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Glenn Cunningham collection

Creator: Cunningham, Glenn, 1909-1988

Date: 1888-2007 (bulk 1932-1988)

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Multimedia

Call Number: Ms. Coll. 904

Unit ID: 309360

Restrictions: None.

Biographical sketch: Distance runner, philanthropist. Of Kansas; Perry County, Conway, Ark. Full name: Glenn Verniss Cunningham.

Abstract: Includes photographs, interviews, speeches, letters, Christmas letters (1955-1985), newspaper clippings, telegrams, school notebooks, films, audio recordings, articles about him, awards, programs, and artwork. Included is a letter written by the wife of 1 of the doctors who treated him after he was badly burned in a school fire describing her recollection of his treatment. Also contains papers of his wife Ruth Sheffield Cunningham and research notes, copies of source materials, & the draft text of a biography of him by Myra Lockwood Brown.

Space Required/Quantity:
Textual records: 6 ft. (11 boxes : 1 oversize)
Audio-visual records: 5 motion pictures (5 film reels), 1 sound cassette (30 minutes) : analog

Title (Main title): Glenn Cunningham collection

Titles (Other):

  • Collection
  • Glenn Cunningham papers

Language note: Text is mostly in English; accompanying publications in part in German, Swedish, Czech, Japanese, and Hungarian.


Biog. Sketch (Full):


Glenn Cunningham (August 4, 1909 – March 10, 1988) was born in Atlanta, Kansas, but grew up in Elkhart, Kansas, to Henry Clinton Cunningham and Rosa Agnes Cunningham. Glenn Cunningham's legs were severely burned in an explosion at his schoolhouse when he was eight and his brother Floyd was thirteen. Floyd died in the fire. When the doctors recommended amputating Glenn's legs, he was so distressed his parents would not allow it. The doctors predicted he might never walk normally again. However, his great determination, coupled with hours upon hours of a new type of therapy, enabled him to gradually regain the ability to walk and to proceed to run. It was in the early summer of 1919 when he first tried to walk again, roughly two years after the accident. He overcame this adversity by running and winning races in high school. After high school, he attended the University of Kansas where he received a B.A. in 1933. During this time, he competed in the 1932 Summer Olympics. In 1936, he received a M.A. from the University of Iowa and competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Cunningham later attended New York University where he received a PhD. Cunningham taught physical education at Cornell College from 1940 to 1944 and then served in the navy for two years. In 1947 he established the Glenn Cunningham Youth Ranch, at which he helped troubled youths over a period of more than 30 years.

A few of his accomplishments:
Cunningham won the Sullivan medal in 1933 for his various running achievements in middle distance.
In the 1932 Olympics he took 4th place in the 1500 meters, and in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he took silver in the 1500 meters.
In 1934, he set the world record for the mile run at 4:06.8, which stood for three years.
In 1936, he set the world record in the 800 meter run.
In 1938, he set a world record in the indoor mile run of 4:04.4.

He retired from competition in 1940.

A full chronology of his life may be found in the detailed description of his papers, Section 1, at http://www.kshs.org/archives/312681


Ruth Maxine Sheffield was born 11 June 1923 in Storm Lake, Iowa. She studied music and graduated from high school in 1940. She attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, graduating in 1944 with a bachelors degree in physical education. After college, she taught physical education. Wanting more musical training, she moved to Emporia, Kansas, where her uncle was a college teacher.

While there she became reacquainted with Glenn Cunningham (1909-1988), who had been a faculty member at Cornell. They married 29 June 1947 at Storm Lake, Iowa. They had ten children.

They first lived outside Emporia, then moved to his ranch in Chase County, Kansas, in 1950. There they began working with troubled children. They moved to Butler County, Kansas, in 1960; to Perry County, Arkansas, in 1973; and to Conway, Arkansas, in 1976. As well as helping Glenn with children, she was an avid genealogist.

