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Margaret L. Coit Papers

Identifier: MSS 0035

Scope and Contents

The Margaret L. Coit Papers date from 1864 to 2003, with the majority of materials falling between 1921 and 1999. Formats include clippings, letters, manuscripts, personal notes, official documents, photographs, printed materials, diaries, ephemera, scrapbooks, and audio recordings. These materials document Coit's career as an author and historian, and reflect her lifelong interest in the history and culture of the American South and of New England, and her fascination with political and literary figures from both regions. These materials also provide insight into Coit's personal relationships with family and friends.

Coit always planned to write her autobiography, and materials that document her life story are found in the Biographical Materials Series, which dates from 1919 to 1999, (bulk 1930s to 1990s) and includes personal notes, news clippings, diaries, drawings, government-issued documents, and notes for her will. Furthermore, photographs of Coit can be found in the Special Formats Series.

Materials relating to Coit's study and teaching of history can also be found in the Biographical Materials Series (diplomas, grades, syllabi), as well as the Correspondence Series (academic correspondence), and the Special Formats Series (recordings of lectures).

Coit's career as an author is documented in the Writings and Related Materials Series, which dates from the 1920s to 2000 (bulk 1950s to 1980s) and consists of typed and handwritten manuscripts, clippings and other publicity materials, and research notes. This series is divided into published books, unpublished books, and non-book writings. Published books for which we have materials include: The Fight for Union; John C. Calhoun, American Portrait; John C. Calhoun, Great Lives Observed; Massachusetts; and Mr. Baruch. Unpublished books cover topics such as the American civil war, political conservatism, religious fundamentalism, hatred, Andrew Jackson, and the American South. Non-book writings include book reviews, childhood writing, college writing, newspaper articles, notebooks, and short prose pieces. Additional information on Coit's work as a writer can be found in the letters to and from her publishers in the Correspondence Series.

Coit's personal relationships are documented in her letters to and from family and friends in the Correspondence Series as well as the series devoted to her husband, Albert Elwell. The Albert Elwell Series dates from 1899 to 1992 and includes correspondence, clippings, notes on their relationship, and writings both about and by Elwell. Furthermore, photographs of Coit's family and friends, including Elwell, can be found in the Special Formats Series.

The author's varied interests, including her family history, literary figures such as Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams, political figures such as John F. Kennedy, her adopted hometown of West Newbury, and the various writers' conferences at which she studied and taught, are documented in the Subject Files Series, which dates from 1864 to 1992 (bulk 1940s to 1990s).


  • 1864 - 2003
  • Majority of material found within 1921 - 1999


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information. Please see our Sensitive Materials Statement.

Biographical or Historical Information

Margaret Louise Coit was born 30 May 1919 in Norwich, Connecticut, to Archa Willoughby Coit, a stockbroker, and Grace Coit (nee Trow), the principal of a private day school. Two years later, Margaret's sister Grace was born with Down Syndrome. Caring for Grace would take up much of Coit's adult life.

At the start of the Great Depression, Coit's family moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where Coit attended Curry School, a training school located on the grounds of Woman's College (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, or UNCG). Coit graduated Curry High in 1937 and went on to study history and English at Woman's College, where she edited the college magazine, wrote for the school paper, and studied with professors such as Caroline Tate and Mildred Gould.

Meanwhile, Coit's parents had moved to West Newbury, Massachusetts, and after graduating in 1941, she moved north to work as a reporter for the newspapers of surrounding towns -- the Lawrence Daily Eagle, Newburyport Daily News, and Haverhill Gazette. Over the next nine years, Coit also performed extensive research on South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, in whom she had developed an interest while still a school child at Curry. John C. Calhoun, American Portrait was published to critical acclaim in 1950, and Coit was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1951.

As a result of the critical acclaim for Calhoun, Coit won a staff appointment to the University of New Hampshire Writers Conference, where she met Lloyd Haberly, a poet and the new Dean of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Haberly invited Coit to teach at the university's Rutherford branch, where she began as a visiting writer in the English department in 1950, then became a professor of social science.

Over the next decade Coit would also teach at the University of Colorado and Breadloaf writers conferences, and write articles and reviews for various national publications, such as Look, the Saturday Review, the Nation, and American Heritage. In 1959 Woman's College bestowed upon Coit an honorary Doctor of Letters.

