An interesting document found in the archives of the Hagen History Center from Booker T. Washington is a handwritten thank-you note to Mrs. R.S. (Charlotte) Battles and the R.S. Battles Bank of Girard, Pennsylvania. Dated April 22, 1912, the letter is a short thank you for a donation to The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama. Charlotte Battles was the widow of Rush S. Battles(1833-1904), a prominent banker, farmer and businessman in Girard. Her daughhter Charlotte Elizabeth took over as the head of the bank and refused to close it in accordance with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order in 1933. The Battles’ homestead, today owned and maintained by the Hagen History Center remains a tribute to one of Erie County’s leading families.
The short letter is interesting for its letterhead and the signature of Booker T. Washington but also its content. The Board of Trustees includes such prominent names as Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States and then candidate for President under the banner of his Bull Moose Party.
Charlotte Battles, sister of Rush Battles’ partner Charles M. Webster, was known for her philanthropy, religious and educational interests. The letter is in effect a thank you letter from Wasnington for a contribution Charlotte Battles made to The Tuskegee Institute, evidence of her progressive thinking and support of education, even far away from Girard.
Booker T. Washington was at that time the principal of the Tuskegee Institute. The goal of the institute founded in 1881, as part of a deal between Black leader Lewis Adams and a former Confederate officer Col. W. F. Foster. Adams would help secure Black votes for Foster in return fo money from the state of Alabamba to start a college for Black men. The Tuskegee Institue, today Tuskegee University, was born. Washington and others travelled throughout the United States, promoting the mission of the school. Perhaps Charlotte Battles heard one of these talks.
The school would gain increased fame during Worl War II when it became home to a U. S. Army Air Corps training center for Black pilots and crewmen. The famous “Tuskegee Airmen” would amass a very impressive record of success in the still segregated military.
Mrs. R.S. Battles
R.S. Battles Bank,
I am writing to acknowledge and to thank you for the contribution in your favor of some days ago, and to thank you for the generous spirit which prompted you to send it.
I believe that the results of the work of our graduates and former students in all parts of the South will convince you of the wisdom of your investment.
I enclose here with our treasurer’s receipt, and thank you again for your help and interest.
Booker T. Washington Principal.