Dupont coins

Commemorative coin set issued to celebrate DuPont’s 200th Anniversary (DHS collection)

The year 2002 marked the 200th anniversary of local industrial giant, DuPont, and the Society celebrated accordingly with a new exhibit entitled, “Inside & Out: Two Centuries of DuPont Products in the Home.” The new exhibit in the Delaware History Museum featured a peek into a few rooms of a specially constructed model house furnished with a wide array of DuPont-made household products, such as Teflon-coated cookware and Stainmaster carpeting. The model rooms were surrounded by satellite exhibits featuring many other famous DuPont products, such as Tyvek, Nomex, and Kevlar.

The DuPont Company was founded in 1802 near Wilmington at Eleutherian Mills by Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours (1771-1834), a Frenchman who had come to the United States to escape the French Revolution. Quick to spot an opportunity, he founded the hugely successful E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company gunpowder manufactory and his company held a virtual monopoly of the explosives business until the early years of the twentieth century, when it branched out into the chemical and materials science business. This new venture brought further successes, making DuPont a major player in the chemical industry and ensuring the company’s involvement in such big-name projects as the Manhattan Project and the Space Program during the twentieth century. The Society’s exhibit ran through the summer and celebrated the sheer diversity of the company’s products right up to the present day.


In 2000, the Society became the official repository for the papers of Delaware Senator and Republican, William V. Roth, Jr. (1921-2003), after he retired from the U.S. Senate that year. This comprehensive collection, containing nearly 500 cubic feet of material, documents Roth’s thirty-four-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate from 1967-2001.

Receiving the collection was only the beginning, however; much work still needed to be done to catalogue and preserve it. To that end, the Society held an exclusive fund-raising dinner in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel DuPont on September 6, 2001 that was attended by over 350 people, including such big names as President George H.W. Bush, Senator Joe Biden, Governor Pete DuPont, and Congressman Mike Castle. The proceeds from this glittering affair (helped also by Senator Roth’s own generous donation of the balance of his election campaign funds) ensured that archival work could begin on the collection that fall with the hiring of Melinda Zack, a recent Masters graduate in Library Science from the State University of New Jersey. Archival work on the collection would later continue under Harrison Wick. The Senator William V. Roth, Jr. Congressional Collection is available to researchers by appointment, and a good overview of its contents can be found in our “Ask Caesar” collections catalogue at

Sen Roth

Roth (right) During His Campaign for Lieutenant Governor in 1960 (From the Roth Collection at DHS)


Posted by: japotts | November 17, 2014

2000: Remembering a Wilmington Institution

In 2000, the Society received an unusual gift of records, minute books, and an engraved parcel-gilt tea set that came from the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers in Wilmington. The set consists of a teapot and two sugar and cream sets, each with a presentation inscription, that were given to the Home in 1938 and 1939 by Mrs. Harriett E. Grommon, widow of Bissell C. Grommon, a Manager at the F.W. Woolworth Company.

The National Florence Crittenton Mission was established in New York City in 1883 by Charles Nelson Crittenton as a reform home for prostitutes and unwed mothers. The organization received a federal charter in 1898 and soon had a network of homes across the country and even internationally. Before joining the Crittenton network in 1897, the Wilmington Home began life in 1894 when a group of well-meaning, middle-class women founded the Door of Hope in an attempt to rescue “females who are desirous of moral reformation, and who are not otherwise objectionable.” After joining the Crittenton network, the Wilmington home shifted its focus almost exclusively to providing shelter and adoption services for unwed mothers.

The organization began its residential program in a rented house at 902 Market Street in Wilmington but also moved to a series of other addresses in town before finally settling down at 404 South Clayton Street in 1930. Our tea set is from this period in the organization’s life. Although the Florence Crittenton Home in Wilmington closed its doors in 1971, the parent organization continues to this day with an updated mission as the National Crittenton Foundation.

Florence Crittenton teaset

Tea service from the Wilmington Florence Crittenton home


Posted by: japotts | November 14, 2014

1999: The Society Honors Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach

Ethel Leach drawing

Framed drawing entitled “Tired” by Ethel Pennewill Brown in 1910. This drawing appeared in “Metropolitan Magazine” for a story entitled “Lucia Baxter’s Pilgrimage” by Lily A. Long (DHS collection)

In its bid to shed light on as many different aspects of Delaware history as possible, the Society turned its exhibit spotlight on the life and work of native Delawarean, prominent artist, and favorite Pyle student, Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach (1878-1959). The new exhibit, guest-curated by Jann Haynes Gilmore, gathered over eighty works of art from far and wide, and opened in the Delaware History Museum on March 5th with a special invitation-only member’s reception that included the artist’s surviving family. The Society’s exhibit also ran in conjunction with two other exhibits devoted to the artist at the Rehoboth Art League in Rehoboth Beach and the State Visitor Center in Dover, giving it a state-wide reach. This collaborative project won the Governor’s Tourism Award in 2000.