Glenn died 10 March 1988. After his death, she did missionary work in Germany, compiled genealogical information, organized Glenn's papers, and collaborated on a biography of him. She lived in Conway; Hot Springs, Arkansas; and Tuscon, Arizona.

She died in Tucson on 7 January 2008 and was buried with Glenn in Crestlake Memorial Park in Conway.

Additional biographical information may be found in the detailed description of her papers, Section 2, at http://www.kshs.org/archives/312704


Myra Amanda Lockwood was born on 17 August 1889 in Baldwin City, Kansas. Myra graduated in 1911 from Baker University in Baldwin City with a bachelor of arts degree and earned a master of arts degree in English from Baker the following year. She taught at both the high school and college levels.

She married Jardwin Emmet Brown (1878-1963) on 24 August 1921. She was noted as an author, poet, and educator who wrote extensively on a wide variety of topics pertaining to the Flint Hills region of Kansas.

Emmet died in 1963, and Myra moved to El Dorado. She died there on 3 September 1970. At the time of her death, she was compiling information for a book-length biography of Glenn Cunningham to be published by William Morrow and Company. She is buried with Emmet in Blankenship Cemetery in Butler County.

Additional information about her may be found in the description of her Cunningham papers, Section 3, at http://www.kshs.org/archives/312705

Scope and Content

Scope and content:

This collection contains expansive documentation on the life of Glenn Cunningham, known worldwide for his running prowess despite childhood injuries that left him unable to walk and, later in his life, for his work with troubled children. The collection focuses on his track and field achievements, his efforts rehabilitating young people, and his career as a public speaker. The material includes photographs, some correspondence, interviews by and about him, speeches, awards, programs, telegrams, school notebooks, films, audio recordings, autobiographical and biographical sketches, artwork, financial records, magazine articles, and newspaper clippings about Glenn Cunningham, his achievements as a world record holder middle distance runner, and his work with children. Included is information about his early life, schooling, track and field competitions, press coverage, jobs, military service, honors and awards, friends and family, Youth Ranch, speeches and public appearances, and death and legacy.

The papers of Ruth Cunningham include letters received and newspaper clippings and stories about her, her family, her hometown--Storm Lake, Iowa--as well as information on a trip to Germany and her last residence: Tucson, Arizona. Also included is a biographical essay about her written by her daughter Cindy for a university class. The collection also contains biographical and genealogical information Ruth compiled and wrote about Glenn and his family. Other biographical information on Glenn may be found in his papers, Section 1, and those of Myra Lockwood Brown, his biographer, in Section 3.

The papers of Myra Brown in this collection consist of letters received, research notes, transcripts of interviews, articles about Glenn Cunningham by her and others, and the draft text of a biography she was writing about him for William Morrow and Company at the time of her death.

The collection was donated partially organized. Ruth, and possibly other family members, organized some of the voluminous clippings and articles about Glenn into notebooks, envelopes, and folders. However many similar, and sometimes duplicate, items were loose or in folders without any discernible arrangement. Some of these folders were labeled accurately; others were not.

In arranging and describing the collection, every attempt was made to preserve the contents and original order of those notebooks and folders where the contents reflected a time period or topic. Original descriptions, contents, and arrangement or organization, even when occasionally inaccurate, are noted in this description by an asterisk (*). When the subject or date span varied slightly from what was labeled, the actual topic or dates were noted on the folder and description in [brackets]. Sometimes individual items within a folder had absolutely no relationship to the folder's subject or date span; in those cases the items were moved to more appropriate locations within the collection.

Loose materials, folders, and notebooks were organized by Kansas Historical Society archivists into topical arrangement for each person: Glenn Cunningham, Ruth Cunningham, and Myra Brown. When the format was predominant or when material included an extended period of time, it was used as the basis of organization, as in Series 6 through 12 of Glenn's papers.

