Penick-Worthen-Brandon Family Papers Now Open to Researchers

Women of the Penick, Worthen, and Brandon families: Mollie Peay Worthen in the center, with her daughter, Mary Worthen Penick (right), and her granddaughter, Mary “Cissie” Penick Brandon (left).

This collection contains documents, photographs, scrapbooks, and memorabilia related to the family of James H. Penick Sr. and Mary Booker Worthen Penick, including histories of both the Penick and the Worthen families, as well as the couple’s descendants. The material in this collection spans seven generations (listed below) and 180 years, beginning in the early days of Little Rock’s history and ending with the dawn of the twenty-first century.

  1. Louisa Booker Worthen, 1827–1895
  2. Louisa’s son, William B. Worthen, 1852–1911, and his wife, Mollie Peay Worthen, 1856–1944;
  3. their daughter, Mary Booker Worthen Penick, 1899–1950, and her husband, James H. Penick Sr., 1897–1975;
  4. the children of Mary and James Penick, including Edward; James Jr.; and Mary, nicknamed “Cissie”;
  5. Louisa Brandon, the daughter of Cissie Penick Brandon and her husband, Walter N. Brandon Jr.;
  6. Brandon Barker, son of Louisa Brandon Barker and her husband, John Barker,
  7. and, finally, Grace Alexandria Barker, born in 1999 to Brandon Barker and his wife, Jennifer.

This collection complements other collections held by the Butler Center that record the story of Worthen Bank and the role played in that history by the men of the Worthen and Penick families. As intriguing than this business history, however, is the record of personal experiences and family histories preserved by several generations of the Worthen, Penick, and Brandon families. Of particular interest are journals kept by three women in the family, each telling of an important time in Little Rock’s history.

The oldest item is a daybook begun by Louisa Booker Worthen in 1843, when she was sixteen years old and still living in Kentucky. The book contains lists of the births, marriages, and deaths in the Booker family. Louisa writes that she joined the Presbyterian Church in October 1849, married George Worthen a few weeks later, and moved with him to Little Rock. Louisa collected obituaries, as well as items of news and inspiration, and wrote of her spiritual journey. She died on March 29, 1895, at the home of her son, William B. Worthen and his wife, Mollie Peay Worthen. Following her death, someone added Louisa’s obituary to the book.

The second item of special interest is a diary kept in 1914 by Louisa’s granddaughter, Mary Booker Worthen. Mary—along with her mother, Mollie Peay Worthen, and her sister Louisa—toured Europe with a guide during that summer. The tour took them to Berlin at the end of July, and they were stranded there briefly when war broke out. Diary entries describe the crowds on the streets and at the cathedral, as well as sightings of the Kaiser. Other items in the collection tell of the challenges the group faced in being able to leave Germany. They finally returned to Little Rock in late September.

The third diary included in the collection was kept by the original Louisa’s great-great-granddaughter, Louisa Brandon, the daughter of Mary “Cissie” Penick Brandon and her husband, Walter N. Brandon Jr. Louisa was set to begin her sophomore year at Central High School in the fall of 1958. In this journal, begun in September of that year, she describes the confusion and frustration she and her friends experienced when schools were closed to avoid integration. She is frank in her criticism of the segregationist forces and political leaders such as Orval Faubus and Dale Alford. The journal ends with entries written after she graduated from Hall High School in 1961, as she is getting ready to leave for Swarthmore College.

Note: Mary “Cissie” Penick Brandon was well known in Little Rock and active in philanthropy. Her name appears most often in news reports as Sissy Brandon.

In addition to these three diaries, the collection contains family correspondence, scrapbooks, biographical narratives, photographs, and memorabilia that tell the story of three remarkable families important to the business, social, political, and philanthropic history of Little Rock.

Researchers can access this collection in the CALS Roberts Library Research Room, and the finding aid is available online here.

Related collections:

MSS.99.04, James H. Penick Collection

MSS.08.06, Worthen Bank Records

MSS.11.73, Charles E. Wade Worthen Bank Collection

 

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