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National Ideal Benefit Society (NIBS) Records

Identifier: MSN/MN 10024

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the activities of the National Ideal Benefit Society (NIBS), an African American insurance cooperative headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. It also contains related papers of NIBS founder A.W. Holmes. The correspondence in the collection is mostly written by African Americans, from NIBS policy holders to leaders of the African American community. There is also correspondence between A.W. Holmes and various local churches and benefit societies, national charitable and activist organizations, undertakers and mortuaries, and transportation companies. The administrative records of NIBS document the structure and day-to-day operations of an African American charitable organization, from its early days through the 1960s. Included are official publications documenting the mission and workings of NIBS, such as convention minutes and the organization’s constitution, as well as speeches and publications, financial records, and a large number of invitations and programs for events put on by NIBS. Furthermore, the collection contains numerous records relating to NIBS insurance policies held by African Americans, including membership applications, policy changes, insurance certificates, and death notices. Materials include letters, pamphlets, realia, clippings, death certificates, insurance policies, photographs, meeting minutes, and financial records.


  • Creation: 1912 - 1964


Conditions Governing Access

Folders 225 and 226 are restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Alexander Watson (A.W.) Holmes was born on 15 June 1861 in Louisa County, Virginia. His parents, Anthony and Martha Holmes, were slaves living on or near a tobacco plantation called Frederick Hall. Following emancipation Holmes attended school as the opportunity arose and began earning wages at fourteen, initially working in a factory. Anthony Holmes eventually purchased a farm, which the younger Holmes inherited. A.W. Holmes spent most of his adult life in Richmond, Virginia. He belonged to or led various African American charitable organizations, including the Twilight Foundation and the True Reformers, and was a member of the deaconry of the First Baptist Church. In 1912 he became the first Supreme Master of the National Ideal Benefit Society, an African American insurance cooperative whose benefits aided the sick and indigent and provided assistence with the burial of the dead. A Junior Department organized by Holmes's wife Mary sought to train children in the principles and benefits of the society. By 1928, NIBS was stated to have almost 40,000 members in chapters in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. A.W. Holmes died in 1935 after 23 years at the head of the organization. Management of NIBS fell to Benjamin Walter Perkins, who filled the unexpired terms of Holmes and was elected Supreme Master.


2.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged into two series: I. A.W. Holmes and NIBS Correspondence; II. Administrative Records.

National Ideal Benefit Society Records
Hannah E. Sabal
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556