This organizational structure, and the desire to preserve as much original order as practicable, means that related items may be found in several places. For example, family information about Glenn appears in Series 1--Home Towns, Early Life (General), 1917-1988--and in other places of his papers, Section 1, but family data about him compiled by Ruth was kept in her papers, Section 2, because they reflect her genealogical interest and activity. In addition, other material on his family appears in Myra Lockwood Brown's papers, Section 3, as a result of her interviews, research, and close friendship with the Cunningham family.

In a reflection of his life, the collection embodies Glenn Cunningham's strong belief that thinking positively can overcome challenges and that there are no limits to what an individual can achieve. The items in the collection continually reinforce the significance of this credo to him.

The collection best documents Glenn Cunningham's successes in overcoming the schoolhouse fire that crippled him and killed his older brother; becoming a world record holding mile runner in college and afterward in the Olympics; and giving speeches and making public appearances on behalf of children and the avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Articles, clippings, photographs, and publications comprise the bulk of the textual material, although there are also four motion pictures from 1935 and a biographical film about him made in 1964. There are no diaries or similar first person accounts, although there is an essay he wrote on his early life for the Morton County Historical Society in Kansas and some transcripts of interviews Glenn gave to Myra Lockwood Brown and other journalists. There are some clippings and articles on his children and grandchildren, particularly as they won track races, but not a great deal of detailed information about his family aside from Ruth's genealogical data. There is a considerable quantity of published articles about the Youth Ranch, but no records of the organization are in the collection.

A secondary theme found in articles and clippings throughout the collection is Glenn Cunningham's conviction that anything that might be harmful to a person should be avoided at all costs, whether it be substances, behavior, or other aspects of life.

The collection, as might be expected, paints a highly positive view of Glenn Cunningham and his family. However the collection also includes information on his shortcomings, whether they be less than first place finishes or problems running the Youth Ranch. These papers attest to a man who was honest about himself in his interviews and other public utterances. While not dwelling on extensively on problems, the collection appears to be reasonably balanced in that its documentation shows both the achievements and the challenges of the Cunningham family and its work.

Researchers interested in Glenn Cunningham, southwest Kansas during its formative period, the University of Kansas in Lawrence, track and field in the 1930s, the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympic Games, sports photography, and social work with children and youth will find the primary source textual documents, photographs, and films in this collection to be of great value. The collection’s significance as a documentary of distance running extends beyond Kansas and includes the United States and the world. Similarly, the material on Glenn Cunningham’s Youth Ranch shows the Ranch’s impact on children throughout the United States.

In its interviews and reminiscences, the collection documents life in a part of the Great Plains that was still very much a frontier as late as the 1920s, and it provides first person accounts of daily events in Stevens and Morton Counties of Kansas in the years before World War I and the postwar years of the 1920s. It shows the impact of sports‑‑via newspapers, magazines, photos, and motion pictures‑‑on the world during the Great Depression. It demonstrates the achievements of an exceptional man and his family, and it delineates problems faced by children and youth after World War II.

As might be expected, the collection is strongest in its documentation of the 1930s, when Glenn Cunningham was the premier mile runner of his time, and the 1950s through the 1970s when he and his family operated the Youth Ranch and Glenn spoke throughout the United States on the causes in which he believed strongly. While there is considerable material on his early life and the fire that almost took his life, there is relatively little on his World War II naval service, his jobs with the University of Kansas and Cornell College, or his life from the end of the War through the early years of his ranching, farming, and working with youth. There is not a lot of personal correspondence, nor is there much detailed information on the actual operation of the Youth Ranch aside from publicity about Glenn’s speeches mentioning it and fund raising efforts.

The papers of Glenn’s wife Ruth present a snapshot of her life, largely from a detailed biographical essay about her written by her daughter Cindy. Documents in her part of the collection give information about her family and upbringing in Storm Lake, Iowa; examples of some of her genealogical work on Glenn’s family; and events in her life after Glenn’s death.

