John A. Munroe (1914-2006)
Raymond Wolters, March 2007
John Andrew Munroe died on September 6, 2006, at the age of 92. Munroe was one of Delaware's best known and most respected historians. He was born in Wilmington and educated at the University of Delaware, where he received a BA, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD. 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, president of the Delaware chapter of the AAUP, and chairman of the Department of History, 1952–69.
A prolific writer and a popular speaker, John Munroe published more than 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 sets of televised lectures on Delaware history. Munroe was widely recognized as the foremost authority on the history of his state, and for many years he taught most of the students at the University of Delaware, where students were required to take a course on the history of the state. The university honored Munroe with the Francis Allison Award, the Outstanding Alumnus Award, and a Medal of Distinction. He also received awards from three governors of Delaware, including the first Governor's Heritage Award, which was given by Governor Ruth Ann Minner in 2003.
Munroe's major books included Federalist Delaware, 1775–1815; Louis McLane: Federalist and Jacksonian; 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 was 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." 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 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 enterprises, the Morris Canal and Banking Company and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1951–52, Munroe discovered two large caches of family correspondence that were still in the hands of McLane's descendants in Colorado. Writing in the American Historical Review, 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 interwoven 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."
University of Delaware