) of African women attending a mission conference.
The majority of the postcards depict African locations, including Umtali, Salisbury, and other areas in Rhodesia; Cape Town, East London, and Gordon's Bay in South Africa; Gordon's Bay; and Victoria Falls. A few also feature Africans, wildlife, and mission scenes. Other postcards are from locations outside Africa, presumably reflecting the Roberts family's travels. Locales include Hong Kong, Europe (England, France, Portugal, and Italy), the Middle East, the United States, Canada, Trinidad, and St. Lucia. Significantly, a small number of postcards in the series were written and mailed, primarily to/from Lulu Tubbs Roberts and Bertha Fowles Roberts. They pertain mostly to travel and family news, and provide examples of first-person written observation otherwise scarce in the collection (outside of G. A. Roberts' published book).
The series comprises two inscribed copies of Let Me Tell You A Story... by G. A. Roberts, two pamphlets by Lulu Tubbs Roberts regarding the Sunnyside retreat and bible study at the Rhodesian missions, and miscellaneous clippings.
This series contains 27 intact rolls of 35mm film, some 35mm film cut into individual frames, as well as a small number of medium-format negatives. Image content includes mission-sponsored gatherings, construction, and agriculture; portraits of African families and other groups, of the Roberts family, and of other missionaries; and various scenes of African life and landscapes. Contact sheets are available for the 35mm rolls of master negatives (closed to patron use), but not for the cut frames or the medium-format negatives (open for research). Arranged by format.
Prints made from original 27 rolls of black-and-white 35mm film (in Box 4, closed to patron use); subject matter includes mission-sponsored conferences and activities, agriculture, events (including weddings), portraits of Africans, portraits of missionaries (including members of the Roberts family), and African scenes/landscapes.
Consists of 19 negatives depicting agricultural scenes and livestock, including images of African men carrying a pig tied to a pole.
This series contains images largely of the same content as the Photographic Prints Series described above, and has been arranged into the same subseries. Portraits, travel photos, documentation of mission-related activities, and various African scenes are included.
Contains images from family visits to locations including Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Mauritius, and Hawaii, as well as within Africa (Congo, Victoria Falls).
The albums contain images from all of the categories included in the above series: portraits, mission activities, and African scenes.
George Arthur Roberts born in Marathon, Iowa
George Roberts received BSA from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
George Roberts became a Methodist Episcopal missionary, based at the United Methodist Church of Marathon, Iowa; sent to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Africa, and began work at Old Umtali (now Mutare)
Roberts married fellow missionary Bertha Fowles
Twin sons, Tudor and Thomas Roberts, born
Moved to Mutambara mission, Umtali
Daughter, Mary Elma, born
Moved to Nyadiri mission, Umtali
Retired from missionary work to a farm near the Mutambara mission
Bertha Fowles Roberts died; George Roberts remarried a retired local missionary, Lulu Tubbs
George Roberts wrote Let Me Tell You a Story...
George and Lulu Tubbs Roberts returned to America and lived at the Penney Farms Retirement Community in Clay County, Florida
|1973, July 29||
George Roberts died in Marathon, Iowa
At Old Umtali, George Arthur Roberts took charge of agricultural training for the recently-established mission. There he taught various subjects at mission schools and conducted projects and experiments, including instituting animal husbandry and introducing a variety of food crops, as well as serving as blacksmith and resident tooth-puller.
The birth of twin boys to Roberts and his first wife, Bertha Fowles Roberts, bore significance due to the apparent local tribal custom calling for twins to be killed at birth, as they were viewed as portents of evil that would cause the deaths of their parents. The Robertses provided an example in opposition to this custom, resulting in increased acceptance of twins in the region. Bertha Fowles Roberts (1883-1957), a native of Oregon, had responsibility for mission bookkeeping and other office duties, as well as teaching and organizing women's conferences.
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The George Arthur Roberts Family Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1998.
Processed by Elizabeth Arnold
Completed February 20, 2004
Encoded by Elizabeth Arnold