William Vincent Wheeler Family Papers, 1863-1993

Mss 20
0.8 c.f. (2 document boxes)


William Vincent Wheeler, founder of Wheeler Mission Ministries of Indianapolis, Indiana, was born in 1845 in Ohio and in 1853, his family moved to Indiana. After serving in the Civil War, Wheeler moved to Indianapolis where he was employed by Layman-Carey Hardware Company beginning as a delivery driver and eventually becoming head of the sales department. In 1868, Wheeler experienced a religious conversion and became active in the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church as well as becoming a lay-preacher. In 1893, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) opened a home for unwed mothers. Wheeler volunteered his help and suggested the range of services offered be broadened to include men, women and children in the form of a rescue mission. He became part-time superintendent of the mission and in 1895, resigned from the hardware company to become a full-time salaried superintendent of the mission, one of the first charitable operations of its kind in Indianapolis. He remained in this position until his death in 1908.

The papers consist of correspondence of members of the Wheeler family, family photographs, Wheeler's civil war diary and family history materials.


This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.


Cite as: William Vincent Wheeler Family Papers, 1863-1993, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


Presented by Rick Alvis and Arthur Hall, February, 1996, A1996-7

Processed by Barbara J. Mondary, 1998


William Vincent Wheeler was born in 1845 to Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth (Stubbs) Wheeler in West Elkton, Ohio. A daughter, Rebecca Esther (1850-1931) was also born to the union. After Elizabeth's death as a result of a tragic accident in 1851, Walter married Mary P. Stanley in 1853. Two children were born to that union, Charles Pinkney (1866-1894) and Albert Sheridan (1868-1883).

In 1853, the Wheeler family moved first to Richmond, Indiana and later to Dublin, Indiana. William remained close to his maternal aunt, Elvira Stubbs Pray and her family, consisting of her husband, a well-known Quaker preacher, and their children: Martha (Mattie), Rachel, Sybil and Rhoda. The bible William carried into the Civil War was a gift from these cousins and the family is mentioned very frequently in his Civil War diary, in fact, much more frequently than his immediate family.

In 1863, at the age of 18, William enlisted in the Ninth Indiana Cavalry. He remained in the army for three years during which he saw extensive action. According to a newspaper account, "He was with Thomas and Schofield in the campaign against Hood, the Confederate general, and took part in the battles of Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville. After the Defeat of Hood at Nashville, young Wheeler, for thirty days and nights...was constantly on the move, following Hood in his retreat into Mississippi. In the battle of Spring Hill, young Wheeler was in the thickest of the fight. His horse was shot under him, and, using the dead animal as a breastwork, he kept up the fight, narrowly escaping with his life." While in the swamps of Mississippi, Wheeler contracted a near fatal fever which left him with chronic rheumatism for the rest of his life.

In May, 1865, Wheeler was discharged from the army and in 1866, moved to Indianapolis where he became a wagon delivery driver for the Layman-Carey Hardware Company in Indianapolis. He eventually advanced to become the head of the sales force of the firm.

In 1868, Wheeler experienced a religious conversion. A letter to his cousin Rachel Pray tells of his despondency and confesses to her his feelings of sinfulness and despair. He declares his conversion from his "unworthy life." He also mentions a drinking problem, saying that since his conversion, "when I feel cast down instead of going to strong drink for consolation I get down on my Knees [sic] and ask Jesus to help me and he allways [sic] does."

Wheeler became a member of the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church and during the summer of 1868, became an evangelical lay preacher often offering sermons "under the big beech tree inside the entrance to Greenlawn Cemetery" which was located at the corner of West Street and Kentucky Avenue. In 1872, William married Mary Jane Howard (1848-1907), who was also involved in evangelistic work. Four children, Walter Howard, Sybil May, Hetta Ada, and William Raleigh were born to the union.

In 1893, the Meridian Union of the Women's Christian Temperance Union began a home for unwed mothers. Mrs. Wheeler became the treasurer of the Meridian Union which was connected to the Wheeler's home church. Shortly after the opening of the home, Wheeler suggested that the services available be extended to a wider ministry. The women of the WCTU approved and with Wheeler as a part-time superintendent, a rescue mission was started which was among the city's first charitable operations of its kind. His work at the mission and in the ministry took more and more of his time, and in 1895 Wheeler resigned from Layman-Carey Hardware Company and became the full-time, salaried superintendent of the mission.

Wheeler sought to serve the poor by serving the entire family and went each day to court proceedings to seek out those men who, although in current difficult circumstances, were seeking a way to improve their lot, reasoning that if he could help the men straighten out their lives, their families were sure to receive the benefits. Under Wheeler's superintendency the mission's programs grew to include a Sunday school, home visits to families, a sewing school, a mothers' club, Marion County Workhouse visits and Sunday afternoon visits to City (now Wishard) Hospital. As the services to the needy grew, so did the need for an adequate building to house them. In 1901, a building campaign was begun and by 1905, the Rescue Mission had raised enough of the needed $17,000 to begin construction. The new building, located at 443 East South Street, included a 400-seat chapel on the ground floor and provided the much needed space to shelter the expanding services to the men, women and children who came to the mission for help. Wheeler's stated philosophy was simple: "Our plan of work is not only to rescue and save, but to build up on intelligent and scriptural lines, and in an intelligent and scriptural faith, all who come under our influence, as well as in temporal things, aiding them in securing employment, ofttimes fitting them out with clothing that their appearance may be presentable, and encourage self-respect. Our motto is, 'To be all the help we can, in all the ways we can, to all the people we can.'"

