RG10 Faculty & Staff Papers

Subgroup 13: Irma Simonton Black Papers (1915-1972)

Creator: Black, Irma Simonton, 1906-1972
Title: Irma Simonton Black Papers
Call #: RG10 SG13
Dates: 1915 [1950-1972]
Quantity: 19 boxes (10.5 linear feet)

Abstract: The Irma Simonton Black Papers were created over the course of Black’s adult life in the mid-twentieth century. The materials include her professional writings, communications with publishers, and children’s books and clippings by other writers. Her work was collected in notes, published columns and articles, reports, and correspondence. Black collected the publications of other authors and institutions, and these are represented as well.

Language of Material: English
Location: Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY
Preferred Citation: Irma Simonton Black Papers, Box #, Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the following series:
A – Writings
B – Correspondence
C – Education
D – Clippings
E – Miscellaneous
F – Books and Oversized Materials
G – Observations and record-keeping

See each series scope note in “Collection Organization” below for more details.

Biographical Note

Author and educator Irma Simonton Black was born on June 6, 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey. She received an A.B. from Barnard College in 1927, majoring in English and mathematics. While at Barnard, Black wrote for Barnard Barnacle, the college’s quarterly magazine, and Barnard Bulletin, the college newspaper.

Following college, she studied at the Bureau of Educational Experiments (BEE) and New York University. She began teaching at the Harriet Johnson Nursery School of the BEE in 1931. She also worked in the Research Division and as a faculty member teaching children’s literature.

The BEE was renamed Bank Street College of Education in 1950, and Black became the head of the Division of Publications and Communications, a position she would hold for the rest of her life. She participated in the Writers Laboratory, conducted by Bank Street founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell, and later became its head. The Writers Lab was home to many well-respected children’s book authors and illustrators.

Black was an author and editor of The Bank Street Readers, the first multicultural, multi-ethnic readers. The Readers featured recognizable children in urban settings dealing with everyday situations. She also edited Bank Street’s Early Childhood Discovery Materials and Discoveries series for intermediate grades that allowed students to progress from group reading under teacher supervision to individualized reading without a teacher.

Black was the author of more than twenty children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, and wrote three non-fiction books for adults. She and Lucy Sprague Mitchell were also the editors of Believe and Make-Believe, stories by Bank Street writers.

In the 1940s, she wrote a weekly newspaper column called “Life with Junior.” Through the 1950s and early 1960s, she contributed the monthly “You and Your Child” column to Redbook, articles on art for children to Art in America, and a column, “Books for Young People,” to Saturday Review. She wrote many articles and reviews of children’s books to popular and professional publications. She also contributed to a radio program, The Baby Institute, that featured Jessie Stanton–also of the BEE– and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Among her professional honors and affiliations were: the National Association for Nursery Education, Phi Beta Kappa, and the Barnard College Alumni Association. She married attorney James Hammond Black in 1934, and the couple had a daughter, Constance Kirkland Black. Constance Black married Earl E. Engle and they had two sons, James Simonton Engle, an artist, and Douglas Harrison Engle, a professional photographer.

Following Black’s untimely death in 1972, Bank Street College of Education established the annual Irma Simonton Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature with the encouragement and support of her family. The Award was presented in Irma’s name only until 1992, when it was renamed the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature in recognition of his ardent support of the Award.

Many thanks to Constance Black Engle (1936-2021) for her contributions to this biography.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was donated to the Bank Street College Archives by Constance Black Engle in 2007 and 2008. Accession numbers: 2007.15, 2008.06. A second accretion was donated by Douglas Harrison Engle in 2021. Accession number: 2021.01.

Processing Information

The initial collection was processed in 2012 by Lindsey Wyckoff and Nicole Frisone with funding made possible in part by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department. A second accretion was processed in Fall, 2021 by Julia Gatenio as coursework for a Masters degree in Archives and Public History from New York University, with additional processing by Brett Dion in Spring, 2022.

Collection Organization

  • SERIES A - Writings

    Contains three subseries: Columns and Articles, Manuscripts, and Verse. Columns and Articles contains drafts, correspondence, notes and clippings of Black’s columns on children and parenting that ran in many popular magazines including Ladies Home Journal, Parenting, and National Parent Teacher among others. The Manuscripts series contains drafts, notes and ideas for short stories and longer works for children and adults. Verse contains drafts and notes pertaining to Black’s poetry.

  • SERIES B – Correspondence

    Contains Black’s correspondence with publishers about potential projects and revisions as well as, to a lesser extent, personal correspondence. Particularly interesting are letters from readers, including children who read her books and parents who sought her parenting advice.

  • SERIES C - Education

    Contains materials pertaining to Black’s childhood, Black’s time as an undergraduate at Barnard College, and the type of education advocated by Bank Street, as well as some general Bank Street housekeeping materials.

  • SERIES D - Clippings

    Contains various newspaper and magazine clippings including other writers’ columns and articles, reviews of Black’s writings, as well as reviews and articles about Bank Street College publications.

  • SERIES E - Miscellaneous

    Includes souvenir programs from Bank Street College and the City and Country School, materials from the Silva Mind Control Institute, Irma Simonton Black Memorial Program, a travel journal, and other assorted materials.

  • SERIES F - Books and Oversized Materials

    Contains children’s books including Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s Animals, Plants and Machines. Many inscribed to Black or her daughter Connie.

  • SERIES G - Observations and record-keeping

    Contains Black’s observations and notes on preschool children from the Bureau of Educational Experiments (BEE).

Controlled Access Headings

  • Corporate Name(s)
    • Bank Street College of Education
    • Barnard College
  • Genre(s)
    • Books
    • Correspondence
    • Manuscripts
    • Publications
    • School Records
  • Geographic Name(s)
    • New York (N.Y.)
    • United States
  • Personal Name(s)
    • Black, Irma Simonton, 1906-1972
  • Subject(s)
    • American poetry — Women authors
    • Child development — Research — United States — History — 20th century
    • Children’s authors
    • Children’s books — United States — History
    • Children’s literature, American
    • Education
    • Parenting — United States — Periodicals
    • Schools — Records and correspondence
    • Teachers — Training of — New York (State)
    • Teachers colleges
    • Women educators — United States