Coit's treatment of Calhoun also drew the attention of Bernard Baruch, who requested she write his biography next. Coit spent seven years working closely with Baruch, combing through his personal papers and interviewing his associates, among them top political figures of the day. Unfortunately, Baruch did not agree with the final product, and withdrew permission to quote from his personal papers and friends. However, the attorneys at Houghton Mifflin gave the go-ahead, and Mr. Baruch was published in 1957. It was named a Book of the Month selection by the National Council of Women in 1958. Although Baruch later extended an olive branch to Coit, her negative experience with writing a biography of a living person caused her to refuse to do so ever again; she even turned down an invitation to write the life story of Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she greatly admired.

In the 1960s, Coit found success writing historical non-fiction for children. In 1961 her Fight for Union won the Thomas Edison Award, and she followed that up with Andrew Jackson in 1965 and Massachusetts in 1967. She did not stick strictly to the youth market, however, and also managed to contribute two volumes, entitled The Growing Years: 1789-1829 and The Sweep Westward, to a Time-Life series on United States history, both in 1963. During this time, Coit also traveled overseas for the first time. In the summer of 1964, she sailed to the United Kingdom to deliver talks on the American political scene.

In 1970 Coit was recruited to edit Calhoun: Great Lives Observed. In 1977 Phi Alpha Theta conferred membership upon her for "conspicuous attainments and scholarship in the field of history." In 1978, Coit married farmer and politician Albert Elwell, whom she had first met at a West Newbury town meeting in 1954, and moved to Strawberry Hill Farm, where she helped tend the land and care for Albert's five grandchildren. Although almost eighty years old, Albert remained very active in local politics, and Margaret (now Margaret Coit Elwell) herself served as moderator at town meetings.

Although Margaret did not publish any books in the 1980s, she continually researched and wrote about topics that interested her. She worked on an adult-level book about Andrew Jackson and spent years developing a book entitled The South Joins the Union; though it was never finished, she did teach a course of that same name in 1981. In 1984, Margaret was given the Rutherford Campus Faculty Award to recognize her years of teaching at Fairleigh Dickinson. Soon after, she retired in order to find work closer to home, and from 1985 to 1987 she taught a course on the American presidency at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown.

Margaret Coit died in 2003.


11.30 Linear Feet (26 boxes)

Language of Materials



Margaret Louise Coit (1919-2003) was a historian, journalist and college professor best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, John C. Calhoun, American Portrait, published in 1950.

The Margaret L. Coit Papers date from 1864 to 2003, with the majority of materials falling between 1921 and 1999. Formats include clippings, letters, manuscripts, personal notes, official documents, photographs, printed materials, diaries, ephemera, scrapbooks, and audio recordings. These materials document Coit's career as an author and historian; reflect her lifelong interest in the history and culture of the American South and of New England; and provide insight into her personal relationships with family and friends.

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized into the following six series: Biographical Materials; Correspondence; Elwell, Albert; Subject Files; Writings and Related Materials; and Special Formats.

Method of Acquisition

Gift of the author in 1972.

Related Materials

The University Archives and Manuscripts at UNCG house the following books by Coit: John C. Calhoun, American Portrait, 1950; Mr. Baruch, 1957; The Fight for Union, 1961; Andrew Jackson, 1965; and Massachusetts, 1967. University Archives also houses records pertaining to the student literary magazine, Coraddi, and the student newspaper, The Carolinian, both of which Coit worked for as an undergraduate. Furthermore, Coit was interviewed as part of the UNCG Department of History's Centennial Oral History Project, the tapes and transcripts of which are kept by University Archives.

Offensive Language Statement

The UNC Greensboro University Libraries collects, preserves, and makes accessible unique and historical materials for learning and research. The nature of historical materials is such that some material may represent positions, norms, and values that are offensive and objectionable. These materials represent the opinions and actions of their creators. By providing access to these records in our reading room and through our digital collections, we recognize that archives and rare books can play a vital role in holding those creators accountable and in helping us learn from the past.

Our finding aids and other collection descriptions may occasionally re-use language provided by creators or former holders of the materials, but we strive to place outdated or offensive terminology in context. That said, we recognize that we may not always make the right decision and welcome feedback from all sources so we can learn and adjust our practices. Please contact us at if you encounter problematic language in our finding aids or other collection description. We will review the language and, as appropriate, update it in a way that balances preservation of the original context with our ongoing commitment to describing materials with respectful and inclusive language.

Processing Information

Processed and encoded by Michelle Belden, June 2007.

Margaret L. Coit Papers
Michelle Belden
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Repository Details

Part of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives Repository

P.O. Box 26170
320 College Ave.
Greensboro NC 27402-6170 US