A Look Back
The 1940s and '50s were a simple yet eventful period in the First State, as reflected by these photographs from the collections of Delaware Public Archives and the Delaware Historical Society. Join us for a nostalgic trip back.
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Documenting a scene that played out in cities across the United States, this photo taken on May 8, 1945 (V-E Day), captures celebratory streamers and confetti falling along Tenth and Market streets in Wilmington as folks celebrate the news that the Allies were victorious in Europe in World War II. The United Cigar store in the background was a popular gathering spot for attorneys who worked in the city, according to “Richards, Layton & Finger: An Illustrated History” by William Lanouette. The store, located on the first floor of the North American Building, had a soda fountain and 12 small tables, Lanouette writes. The North American Building served as offices for many solo practitioners during the late 1940s through the late 1960s.
Like many small towns across the First State, Lewes held annual Fourth of July festivities. The Lewes Chamber of Commerce planned the 1950 celebration, which included closing Second Street—the hub of the town’s business district—at 10 a.m. Events included all kinds of races, climbing a greasy pole, a pie-eating contest, and a baby and bicycle parade. About 500 people took part in the celebration. Winners of the 1950 pie-eating contest were Ralph Hazel, Ronald Hazel and Billy Aiken, pictured above with their fruit-covered faces.
These two freshmen at the University of Delaware in 1951 experience freshman week in two very different ways. UD had become permanently coeducational in 1945 when the university’s Women’s College merged with the men’s. Despite the move, life on campus remained relatively conservative throughout the decade. According to “The University of Delaware: A History” by UD historian John A. Munroe, a dress code that had been approved by the Student Government Association “was strictly enforced, and in the 1950s and early 1960s when students on many campuses were adopting an informal attire that seemed scruffy to their elders, Delaware students still went to class attired ‘properly.’” Munroe continues, “No women, for instance, could enter the library in pants except in examination periods.” By the way, 1,722 students were enrolled at UD in 1951-52. Today, that number exceeds 21,000.