The papers of Myra Lockwood Brown, who was compiling material on Glenn and writing drafts of her biography of him before she died, consist of primarily her research notes; interviews with those who knew him best, particularly people from the Elkhart, Kansas, area and the University of Kansas; and excerpts of her draft biography. Some of the papers in her section of the collection may have been given to her by Cunningham family members, as they are similar to other items in Glenn’s papers. Much of the material in this section appears to have been used in Paul J. Kiell’s biography American Miler: The Life and Times of Glenn Cunningham.

The Kansas Historical Society has a considerable quantity of other information on Glenn Cunningham and the youth ranch:

A collection of papers of Vernon Russell Sheffield, uncle of Ruth Cunningham and professor of mathematics and music at the Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, now Emporia State University, was donated with the Glenn Cunningham papers described in this finding aid. The Sheffield material has been removed to form a separate manuscript collection, no. 905, described at http://www.kshs.org/archives/312950

Contents: Section 1. Papers of Glenn Cunningham, 1888-2004 (bulk 1932-1988); 5 ft. (boxes 1a-6, oversize box) + 5 motion pictures (5 film reels), 1 sound cassette (30 minutes) : analog; http://www.kshs.org/archives/312681 -- section 2. Papers of Ruth Cunningham, 1930-2007, 2 folders (box 7), http://www.kshs.org/archives/312704 -- section 3. Papers of Myra Lockwood Brown, biographer, [193_-not after 2006] (bulk 1964-1969), 0.6 ft. (box 7, oversize box), http://www.kshs.org/archives/312705

Portions of Collection Separately Described:


Locator Contents
017-01-07-01  Myra Lockwood Brown; Misc. periodicals 
078-06-06-07  Originals removed from collection 
091-02-07-06  Myra Lockwood Brown 
More locators

Related Records or Collections

Related materials:


Cunningham, Glenn, 1909-1988. Letter : ALS, Olympic Village, Berlin, Germany, to Leslie M. Heath, Emporia, Kan., 1936 Aug. 9; 1 leaf; Allen Heath misc. collection: http://www.kshs.org/archives/207958

Cunningham, Glenn, 1909-1968. Letters of Glenn & Ruth Cunningham : ALS, Augusta, Kan. ; Plainview, Ark., to Robert & Elaine Keller, Springfield, Reeds Spring, Mo., 1973-1975; 1 folder (7 items) + 1 oversize item; Robert & Elaine Keller misc. collection: http://www.kshs.org/archives/307278

Sheffield, Vernon Russell. Vernon Russell Sheffield papers; Vernon Russell Sheffield collection, 0.6 ft. (2 boxes), Ms. Collection 905: http://www.kshs.org/archives/312950


Records of the Kansas State Department of Education, 1861-[ongoing], State Archives Record Group 652, http://www.kshs.org/archives/215341

Menninger Foundation Archives, 1644-2009 (bulk 1925-2001), ca. 2300 cubic ft., Ms. Collection 786, http://www.kshs.org/archives/218916

Janet Ruth Nuzman Collection, 1969-1981, 2 cubic ft., http://www.kshs.org/archives/309900

Jim Ryun, Wes Santee, and Glenn Cunningham at the KU Relays, 1981, http://www.kshs.org/archives/312432

Records of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, 1872-2002, State Archives Record Group 629, http://www.kshs.org/archives/214686

Photographs of University of Kansas athletes, coaches, etc.; http://www.kshs.org/archives/304203

George Avery Washburn Correspondence, 1886-1919, 0.2 ft. (1 box), Ms. Collection 208, http://www.kshs.org/archives/40208

Washburn University football team, Topeka, Kansas, 1895, http://www.kshs.org/archives/166

Additional resources can be found in the Kansas Historical Society's archives catalog at http://www.kshs.org/archives


Chase County history collection, [ca. 1867]-1983, 1 box (0.2 ft.) Ms. Collection 671, http://www.kshs.org/archives/40671

Rolla Clymer Papers, 1896-1977, 20 ft., Ms. Collection 9, http://www.kshs.org/archives/40009

