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Helen Bass Williams Personnel file

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 45, Placement: 09
Identifier: MSF 494

Scope and Contents

The collection includes Williams' personnel file, biographical information, and posthumously awarded Title IX Distinguished Service Award; none of Williams' personal papers are included in the collection.  The biographical information and posthumous award provide some indication of the lasting impact of Williams on Purdue University and its students, as well as her role in the Civil Rights movement and work for equity in health and education.  The personnel file primarily demonstrates the changes in her role at the university.  The archives also maintains a vertical file on Williams with clippings of various articles that have been written about her.  The collection would be useful to researchers interested in Helen Bass Williams, the Civil Rights movement, the institution of a Black Cultural Center, and African American student/ faculty life at Purdue.


  • 1968-2012
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1968-1981


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All copy rights belong to Purdue University.

Biographical or Historical Information

Helen Bass Williams (1916 - 1991) was a significant figure in the Civil Rights movement before coming to Purdue in 1968 as an instructor in French and a counselor in the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education (HSSE). Born and raised in rural southern Illinois, Ms. Williams earned two master's degrees, one in public health from North Central College in Durham, North Carolina, and the other in French and Education from Southern Illinois University. Williams worked throughout the South during the Martin Luther King Jr. era as a public health worker, educator, and civil rights leader. She was beaten, gassed, and jailed in Mississippi as she fought for freedom and civil rights. When Helen Bass Williams was hired as Purdue's first black faculty member in 1968 she brought to Purdue a living story of the Deep South during the civil rights era and the crisis facing America at the time. She served on committees that helped establish programs that reflected the University's commitment to change, including attempts to attract more minority students and faculty, develop more diverse course content, and create the Black Studies program. Her home near campus quickly became a welcoming place for many black students, whether for rented rooms, friendly meals, or conversation regarding concerns about the campus social climate and academic challenges. This informal nurturing role turned into an institutional one as Helen Bass Williams helped found what would become the Black Culture Center and The Learning Center. She also served on the first executive board of the Black Faculty and Staff Council in 1975. After retirement, Helen Bass Williams returned to her home in southern Illinois and passed away in 1991. In 1993, the Helen Bass Williams scholarship award was established as a tribute to her life and work.

Note written by


1.00 folders

0.1 cubic feet other_unmapped

1.00 mss._boxes

Language of Materials



Includes Williams' personnel file, biographical information, and posthumously awarded Title IX Distinguished Service Award

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged in a single series.

Method of Acquisition


Existence and Location of Originals

multi-part note content

Related Materials

Williams, Helen Bass: vertical file Frank M. Stewart Civil Rights recordings, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Related Publications

Kallstrom, Scott.  "Helen Bass Williams: Her Soft Voice Delivered Hard Truths." Purdue Alumnus. West Lafayette, November 1993.

Related Publications

O'Hara, Mary.  Let It Fly: the Legacy of Helen Bass Williams.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University (Theses and Dissertations), 2004. Retrieved from:


Helen Bass Williams Personnel file
In Progress
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States