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Henry Clay Reed papers

Identifier: MSS 0499

Scope and Contents

The Henry Clay Reed papers, spanning the dates from 1915-1974, contains legal documents, photographs, microfilm, correspondence, research notes, manuscripts, publications, and ephemera from the historian and University of Delaware professor. The collection was a gift of Marion (Bjornson) Reed in 1978, with an additional gift in 1980. Because Reed’s research interests spanned his career and many items are difficult to date, items have been arranged utilizing both chronology and consideration of subject matter. In addition, where possible, Henry Clay or Marion Reed’s organization of materials has been maintained.

The collection will perhaps be most useful to scholars who share Henry Clay Reed’s research interests. Many of his extensive notes, transcripts, and manuscript pages consider aspects of crime or punishment both in the secular legal system and in various Christian denominations in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Topics with extensive documentation in the proposed history of Crime and Punishment in New Jersey include animal cruelty, church discipline, domestic violence, infanticide, theft, the legal system in relation to servants, apprentices, children, and slaves, and other topics. In addition to dissertation material, this collection preserves Reed’s original research notes, annotations to the dissertation, and later revisions. It could serve as an entry point for researchers into colonial history sources, or assist a researcher in placing Christian denominational differences of the Colonial period in comparative perspective. Reed’s papers also include a considerable amount of academic research on the history of counterfeiting in the United States, and on the history of crime and punishment in Delaware. He taught advanced-level seminars on the history of crime and punishment and on the history of church discipline; teaching notes, research, and student papers in the collection reflect the content of these courses. Another topic in Delaware’s history of punishment which interested Reed was “Red Hannah,” or, the whipping post. Researchers interested in the history of this punishment in Delaware will find Reed’s notes, clippings, and correspondence useful.

Reed’s research interests also included the history of African Americans in Delaware. Amongst his papers is a manuscript article on the Underground Railroad in Delaware, with a collection of letters from the 1920-1930s that contain personal recollections from the niece and grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe, regarding Stowe’s contacts with Thomas Garrett, a stationmaster on the Wilmington Underground Railroad. In addition, a large collection of newspaper clippings documents the Civil Rights movement and the history of integration in Delaware. Researchers may also be interested in Reed’s correspondence with Pauline Young (F67), who wrote the chapter on the history of African Americans in Delaware for Delaware: a History of the First State.

Reed’s correspondence with other chapter contributors is equally interesting. Mary de Vou kept up a substantial exchange with Reed as she made progress on her history of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association for her chapter on women in Delaware. De Vou forwarded a letter from Carrie Chapman Catt, in which Catt recalled her unsuccessful visit to the Delaware Assembly to lobby for suffrage. A series of letters between Reed and Emalea Pusey Warner, and letters with local reminiscences about Julia Ward Howe and others punctuate this file (F66, F68).

Researchers interested in collecting activities or philately will also find items of interest in the Henry Clay Reed Papers. For example, Reed began collecting stamps at age six, and much of the correspondence in the collection reflects his interest: he frequently requested that the postage stamps he had sent out be returned to him, and this is acknowledged in several letters. Another indication of his deep interest in stamps is his instigation, in 1932, of a letter writing campaign to convince the United States Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp of William Penn. His arguments in favor of the stamp, the progress of the campaign, and other participants can all be traced in the collection. The Postal Service initially refused to issue a stamp, but after increasing pressure was brought on the Postmaster General, Walter F. Brown, by Senator John Townsend of Delaware, Brown acceded to the request, and the Postal Service issued a three cent Penn stamp. The stamp was first sold at the post office in New Castle, Delaware – Penn’s original landing site. Reed’s efforts with this stamp will likely also interest scholars concerned with historical memory and the public.

Scholars interested in historical memory and public celebrations, colonial revivals, or the attention given to European cultural influences in America, will also find evidence of Reed’s efforts to revive public interest in historic events. Academically, these topics relate to Reed’s efforts in translating the works of Charles de Lannoy, a French scholar concerned with European Colonial expansion, and his active involvement in the Swedish Colonial Society, the Tercentenary Celebrations in Delaware, and his activities with the Civil War Centennial Commission and the Wilmington Civil War Round Table group. The collection contains correspondence, ephemera, and printed materials about these activities which are supplemented by other sources in the Special Collections department.

Those interested in the history of libraries, especially the development and acquisition of books in the University of Delaware Library, may be interested in Reed’s "Library Committee Papers," and his correspondence with librarians and archivists. He advised the Delaware State Archives Commission about activities, organization, and steps needed to preserve collections in the 1930s. Collection correspondence shows Reed participated in collecting activities for several libraries, as well as shaping area museum development. For example, the collection contains papers about consulting work Reed completed for the Winterthur Museum, the Dickinson Mansion, and the University of Delaware Museum.

A historian interested in the material culture of death and the social and cultural courtesies surrounding death and literary memory may also be interested in the collection. It contains over a hundred condolence cards and letters. In addition, it contains letters about the will and last wishes of Wilbur Owen Sypherd. Sypherd, a University of Delaware professor and administrator, directed in his Last Will and Testament that Henry Clay Reed evaluate his unpublished literary remains (see also MSS 232 Wilbur Owen Sypherd Papers).

Scholars interested in academic or encyclopedia publishing may find correspondence, draft submissions, and manuscript notes of interest. Those researching faculty lives at public universities will find Reed’s correspondence with colleagues and administrators interesting. Reed’s housing documents also contain papers highlighting the University of Delaware’s efforts to assist faculty in securing mortgages.

