Student Letter to Pierre DuPont [Letter]
Thelma Norwood, a 7th-grade student in Nassau, Delaware, wrote this letter in 1925. The school was segregated, or used only by African Americans, while separate schools were maintained for white students. The letter expresses appreciation on Du Pont Day, a celebration held each year to show gratitude to Pierre du Pont, founding member of DuPont Corporation, who spearheaded an effort to improve and modernize education for African Americans in Delaware. Du Pont worked to draw attention to the problem of inadequate education, donating over $6 million of his own money to fund studies, school construction, and to gain community support for improving African American children’s school access and attendance.
Thelma's letter illustrates the community's response to du Pont's gift, and indicates some ways in which the school administration showed gratitude toward du Pont through school activities and writing assignments. Her letter reflects both obstacles to education such as student absence due to the need for child labor to help support the family, and milestones of progress such as the recent graduates who went on to college (including Thelma's brother or cousin Charles). Her listing of the school's new equipment allows the inference that such items were lacking in her previous school, and the subjects listed indicate that both academic and vocational topics were taught. Many African Americans would have gone from the 8th grade directly into jobs, while few had the opportunity to attend high school, and even fewer to attend college.
A Separate Place: the Schools P.S. DuPont Built (Wilmington, DE: Hagley Museum and Library, 2003) at http://www.hagley.lib.de.us/hagley-separate-place-packet.pdf, pages 24–26 (accessed April 21, 2009). Hagley Museum and Library.
Primary Source Text
Honorable Pierre S. du Pont
1116 du Pont Building
Our Teacher has asked us to write you a letter to day, for we all know that you were the one that gave us our New School. Our School is as good as it was when we first came into it. We would like for you to come down, for we have all wishes to see you. We all appreciate our New School Building. In our School we have two wall clocks, an organ, graphonola, pencil sharpner, oil stove for hot lunches, two maps--one of South America, and one of the United States. We have five graduates at State College Dover Delaware--three boys and two girls--Christina Maull, Levata Williams, Cyrus Sparrow, Arthur Ward, Charles Norwood. I am in the Seventh Grade. We have Community Civics, Hygiene, Arithmetic, Geography, History, Language, Reader, Spelling and Industrial Artwork. In Industrial Artwork, we draw, make crepe paper flowers, baskets, etc. I like all of my studies very much and I am proud of all of my books.
I attended school eight days in September, three in October. I am sorry to say that I have been working to the packing house all summer, but I started to school for good now. I was very sorry that I couldn’t get to School those days I was absent. I hope I wont have have to miss any more days this year. Our teacher is back this year. This makes the fourth year that she has taught our school. Her name is Mrs. Virginia H. Jones. The Primary Room has a new teacher, Miss Laurencetta M. Hicks. We all love both of the teachers.
We are celebrating (du Pont Day) to night, and have invited all of the Parents. We will have, cake, and ice cream to night.
We wish that you might live many more years to see what the Delaware Children might accomplish.
How to Cite This Source
Thelma Norwood, "Student Letter to Pierre DuPont [Letter]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #237, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/237 (accessed May 18, 2013). Annotated by Kelly Schrum and Susan Douglass