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Marion H. Steele papers

Identifier: MSS 0439

Scope and Content Note

The Marion H. Steele papers, spanning the years 1906-1999, contain correspondence, newspaper clippings, publications, ephemera, employment documents, photographs, programs, postcards, professional files, journals, obituaries, bibliography, greeting cards, and video tapes. The collection is small—2 linear feet—yet the material gives a clear view of her life as a devoted professional on the staff of the American Home Economics Association (AHEA). The papers also show her connection to the University of Delaware’s Women’s College, and her involvement with the Alumnae Association in the 1930s.

The papers are arranged in three series: I. University of Delaware, II. AHEA, and III. Miscellany, following Steele’s life from college to her post-retirement days. The first series documents her work with and association to the University of Delaware.

The second series, itself divided into three sub-series, includes information relating to Steele’s professional life at AHEA. The first sub-series - AHEA - contains materials related to Steele’s various roles at AHEA over time, culminating in her editorship of the Journal of Home Economics from 1946-1969. The second sub-series documents her work with AHEA’s International Scholarship Fund. The third and final sub-series is devoted solely to material about the life and work of Helen W. Atwater, Marion Steele’s one-time boss and colleague at the Journal of Home Economics and an important figure in the home economics field in her own right.

The third series contains personal and professional miscellany: news clippings, notes, photographs, and other materials saved by Steele over time that cover topics such as home economics and the Second World War.

Series I. contains publications from Steele’s undergraduate days at the University as well as documents and expenses associated with the Women’s College Alumnae Association; a reunion list from 1932 for classes 1918-1931; and, a notebook filled with correspondence and notes about the University’s Centenary in 1934—Steele served on the executive committee for its planning (Box 1, F2-F4).

The bulk of the collection concerns AHEA, where Steele worked from 1928-1969 (Boxes 1-2, F10-F44). Much of the correspondence is evidence of her relationships with students, professors, and professionals in her job at AHEA. There is substantial material pertaining to the International Scholarship Fund run by AHEA (Box 2, F30-38), which was overseen by Marion Steele from 1947 until her retirement in 1969.

AAFCS (AHEA) provided two videotapes to include in the collection that have been placed in the media section of Special Collections. The first recording is titled Marion H. Steele Remembered. The video presents the reminiscences of many of Steele’s colleagues, co-workers, friends, and relatives. Some of those interviewed recall stories about Steele’s childhood in Wilmington, Delaware, while others discuss her long-time devotion to AHEA. Most of the interviewee’s remarks illustrate a common theme - praise for Steele’s professional character and her devotion to being a mentor and friend to so many, particularly those students she aided from the International Scholarship Fund. The second film, A Living Tribute to Marion H. Steele, is a shortened version of Marion H. Steele Remembered.

Finally, a collection of over fifty black and white World War II-era photographs is housed within the Miscellany section (Box 2, F46). Many of these photographs attempt to illustrate how home economics issues (food production and selection, clothing purchasing, cooking practices, and so on) could help America win the war. In this subject-matter, therefore, the photographs tie in nicely to the work done by Marion Steele and AHEA writ large. Nearly each photograph is stamped with a caption, the photographer, and, in most cases, the organization that created and distributed the photo. Many of the photographs are credited to the USDA’s Bureau of Home Economics with the photographer of “Forsythe.” Others hail from the British War Ministry, the (Canadian) Director of Public Information, and the U.S. Navy. A few print advertisements are also present in this photograph collection.


  • Creation: 1906-1999
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1923-1985


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

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, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Marion Harlan Steele (1904-1985) was one of the pioneers of the American home economics movement, which began at the turn of the twentieth century. Ellen H. Richards founded the American Home Economics Association (AHEA) in 1909. Steele championed Richards’ philosophy about family, nutrition, and ecology, but especially devoted her efforts to the International Scholarship Program of AHEA (which became the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences—AAFCS—in 1994).

Steele was born on June 23, 1904, and spent her childhood in Elsmere, Delaware. After she graduated from high school, she worked for a local ophthalmologist. Then she attended the University of Delaware’s Women’s College. After graduating in 1928 with a B.S. in English, Steele became active in the Alumnae Association, and was its president in 1933. Furthermore, she served on the executive committee for the celebration of the University’s Centenary, which was held in May 1934.

In 1928 Steele started a career as secretary to Helen W. Atwater, the editor of AHEA’s Journal of Home Economics . After a number of promotions she became managing editor in 1946. Steele held that position until she retired in 1969.

Upon her retirement, colleagues and students made a contribution in Steele’s name to AHEA’s International Scholarship Fund. A book of tributary letters from international students was organized and presented to her. In addition, AHEA’s 1969 Assembly of Delegates passed a resolution of appreciation for her commitment to its organization and the International Scholarship Fund.

During her forty-one years of service to AHEA, Steele developed friendships with professionals, students, and teachers nationally and internationally. Many of those people became well-known for their contributions to the evolution of home economics into its current form of family and consumer economics.

While on the staff at AHEA’s headquarters, Steele resided in Washington, D.C., and every Friday afternoon she returned to her family home in Delaware to spend the weekend. She had two brothers, Leroy Steele and Joseph Rodman Steele. After she retired she moved back home to 112 N. du Pont Road, Elsmere, Delaware. She died on September 23, 1985.

Her alma mater honors her memory and work with an annual symposium sponsored by the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy (CHEP) at the University of Delaware. Additionally, the symposium is hosted by the Delaware Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (DAFCS), the University’s Human Resources Alumni Association, Delaware State University, and Steele’s family. This May event is an opportunity for students to present research papers in a professional forum.

Biographical information derived from the collection and the University of Delaware Archives. The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) generously shared materials and videos tapes from their archives.


2 linear foot (2 boxes)


The papers of Marion H. Steele, former managing editor of the Journal of Home Economics and University of Delaware graduate.


Gift of J. Rodman Steele, Jr., 2001; videotapes gift of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, 2002. Additional material added May 2008.

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-2: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. F29: Shelved in SPEC Media video cassettes (VHS)


Processed by Sally W. Donatello, April 2002. Revised and encoded by Lora J. Davis, May 2008.

Finding aid for Marion H. Steele papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2008 May 14
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