Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Eleanor Gladys Copenhaver Anderson (15 June 1896–12 September 1985), women's organization leader, was born in Marion, the eldest of one son and four daughters of Laura Lu Scherer Copenhaver and Bascom Eugene Copenhaver. Her mother was an accomplished author, leader in the Lutheran Church, and founder of Rosemont Industries in Marion. Her father was a teacher and for thirty-six years superintendent of Smyth County schools. She grew up in Rosemont, one of the oldest houses in town, next door to Marion College, which her maternal grandfather, John Jacob Scherer, had founded in 1873. She attended the public schools in Marion and graduated from Westhampton College in Richmond in 1917. After teaching for one year in Marion, she entered Bryn Mawr College and in 1920 received a certificate in social economy from the Department of Social Economy and Social Research. She received a master's degree in political economy from Columbia University in 1933.

In 1920 Copenhaver joined the national staff of the Young Women's Christian Association. She worked in Florida as a county and district secretary until 1923, when she transferred to the central region as a staff member of the YWCA's new industrial department. In 1925 she moved to New York to work at the national headquarters of the industrial department, overseeing organizations of factory workers and serving as a liaison officer with trade unions, women's clubs, businesses, and government agencies. She traveled extensively to attend conferences, visit local YWCA offices, serve as a counselor at camps, and conduct major field studies in Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco. From 1938 to 1946 she was director of the YWCA national industrial staff.

While visiting Marion in 1928, she met the writer Sherwood Anderson, who had moved to Virginia two years earlier and become editor of the local newspapers. They were married in Marion on 6 July 1933. For the first five years of their marriage she spent half her time working for the YWCA and half her time in Marion or on the road with Anderson. She used the Copenhaver name for several years but gradually became known as Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson. As a result of her influence, he committed himself to studying and writing about industry in the South. Sherwood Anderson died in Panama on 8 March 1941 while they were on a trip to South America.

Anderson's responsibilities at the YWCA increased when she became head of the industrial staff in 1938. She worked on problems of women in industry, such as poor working environments, inadequate child care, and crowded housing. She also kept up a demanding schedule of nationwide speaking engagements, tours, conferences, and workshops, and spent five months on the West Coast in 1942 studying wartime working conditions. In 1946 the YWCA abolished its industrial division, which had become one of its most controversial programs. In 1947 Anderson joined the foreign division of the YWCA and spent two years in Italy coordinating relief programs. Afterward, she worked with the United Community Defense Service and with the American Labor Education Service, and before she retired in 1961 she conducted an investigation of working conditions in South America for the YWCA.

Anderson also managed her husband's literary estate. In 1947 she deposited his manuscripts in the Newberry Library in Chicago and helped organize the collection. She assisted Paul Rosenfeld, who edited The Sherwood Anderson Reader (1947), and she encouraged the production of a stage version of Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio on Broadway in 1958. She also helped scholars who were studying her husband's literary career, and she maintained Ripshin, his house near Trout Dale, Grayson County, much as he had left it. After her retirement Anderson spent the winters in her YWCA apartment in New York and the remainder of the year at Rosemont in Marion. From 1967 to 1985 she helped run Rosemont Industries and renamed it Laura Copenhaver Industries.

Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson died of pneumonia in Marion on 12 September 1985, and her ashes were buried next to Sherwood Anderson's body in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion.

Sources Consulted:
Margaret Ripley Wolfe, "Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson of the National Board of the YWCA: Appalachian Feminist and Author's Wife," Winesburg Eagle 18 (summer 1993): 2–9 (portrait); oral history interview in "Southern Women After Suffrage," Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; "An Interview with Mrs. Sherwood Anderson" in Sherwood Anderson: Centennial Studies, ed. Hilbert H. Campbell and Charles E. Modlin (1976), 67–82; Sherwood Anderson Papers, Newberry Library, Chicago, Ill.; Charles E. Modlin, ed., Sherwood Anderson's Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson (1989); Ray Lewis White, ed., Sherwood Anderson's Secret Love Letters (1991); Hilbert H. Campbell, ed., The Sherwood Anderson Diaries (1987); Margaret Ripley Wolfe, "Sherwood Anderson and the Southern Highlands: A Sense of Place and the Sustenance of Women," Southern Studies 3 (1992): 253–275; obituaries in Richmond News Leader, 12 Sept. 1985, Bristol Herald Courier and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 13 Sept. 1985, and Winesburg Eagle 11 (Nov. 1985): 11.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Charles E. Modlin.

How to cite this page:
Charles E. Modlin,"Eleanor Gladys Copenhaver Anderson (1896–1985)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Anderson_Eleanor_Copenhaver, accessed [today's date]).

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