The Lincoln Club of Delaware began on February 12, 1929, when a group of forty-six male admirers of Abraham Lincoln met at the Wilmington Country Club for an informal dinner-meeting. The meeting was sponsored by Wilmington manufacturer John Bancroft, the Reverend Charles L. Candee and Burton P. Fowler, headmaster of Tower Hill School. The group included Wilmington City Librarian Arthur L. Bailey, Episcopal Bishop Philip Cook, Congressmen Robert Houston and William Heald, and University of Delaware President Walter Hullihen, among other prominent members of the Wilmington community. Decorations for the dinner included three paintings by Wilmington artist Frank E. Schoonover. Schoonover went on to serve as president of the Club in 1950 – 1951, and his sketch of Lincoln continues to be used on Lincoln Club and Lincoln Collection documents and publications.
At the first meeting it was decided to make the dinner-meeting an annual event in commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of Lincoln. Each year a prominent speaker addressed the group on some aspect of Lincoln's life, and, at the conclusion of the dinner, one of those present was assigned the duty of arranging the next year's dinner. The cost of the dinner was defrayed by the attendees, and there were no dues or formal organization. Until 1942 the dinner-meetings were generally held at the Wilmington Country Club. From 1942 through 1973 the location was the Soda House on the estate of R.R.M. Carpenter in Wilmington.
Wilmington attorney Frank G. Tallman, a charter member of the Lincoln Club, died in 1938 and left his collection of Lincolniana, comprising about 2,000 items, to the Wilmington Institute Free Library. At a 1939 special luncheon meeting of the Lincoln Club a committee was appointed to prepare for cataloging and housing the Tallman collection in the public library. TheClub assumed responsibility for the transfer and care of the collection and set up a fund for that purpose. The room housing the collection was formally opened on May 26, 1941, and, beginning in 1960, was open to the public one afternoon a week from October to May, staffed by an attendant paid out of the treasury of The Lincoln Club. Tallman's substantial collection of books, pamphlets, photographs, prints, autograph letters, and memorabilia was increased over the years by gifts from Tallman's family, club member J. Stuart Groves, and other collectors.
In 1941 the Lincoln Club formally organized itself and elected a board of directors. A 1945 revision to the original constitution formally named the club "The Lincoln Club of Delaware" and stated that the objectives of the Club were "to promote a better understanding of the ideals and achievements of Abraham Lincoln" and to "cooperate with the Wilmington Institute Free Library in the maintenance and development of The Tallman Collection." The new constitution also established procedures for the election of the board of directors and for approval of applications for membership, as well as provision for annual dues. By 1967 the Club had 280 dues-paying members. In 1970 the Club published its history, included in the Lincoln Club Archives, with an account of its early years by Albert O.H. Grier and a more extensive account by Harold Brayman of the years 1944 – 1969. Brayman's portion of the history includes substantial summaries of the addresses given by the invited speakers. Brayman's history was updated by Thomas L. Clark, covering the years up to 1993, and in anonymous histories published annually by the Club from 1999 through 2001.
In 1974 the dinner meetings returned to The Wilmington Country Club, largely because the increased membership could no longer be accommodated at the Soda House. Between 1969 and 1971 the Lincoln Room at the Wilmington Institute Free Library was closed for renovation. Due to space considerations, the Library decided during this period that it could no longer housethe Lincoln Collection. In 1972, the Lincoln Club donated the collection to the University of Delaware and it was relocated to two rooms on the second floor of the University's Goodstay Center in Wilmington. With the relocation of the collection to the Goodstay Center, the Lincoln Club began to hold other special events in addition to the annual meeting. Spring receptions for members took place from 1972 to 1999. Starting in the Fall of 1987 the Club instituted Fall Programs for members and guests on some aspect of Lincoln's career. In 1998, the collection was moved to the University of Delaware campus to more secure facilities with better public access for research and exhibition. A dedicated exhibition space for the Lincoln Collection was constructed adjacent to the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery in Morris Library for display of selected items on a permanent rotating basis.
Although women had long played an important role in the activities of the Lincoln Club, particularly in its care for the Lincoln Collection, they were not invited to become members until the by-laws were amended in 1989.
Grier, Albert O.H. and Harold Brayman. A History of the Lincoln Club of Delaware. The Lincoln Club of Delaware, 1970.
The Lincoln Club of Delaware records contains the club records and publications of the Lincoln Club from 1944 to 2005, with bulk dates of 1970 – 2004. The records, a gift of the Lincoln Club, was maintained by Mrs. Alberta Skillman, long-time secretary to the club. Comprising twelve linear feet, the archive includes minutes, financial papers, publications, agenda, reports, invitations, programs, membership lists, clippings and other material related to the Club's activities and to Abraham Lincoln. In addition, the collection contains material publicizing the Lincoln Collection and its special exhibits and events, as well as the files of John Clayton, University of Delaware liaison to the Lincoln Club.
The collection arrangement is driven by chronological content of the original files which have been divided into eight series. The first and most extensive series, the Club's records, includes copies of the Lincoln Club's constitution in its various revisions beginning with the 1945 revision. The bulk of the series is taken up with the archival records of the Club's activities. This material includes agenda, treasurers' reports, and minutes from the board of directors' meetings, and correspondence and other material related to the annual dinner-meetings and other activities and events. Additional files in this series are devoted to specific activities like the early fund-raising for the Tallman Collection and the Tallman Collection fiftieth anniversary dinner.
The Lincoln Club Publication Series consists of the programs and invitations for the annual dinner-meetings and other Lincoln Club events. Also included are copies of the history of the Lincoln Club written by Albert O.H. Grier and Harold Brayman (1970), and the lists of members, directors, and speakers, and the updates to the history which the Club has occasionally published.
A third series contains material related to club plans for and maintenance of the Lincoln Collection. The series includes printed material publicizing the collection and special exhibits and events, as well as the The Lincoln Collection News. Also included in this series are the files of John Clayton, who served as University of Delaware liaison to the Lincoln Club and Collection from 1985-2003. As university liaison to the board of directors of the club, much of Clayton's file contents is redundant to board files in the first series.
The Membership Files of the Lincoln Club comprise the fourth series of the Lincoln Club Collection and consists largely of letters of nomination and election to the Club, as well as records of dues payments. The Financial Records series contains receipts and investment records. The sixth series contains publicity, news clippings, correspondence, and other material topically related to the activities of the Club and its members, to the activities of similar organizations, and to Abraham Lincoln. Contents vary from annual February newspaper articles about some aspect of Lincoln's life, to a May 1984 issue of The Atlantic featuring an excerpt from Gore Vidal's Lincoln: A Novel, to a 1993 issue of The Lincoln Newsletter (Lincoln College Museum in Lincoln, Illinois), to press releases from the club.
The seventh and eighth series were added to the collection in 2008. The seventh series consists of audio recordings of the Lincoln Club's annual Lincoln's birthday dinner meeting and its featured speaker. The eight series contains recordings of the Fall lecture series. Both series consist of a number of audio cassettes and several CD's and DVD's arranged chronologically by date of the event.