Sharp, Thelma Parkinson, 1898-1983. Papers, 1874-1976 (bulk 1911-1951).

Manuscript Collection 876

Special Collections and University Archives

Rutgers University Libraries

QUANTITY: .95 cubic feet (2 manuscript boxes and 2 phase boxes)

ACCESS: No restrictions.

PROCESSED BY: Fernanda Perrone

Biographical Sketch

Thelma Parkinson Sharp (1898-1983) was one of two daughters of Ina Fenton and James C. Parkinson of Vineland, New Jersey. Her father originally owned a shoe store; he later became an accountant and income tax consultant. Parkinson graduated from Vineland High School in 1915 and entered Smith College the following year. She majored in psychology and political economy.

After her graduation from college in 1921, Parkinson taught English at Vineland High School for a year, but soon gave up teaching to become involved in Democratic party politics. At a time when the number of Democratic party activists in her native Cumberland County had shrunk to 240, Parkinson was elected as a state committee member to fill a vacancy. The next year, she met Mary Norton, U.S. Congresswoman from Jersey City, New Jersey, who would become her political mentor. Parkinson recalled that Norton "took me under her wing and treated me like a daughter."

Thelma Parkinson herself had a long and distinguished political career. She entered politics at time when the parties were trying to attract women, who had just been granted the right to vote. In 1924, she became delegate-at-large from New Jersey to the Democratic National Convention; she attended every convention in this capacity until 1976. In 1930, she became the youngest person and one of the first women to be nominated for election to the U.S. Senate.

In 1932, Parkinson was named to the State Board of Tax Appeals by Governor A. Harry Moore; she was reappointed in 1938 and again in 1943. In 1954, she was elected national Democratic committeewoman from New Jersey, succeeding Mary Norton, and in the same year was appointed to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. She was designated as president of the Commission in 1959. She was reappointed to this position in 1963, and only left in 1970 as a result of mandatory retirement. Thelma Parkinson received national recognition as well. She served as a delegate to Dwight Eisenhower's White House Conference on Education in 1955, and in 1964, Lyndon Johnson named her to the Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Forces.

Thelma Parkinson married common pleas court judge W. Howard Sharp (1891-1958), also a native of Vineland, in 1941. Like his wife, Sharp became involved in state politics. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1948, and served as a state senator from 1950 until his death in 1958. The couple had no children.

Collection Description

Over half of the Thelma Parkinson Sharp papers is composed of correspondence. The bulk of the correspondence comprises letters Parkinson wrote and those she received from her mother Ina Parkinson (d. 1929) while she was a student at Smith College from 1916 to 1920. In her letters to her mother, Parkinson describes her classes, assignments and social activities with her friends. These letters are valuable for the picture they paint of the academic and social lives of young women of the late 1910s and early 1920s. They also reveal the continuing importance of family obligations in these women's lives. In January 1919, Parkinson returned to Vineland to care for her mother who was ill. Her friends from Smith corresponded regularly with her during the winter and spring of 1919. Among her correspondents were her roommate and best friend Emily Marind Hamill ("Tommy") and her housemates Gertrude Belle Martin, Anne Perkins, Evelyn Russe, Helen Lamson Hallock ("Babe"), Alice Carol Finger and Harriet Morgan Bevin ("Bevy").

The correspondence in this collection is less revealing about Parkinson's political career. It consists mainly of letters of encouragement upon her nomination to the U.S. Senate in 1930 and letters of congratulation when she was appointed to the State Board of Tax Appeals in 1932.

