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In Memoriam
John A. Munroe

Oct. 10, 2006--The following tribute to John Munroe was presented at the General Faculty Meeting on Oct. 9, 2006, by Raymond Wolters, Thomas Muncy Keith Professor of History:

John Andrew Munroe died on Sept. 6 at the age of 92. Dr. Munroe was one of Delaware’s best known and most respected historians. He was born in Wilmington, Del., and educated at the University of Delaware, where he received a B. A. degree, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D.  In 1942, he accepted a position as an instructor in the Department of History at the University of Delaware, where he taught until his retirement in 1982. In 1962 he was named the H. Rodney Sharp Professor of History, and at various times he also served as assistant dean, alumni secretary and chairman of the history department.

A prolific writer and speaker, John Munroe published over 80 professional articles and many shorter pieces for encyclopedias and magazines.  Between 1959 and 1965, he wrote a regular newspaper column on topics in Delaware history. He spoke frequently to fellow scholars and to community groups and also developed two popular sets of televised lectures on Delaware history. Dr. Munroe was widely recognized as the foremost authority on the history of his state, and for many years he taught a most of the students at the University of Delaware who were required to take a course on the history of the state. The University honored Dr. Munroe with the Francis Allison Award, the Outstanding Alumnus Award, and a Medal of Distinction. He was also received awards from three Governors of Delaware, including the first Governor’s Heritage Award, which was given by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in 2003.

Dr. Munroe’s major books included Federalist Delaware, Louis McLane, Colonial Delaware, and The University of Delaware: A History.  At the age of 90 he published his last book, The Philadelawareans and other Essays Relating to Delaware.  

Writing in the Political Science Quarterly in 1955, Morton Borden of Ohio State University hailed Federalist Delaware as a bold challenge to Charles A. Beard’s then regnant thesis that clear and sharp economic interests separated mercantile-minded Federalists from Republican agrarians. The opposite seemed to be true in Delaware, where Republicans were dominant in the bustling city of Wilmington while Federalists held sway in rural Kent and Sussex counties. In the Annals of the American Academy, George W. Kyle of Lehigh University observed that for the task at hand, “the author has had to be an economist, sociologist, student of religion, historian, and political scientist.” Dr. Kyle judged that Munroe had been “strikingly successful in each of his scholarly roles.” He had written “an excellent analysis of Delaware politics during the years from the beginning of the War for Independence to the end of the War of 1812.”

Munroe’s greatest contribution to scholarship may have been his 763-page biography of the prominent 19th century politician and businessman Louis McLane. McLane was a congressman, senator, secretary of the treasury, American ambassador to England, and president of two of the nation’s largest business enterprise, the Morris Canal and Banking Co. and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  In 1951-1952, Dr. Munroe discovered two large caches of family correspondence that were still in the hands of McLane’s descendants in Colorado. In The American Historical Review, the historian Chales M. Wiltse of Dartmouth College described the resulting biography, Louis McLane: Federalist and Jacksonian,  as “an immensely readable book” that “add[ed] measurably to our understanding of the Jackson period, of the fascinating characters who peopled it, and of the inter-woven events that swept it forward.”

John Munroe is survived by his wife, Dorothy, his three children, Stephen, Carol and Michael, their spouses, and seven grandchildren. In the words of University of Delaware President David P. Roselle, “John A. Munroe was the perfect embodiment of the gentleman scholar. He was revered as an accomplished historian, a learned professor, a caring mentor, and a delightful friend.  He helped shape the history department here at the university, a department now housed in a building that appropriately bears his name.”

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Sept. 7, 2006--John Andrew Munroe, one of Delaware's best-known and respected historians, died Sept. 6. A member of the University of Delaware faculty for more than 60 years, Dr. Munroe was widely recognized as the foremost authority on Delaware history. He was 92.

"John A. Munroe was the perfect embodiment of the gentleman scholar," UD President David P. Roselle said. "He was a native of Delaware and alumnus of the University of Delaware who was revered as an accomplished historian, a learned professor, a caring mentor and a delightful friend. He helped shape the Department of History here at UD—a department that now resides in a building that appropriately bears his name—and served as a fount of knowledge about the history of both his beloved home state and this University. Just as Delaware is the Diamond State, John Munroe was a jewel of a gentleman, and he will be sorely missed by his many colleagues and friends."

