Black family papers

Biographical and Historical Notes

Helen Black (d. 1990) grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and was the youngest child of Mary and William Black. Helen had three older brothers: John, Gilbert, and Willard. She attended Friend's School in Wilmington and the University of Delaware where she earned a B.A. (1924) and an M.A. in history (1940). Helen later returned and earned a Master of Arts in history in 1940. Her master's thesis was entitled The Negro in Delaware.

In the fall of 1917, Helen's brother Willard was drafted into the U.S. Army. Willard had been working for DuPont following his graduation from Goldey College and the Delaware College. Willard was first sent to Ft. Dix in New Jersey, then Camp Gordon in Atlanta, Georgia. In the spring of 1918, Willard was transferred to Ft. Upton in New York and would have gone overseas, but he was hospitalized with diphtheria. After his hospital discharge, he went briefly to Camp Merritt in New Jersey, then left to rejoin his unit in France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces in France. He fought at the Battle of Verdun in France and was slightly wounded. Willard remained in France until the summer of 1919. Upon his return to the United States, Willard resumed work at DuPont in sales for the polychemical department in Evanston, Illinois.

Willard worked for DuPont until he retired in 1957. He became a Vice President of a travel agency in Greenville, Delaware. Willard died in 1970, having never married, though while he was in the army during World War I he kept in touch with a woman named Ida Simon.

While Helen's brother was away, she finished high school in Wilmington and graduated in 1920. That fall, she began her freshman year at the University of Delaware.

During Helen's junior year, she met Lynam Stewart, a senior business major. They dated for the next three years. Helen finished school while Lynam worked for U.S. Rubber Co. and then for his father's firm in Baltimore. Helen and Lynam saw each other on weekends and wrote frequently. When Helen graduated in 1924, she began teaching in Delaware City. Helen and Lynam married on June 26, 1926, in Wilmington.

Helen and Lynam settled in Baltimore, but eventually moved back to Wilmington, where Helen taught American Literature at Wilmington High School for 46 years. She retired in 1967 and at that time she and Lynam traveled to Europe for vacation.

A charter member of the National Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of World War I of U.S.A., Inc., Helen was active in the organization through the early 1980s, serving at one point as regional president.

Helen Black Stewart died on November 26, 1990 in her home in Wilmington.

Scope and Contents

The Black Family Papers contain 174 items, including letters, greeting cards, postcards, telegrams, pamphlets, programs, photographs, and diaries pertaining to Helen Black Stewart, Lynam Stewart and other members of the Black Family. The papers span the dates 1889-1982, with the bulk of the material dating from 1917-1919 when Willard Black, Helen Black's brother, served in World War I.

Series I consists of Willard Black's war letters and related items. During Willard Black's tour of duty, he wrote extensively to his mother, father, sister, brothers, and uncles. The news Willard wrote about life in the army varies depending on the intended reader. In several instances, Willard wrote letters to more than one person on the same day, yet the content and style is very different. His letters rarely mention military developments of the war in Europe. Most of the letters discuss army life, his activities prior to the draft, and family matters. Only after he is sent to France in the summer of 1918, do his letters mention combat. A folder of war-related items in the collection includes a book of songs and sayings presented to soldiers, photographs of Willard in uniform, and postcards from his mother and girlfriend.

Series II contains correspondence from Willard to his parents from the period of his post-war travels for DuPont. These letters are from various places throughout the United States. Also included in the series are items pertaining to the marriage of Lynam and Helen Stewart, as well as letters Helen and Lynam received from Willard during their trip to Europe in 1968. Also of interest in Series II is one letter from Helen to Lynam prior to their marriage. In his diaries, Lynam repeatedly mentions that he and Helen wrote extensively back and forth during the three years they dated, but this letter is the only example in the collection.

Series III includes materials from the National Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of World War I. Most correspondence dates from 1980-1982 and is from the national organization's headquarters to Helen Black Stewart. Helen had been the regional president of the Ladies Auxiliary during the 1970s. Much of the material concerns the need to increase membership and plan for the National Annual meeting. A few letters are from the current regional president in Philadelphia to Helen Black Stewart.

Series IV includes seven diaries written by Lynam Stewart from the period 1918 to 1928. His short daily entries contain a wealth of information on his college life at the University of Delaware, courting Helen Black, his first job as a salesman for U.S. Rubber Co., moving to Baltimore to work for his father's company, his first two years of marriage to Helen, and playing the stock market. Although the entries are very brief and sometimes sporadic, the diaries give a real flavor for middle-class life during the 1920s.