The Henry Clay Reed Papers also contain a number of items which will excite Delaware historians, particularly those interested in the history of Newark. Reed saved campaign materials for many local elections, and collected cultural and recreational ephemera from the town. Local historians may especially enjoy the item An Historical Note Upon the Retirement of Henry Clay Reed by Carl J. Rees, a reminiscence of life in Newark in 1925 when Reed, Rees, and other boarders shared an apartment in Angie Perkins’ home. Finally, those interested in how Delaware history is taught may be interested in the exam questions used by Reed to access student knowledge of Delaware history in undergraduate classes. The collection also contains letters from Leon deValinger, Harold Hancock, John Munroe, Winifred Robinson, and C.A. Weslager.


  • Creation: 1833-1979
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1915-1972


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Information

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Henry Clay Reed, historian and University of Delaware professor, was born 15 May 1899, in Tyrone, Pennsylvania. He served the University of Delaware for forty years, researching, teaching, writing, and editing numerous articles and books. He helped create and guide the American Studies program at the University, serving as the first chairman of the program and helping to improve the climate for interdisciplinary study. He was also involved with a number of library, historical, and fraternal projects and organizations.

Henry Clay Reed grew up in Pennsylvania, graduating from Lock Haven High School in 1916. He later registered and began training for the United States Army, serving briefly before being honorably discharged in December 1918, with the termination of hostilities. He enrolled in Bucknell University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in 1922, and a provisional teaching certificate in English, Spanish, Mathematics, and History. He taught high school in various districts in Pennsylvania while enrolling in graduate courses. In 1924, Reed moved to Newark, Delaware, and began instructing for the University of Delaware, becoming a full professor of History in 1947, chairing the History Department from 1944 – 1952, and retiring in 1964. Henry Clay Reed was ultimately recognized as Professor Emeritus of the History Department, and was awarded the honor of having the chaired professorship of the department bear his name.

On 2 April 1927, he married Marion L. Bjornson. She was a classmate at Pennsylvania State College, where Reed was pursuing graduate study. They both earned Master’s degrees in History; husband and wife would later collaborate on several scholarly works, including A Bibliography of Delaware through 1960 (Newark, 1966). In 1931, Reed was accepted as a fellow in American History at Princeton University and awarded a stipend to complete his Doctoral degree. He completed his PhD in 1939 with the submission of a dissertation containing chapters on the history of crime and punishment in New Jersey. Topics in the history of crime and punishment continued to interest him throughout his academic career; he pursued research in this area for over thirty years.

Henry Clay Reed edited The Burlington Court Book (Washington, 1944), Delaware: A History of the First State (New York, 1947), and Readings in Delaware History: Economic Development (Newark, 1934). He wrote Delaware A Colony (New York, 1970), a book for school children and popular audiences about Delaware history, and numerous scholarly articles. Reed also collaborated in editing and translating Charles de Lannoy’s History of Swedish Colonial Expansion (Newark, 1938). He devoted many research hours to two projects which never came to full fruition: a complete history of crime and punishment in New Jersey from the early Colonial Period to the Civil War, and a history of counterfeiting in the United States.

From 1927 to 1930, Reed was an employee of the Delaware State Archives Commission. His concern with libraries, archives, and historical repositories spanned his career; his role in expanding and improving the University of Delaware Library, as well as other regional repositories, is notable. In 1937, he became an involved and influential member of the Delaware Tercentenary Commission, helping to plan the festivities in 1938. He served as Director to the President of the Historical Society of Delaware, and also served as a member of the American Historical Association, the American Society of Church History, the American Association for State and Local History, the Middle States Council for Social Studies, the Archaeological Society of Delaware, the New Jersey Historical Society, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and Phi Kappa Phi. Henry Clay Reed died rather suddenly in June of 1972, from complications arising from his diabetes.

Biographical information derived from the collection.


7 linear foot (14 boxes)

2 oversize box


Henry Clay Reed, 1899-1972, was a renound Delaware historian and history professor at the University of Delaware for forty years, researching, teaching, writing, and editing numerous articles and books.

The Henry Clay Reed papers, spanning the dates from 1915-1974, contains legal documents, photographs, microfilm, correspondence, research notes, manuscripts, publications, and ephemera from the historian and University of Delaware professor.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Marion Bjornson Reed, 1978, with additions 1980

Related Materials in this Repository

MSS 0097, Item 0094, Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church record book

MSS 0098, F0149, John C. Hull letters to John Thomson

MSS 0098, F0154, Henry Clay presentation items

MSS 0179, Robert H. Richards, Jr., Delaware oral history collection

MSS 0232, Wilbur Owen Sypherd papers

MSS 0347, Transcripts of Early Newark, Delaware, Church Records

MSS 0413, Winifred J. Robinson papers

MSS 0462, Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Transcripts in Foreign Parts, Transcripts of Letters Relating to Delaware

MSS 0558, John A. Munroe papers

MSS 0598, Delaware Miscellany collection

MSS 0686, Leon de Valinger, Jr., papers

Related Materials in other Repositories

The University of Delaware's University Archives also contains some records pertaining to the career of Henry Clay Reed.

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-4, 14: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons Boxes 5-13: Shelved in SPEC MSS shoeboxes Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (24 inches) Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)

Processing Information

Processed by Colleen E. Lemke, January-March 2005. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, November 2019.

Finding aid for Henry Clay Reed papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2019 November
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA