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Charles F. and Rhoda M. Coffin Collection

Identifier: FMS-1

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of correspondence, genealogical materials, speeches, essays, newspaper clippings, autobiographical materials, and photographs.  The collection has been ranged into fourteen series.  It is rich in material on the history of American Quakerism in the nineteenth century, prison reform, and Richmond and Wayne County, Indiana.  It appears that Charles F. Coffin identified many of the materials that he wanted Earlham to receive, and the remainder was apparently selected by the Coffin sons, especially Percival B. Coffin, to present their parents as they wished them remembered. Series I, “Correspondence Received, 1856-1919,” consists of letters written mainly to Charles F. Coffin.  The overwhelming majority dates from after 1890.  Correspondents of special interest include Oliver P. Morton, George W. Julian, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, Henry Stanley Newman, Joseph G. Cannon, Harlow Lindley, Rufus M. Jones, Elbert Russell, and Robert P. and Hannah Whitall Smith.  Series II consists of “Letters Sent, 1841-1915,” all by Charles.  It appears that Charles did not routinely keep copies of outgoing correspondence until about 1890. Series III, “Autobiography and Reminiscence,” consists of works by Charles.  It includes his autobiography, notes on a journey to Philadelphia in 1844 (the original of which is at Swarthmore), and “Presidents I Have Known.”  Series IV, “Biographical Sketches and Reminiscences,”consists of memories and brief biographies by Charles of relatives and well-known Friends, all apparently composed after 1890. Series V consists of material on “Reform and Humanitarian Work” by Charles and Rhoda.  It includes correspondence, essays, clippings, printed materials, and other materials arranged topically: death penalty, Friends and reform in Indiana, the Richmond Home for the Friendless, Indian affairs, and Prison reform.  Series VI, “Quaker Activities and Subjects,” includes histories of local and yearly meetings, Quaker institutions and organizations, Earlham College, and Quaker events in which the Coffins participated.  Series VII deals with the Coffins’ non-Quaker religious activities. Series VIII consists of local history materials, clippings and reminiscences by Charles on topics including the National Road, Wayne and Henry counties, Indiana, antislavery, and eastern Indiana pioneers.  Series IX, on the Richmond bank failure, includes manuscript materials and clippings, including Charles’s defense of his actions and a lengthy and intensely critical letter from Timothy Nicholson to Thomas Kimber about the bank failure.  Series X consists of miscellaneous newspaper clippings. Series XI and XII contain materials relating to Rhoda M. Coffin.  Series XI includes correspondence, miscellaneous manuscript writings, and publications.  Series XII consists of two volumes of letters of condolence and appreciation received upon her death in 1909. Series XIII is oversize ledgers and materials.  These include Charles’s autobiography, collections of speeches and articles, typescripts of family papers assembled by Percival, scrapbooks, a photograph album, and the Indiana Yearly Meeting Book Agency Day Book 1831-1851. Series XIV consists of seven boxes of pamphlets, numbered 1 through 7.  These include memorials and Quaker publications. Of particular interest are the annual reports of the Richmond Home for the Friendless.  At the time of their donation, they were designated: “The Charles F. and Rhoda M. Coffin Memorial Library.”


  • 1831-1919
  • Other: Date acquired: 00/00/1917


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some materials may be protected by copyright. Permission to reproduce and to publish for commercial purposes must be requested from the Archivist.

Biographical or Historical Information

Charles Fisher Coffin was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, April 3, 1823, the second of the seven children of Elijah and Naomi (Hiatt) Coffin.  In 1824, the Coffin family and other relatives moved to Wayne County, Indiana, where Elijah Coffin kept a store in Milton.  They then lived for a year in Cincinnati, before settling in Richmond, Indiana, in 1834, where Elijah was cashier of the branch of the State Bank of Indiana. Charles F. Coffin was educated in Quaker schools before entering his father’s bank.  When its charter expired in 1859, it was reorganized as the Citizens Banks, then the Richmond National Bank.  He served as president from organization until 1884. In 1847, Charles F. Coffin married Rhoda Moorman Johnson, the daughter of John and Judith (Faulkner) Johnson.  She was born in Greene County, Ohio, Feb. 1, 1826, the fifth of seven children.  She was educated in Quaker schools.  They were the parents of six children, five of whom, all sons, lived to maturity. After their marriage, both became active in Quaker affairs.  In 1857, Charles was selected to succeed his father as clerk of Indiana Yearly Meeting.  He was recorded a minister in 1866, and Rhoda in 1867. The Coffins took a wide interest in Quaker affairs and humanitarian causes.  They were among the founders of the South Fifth (later South Eighth) Street Friends Meeting in 1864, and active in Quaker work for the freed people and Native Americans.  They became especially well known for their advocacy of prison reform.  Both were also active in temperance work. In the summer of 1884, the Richmond National Bank failed, and all of the Coffins’ fortune was lost.  Charles and Rhoda moved to Chicago, where he became an agent for the Provident Life Insurance Company, a Philadelphia Quaker firm.  The circumstances of the bank failure were so questionable, however, that early in 1886 Whitewater Monthly Meeting disowned Charles for bad business practices.  He was quickly received back into membership by the Orthodox Friends Meeting in Chicago.  The Coffins continued to be active in prison reform and temperance, and Rhoda continued to travel as a Friends minister.  After 1895, Charles became privately supportive of a younger generation of modernist Friends, such as Rufus M. Jones and Elbert Russell. Rhoda M. Coffin died in Chicago, September 29, 1909.  Charles lived until August 9, 1916.  Both are buried in Earlham Cemetery in Richmond.

Note written by


14 boxes Boxes

5.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Correspondence, genealogy, autobiographical material, speeches, newspaper clippings, and photographs documenting the lives of Charles F. and Rhoda M. (Johnson) Coffin, 1831-1917.  Charles and Rhoda were Orthodox Quaker ministers with international reputations in prison reform.  Charles was a banker in Richmond, Indiana, and the clerk of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Orthodox Friends from 1857 to 1884.

Method of Acquisition

The main body of material was donated in 1917 by the children of Charles F. and Rhoda M. Coffin, although it is possible that some items had been deposited at Earlham earlier.

Accruals and Additions

Letters written by Charles F. Coffin to Parker cousins were added between 1957 and 1961. A few items, such as letters to Samuel Bettle, were added through subsequent purchase from Guy Bishop of Colonial Heights, Va.  Opal Thornburg, Earlham archivist, 1958-1975, also added materials she thought relevant, especially concerning the Richmond National Bank failure in 1884.

Related Materials

A significant collection of Coffin family papers is in the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, apparently consisting of materials that Percival B. Coffin retained after the donation to Earlham.  It fell into the hands of a niece of his wife, who donated it to Swarthmore in 1961.

Archon Finding Aid Title
Emily Smith, 1994; William M. Fuson, 2003; and Thomas D. Hamm, 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Friends Collection and Earlham College Archives Repository