Alvin York Collection

Identifier: MSS.0811

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

The Alvin York Collection is comprised one linear feet of artifacts. The materials are some of York's personal household items as well as a New Testament and scrapbook.


  • circa 1910s-circa 1954

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact

Biographical / Historical

Alvin Cullum York was born December 13, 1887 in the hills of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau. The York children were uneducated, working the farm and taking on labor jobs to supplement the family income. After his father passed away in 1911, he began working in railroad construction and logging. Formerly known for hard drinking and frequenting saloons, York converted to Christianity during a church revival. He was a dedicated member of the Church of Christ in Christian Union and became an elder. Originally opposed to violence under the guidance of his pastor but, with the advice of his commanders and meditation, eventually concluded it was his duty to fight the evils of the world. He was inducted into the Army in 1917 at 29 years old. During an attack on his battalion in the Argonne Forest in France on October 8, 1918, York was put in charge after many losses in the unit. The assault on the German trench was a dramatic series of events; he resorted to using his pistol after his rifle ran out of ammunition. York remained uninjured and with his unit captured 4 officers and 128 soldiers. He was promoted to Sergeant and received the Distinguished Service Cross. His heroism was finally made known to the American public when his story was published in the Saturday Evening Post in the spring of 1919. Greeted with interviews, parades, and medals, he was skeptical of his new fame. York returned to Tennessee and married Grace "Gracie" Williams. He purchased farmland in Fentress County and started a family. In the 1920s he started the Alvin C. York Foundation to increase education opportunities in the Cumberland Plateau region. This later became the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute. Due to struggles during the Great Depression, he agreed to sell his story to Warner Brothers under the stipulation he be played by Gary Cooper. The 1941 film, Sergeant York, received two Academy Awards. York suffered a stroke in 1948, and more health problems followed. He was confined to bed in 1954 and died of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 2, 1964 at Veteran's Hospital in Nashville. He was buried near his farm in Pall Mall. His wife Gracie died in 1984.


1 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Alvin York Collection is comprised one linear feet of artifacts. The materials are some of York's personal household items as well as a New Testament and scrapbook.

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the Alvin York Collection
2017 September
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

Requesting Materials

Each finding aid contains a link to request materials from the collections. Collections can also be requested by emailing the repository directly through the library website. Each repository has its own location, hours, and contact information. Please consult the repository with questions about using the materials. Collections are non-circulating and must be used in the repository’s reading room. In many cases, the collections are stored off-site and require advance notice for retrieval.