Ethel Pennewill Brown was born in Wilmington and began her art studies at the Clawson Hammitt School of Art, where she won a scholarship as an outstanding student. After a stint in New York City studying with the Art Students League, she returned home and was accepted as a student by famed Delaware artist, Howard Pyle, in 1903. Ethel Pennewill Brown had a successful career as a book and magazine illustrator during the pre-World War I years and her work appeared in many leading publications. In 1922, at the age of forty-four, she decided to marry her old friend and fellow Delaware artist William Leach. The couple settled in Frederica and spent their summers in Rehoboth Beach, where they established a summer art colony. It was at this time that Ethel Leach began to focus more on easel painting and documenting her southern Delaware surroundings. Her work was widely exhibited throughout the Mid-Atlantic and at various national venues, where it regularly won prizes. The Society’s exhibit ran until August 21st and was a fitting tribute to the successful, independent life and career of one of Delaware’s pioneering female artists.


Posted by: japotts | November 12, 2014

1998: The Society Opens “Distinctively Delaware”

Distinctively Delaware exhibit

“Distinctively Delaware” at the Delaware History Museum

More work to further improve the Delaware History Museum continued as the Society worked towards completing a new permanent exhibit devoted exclusively to Delaware history. The proposed exhibit, six years in the making and to be entitled, “Distinctively Delaware,” was intended to provide “a world-class exhibition that will engage all the senses for a true learning experience.” The Society cast a wide net with its content research and engaged Museum Design of Cambridge, Massachusetts to design and build the new exhibit, which would draw from the Society’s own rich collections, but also integrate state-of-the-art audio-visual and built-in components. In the process, the Society also managed to acquire some exciting new items, such as early test garments made from Dupont experimental fabrics like orlon, gor-tex, and nylon, to bring the exhibit right into the twentieth century.

“Distinctively Delaware” officially opened on December 8th with a members-only preview celebration that welcomed more than 900 guests, who enjoyed the exhibits and interactive learning games based on Delaware history such as “Test Your Del-Awareness,” “You Be the Judge,” and “Chicken Challenge.” A second grand opening celebration was held for the public later that month and each child in attendance received a “Delaware First” blue ribbon button as a souvenir.

Posted by: japotts | November 10, 2014

1997: A New Addition to the Delaware History Museum

In 1997, the Society added a whole new dimension to the Delaware History Museum with the opening of its History Discovery Center. The project, sponsored by MBNA, aimed to create a children’s play/activity area on the second floor of the History Museum to provide a different kind of museum experience for children and families. Classrooms received colorful new wall murals and Grandma’s Attic, a new “please touch” play space, was born. Grandma’s Attic featured a play kitchen area from the 1940s, a general store, puppet theater, and an 1890s parlor, along with various trunks of clothes, toys, books, games, and puzzles from yester-year.

Grandma’s Attic and the new Discovery Center opened to the public on November 1st with a Family Fun Day sponsored by MBNA that included pumpkin painting, a visit from a storyteller, playtime with puppets, and various activities in Grandma’s Attic. Some of the high-lights of the event were posing for souvenir photos in costumes from the Grandma’s Attic trunks and a special tour of the Old Town Hall jail cells for a spooky Halloween flavor. This would also be the year for another successful launch, only this one would be virtual as the Society entered cyberspace with a new web page in October.

Grandmas attic

Young Visitors Enjoying the General Store in Grandma’s Attic

In 1996, the Delaware History Museum continued its active new schedule of programs and events when it hosted its first Smithsonian travelling exhibit alongside other home-grown exhibits. Entitled, “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities, 1740-1877,” this new exhibit would continue to build on earlier Society efforts to tell a more diverse Delaware story. On the collecting front, the Society received an unprecedented gift of high-quality Delaware- related marine art from noted local collector, Charles Gilpin Dorman (1920-2000). This new gift would fill a major gap in our holdings related to local maritime history.

A Wilmington-born native and renowned expert on eighteenth-century decorative arts, Charles Dorman worked as a curator at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia from 1960-1983. He was also a passionate collector of Delaware history and great friend to the Society, which began receiving gifts from his diverse personal collections beginning in the early 1980s. This latest installment would bring some exciting new materials relating to the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company, which built ships and railroad cars in Wilmington from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

Among the treasures received was an original ink and watercolor technical drawing of the Iron Propeller “Roanoke” by Henry William Frackmann, a German-born draftsman and engineer who lived in Wilmington and worked for Harlan and Hollingsworth between 1862 & 1870. Frackmann’s subject, the “Roanoke,” was the first of eight ships built by Harlan and Hollingsworth for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company (also known as the Old Bay Line). The drawing, dated January 1871, shows the ship during the year of its construction and combines an artistic port-side rendering of the vessel at sail with detailed precision engineering specs. Thanks to dedicated (and generous) collectors like Charles Dorman, another piece of Delaware’s rich past is able to be preserved in a public institution for future generations.


