Frances Mulkey Keys: Educator and Adventurer
Frances Mulkey Keys' collection in the Texas Woman’s University Special Collections is 10 cubic feet. That is 10 cubic feet of photographs, letters, address books, trinkets, handmade cards, graduation pamphlets, medical documents, and other ephemera. These items were donated by her daughter Kay Keys, but it is apparent that Frances had been collecting these items decades before they ever reached TWU’s campus. The massive collection truly gave me, the archivist, a detailed image of who Frances was and what her time on Earth looked like. As I selected items to feature in this collection, I chose things that would highlight the different facets of Frances.
Martha Frances Mulkey Keys was born to Homer and Sarah Mulkey on June 17, 1911, in Coleman, Texas. Frances had an older brother and a younger brother who was born only a few months prior to their father’s death. Sarah, who raised the children by herself, was a hero to Frances, which is apparent in her letter to Betty Crocker nominating her mother as an outstanding homemaker.
Frances graduated from The University of Texas in 1935 with a degree in English and began teaching in Wall, Texas that fall. Ten years later, Frances married Albert Keys, a furniture salesman, on August 30, 1945. They lived the majority of their lives in Wall. In December of 1947, Frances gave birth to her daughter, Kay Keys.
Frances had many interests and hobbies, including education, family histories and genealogy, homemaking, participating in the Los Hermanas Club, and keeping up with her Finnish pen pal. She passed away at the age of 76 on July 4, 1987, nearly ten years after traveling with her husband to Imatra, Finland to meet her pen pal.
During her lifetime, Frances wrote many letters and saved those that she received in return. She wrote to her mother, husband, friends, and employers about daily life as a working woman in Wall, Texas. The letters found within her collection provide insight into her time as a teacher, her interest in global friendship with her pen pal of 30 years, her experience as a pregnant woman with a doting mother, her romance with her husband, and her family history.
The creators of Moments of Inscription: The Lives of Women Through Their Letters utilized Jamie Ann Lee’s Queer/ed Archival Methodology. We believe that we are telling the “stories so far” of the women that we chose to feature within this collection (Lee 5). My goal in curating Frances Mulkey Keys’ subcollection was to provide a comprehensive picture of the many aspects of who this woman was. In other words, I wanted to tell a story about Frances Mulkey Keys, the story I witnessed as I went through her collection. Storytelling is one of the seven areas of focus within the Queer/ed Archival Methodology (Lee 13). I hope that people will be able to see the connections I made and construct a similar idea of who Frances is and was while viewing this subcollection.
Frances was a lifetime educator; even when she was not in her classroom in Wall, Texas she was educating those around her. It is apparent in the way she documents her life. In her letters, she constructed a narrative of her adventures and daily life in order to educate her mother, husband, and friends. The language she used was vivacious and meticulous. Reading her letters is an enjoyable experience, and I truly believe she is embodied within the beautiful blue ink on each handwritten letter.
So much can be learned from reading correspondence from a woman like Frances. I encourage you to allow yourself to be transported into Frances’ world and educated by her words as you peruse this subcollection.
Lee, Jamie Ann. “A Queer/ed Archival Methodology: Archival Bodies as Nomadic Subjects.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2017. doi:10.24242/jclis.v1i2.26.