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Register of the Papers of

BERNICE DUTRIEUILLE SHELTON

1913-1983

13.5  feet

MSS 131

by

Monique Bourque

October 1993

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Bernice Dutrieuille was born in Philadelphia in 1903.  She was the daughter of Albert E. Dutrieuille, owner of a prominent African American catering firm in the city.  Her mother was Florence Baptiste, whose family operated another catering firm.  The family lived in an integrated middle class neighborhood on 19th Street, and attended St. Joseph's Catholic Church.

Dutrieuille graduated from Girls' High ca. 1918.  She became active in the YWCA.  In this period she continued to live with her parents, and appears to have attended the University of Pennsylvania for a time.  She worked as an assistant secretary-cashier for the National Benefit Life Insurance Company in 1927-1928.

She met John Howe, a sports editor for the Philadelphia Tribune, in 1927, and they became engaged in 1929.  He introduced her to newspaper writing through sports coverage, and arranged for several of her articles to appear in the Tribune.  In this period a friend of Dutrieuille's from the YWCA was contacted by the managing editor of the Philadelphia office of the Pittsburgh Courier, who was in search of someone to produce society notes and some news.  This friend, Emilie Brown, suggested Bernice for the task, and Dutrieuille began her newspaper career covering local college athletics (particularly basketball), fraternity and sorority events, and general social news.  By 1929 she was working for both the Afro and the Courier, and at about this time also began contributing a column to the Norfolk Journal and Guide ("Quaker Quips").  John Howe died in 1928 of a heart condition, but Dutrieuille continued in newspaper work as a regular contributor of columns on social events to the Courier, the Afro-American, and the Philadelphia Tribune.  In addition to her regular columns, she occasionally covered criminal trials for the Afro-American.

Dutrieuille took a Civil Service Examination ca. 1930, receiving high marks.  She married George Alexander Shelton in 1931; the couple was separated by 1937 but apparently never officially divorced.  After her son Peter was born in 1936, she cut back on her newspaper work and eventually stopped for some time; she worked for the government while raising her son.  She explained this in later years by stating that she needed a better and more stable income while Peter was in school, as she sent him to Catholic private schools.  After Peter graduated from St. Thomas More High School, she returned to newspaper writing as a social columnist for the Afro-American.  She continued writing for the paper until approximately 1979.

Throughout her career Shelton remained interested in the difficulties of the African American press in publication and competition with white papers for circulation.  She was particularly concerned with the place of African American women in the field of journalism in general, and in the black press in particular.  While she did not express a belief that her work in the "women's page ghetto" was less important than political or other coverage, she was convinced that her abilities were not fully utilized by any of the newspapers for which she wrote.  She did write occasional news stories, and included general sociopolitical commentary in her columns, particularly in the 1970s, but wished to do more.

Like other African American female journalists, Shelton supported herself with multiple jobs in addition to newspaper writing, including serving as a "local addresser," distributing samples for the Rome Cosmetic Company.  In the 1930s and 1940s she worked several stints as a secretary, and in the late 1960s her government employment included serving as assistant forelady for the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.  She attempted to combine social service with paid employment wherever possible, as when she took a job in 1931 with the Philadelphia Welfare Foundation to design a publicity campaign for the United Campaign fund drive.

Deeply committed to social reform, Shelton was active in a number of organizations, including the Allied Roosevelt Clubs of Philadelphia (for which she served as secretary in 1932), the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Business and Professional Women's Club of Philadelphia.  She was active in the YWCA throughout her life, serving on the Committee of Management in 1935 and on various committees thereafter.  She was a founding member of several Philadelphia women's social clubs including the Girl Friends, and the Gay Northeasterners, with whom she traveled to Spain and elsewhere during the 1970s.  Shelton never officially retired, continuing to write for the Afro-American until at least 1979.

Shelton died in 1983.

PROVENANCE

The collection was donated by Peter Shelton in 1991.

SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE

Bernice Dutrieuille Shelton's papers are an important resource for any study of Philadelphia's African American middle class in the twentieth century.  The collection helps to illuminate African American women's participation in the clubwomen's movement of the 1920s and 1930s, both in white-dominated organizations and in civic and social groups of their own.  Shelton's writings provide a continuity for the collection from the 1920s through the 1970s; however, the bulk of the correspondence and printed materials date between 1928 and 1945.

Series One, containing professional and personal correspondence illuminates issues of concern to African American women in particular.  Her letters to and from friends, some of whom were also journalists, describe their difficulties as women in a traditionally-male field, and suggest the ways in which these women viewed the issue of color as affecting and shaping their careers and their personal lives.  Many of Shelton's correspondents were men and these letters, combined with the correspondence related to the production of Shelton's columns, may provide considerable additional information about the workings of the African American press before 1950.

Series Two contains minutes and other material from organizations in which Shelton was active.  The printed material and ephemera in the series document both Shelton's own broad interests, and the wide variety of cultural and philanthropic activities undertaken by members of the African American community.  Some of these materials may also be of interest in examining the interactions of black and white charitable activity.

Series Three is composed largely of Shelton's drafts for the first several chapters of an unfinished family history.  The history documents the family from Pierre Albert Dutrieuille's arrival in the nineteenth century, and describes the establishment of an African American middle class in the city.  Aside from the information contained in the history, the drafts are of interest as documentation of Shelton's changing sense of what information it was important to convey, and in what manner.  Shelton was also involved in research on the establishment of a catering industry in Philadelphia, and on African American-owned firms in particular; some of this material is interspersed with the notes and drafts on the Dutrieuille, Baptiste, and Augustin families.  Shelton's column drafts and finished columns for African American newspapers in Philadelphia and elsewhere provide views of social events in the community, Shelton's own social connections, and her concerns with and opinions about a wide variety of social issues including civil rights and local politics.  The published materials also include a small number of clippings of articles concerning Shelton or her family, and some social columns from what appears to be more than one newspaper by Shelton's friend Gertrude "Toki" Schalk (extensive correspondence with Schalk has been placed in Series One).  Also present are drafts for other pieces, some of which may have been intended to be speeches; these cover a wide variety of subjects including race relations and the place of African American women in journalism.  Also present are several drafts or fragments of short stories by Shelton, which do not appear to have been published.

Series Four contains miscellaneous personal papers and other materials relating to Shelton's life and to her family.  Included are several insurance documents.

PROCESSING NOTE

Photographs have been separated to Photo Group 351.

SERIES DESCRIPTIONS

The Bernice Dutrieuille Shelton papers have been divided into four series: I. Correspondence; II. Organization Files and Printed Materials; III. Writings; IV. Miscellaneous.  All series have been arranged chronologically wherever possible.

SERIES I. CORRESPONDENCE, 1913-1983 and n.d. (7.5 ft.).  This series contains personal and professional correspondence and related materials, and organization mailings.

SERIES II. ORGANIZATION FILES AND PRINTED MATERIALS, 1927-1981 and n.d. (1 ft.).  This series contains minutes and related printed materials and ephemera, most related to organizations in which Shelton was active.  Also included are programs from African American cultural events.

SERIES III. WRITINGS, 1931-1979 and n.d. (4.5 ft.).  This series contains drafts and completed columns by Shelton for various papers, drafts of a Dutrieuille family history which was never completed and an autobiography by Shelton, and drafts of speeches and essays.

SERIES IV. MISCELLANEOUS, 1921-1972 and n.d. (.5 ft.).  This series consists of miscellaneous personal materials and ephemera related to Shelton's life and to the Dutrieuille family.

The box list of the Register of the Papers of Bernice Dutrieuille Shelton is eighteen pages long.