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Identifier: MC 876

Thelma Parkinson Sharp Papers


  • 1874-1976 (bulk 1911-1951)

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.


0.95 Cubic Feet (2 manuscript boxes and 2 phase boxes)

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No Restrictions.


A graduate of Smith College, Thelma Parkinson Sharp (1898-1983) of Vineland, New Jersey, was a Democratic party activist and a 1930 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

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.

Inventory to the Thelma Parkinson Sharp Papers MC 876
Edited Full Draft
Fernanda Perrone
September 2015
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.