A visit from the First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt speaks to students at Ritchie Coliseum, 1938.
Eleanor Roosevelt speaks to students at Ritchie Coliseum, 1938.

On April 13, 1938 — 75 years ago today — Eleanor Roosevelt became the inaugural first lady to visit campus (having since been followed by Hillary Clinton, the commencement speaker in 1996). Mrs. Roosevelt addressed a crowd of approximately 6,000 students “sitting three to every two seats” in Ritchie Coliseum. The (mostly female) audience packed in to hear her speech on education, civic responsibility, and community engagement. The first lady encouraged the attendees to become active public servants and encouraged leisure time, saying, “I believe that people must have a good time in this world. If not, they will be tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.”

However, perhaps more interesting than Mrs. Roosevelt’s speech is the connection between the first lady and a particular university staff member — Dean of Women Adele Stamp. The two met on June 12, 1934, when Mrs. Roosevelt served as the guest of honor at the Democratic Women’s Club of Montgomery County, one of Stamp’s many civic commitments (see newspaper clipping below). Just one day before, Stamp sent a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt to thank her for agreeing to speak at the 1935 National Association of Deans of Women convention in Atlantic City and declared her part of the “new era for women.” Once in Atlantic City, Stamp served as Mrs. Roosevelt’s host, escorting her from the train station to Haddon Hall for her speech.

After the first lady’s appearance at the NADW convention, Stamp invited her to speak to the female students at Maryland. Stamp wrote, “The only inducement I can offer is an unusually fine group of young people…I know that any message you give them will not be soon forgotten.” It appears that Mrs. Roosevelt was unable to visit campus in 1935, but it is possible that the invitation from Dean Stamp and the familiarity between the two contributed to her willingness to speak three years later. During the 1930s and 1940s, Dean Stamp attended several luncheons, garden parties, and events hosted by Mrs. Roosevelt, including a 1938 luncheon for the wives of foreign dignitaries and American legislators.

A letter from the first lady to Stamp from August 5, 1948, is the latest item in our collections that links the two women. The university archives does not have a copy of the letter Stamp sent to Mrs. Roosevelt, but the informal nature of the correspondence indicates that the women had become friendly acquaintances. From what we know about Adele Stamp, it is clear she would have greatly admired Mrs. Roosevelt’s commitment to public service and women’s activism and taken pride in her personal associations with the first lady.

Articles and correspondence used in this post can be located in the Adele H. Stamp Papers, Boxes 8 and 14, and the Scrapbook Collection, Box 2 (Publicity Scrapbook).


One thought on “A visit from the First Lady

  1. Pingback: Mrs. Roosevelt Returns | Terrapin Tales

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