“A Brief Outline of My Early History,” J.C. Penney

I recently have been going through press clippings from the Middletown Press. The press clippings are just one part of a larger collection of photographs, negatives, and articles from the Middletown Press that myself and two others are going through and filing. Today, I couldn’t help but stop when I came across an envelope marked J.C. Penney. It could be that holiday commercials have already gotten to me, but more likely, I paused because this envelope was thicker than others. Inside, there was a pamphlet of a speech Penney gave called “A Brief Outline of My Early History.”


The pamphlet was published by the First Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana, and a photograph of Penney, with his hair sleeked to the side and his bow tie carefully arranged, takes up the center part the cover. Within the pamphlet, Penney describes his life, from growing up in a poor family in Mississippi to running a large, nationwide department store from its headquarters in New York. Throughout his speech, Penney emphasizes the importance of Christianity and a strong work ethic.

After reading the speech, I couln’t help but wonder how the pamphlet came to the Middletown Press. There isn’t a date of publication on the pamphlet, and the envelope did not contain an accompanying article from the Middletown Press. On the back cover of the pamphlet, however, I found a few notes that were difficult to read. But from what I could make out, it seems that J.C. Penney might have come to Middletown’s YMCA, and that the pamphlet was a bit of preliminary reading for the Press’s reporter.

If this were the case, I wonder what influence Wesleyan as a Methodist institution had on bringing Penney to Middletown. Special Collections and Archives has many documents about the University’s Methodist origins and student activities related to the religion. Many of these primary sources deal with missionary work that dispersed Wesleyan alumni across the globe. If this pamphlet did have something to do with Wesleyan’s role as a focal point for religion, it is just another example of how Wesleyan students and alumni were part of a larger network.

We continue to go through the photographs, negatives, and press clippings, and there will be a finding aid soon. Can’t wait to see what other things we’ll come across to share!

Leave a Comment