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Wilber M. Stilwell papers

Identifier: MS-273

Content Description

These papers contain material related to the life, artwork, and career of Professor Wilber M. Stilwell at USD (1941-1973).

The biographical series includes administrative materials from both Wilber M. Stilwell's and Gladys Ferree Stilwell's college and university years. This series also includes several newspaper articles about the Stilwells, photographs, and awards.

The correspondence series includes letters to/from Stilwell to/from colleagues, publishing companies, production companies, magazines, friends, and former students.

The bulk of the notes/sketches series contains Stilwell's lecture notes for art classes at USD, including class projects and assignments; subjects covered include technique, style and composition, color, and perspective. Also included in this series are cartoon ideas, invention, and book ideas (from both Wilber and Gladys), as well as sketches of human and animal anatomy, portraits, and other subjects.

The final series is made up of books, including volumes of American Art Week South Dakota, by the Stilwells, A White House Diary by Lady Bird Johnson, and Wilber Moore Stilwell by Lea Rosson DeLong.


  • Creation: 1905 - 2013


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research without restriction. Researchers are advised to contact the Archives and Special Collections prior to visiting.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers must obtain a signed Permission to Publish Form if they wish to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information from published and unpublished works held by ASC. Permission to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information materials from ASC does not constitute permission from the holder of copyright or literary rights. The researcher is responsible for securing permission from the copyright holder to publish or reproduce content from materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

Wilber Moore Stilwell was born to Wilber Fletcher Stilwell and Sarah Eleanor Moore Stilwell 2 February 1908 in Covington, Indiana. In 1909 the Stilwell family moved to Emporia, Kansas where Stilwell’s father practiced as an attorney.

After graduating from Emporia High School in 1925, Stilwell entered the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia to study art, English, and journalism, in addition to playing freshman football. Before completing a degree, Stilwell left college in Emporia in 1929. In October of the same year, he began at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) in Kansas City, Missouri, with a full scholarship for the first term from the Kansas City Art Association. Stilwell began teaching Junior Drawing at KCAI in 1930 until 1933 and gave private drawing lessons in Emporia. After four years of study at KCAI, and participating in several art exhibitions, including the Missouri State Fair, and the Midwestern Artists’ Exhibition at KCAI, Stilwell left in 1933. The same year Stilwell established the Emporia School of Art (which he would reopen several times during his time in Kansas), where he gave private art lessons with the assistance of George Nightingale.

Stilwell also applied and was accepted to the Kansas Project as a part of the Public Works of Art Project, which lasted from December 1933 to April 1934. In the summer of 1935, Stilwell married Gladys Louise Ferree. The two would go on to have three children: Mary, Joan and Elizabeth. After a short, summer trip to New York in 1935, to explore potential opportunities, Stilwell and Gladys returned to the Midwest. Later in the fall, Stilwell was appointed Registrar at the Kansas City Art Institute, where he remained until 1939.

To encourage recruitment to the art program, Stilwell established a national high school art competition for scholarships to KCAI in 1936. In 1937 he was elected as the first president of the Alumni Association of KCAI. After leaving his position as Registrar in 1939, Stilwell returned to the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia and graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor of Science degree in art education with a minor in English. The next September Stilwell was offered a full tuition fellowship to attend the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, in pursuit of a master’s degree in the Department of Art and Art History. Stilwell completed his master’s degree in 1941 and was immediately appointed the head of the art department as Assistant Professor at the University of South Dakota (USD). In 1943, when World War II was underway, the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was located on several campuses throughout the United States, including the USD campus. At the end of May 1943, the first soldiers arrived in Vermillion, South Dakota. Their academic curriculum consisted of a “Basic Phase Engineering” program designed to prepare them to transfer to an engineering college to finalize their training. Stilwell, along with Grace Beede and E. G. Trotzig, instructed ASTP cadets in English.

Stilwell founded USD’s Annual High School Competition in Art in 1942 and directed it for the first 25 years. In 1944, Stilwell was appointed Associate Professor of Art, and from 1945 to 1946, he was also appointed President of Faculty Research and Scholarship Club at USD. Beginning in 1950, Stilwell established the Annual Student and Alumni Art Exhibit at USD. In 1952, Stilwell and Gladys were granted a patent (#2571740) for Child Safety Scissors. The invention was then featured in Popular Science. During the 1957 summer, Stilwell established the annual Summer High School Art Camp at USD, which gave students an opportunity to study with professional artists in an informal environment.

Stilwell also authored, and co-authored with Gladys, several articles during his time at USD. Wheeler Williams, the president of the American Artists Professional League (AAPL), appointed Stilwell as the State Director of American Art Week in 1961 and 1962; in 1963 Stilwell was appointed Director of American Art Week for South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, and in 1966 he was appointed Deputy National Director of American Art Week Celebration in the United States. Stilwell and Gladys received several awards for their Pressbook and Annual Reports of the American Art Week from 1963—1965. Stilwell was also awarded 25th Anniversary Medal for Distinguished Service to Art Education by the National Gallery of Art in 1966, for which he attended a reception at the White House and met First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. The First Lady remembered Stilwell in her book, A White House Diary (1970), which is also included in his collection at USD. That same year, Stilwell was also awarded Gold Medal for Distinguished Service to American Art by the AAPL awards. In 1967, Stilwell was replaced as the chair of the USD Art Department by Francis Coelho. Following a sabbatical in the fall of 1969, Stilwell retired from USD in 1973 and was named Professor Emeritus. The following spring in 1974, Stilwell passed away in Kansas City, Kansas.


11 Linear Feet (9 record cartons, 2 flat oversize boxes, 1 slide box)

Language of Materials



This collection The Wilber M. Stilwell papers contain material related to the life, artwork, and career of Professor Wilber M. Stilwell at USD (1941-1973).


The Wilber M. Stilwell papers are arranged into four series.

Series I: Biographical

Series II: Correspondence

Series III: Notes and Sketches

Series IV: Books

Related Materials

Related to the Lea Rosson DeLong papers.

Wilber M. Stilwell papers
Kelly O'Dea
2020 June
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the USD Archives and Special Collections Repository