In September 1907, Mary Wheeler died. Shortly after this, Wheeler experienced a recurrence of heart trouble and his own health began fading. Although bedridden, Wheeler, with the help of his assistants Rena Dowler, William Roll, William and Mary Knode, Ed Selvage, George Duncan and Wheeler's sister, Rebecca Wheeler Cooney, managed the mission until his death on Christmas day in 1908. On Sunday morning, December 27, the poor gathered at the mission to say good-bye to the man they called "Brother Wheeler" in the familiar place where he had served them. That afternoon a second funeral was held at the Central Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church and on the morning of December 28, a third and private family funeral was held at the Wheeler home. The following week the mission's name was changed to Wheeler Mission with a resolution by the mission's Board of Directors' which read in part, "a likeness of its founder should be placed on the chapel wall and that the directors pledge themselves to an increasing devotion to make the mission worthy of its name." The mission William Vincent Wheeler began in 1893 continues today as Wheeler Mission Ministries.


Bodenhamer, David J., et al., eds., The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Snider, Joseph B., A Door of Hope, A Century of Rescue at Wheeler Mission Ministries 1893- 1993. Indianapolis: Wheeler Mission Ministries, 1993.


Wheeler Mission Ministries Records, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


The collection consists of the papers, photographs and memorabilia of the William Vincent Wheeler Family from the period of 1863-1993 which are organized into four series: Wheeler Family Correspondence, William Vincent Wheeler Diary, Wheeler Family Photographs and Wheeler Family History.

The bulk of the Wheeler Family Correspondence is letters which were addressed to William Vincent Wheeler or those which he authored. The rest of the correspondence is that of other family members. Of particular interest in this series are the letters of William Vincent Wheeler to his cousin, Rachel Pray, in 1868, in which he describes his religious conversion, as well as his "sinful" life after his discharge from the army and two letters written in 1886, one from O.B. Hayden to Wheeler and Wheeler's reply in which they discuss a Civil War battle which took place in Franklin, Tennessee on December 17, 1864. All letters are transcribed and arranged chronologically.

The William Vincent Wheeler Diary was begun on January 1, 1864 and continues with daily entries until May 25, 1865. It chronicles Wheeler's army service describing daily routine, battles and personnel of the Ninth Indiana Cavalry during that time period. The diary is transcribed.

The Wheeler Family Photographs consist of 57 portraits and candid snapshots of the William Vincent Wheeler immediate and extended family. They are arranged alphabetically.

The Wheeler Family History contains the genealogy of the family, wedding announcements, news clippings and other ephemera connected to the family. Of particular interest in this series are the furlough pass which contains a physical description of William Vincent Wheeler at age 18, the pension notice from Benjamin Harrison to Wheeler which has a handwritten note from Harrison on the back and the bible which young Wheeler received from his Pray cousins and which he carried with him throughout his military service in the Civil War.


Wheeler Family Correspondence  
 Correspondence, 1863-188511
 Correspondence, 1886-189612
 Correspondence, 189713
 Correspondence, 1901-192014
 Correspondence, 1950-199315
William Vincent Wheeler Civil War Diary, 1864-186516
Wheeler Family Photographs
 Cooney, Rebecca Esther Wheeler, ca. 1920s1P001
 Hall, Arthur R. and family, 19921P002
 Hall, Hetta Ada Wheeler, ca. 1906-19911P003-011
 Keeler, Charles E., 19081P012-013
 Keeler, Sybil May Wheeler, ca. 1898-19041P014-020
 Keeler, Viola Elizabeth, 19191P021
 Townsend, Elvira Cain, 18701P022
 Wheeler, David Edward, 19451P023
 Wheeler, Eleanor Jane, n.d.1P024-025
 Wheeler, Mary Howard, n.d.1P026-028
 Wheeler, Mary Louise, ca. 1930s1P028-030
 Wheeler, Walter Howard and family, n.d.1P031-040
 Wheeler, William Raleigh Jr., 19361P041-042
 Wheeler, William Raleigh Sr., ca. 19051P043
 Wheeler, William Vincent and family, 1899-19061P044-053
 Wilson, Edwin and family, 19441P054-057
Wheeler Family History
 Bible, 186321
 Certificates and Licenses, 1864-191322
 Genealogy of Wheeler Family, 195323
 1903 Catalog and 1902 program from the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music24
 Wedding Announcements25
Updated Jan 27, 2016 by Webmaster