The son of Michael John and Mary Dettling Munroe, he has born March 15, 1914, in Wilmington, Del. He attended Wilmington public schools, including Wilmington High School, where he was an honor roll student. In 1932, he entered Delaware College, or the Men's College, of the University of Delaware, as one of 181 students in the freshman class.  At Delaware, he received his bachelor's degree in 1936 and his master's degree in 1941. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1947.

Dr. Munroe taught history at Newark High School from 1936-39. He joined the UD faculty in 1942 as an instructor in history. He was named an assistant professor in 1947, an associate professor in 1949 and professor in 1952. In 1962, he was named H. Rodney Sharp Professor of History. As the primary instructor for the formerly required Delaware history course, Dr. Munroe taught a majority of the University's students for many years. He also served as assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1949-51 and as chairperson of the Department of History from 1952-69. He retired in 1982 and was named H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of History.

He also served as a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1960 and at Bath University in 1969, and he taught seminars in American culture at the New York State Historical Association in 1975.

His many honors included membership in Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa and a Ford Foundation Fellowship. He also was an honorary member of the Society of the Cincinnati. He received an award from the American Association for State and Local History in 1955, the first Governor's Gold Medal for Service in 1973, the News Journal Award in 1976 and the first Governor's State House Symposium Award in 1977.

Special honors from the University included the Outstanding Alumnus Award in 1963, the Medal of Distinction in 1980 and the Francis Alison Award, the University's top honor to its faculty, in 1981. The citation for the Alison Award saluted Dr. Munroe's scholarship and service and noted, "The number of distinguished professionals that are among your former undergraduate and graduate students is the highest tribute to your role as an educator."

In 1997, the University named Munroe Hall in his honor. Munroe Hall is the home of the Departments of Anthropology and History. At the dedication ceremony, Dr. Munroe said, "The 65 years since I entered Delaware College have slipped by easily and quickly. I came from a happy home where my parents supported my desire to become a scholar and a teacher. In Newark, students and colleagues helped me lead the sort of life I hoped for. And here, too, I met my wife, who made possible the satisfaction I found in my career and, bolstered by the support and understanding of our children, the very happy memories I enjoy."

In 1945, he married Dorothy Levis, and they had three children: Stephen, Carol and J. Michael.

Dr. Munroe was the author of more than 70 articles and several books, including Delaware Becomes a State (1953), Federalist Delaware (1954), Delaware: A Students' Guide to Localized History (1965), Louis McLane: Federalist and Jacksonian (1974), Colonial Delaware: A History (1978), History of Delaware (1979) and The University of Delaware: A History (1986). He was the coauthor, with Carol E. Hoffecker, of Books, Bricks and Bibliophiles: The University of Delaware Library (1984). He also edited Timoleon's Biographical History of Dionysius, Tyrant of Delaware (1958). Dr. Munroe was a regular contributor of articles about Delaware's history and government to encyclopedias and annuals, and from 1959-65, he had a regular column in the Wilmington, Del., Morning News.

During his career, Dr. Munroe addressed organizations throughout Delaware, and for a number of years, he was the host of his own television series on Delaware history, for both commercial and educational stations.

Dr. Munroe served on the board of directors of the Historical Society of Delaware and chaired the editorial board of Delaware History magazine.

He was a member of the historical advisory committee of the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation and also served on the fellowship committee of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum and the State Review Board for the National Historic Register. An adviser to the Delaware Heritage Commission, he was president of the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion and served on the board of directors of the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities. 

Dr. Munroe donated his papers to the University of Delaware Library.

For a listing of Dr. Munroe's works and a photographic history, click here.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 9, at Newark Methodist Church on Main Street. A memorial service will be held on the UD campus later this fall.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the UD Department of History, 236 John Munroe Hall, 46 West Delaware Ave., Newark, DE 19716-2547, or to the Historical Society of Delaware, 505 Market St., Wilmington, DE 19801.

To sign a guest register, visit [spicer-mullikinfuneralhomes.com].

Photo courtesy of The University of Delaware Archives