The Iron Propeller “Roanoke” by Henry William Frackmann

Posted by: japotts | November 5, 2014

1995: Introducing the Delaware History Museum


The New Delaware History Museum on Market Street in 1995

On October 28, 1994, the Society was finally able to celebrate the successful conclusion to a year-long construction saga with the grand opening of its new Delaware History Museum in the old Woolworth’s store building at 504 North Market Street. The project completely transformed the building, re-creating the original Art Deco look of the Woolworth’s exterior and providing 23,000 square feet of new collections storage and programming space, in addition to new exhibit gallery space.

After the ribbons had been cut and the celebrations had ended, the Society then had to begin the real work of creating new displays and programs for its now-more-numerous public spaces. The inaugural exhibit in the new Delaware History Museum would celebrate the 50th Anniversary of World War II. Entitled “Delaware Goes to War,” the exhibit looked at Delaware’s contributions to the war on both the home front and abroad. This exhibit even made an appearance in an A&E cable network program filmed in May called “Donald Duck Goes to War.”

The year 1995 was also a busy year for other Society programs and exhibits in the new museum. The Society also opened “A Woman’s Place: Change and Opportunity in Delaware” to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. This exhibit was accompanied by an original musical entitled “First Vote” by Scott Mason and Joyce Hill Stoner. This would also be a year where the Society catered to sports fans when it partnered with the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame to bring “Great Athletes and Their Memorabilia” to the museum in November. The Christmas season closed the year with a display of dollhouses.

Luckily, all of this work was not going unnoticed because the Society also collected several prestigious awards during the year. The Delaware History Museum project won an award for historic preservation from the New Castle County Review Board, two tourism awards from the governor’s office, an award for its World War II exhibit, and an award of merit for programming. In addition, the History Museum’s project architect, Eldon Homsey, won a design award for his work from the Delaware Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The Society’s 130th birthday would prove to be full steam ahead as it dived into transforming the recently acquired old Woolworth’s building at 504 North Market Street into a state-of-the- art, modern museum space. It would be a year consumed by construction activities, not only in the Woolworth’s building but also in the Market Street space outside as the Society approved plans for a proposed sixteen-foot-tall wrought iron archway. Designed by architect Eldon Homsey, the arch would span Market Street between the Society’s Research Library and the new museum space, and provide a historic link back to the year 1824, when Delawareans welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) to their state during his grand tour through America.

At the invitation of President James Monroe, the sixty-seven-year-old Marquis de Lafayette embarked on an extended tour through United States between July 1824 & September 1825 to help the young nation gear up to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. The grueling trip would cover twenty-four states and over 6,000 miles but, as a former Revolutionary War general and trusted friend of George Washington, the Marquis was warmly welcomed wherever he went, including in Wilmington, Delaware, which he visited between October 6 & 12, 1824. To celebrate his visit, five temporary arches were erected in Wilmington; one across Naaman’s Creek and four along his processional route on Market Street. Two of these arches, heavily garlanded with festive greenery and ribbons and adorned with portraits of Lafayette and Washington, stood in front of Old Town Hall. The Marquis would later make another brief stop in Wilmington on July 25, 1825 before heading back to France on the USS Brandywine. Like its predecessors, the Society’s new arch would celebrate history, but would take things one step further by becoming a notable permanent Wilmington landmark going forward.

Market Street arch 2

Drawing of the Market Street Arch by Eldon Homsey

Posted by: Delaware Historical Society | October 31, 2014

1993: Thelma Young and Helen Thomas collections come to HSD

In 1993, the Society acquired two significant collections related to women’s history in Delaware. The first details the work of Thelma Young, an educator and advocate in the African American community from the 1930s through the 1960s. The second collection belonged to Helen Thomas, a leader in the Women’s Rights Movement of the 1970s and 1980s.

Thelma Young, a native of Arkansas, came to Wilmington in the early 1930s after graduating from Columbia University. She taught cooking at Howard High School and later worked at H. Fletcher Brown Technical High School in the practical nursing program. Her dedication to young people extended beyond the classroom as seen through her involvement in the Walnut YWCA and the Girl Reserve program.

Thelma Young (seated) with students at H. Fletcher Brown Technical High School

Thelma Young (seated) with students at H. Fletcher Brown Technical High School

Helen Thomas’s collection of documents, photographs, and tapes details her years of leadership in the women’s movement in Delaware. She became involved in the movement in August 1970 when she and two other women set up a table in Rodney Square to recruit members for a Delaware Chapter of the National Organization for Women. She later served on the Governor’s Council for Women and the Delaware Commission on the Status of Women.

Helen Thomas, leader in women's movement in Delaware

Helen Thomas, leader in women’s movement in Delaware

The actions of each of these women significantly improved the quality of life in Delaware and their papers enrich the collections of our Society. Today, these two collections form the foundation for collecting the diverse stories of Delaware women.

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