The collection also contains, however, diverse materials related to Parkinson's 1930 campaign: transcripts of speeches, lists of speaking engagements and press releases. The speeches show Parkinson's belief, which was current at the time, that women had a special role to play in politics, based on their greater identification with the home and family. Further information about Parkinson's political ideas and career can be gleaned from the press clippings which span the period 1924 to 1970. In addition, there are 22 photographs, including portraits of Parkinson, and autographed portraits of political figures. The remainder consists of material related to the Democratic conventions which Parkinson attended--lists of delegates, invitations, ribbons and badges, and miscellaneous material--a record of Parkinson's wedding presents and documents reflecting her participation in various New Jersey women's clubs and associations. A scrapbook contains press clippings spanning the period 1916-1933, primarily documenting Parkinson's political career, but also including two clippings about Walter Waldeman, a friend of Parkinson's who died in 1916. The scrapbook also includes a corsage, invitations and a few letters, among which is a letter from Franklin Roosevelt thanking Parkinson for a letter congratulating him on his election to the presidency in 1932.

There is a small amount of material related to Parkinson's husband W. Howard Sharp: a travel journal he kept, in 1927 and again in 1931, and documents from his estate.

Finally, the collection includes some correspondence from the family of Parkinson's younger sister, Margarita Parkinson Campbell (born circa 1900). Margarita Parkinson Campbell was a violinist--part of the Celesta trio, which played in the New Jersey pavilion during the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926 held in Philadelphia. In 1927, she married another musician, Harry Campbell, and a daughter, Thelma Parkinson Campbell, was born in 1929. A son, Harry Woodruff Campbell or Woody was born three years later. These letters are chiefly from Ina Parkinson to her younger daughter, and date from the period of Margarita Campbell's marriage and the birth of her daughter. In addition, there are several letters addressed to Campbell's husband and daughter. This part of the collection also includes seven photographs of family members.

Container List

    Thelma Parkinson Sharp

1 1  BIOGRAPHICAL FILE, 1930-1959
  2  1911-1914
  3  October-December 1916
  4-5  January-May 1917
  6  July-December 1917
  7  February-August 1918
  8  October 1918
  9-10  January-July 1919
  11  1920-1929
  12  May 1930
  13  October-December 1930
  14-16  February-July 1932
  17  1941-1943
  18  1950-1964
  19  Undated
(1) 20 PRESS CLIPPINGS, circa 1924-1970
  21-22  Campaign Literature, 1930
  23  Speech Nominating Mary Norton for Vice President, 1932
  24  Invitations, Gifts, Badges and Ribbons, 1924-1965
  25  Lists of Convention Delegates and Miscellaneous Items, 1924-1932
  26  Lists of Convention Delegates, Speech, circa 1964

    Thelma Parkinson Sharp [continued]

2   PHOTOGRAPHS [see also box 3]
  1  Portraits of Thelma Parkinson Sharp
  2  Group Portraits Including Thelman Parkinson Sharp (with Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, etc.)
  3  Portraits of Political Figures (James Farley, Robert Meyner, Mary Norton, Alfred Smith)
  4  Record of Wedding Presents, [1940]
  5  Club and Association Documents, 1950-1951
    W. Howard Sharp

(2) 6 TRAVEL JOURNAL, 1927 and 1931
(2) 7 ESTATE DOCUMENTS, 1958-1959
    Ina Parkinson

  8  1899-1915
  9  October-November 1916
  10  1917
  11  1918-1922
  12  1927-1928
(2) 13 ESTATE DOCUMENTS, 1930-1931
    Margarita Parkinson Campbell

  14-16  January 1927-August 1928
  17  April-August 1929
  18  February-August 1942
    Harry W. Campbell

(2) 19  LETTERS RECEIVED, 1929-1948
    Thelma Campbell

(2) 20 LETTERS RECEIVED, 1930-1976
    Parkinson family

  21  Correspondence, 1874-1918 and undated
  22  Commencement Programs and Pledges, 1942-1949
  23  Portraits of Family Members

    Thelma Parkinson Sharp

3 (phase box)   PHOTOGRAPHS [see also box 2]
     Portrait of Thelma Parkinson Sharp
     Group Portrait Including Thelma Parkinson Sharp (High School Graduation)
     Portrait of Political Figure (A. Harry Moore)

    Thelma Parkinson Sharp

4 (phase box)   SCRAPBOOK