Alberta Pantle Papers, [between 1945 and 1960], 0.4 ft. (1 box), Ms. Collection 464, http://www.kshs.org/archives/40464

Photographs: Seward County, 1900-1930, http://www.kshs.org/archives/308717

Records from Seward County, 1887-1986, State Archives, http://www.kshs.org/archives/216803

Seward County Historical Society photographs, 1865-1970, V:State Archives/Special Collections/Photographs/Seward Co. Hist. Soc., http://www.kshs.org/archives/309719

Neil B. Thompson Papers, 1862-1977, 1.4 ft. (1 box + 1 oversize folder), Ms. Collection 752, http://www.kshs.org/archives/40752

Additional sources may be found at http://www.kshs.org/dart/units/search/keywords:Morton%20Butler%20Chase%20Seward%20County/mattype:9/level:9


Finding Aid Bibliography:

Ancestry Web pages for Glenn & Ruth Cunningham, their children, and Emmet & Myra Lockwood Brown and her siblings (http://www.ancestry.com , accessed 24 Sept. 2015).

Find a Grave Web pages for Glenn & Ruth Cunningham and Emmet & Myra Lockwood Brown (http://www.findagrave.com , accessed 24 Sept. 2015).

Martin, Gail. “Triumphs of a Country Woman,” Voices, KanColl’s Online Magazine website (http://kancoll.org/voices_2001/0701martin.htm , accessed 23 Sept. 2015).

University of Kansas Libraries, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. “Guide to the Stewart-Lockwood Family Collection,” 1977-1978, University of Kansas website (http://etext.ku.edu/view?docId=ksrlead/ksrl.kc.stewartlockwoodpapers.xml , accessed 24 Sept. 2015).

Index Terms


    Olympic Games (10th : 1932 : Los Angeles, Calif.)
    Olympic Games (11th : 1936 : Berlin, Germany)
    Berlin (Germany)
    Butler County (Kan.)
    Chase County (Kan.)
    Conway (Ark.)
    Elkhart (Kan.)
    Los Angeles (Calif.)
    New York (N.Y.)
    Perry County (Ark.)
    Seward County (Kan.)
    United States
    Brown, Myra Lockwood
    Cunningham, Glenn, 1909-1988
    Cunningham, Ruth (Ruth Maxine Sheffield), 1923-2008
    Philanthropists -- Arkansas -- Perry County
    Philanthropists -- Kansas -- Butler County
    Philanthropists -- Kansas -- Chase County
    Runners (Sports) -- Kansas -- Elkhart
    Runners (Sports) -- New York (State) -- New York
    Runners (Sports) -- United States
    Track and field athletes -- Kansas -- Elkhart
    Burn care teams -- Kansas -- Seward County
    Problem children -- Behavior modification -- United States
    Rural schools -- Kansas -- Seward County -- Fires and fire prevention
    Track and field

Creators and Contributors

Additional Information for Researchers

Restrictions: None.


Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). The user is cautioned that the publication of the contents of this collection may be construed as constituting a violation of literary property rights. These rights derive from the principle of common law, affirmed in the copyright law of 1976 as amended, that the writer of an unpublished letter or other manuscript has the sole right to publish the contents thereof unless he or she affirmatively parts with that right; the right descends to his or her legal heirs regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript itself. It is the responsibility of a user or his or her publisher to secure the permission of the owner of literary property rights in unpublished writing.

Copyright to those items to which the donor inherited copyright were given to the Kansas State Historical Society upon donation. Copyrights to other items in the collection may be owned by their authors, heirs, employers, or assigns.

Cite as: Glenn Cunningham Collection, 1888-2007 (bulk 1932-1988), Ms. Collection No. 904, Kansas Historical Society.

Action note: Collection arranged and described by Darrell Dean Garwood, Robert L. Knecht, and Nancy Sherbert; 2015.

Holder of originals: Kansas Historical Society (Topeka).


General Note: Title supplied by cataloger.